Tuesday, May 14, 2013

" ...place a weapon in each man's hands to shed that blood in his own defence...."

   "[Pg. 2958] . . . If the people themselves, either individually or as a nation, have the power of self-defence, then must their sovereignty, their power, united under the constitution, also have the power of self-defence.

   "Sir, the principle of self-defence runs throughout the whole animated world, and is a law to "man, beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see." Look with your glass at the living atoms which in myriads people the light; each one is armed, and, by the little wars of self-defence, preserves his own existence. He fights, his brief battle, reproduces himself, and dies in the same hour when, and in the bosom of the same bright sunbeam where, he was born. The little ichnenmon, defied in Eqypt for his successful wars against the crocodile, not only defends himself against that ferocious enemy of so many living things, but, but courage and stratagem, he leaps into the open jaws of his powerful adversary, wins his way to his very vitals, gnaws asunder the cords of life, and then, boring a passage for himself through the side of his conquered enemy, leaves the monster dead or dying on the shore of the Nile. The leviathan of the ocean, which wars and feeds on all the families of the seas, is assailed and subdued by one of the lesser fishes, a diminutive adversary, named from the sword which he wears; endowed with the instinctive valor and skill of self-defence, he plunges when pursued, and, rising swiftly and with deadly aim, under the defenceless body of his enemy, avenges and secures himself. You have seen those little birds which build their nests, and sing in the trees near every farmstead, as you travel any part of our country. They are always on their defence; never waiting to gather themselves into brigades, each one darts singly on the coming hawk, and drives the marauder from his little neighborhood. "Its power to guard itself each creature feels." One animal lifts his heel, and spurns his adversary; another tosses him with his horn; a third dashes at him with his armed head; and a fourth raises a paw, and strikes with no purpose of a second blow. The principle of maternity is a part of the principle of self-defence. How often does a cruel boy hardly escape with his eyes, when he climbs a tree to plunder the nest of a robin? What do you see in the farm-yard more valiant than the hen in defence of her brood? The shepherd will tell you that the sheep itself, in defence of her lamb, is no less brave than the dog trained and trusted to guard the flock. What man will do, or dare, more in defence of himself, than a mother will do, dare in defence of her child? The right of self-defence is so incidental, and so perfectly a law of nature, that every effort made by any creature in pursuance of this law, is cheered and encouraged by a feeling and expression of approbation in the mind or by the voice of every beholder of it. A knowledge of the right which every man has to defend his own life has not been communicated to us by any human teachings, but was given to us at our creation, among those primitive instincts which were wrought into the very fabric of our existence by the hand of the Creator himself. The right of self-defence depend on NO law made by man; for, unless it were a law of nature, and brought into existence with life itself, there must have been a time when, because no such law had been enacted for that purpose, every man is, by every human tribunal, justifed in using so much violence in defence of his own life as will preserve himself, and prevent the assailant from attempting further aggression. Nay, sir, this great law of our nature creates and places an obligation on every man to defend that life bestowed on him by his creator; and if, when assailed, he does not do this by all means in his power, he consents to his own murder, and is guilty of  crime, in the forum of conscience, equal, at least, in its enormity, to that of suicide itself. Although this great principle of self-defence is a law of nature, and never has been questioned, so far as we have knowledge, by any human tribunal, yet the Creator himself did, in the great constitution by him given to man for his government, and written in the volume of inspiration, utterly prohibit the destruction of human life. "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by mn shall his blood be shed." Here is, in this constitution, not only no warrant for taking life in self-defence, but here is, to the very letter, a prohibition and a punishment affixed to the deed. How shall we interpret, how reconcile these two great laws, enacted by the same all wise Legislator? By looking to the purpose of their institution. They were both established for the preservation of human life. The law which prohibited killing was intended to prevent that violence which might destroy life; and the law of self-defence was designed to resist that violence which had not been thereby prevented, and which, if not so resisted, would destroy life. So were these two laws expounded and reconciled, in aftertime,[Pg. 2959] by the Creator himself; where, by his own ordinance, the killing which had been done in self-defence was justified; and that killing only which had been done with malice prepense was followed by the punishment of death.

   "Sir, may not human institutions, made by the best wisdom of man for human preservation, receive the light of illustration from institutions established for the same beneficent purpose, by the ordinances of the Diety himself? "The Judge of all the earth" has expounded the laws of the Eternal, so that his prohibition against "shedding man's blood" does aid, not abrogate, his own paramount law of self-preservation, but, in effect, place a weapon in each man's hands to shed that blood in his own defence. Who, then, will, or can deny, to a whole people, united and embodied in the persons of their representatives, under that great institution, their political law--that constitution which makes them a nation, and forms their representatives into a sovereignty--who, I say, dares deny to that sovereignty the same rights of self-defence which appertain, not only to every individual of that nation, but also to every animated being throughout the universe! . . ."

   "[Pages 2971-72]. . . France has drenched the streets of her own beloved Paris in blood, to secure "freedom of the press." The type, sir, the type must pioneer the sword in the march of freedom. The voice of eloquence may startle the oppressed from his slumber of ages--it may shake the tyrant on his throne of a hundred descents, if they may be found within the compass of its mighty volume; but the more efficient powers of the press may spread out the printed roll of human rights before every human eye. Dare we, sir, dare we snatch that printed roll from the hand of the American people; and that, too, when it is fraught with our own doings touching their own concernments, entrusted by them in our management, but to their use and for their benefit?

   "Sir, I do not recollect any thing material, said by the learned advocate, which now remains unanswered: for I pass over, as utterly unworthy of any reply, the allegation that the deed of daring done by the respondent was done by him because a certain letter was not answered by the gentleman from Ohio; not because words were spoken, or because words were printed, but because words were not written; not for a wrong done, but for not doing a wrong. Equally unworthy of notice is the poor evasion which labored to censure the gentleman from Ohio for carrying arms to secure his own personal safety. The bravo--the ruffian--may fill his belt with pistols, and his bosom with dirk-knives, and threaten violence to peaceable citizens, and do all this with perfect impunity; but if such citizens take to themselves weapons for purposes of self-defence--the only lawful cause for which men may ever wear such weapons--they are, as it is said, guilty of provoking aggression, and justly liable to punishment for any violation of the public peace, committed by any assault made on their own person."--Mr. Trisam Burges, Representative of Rhode Island, May 11, 1832. [Debates in Congress. Part III. of Vol. VIII. Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising The Leading Debates And Incidents Of The First Sssion of the Twenty-Second Congree: Together With An Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and the Laws Enacted During The Session; With a Copius Index to the whole. Volume VIII. Washington: Printed and Published by Gales & Seaton. 1838.]

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