John Calhoon's Southern Address uses the words "right" and "rights" thirty five times. While there are many other secessionists documents echoing the Declaration of Independence or pushing economic themes, the Southern Address is more focused towards rights than most. There are three central rights identified as being denied southerners: ownership of Negroes, the right to transport Negroes into federal territories without losing ownership, and the right to have escaped Negroes captured in northern states returned. While the neo-Confederates are fond of saying the southern cause is one of rights, they less often mention that the rights their ancestors were most concerned about losing were related to slavery.
The opinion of the other learned judges was not less emphatic as to the importance to this provision and the unquestionable right of the South under it. Judge Baldwin, in charging the jury, said:*[The case of Johnson vs. Tompkins and others] "If there are any rights of property which can be enforced, if one citizen have any rights of property which are inviolable under the protection of the supreme law of the State, and the Union, they are those which have been set at nought by some of these defendants. As the owner of property, which he had a perfect right to possess, protect, and take away--as a citizen of a sister State, entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens of any other States--Mr. Johnson stands before you on ground which cannot be taken from under him--it is the same ground on which the Government itself is based. If the defendants can be justified, we have no longer law or government." Again, after referring more particularly to the provision for delivering up fugitive slaves, he said: "Thus you see, that the foundations of the Government are laid, and rest on the right of property in slaves. The whole structure must fall by disturbing the corner-stone."
Abe Lincoln's Cooper's Union speech is focused to only one of these three rights, the supposed right to transport Negroes into federal territories and retain ownership without congressional interference. He disagrees that this right exists at all. Lincoln is rebutting Senator Douglas, who claimed the framers of the Constitution intended this right.
It is surely safe to assume that the thirty-nine framers of the original Constitution, and the seventy-six members of the Congress which framed the amendments thereto, taken together, do certainly include those who may be fairly called "our fathers who framed the Government under which we live." And so assuming, I defy any man to show that any one of them ever, in his whole life, declared that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. I go a step further. I defy any one to show that any living man in the whole world ever did, prior to the beginning of the present century, (and I might almost say prior to the beginning of the last half of the present century,) declare that, in his understanding, any proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories. To those who now so declare, I give, not only "our fathers who framed the Government under which we live," but with them all other living men within the century in which it was framed, among whom to search, and they shall not be able to find the evidence of a single man agreeing with them.