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restrictions which, were they erased from the Constitution, the Legislature would be at liberty to disregard. No Legislature is omnipotent. No Legislature can make right, wrong; or wrong, right. Nor is any Legislature at liberty to disregard the fundamental principles of rectitude and justice. Whether restrained or not by any constitutional provisions, there are acts beyond any legitimate or binding legislative authority. There are certain vital principles in our national Government which will ascertain and overrule an apparent and flagrant abuse of legislative power. The Legislature cannot authorize injustice by law; cannot nullify private contracts; cannot abrogate the securities of life, liberty and property, which it is the very object of society, as well as of our constitution of government, to provide; cannot make a man judge in his own case; cannot repeal the laws of Nature; cannot create any obligation to do wrong or neglect duty. No court is bound to enforce unjust law; but, on the contrary, every court is bound, by prior and superior obligations, to abstain from enforcing such law. . . . “It is the maxim of the common law that he who will not favor liberty shall be accursed. “Ececrandus, qui non favet libertati /* The courts of England, ever presuming, in obedience to this maxim, in favor of freedom, extinguished villeinage and established an impregnable barrier against the introduction of a new slavery. May I not trust that the favor shown to liberty by the courts of the chief monarchy of Europe, will not surpass that which liberty will receive from the courts of the chief republic of America? “Upon questions—such as are some of those involved in this case—which partake largely of a moral and political nature, the judgment even of this court cannot be regarded as altogether final. The decision to be made here, must necessarily be rejudged at the tribunal of public opinion; the opinion, not of the American people only, but of the civilized world. At home, as is well known, a growing disaffection to the Constitution prevails, founded upon its supposed allowance and support of human slavery; abroad, the national character suffers under the same reproach. I hope, and—I trust it may not be too serious to add—I most earnestly pray, that the judgment of the court in this case may commend itself to the reason and con
THE WAN ZANDT CASE. 65
science of mankind; that it may rescue the Constitution from the undeserved opprobrium of lending its sanction to the idea that there may be property in men; that it may gather around that venerable charter of republican freedom the renewed affection and confidence of a generous people; and that it may win for American institutions the warm admiration and homage of all, who, everywhere, love liberty and revere justice.” With this noble invocation Mr. Chase closed his argument. The judgment of the court was adverse to Van Zandt upon all points. When the certificate of these decisions was presented in the Circuit Court, final judgment for the penalty was of course entered. Mr. Chase then moved in arrest of the judgment in the suit for damages, but the judge, pending the suit in the Supreme Court, had changed his position on the controlling points, and the decision was again adverse. Mr. Chase then proposed to accept the new trial upon the terms of the order already made, but upon this question the opinion of the court had also changed! and judgment was entered against Van Zandt for twelve hundred dollars damages, as well as the penalty in the sum of five hundred dollars. The character of Judge McLean is unquestioned, but in the absence of the universal pro-slavery sentiment of the times, it is not improbable that his decision would have been different. The services both of Mr. Chase and Governor Seward (who also submitted a written argument) in behalf of Van Zandt were given without compensation. A small sum was contributed by antislavery men for the actual expenses of the defense, but it was not sufficient even for that purpose. Van Zandt suffered severely by these events. He is long since dead, and the final judgment has been entered in his cause by that awful and just Judge with whom humanity is certainly no crime.”
*Salmon Portland Chase to Lewis Tappan.
“Crocmonari, March 18, 1847. “I regret the decision in the Van Zandt case, and, I confess, did not expect it. I had a letter from a very intelligent slaveholder, to whom I sent a copy of my argument, in which he was frank enough to say, that so far as he had read the
that upon these questions necessity knows no law.” I do not know that I ever mentioned to you, that when I had concluded my argument for Wan Zandt in the Circuit Court, Jones, the plaintif came to me, though an entire stranger to him, and expressed his regret that the suit had been brought, saying that he had been badly advised or he should not have commerced it; so foily satisfied was he, then, that the decision of Judge McLean must be against him. But much as I regret the issue of the case in the Supreme Court, I do not regret that the discussion has been had, and I am thankful I have had some part in it. I have received from many and very different political quarters, assurances of the full assent of the writers to the leading points of the argument; and I am well satisfied that the intelligent judgment of the profession, so far as it has considered the case, is with us. “I am glad to see that Governor Seward's argument has been given to the public in the New York Tribune in a condensed form; and it is one of the gratifications, and one of the greatest too, that I have derived from my connection with the case, that it has brought me into intercourse with that gentleman. I regard him as one of the very first public men of our country. Who but himself would have done what he did for the poor wretch Freeman? His course in the Wan Zandt case has been generous and noble; but his action in the Freeman case, considering his own personal position and the circumstances, was magnanimous in the highest de
argument, I seemed to have the right of it; ‘bot, he a ded, “you seem to forget
STATE ELECTION, 1842—DIFFICULTIES OF THE LIBERTY PARTY MOVEMENT—n ATIONAL CONVENTION OF THE LIBERTY PARTY AT BUFFALO IN 1848–80UTHERN AND WESTERN LIBERTY CONVENTION AT CINCINNATI IN 1845—A GREAT AND IMPORTANT GATHERING-THE CASE OF SAMUEL WATSON.
Th; State election in Ohio in 1840 showed the strength of the antislavery vote to be nine hundred and three; but it was a vote representing the unconditional abolition sentiment of the voters. It said briefly, and without circumlocution, concealment, or reservation, of any kind: “Slavery must be overthrown. No matter how numerous the difficulties, how formidable the obstacles, how strong the foes, to be vanquished— slavery must cease to pollute the land. No matter whether the event be near or remote, whether the task-master willingly or unwillingly relinquish his arbitrary power, whether by a peaceful or a bloody process—slavery must die. No matter though, to effect it, every party should be torn by dissensions, every sect dashed into fragments, the national compact dissolved, the land filled with the horrors of a civil and a servile war—still, slavery must be buried in the grave of infamy, beyond the possibility of a resurrection. If the state cannot survive the antislavery agitation, then let the state perish. If the Church must be cast down by the struggles of humanity to be free, then let the Church fall, and its fragments be scattered to the four winds of heaven, never more to curse the earth. If the American Union cannot be maintained, except by immolating human freedom on the altar of tyranny, then let the American Union be consumed by a living thunder-bolt, and no tear be shed over its ashes. If the republic must be blotted out from the roll of nations, by proclaiming liberty to the captives, then let the republic sink beneath the waves of oblivion, and a shout of joy, louder than the voice of many waters, fill the universe at its extinction. Against this declaration, none but traitors and tyrants will raise an outcry. It is the mandate of Heaven and the voice of God. It has righteousness for its foundation, reason for its authority, and truth for its support.”" Language like this, addressed to the temper of the times, won no support to the cause of antislavery in any form, but greatly increased its difficulties. The public sentiment of the country, passionately pro-slavery from causes impossible wholly . to be explained, and all the more intense because of the very obscurity of its motives, was deepened and intensified, if that were possible, by the denunciations and violence of the unconditional antislavery men. The writers and stumpers of the old parties made an adroit and effective use of it; a characteristic use, since every antislavery man was denounced by them as an abolitionist, and perforce seditious, a violator of the law, an inciter to servile insurrection and to the murder of women and children. Abolitionism was made a synonym, in the popular mind, for slave-insurrection and negro equality, equally fearful and abhorrent. It was alleged by public men—and doubtless many believed it—that abolitionism would lead to a dissolution of the Union. So that as every antislavery man was charged with being an abolitionist, and as every abolitionist was represented to be a willful promoter of negro insurrection, negro equality and disunion, the Liberty party received but a scant consideration among the voters of the State. It is not surprising, therefore, that the movement did not attract any great accessions; still there were some, and the vote for Judge King in October, 1842, was five thousand three hundred and five; a good deal disappointing the expectations of Mr. Chase, who had confidently looked forward to greater results. His hope had been that the vote would be sufficiently large to attract into the Liberty organization some leading men, acting