A History of the Trial of Castner Hanway and Others, for Treason, at Philadelphia in November, 1851 With an Introduction upon the History of the Slave Question
HISTORY OF THE TRIAL
CASTNER HANWAY AND OTHERS,
PHILADELPHIA IN NOVEMBER, 1851.
WITH AN INTRODUCTION UPON
THE HISTORY OF THE SLAVE QUESTION.
A MEMBER OF THE PHILADELPHIA BAR.
URIAH HUNT & SONS, No. 44 NORTH FOURTH STREETS.
MERRIHEW AND THOMPSON, PRINTERS.
The following pages contain a short history of the late ChristianaTreason Trials. During their progress a phonographic report of allthe proceedings was taken and printed, by order of the Court, for theuse of the Judges and Counsel employed in the cause. For this a copyright was secured, and proposals issued for publishing it in full. Thoughmore than six months have elapsed, this has not yet been done, and theonly account of the transactions to which the public have access, is containedin the daily papers of New York and Philadelphia. Thispamphlet has been prepared to supply the deficiency.
The sources of information used in compiling it, have been the phonographicreport already referred to; a transcript of the docket of AldermanReigart of Lancaster; a transcript of the docket of E. D. Ingraham,Esquire, Commissioner of the U. S., resident in Philadelphia; therecords of the Philadelphia County Prison; the records of the Circuitand District Courts; and the files of the Evening Bulletin. Wherethese have not furnished a connected story, the deficiency has been suppliedfrom the writer’s own recollection, or that of his friends, whoattended upon or participated in the trial.
Some of the most glaring absurdities and incongruities contained inMr. Brent’s pamphlet, which he calls “A Report to his ExcellencyGovernor Lowe in relation to the Christiana Treason Trials,” have beenpointed out. The very limited circulation of this work, confined, webelieve, to a few who received copies as a personal favor, would renderany notice of it unnecessary, had it not been published in a measure bythe authority of the State, whose imaginary wrongs its author has, bythese means, sought to vindicate. The almost scurrilous terms in whichit denounces the majority of the citizens of Philadelphia, the people ofPennsylvania, the officers of the Court in which the trials were held, theJudges who presided, and, in short, every one connected with the case,except counsel and the witnesses for the prosecution, are conclusive evidenceof more anxiety to emit spleen and mortification, than to subservethe purposes of truth and justice.
[Pg 4]A popular, not a professional view of the subject has been attempted.It is amongst the body of the people that false reports have been spread,and to the people this statement is addressed, in hopes that it may tendto correct the evil.
In accordance with the wish of the publishers, a brief introduction hasbeen prefixed, embracing a connected view of all the many attemptswhich have been made, at various periods to settle, by Congressionallegislation, the embarrassing question of slavery. The main object is toshow the views entertained upon the subject by the great statesmen whoframed the Constitution, and watched over its first developments; andaccordingly much more space has been devoted to that early legislation,than to measures which are still fresh in the recollection of those whomwe address. The essay is thought to be appropriate in this connection,because the late great Compromise, of which these trials are one of theearliest fruits, is the legitimate consequence of long antecedent measures,and cannot be fully understood or appreciated without bestowing muchprevious study upon our early political history. The sources from whichthis introduction has been compiled are strictly original, consisting, asfar as possible, of official or semi-official documents and reports.
SLAVERY AS A NATIONAL QUESTION.
The following brief essay is not intended to be an argumentativediscussion of the subject upon which it treats. Discussionsof that sort have abounded so much of late years, that therewould be much more presumption than wisdom in any attemptto increase the number. But perhaps it may be matter ofinterest, now that the conflict has been going on for more thansixty years, to know something of its earlier phases, of itsvaried successes, and of the deeds done and the words spokenby those who fought the same battle long ago in the infancy ofthe republic. The region of historical research which we areabout to explore, appears to be almost a terra incognita to themajority of the fiery debaters who now-a-days are prosecutingthis wordy war; or if they occasionally plunge into it for amoment, it is only to hurry back in premature triumph, draggingcaptive some unhappy straggling passage of Jefferson orJay, to serve as a bone of contention for a whole generation ofself-constituted agitators in and out of Congress. Now if theobject is merely to perpetuate the agitation, the course pursuedis unquestionably a wise one; for, short as our national historyis, the stock of facts which it supplies us with upon the subjectis assuredly large enough, if used with but a tithe of the economyheretofore exhibited, to last till the Union and Time itselfshall be no more. But there are some quiet spirits still left whoget weary of this hopeless strife, and who can scarcely afford toadopt the advice of the Scotch clergyman—to wait for rest tillthey get to heaven; who cannot help calling out, “Peace, peace,”however discordant the answer may be; and who, if they needsmust fight, would be glad to know what they’re fighting about,fight in earnest and be done with it. To answer, then, at leastone of these questions, and suggest to this rapidly increasingclass precisely what the present phase of the battle is, and whathopes there are of final peace, this brief historical sketch is[Pg 6]attempted. The purpose is not, we repeat it, to discuss thesubject; the author aims not at the dignity of a disputant; heis more than satisfied with the humbler task of supplying materialsfor those who do,—in hopes that if rage and angerhave hitherto filled the place of armorers in our battle-field,history may in future discharge the duty a little more creditably.It is proposed, then, to trace the slavery question at length, sofar as it has been the source of national difficulties, embarrassmentsand legislation, with especial reference to its earlier history,and to the clause in the Constitution respecting fugitives,which has lately been made the subject of Congressional action.
It will not be necessary to extend our inquiries to any periodanterior to the revolution, or in any way to examine the peculiarcauses which first established and have long perpetuated slaveryamongst us. Prior to that event, it was of course a questionbetween Great Britain and her colonies, and nice casuistry mightperhaps be needed to determine the relative amount of guiltchargeable on each of the two parties. The moral value, too, ofa solemn judicial decision, “that no slave could breathe the airor stand on the free soil of England,” may be a little questioned,when it is remembered that such property would of necessity bealmost worthless in her climate; and that at the very momentwhen a reluctant Judge pronounced these boasted words, hercapitalists were rolling in wealth that grew out of the sweat onnegro brows in her American plantations. We have heard ofhigh bred Southern families in which a thousand out-door slavesare never suffered to pollute the pure air of the saloons andchambers that their masters breathe, or tread the rich carpetsthat their toil has paid for. The custom is undoubtedly refinedand agreeable, but we never heard that it boasted to rest onhigher grounds than ordinary mortals venture on.
At the time of the declaration of independence, when thecolonies escaped from their long pupilage, and, with new rightsand new responsibilities, set out to act an independent part amongthe nations of the earth, the taint of slavery was upon every oneof them; in every one, the soil was tilled by negro bondmen.The laws regulating the relations between master and slave,were, it is true, widely different in the different States; in some,as in Connecticut, the privileges annexed to the condition were[Pg 7]so wide and the facility of rising from it so great, that the constitutionaleuphemism which is now-a-days so boldly metaphorical,might with every propriety style them “persons held toservice or labor;” in others, they were then, as now, a hopelesslydegraded class, whose happiness depended entirely on the arbitrarywill of their masters. Of course it is not intended torepresent that the various States were equally interested in theinstitution. Varieties of soil, climate and social habits, had drawnthe great mass of this population to what are now known as theSouthern States. At the time of the Declaration, no authenticenumeration had been made; but when the first census wastaken in 1791, the total number of slaves in what are now knownas the Northern States, was 40,370; in the Southern, 653,910.At the earlier period of which we are now speaking, the disproportionwas probably less striking, but sufficiently great to makethe interests of the two sections totally opposite. The difference,however, did not depend merely upon the amount of capitalinvested. The feeling in the North, both moral and political,was decidedly and in many cases bitterly hostile to slavery. Themost shortsighted, therefore, could not fail to foresee the speedyadoption of those measures which ultimately provided for generalemancipation. Even in Virginia and Maryland, not then consideredas Southern States, ardent advocates were found to pleadthe cause of liberty, and organized action had more than oncebeen attempted in its behalf. Below the Virginia line, in theCarolinas and Georgia, an abolitionist was as rare a phenomenonthen as he would be now; those States were yet but thinlysettled, a great part of their lands unreclaimed, and no prospectof improvement appeared, except in the extensive employmentof slave labor, adapted both to the climate and the character ofthe already established settlers.
Such was, briefly, the position of the two parties at the openingof our independent history; and such it was, also, when theFederal Convention met at Philadelphia in 1787, to frame thepresent Constitution. The question presented itself to thisbody in a threefold aspect—First, as to the influence which anenslaved race was entitled to exercise in the government; secondly,as to their further increase by importation; thirdly, as to[Pg 8]how far Congress and the Constitution were bound to providefor the security of this sort of property.
The first of these was rightly regarded at the time, as by farthe most important, not only because of the magnitude of theinterests directly involved in its decision, but still more so, becauseof the principles which, though scarcely remembered atpresent, were undoubtedly the basis of the Compromise, in whichthe deliberations of the convention resulted. A moment’s referenceto the slave census, referred to above, will show how greatwas the contrariety of interests involved, and give a tolerablycorrect idea of the influences by which the various States weregoverned in discussing the subject. For whatever pleasure itmight give us to conceal the humiliating fact, candor will compelus to acknowledge, that even in those heroic times of our history,interest seldom gave way to any nobler feeling when a questionlike this was to be determined. The original claim set up bythe South but abandoned upon the final vote—except by SouthCarolina, Georgia, and Delaware—was that the black populationshould be as largely represented in Congress, as the white. Itis impossible to give anything but a very brief outline of the argumentsused upon both sides. Without venturing to insist uponthe obvious absurdity, that an enslaved and helpless race werereally entitled to representation because of any rights they themselvesmight have to defend or duties which they might be boundto discharge, the Southern members took the position, not regardedat that time as utterly heterodox, that a State is entitledto be represented, not merely because of its containing so manyhuman beings, but because so many human beings are in realityonly the exponent of so much wealth or so much power contributedby such State to the support of the general government.The federal value of the State is in direct proportion to theamount of this power, and what difference could it make whetherit emanated as in the South from a race called slaves, supportedat the direct expense of their masters, who supplied them liberallywith