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Slavery is Guaranteed by the Constitutional Compact

To counter abolitionist attacks in the antebellum era, Southern slaveowners and politicians found it necessary to justify the institution--both morally and politically. On the moral front they argued that enslaved African Americans were inferior to whites and that slavery exerted a civilizing force on heathenish Africans. Proslavery advocates found political justification by exploiting the Constitution's protections of private property against government incursion and arguing that federal government was overstepping its bounds by limiting slavery in western territories. The 1857 Dred Scott decision, to which this South Carolina editorial refers, bolstered the proslavery side.

The Supreme Court of the United States, in a recent case, has, by a decision of seven to two of the Judges, established as law what our Southern statesmen have been repeating daily for many years on the floors of Congress, that the whole action of this Government on the subject of slavery, for more than a quarter of a century, from the initiation of the [Missouri Compromise of 1820] to the California Compromise in 1850, has been all beyond the limits of the Constitution; was without justifiable authority; and that the whole mass should be now proclaimed null and void, and that slavery is guaranteed by the constitutional compact.

It appears that we, Secessionists, have been all the while not disturbing the law, not intruding novelties upon the country, not seeking to break up established principles, but that we have been simply a step in advance of the highest tribunal in the country, in declaring what was the law of the land, and seeking honestly and faithfully to enforce it.

The South has, for a period of more than thirty years, allowed her public men to deal in windy boastings, and sometimes even to descend to servile entreaty, for the purpose of saving those institutions which form her lifeblood, the sources of her prosperity, and the whole foundation of that social and industrial existence which makes her, more than any other people, the centre of civilization of the world. We have allowed ourselves to be assailed in our social, political, moral and legislative relations, and this by a people not distant or professedly hostile, but bound to us by the ties of a common Government -- bound by every consideration of political brotherhood, social sympathy and commercial interest. Now the highest tribunal in the country decides that every principle on which the North has assailed us and sought to repress us in the exercise of our rights as a part of the Confederacy, and to limit the spread of our institutions, to undermine their stability and to endanger their peace, is false in law, and that every enactment of Congress tending to carry out these principles is null and void.

Now, however, we may congratulate ourselves that the highest tribunal has at last interposed and given its sanction to principles that recognize distinctly the equality of the States, and condemn the interference of the Federal Government with affairs that are peculiarly under their jurisdiction, and for interfering with which there is no warrant in our common Constitution, we cannot help feeling a sense of mortification that there has been so little of consistent union, on the part of the South, in the maintenance of principles on which depend absolutely her power, her industrial prosperity, and even her very existence.

Source | "The Past and Future," Charleston (South Carolina) Mercury, 17 March 1857, from Furman University, Secession Editorials Project,
Creator | Charleston (South Carolina) Mercury
Item Type | Newspaper/Magazine
Cite This document | Charleston (South Carolina) Mercury, “Slavery is Guaranteed by the Constitutional Compact,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed July 3, 2022,

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