Nor can it be pleaded that the taking of this property, vast as is its amount, is an act committed regardless of mercy to the vanquished, an act of harsh severity, much less a deed of plunder; no, nor yet a measure of punishment. Far from offending against any principle of humanity in destroying such property-in other words, in cancelling life-long claims to service and labor- the inhumanity would have been to refrain from destroying it.
Nor do we harm the slave claimant, but greatly benefit him, by canceling these claims. In point of fact it is incalculably to his advantage, socially, pecuniarily, politically, to be without them. While he retains them there will be between him and us a lack of the conditions necessary to a true union; there will be no loyal concurrent sentiment of citizenship. But a forced union of States, without the conditions under which alone concurrence of ideas and affections is possible, would be a measure unworthy of a statesman. Slave-holders and freemen can never, in these States, act together in friendships again. Therefore for his own sake the slave-holder must cease to be such.
Are we impertinently interfering in his business, arrogantly and improperly assuming to judge what is best for him, when we determine this? Not at all. The business is emphatically our own, for it intimately concerns our national existence. In deciding it as we see fit there is neither impropriety nor arrogance but proper precaution and prudent foresight. If he had refrained from levying war against his Government he would have had the undoubted right to judge and to act in this affair. As it is, he has lost it; and we have now the right and the power to decide the matter, not he.
But, in the second place, our power is restricted to the abrogation of these claims, and it ceases there. As a trust for a special object is exhausted with the execution of that object, so is the authority of the President, being in the nature of a trust in this case. His object was to restore and render stable the national unity. To effect that great object, to preserve from permanent dismemberment the country over which he presides, he enfranchised 3,000,000 of its inhabitants. Under this act of his, third parties took vested rights. Under the inducements of this act of his, third parties took refuge within our lines, enlisted in our armies, fought in our battles. We had a right to confer these vested rights; we had a right to present these inducements; we had a right to accept this said. But having done all this, we have no right to resume what we have granted. We had a right to act; we have no authority to revoke our action. To enslave is not a power under the Constitution. No officer or department of the Government can exercise it. From that stain, at least, we are free. Were it otherwise our Government would be the scorn of the age, a disgrace to christendom. a
We have lost, buy our own solemn act the right henceforth to talk of reconstruction with the "peculiar institution" of the South left intact. Such language is now but a mischievous mystification. If the South conquerd as slaves those who by our laws are free men. But for us there is no longer in any
a That the Supreme Court of the United States has no right to sit in judgment upon, or to reverse, a great measure of national policy, is as certain as that the powers of that court are judicial, not legislative. We do not argue this point at length here, because it comes up more appropriately in the section treating of the constitutionality of emancipation inthe loyal slave States. There the argument will be found at length, with references to the decisions of that court itself which bear upon this subject.