As Giddings delivered his indictment, angry colleagues cried for silence, and "the House was … agitated like the waves of the sea." But the Congressman had studied the rules too carefully to be gagged.
The gist of his constitutional argument was simple:
If what the slaveholders were always saying was true -- that the federal government had no business making laws about slavery -- then the same logic should hold in Florida, where the federal army should therefore have no business hunting fugitive slaves. If the southern doctrine of states' rights meant no federal interference with slavery, then surely it also meant no federal protection for the institution.
Giddings was not just making a legal argument, however. He was also attacking Southern masculinity at its core, suggesting that white southerners could not handle their slaves without the aid of the federally-funded Army. The undertone was even more radical. Giddings was
clearly implying that under the U.S. Constitution, slaves had the right to fight for their own freedom.
Sources: Giddings Speeches 6, Miller Arguing
380-81, Stewart Joshua R. Giddings "Joshua Giddings" 168, 179-80.
Part 3, Exile: l