Lincoln spends some time in his 1st Inaugural considering the issue of the “Fugitive Slave Law.”
There is much controversy about the delivering up of fugitives from service or labor. The clause I now read is as plainly written in the Constitution as any other of its provisions:
No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.
Lincoln spends time here insisting that this law would be upheld and yet for a Lincoln administration to have upheld this law they would have run, face first, into the reality that the the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in 1854, had declared the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional. Other states had not gone so far as Wisconsin but they were turning a blind eye to this clause of the Constitution and it was one area in which both Northerners and Southerners were exercised about. Why should Southerners believe Lincoln’s verbiage about his commitment to the Constitution when the constituency that elected him in the North was routinely ignoring this provision of the Constitution? Would Lincoln have risked contretemps with Wisconsin in order to satisfy Southern demands on Fugitive slaves? Would Lincoln have raised an army of 70,000 to invade Wisconsin if Wisconsin refused to return Fugitive slaves per the Constitution as he did when the South, in his misplaced opinion thought the South was violating the Constitution? Would Lincoln issue an arrest warrant for the Wisconsin Supreme Court for ruling contrary to his diktat as he eventually issued an arrest warrant for Chief Justice Roger Taney because Taney dared to issue Ex-parte Merryman against Lincoln’s wishes?
No, all this language about honoring the Constitution and the Fugitive slave law was just so much political kabuki theater in order to attempt to speak to Southern concerns.
L – 1st – I
“I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.”
Bret untangles this,
1.) Notice that what “universal law” Lincoln was referencing, or what it had to do with the question of the perpetuity of the union, Lincoln did not bother to explain. One would have dearly loved to have heard Lincoln to prove, from his “universal law,” how it is that union of these united States was in perpetuity.
2.) Note here that Lincoln urges the fact that no government ever provided for its own termination as a proof of his false conclusion that no government was terminable. Can you say non-sequitur?
3.) Lincoln makes a “Captain Obvious” point when he offers, “Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever.” This could have been easily said also of the Union under the previous “Articles of Confederation.” Of course the South had no intention to continue to execute all the express provisions of the National Constitution. One suspect if Lincoln is hinting here at his revenue raising tariffs threatened by the South’s secession.
4.) Thankfully, a personage from Lincoln’s own era crushes Lincoln’s reasoning here. Here is a segment from just 12 short years prior as given by a US congressman when discussing Texas’ secession from Mexico.
“Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right—a right which, we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit. More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority, intermingled with, or near about them, who may oppose their movement.”
One wonders how the Lincoln of 1860 would have replied to this US Congressman’s speech from 1848?
Oh …. the US Congressmen making this 1848 case?
US Congressman, Abraham Lincoln.
L – 1st – I
“Again: If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it–break it, so to speak–but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?”
1.) The answer to Lincoln’s question is “no.” That “no” is the answer is seen by the conditional ratification of the Constitution by three of the original thirteen states, which carefully reserved the right of secession. They were Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island. This conditional ratification was the explicit language placed by the Constitutional Ratification of those states which insisted that said states retained the right to reverse their decision of joining the union. The fact that three of the states were allowed, by the other states, to join upon conditional ratification included a tacit understanding that secession was permissible. Naturally, the same expectation would be owned by future new states.
2.) Lincoln, in his Gettysburg, invoked the Declaration of Independence as a foundation for his reasoning of pursuing his course of illegal war against the South. As such we will appeal to the Declaration of Independence on this issue.
“Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, . . .”
“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.”
Given the language of the 10th amendment the Constitution would have had to enumerate or delegate to the Federal Government the responsibility and power to stop states from seceding. This the Constitution does not do. Lincoln’s predecessor, James Buchanan understood this which is why Buchanan did nothing when South Carolina left in December of “60.”
To the contrary the US Constitution did not have to provide explicit language that allowed the states to secede since, “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.” Secession, because unmentioned in the Constitution was a power reserved to the States.