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which the question is in any respect applicable, there will be no mistake, I presume, in assuming it to be the one you had in view. The deviation, in putting the question, from what would seem to be the plain and obvious course of directing the attention to the particular law under consideration, by referring to it in the very terms in which it is expressed or at least in language showing its objects and limitations, I do not impute to an intention to create an erroneous impression as to the law, or to ascribe to it a character of odiousness which it does not deserve; yet I think that it must be conceded that your question will induce those who are not particularly acquainted with the section of the statute to which it refers, to believe that there is a law of this State which allows a free importation of slaves into it, without restriction as to object, and without limitation as to the persons who may do so, yet this is very far from being true. This law does not permit any inhabitant of this State to bring into it any person held in slavery, under any pretense, or for any object whatsoever: nor does it allow any person of any other State or country to do so, except such person is actually passing to or from, or passing through this State. This law, in its operation and effect, only allows persons belonging to States or nations where domestic slavery exists, who happen to be traveling in this State, to be attended by their servants, whom they lawfully hold in slavery when at home, provided they do not remain within our territories longer than nine months. The difference between it and the one implied by your interrogatory is so manifest, that it is perhaps fair to presume, that if those by whose appointment you act in this matter had not misapprehended its character, they would not have instructed you to make it the subject of one of your questions. It is so restricted in its object, and that is so unexceptionable that it can scarcely be regarded as obnoxious to well-founded objections when viewed in its true light. Its repeal would, I apprehend, have an injurious effect upon our intercourse with some of the other States, and particularly upon their business connection with our commercial emporium. In addition to this, the repeal would have a tendency to disturb the political harmony among the members of the confederacy, without producing any beneficial result to compensate for these evils. I am not therefore in favor of it."
This is an explicit answer, meeting the interrogatory with a full negative, and implicitly rebuking the phrase, "importation," by supposing it would not have been used if the Utica convention had understood the act. Mr. Seward answered in the same spirit, and to the same effect, only giving a little more amplitude to his excellent reason. He says:
"Does not your inquiry give too broad a meaning to the section? It certainly does not confer upon any citizen of a State, or of any other country, or any citizen from any other State, except the owner of slaves in another State by virtue of the laws thereof, the right to bring slaves into this State or detain them here under any circumstances as such. I understand your inquiry, therefore, to mean, whether I am in favor of a repeal of the law which declares, in substance, that any person from the Southern or southwestern States, who may be traveling to or from or passing through the State, may bring with him and take with him any person lawfully held by him in slavery in the State from whence he came, provided such slaves do not remain here more than nine months. The article of the Constitution of the United States which bears upon the present question, declares that no person held to service or labor in one State under the laws thereof, escaping to another State, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but such person shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service 302
or labor may be due. I understand that, in the State of Massachusetts, this provision of the Constitution has been decided by the courts not to include the case of a slave brought by his master into the State and escaping thence. But the courts of law in this State have uniformly given a different construction to the same article of the Constitution, and have always decided that it does embrace the case of a slave brought by his master into this State, and escaping from him here. Consequently, under this judicial construction of the Constitution, and without, and in defiance of any law or regulation of this State, if the slave escape from his master in this State, he must be restored to him, when claimed at any time during his master's temporary sojournment, within the State, whether that sojournment be six months, nine months, or longer. It is not for me to say that this decision is erroneous, nor is it for our legislature. Acting under its authority, they passed the law to which you object, for the purpose not of conferring new powers or privileges on the slave-owner, but to prevent his abuse of that which the Constitution of the United States, thus expounded, secures to him. The law, as I understood it, was intended to fix a period of time as a test of transient passage through, or temporary residence in the State, within the provisions of the Constitution. The duration of nine months is not material in the question, and if it be unnecessarily long, may and ought to be abridged. But, if no such law existed, the right of the master (under the construction of the Constitution before mentioned) would be indefinite, and the slave must be surrendered to him in all cases of traveling through or passage to or from the State. If I have correctly apprehended the subject, this law is one not conferring a right upon any person to import slaves into the State, and hold them here as such, but is an attempt at restriction upon the constitutional right of the master: a qualification, or at least a definition
of it, and is in favor of the slate. Its repeal, therefore, would have the effect to put in greater jeopardy the class of persons yon propose to benefit by it.
"While the construction of the Constitution adopted here is maintained, the law it would seem ought to remain upon our statute book, not as an encroachment upon the rights of man but a protection for them.
"But, gentlemen, being desirous to be entirely candid in this communication, it is proper I should add, that I am not convinced it would be either wise, expedient or humane to declare to our fellow citizens of the Southern and Southwestern States, that if they travel to or from or pass through the State of New York, they shall not bring with them the attendants whom custom, or education, or habit may have rendered necessary to them. I have not been able to discover any good object to be attained by such an act of inhospitality. It certainly can work no injury to us, nor can it be injurious to the unfortunate beings held in bondage to permit them, once perhaps in their lives, and at most on occasions few and far between, to visit a country where slavery is unknown, I can even conceive of benefits to the great cause of human liberty, from the cultivation of this intercourse with the South. I can imagine but one ground of objection, which is, that it may be regarded as an impli-. cation that this State sanctioned slavery. If this objection, were well grounded, I should at once condemn the law. But, in truth the law does not imply any such sanction. The same statute which, in necessary obedience to the Constitution of the United States as expounded, declares the exception, condemns, in the most clear and definite terms, all human bondages. I will not press the consideration flowing from the nature of our Union, and the mutual concessions on which it was founded, against the propriety of such an exclusion as your question contemplates, apparently for the purpose only of avoiding an implication not
founded in fact, and which the history of onr State so nobly contradicts. It is sufficient to say that such an exclusion could have no good effect practically, and would accomplish nothing in the great cause of human liberty."
These answers do not seem to have affected the election in any way. Mr. Seward was elected, each candidate receiving the full vote of his party. Since that time the act has been repealed, and no voice has been raised to restore it. Just and meritorious as were the answers of Messrs. Marcy and Seward in favor of sustaining the sojourning act, their voices in favor of its restoration would be still more so now. It was a measure in the very spirit of the Constitution, and in the very nature of a union, and in full harmony with the spirit of concession, deference, and good will in which the Constitution was founded. Several other States had acts to the same effect, and the temper of the people in all the free States was accordant. It was not until after the slavery question became a subject of political agitation, in the national legislature, that these acts were repealed, and this spirit destroyed. Political agitation has done all the mischief.
The act of Pennsylvania, of March 3d, 1847, beside repealing the slave sojournment act of 1780—(an act made in the time of Dr. Franklin, and which had been on her statute book near seventy years)—beside repealing her recent act of 1826, and beside forbidding the use of her prisons and the intervention of her officers in the recovery of fugitive slaves—beside all this, went on to make positive enactment to prevent the exercise of the rights of forcible recaption of fugitive slaves, as regulated by the act of Congress, under the clause in the Constitution; and for that purpose contained this section.
"That if any person or persons, claiming any negro or mulatto, as fugitive from servitude or labor, shall, under any pretense of authority whatever, violently and tumultnously