Brief for Appellants in Nos. 2 (1,) and 4 and for Respondents in No. on Reargument (10 )
AN ANALYSIS OF THE POLITICAL, SOCIAL, AND LEGAL THEORIES UNDERLYING THE FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT
The first Section of the Fourteenth Amendment did not spring full blown from the brow of any individual proponent. Primitive natural rights theories and earlier constitutional forms were the origins of its equal protection-due process-privileges and immunities trilogy. The occasion for the metamorphosis of moral premises to full-fledged constitutional status was the attack on the American system of slavery. During the long antislavery crusade, the trilogy became a form of shorthand for, and the spearhead of, the whole of the argument against distinctions and caste based on race.
Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment thus marks the "constitutionalization" of an ethico-moral argument. The really decisive shifts occurred before the Civil War, and the synthesis was made, not by lawyers or judges, but by laymen. Doctrines originally worked out and propagated by a dissident minority became, by 1866, the dominant constitutional theory of the country.
In both language and form, Section One was the distillation of basic constitutional and legal theories long understood and voiced by leaders in a Congress upon which history had cast both the opportunity and the obligation to amend the Constitution to regulate relationships profoundly altered by the abolition of slavery.448 None can doubt that the thrust of the Amendment was equalitarian and that it was adopted to wipe out the racial inequalities that were the legacies of that system. But beyond this, the majestic generalities of the Section can be seen to have evolved naturally and logically in the minds of the antislavery generation.449
At the outset we point out that we do not set forth the arguments of pamphleteers, or even of lawyers or congressmen, to justify the validity of their constitutional theories. We do not say that these theories were universally held, or deny that they were vigorously challenged. Nor do we urge that the pre–Civil War Constitution contained the sweeping guarantees that the Abolitionists claimed for Negroes. These are beside our present point. What we do undertake in this section is illumination of the constitutional language—the moral and ethical opinions that were the matrix of the Amendment, the development under terrific counter-pressures of the principal texts and forms, the meaning of "equal protection" and "due process" as understood and contemplated by those who wrote those phrases into the Amendment.
1. The declaration of the "Self-Evident Truths"
The roots of our American equalitarian ideal extend deep into the history of the western world. Philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries produced an intellectual climate in which the equality of man was a central concept. Their beliefs rested upon the basic proposition that all men were endowed with certain natural rights, some of which were surrendered under the so-called "social contract." The state, in return, guaranteed individual rights, and owed protection equally to all men. Thus, governments existed, not to give, but to protect rights; and allegiance and protection were reciprocal. For his allegiance, the citizen was guaranteed his rights and the equal protection of the law.450
This doctrine was the core of the first great statement of American principles. To Jefferson and the other draftsmen of the Declaration of Independence, it was "self-evident" that "all men are created equal," and "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," among which are "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," and that "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."451
Abhorrence of arbitrariness—the central element of due process—and the ideal of a general and equal law—the core of equal protection—both were implicit in the Lockean-Jeffersonian premises. Slavery—with its theories of racial damnation, racial inferiority, and racial discrimination—was inherently repugnant to the American creed and the Christian ethic. This fact was being rapidly and increasingly sensed. As men sensed it, they had to fit it into the only political theory they knew: Governments existed, not to give, but to protect human rights; allegiance and protection were reciprocal—i.e., ought to be reciprocal; rights and duties were correlative—i.e., had to be correlative if Americans ever were to live with their consciences and to justify their declared political faith.
Long before the Revolution, Quakers and Puritans attacked slavery as a violation of the social compact and Christian ethic.452 After 1776, Jefferson's "self-evident truths" put a cutting edge on all such pleas—made them the broadswords in every attack. Idealists demanded that America live up to her Declaration. "All men" must mean all men. "Unalienable Rights … of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" must be given its full human, not merely a restricted racial, application. Race and color were arbitrary, insubstantial bases for accord or denial of natural, human rights. Sensitive leaders soon found themselves confronted with what Gunnar Myrdal treated recently as An American Dilemma.453 Having pledged their "Lives … Fortunes, and sacred Honor" to the causes of liberty and freedom, either Americans endeavored to live up to their creed or stultified themselves before the world.
After the Revolution, the "self-evident truths" and the provisions of the state Bills of Rights were employed as weapons against slavery and against racial distinctions.454 Down through the Civil War, moreover, the "self-evident truths" constituted precisely what Jefferson declared them to be—political axioms—except in the South after the invention of the cotton gin.455 They were on every tongue as rhetorical shorthand, and were popularly regarded as the marrow of the Constitution itself. In justifying one revolution, Jefferson no less than Locke had laid the groundwork for another. The dominating premise that governments were instituted for protection and that they derived their just powers from the consent of the governed had begun to make slavery, and with it race distinctions, untenable. What slowly took shape was an ethical interpretation of American origins and destiny.
2. The moral suasion campaign and its rejection
The Age of Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gave birth to a world-wide antislavery movement. A wave of humanitarianism, embracing quests for abolition of slavery, suffrage for women, and penal, land, and other reforms, swept across the United States of the early nineteenth century. Because of its dramatic qualities, the American anti-slavery movement assumed even larger proportions and eventually overshadowed the other phases.456 Like them, it was based fundamentally on Judeo-Christian ethic and was formulated in terms of equalitarianism and natural rights.
The early antislavery movement was a campaign of moral suasion. Rational men appealed to other rational men to square precept with practice. Proponents of equality, who were by that definition opponents of slavery, sought to persuade slaveholders of the error of enslaving other men, i.e., of denying equality to those held as slaves. That campaign bore early fruit in Virginia, in the uplands of the Carolinas, and even in the deeper South. The appeal to the South ultimately broke on the hard rock of economic self-interest after invention of the cotton gin. Geography and migrations tended further to sectionalize the institution. Quakers and Scotch-Irish yeomen from Virginia and the Carolinas, unable to arrest spread of a labor system they detested, and others from the deeper South, fled en masse, settling generally in Ohio and Indiana. There they were joined by staunch Puritan and Calvinist stocks from New York and New England. Thus, the antislavery movement became sectionalized with important centers in Ohio, western New York, and Pennsylvania.
Spearheading the movement was the American Anti-Slavery Society, founded in 1833 and headed by the wealthy Tappan brothers. Recruited and led by Theodore Weld,457 a brilliant orator and organizer, and by his co-leader, James G. Birney,458 a converted Alabama slaveholder and lawyer, whole communities were abolitionized in the years 1835–1837. Appeals were aimed at influential leaders; lawyers in particular were sought out and recruited by the score.
This appeal was an ethico-moral-religious-natural rights argument. It was addressed by the revivalists to their countrymen as patriots, Christians, and "free moral agents." "The law of nature clearly teaches the natural republican equality of all mankind. Nature revolts at human slavery….The Law of God renders all Natural Rights inalienable….Governments and laws are established, not to give, but to protect … rights."459 Negroes, they continued, were "not naturally inferior." They simply had been degraded by slavery. They were persons, endowed by God with all the attributes of personality. Their enslavement could no more be justified than could chattelization of men with red hair. Slavery rested on a capricious, discredited classification.460 It simply was institutionalized false imprisonment. White men were protected against enslavement and against false imprisonment. "What abolitionists demand as naked justice is that the benefit and protection of these just laws be extended to all human beings alike … without regard to color or any other physical peculiarities."461
Racial discrimination, in short, was repugnant both as a breach of equality and as a breach of protection. Because it was a breach of protection, it also was a breach of equality; and because it was a breach of equality, it was thereby an even greater breach of protection. This was the outcome of Americans' triple-barreled major premise which posited the purpose of all government to be the protection of inalienable rights bestowed upon all men by their Creator. Once that compound premise was granted—and in the generations since 1776 virtually all Americans outside the South had spoken as if they granted it—the abolitionists' conclusions were unassailable. The heart of it was that these basic ideals of liberty, equality, and protection were deemed to be paramount by reason of their place in the Declaration and determinative by reason of the place of the Declaration in American life and history.
The issue had to be resolved within the framework of the constitutional system. Appeals to ethico-moral concepts and to natural rights were good enough to argue as to what ought to be. Reality was something else again. Constitutional reality was that the status of inhabitants of the United States, white or Negro, was fixed by the Constitution. Social reality was that the great mass of Negroes were slaves.
Inevitably, then, the first skirmishes as to the rights claimed for Negroes had to be fought out in the case of free Negroes.462 The targets here were northern black laws—the laws in Ohio and Connecticut; the techniques were persuasion, conversion, and demonstration. It was in the course of this campaign that what presently became the constitutional trinity of the anti-slavery movement received its decisive synthesis.
The first comprehensive crystallization of antislavery constitutional theory occurred in 1834 in the arguments of W. W. Ellsworth and Calvin Goddard, two of the outstanding lawyers and statesmen of Connecticut, on the appeal463 of the conviction of Prudence Crandall for violation of an ordinance forbidding the education of non-resident colored persons without the consent of the civil authorities.464 They reveal this theory as based on broad natural rights premises and on an ethical interpretation of American origins and history. Four ideals were central and interrelated: the ideal of human equality, the ideal of a general and equal law, the ideal of reciprocal protection and allegiance, and the ideal of reason and substantiality as the true bases for the necessary discriminations and classifications by government. Race as a standard breached every one of these ideals, as did color. What was attacked was denial of human equality and denial of protection of the laws—denials inherent in any racial discrimination backed by public authority. Slavery was the arch evil in this respect, and the primary one, both because of the magnitude of its denials and deprivations and abridgments, and because these necessarily established a whole pattern of discrimination based upon race and color alone. It was this pattern of public discrimination that was combatted no less than slavery. It had to be combatted because it was deemed a part of slavery.
Although neither slavery nor segregated schools was the issue in the case, the Ellsworth-Goddard argument is one of the classic statements of the social and ethical case for equality of opportunity irrespective of race. It gave immense impetus to the emerging concept of American nationality and citizenship. Fully reported and widely circulated as a tract, it soon became one of the fountainheads of antislavery constitutional theory. It figured prominently in Abolitionist writings throughout the 'thirties. In the spring of 1835, Judge William Jay, Abolitionist son of the first Chief Justice and one of the founders and vice-presidents of the American Anti-Slavery Society, devoted fifteen pages of his Inquiry into the Character and Tendency of the Colonization and Anti-Slavery Societies465 to a slashing attack on the trial court's decision.
The due process element of our modern trilogy was introduced in the course of a determined attack made in 1835 by the Weld-Birney group upon Ohio's black laws. Enacted in 1807, these laws embodied prohibitions against Negro immigration, employment, education, and testimony. A report466 prepared at Weld's direction by a committee of the newly formed Ohio Anti-Slavery Society appealed to the American and Christian conscience. Notwithstanding the affirmative duty of all government to "promote the happiness and secure the rights and liberties of man," and despite the fact that American government was predicated on the "broad and universal principle of equal and unalienable rights," these statutes had singled out a "weak and defenseless class of citizens—a class convicted of no crime—no natural inferiority," and had invidiously demanded their exclusion from "the rights and privileges of citizenship." This, it was argued, the Constitution forbade. "Our Constitution does not say, All men of a certain color are entitled to certain rights, and are born free and independent….The expression is unlimited…. All men are so born, and have the unalienable rights of life and liberty—the pursuit of happiness, and the acquisition and possession of wealth."
These were the doctrinal cornerstones.467 They were the heart of the ethico-moral-historical-natural rights argument which the American Anti-Slavery Society broadcast in the mid- and late-'thirties. They were broadcast particularly throughout Ohio, western New York and Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.468 Weld was the director and master strategist; Birney, the forensic quartermaster and attorney general. The "Twelve" and the "Seventy" were the chosen instruments. These were the two dedicated hand-picked groups of trained teachers, ministers, divinity students, self-named after the early Christian Apostles. Their revivals converted thousands before funds ran out and southern antagonism crippled the movement. Numerous anti-slavery newspapers and coordinated pamphlet and petition campaigns were reinforcing media.
The trouble, of course, was that northerners were still largely indifferent to or unreached by this program, while the South rejected it almost without a hearing. Coincidence played a great part here. Alarmed lest educated Negroes foment slave insurrections, the South further tightened its controls.469 Fortuitously, the Vesey and Turner uprisings had seemed to offer frightening confirmation of fears in this regard. Meanwhile, cotton profits and politics had begun to rationalize slavery as "a positive good." The insidious belief spread that the South must insulate herself, safeguard her "peculiar institutions," and remove them even from discussion and criticism.470 In the Pinckney Report of 1836,471 pro-slave theorists sought to implement these convictions. To reinforce Calhoun's defensive doctrines of concurrent majority and state interposition, and in a determined attempt to protect slavery in the Federal District from possible interference or abolition by Congress under its sweeping powers over the District and territories, Pinckney and his colleagues in the House employed the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment and "the principles of natural justice and of the social compact."472
3. The political action campaign
A. Systemization Thus, the antislavery campaign was set back, its piecemeal conversion and demonstration program was frustrated at the outset by barriers that held slavery to be a positive good—untouchable even where Congress had full powers over it. Antislavery men were denied the use of the mails. Their anti-slavery petitions were throttled by Congressional "gags." They were forced to defend even their own rights to speak and write and proselytize. In consequence, the antislavery leaders had to reorient their whole movement and strategy.473
This reorientation, greatly accelerated by the Pinckney Report, was marked by rapid "constitutionalization" of the higher law argument. There was a shift from an overwhelming faith in moral suasion to a reluctant resort to political action, from efforts to convince Americans of the expediency and justice of freeing their slaves, to a search for constitutional power to free them.474 These tendencies may be traced today in the pages of the Weld-Grimke and Birney Letters, in a vast pamphlet literature, in annual reports of the state and national societies,475 but most satisfactorily in the columns of Birney's Philanthropist.476 Calhoun and "positive good" theorists had fashioned a constitutional system that promised absolute protection for slavery and ignored the constitutional reference to slaves as "persons," referring to them whenever possible as "property." These theorists also employed the "compact" and "compromises" of 1787 as a device that removed slavery from the reach not merely of state and federal legislatures but from adverse discussion and criticism.
Birney and his colleagues now formulated a countersystem, one which exalted liberty and exploited the founding fathers' use of "persons." Denying all limiting force to the "compact" or "compromises," this group hailed the spirit of the Declaration, of the Constitution, and American institutions generally. They seized on the leading provisions of the state and federal bills of rights as affirmative guarantees of the freedom of the slaves.477
In his earlier writings,478 Birney's ethical interpretation of American origins and history was essentially that of the Crandall argument and the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society reports. The natural rights creed of the Declaration, the universality of guarantees of the state bills of rights, the Signers' and the Fathers' known aversion toslavery, the "color blindness" of the Articles of Confederation, the outright prohibition of slavery in the territories by the Northwest Ordinance, and above all, the silence, the euphemisms, the circumlocutions of the Constitution—these were the recurrent and expanding points. Not merely slavery, but all public race discrimination was ethically and morally wrong. It was so because it was a denial of the rights and protections that governments were established to secure.
After the Pinckney Report, however, and especially after the growing mob action against Abolitionists began to make it clear that state bills of rights were not self-executing but rested on local enforcement, Birney reexamined his position. Everywhere there was this anomaly: the great natural and fundamental rights of conscience, inquiry and communication, secured on paper in every constitution, nevertheless were denied and abridged daily for want of sanctions. All men by nature "possessed" these indispensable rights; all constitutions "declared" and "secured" them. It was the bounden duty of all governments "created for the purposes of protection" to safeguard and enforce them. Yet the hard fact was that state and local governments were flagrantly, increasingly derelict. Nothing, southerners argued, could be done about it.
Challenged in this manner, Birney and his aides shifted their ground. They advanced from the old position that the Federal Constitution was neutral—"or at least not pro-slavery"—to the stand that the document was antislavery. Constitutionalization of the natural rights argument proceeded at a much more rapid pace. No longer was the fight waged merely defensively in behalf of the right to proselytize, or counter-defensively to support sweeping Federal powers over the District and territories; more and more the antislavery forces took the offensive against slavery itself.479
Thus, by December 1836, the Abolitionists' argument was recrystallizing around three major propositions:
First, the great natural and fundamental rights of life, liberty, and property, long deemed inherent and inalienable, were now held to be secured by both state and national constitutions.
Second, notwithstanding this double security, and in disregard of the obligation of governments to extend protection in return for allegiance, these rights were being violated with impunity both on national soil and in the states, (a) by the fact of slavery itself, (b) by mob action directed against those working for abolition, (c) by flagrant discriminations against free Negroes and mulattoes.
Third, race and color—"grades and shades"—whenever and wherever employed as criteria and determinants of fundamental rights, violated both the letter and spirit of American institutions; race per se was not only an ignoble standard; it was an irrational and unsubstantial one.
The problems of implementing this theory, Birney worked out in several series of articles during 1837. Rescrutinizing the document, he began to make the same rigorous use of the Federal Bill of Rights that previously he and others had made of Ohio's. Ultimately, he focused on the due process clause employed in Pinckney's Report:480 "The Constitution contains provisions which, if literally carried out, would extinguish the entire system of slavery. It guarantees to every state in the union a republican form of government, Art. IV, Sec. 4th. A majority of the people of South Carolina are slaves; can she be said properly to have a republican form of government? It says, that 'the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects … against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.' Slaves, Sir, are men, constitute a portion of the people: Is that no 'unreasonable seizure,' by which the man is deprived of all his earnings [effects?]—by which in fact he is robbed of his own person? Is the perpetual privation of liberty 'no unreasonable seizure'? Suppose this provision of the Constitution were literally and universally enforced; how long would it be before there would not be a single slave to mar the prospect of American liberty? Again, 'no person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on the presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, [sic] nor shall any person be compelled in any case to witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.' Art. V Amendments.
"Are slaves ever honored with indictment by a grand jury? Are they never compelled 'to witness against themselves'? never tortured until they lie against their own lives? never deprived of life without 'due process of law'? By what 'due process of law' is it, that two millions of 'persons' are deprived every year of the millions of dollars produced by their labor? By what due process of law is it that 56,000 'persons,' the annual increase of the slave population, are annually deprived of their 'liberty'? Such questions may seem impertinent, to Mr. L., but when he shall feel that the slave is a 'person,' in very deed, and has rights, as inalienable as his own, he will acknowledge their propriety. Again 'In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury … and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of Counsel for his defense.' Art. VI of the Amendments. Take all the above provisions in connection with that clause under Art. VI, which declares that 'This Constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof' etc., 'shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding'—and then carry them out to their full extent, and how long would it be ere slavery would be utterly prostrated? I do not say they were inserted with a specific view toward this end, but I do say, that so long as they shall stand, the Constitution of these U[nited] States will be a perpetual rebuke to the selfishness and injustice of the whole policy of the slaveholder. The provisions embody principles which are at entire enmity with the spirit and practice of slavery. How an instrument, containing such principles, can be tortured to express a sanction to slavery, I am yet to learn."481
Reassimilation of the old theory into the Bill of Rights now proceeded rapidly.482 The various clauses restraining the powers of Congress began to be popularly regarded as sources of Congressional power. The initial premise in this regard was that the provisions of the Bill of Rights were not rights, they were guarantees, and guarantees customarily presumed the intent and capacity, as well as the duty, to make them good.483 An open letter484 to his Congressman from an unnamed Abolitionist in Batavia485 reveals the hold and spread and reach of these ideas:
"The very Constitution of the United States is attempted to be distorted and made an ally of domestic slavery. That Constitution was established, not by the citizens or voters, but by 'the people' of the United States to secure the blessings of liberty and establish justice. The Union … was formed for the same great purposes, … yet we have been told that petitioning for liberty endangers this Union, that the partnership will be dissolved by extending to all the very right it was intended to secure.
"Slavery in the District of Columbia violates the most important and sacred principles of the Constitution…. I speak not of the mere letter, but of the principles …—of the rights it guarantees, of the form, in which the guarantee is expressed. The 5th Amendment declares 'no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.' This petition informs you free men in the District … have been first imprisoned, and then sold for their jail fees. [Suppose, he continued, this had happened to American seamen in a foreign port.] Would not Congress upon petition enquire into the fact and redress the wrong if it existed? Would not you, Sir, be one of the foremost in repelling the insult to our seamen and punishing the aggressor? Would you not consider it your duty—your official duty to do so? And yet you have no power to discriminate in the object of your protection—a colored sailor is entitled to the protection of his country's laws, and Constitution, and flag, and honor, as well as a white one,—he is as much entitled to that protection in Washington city beneath the flag of his country and while he reposes under the tower of the Capitol as he is at Qualla Balloo or Halifax, or anywhere on the face of the earth. And all should be protected with equal and exact justice, whether sailors or laborers—citizens or soldiers: if so, you are bound to enquire into the alleged abuses, and if they exist to redress them."
Thus, by October, 1837, the date of Birney's retirement as editor of the Philanthropist, the motivating premise of Abolitionism already was coming to be this: Americans' basic civil rights were truly national, but in practice their basic civil liberty was not. By acts in support and in toleration of slavery and by failure to protect the friends of the enslaved race, the states and the federal government all abridged, and all allowed to be abridged, the dearest privileges and immunities of citizenship. Humanitarianism had attempted to soften race prejudice and meet this challenge squarely but had been frustrated. Failure left no alternative but political action and the instinctive answer that government had the power to do what the governed had the job to do. The answer to denied power and to defective power was the concept of an inherent power derived from the standing duty to protect. The gist of it was that because allegiance and protection were reciprocal—i.e., ought to be reciprocal—because the government protected its citizens abroad without discrimination, and because the text of the Federal Bill of Rights gave no warrant for discrimination, Congress was duty bound not to discriminate. It must do "equal and exact justice" irrespective of race. It had no other choice. It lacked power to discriminate between those persons who were equally entitled to protection. It was duty bound also to remove such discrimination as existed. Implicitly, and morally, these same obligations rested on the states; yet respect for the constitutional division of power here introduced conflict. Few were yet ready for the extreme proposition that Congress might constitutionally abolish slavery in the states. The original form, as shown by the Batavian communication, was more often that Congress was duty bound to hear petitions to abolish slavery, or that slavery had been abolished in federal territory by the force of the Preamble and Declaration. Because the great natural rights were now also national constitutional rights, they began to generate and carry with them—even into the states—the power for their enforcement.
Four routes and media of political action "constitutionalizing" the anti-slavery argument are to be noted.
First were the countless petitions, resolutions, declarations, letters, editorials, speeches, and sermons broadcast by the original anti-slavery proponents and converts—uniformly men and women of influence and position whose idealism was extraordinary and undoubted. One has to read only the Weld-Grimke and the Birney486 Letters, or the monographs of Barnes,487 Dumond488 and Nye489— and Nevins's great history490— to realize the appeal of these peoples' character and of their example and argument. Moreover, many of them were southerners, and of the proudest type who practiced what they preached—Birney alone freeing slaves to the value of thousands of dollars,491 and the Grimke sisters doing likewise with those they inherited. Every antislavery society was a band of disciples, workers, petitioners, writers, and "free moral agents" committed to the spread of doctrine that had immense intrinsic appeal.
In consequence, simply as an incident of the intense revival campaigns, the equal protection–due process–privileges and immunities theory became the core of thousands of abolitionist petitions, resolutions, and lectures. Now one, now another of the elements was accented, depending on the need and circumstances, but in an astonishing number of cases two or three parts of the trilogy were used. The whole thus became, even before 1840, a form of popular constitutional shorthand.
After that date even stronger forces enter the picture. First, were the compilers and synthesizers—pamphleteers and journalists like Tiffany492 and Goodell493 and Mellen494 who wrote the articles and treatises on the "Unconstitutionality of Slavery" which Dr. tenBroek analyzes so well.495 Others annotated copies of Our National Charters496 setting down after each clause or phrase of the Constitution and the Declaration (much as Birney had done in his early articles) antislavery arguments and doctrines gleaned "both from reason and authority." Such materials, broadcast by the thousand, reprinted, condensed and paraphrased, were themselves powerful disseminators.
It was the minority party platform that gave antislavery theory its most concise, effective statement. Drafted generally by Salmon P. Chase or Joshua R. Giddings, these documents, first of the Liberty and Free Soil parties in the 'forties, then of the Free Democracy and Republican parties in the 'fifties, and in 1860, all made use, in slightly varying combination, of the cardinal articles of faith: human equality, protection, and equal protection from the Declaration, and due process both as a restraint and a source of congressional power. Such consistent repetition testifies both to the nature and extent of previous distillations and to the power and significance of current ones:
1. Liberty Party Platform (adopted in 1843 for the 1844 campaign):
"Resolved, That the fundamental truth of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, was made the fundamental law of our national government by that amendment of the Constitution which declares that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law."497
2. Free Soil Party Platform, 1848:
"Resolved, That our fathers ordained the Constitution of the United States in order, among other great national objects, to establish justice, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty, but expressly denied to the federal government, which they created, all constitutional power to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due legal process.
"Resolved, that, in the judgment of this convention, Congress has no more power to make a slave than to make a king; no more power to institute or establish slavery than to institute or establish a monarchy. No such power can be found among those specifically conferred by the Constitution, or derived by any just implication from them."498
3. Free Democracy Platform, 1852:
"1. That governments deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed are instituted among men to secure to all those unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with which they are endowed by their Creator, and of which none can be deprived by valid legislation, except for crime.
"4. That the Constitution of the United States, ordained to form a more perfect Union, to establish justice, and secure the blessings of liberty, expressly denies to the general government all power to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; and, therefore, the government, having no more power to make a slave than to make a king, and no more power to establish slavery than to establish a monarchy, should at once proceed to relieve itself from all responsibility for the existence of slavery wherever it possesses constitutional power to legislate for its extinction."499
4. Republican Party Platform, 1856:
"Resolved, That with our republican fathers we hold it be a self-evident truth, that all men are endowed with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that the primary object and ulterior designs of our federal government were to secure these rights to all persons within its exclusive jurisdiction; that, as our republican fathers, when they had abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that no person should be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, it becomes our duty to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it for the purpose of establishing slavery in any Territory of the United States, by positive legislation prohibiting its existence or extension therein; that we deny the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, of any individual or association of individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any Territory of the United States, while the present Constitution shall be maintained."500
5. Republican Party Platform, 1860:
"8. That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom; that as our republican fathers, when they had abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that no person should be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, it becomes our duty, by legislation whenever such legislation is necessary, to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it; and we deny the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individual, to give legal existence to slavery in any Territory of the United States.
"14. That the Republican party is opposed to any change in our naturalization laws, or any state legislation by which the rights of citizenship hitherto accorded to immigrants from foreign lands shall be abridged or impaired; and in favor of giving a full and efficient protection to the rights of all classes of citizens, whether native or naturalized, both at home and abroad."501
True, these were party platforms, but these were the platforms of parties to which leaders in the Congress that would frame the Fourteenth Amendment had given their allegiance.502
Many Congressmen whose names later loomed large in the formulation of and debates on the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments and the Civil Rights Acts were men of anti-slavery backgrounds503 which, it will be recalled, had sought out community leaders, particularly lawyers.504 Even in the 'forties, antislavery Whigs, Liberty Party-Free Soilers, and later, members of the Free Democracy, converted by the Weld-Birney group, began to enter Congressmen like Joshua R. Giddings,505 E. S. Hamlin,506 the Wade brothers,507 Horace Mann,508 Philomen Bliss,509 A. P. Granger,510 Thaddeus Stevens,511 Gerrit Smith,512 William Lawrence,513 James M. Ashley514 (who introduced the Thirteenth Amendment in the House), Samuel Galloway515 (a former member of the "Seventy") and John A. Bingham.516 All were either associates, converts, or disciples of the Weld-Birney group; and after 1854, all were Republicans.
In addition to the western group of anti-slavery leaders, there was an equally strong and determined group with its focus in New England. From this group emerged Charles Sumner, Wendell Phillips, and Henry Wilson. Sumner later became one of the most intransigent leaders of the Republican party during and after the Civil War.517 Wilson was also in Congress during the Reconstruction period; and became Vice-President and voted with the Radicals on important tie votes.518 Other New Englanders who served in Congress, and were members of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, include William Pitt Fessenden of Maine, Justin Morrill of Vermont, and George S. Boutwell of Massachusetts.519
Because Bingham is known to have drafted Sections One and Five of the Fourteenth Amendment, his speeches are of special interest. From 1855–63 and from 1865–73, he represented the Twenty-first Ohio District, which included the Cadiz-Mt. Pleasant Quaker settlements, antislavery strongholds. Furthermore, as a youth he had attended Franklin College at New Athens in 1837–38. At that date Franklin was second only to Oberlin as an antislavery stronghold;520 the Weld-Birney crusade was at its height. Indeed, in Birney's Philanthropist, 1836–37, we find various anti-slavery petitions and resolutions from the Cadiz and Mt. Pleasant societies.521 These are couched in the very phraseology for which Bingham in 1856–66 manifested his decisive preference.
Four of Bingham's speeches are of particular significance:
I. In his maiden speech in the House, March 6, 1856, attacking laws recently passed by the Kansas pro-slavery legislature which declared it a felony even to agitate against slavery, Bingham argued:
"These infamous statutes … [contravene] the Constitution of the United States…. [A]ny territorial enactment which makes it a felony for a citizen of the United States, within the territory of the United States 'to know, to argue and to utter freely,' according to conscience is absolutely void…. [A] felony to utter there, in the hearing of a slave, upon American soil, beneath the American flag … the words of the Declaration 'All men are born free and equal, and endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life and liberty;' … [A] felony to utter … those other words….'We, the people of the United States, in order to establish justice,' the attribute of God, and 'to secure liberty,' the imperishable right of man, do 'ordain this Constitution'….It is too late to make it a felony to utter the self-evident truth that life and liberty belong of right to every man…. This pretended legislation … violates the Constitution in this—that it abridges the freedom of speech and of the press, and deprives persons of liberty without due process of law, or any process but that of brute force, while the Constitution provides that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; and it expressly prescribes that 'no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law."522
"The Constitution is based upon EQUALITY of the human race…. A State formed under the Constitution and pursuant to its spirit, must rest upon this great principle of EQUALITY. Its primal object must be to protect each human being within its jurisdiction in the free and full enjoyment of his natural rights….
"It must be apparent that the absolute equality of all, and the equal protection of each, are principles of our Constitution, which ought to be observed and enforced in the organization and admission of new States. The Constitution provides … that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. It makes no distinction either on account of complexion or birth—it secures these rights to all persons within its exclusive jurisdiction. This is equality. It protects not only life and liberty, but also property, the product of labor. It contemplates that no man shall be wrongfully deprived of the fruit of his toil any more than of his life."523
III. On January 25, 1858, attacking "The Lecompton Conspiracy"—the proposed pro-slave constitution of Kansas declaring that only "All freemen, when they form a compact, are equal in rights,"—and absolutely barring free Negroes from the state, Bingham declared:
"The [Federal] Constitution … declares upon its face that no person, whether white or black, shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, but by due process of law; and that it was ordained by the people to establish justice! … [By sanctioning these provisions] we are asked to say, that the self-evident truth of the Declaration, 'that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL' is a self-evident lie…. We are to say … to certain human beings in the Territory of Kansas, though you were born in this Territory, and born of free parents, though you are human beings, and no chattel, yet you are not free to live here …; you must be disseized of your freehold liberties and privileges, without the judgment of your peers and without the protection of law. Though born here, you shall not, under any circumstances, be permitted to live here."524
IV. On February 11, 1859, Bingham attacked the admission of Oregon because its constitution forbade immigration of free Negroes and contained other discriminations against them:
"[T]his constitution … is repugnant to the Federal Constitution, and violative of the rights of citizens of the United States….
"Who are citizens of the United States? They are those, and those only, who owe allegiance to the Government of the United States; not the base allegiance imposed upon the Saxon by the Conqueror …; but the allegiance which requires the citizen not only to obey, but to support and defend, if need be with his life, the Constitution of his country. All free persons born and domiciled within the jurisdiction of the United States; all aliens by act of naturalization, under the laws of the United States."
"The people of the several States," who according to the Constitution are to choose the representatives in Congress, and to whom political powers were reserved by the Tenth Amendment, were to Bingham "the same community, or body politic, called by the Preamble … 'the people of the United States'." Moreover, certain "distinctive political rights"—for example the right to choose representatives and officers of the United States, to hold such offices, etc.—were conferred only on "citizens of the United States."
"… I invite attention to the significant fact that natural or inherent rights, which belong to all men irrespective of all conventional regulations, are by this Constitution guaranteed by the broad and comprehensive word 'person,' as contradistinguished from the limited term citizen—as in the fifth article of amendments, guarding those sacred rights which are as universal and indestructible as the human race, that 'no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, but by due process of law, nor shall private property be taken without just compensation.' And this guarantee applies to all citizens within the United States."
Against infringement of "these wise and beneficent guarantees of political rights to the citizens of the United States as such, and of natural rights to all persons, whether citizens or strangers," stood the supremacy clause.
"There, sir, is the limitation upon State sovereignty—simple, clear, and strong. No State may rightfully, by Constitution or statute law, impair any of these guarantied rights, either political or natural. They may not rightfully or lawfully declare that the strong citizens may deprive the weak citizens of their rights, natural or political….
"… This provision [excluding free Negroes and mulattoes] seems to me … injustice and oppression incarnate. This provision, sir, excludes from the State of Oregon eight hundred thousand of the native-born citizens of the other States, who are, therefore, citizens of the United States. I grant you that a State may restrict the exercise of the elective franchise to certain classes of citizens of the United States, to the exclusion of others; but I deny that any State may exclude a law abiding citizen of the United States from coming within its territory, or abiding therein, or acquiring and enjoying property therein, or from the enjoyment therein of the 'privileges and immunities' of a citizen of the United States. What says the Constitution:
" 'The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States. Art. 4, Section 2.'
"Here is no qualification….The citizens of each State, all the citizens of each State, being citizens of the United States, shall be entitled to 'all privileges and immunities of citizens of the several States.' Not to the rights and immunities of the several States; not to those constitutional rights and immunities which result exclusively from State authority or State legislation; but to 'all privileges and immunities' of citizens of the United States in the several States. There is an ellipsis in the language employed in the Constitution, but its meaning is self-evident that it is 'the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States …' that it guaranties….
"…[S]ir, I maintain that the persons thus excluded from the State by this section of the Oregon Constitution, are citizens by birth of the several States, and therefore are citizens of the United States, and as such are entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, amongst which are the rights of life and liberty and property, and their due protection in the enjoyment thereof by law;….
"Who, sir, are citizens of the United States? First, all free persons born and domiciled within the United States—not all free white persons, but all free persons. You will search in vain, in the Constitution of the United States, for that word white; it is not there. You will look in vain for it in that first form of national Government—the Articles of Confederation; it is not there. The omission of this word—this phrase of caste—from our national charter, was not accidental, but intentional….
"… This Government rests upon the absolute equality of natural rights amongst men….
"… Who … will be bold enough to deny that all persons are equally entitled to the enjoyment of the rights of life and liberty and property; and that no one should be deprived of life or liberty, but as punishment for crime; nor of his property, against his consent and without due compensation? …
"The equality of all to the right to live; to the right to know; to argue and to utter, according to conscience; to work and enjoy the product of their toil, is the rock on which that Constitution rests—….The charm of that Constitution lies in the great democratic idea which it embodies, that all men, before the law, are equal in respect of those rights of person which God gives and no man or State may rightfully take away, except as a forfeiture for crime. Before your Constitution, sir, as it is, as I trust it ever will be, all men are sacred, whether white or black…."525
Several points must here be emphasized. It will be noted that Bingham disavows the color line as a basis for citizenship of the United States; that he regards Milton's rights of communication and conscience, including the right to know, to education, as one of the great fundamental natural "rights of person which God gives and no man or state may rightfully take away," and which hence are "embodied" also within, and secured by, "the great democratic idea that all men before the law are equal." In short, the concept and guarantee of the equal protection of the laws is already "embodied" in the Federal Constitution as of 1859; this same concept, moreover, embraces "the equality of all … to the right to know"; and above all, there is no color line in the Constitution, even of 1859.
From this consideration of the historical background against which the Fourteenth Amendment was written, submitted by Congress, and ratified by the requisite number of states, these important facts develop:
1. To the opponents of slavery, equality was an absolute, not a relative, concept which comprehended that no legal recognition be given to racial distinctions of any kind. Their theories were formulated with reference to the free Negro as well as to slavery—that great reservoir of prejudice and evil that fed the whole system of racial distinctions and caste. The notion that any state could impose such distinctions was totally incompatible with antislavery doctrine.
2 These proponents of absolute equalitarianism emerged victorious in the Civil War and controlled the Congress that wrote the Fourteenth Amendment. Ten of the fifteen members of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction were men who had antislavery backgrounds.
3 The phrases—"privileges and immunities," "equal protection," and "due process"—that were to appear in the Amendment had come to have specific significance to opponents of slavery. Proponents of slavery, even as they disagreed, knew and understood what that significance was. Members of the Congress that formulated and submitted the Amendment shared that knowledge and understanding. When they translated the antislavery concepts into constitutional provisions, they employed these by now traditional phrases that had become freighted with equalitarian meaning in its widest sense.
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