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reason with you about the effect of this constitution. They will not take the opinion of this committee concerning its operation. They will construe it as they please. If you place it subsequently, let me ask the consequences ? Among ten thousand implied powers which they may assume, they may, if we be engaged in war, liberate every one of your slaves, if they please. And this must and will be done by men, a majority of whom have not a common interest with you. They will, therefore, have no feeling for your interests.
It has been repeatedly said here, that the great object of a national government, is national defence. That power, which is said to be intended for security and safety, may be rendered detestable and oppressive. If you give power to the general government to provide for the general defence, the means must be commensurate to the end. All the means in the possession of the people, must be given to the government which is entrusted with the public defence. In this state there are two hundred and thirty six thousand blacks, and there are many in several other states: but there are few or none in the northern states, and yet, if the northern states shall be of opinion that our numbers are numberless, they may call forth every national resource. May Congress not say, that every black man must fight? Did we not see a little of this in the last war? We were not so hard pushed, as to make emancipation general: but acts of assembly passed, that every slave who would go to the army should be free. Another thing will contribute to bring this event about; slavery is detested; we feel its fatal effects; we deplore it with all the pity of humanity. Let all these considerations, at some future period, press with full force on the minds of Congress. Let that urbanity, which I trust will distinguish America, and the necessity of national defence--let all these things operate on their minds, and they will search that paper, and see if they have power of manumission. And have they not, sir? Have they not power to provide
for the general defence and welfare? May they not think that these call for the abolition of slavery? May they not pronounce all slaves free, and will they not be warranted by that power? There is no ambiguous implication, or logical deduction. The paper speaks to the point. They have the power in clear unequivocal terms, and will clearly and certainly exercise it. As much as I deplore slavery, I see that prudence forbids its abolition. I deny that the general government ought to set them free, because a decided majority of the states have not the ties of sympathy and fellow-feeling for those whose interest would be affected by their emancipation. The majority of Congress is to the north, and the slaves are to the south. In this situation, I see a great deal of the property of the people of Virginia in jeopardy, and their peace and tranquillity gone away. I repeat it again, that it would rejoice my very soul, that every one of my fellow-beings was emancipated. As we ought with gratitude to admire that decree of heaven, which has numbered us among the free, we ought to lament and deplore the necessity of holding our fellow-men in bondage. But is it practicable, by any human means, to liberate them, without producing the most dreadful and ruinous consequences? We ought to possess them in the manner we have inherited them from our ancestors, as their manumission is incompatible with the felicity of the country. But we ought to soften, as much as possible, the rigor of their unhappy fate. I know that in a variety of particular instances, the legislature, listening to complaints, have admitted their emancipation. Let me not dwell on this subject. I will only add, that this, as well as every other property of the people of Virginia, is in jeopardy, and put in the hands of those who have no similarity of situation with us. This is a local matter, and I can see no propriety in subjecting it to Congress.
With respect to subsequent amendments, proposed by the worthy member, I am distressed when I hear
the expression. It is a new one altogether, and such an one as stands against every idea of fortitude and manliness, in the states, or any one else. Evils admitted, in order to be removed subsequently, and tyranny submitted to, in order to be excluded by a subsequent alteration, are things totally new to me.
But I am sure he meant nothing but to amuse the committee. I know his candor. His proposal is an idea dreadful to me. I ask-does experience warrant such a thing from the beginning of the world to this day? Do you enter into a compact of government first, and afterwards settle the terms of the government? It is admitted by every one, that this is a compact. Although the confederation be lost, it is a compact constitution, or something of that nature. I confess I never heard of such an idea before. It is most abhorrent to my mind. You endanger the tranquillity of your country, you stab its repose, if you accept this government unaltered. How are you to allay animosities ?-For such there are, great and fatal. He flatters me and tells me, that I could influence the people, and reconcile them to it. Sir, their sentiments are as firm and steady, as they are patriotic. Were I to ask them to apostatize from their native religion, they would despise me. They are not to be shaken in their opinions with respect to the propriety of preserving their rights. You never can persuade them, that it is necessary to relinquish them. Were I to attempt to persuade them to abandon their patriotic sentiments, I should look on myself as the most infamous of men. I believe it to be a fact, that the great body of yeomanry are in decided opposition to it. I may say with confidence, that for nineteen counties adjacent to each other, nine tenths of the people are conscientiously opposed to it. I may be mistaken, but I give you it as my opinion, and my opinion is founded on personal knowledge in some measure, and other good authority. I have not hunted popularity by declaiming to injure this government. Though public fame
might say so, it was not owing to me that this flame of opposition has been kindled and spread. These men never will part with their political opinions. If they should see their political happiness secured to the latest posterity, then indeed they might agree to it
. Subsequent amendments will not do for men of this cast. Do
you consult the union in proposing them ? You may amuse them as long as you please, but they will never like it. You have not solid reality—the hearts and hands of the men who are to be governed.
Have gentlemen no respect to the actual dispositions of the people in the adopting states? Look at Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. These two great states have raised as great objections to that government as we do. There was a majority of only nineteen in Massachusetts. We are told, that only ten thousand were represented in Pennsylvania, although seventy thousand had a right to be represented. Is not this a serious thing? Is it not worth while to turn your eyes for a moment from subsequent amendments,' to the situation of your country? Can you have a lasting union in these circumstances ? It will be in vain to expect it. But if you agree to previous amendments, you shall have union, firm and solid. I cannot conclude without saying, that I shall have nothing to do with it, if subsequent amendments be determined upon. Oppressions will be carried on as radically by the majority, when adjustments and accommodations will be held up. I say, I conceive it my duty, if this government is adopted before it is amended, to go home. I shall act as I think my duty requires. Every other gentleman will do the same. Previous amendments, in my opinion, are necessary to procure peace and tranquillity. I fear, if they be not agreed to, every movement and operation of government will cease, and how long that baneful thing, civil discord, will stay from this country, God only knows. When men are free from restraint, how long will you suspend their fury? The interval between this and bloodshed, is but a moment.
The licentious and wicked of the community, will seize with avidity every thing you hold. In this unhappy situation, what is to be done? It surpasses my stock of wisdom. If you will, in the language of freemen, stipulate that there are rights which no man under heaven can take from you, you shall have me going along with you, and not otherwise.—[Here Mr. Henry informed the committee, that he had a resolution prepared, to refer a declaration of rights, with certain amendments to the most exceptionable parts of the constitution, to the other states in the confederacy, for their consideration, previous to its ratification. The clerk then read the resolution, the declaration of rights, and amendments, which were nearly the same as those ultimately proposed by the convention, for the consideration of Congress. He then resumed the subject.] I have thus candidly submitted to you, Mr. Chairman, and this committee, what occurred to me as proper amendments to the constitution, and a declaration of rights containing those fundamental, unalienable privileges, which I conceive to be essential to liberty and happiness. I believe, that on a review of these amendments it will still be found, that the arm of power will be sufficiently strong for national purposes, when these restrictions shall be a part of the government. I believe no gentleman, who opposes me in sentiments, will be able to discover that any one feature of a strong government is altered; and at the same time your unalienable rights are secured by them. The government unaltered may be terrible to America, but can never be loved, till it be amended. You find all the resources of the continent may be drawn to a point. In danger, the president may concentre to a point every effort of the continent. If the
the government be constructed to satisfy the people and remove their apprehensions, the wealth and strength of the continent will go where public utility shall direct. This government, with these restrictions, will be a strong government united with the privileges of the