Men of New England, I hold you to the doctrines of liberty which ye inherit from your Puritan forefathers.
We are laying the foundations of a government, which we hope may outlast the Pyramids.
The right of petition, I have said, was not conferred on the People by the Constitution, but was a pre-existing right, reserved by the People out of the grants of power made to Congress.
The proceedings of this House in 1790, in reference to petitions on the matter of the slave trade, and of slavery in the States, have been cited. It has been said that those petitions were not received.
I maintain that the House is bound by the Constitution to receive the petitions; after which, it will take such method of deciding upon them as reason and principle shall dictate.
You well know, sir, that when the Constitution was submitted to the People of the respective States for their adoption or rejection, it awakened the warmest debates of the several State conventions.
Sir, I am a republican; and I desire to see this House observe the principles of that democracy which is ever on the lips of its members, and which, I hope, is in their hearts, as I know and feel it is in mine, and mean it shall be in my conduct.
Entertaining these opinions of the course to be pursued, I beg of gentlemen to look at the question, as I have done, in a calm review of facts and of principles.
The right of petition is an old undoubted household right of the blood of England, which runs in our veins.
I declare and protest in advance, that I do not intend, at this time at least; to be drawn or driven into the question of slavery, in either of its subdivisions or forms.
It is impossible, in my mind, to distinguish between the refusal to receive a petition, or its summary rejection by some general order, and the denial of the right of petition.
And if this House is to be scared, by whatever influences, from its duty, to receive and hear the petitions of the People, then I shall send my voice beyond the walls of this Capitol for redress.
Here, again, as I conceive, gentlemen forget that this government is a republican one, resting exclusively in the intelligence and virtue of the People.
Upon the Constitution, upon the pre-existing legal rights of the People, as understood in this country and in England, I have argued that this House is bound to revive the Petition under debate.
Men of Virginia, countrymen of Washington, of Patrick Henry, of Jefferson, and of Madison, will ye be true to your constitutional faith?
When we fled from the oppressions of kings and parliaments in Europe, to found this great Republic in America, we brought with us the laws and the liberties, which formed a part of our heritage as Britons.
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