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validity before the proper officers? And I stand here to-day, sir, to say that with an exception of which I shall soon speak, to procure such a lawful investigation of the authority under which they claimed to act, was the part I took in that day's proceedings, and the only part. I suppo it to be my duty as a citizen of Ohioexcuse me for saying that, sir-as an outlaw of the United States, to do what I could to secure at least this form of justice to my brother, whose liberty was in peril. Whatever more than that has been sworn to on this trial, as an act of mine, is false, ridiculously false. When I found these men refusing to go, according to the law as I apprehended it, and submit their claim to an official inspection, and that nothing short of a habeas corpus would oblige such an inspection, I was willing to go even thus far, supposing in that county a sheriff might perhaps be found with nerve enough to serve it. In this, I again failed. Nothing, then, was left to me, nothing to the boy in custody, but the confirmation of my first belief, that the pretended authority was worthless, and the employment of those means of liberation which belong to us.
“But I have another reason to offer why I should not be sentenced, and one that I think pertinent to the case. I have not had a trial before a jury of my peers. The common law of England—and you will excuse me for referring to that, since I am but a private citizen-was that every man should be tried before a jury of men occupying the same position in the social scale with himself. That lords should be tried before lords; that peers of the realm should be tried before peers of the realm; vassals before vassals, and aliens before aliens. The Constitution of the United States guarantees-not merely to its citizens, but to all persons, a trial before an impartial jury. I have had no such trial.
“I was tried by a jury who were prejudiced; before a court that was pre. judiced; prosecuted by an officer who was prejudiced, and defended, though ably, by connsel that were prejudiced. And therefore it is, your Honor, that I urge by all that is good and great in manhood, that I should not be subjected to the pains and penalties of this oppressive law when I have not been tried, either by a jury of my peers, or by a jury that were impartial. One word more, sir, and I have done. I went to Wellington, knowing that colored men have no rights in the United States which white men are bound to respect ; that the Courts had so decided; that Congress had so enacted; that the people bad so decreed.
“There is not a spot in this wide country, not even by the altars of God, nor in the shadow of the shafts that tell the imperishable fame and glory of the heroes of the revolution; no, nor in the old Philadelphia Hall, where any colored man may dare to ask a mercy of a white man. Let me stand in that hall and tell a United States Marshal that my father was a revolutionary soldier; that he served under Lafayette, and fought through the whole war, and that he fought for my freedom as much as for his own; and he would sneer at me and clutch me with his bloody fingers and say he has a right to make me a slave. And when I appeal to Congress, they say he has a right to make me a slave; when I appeal to the people, they say he has a right to make me a slave, and when I appeal to your Honor, your Honor says he has a right to make me a slave, and if any man, white or black, seeks an investigation of that claim, they make themselves amenable to the pains and penalties of the fugitive slave act, for black men have no rights which white men are bound to respect.
“In view of all the facts, I say that if ever again a man is seized near me, and is about to be carried southward as a slave before any legal investigation has been had, I shall hold it to be my duty, as I held it that day, to secure for him, if possi. ble, a legal inquiry into the character of the claim by which he is held. And I go further, I say that if it is adjudged illegal to procure such an investigation, then we are thrown back upon those last defenses of our rights which cannot be taken from us and which God gave us that we need not be slaves."
We do not propose to discuss all the legal questions which arose in the trial of these cases, or which might be considered in connection with it; but some points seem worthy of notice, and in place of an abstract discussion, we prefer to look at the defense actually made in these cases. The defendants demanded an acquittal principally on the following grounds : 1. That the power of attorney from the master, under which the Kentuckians claimed the right to arrest and detain the negro, was not valid, for want of some of the forms required by law.
We do not know whether the authority from the master, in this particular case was correct, in point of form, or not; but we do say that if any law ought to receive a strict construction, this law ought to, and that those who seek to enforce it should be required to comply with its minutest provisions. It is an odious law, making the free territory of the northern states a hunting-ground for slaves, violating the moral sense of every man not debased by the system of slavery, and should have no presumptions in its favor. It is a hard law, wringing its demands from the northern freeman most unwillingly. It is an unjust law, making slaves of those who have become free. It is an unrighteous law, declaring, by its enactments, deeds of charity and kindness to be crimes, punishable with severe penalties. It should be strictly construed, like the bond which Shylock held, and Portia interpreted ; and he who claims under it, should have what the law allows, "nor less nor more."
2. The second ground of defense involves the essence of the act made criminal by the section of the law under which these men have been indicted. The seventh section provides, “that any person who shall knowingly and willfully obstruct,
hinder or prevent, any such claimant,” &c. Knowledge on the part of the accused, is an important ingredient of the offense. If he does not know that the person whose abduction he hinders or obstructs, is a fugitive slave, he cannot be guilty of a violation of this law. We think great injustice was done by the jury and court in the cases which have been tried, in this particular.
By the jury, in convicting without clearer evidence that the defendants had knowledge of the fact that the negro claimed was a fugitive slave. It seems to us, from an examination of the evidence, that while only a faint presumption was raised against the prisoners, on this point, from the testimony introduced by the government, the weight of testimony was decisive, that no such knowledge was brought home to them. Now, it is evident that there can be no violation of this law without a knowledge of this fact; for, in the free states, the presumption of law still is, that every man is free, whatever the color of his skin, and something more than a mere seizing and attempt at abduction are necessary to rebut this presumption. How important this principle is, will be evident, when we recall to mind the fact stated by Langston, in the speech from which we have made quotations, that of the eight persons who were first taken into slavery under the operation of the fugitive slave law, four were after. wards proved to have been free. And from this further quotation also: “A letter was not long since found on the person of a counterfeiter, when arrested, addressed to him by some southern gentleman, in which the writer says, 'Go among the niggers, find out their marks and scars, make good descriptions and send to me, and I will find masters for them.'” In prosecutions like those in Ohio, strict proof should be required, not only of the fact that the person whose abduction has been obstructed had been a slave; but of the further fact, that those accused of making obstruction had knowledge of the servile condition of the person whose abduction was attempted. It is no violation of this law to hinder or obstruct a kidnapper; and every forcible abduction of a person not owing service or labor, is kidnapping. So one who does not maké known his authority to carry off a free person from the free states, is presumptively a kidnapper. It may be compared to the case of passing counterfeit bills. Any one, with the most honest intentions, and with the most scrupulous regard for the observance of the law, is liable to pass a counterfeit bill. Good judges, even the officers of banks themselves, have been deceived with counterfeited bills of their own institutions. But unless a man knows a bill to be counterfeited, he is guilty of no violation of the law in passing it. His knowledge is the essence of the offense, and it is important, for the safety of every individual, that proof should be required of this essential fact. So, under the fugitive slave law, knowledge is equally essential, and vastly more important, as the life and liberty of a man are of primary regard. The weight of evidence on this point, as it seems to us, was so clearly on the side of the prisoners, that we are forced to the conclusion that the jury were influenced more by the appeals to their prejudices against Oberlin men as being heedless of all civil law, and especially determined to violate this law, than by the testimony of the witnesses sworn before them. The solemn assertion of Langston, that he did not know that the negro was a slave, will be believed by all who read his simple and ingenuous speech.
We think the court also erred upon this point, in refusing to allow the defendants to prove the manner in which these slave-catchers acted in possessing themselves of their victim. Certainly, if the knowledge of the defendants is necessary to be determined in deciding on their guilt or innocence, then all the facts which throw light on their means of knowledge, ought to be investigated and understood.
If it could be established by proof that the whole course of proceeding on the part of these slave-catchers, from the first enquiries they made in the neighborhood of Oberlin, until the final act of deceit by which they succeeded in seizing their
prey, had been such as to excite the fears of the community so that multitudes were alarmed for their safety, and parents dared not suffer their children to go out of the house, even to school; we say, if such a course of proceeding
could be shown, a presumption would be raised, in the absence of more positive proof, that these men were kidnappers, and the citizens of Oberlin might well believe that those who resorted to secresy and deceit to accomplish their ends, were not armed with any legal authority.
On a trial for passing a counterfeit bank bill, the knowledge, or want of knowledge, of the defendant, may be presumptively shown from any circumstances about the bill itself, such as its good or bad execution, the person from whom received, and the manner of the accused when the bill was passed, as well as the circumstances under which it was passed. Under the fugitive slave law a similar course of inquiry is clearly admissible to show knowledge or want of knowledge on the part of the accused. A man may know a counterfeit bill by looking at it, but a slave cannot be detected by his looks.
“ Hath not a” slave "eyes? Hath not a” slave “hands, organs, dimensions, senses? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer
"freeman “is?” But there may be other circumstances, in the absence of positive proof, to furnish grounds for believing that the defendants knew, or ought to have known, or did not know this essential point, and in ruling out testimony, which would have thrown light upon it, we think the court erred.
3. The only other point relied on by the defendants, which we propose to comment on, is the unconstitutionality of the law under which they were indicted. In our judgment the fugitive slave law of 1950 is clearly unconstitutional, because, 1st, The power to pass such a law is not granted to the Federal government, and the powers not granted remain in the states. The only section of the constitution, which relates to fugitives from service or labor, prohibits, it is true, the discharge from such service or labor by the laws of any state into which such fugitive shall flee, but does not confer on Congress the power to provide for their rendition. 2d. The law provides for the appointment, by the Circuit Courts of the United States, of commissioners, who shall hold their offices at the will of the