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Scripto | Transcribe Page
Minutes of the State Convention of Colored Citizens of Pennsylvania, Convened at Harrisburg, December 13-14, 1848.
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It may seem to many, as being too slow in our case, to satisfy the demands of justice; yet it is nevertheless an important safeguard to the rights, privileges, and interests of the people.
Now fellow citizens, we should feel a deep interest in this cause, and hasten its onward march, by every means in our power. For over us, and our children, its preganant consequences, to our future welfare, hangs like a mighty incubus; shall we longer fold our arms with stoic indifference, and falter before this judgement of power, which, like some great Andes, is crushing us and our children beneath its ponderous weight; rather than rise like men possessing the spirit of freemen, and petition those in authority for its removal? In vain has been our acquaintance with letters, if we remain blind to the teachings of history.
Shall the spirit of liberty continue to inspire every nation--rock every government, and freight every breeze, and leave us like some unnatural excrescence, or motionless adamant unmoved by its power.
Shall we read, not only in books, but in the examples of those who surround us, the inestimable value that others place on the free exercise of their political rights, and long remain indifferent to our own. If we do, a more powerful argument cannot be urged for withholding them. It was wielded with great effect on a former occasion, and will remain a standing obstruction to us, unless we by a bold and energetic action, cast it to the four winds.
The old adage, that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance," is as true now, as when it was first uttered. Others will be induced to advocate our rights, just in proportion, as they discover that we set a just value on them ourselves.
Slaves have learned to lick the dust, and stifle the voice of free inquiry; but we are not slaves--our right to natural liberty, and a qualified citizenship, is guaranteed to us by the Constitution. Full, civil, and political liberty, is regarded by the ablest writers on government, as the only true safeguard to individual liberty--so that, their presence is vindicated by necessity.
There are many points of difference between the celebrated Somersett case, and ours. He was separated by water from those influences prejudicial to his case, and it was managed by able counsel, learned in the law, while the decision was wrung from noble Lords, after a patient investigation of the principles proclaimed in the Magna Charta of Great Britain. We are situated in the midst of our jurors, where every possible opportunity is presented for prejudging our cause. Our jurors are men from all creeds of christians, all political parties, possessing minds of every shade of thought, from the most exalted intelligence, to unpardonable ignorance; of every classification of sympathy, and every quality of prejudice, with no other standard before them, than their own ideas of republicanism, which they are not bound by oaths to support, and such is the equal distribution of power among them, that our worst enemy can nullify the act of our best friend.
The evidence that was required in the Somersett case was language, in our case it will be actions. We should resist on the very threshold of the court this distinction in evidence, as having no foundation in established precedents, in the Judicial and Legislative branches of our government.
You may clearly discover, fellow citizens, the narrow path on which we must tread; every juryman will be a living witness against us, if this rule of evidence be admitted, the least departure from the ground of moral rectitude, will be magnified into a base attempt to overthrow the law, and disturb the peace of society. Our petty jealousies and bickerings, will be regarded as lawless invasions. Even drunkenness that is often characterized as the essence of fashionable folly, among the whites, will be ascribed to degeneracy in us. The tide of our vices, will not be considered to rise and fall by temptation, like those of other men, but as springing from an inherent quality of our nature.
They will describe us as being too low in the scale of creation to be reached by heavenly light, and then denounce us for being immoral. They will assert our inferiority in the scale of creation, and them taunt us with not having established our equality, by the overthrow of nature's laws. In short, we will be required to perform impossibilities, and denounced for not surmounting them.
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