December 1, 1860: The Times’ correspondent on States’ Rights

The New York Times Washington Correspondent did some editorializing on the subject of states’ rights on December 1, 1860:

The action of the Vermont Legislature upon the proposition to repeal the Personal Liberty bill creates much dissatisfaction with the “Conservatives” and others, who seemed to expect that the menacing demands of South Carolina and the Disunionists of other States would be instantly obeyed. But no intelligent man, who knows anything of Northern sentiment, believed for a moment that Sovereign States would be influenced by such means.

It is strange that those who are never done with harping upon State rights and State sovereignty, never seem to imagine that such prerogatives belong equally to all the States. The Personal Liberty bills, which were merely designed to prevent the kidnapping of free negroes, doubtless infringe upon the Constitution, in so far as they forbid citizens to assist the United States officers in the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave law; and they are to that extent null and void, whether repealed or not.

But the laws of the Southern States which imprison or sell into Slavery free colored seamen, are also infractions of the Constitution. I am sorry to say, however, that they are not practical nullities, though they are such in law. The South forgets that the Northern States are as much bound to protect their free negroes against the snares of Southern kidnappers, as the Southern States are bound to see that their citizens are not robbed of their slaves by the Abolitionists.

Apparently my claim that Southern outrage over personal liberty laws was an anti-states’ rights position is not original to me.

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