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   Chapter 79 1798).

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 2476

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Anti-slavery memorials.]

The question of the extent of the powers of Congress had already once been raised. On February 11 and 12, 1790, there were presented to Congress two memorials, the one the "Address of the People called Quakers, in their Annual Assembly convened;" the other the "Memorial of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery." These memorials asked Congress to "exert upright endeavors, to the full extent of your power, to remove every obstruction to public righteousness," particularly in the matter of slavery. The motion to commit instantly roused Southern members. Jackson of Georgia said that "any extraordinary attention of Congress to the petition would hold their property in jeopardy." The matter was sent to a subcommittee, composed chiefly of Southern members. On March 8th that committee reported the principles under which Congress acted during the next seventy years. They said that Congress had no power to interfere with slavery or the treatment of slaves within the States; they might pass laws regulating the slave-trade, but could not then stop the importation of slaves from foreign countries into the United States. Another resolution, to the effect that Congress

would exercise its powers for the humane principles of the memorial, was struck out by the House. The anti-slavery organizations from which these memorials had proceeded kept up a brisk fusillade of petitions. In some cases the House refused to receive them, but Congress did pass several laws reducing the evils of the slave-trade.

[Sidenote: Fugitive slaves.]

In 1793 the question came up, how fugitive slaves should be restored if they had fled and taken refuge in another State. An act was passed by which the United States assumed authority in the matter; the claimant was simply to satisfy any national or State magistrate that he was entitled to the person claimed. The act had hardly gone into effect before a fugitive was apprehended in Massachusetts. Josiah Quincy, who was employed to defend him, tells us that he "heard a noise, and turning round he saw the constables lying sprawling on the floor, and a passage opening through the crowd, through which the fugitive was taking his departure, without stopping to hear the opinion of the court." From the very first, therefore, we find in vigorous action the paraphernalia of the later anti- slavery movement,-societies, petitions, laws, and deliberate violation of laws.

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