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Proceedings of the Civil Rights Mass-Meeting held at Lincoln Hall, October 22, 1883. Speeches of Hon. Frederick Douglass and Robert G. Ingersoll.

1883DC-National-Washington_Proceedings (21).pdf

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18

garded as "a voice from high," The people heard and they obeyed. The Fred Scott decision destroyed that illusion forever. From that day to this the people have claimed the privilege of putting decisions of the Supreme Court in the crucible of reason. These decisions are no longer exempt from honest criticism. While the decisions remains, it is the law. No matter how absurd, no matter how erroneous, no matter how contrary to reason the justice, it remains the law. It must be overturned either by the Court itself, (and the Court has overturned hundreds of its own decisions), or by legislative action, or by an amendment to the Constitution. We do not appeal to armed revolution. Our Government is so framed that it provided for what may be called perpetual peaceful revolution. For the redress of any grievance, for the purpose of righting any wrong, there is the perpetual remedy of an appeal to the people.

We must remember, too, that judges keep their backs to the dawn. They find what has been, what is, but not what ought to be. They are tied and shackled by precedent, fettered by old decisions, and by the desire to be consistent, even in mistakes. They pass upon the acts and words of others, and like other people they are liable to make mistakes. In the olden time, we took what the doctors gave us, we believed what the preachers said and accepted, without question, the judgments of the highest Court. Now it is different. We ask the doctor what the medicine is, and what effect he expects it to produce. We cross examine the minister, and we criticize the decision of the Chief Justice. We do this, because we have found that some doctors do not kill, some ministers are quite reasonable, and that some judges know something about law. In this country, the people are the sovereigns, All officers—including judges—are simply their servants, and the sovereign has always the right to give his opinion as the action of his agent. The sovereignty of the people is the rock, upon which rests the right of speech and the freedom of the press.

Unfortunately for us, our fathers adopted the Common law of England—a law poisoned by kingly prerogative—by every form of oppression, by the spirit of caste, and permeated, saturated, with the political heresy that the people received their rights, privileges and immunities from the crown. The thirteen original colonies received their laws, their forms, their ides of justice, from the old world. All the judicial, legislative, and executive spring and sources had been touched and tainted.

IN the struggle with England, our fathers justified their rebellion by declaring the Nature had clothed all men with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The moment suc-

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