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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Demand for Southern Consistency

By Joshua Reed Giddings (1795–1864)

[Born in Athens, Penn., 1795. Died in Montreal, Canada, 1864. Speech on a Bill to pay for a Fugitive Slave. U. S. H. of R., 13 May, 1848.]

AT the very moment we are thus called on to legislate for the support of slavery in Maryland and in the other slave States, we are told that we have no power whatever over that institution; that it is so far beyond our control, that we must not even discuss its merits. Now, sir, I desire that Southern gentlemen shall take some position, and that they shall remain in it at least during this session of Congress. If we have jurisdiction of slavery in the States, let Southern men admit the fact, and let us at once abolish it from our Union, and wipe out the foul blot that has so long disgraced our national character. If we have not jurisdiction of it, why are we called on to legislate for its support? If it be a State institution, why is it constantly dragged into the discussions of this Hall? Why are we called on to take jurisdiction of it? Why are its burdens sought to be cast upon the people of the free States? Why are we to participate in its crimes? A year or two since, we were not permitted to speak our views in regard to slavery, for the reason, as Southern gentlemen then said, that we had no power over it; to-day they ask us to legislate for its benefit. Yes, sir; it is an established fact, and history will record it, that we are now legislating upon the rights of a master to his slave in Maryland: not at the instance of Northern members—no; the bill was reported by a gentleman from South Carolina, and we Northern men sit here with all becoming gravity and solemnly enter into an investigation of this man’s right to the body of his fellow-man in that State. I repeat, sir, we have jurisdiction of this subject, or we have not. I am willing to leave the selection of either horn of this dilemma to Southern men. They may take their choice; but let them choose one or the other. Let us know where to find them. I have at all times denied that we have any constitutional powers in relation to this institution. But if we have the constitutional right to legislate on the subject, and to appropriate the treasure of the nation in the manner proposed, then, sir, let us change the form of the bill before us, and give the two hundred and eighty dollars which it appropriates to the slave instead of the master. That proposition would be much more consonant to my feelings, and is equally within our power, and much nearer our duty. I would go further, and would grant fifty or a hundred dollars to each slave who shall escape from his master, as a bounty for his energy, and to begin the world with. But Southern men will start back with horror at this proposition. Yet, sir, if we are to appropriate the money of our people on this subject, I insist that the appropriation shall be for the promotion of freedom, and not of slavery. I repeat that I am willing Southern members should choose either position. They may give us jurisdiction of slavery, or they may retain it in their several States. But if they place it in our hands, then I propose at once to abolish it, to strike it from existence. But, sir, I tell Southern gentlemen that we will not take jurisdiction of it to-day, and deny that we have any power over it to-morrow. We will not face to the right, to the left, and to the right-about, at the bidding of the slave power.