Abolitionists vs. The Constitution

On February 15, 1844 the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society published this protest itemizing their reasons for opposing the United States Constitution’s codifying the institution of slavery. The protest was published in National Anti-Slavery Standard.

Protest of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society against the
Constitution of the United States, and the Union

We, the officers of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, assembled in the city of Boston, this 25th day of January, A. D. 1844, do hereby publicly record our solemn protest against the Constitution of the United States, and the union between the northern and southern States of this confederacy, for the following reasons:

  1. Because the Constitution prohibits us from giving succor and protection to fugitive slaves, when pursued by their masters, and requires that such “shall be given up,” to be returned into slavery; thereby imposing upon us, as citizens of a nonslaveholding State, the menial and degrading duty of guarding the plantations of southern slave-masters —a duty more vile and infamous in the eyes of the civilized world, than that of the miscreant slavedriver, who is stimulated to his loathsome task by the hope of pecuniary reward.
  2. Because, in the event of an attempt by the slaves to throw off their chains, and assert their freedom by a resort to arms, in imitation of the example of the founders of this republic, the Constitution requires us to aid in furnishing a sufficient military and naval force to compel their submission —which requisition makes us, emphatically, slaveholders —and compels us, contrary to our own convictions of duty and high sense of honor, to trample on the glorious sentiments of the Declaration of Independence, dishonor the memories of our fathers who fought and bled in their defense, and render ourselves base and despicable hypocrites — who, while prating of liberty, and man’s inalienable rights, stand pledged before the world to fight the battles of slavery.
  3. Because the Constitution, contrary to the principles of natural justice and republican equality, grants to the slaveholding States a property representation in Congress, and thereby greatly enhances the power and temptation to hold slaves, by paying a bonus to the master, in the shape of an increase of political power in the councils of the nation.
  4. Because, through the power of southern influence, slavery, and that most execrable species of piracy, the slave-trade, are legalized in our national capital; and we, in common with other citizens of the North, are taxed for the erection of prisons for the accommodation of slave-traders.
  5. Because we regard a political union and alliance with slaveholders, (man-stealers,) under all circumstances, as a curse and crime—a sin against God, and a foul blot upon our characters, for which no conceivable advantages could compensate.
  6. Underwood, of Kentucky, on the floor of Congress, “the dissolution of the Union is the dissolution of slavery;” and to sanction and sustain a Union thus “gloated and cemented with the blood and marrow” of millions of our countrymen, would be to draw upon ourselves and our common country the righteous indignation and just judgments of our Creator, who has given to all an equal right to freedom.
  7. Because our colored fellow-citizens are utterly denied the rights of citizenship throughout the slaveclaming States, and in many cases are thrown into loathsome prisons, and finally sold into perpetual slavery, to defray the expense of their imprisonment.
  8. Because, under the existing compact, according to a recent decision of the Supreme Court, any northern freeman may be seized by a vagrant southerner, and claimed as his property; if so claimed, he is denied the right of trial by jury, and must be sent into slavery—provided the person claiming him can satisfy one of the judges of the Supreme or the Circuit Court of the United States, that he has previously robbed him of his liberty.
  9. Because, if known to be abolitionists, we can have no protection for our persons or property in any of the slaveholding States, but are virtually outlawed, and exposed to the halter and fagot, throughout the entire South; and that, too, with the connivance of the civil authorities of those States.
  10. Because large rewards have been offered by the legislatures and people of several of the southern States, for the abduction of some of our most valued citizens; and these rewards still remain uncancelled.
  11. Because a worthy citizen of Ohio has recently been mulcted $1,700, on two verdicts rendered against him in the Circuit Court of the United States, in favor of a Kentucky slaveholder, for assisting a distressed family in making their escape from slavery.
  12. Because three citizens of a northern State, of blameless lives and uncommon moral worth, have recently been sentenced, for a term of twelve years, to the State prison of one of the slave States, for an act of philanthropy which none but thieves and pirates could condemn, and of which we should glory to have been the authors.
  13. Because the union of the northern with the southern States of this confederacy, is, in every point of view, far more guilty, disgraceful, and oppressive to the North, than the union of Ireland with Great Britain—a connection which most of us are now seeking, by the whole weight of our influence, to dissolve.
  14. Because, while we of the North have been taxed seven millions of dollars, within the last fourteen years, to support the post-office department in the South, the chivalrous people who thus depend upon us to pay their postage, have rewarded our generosity by rifling the mails of our letters and other papers, and publicly consigning them to the flames, or in some other way withholding them from the persons to whom they were directed.
  15. Because the sacred right of petition has been cloven down on the floor of Congress by the slave power, and our prayers and memorials cast unheeded under the speaker’s table, or thrown back with oaths and imprecations, into our teeth.
  16. Because our constitutional rights, as citizens, to the liberty of speech and of the press, are totally abrogated throughout the South; and we are denied the privilege of remonstrating with the people of those States against the wicked, disgraceful, and oppressive institutions which we are compelled by the Constitution to support.
  17. Because our representatives in Congress are habitually exposed to insult and personal abuse from slaveholding bullies, duelists, and assassins; and are compelled either to compromise the rights and interests of their constituents, or defend them in face of the dirks, pistols, and bowie-knives of a southern overseership.
  18. Because the northern States have recently been compelled by the slave power to furnish no less than $30,000,000 to carry on a bloody and disgraceful war with the Seminole Indians, the main object of which was the recapture of fugitive slaves.
  19. Because the experience of more than half a century has convinced us that liberty and slavery cannot co-exist under the same government; and that our only hope for the recovery and perpetuity of our own rights and liberties, is in a total dissolution of all political connection with those States which make merchandise of their own citizens.
  20. Because, finally, we have no inducement to perpetuate a connection, which, from its origin, has been characterized by a constant sacrifice of our rights and interests at home, and of our reputation and influence abroad, and has already drawn upon us the indignant and burning rebukes of the friends of freedom, and the bitter taunts of tyrants througout the civilized world—a connection, which, while it can do us no possible good, subjects us to continued insult and outrage from the very men who are dependent upon us for the protection of themselves and their families from the avenging arm of those whom they have deeply injured.

National Anti-Slavery Standard was the official weekly newspaper of the American Anti-Slavery Society, an abolitionist society founded in 1833 by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan to spread their movement across the nation with printed materials. Frederick Douglass was a key leader of this society and often addressed meetings at its New York City headquarters.

Remember Your Weekly Pledge, collection box for Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Set aside in the home, the box was designed to remind members to make their weekly contribution. Circa 1850

Remember Your Weekly Pledge, collection box for Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Set aside in the home, the box was designed to remind members to make their weekly contribution. Circa 1850

For the reasons here enumerated, and others of similar import, to which we might refer, we now publicly ABJURE OUR ALLEGIANCE TO THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES, AND THE UNION, and place the broad seal of our reprobation on this unnatural and unholy alliance between liberty and slavery. The Union, in our judgment, is not only at war with the law and government of God, and destructive of the peace, the honor, and prosperity of the North, but of no real benefit to the South, since it serves to delay the “day of her visitation,” only to plunge her the deeper into infamy and ruin. We therefore declare its obligations, so far as they relate to ourselves, utterly null and void; and we now publicly pledge ourselves to seek, in all suitable ways, its peaceful dissolution.

We shall accept of no office under the Constitution of the United States, so long as slavery remains an element of the government; nor shall we aid in electing others to fill such offices. But throwing ourselves back upon our natural rights, and the legitimate principles of the revolution, we (or such of us as may think proper to go to the polls,) shall hereafter employ the ballot-box to make known our opposition to the Union, and break up this iniquitous alliance, to which we are still compelled to give support.

For the purity of our motives in thus seeking to dissolve a connection, which, from our childhood, we have been taught to hallow and revere, we appeal to the Almighty Ruler of the universe, on whom we mainly depend for the success of our enterprise. And while we invoke His blessing on our efforts to emancipate our countrymen from their chains, and free ourselves from guilt, by breaking the fatalleague on which their enthralment mainly depends, we earnestly invite the friends of freedom throughout the North to unite with us in this measure; and hereafter to vote for REPEAL, instead of casting their ballot for abolitionists for offices, which they cannot fill without first taking an oath to support and defend the slave power.

Henceforth, let REPEAL be our watchword and rallying cry; and to this point let our efforts be especially directed, till slavery shall be abolished, or the league which now binds us to that vile and execrable institution, and unites our destinies, in peace and in war, with the destinies of the guilty slavemaster, shall be finally broken.

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