Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Indiana Constitutional Convention of 1850-1851

Concerning a proposal to retain certain natural rights-related language from Indiana's 1816 constitution, which had been borrowed from Pennsylvania's adaptation of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and which was very similar to the famous second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, a certain Mr. Howe said:

“The gentleman from Tippecanoe (Mr. Pettit) contended that the proposition that all men are born equally free and independent is not true. In the sense in which he uses the words, he is undoubtedly correct; but with his intellect certainly he ought to have been able to approximate to the meaning which existed in the mind of the immortal author of these words when he first committed them to paper. In the sense of Jefferson and the framers of the Declaration of Independence, the assertion is true, and always will be true. The assertion refers to the rights of man as existing under the law of nature; and by that law, in contra-distinction to the law of man, all men are born equally free. That is the way in which the term ‘men’ is used.

“It does not require a grammarian to know that men are not ‘born’ in the sense in which the gentleman from Tippecanoe used the term. All know that this ‘man’ is a generic term, including the whole human race, and refers undoubtedly to the time of their birth. It simply declares that all men are born free, and that by the law of man, and usurpation alone, they have become enslaved. That is the meaning precisely, and nothing more nor less. The objection that slavery now exists has nothing whatever to do with the matter. Now we all know—for we have all both heard and read—what is the origin of slavery. Is slavery legitimate by the law of nature or of man? Can you hold slaves by the law of nature? Every schoolboy will respond ‘no’ to the question, and tell you that it exists only by usurpation. The words, therefore, are not only true, but beautifully true; and as an abstract proposition it is little whether it is retained in the new Constitution or not. It will be equally true whether we adopt it or reject it. But inasmuch as our ancestors have seen proper to adopt these words, and inasmuch as they were in the mouth of every freeman of the country at the time, and have become nationalized, and immortalized by the circumstances under which they were written, I think we ought to retain them. There certainly can be no impropriety in doing so; but, on the contrary, I regard them as manifestly proper. If there be one political document that has been given to immortality more than another, it is precisely that Declaration. Nothing whatever in all Grecian or Roman times can possibly excel this in classic purity or excellence. Let us then adopt it.”

No comments:

Post a Comment