Why Cannot Congress Abolish Slavery in the States?
The other day, a very well-meaning man asked the following question, viz.: "Why cannot congress abolish slavery in the states?" Said he: "I find nothing in the constitution prohibiting congress from doing it."
This man has read the constitution to very little purpose. The constitution of the United States is simply the charter under which congress acts, and congress can do no act for which it cannot find authority in the constitution. The government of the United States of America is simply a union of thirty-four separate and independent republics, bound together, by the constitution, for the purpose of mutual protection and defense. They united for certain purposes, specified in the constitution, but in every other respect they are separate and independent governments.
Slavery was not established by virtue of the constitution, nor does it exist by virtue of any law of congress. It exists by virtue of state laws, and can be abolished only by the same authority. The man who asked the question at the head of this article was right in saying that he could find nothing on the subject in the constitution. But if he had read the 10th article of the constitution, he would have found an answer to his question, viz.:
"Art. X. The powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."
Congress, therefore, can exercise no power whatever, except the powers specifically delegated to it by the constitution. And the people of the states can do anything they please, not prohibited by the constitution. — The constitution does not delegate to congress the power to abolish slavery, therefore congress cannot exercise that power. The constitution does not prohibit the people of the states from establishing or abolishing slavery just when and how they please. Therefore, the people of the states can exercise that power. All that is as "plain as a pike staff."
Now, to show that congress takes exactly this view of the subject, we append the following resolutions, passed almost unanimously, by the United States house of representatives, on the 11th day of February, 1861, viz.:
Resolved, That neither the federal government, nor the people or governments of the non-slaveholding states, have a purpose or a constitutional right to legislate upon or interfere with slavery in any of the states of the union.
Resolved, That those persons in the north who do not subscribe to the foregoing proposition are too insignificant in numbers and influence to excite the serious attention or alarm of any portion of the people of the republic, and that the increase of their numbers and influence does not keep pace with the increase of the aggregate population of the union.
These resolutions were voted for by nearly every republican in congress, and passed with scarcely a vote against them. Republicans, as well as democrats, are bound by them, and nobody but an abolitionist will attempt to evade them.
Mr. Lincoln himself announced the same views on this subject in his celebrated Freeport speech. He also declared that he was opposed to a sudden emancipation of slavery. The Chicago platform also says:
4. That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the states, and especially the rights of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depends.
Mr. Lincoln stands by the same doctrine now, as will be seen by his message, just sent to congress, and which appears in the ARGUS to-day. He is careful to say, in that message, that his proposition "sets up no claim or right, by federal authority, to interfere with slavery, within the state limits, referring as it does, the absolute control of the subject, in each case, to the state and its people immediately interested."
This shows that he does not believe in any such right, and it is in accordance with his Freeport speech, wherein he declared his opposition to any scheme of emancipation, even in the District of Columbia, which was not sanctioned by the people of the state or district and did not provide for compensation to the owners of slaves.