Skip to main content

“A Crime of the Deepest Dye”: Speeches from The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922

Posted on 10/12/2015

The October release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes speeches illustrating the growing controversy surrounding America’s peculiar institution in the decade leading up to the Civil War.

Highlighted here are speeches from the floor of the House of Representatives, the floor of the Senate of Massachusetts, and a street corner in Alton, Illinois.

Ohio congressman Joshua Reed GiddingsPayment for Slaves (1849)

Speech of Representative Joshua Reed Giddings

In dissenting to legislation before the U.S. House of Representatives—the “Bill To Pay the Heirs of Antonio Pacheco for a Slave Sent West of the Mississippi with the Seminole Indians in 1838”—Ohio congressman Joshua Reed Giddings makes both an emotional and technical argument after giving a brief background of the case.

The claimant, in 1835, residing in Florida, professed to own a negro man named Lewis….The master hired him to an officer of the United States, to act as a guide to the troops under the command of Major Dade, for which he was to receive twenty-five dollars per month.

It is unclear whether Lewis deserted the army or was captured by the enemy when Dade was defeated, but Lewis was recaptured in 1837 by U.S. General Jesup who…

regarded him as a dangerous man; that he was supposed to have kept up a correspondence with the enemy from the time he joined Major Dade until the defeat of that officer; that, to insure the public safety, he ordered him sent West with the Indians; believing that if left in the country he would be employed against our troops. He was sent West: and the claimant now asks that we should pay him a thousand dollars as the value of this man’s body.

Giddings then voiced his opposition to the bill, saying,

My constituents hold slavery to be a crime of the deepest dye. The robbing a man of his money or property, or the seizing of his ships upon the high seas, we regard as grievous offences, which should exclude the perpetrator from human associations for the time being. But we look upon those crimes as of small importance, when compared with that of robbing a man of his labor, his liberty, his social, his intellectual enjoyments; to disrobe him. On this account we protest solemnly against being involved in the wickedness and in the crimes of that institution….We hold that…it is…in the highest degree criminal, for a man, or for a Government, to rob any portion of our race of their God-given rights. As the representative of a Christian and a moral consistency, I deny the right of Congress to involve them or me in the support of such crimes….By the passage of this bill, we shall become slave dealers ourselves—traders in humanity.

Removal of Judge Loring (1855)

Speech of Hon. Robert B. Hall, of Plymouth, in the Senate of Massachusetts

In 1854, in Boston, Massachusetts, Judge Edward Greeley Loring heard the case of fugitive slave Anthony Burns. Judge Loring ruled against Burns, ordering his return to slavery.

The ruling was intensely unpopular in Massachusetts, and one result was the eventual call for Loring’s removal from the bench.

Massachusetts State Senator Robert B. Hall's call for Loring’s removal was based on the judge's violation of the public trust, not a transgression of law:

The laws are unbroken in form, and therefore he is not impeachable; but the spirit is violated, and we are moved to the very centre of our being by the recollection of the acts he has committed.

Hall argues Loring had become disconnected from the population and was therefore no longer fit to serve:

In his own circle, away from the people, without communication with the rank and file, he got the idea that Boston represented the sentiment of Massachusetts….He thought the opinion of those men around him was infallible….He had no idea of the throbs of the heart of the Commonwealth. He had no idea that the cries from every side in favor of liberty were anything but the mad howlings of fanatics….And further than that, I charge that he was overawed by the throne….He was under the control of influences from Washington—from the throne…. He degraded the judiciary, and if the independence of the judiciary is assaulted, it is he who will have struck the blow, not we.

The Campaign in Illinois: Last Joint Debate (1858)

Senator Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln at Alton, Illinois

In their final debate, Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln displayed an eloquence sorely missed in today’s exchange of political ideas. Excerpted first is Lincoln’s response to Douglas’s continued mischaracterization of his position on the Dred Scott decision:

I have never complained of the Dred Scott decision because it decided that a negro could never be a citizen of the United States. I have the speech here, and I will thank him or any of his friends to find where I specially complained of the decision because it decided that a negro could never be a citizen of the United States. I have done no such thing! Judge Douglas’ persistency in insisting that I have done so, has strongly impressed me with the belief of a predetermination on his part to misrepresent me….

I was endeavoring to prove that the Dred Scott decision was a portion of a system to make slavery national in the United States. I pointed out in that speech what points had been decided in that decision by the Court….I mentioned all these…and taken in connection with the Nebraska bill…and combining these things together and offering them, I argued that they tended to prove a combination or conspiracy, tending to make the institution of slavery national in the United States.

In that connection, and in that way, I mentioned the decision that a negro could not be a citizen of the United States. Now, out of that Judge Douglas builds up his beautiful fabric of my purpose to introduce a perfect, political, and social equality between the whites and negroes, always adding, what is not true, that I made special objection that the decision said that a negro could not be a citizen of the United States.

In Senator Douglas’ final speech of the debates he makes references to the ongoing internecine war within his own Democratic Party before turning on his opponent:

His first criticism upon me is the expression of his hope that the war of the Administration will be prosecuted against me and the Democratic party of this State with vigor….There is something really refreshing in the thought that Mr. Lincoln is in favor of prosecuting one war vigorously. It is the first war I ever knew him to be in favor of prosecuting. It is the first war that I ever knew him to believe to be just or constitutional. When the Mexican war was being waged, and the American army was surrounded by the enemy in Mexico, he thought that war was unconstitutional, unnecessary, and unjust. He thought it was not commenced on the right spot….When he got into the House, being opposed to the war, and not being able to stop the supplies, because they had all gone forward, all he could do was follow the lead of Corwin, and prove that the war was not begun on the right spot, and that it was unconstitutional, unnecessary, and wrong. Remember, too, that this he did after the war had been begun. It is one thing to be opposed to the declaration of a war, another and very different thing to take sides with the enemy against your country after that war has been commenced….That a man who take sides with the common enemy against his own country in the time of war, should rejoice in a war being made on me now, is very natural. And in my opinion, no other kind of man would rejoice in it.

For more information about The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

Stay in Touch

Receive product news, special offers and invitations, or the acclaimed Readex Report

Sign Up

By clicking "Sign Up", you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.