Ralph Waldo Emerson, address on The Fugitive Slave Law (May 3, 1851)
immoral law makes it a man's duty to break it, at every hazard: For virtue is
the very self of every man. 'It is therefore a
principle of law that an immoral contract is void, and that an immoral statute
is void. . . ." The [Fugitive Slave Law] is a statute which enacts the
crime of kidnappings crime on one footing with arson and murder. A man's right
to liberty is as inalienable as his right to life. . . .
"By the law of Congress March 2, 1807, it is piracy and murder, punishable with death, to enslave a man on the coast of Africa. 'By law of Congress September, 1850, it is a high crime and misdemeanor, punishable with fine and imprisonment, to resist the reenslaving a man on the coast of America. : . . What kind of legislation is this? What kind of Constitution which covers it? . . .
"I suppose the Union can be left to take care of itself. . . . But one thing appears certain to me, that, as soon as the Constitution ordains an immoral law, it ordains disunion. The law is suicidal, and cannot be obeyed. The Union is at an end as soon as an immoral law is enacted. And he who writes a crime into the statute-book digs under the foundations of the Capitol to plant there a powder-magazine, and lays a train."