Adin Ballou on Lysander Spooner's "The Unconstitutionality of Slavery"
The Liberator. October 17, 1845.
The following are the views of Adin Ballou, respecting Lysander Spooner's book [The Unconstitutionality of Slavery], as expressed in the last number of his admirable little paper, the Practical Christian.
The Unconstitutionality of Slavery, by Lysander Spooner. Boston: Published by Bela Marsh, No. 25 Cornhill. Price 50 cents.
This is a large, compact octavo pamphlet of 156 pages, designed to demonstrate that the Constitution of the United States, instead of recognizing and giving security to slavery, is entirely against it; and if justly expounded and carried into effect, would utterly prohibit the holding of slaves by American citizens.
This is very much like an attempt to show that the moon is a self-luminous body, and has no dark side. If it were possible to make out such a case, Mr. Spooner would be the man to accomplish it. He is evidently one of our most studious, acute, ingenious, metaphysical, and with all sincere legal advocates. It is certainly amusing, if not wonderful, to see with what gravity, ingenuity, patience and persevering elaboration he has handled this subject. All the way through he asserts, quotes authorities and weaves on the web of his plea with a cool, seemingly candid assurance, that nearly confounds even one who knows just as well the utter groundlessness of his main proposition, as he knows that an iron manacle is not a golden bracelet. Mr. Spooner has richly earned a Doctorate from the Liberty Party politicians, and proved himself competent, as a special pleader, to manage any difficult case that would be hopeless in other hands. Along with a great many useful facts, important truths, and unexceptionable statements, he has affirmed with the most imperturbable gravity the truth of positions which are sheer fictions, and seriously drawn out arguments that in justice can only be pronounced respectable absurdities. Consistent republicans no doubt most devoutly wish the Constitution of the United States to have been almost and altogether such a document as Mr. Spooner endeavors to make it. He seems indeed to have persuaded himself that it is a pure Anti-Slavery Constitution. Many have followed their wishes into a profession of the same faith. And as many others are predisposed to such a conclusion, I have no doubt that this pamphlet will make converts--perhaps not a few. For it is proverbial that what men anxiously desire should be true, they are easily brought to believe, or at least to take for grants. If the great mass of the citizens of the United States could by any means be brought to adopt Mr. Spooner's construction of their Constitution, it would then be practically an Anti-Slavery Constitution. And if this is the way to the end, the only path in which people will travel to the abolition of slavery, i. e. making a round, barefaced denial that they ever Constitutionally sanctioned it, let them make their own course.
But to make me believe that the Federal Convention that framed the United States' Constitution, and the ratifying majority of the people, did not deliberately recognize slavery, authorize the slave trade for twenty years, guarantee to slaveholders, in States choosing to uphold the system, the return of fugitive slaves, the suppression of slave insurrections, and an excess of power in the government, equal to three-fifths of the slave population, is no more possible that to make me believe that these abominations have not been perpetrated to the letter by the government of the United States. When I believe the one, I shall probably believe the other. God grant the nation a speedy repentance and reformation; in order to which, I counsel that instead of denying their guilt, they frankly confess and forsake it. I recommend enquirers to read Mr. Spooner's book. It contains a great deal of information, as well as much sharp thinking.