The Cleveland Daily Herald
Cleveland, July 22, 1859
The Oberlin Rescuers and Mr. Ketchum.
A LETTER TO HIRAM KETCHUM, ESQ., CHAIRMAN, ETC.
Sir: I have read the resolutions of “The Whig Committee,” signed by you as chairman, and leaving to others to laugh at or criticize what is said, pro and con, about the agitation of the slavery question, I will confine myself to the resolution denouncing the “Oberlin rescuers” as “traitors who conspire against the welfare and very existence of the State, and should be held up to the scorn of mankind.” I propose to analyze that resolution, drawn up by you, and published with such a flourish of trumpets, to show your fellow-citizens what sort of a rhetorical and constitutional lawyer sits in the chair of the Whig Committee in the year 1859.
The Committee, by you, “regret to say, that they think it not inappropriate or uncalled for, at this time, to declare their firm adherence to the great fundamental principle of republican liberty – obedience to laws constitutionally enacted.” The rhetoric of this sentence is somewhat remarkable. Why “regret to say” that they adhere to a great principle of republican liberty? Was it because the denunciation that follows, in respect to the Oberlin rescuers, was “inappropriate” and “uncalled for,” and shamefully inconsistent with the great principle professedly adhered to by the Committee?”
We all owe “obedience to laws constitutionally enacted,” Mr. Ketchum. Northern men at least agree in that. But do we owe obedience to laws unconstitutionally enacted, or rather to bills – our fathers called an unconstitutional act, the “Boston Port Bill;” they never acknowledged it to be a law or even a parliamentary act – that have the form of laws, but are not such a fact? Is the Fugitive Slave bill a law constitutionally enacted? You know it is not. Daniel Webster, the god of your idolatry, whose deliberate legal opinions you are the last man to controvert, declared its provisions unconstitutional. By what legerdemain then do you arrive at the conclusion that the Oberlin rescuers, even if they had trampled under the Fugitive Slave bill, are traitors who conspire against the welfare and very existence of the state, and should be held up to the scorn of mankind.
But the Oberlin rescuers – patriots, I call them – did not intentionally violate the Fugitive Slave bill nor resist the laws of the land. They set at liberty a man who they believed had been kidnapped, and when arrested, submitted to the United States Court until a nolle prosequi was entered, and they were set at liberty. For this you as the mouth-piece of “the Whig Committee” denounce them as “traitors,” who have openly violated the principle that obedience is due to laws constitutionally enacted; and hold them up, so far as you can, to the scorn of mankind. Shame on you, Mr. Ketchum. You a constitutional lawyer – you a friend of liberty! The “scorn” you hurl at the noble friends of liberty at Oberlin, recoils upon yourself, and upon the members of the Committee whom you represent, unless they repudiate your resolutions.
The Oberlin Rescuers, considered by the Court as having violated the Fugitive Slave law, so called, submitted as good citizens to the penalty, until the Court relented and set them free. And are such men to be denounced by a New York lawyer as “traitors” and held up to the “scorn of mankind?” Is this Whiggism? Is this the lesson you learned of Daniel Webster? Is this a specimen of your knowledge of constitutional law and the rights of man?
Your fellow-citizen, L.T.
--New York Post.