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Monday, February 11, 2013

Do The Right Thing, Or Not, If It's Incivil

Silly Quakers bothered the First Congress on this date in 1790:

Mr. Fitzsimons presented the following Address to the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States.

The Address of the people called Quakers, in their annual assembly convened.

Firmly believing that unfeigned righteousness in public as well as private stations, is the only sure ground of hope for the Divine blessing...our religious society, in their annual assembly, on the tenth month, 1783, addressed the then Congress, who, though the christian rectitude of the concern was by the Delegates generally acknowledged, yet not being vested with the powers of Legislation, they declined promoting any public remedy against the gross national iniquity of trafficking in the persons of fellow-men; but divers of the Legislative bodies of the different States, on this Continent, have since manifested (heir sense of the public detestation due to the licentious wickedness of the African trade for slaves, and the inhuman tyranny and blood guiltiness inseparable from it: the debasing influence whereof most certainly tends to lay waste the virtue, and, of course, the happiness of the people.

Many are the enormities abhorrent to common humanity, and common honesty; which, under the Federal countenance given to this abominable commerce, are practised in some of the United States, which we judge it not needful to particularise to a body of men, chosen as eminently distinguished for wisdom as extensive information. But we find it indispensably incumbent on us, as a religious body...to attempt to excite your attention to the affecting subject...to exert upright endeavors, to the full extent of your power, to remove every obstruction to public righteousness, which the influence of artifice of particular persons, governed by the narrow mistaken views of self-interest, has occasioned, and whether, notwithstanding such seeming impediments, it be not in reality within your power to exercise justice and mercy, which, if adhered to, we cannot doubt, must produce the abolition of the slave trade.
...
Mr. Lawrence also presented an Address from the Society of Friends, in the city of NewYork; in which they set forth their desire of cooperating with their Southern brethren in their protest against the slave trade.

Mr. Hartley moved to refer the Address of the annual assembly of Friends, held at Philadelphia, to a committee; he thought it a mark of respect due to so numerous and respectable a part of the community.

Mr. White seconded the motion.

Mr. Smith, (of S. C.)—However respectable the petitioners may be, I hope gentlemen will consider that others equally respectable are opposed to the object which is aimed at, and are entitled toan opportunity of being-heard before the question is determined. I flatter myself gentlemen will not press the point of commitment to-day, it being contrary to our usual mode of procedure.

Mr. Fitzsimons.—If we were now to determine the final question, the observation of the gentleman from South Carolina would apply; But, sir, the present question does not touch upon the merits of the ca9e; it is merely to refer the memorial to a committee, to consider what is proper to be done; gentlemen, therefore, who do not mean to oppose the commitment to-morrow, may as well agree to it today, because it will tend to save the time of the House.

Mr. Jackson wished to know why the second reading was to be contended for to-day.
...
Mr. Sherman suggested the idea of referring it to a committee, to consist of a member from each State, because several States had already made some regulations on this subject. The sooner the subject was taken up he thought it would be the better.

Mr. Parker.—I hope, Mr. Speaker, the petition of these respectable people will be attended to with all the readiness the importance of its object demands; and I cannot help expressing the pleasure I feel in finding so considerable a part of the community attending to matters of such momentous concern to the future prosperity and happiness of the people of America. I think it my duty, as a citizen of the Union, to espouse their cause; and it is incumbent upon every member of this House to sift the subject well, and ascertain what can be done to restrain a practice so nefarious. The Constitution has authorized us to levy a tax upon the importation of such persons as the States shall authorize to be admitted. I would willingly go to that extent; and if any thing further can be devised to discountenance the trade, consistent with the terms of the Constitution, I shall cheerfully give it my assent and support.

Mr. Madison.—The gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Fitzsimons) has put this question on its proper ground; if gentlemen do not mean to oppose the commitment to-morrow, they may as well acquiesce in it to-day; and, 1 apprehend, gentlemen need not be alarmed at any measure it is likely Congress will take; because they will recollect, that the Constitution secures to the individual States the right of admitting, if they think proper, the importation of slaves into their own territory, for eighteen years yet unexpired; subject, however, to a tax, if Congress are disposed to impose it, of not more than ten dollars on each person.

The petition, if I mistake not, speaks of artifices used by self-interested persons to carry on this trade; and the petition from a case that may require the consideration of Congress. If any thing is within the Federal authority to restrain such violation of the rights of nations and of mankind, as is supposed to be practised in some parts of the United States, it will certainly tend to the interest and honor of the community to attempt a remedy, and is a proper subject for our discussion.

It may be, that foreigners take the advantage of the liberty afforded them by the American trade, to employ our shipping in the slave trade between Africa and the West Indies, when they are restrained from employing their own by restrictive laws of their nation. If this is the case, is there any person of humanity that would not wish to prevent them? Another consideration, why we should commit the petition is, that we may give no ground of alarm by a serious opposition, as if we were about to take measures that were unconstitutional.
...
Mr. Burke thought gentlemen were paying attention to what did not deserve it. The men in the gallery had come here to meddle in a business with which they have nothing to do; they were volunteering in the cause of others, who neither expected nor desired it. He had a respect for the body of Quakers, but, nevertheless, he did not believe they had more virtue or religion than other people, nor perhaps so much, if they were examined to the bottom, notwithstanding their outward pretences. If their petition is to be noticed, Congress ought to wait till counter applications were made, and then they might have the subject more fairly before theb. The rights of the Southern States ought not to be threatened, and their property endangered, to please people who would be unaffected by the consequences.

Mr. Hartley thought the memorialists did not deserve to be aspersed for their conduct, if influenced by motives of benignity. They solicited the Legislature of the Union to prevent, as far as is in their power, the increase of a licentious traffic; nor do they merit censure, because their behavior has the appearance of more morality than other people. Congress ought not to refuse to their the applications of their fellow-citizens, while those applications contain nothing unconstitutional or offensive. What is the object of the address before us? It is intended to bring before this House, a subject of great importance to the cause of humanity...

Yadayadayada, the Senate did nothing while the House assigned a committee who reported a few weeks later that (in the 1st three articles) Congress was prohibited from stopping the slave trade and interfering with internal State regulations regarding slavery, but (in the next three articles) Congress could tax importation of slaves and regulate slave trafficking prior to their arrival here in the US.  And:

Seventhly.  [I]n all cases to which the authority of Congress extends, they will exercise it for the humane objects of the memorialists, so far as they can be promoted on the principles of justice, humanity, and good policy.

Then the whole House got out their quills for some slash & burn editing:

The Committee of the Whole House, to whom was committed the report of the committee on the memorials of the People called Quakers, and of the Pennsylvania Society for promoting the Abolition of Slavery, report the following amendments:

Strike out the first clause, together with the recital thereto, and in lieu thereof, insert, "That the migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, cannot be prohibited by Congress, prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight."

Strike out the second and third clauses, and in lieu thereof insert, "That Congress have no authority to interfere in the emancipation of slaves, or in the treatment of them within any of the States; it remaining with the several States alone to provide any regulations therein, which humanity and true policy may require."

Strike out the fourth and fifth clauses, and in lieu thereof insert, "That Congress have authority to restrain the citizens of the United States from carrying on the African trade, for the purpose of supplying foreigners with slaves, and of providing by proper regulations for the humane treatment, during their passage, of slaves imported by the said citizens into the States admitting such importation."

Strike out the seventh clause.

The last is especially galling because, God knows, Congress wouldn't want to promise to think about maybe do anything in its power to act humanely.  Anyway, a motion was made to consider both versions:

This motion was opposed by Mr. JacksonMr. SmithMr. Burke, and Mr. Bland; they severally observed, that the discussion of the subject has already excited a spirit of dissension among the members of the House, and that every principle of policy and concern for the dignity of the House, and the peace and tranquillity of the United States, concur to show the propriety of dropping the subject, and letting it sleep where it is.

On the other hand, Mr. ViningMr. Hartley, and Mr. Page observed, that there was the same propriety in taking up the subject at the present moment, and bringing it to a conclusion as there was for first taking it up; that it has been so fully discussed it cannot be supposed gentlemen will go over the same ground agajn; it may soon be determined, to pass it over will be unprecedented, and will leave the public mind in the same state of uncertainty from which so much danger is apprehended. The motion for taking up the report was warmly contested in a lengthy debate...

Despite the vehement opposition to even, you know, talking about things, the motion passed 26-25.  Then a motion to insert the reports into the Journal passed 29-25.  And that was that!

So yeah, the petition got a response, though it obviously didn't end slavery.  Quakers and others kept trying.  Then we had a civil war.  The end.

Wonder if we'll see a similar history written of drone policy in a couple centuries...

ntodd

February 11, 2013 in Constitution, Schmonstitution | Permalink

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