(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
The Boston Commonwealth contains a report of the speech of R. H. Dana, Esq.,
in behalf of Charles G. Davis, Esq., charged with aiding in the escape of the
alleged fugitive Shadrich. Mr. Dana is well known as a leading member of the
free soil party, and also as a high-minded and high-thinking man. The subjoined
extract conveys a stinging rebuke on the course of the Commonwealth, the Greenfield
Republic, the Northampton Courier, and the presses and persons who have stimulated
or applauded a forcible resistance to law, while carefully evading the penalties
of such resistance:
But as a citizen within constitutional limits, addressing his fellow citizens
at Faneuil Hall, (where I think we have still a right to go,) discouraging his
fellow citizens from violence, writing in the newspapers and arguing in the
courts of law to the same purpose, saying to the poor trembling negro, I will
give you a habeas corpus; I will give you a writ of personal replevin; I will
aid in your defence; there is no need of violence. That is the position of the
defendant. If he held any other position, if the defendant had made up his mind
that here was a case of revolution, that here was a case of civil war and bloodshed-
if I know anything of the spirit of the defendant, he would have exhibited himself
in a far different manner. He would have resigned his position as a counselor
of this court with all its profits and honors; he would put himself at the head
instead of urging on from behind a class of ignorant, excited men, against the
execution of the laws.
For he knows perfectly well, an educated man as he is, who has studied his
logic and metaphysics, and who is not unfamiliar with the principles of the
social system, that an intentional, forcible resistance to law is in its nature
revolution. And I take it, no citizen has the right forcibly to violate the
law, unless he is prepared for revolution. I know that these nice metaphysical
rays, as Burke says, descending into the dense medium of common life, are refracted
and distorted from their course. But an educated man, with a disciplined mind,
knows that he has no right to encourage others to forcible resistance, unless
he is ready to take the risks of bringing upon the community all the consequences
of civil war. We talk about a higher law on the subject of resistance to the
law. And there is a higher law. But what is it? It is the right to passive submission
to penalties, or, it is the active ultimate right of revolution. It is the right
our fathers took to themselves, as an ultimate remedy for unsupportable evils.
It means, war and bloodshed. It is a case altogether of out of law. I do not
know a man educated to the law that takes any other ground.
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On February 15, 1851, Shadrach Minkins was arrested by Deputy U. S. Marshall Riley, under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act. This act was passed by congress on September 18, 1850, as part of a compromise allowing California to enter the Union as a free state and ending the slave trade in the District of Columbia. The act made the federal government responsible for tracking down and apprehending slaves who had escaped to the northern states. Shadrach had made his way from Norfolk, Virginia, where he had been born into slavery, to Boston, Massachusetts, in May, 1850. He worked at the Cornhill Coffee House, where he was arrested that Saturday morning and brought across the street to the federal courthouse. Charles G. Davis was one of the lawyers who offered their services as Shadrach's counsel. They asked the court to postpone the proceedings until February 18, so that they could prepare a case. A group of about thirty African-American men had gathered in the hallway, and when Davis and another man who had been with Shadrach opened the door to leave, the men rushed the courtroom and grabbed Shadrach. He eventually found his way to safety in Canada. Charles Davis was arrested for his part in Shadrach's escape. Richard Henry Dana, who had founded the anti-slavery free soil party and was a prominent abolitionist, represented Davis at his hearing before court. The judge finally decided that there wasn't sufficient evidence to hold Davis for trial. In this extract, Richard Henry Dana argues Davis would not have supported the men who acted against the law because he, being a lawyer, would only act within the law.
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Boston Commonwealth report of speech of Dana in behalf of Davis re: fugitive Shadrich article in Gazette and Courier newspaper
| publisher Greenfield Gazette and Courier
| date Mar 3, 1851
| location Greenfield, Massachusetts
| width 2.5"
| height 6.5"
| process/materials printed paper, ink
| accession # #L09.001
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