« PreviousContinue »
nando Wood, of New York; Pendleton, of Ohio, and others.
Very many eloquent passages might be culled from the speeches delivered on that resolution, but I will only give a few brief quotations from the Hon. Mr. Rollins, of Missouri, and Thad. Stevens, of Pennsylvania. Mr. Rollins had been a slaveholder, until a few days before they were all liberated by an amendment to the State constitution of Missouri. He said:
“I am a believer in the Declaration of Independence, wherein it is asserted that 'all men are created equal.' I believe that when it says 'all men,' it means every man who was created in the 'image of his Maker,' and walks on God's footstool, without regard to race, color or any accidental circumstance by which he may be surrounded.
"An anti-slavery man in sentiment, and yet heretofore a large owner of slaves myself—not now, however—not exactly with my consent. The convention which recently assembled in my State, I learned from a telegram a morning or two ago, had adopted an amendment to our present State constitution for the immediate emancipation of all the slaves in the State. I am no longer the oroner of a slave, and I thank God for it. If the giving up of my slaves, without complaint, shall be a contribution upon my part to promote the public good, to uphold the constitution of the United States, to restore peace and preserve this Union, if I had owned a thousand slaves, they would most cheerfully have been given up. . I say, with all my heart, let thein go, but let them not go without a sense of feeling and a proper regard on my part for the future of themselves and their offspring!”
Mr. Rollins concluded by saying,
“Let ours be the “bright particular star' next to the star that led the shepherds to Bethlehem, which shall lead the downtrodden and oppressed of all the world into an harbor of peace, security and happiness; and let us, kneeling around the altar, all thank God that, although we have had our trials, we have saved our country; that, although we have been guilty of sins, we have wiped them out, and that we at length stand up a great and powerful people, honored by all the earth, ‘redeemed, regenerated and disenthralled by the genius of universal emancipation."
The venerable leader of the House arose to close the debate on this great measure, and the members gathered around him, filling the seats and aisles and every available spot near the “old man eloquent.” Inteligence was sent to the Senate that Thad. Stevens was speaking on the constitutional amendment. Many of the Senators came in and the Judges of the Supreme Court to hear him speak on a measure that was to crown the labors of forty years with complete success. As soon
as the vast audience could get into their. places, all were hushed into silence.
Mr. Stevens commenced by narrating the progress of the anti-slavery cause from its feeble beginning. I can only find room for a few extracts from a speech which attracted the closest attention from the first to the last sentence. He said
“From my earliest youth I was taught to read the Declaration of Independence, and to receive its sublime principles. As I advanced in life, and became somewhat enabled to consult the writings of the great men of antiquity, I found in all their works which have survived the ravages of time, and come down to the present generation, one unanimous denunciation of tyranny and of slavery, and eulogy of liberty.
“In immortal language all denounced slavery as a thing which took away half of the man and degraded human beings, and sang praise in the noblest strains to the goddess of liberty; and my hatred of this infernal institution, and my love for liberty, was further inflamed as I saw the inspired teachings of Socrates and the divine inspirations of Jesus.
Being fixed in these principles immovably and immutably, I took my stand among my fellow-citizens, and on all occasions, whether in public or in private, in season, and if there could be
such a time, out of season, I never hesitated to express those ideas and sentiments, and when I went first into public assemblies, forty years ago, I uttered this language. I have done it amid the pelting and hooting of mobs, but I never quailed before the infernal spirit, and I hope I never shrank from the responsibility of my language.
“When, fifteen years ago, I was honored with a seat in this. body, it was dangerous to talk against this institution—a danger which gentlemen now here will never be able to appreciate. Some of us, however, have experienced it.
And yet, sir, I did not hesitate, in the midst of bowie-knives and revolvers, and howling demons upon the other side of the House, to stand here and denounce this infamous institution in language which possibly now, on looking at it, I might deem intemperate, but which I then deemed necessary to rouse the public attention and cast odium upon the worst institution on earth-one which is a disgrace to man and would be an annoyance to the infernal spirits.
In the course of the debate, the Hon. George H. Pendleton had made a pathetic appeal for the constitution as it was, with all its guarantees for slavery. Mr. Stevens referred to Mr. Pendleton's speech in his closing sentences, in the following language:
“Perhaps I ought not to occupy so much time, and I will only say one word further. So far as the appeals of the learned gentleman are concerned, his pathetic winding up, I will be willing to take my chance when all moulder into the dust. He may have his epitaph, if it be truly written, 'Here rests the ablest and most pertinacious defender of slavery and opponent of liberty;' and I will be satisfied if my epitaph shall be written thus: “Here lies one who never rose to any eminence, and who only courted the low ambition to have it said that he had striven to ameliorate the condition of the poor, the lowly, the down-trodden of every race and language, and color. I shall be content with such a eulogy on his lofty tomb, and such an inscription on my humble grave, to trust our memories to the judgment of other ages.”
During the delivery of this speech, the circle set apart for the representatives of all the other governments of the world was crowded; the floor of the House was filled, and the galleries were packed with distinguished soldiers, civilians and citizens. The vote on the final passge of the joint resolution was to be taken at its close, and no one knew with certainty what would be the result. It was known that the Republicans alone could not pass it; there must be accessions from the Democratic side of the House, or the measure would fail. English, of Connecticut, was the first Democrat who responded aye, which drew fourth great applause from the House and galleries. There were enough accessions to foot up the vote, 119 ayes and 56 nays; when the Speaker made the formal announcement: “The constitutional majority of two-thirds having voted in the affirmative, the joint resolution is passed.” This was followed by an uncontrolable outburst of enthusiasm. The cheering was commenced among the members and was taken up in the galleries. Finally, Mr. Ingersoll, of Illinois, who was the successor of Owen Lovejoy; in honor of the sublime event, moved that the House adjourn. The motion was carried, amid the roar of artillery, by which it was announced to the people of Washington that the joint resolution submitting to the State Legislatures for their action an amendment to the constitution for the total abolition of slavery in the United States had passed both Houses of Congress.
Personal friends of President Lincoln hastened to the White House and exchanged congratulations with him on the result. His heart was filled with joy, as he saw in this action of Congress the complete consummation of his own great work. He had seen his emancipation proclamation sustained by the victorious Union armies in the field, by the people at the Presidential election, and now the constitutional majority of two-thirds in both Houses of Congress had voted to submit to the people, through their Representatives in the State Legislatures, the constitutional amendment for the final abolition of slavery.
It is a settled principle in National legislation that the approval of the Executive is not necessary to give rital force to a joint resolution of the two Houses of Congress; but during the excitement attending the passage of the joint resolution submitting the amendment for the abolition of slavery, it was presented to and signed by President Lincoln. Although done in a mistake, it seems to have been appropriate, as it was the last act it was possible for him to do. It then only remained for a majority of the State Legislatures to approve of the resolution, and for the Secretary of State for the United States to proclaim the fact and declare the article so submitted to be a part of the constitution of the United States.
Lest this action of President Lincoln should become a troublesome precedent, Senator Trumbull introduced a joint resolution in the Senate, reciting the facts in the case, and declaring that such approval was unnecessary to effect the action of Congress.
The joint resolution for the extinction of slavery passed Congress, and received the signature of the President, January 31, 1865. The Legislature of Illinois being then in session, took up the question at once, and in less than twenty-four hours after its passage by Congress, President Lincoln had the satisfaction of receiving a telegram from his old home, announcing the fact that the constitutional amendment had been ratified by both Houses of the Legislature of his own State, Feb. 1, 1865. Then came the action of the Legislatures of other States in the order named: Rhode Island and Michigan, Feb. 2; Maryland, Feb. 1 and 3; New York, Feb. 2 and 3; West Virginia, Feb. 3; Maine and Kansas, Feb. 7; Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, Feb. 8; Virginia, Feb.