STUDIES IN AMERICAN POLITICAL HISTORY
Edited with Introduction by Alexander Johnston
Reedited by James Albert Woodburn
Volume II. (of 4)
V.-THE ANTI-SLAVERY STRUGGLE.
RUFUS KING On The Missouri Struggle—United States Senate, February 11 And 14, 1820.
WILLIAM PINKNEY On The Missouri Struggle—United States Senate, February 15, 1820.
WENDELL PHILLIPS On The Murder Of Lovejoy—Faneuil Hall, Boston, December 8, 1837.
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS On The Constitutional War Power Over Slavery —House Of Representatives, May 25, 1836.
JOHN C. CALHOUN On The Slavery Question—United States Senate, March 4, 1850.
DANIEL WEBSTER On The Constitution And The Union—United States Senate, March 7, 1850.
HENRY CLAY On The Compromise Of 1850—United States Senate, July 22, 1850.
WENDELL PHILLIPS On The Philosophy Of The Abolition Movement—Before The Massachusetts, Anti-Slavery Society, Boston, January 27, 1853.
CHARLES SUMNER On The Repeal Of The Fugitive Slave Law—United States Senate, August 26, 1852.
LIST OF PORTRAITS—VOLUME II.
RUFUS KING — From a steel engraving.
JOHN Q. ADAMS — From a painting by MARCHANT.
JOHN C. CALHOUN — From a daguerreotype by BRADY.
DANIEL WEBSTER — From a painting by R. M. STAIGG.
HENRY CLAY — From a crayon portrait.
INTRODUCTION TO THE REVISED VOLUME II.
The second volume of the American Eloquence is devoted exclusively to the Slavery controversy. The new material of the revised edition includes Rufus King and William Pinkney on the Missouri Question; John Quincy Adams on the War Power of the Constitution over Slavery; Sumner on the Repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law. The addition of the new material makes necessary the reservation of the orations on the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, and on the related subjects, for the third volume.
In the anti-slavery struggle the Missouri question occupied a prominent place. In the voluminous Congressional material which the long debates called forth, the speeches of King and Pinkney are the best representatives of the two sides to the controversy, and they are of historical interest and importance. John Quincy Adams' leadership in the dramatic struggle over the right of petition in the House of Representatives, and his opinion on the constitutional power of the national government over the institution of slavery within the States, will always excite the attention of the historical student.
In the decade before the war no subject was a greater cause of irritation and antagonism between the States than the Fugitive Slave Law. Sumner's speech on this subject is the most valuable of his speeches from the historical point of view; and it is not only a worthy American oration, but it is a valuable contribution to the history of the slavery struggle itself. It has been thought desirable to include in a volume of this character orations of permanent value on these themes of historic interest. A study of the speeches of a radical innovator like Phillips with those of compromising conservatives like Webster and Clay, will lead the student into a comparison, or contrast, of these diverse characters. The volume retains the two orations of Phillips, the two greatest of all his contributions to the anti-slavery struggle. It is believed that the list of orations, on the whole, presents to the reader a series of subjects of first importance in the great slavery controversy.
The valuable introduction of Professor Johnston, on "The Anti-Slavery Struggle," is re-printed entire.
J. A. W.
V. — THE ANTI-SLAVERY STRUGGLE
Negro slavery was introduced into all the English colonies of North America as a custom, and not under any warrant of law. The enslavement of the negro race was simply a matter against which no white person chose to enter a protest, or make resistance, while the negroes themselves were powerless to resist or even protest. In due course of time laws were passed by the Colonial Assemblies to protect property in negroes, while the home government, to the very last, actively protected and encouraged the slave trade to the colonies. Negro slavery in all the colonies had thus passed from custom to law before the American Revolution broke out; and the course of the Revolution itself had little or no effect on the system.
From the beginning, it was evident that the course of slavery in the two sections, North and South, was to be altogether divergent. In the colder North, the dominant race found it easier to work than to compel negroes to work: in the warmer South, the case was exactly reversed. At the close of the Revolution, Massachusetts led the way in an abolition of slavery, which was followed gradually by the other States north of Virginia; and in 1787 the ordinance of Congress organizing the Northwest Territory made all the future States north of the Ohio free States. "Mason and Dixon's line" and the Ohio River thus seemed, in 1790, to be the natural boundary between the free and the slave States.
Up to this point the white race in the two sections had dealt with slavery by methods which were simply divergent, not antagonistic. It was true that the percentage of slaves in the total population had been very rapidly decreasing in the North and not in the South, and that the gradual abolition of slavery was proceeding in the North alone, and that with increasing rapidity. But there was no positive evidence that the South was bulwarked in favor of slavery; there was no certainty but that the South would in its turn and in due time come to the point which the North had already reached, and begin its own abolition of slavery. The language of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Henry, and Mason, in regard to the evils or the wickedness of the system of slavery, was too strong to be heard with patience in the South of after years; and in this section it seems to have been true, that those who thought at all upon the subject hoped sincerely for the gradual abolition of slavery in the South. The hope, indeed, was rather a sentiment than a purpose, but there seems to have been no good reason, before 1793, why the sentiment should not finally develop into a purpose.
All this was permanently changed, and the slavery policy of the South was made antagonistic to, and not merely divergent from, that of the North, by the invention of Whitney's saw gin for cleansing cotton in 1793. It had been known, before that year, that cotton could be cultivated in the South, but its cultivation was made unprofitable, and checked by the labor required to separate the seeds from the cotton. Whitney's invention increased the efficiency of this labor hundreds of times, and it became evident at once that the South enjoyed a practical monopoly of the production of cotton. The effect on the slavery policy of the South was immediate and unhappy. Since 1865, it has been found that the cotton monopoly of the South is even more complete under a free than under a slave labor system, but mere theory could never have convinced the Southern people that such would be the case. Their whole prosperity hinged on one product; they began its cultivation under slave labor; and the belief that labor and prosperity were equally dependent on the enslavement of the laboring race very soon made the dominant race active defenders of slavery. From that time the system in the South was one of slowly but steadily increasing rigor, until, just before 1860, its last development took the form of legal enactments for the re-enslavement of free negroes, in default of their leaving the State in which they resided. Parallel with this increase of rigor, there was a steady change in the character of the system. It tended very steadily to lose its original patriarchal character, and take the aspect of a purely commercial speculation. After 1850, the commercial aspect began to be the rule in the black belt of the Gulf States. The plantation knew only the overseer; so many slaves died to so many bales of cotton; and the slave population began to lose all human connection with the dominant race.
The acquisition of Louisiana in 1803 more than doubled the area of the United States, and far more than doubled the area of the slave system. Slavery had been introduced into Louisiana, as usual, by custom, and had then been sanctioned by Spanish and French law. It is true that Congress did not forbid slavery in the new territory of Louisiana; but Congress did even worse than this; under the guise of forbidding the importation of slaves into Louisiana, by the act of March 26, 1804, organizing the territory, the phrase "except by a citizen of the United States, removing into said territory for actual settlement, and being at the time of such removal bona fide owner of such slave or slaves," impliedly legitimated the domestic slave trade to Louisiana, and legalized slavery wherever population should extend between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains. The Congress of 1803-05, which passed the act, should rightfully bear the responsibility for all the subsequent growth of slavery, and for all the difficulties in which it involved the South and the country.
There were but two centres of population in Louisiana, New Orleans and St. Louis. When the southern district, around New Orleans, applied for admission as the slave State of Louisiana, there seems to have been no surprise or opposition on this score; the Federalist opposition to the admission is exactly represented by Quincy's speech in the first volume. When the northern district, around St. Louis, applied for admission as the slave State of Missouri, the inevitable consequences of the act of 1804 became evident for the first time, and all the Northern States united to resist the admission. The North controlled the House of Representatives, and the South the Senate; and, after a severe parliamentary struggle, the two bodies united in the compromise of 1820. By its terms Missouri was admitted as a slave State, and slavery was forever forbidden in the rest of Louisiana Territory, north of latitude 36 deg. 30' (the line of the southerly boundary of Missouri). The instinct of this first struggle against slavery extension seems to have been much the same as that of 1846-60 the realization that a permission to introduce slavery by custom into the Territories meant the formation of slave States exclusively, the restriction of the free States to the district between the Mississippi and the Atlantic, and the final conversion of the mass of the United States to a policy of enslavement of labor. But, on the surface, it was so entirely a struggle for the balance of power between the two sections, that it has not seemed worth while to introduce any of the few reported speeches of the time. The topic is more fully and fairly discussed in the subsequent debates on the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
In 1830 William Lloyd Garrison, a Boston printer, opened the real anti-slavery struggle. Up to this time the anti-slavery sentiment, North and South, had been content with the notion of "gradual abolition," with the hope that the South would, in some yet unsuspected manner, be brought to the Northern policy. This had been supplemented, to some extent, by the colonization society for colonizing negroes on the west coast of Africa; which had two aspects: at the South it was the means of ridding the country of the free negro population; at the North it was a means of mitigating, perhaps of gradually abolishing, slavery. Garrison, through his newspaper, the Liberator, called for "immediate abolition" of slavery, for the conversion of anti-slavery sentiment into anti-slavery purpose. This was followed by the organization of his adherents into the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, and the active dissemination of the immediate abolition principle by tracts, newspapers, and lecturers.
The anti-slavery struggle thus begun, never ceased until, in 1865, the Liberator ceased to be published, with the final abolition of slavery. In its inception and in all its development the movement was a distinct product of the democratic spirit. It would not have been possible in 1790, or in 1810, or in 1820. The man came with the hour; and every new mile of railroad or telegraph, every new district open to population, every new influence toward the growth of democracy, broadened the power as well as the field of the abolition movement. It was but the deepening, the application to an enslaved race of laborers, of the work which Jeffersonian democracy had done, to remove the infinitely less grievous restraints upon the white laborer thirty year before. It could never have been begun until individualism at the North had advanced so far that there was a reserve force of mind—ready to reject all the influences of heredity and custom upon thought. Outside of religion there was no force so strong at the North as the reverence for the Constitution; it was significant of the growth of individualism, as well as of the anti-slavery sentiment, that Garrison could safely begin his work with the declaration that the Constitution itself was "a league with death and a covenant with hell."
The Garrisonian programme would undoubtedly have been considered highly objectionable by the South, even under to comparatively colorless slavery policy of 1790. Under the conditions to which cotton culture had advanced in 1830, it seemed to the South nothing less than a proposal to destroy, root and branch, the whole industry of that section, and it was received with corresponding indignation. Garrisonian abolitionists were taken and regarded as public enemies, and rewards were even offered for their capture. The germ of abolitionism in the Border States found a new and aggressive public sentiment arrayed against it; and an attempt to introduce gradual abolition in Virginia in 1832-33 was hopelessly defeated. The new question was even carried into Congress. A bill to prohibit the transportation of abolition documents by the Post-Office department was introduced, taken far enough to put leading men of both parties on the record, and then dropped. Petitions for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia were met by rules requiring the reference of such petitions without reading or action; but this only increased the number of petitions, by providing a new grievance to be petitioned against, and in 1842 the "gag rule" was rescinded. Thence-forth the pro-slavery members of Congress could do nothing, and could only become more exasperated under a system of passive resistance.
Even at the North, indifferent or politically hostile as it had hitherto shown itself to the expansion of slavery, the new doctrines were received with an outburst of anger which seems to have been primarily a revulsion against their unheard of individualism. If nothing, which had been the object of unquestioning popular reverence, from the Constitution down or up to the church organizations, was to be sacred against the criticism of the Garrisonians, it was certain that the innovators must submit for a time to a general proscription. Thus the Garrisonians were ostracised socially, and became the Ishmalites of politics. Their meetings were broken up by mobs, their halls were destroyed, their schools were attacked by all the machinery of society and legislation, their printing presses were silenced by force or fraud, and their lecturers came to feel that they had not done their work with efficiency if a meeting passed without the throwing of stones or eggs at the building or the orators. It was, of course, inevitable that such a process should bring strong minds to the aid of the Garrisonians, at first from sympathy with persecuted individualism, and finally from sympathy with the cause itself; and in this way Garrisonianism was in a great measure relieved from open mob violence about 1840, though it never escaped it altogether until abolition meetings ceased to be necessary. One of the first and greatest reinforcements was the appearance of Wendell Phillips, whose speech at Faneuil Hall in 1839 was one of the first tokens of a serious break in the hitherto almost unanimous public opinion against Garrisonianism. Lovejoy, a Western anti-slavery preacher and editor, who had been driven from one place to another in Missouri and Illinois, had finally settled at Alton, and was there shot to death while defending his printing press against a mob. At a public meeting in Faneuil Hall, the Attorney-General of Massachusetts, James T. Austin, expressing what was doubtless the general sentiment of the time as to such individual insurrection against pronounced public opinion, compared the Alton mob to the Boston "tea-party," and declared that Lovejoy, "presumptuous and imprudent," had "died as the fool dieth." Phillips, an almost unknown man, took the stand, and answered in the speech which opens this volume. A more powerful reinforcement could hardly have been looked for; the cause which could find such a defender was henceforth to be feared rather than despised. To the day of his death he was, fully as much as Garrison, the incarnation of the anti-slavery spirit. For this reason his address on the Philosophy of the Abolition Movement, in 1853, has been assigned a place as representing fully the abolition side of the question, just before it was overshadowed by the rise of the Republican party, which opposed only the extension of slavery to the territories.
The history of the sudden development of the anti-slavery struggle in 1847 and the following years, is largely given in the speeches which have been selected to illustrate it. The admission of Texas to the Union in 1845, and the war with Mexico which followed it, resulted in the acquisition of a vast amount of new territory by the United States. From the first suggestion of such an acquisition, the Wilmot proviso (so-called from David Wilmot, of Pennsylvania, who introduced it in Congress), that slavery should be prohibited in the new territory, was persistently offered as an amendment to every bill appropriating money for the purchase of territory from Mexico. It was passed by the House of Representatives, but was balked in the Senate; and the purchase was finally made without any proviso. When the territory came to be organized, the old question came up again: the Wilmot proviso was offered as an amendment. As the territory was now in the possession of the United States, and as it had been acquired in a war whose support had been much more cordial at the South than at the North, the attempt to add the Wilmot proviso to the territorial organization raised the Southern opposition to an intensity which it had not known before. Fuel was added to the flame by the application of California, whose population had been enormously increased by the discovery of gold within her limits, for admission as a free State. If New Mexico should do the same, as was probable, the Wilmot proviso would be practically in force throughout the best portion of the Mexican acquisition. The two sections were now so strong and so determined that compromise of any kind was far more difficult than in 1820; and it was not easy to reconcile or compromise the southern demand that slavery should be permitted, and the northern demand that slavery should be forbidden, to enter the new territories.
In the meantime, the Presidential election of 1848 had come and gone. It had been marked by the appearance of a new party, the Free Soilers, an event which was at first extremely embarrassing to the managers of both the Democratic and Whig parties. On the one hand, the northern and southern sections of the Whig party had always been very loosely joined together, and the slender tie was endangered by the least admission of the slavery issue. On the other hand, while the Democratic national organization had always been more perfect, its northern section had always been much more inclined to active anti-slavery work than the northern Whigs. Its organ, the Democratic Review, habitually spoke of the slaves as "our black brethren"; and a long catalogue could be made of leaders like Chase, Hale, Wilmot, Bryant, and Leggett, whose democracy was broad enough to include the negro. To both parties, therefore, the situation was extremely hazardous. The Whigs had less to fear, but were able to resist less pressure. The Democrats were more united, but were called upon to meet a greater danger. In the end, the Whigs did nothing; their two sections drew further apart; and the Presidential election of 1852 only made it evident that the national Whig party was no longer in existence. The Democratic managers evolved, as a solution of their problem, the new doctrine of "popular sovereignty," which Calhoun re-baptized "squatter sovereignty." They asserted as the true Democratic doctrine, that the question of slavery or freedom was to be left for decision of the people of the territory itself. To the mass of northern Democrats, this doctrine was taking enough to cover over the essential nature of the struggle; the more democratic leaders of the northern Democracy were driven off into the Free-Soil party; and Douglas, the champion of "popular sovereignty," became the leading Democrat of the North.
Clay had re-entered the Senate in 1849, for the purpose of compromising the sectional difficulties as he had compromised those of 1820 and of 1833. His speech, as given, will show something of his motives; his success resulted in the "compromise of 1850." By its terms, California was admitted as a free State; the slave trade, but not slavery, was prohibited in the District of Columbia; a more stringent fugitive slave law was enacted; Texas was paid $10,000,000 for certain claims to the Territory of New Mexico; and the Territories of Utah and New Mexico, covering the Mexican acquisition outside of California, were organized without mentioning slavery. The last-named feature was carefully designed to please all important factions. It could be represented to the Webster Whigs that slavery was excluded from the Territories named by the operation of natural laws; to the Clay Whigs that slavery had already been excluded by Mexican law which survived the cession; to the northern Democrats, that the compromise was a formal endorsement of the great principle of popular sovereignty; and to the southern Democrats that it was a repudiation of the Wilmot proviso. In the end, the essence of the success went to the last-named party, for the legislatures of the two territories established slavery, and no bill to veto their action could pass both Houses of Congress until after 1861.
The Supreme Court had already decided that Congress had exclusive power to enforce the fugitive slave clause of the Constitution, though the fugitive slave law of 1793 had given a concurrent authority of execution to State officers. The law of 1850, carrying the Supreme Court's decision further, gave the execution of the law to United States officers, and refused the accused a hearing. Its execution at the North was therefore the occasion of a profound excitement and horror. Cases of inhuman cruelty, and of false accusation to which no defence was permitted, were multiplied until a practical nullification of the law, in the form of "personal liberty laws," securing a hearing for the accused before State magistrates, was forced by public opinion upon the legislature of the exposed northern States. Before the excitement had come to a head, the Whig convention of 1852 met and endorsed the compromise of 1850 "in all its parts." Overwhelmed in the election which followed, the Whig party was popularly said to have "died of an attempt to swallow the fugitive-slave law"; it would have been more correct to have said that the southern section of the party had deserted in a body and gone over to the Democratic party. National politics were thus left in an entirely anomalous condition. The Democratic party was omnipotent at the South, though it was afterward opposed feebly by the American (or "Know Nothing ") organization, and was generally successful at the North, though it was still met by the Northern Whigs with vigorous opposition. Such a state of affairs was not calculated to satisfy thinking men; and this period seems to have been one in which very few thinking men of any party were at all satisfied with their party positions.
This was the hazardous situation into which the Democratic managers chose to thrust one of the most momentous pieces of legislation in our political history-the Kansas-Nebraska bill. The responsibility for it is clearly on the shoulders of Stephen A. Douglas. The over-land travel to the Pacific coast had made it necessary to remove the Indian title to Kansas and Nebraska, and to organize them as Territories, in order to afford protection to emigrants; and Douglas, chairman of the Senate committee on Territories, introduced a bill for such organization in January, 1854. Both these prospective Territories had been made free soil forever by the compromise of 1820; the question of slavery had been settled, so far as they were concerned; but Douglas consented, after a show of opposition, to reopen Pandora's box. His original bill did not abrogate the Missouri compromise, and there seems to have been no general Southern demand that it should do so. But Douglas had become intoxicated by the unexpected success of his "popular sovereignty" make-shift in regard to the Territories of 1850; and a notice of an amendment to be offered by a southern senator, abrogating the Missouri compromise, was threat or excuse sufficient to bring him to withdraw the bill. A week later, it was re-introduced with the addition of "popular sovereignty": all questions pertaining to slavery in these Territories, and in the States to be formed from them, were to be left to the decision of the people, through their representatives; and the Missouri compromise of 1820 was declared "inoperative and void," as inconsistent with the principles of the territorial legislation of 1850. It must be remembered that the "non-intervention" of 1850 had been confessedly based on no constitutional principle whatever, but was purely a matter of expediency; and that "non-intervention" in Utah and New Mexico was no more inconsistent with the prohibition of slavery in Kansas and Nebraska than "non-intervention" in the Southwest Territory, sixty years before, had been inconsistent with the prohibition of slavery in the Northwest Territory. Whether Douglas is to be considered as too scrupulous, or too timid, or too willing to be terrified, it is certain that his action was unnecessary.
After a struggle of some months, the Kansas-Nebraska bill became law. The Missouri compromise was abrogated, and the question of the extension of slavery to the territories was adrift again, never to be got rid of except through the abolition of slavery itself by war. The demands of the South had now come fully abreast with the proposal of Douglas: that slavery should have permission to enter all the Territories, if it could. The opponents of the extension of slavery, at first under the name of "Anti-Nebraska men," then of the Republican party, carried the elections for representatives in Congress in 1854-'55, and narrowly missed carrying the Presidential election of 1856. The percentage of Democratic losses in the congressional districts of the North was sufficient to leave Douglas with hardly any supporters in Congress from his own section. The Democratic party was converted at once into a solid South, with a northern attachment of popular votes which was not sufficient to control very many Congressmen or electoral votes.
Immigration into Kansas was organized at once by leading men of the two sections, with the common design of securing a majority of the voters of the territory and applying "popular sovereignty" for or against slavery. The first sudden inroad of Missouri intruders was successful in securing a pro-slavery legislature and laws; but within two years the stream of free-State immigration had become so powerful,in spite of murder, outrage, and open civil war, that it was very evident that Kansas was to be a free-State. Its expiring territorial legislature endeavored to outwit its constituents by applying for admission as a slave State, under the Lecompton constitution; but the Douglas Democrats could not support the attempt, and it was defeated. Kansas, however, remained a territory until 1861.
The cruelties of this Kansas episode could not but be reflected in the feelings of the two sections and in Congress. In the former it showed too plainly that the divergence of the two sections, indicated in Calhoun's speech of 1850, had widened to an absolute separation in thought, feeling, and purpose. In the latter the debates assumed a virulence which is illustrated by the speeches on the Sumner assault. The current of events had at least carried the sections far enough apart to give striking distance; and the excuse for action was supplied by the Dred Scott decision in 1857.
Dred Scott, a Missouri slave, claiming to be a free man under the Missouri compromise of 1820, had sued his master, and the case had reached the Supreme Court. A majority of the justices agreed in dismissing the suit; but, as nearly every justice filed an opinion, and as nearly every opinion disagreed with the other opinions on one or more points, it is not easy to see what else is covered by the decision. Nevertheless, the opinion of the Chief justice, Roger B. Taney, attracted general attention by the strength of its argument and the character of its views. It asserted, in brief, that no slave could become a citizen of the United States, even by enfranchisement or State law; that the prohibition of slavery by the Missouri compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional and void; that the Constitution recognized property in slaves, and was framed for the protection of property; that Congress had no rights or duties in the territories but such as were granted or imposed by the Constitution; and that, therefore, Congress was bound not merely not to forbid slavery, but to actively protect slavery in the Territories. This was just the ground which had always been held by Calhoun, though the South had not supported him in it. Now the South, rejecting Douglas and his "popular sovereignty," was united in its devotion to the decision of the Supreme Court, and called upon the North to yield unhesitating obedience to that body which Webster in 1830 had styled the ultimate arbiter of constitutional questions. This, it was evident, could never be. No respectable authority at the North pretended to uphold the keystone of Taney's argument, that slaves were regarded as property by the Constitution. On the contrary, it was agreed everywhere by those whose opinions were looked to with respect, that slaves were regarded by the Constitution as "persons held to service or labor" under the laws of the State alone; and that the laws of the State could not give such persons a fictitious legal character outside of the State's jurisdiction. Even the Douglas Democrats, who expressed a willingness to yield to the Supreme Court's decision, did not profess to uphold Taney's share in it.
As the Presidential election of 1860 drew near, the evidences of separation became more manifest. The absorption of northern Democrats into the Republican party increased until Douglas, in 1858, narrowly escaped defeat in his contest with Lincoln for a re-election to the Senate from Illinois. In 1860 the Republicans nominated Lincoln for the Presidency on a platform demanding prohibition of slavery in the Territories. The southern delegates seceded from the Democratic convention, and nominated Breckenridge, on a platform demanding congressional protection of slavery in the Territories. The remainder of the Democratic convention nominated Douglas, with a declaration of its willingness to submit to the decision of the Supreme Court on questions of constitutional law. The remnants of the former Whig and American parties, under the name of the Constitutional Union party, nominated Bell without any declaration of principles. Lincoln received a majority of the electoral votes, and became President. His popular vote was a plurality.
Seward's address on the "Irrepressible Conflict," which closes this volume, is representative of the division between the two sections, as it stood just before the actual shock of conflict. Labor systems are delicate things; and that which the South had adopted, of enslaving the laboring class, was one whose influence could not help being universal and aggressive. Every form of energy and prosperity which tended to advance a citizen into the class of representative rulers tended also to make him a slave owner, and to shackle his official policy and purposes with considerations inseparable from his heavy personal interests. Men might divide on other questions at the South; but on this question of slavery the action of the individual had to follow the decisions of a majority which, by the influence of ambitious aspirants for the lead, was continually becoming more aggressive. In constitutional countries, defections to the minority are a steady check upon an aggressive majority; but the southern majority was a steam engine without a safety valve.
In this sense Seward and Lincoln, in 1858, were correct; the labor system of the South was not only a menace to the whole country, but one which could neither decrease nor stand still. It was intolerable by the laws of its being; and it could be got rid of only by allowing a peaceable secession, or by abolishing it through war. The material prosperity which has followed the adoption of the latter alternative, apart from the moral aspects of the case, is enough to show that the South has gained more than all that slavery lost.
OF NEW YORK. (BORN 1755, DIED 1827.)
ON THE MISSOURI BILL—UNITED STATES SENATE,
FEBRUARY 11 AND 14, 1820.
The Constitution declares "that Congress shall have power to dispose of, and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory and other property of the United States." Under this power Congress have passed laws for the survey and sale of the public lands; for the division of the same into separate territories; and have ordained for each of them a constitution, a plan of temporary government, whereby the civil and political rights of the inhabitants are regulated, and the rights of conscience and other natural rights are protected.
The power to make all needful regulations, includes the power to determine what regulations are needful; and if a regulation prohibiting slavery within any territory of the United States be, as it has been, deemed needful, Congress possess the power to make the same, and, moreover, to pass all laws necessary to carry this power into execution.
The territory of Missouri is a portion of Louisiana, which was purchased of France, and belongs to the United States in full dominion; in the language of the Constitution, Missouri is their territory or property, and is subject like other territories of the United States, to the regulations and temporary government, which has been, or shall be prescribed by Congress. The clause of the Constitution which grants this power to Congress, is so comprehensive and unambiguous, and its purpose so manifest, that commentary will not render the power, or the object of its establishment, more explicit or plain.
The Constitution further provides that "new States may be admitted by Congress into this Union." As this power is conferred without limitation, the time, terms, and circumstances of the admission of new States, are referred to the discretion of Congress; which may admit new States, but are not obliged to do so—of right no new State can demand admission into the Union, unless such demand be founded upon some previous engagement of the United States.
When admitted by Congress into the Union, whether by compact or otherwise, the new State becomes entitled to the enjoyment of the same rights, and bound to perform the like duties as the other States; and its citizens will be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.
The citizens of each State possess rights, and owe duties that are peculiar to, and arise out of the Constitution and laws of the several States. These rights and duties differ from each other in the different States, and among these differences none is so remarkable or important as that which proceeds from the Constitution and laws of the several States respecting slavery; the same being permitted in some States and forbidden in others.
The question respecting slavery in the old thirteen States had been decided and settled before the adoption of the Constitution, which grants no power to Congress to interfere with, or to change what had been so previously settled. The slave States, therefore, are free to continue or to abolish slavery. Since the year 1808 Congress have possessed power to prohibit and have prohibited the further migration or importation of slaves into any of the old thirteen States, and at all times, under the Constitution, have had power to prohibit such migration or importation into any of the new States or territories of the United States. The Constitution contains no express provision respecting slavery in a new State that may be admitted into the Union; every regulation upon this subject belongs to the power whose consent is necessary to the formation and admission of new States into the Union. Congress may, therefore, make it a condition of the admission of a new State, that slavery shall be forever prohibited within the same. We may, with the more confidence, pronounce this to be the true construction of the Constitution, as it has been so amply confirmed by the past decisions of Congress.
Although the articles of confederation were drawn up and approved by the old Congress, in the year 1777, and soon afterwards were ratified by some of the States, their complete ratification did not take place until the year 1781. The States which possessed small and already settled territory, withheld their ratification, in order to obtain from the large States a cession to the United States of a portion of their vacant territory. Without entering into the reasons on which this demand was urged, it is well known that they had an influence on Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Virginia, which States ceded to the United States their respective claims to the territory lying northwest of the river Ohio. This cession was made on the express condition, that the ceded territory should be sold for the common benefit of the United States; that it should be laid out into States, and that the States so laid out should form distinct republican States, and be admitted as members of the Federal Union, having the same rights of sovereignty, freedom, and independence as the other States. Of the four States which made this cession, two permitted, and the other two prohibited slavery.
The United States having in this manner become proprietors of the extensive territory northwest of the river Ohio, although the confederation contained no express provision upon the subject, Congress, the only representatives of the United States, assumed as incident to their office, the power to dispose of this territory; and for this purpose, to divide the same into distinct States, to provide for the temporary government of the inhabitants thereof, and for their ultimate admission as new States into the Federal Union.
The ordinance for those purposes, which was passed by Congress in 1787, contains certain articles, which are called "Articles of compact between the original States and the people and States within the said territory, for ever to remain unalterable, unless by common consent." The sixth of those unalterable articles provides, "that there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory."
The Constitution of the United States supplies the defect that existed in the articles of confederation, and has vested Congress, as has been stated, with ample powers on this important subject. Accordingly, the ordinance of 1787, passed by the old Congress, was ratified and confirmed by an act of the new Congress during their first session under the Constitution.
The State of Virginia, which ceded to the United States her claims to this territory, consented by her delegates in the old Congress to this ordinance—not only Virginia, but North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, by the unanimous votes of their delegates in the old Congress, approved of the ordinance of 1787, by which slavery is forever abolished in the territory northwest of the river Ohio.
Without the votes of these States, the ordinance could not have passed; and there is no recollection of an opposition from any of these States to the act of confirmation, passed under the actual Constitution. Slavery had long been established in these States—the evil was felt in their institutions, laws, and habits, and could not easily or at once be abolished. But these votes so honorable to these States, satisfactorily demonstrate their unwillingness to permit the extension of slavery into the new States which might be admitted by Congress into the Union.
The States of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, on the northwest of the river Ohio, have been admitted by Congress into the Union, on the condition and conformably to the article of compact, contained in the ordinance of 1787, and by which it is declared that there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said States.
Although Congress possess the power of making the exclusion of slavery a part or condition of the act admitting a new State into the Union, they may, in special cases, and for sufficient reasons, forbear to exercise this power. Thus Kentucky and Vermont were admitted as new States into the Union, without making the abolition of slavery the condition of their admission. In Vermont, slavery never existed; her laws excluding the same. Kentucky was formed out of, and settled by, Virginia, and the inhabitants of Kentucky, equally with those of Virginia, by fair interpretation of the Constitution, were exempt from all such interference of Congress, as might disturb or impair the security of their property in slaves. The western territory of North Carolina and Georgia, having been partially granted and settled under the authority of these States, before the cession thereof to the United States, and these States being original parties to the Constitution which recognizes the existence of slavery, no measure restraining slavery could be applied by Congress to this territory. But to remove all doubt on this head, it was made a condition of the cession of this territory to the United States, that the ordinance of 1787, except the sixth article thereof, respecting slavery, should be applied to the same; and that the sixth article should not be so applied. Accordingly, the States of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama, comprehending the territory ceded to the United States by North Carolina and Georgia, have been admitted as new States into the Union, without a provision, by which slavery shall be excluded from the same. According to this abstract of the proceedings of Congress in the admission of new States into the Union, of the eight new States within the original limits of the United States, four have been admitted without an article excluding slavery; three have been admitted on the condition that slavery should be excluded; and one admitted without such condition. In the few first cases, Congress were restrained from exercising the power to exclude slavery; in the next three, they exercised this power; and in the last, it was unnecessary to do so, slavery being excluded by the State Constitution.
The province of Louisiana, soon after its cession to the United States, was divided into two territories, comprehending such parts thereof as were contiguous to the river Mississippi, being the only parts of the province that were inhabited. The foreign language, laws, customs, and manners of the inhabitants, required the immediate and cautious attention of Congress, which, instead of extending, in the first instance, to these territories the ordinance of 1787, ordained special regulations for the government of the same. These regulations were from time to time revised and altered, as observation and experience showed to be expedient, and as was deemed most likely to encourage and promote those changes which would soonest qualify the inhabitants for self-government and admission into the Union. When the United States took possession of the province of Louisiana in 1804, it was estimated to contain 50,000 white inhabitants, 40,000 slaves, and 2,000 free persons of color.
More than four-fifths of the whites, and all the slaves, except about thirteen hundred, inhabited New Orleans and the adjacent territory; the residue, consisting of less than ten thousand whites, and about thirteen hundred slaves, were dispersed throughout the country now included in the Arkansas and Missouri territories. The greater part of the thirteen hundred slaves were in the Missouri territory, some of them having been removed thither from the old French settlements on the east side of the Mississippi, after the passing of the ordinance of 1787, by which slavery in those settlements was abolished.
In 1812, the territory of New Orleans, to which the ordinance of 1787, with the exception of certain parts thereof, had been previously extended, was permitted by Congress to form a Constitution and State Government, and admitted as a new State into the Union, by the name of Louisiana. The acts of Congress for these purposes, in addition to sundry important provisions respecting rivers and public lands, which are declared to be irrevocable unless by common consent, annex other terms and conditions, whereby it is established, not only that the Constitution of Louisiana should be republican, but that it should contain the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, that it should secure to the citizens the trial by jury in all criminal cases, and the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus according to the Constitution of the United States; and after its admission into the Union, that the laws which Louisiana might pass, should be promulgated; its records of every description preserved; and its judicial and legislative proceedings conducted in the language in which the laws and judicial proceedings of the United States are published and conducted.
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Having annexed these new and extraordinary conditions to the act for the admission of Louisiana into the Union, Congress may, if they shall deem it expedient, annex the like conditions to the act for the admission of Missouri; and, moreover, as in the case of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, provide by an article for that purpose, that slavery shall not exist within the same.
Admitting this construction of the Constitution, it is alleged that the power by which Congress excluded slavery from the States north-west of the river Ohio, is suspended in respect to the States that may be formed in the province of Louisiana. The article of the treaty referred to declares: "That the inhabitants of the territory shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States, and admitted as soon as possible; according to the principles of the Federal Constitution, to the enjoyment of all rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the United States; and in the meantime, they shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property, and the religion which they profess."
Although there is want of precision in the article, its scope and meaning can not be misunderstood. It constitutes a stipulation by which the United States engage that the inhabitants of Louisiana should be formed into a State or States, and as soon as the provisions of the Constitution permit, that they should be admitted as new States into the Union on the footing of the other States; and before such admission, and during their territorial government, that they should be maintained and protected by Congress in the enjoyment of their liberty, property, and religion. The first clause of this stipulation will be executed by the admission of Missouri as a new State into the Union, as such admission will impart to the inhabitants of Missouri "all the rights, advantages, and immunities" which citizens of the United States derive from the Constitution thereof; these rights may be denominated Federal rights, are uniform throughout the Union, and are common to all its citizens: but the rights derived from the Constitution and laws of the States, which may be denominated State rights, in many particulars differ from each other. Thus, while the Federal rights of the citizens of Massachusetts and Virginia are the same, their State rights are dissimilar and different, slavery being forbidden in one, and permitted in the other State. This difference arises out of the Constitutions and laws of the two States, in the same manner as the difference in the rights of the citizens of these States to vote for representatives in Congress arises out of the State laws and Constitution. In Massachusetts, every person of lawful age, and possessing property of any sort, of the value of two hundred dollars, may vote for representatives to Congress. In Virginia, no person can vote for representatives to Congress, unless he be a freeholder. As the admission of a new State into the Union confers upon its citizens only the rights denominated Federal, and as these are common to the citizens of all the States, as well of those in which slavery is prohibited, as of those in which it is allowed, it follows that the prohibition of slavery in Missouri will not impair the Federal rights of its citizens, and that such prohibition is not sustained by the clause of the treaty which has been cited.
As all nations do not permit slavery, the term property, in its common and universal meaning, does not include or describe slaves. In treaties, therefore, between nations, and especially in those of the United States, whenever stipulations respecting slaves were to be made, the word "negroes," or "slaves," have been employed, and the omission of these words in this clause, increases the uncertainty whether, by the term property, slaves were intended to be included. But admitting that such was the intention of the parties, the stipulation is not only temporary, but extends no further than to the property actually possessed by the inhabitants of Missouri, when it was first occupied by the United States. Property since acquired by them, and property acquired or possessed by the new inhabitants of Missouri, has in each case been acquired under the laws of the United States, and not during and under the laws of the province of Louisiana. Should, therefore, the future introduction of slaves into Missouri be forbidden, the feelings of the citizens would soon become reconciled to their exclusion, and the inconsiderable number of slaves owned by the inhabitants at the date of the cession of Louisiana, would be emancipated or sent for sale into States where slavery exists.
It is further objected, that the article of the act of admission into the Union, by which slavery should be excluded from Missouri, would be nugatory, as the new State in virtue of its sovereignty would be at liberty to revoke its consent, and annul the article by which slavery is excluded.
Such revocation would be contrary to the obligations of good faith, which enjoins the observance of our engagements; it would be repugnant to the principles on which government itself is founded; sovereignty in every lawful government is a limited power, and can do only what it is lawful to do. Sovereigns, like individuals, are bound by their engagements, and have no moral power to break them. Treaties between nations repose on this principle. If the new State can revoke and annul an article concluded between itself and the United States, by which slavery is excluded from it, it may revoke and annul any other article of the compact; it may, for example, annul the article respecting public lands, and in virtue of its sovereignty, assume the right to tax and to sell the lands of the United States. There is yet a more satisfactory answer to this objection. The judicial power of the United States is co-extensive with their legislative power, and every question arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States, is recognizable by the judiciary thereof. Should the new State rescind any of the articles of compact contained in the act of admission into the Union, that, for example, by which slavery is excluded, and should pass a law authorizing slavery, the judiciary of the United States on proper application, would immediately deliver from bondage, any person retained as a slave in said State. And, in like manner, in all instances affecting individuals, the judiciary might be employed to defeat every attempt to violate the Constitution and laws of the United States.
If Congress possess the power to exclude slavery from Missouri, it still remains to be shown that they ought to do so. The examination of this branch of the subject, for obvious reasons, is attended with peculiar difficulty, and cannot be made without passing over arguments which, to some of us, might appear to be decisive, but the use of which, in this place, would call up feelings, the influence of which would disturb, if not defeat, the impartial consideration of the subject.
Slavery, unhappily, exists within the United States. Enlightened men, in the States where it is permitted, and everywhere out of them, regret its existence among us, and seek for the means of limiting and of mitigating it. The first introduction of slaves is not imputable to the present generation, nor even to their ancestors. Before the year 1642, the trade and ports of the colonies were open to foreigners equally as those of the mother country; and as early as 1620, a few years only after the planting of the colony of Virginia, and the same year in which the first settlement was made in the old colony of Plymouth, a cargo of negroes was brought into and sold as slaves in Virginia by a foreign ship. From this beginning, the importation of slaves was continued for nearly two centuries. To her honor, Virginia, while a colony, opposed the importation of slaves, and was the first State to prohibit the same, by a law passed for this purpose in 1778, thirty years before the general prohibition enacted by Congress in 1808. The laws and customs of the States in which slavery has existed for so long a period, must have had their influence on the opinions and habits of the citizens, which ought not to be disregarded on the present occasion.
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When the general convention that formed the Constitution took this subject into their consideration, the whole question was once more examined; and while it was agreed that all contributions to the common treasury should be made according to the ability of the several States to furnish the same, the old difficulty recurred in agreeing upon a rule whereby such ability should be ascertained, there being no simple standard by which the ability of individuals to pay taxes can be ascertained. A diversity in the selection of taxes has been deemed requisite to their equalization. Between communities this difficulty is less considerable, and although the rule of relative numbers would not accurately measure the relative wealth of nations, in States in the circumstances of the United States, whose institutions, laws, and employments are so much alike, the rule of numbers is probably as near equal as any other simple and practical rule can be expected to be (though between the old and new States its equity is defective),—these considerations, added to the approbation which had already been given to the rule, by a majority of the States, induced the convention to agree that direct taxes should be apportioned among the States, according to the whole number of free persons, and three-fifths of the slaves which they might respectively contain.
The rule for apportionment of taxes is not necessarily the most equitable rule for the apportionment of representatives among the States; property must not be disregarded in the composition of the first rule, but frequently is overlooked in the establishment of the second. A rule which might be approved in respect to taxes, would be disapproved in respect to representatives; one individual possessing twice as much property as another, might be required to pay double the taxes of such other; but no man has two votes to another's one; rich or poor, each has but a single vote in the choice of representatives.
In the dispute between England and the colonies, the latter denied the right of the former to tax them, because they were not represented in the English Parliament. They contended that, according to the law of the land, taxation and representation were inseparable. The rule of taxation being agreed upon by the convention, it is possible that the maxim with which we successfully opposed the claim of England may have had an influence in procuring the adoption of the same rule for the apportionment of representatives; the true meaning, however, of this principle of the English constitution is, that a colony or district is not to be taxed which is not represented; not that its number of representatives shall be ascertained by its quota of taxes. If three-fifths of the slaves are virtually represented, or their owners obtain a disproportionate power in legislation, and in the appointment of the President of the United States, why should not other property be virtually represented, and its owners obtain a like power in legislation, and in the choice of the President? Property is not confined in slaves, but exists in houses, stores, ships, capital in trade, and manufactures. To secure to the owners of property in slaves greater political power than is allowed to the owners of other and equivalent property, seems to be contrary to our theory of the equality of personal rights, inasmuch as the citizens of some States thereby become entitled to other and greater political power than the citizens of other States. The present House of Representatives consist of one hundred and eighty-one members, which are apportioned among the States in a ratio of one representative for every thirty-five thousand federal members, which are ascertained by adding to the whole number of free persons, three-fifths of the slaves. According to the last census, the whole number of slaves within the United was 1,191,364, which entitles the States possessing the same to twenty representatives, and twenty presidential electors more than they would be entitled to, were the slaves excluded. By the last census, Virginia contained 582,104 free persons, and 392,518 slaves. In any of the States where slavery is excluded, 582,104 free persons would be entitled to elect only sixteen representatives, while in Virginia, 582,104 free persons, by the addition of three-fifths of her slaves, become entitled to elect, and do in fact elect, twenty-three representatives, being seven additional ones on account of her slaves. Thus, while 35,000 free persons are requisite to elect one representative in a State where slavery is prohibited, 25,559 free persons in Virginia may and do elect a representative: so that five free persons in Virginia have as much power in the choice of Representatives to Congress, and in the appointment of presidential electors, as seven free persons in any of the States in which slavery does not exist.
This inequality in the apportionment of representatives was not misunderstood at the adoption of the Constitution, but no one anticipated the fact that the whole of the revenue of the United States would be derived from indirect taxes (which cannot be supposed to spread themselves over the several States according to the rule for the apportionment of direct taxes), but it was believed that a part of the contribution to the common treasury would be apportioned among the States by the rule for the apportionment of representatives. The States in which slavery is prohibited, ultimately, though with reluctance, acquiesced in the disproportionate number of representatives and electors that was secured to the slaveholding States. The concession was, at the time, believed to be a great one, and has proved to have been the greatest which was made to secure the adoption of the Constitution.
Great, however, as this concession was, it was definite, and its full extent was comprehended. It was a settlement between the original thirteen States. The considerations arising out of their actual condition, their past connection, and the obligation which all felt to promote a reformation in the Federal Government, were peculiar to the time and to the parties, and are not applicable to the new States, which Congress may now be willing to admit into the Union.
The equality of rights, which includes an equality of burdens, is a vital principle in our theory of government, and its jealous preservation is the best security of public and individual freedom; the departure from this principle in the disproportionate power and influence, allowed to the slaveholding States, was a necessary sacrifice to the establishment of the Constitution. The effect of this concession has been obvious in the preponderance which it has given to the slaveholding States over the other States. Nevertheless, it is an ancient settlement, and faith and honor stand pledged not to disturb it. But the extension of this disproportionate power to the new States would be unjust and odious. The States whose power would be abridged, and whose burdens would be increased by the measure, cannot be expected to consent to it, and we may hope that the other States are too magnanimous to insist on it.
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It ought not to be forgotten that the first and main object of the negotiation which led to the acquisition of Louisiana, was the free navigation of the Mississippi, a river that forms the sole passage from the western States to the ocean. This navigation, although of general benefit, has been always valued and desired, as of peculiar advantage to the Western States, whose demands to obtain it were neither equivocal nor unreasonable. But with the river Mississippi, by a sort of coercion, we acquired, by good or ill fortune, as our future measures shall determine, the whole province of Louisiana. As this acquisition was made at the common expense, it is very fairly urged that the advantages to be derived from it should also be common. This, it is said, will not happen if slavery be excluded from Missouri, as the citizens of the States where slavery is permitted will be shut out, and none but citizens of States where slavery is prohibited, can become inhabitants of Missouri.
But this consequence will not arise from the proposed exclusion of slavery. The citizens of States in which slavery is allowed, like all other citizens, will be free to become inhabitants of Missouri, in like manner as they have become inhabitants of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, in which slavery is forbidden. The exclusion of slaves from Missouri will not, therefore, operate unequally among the citizens of the United States. The Constitution provides, "that the citizens of each State shall be entitled to enjoy all the rights and immunities of citizens of the several States"; every citizen may, therefore, remove from one to another State, and there enjoy the rights and immunities of its citizens. The proposed provision excludes slaves, not citizens, whose rights it will not, and cannot impair.
Besides there is nothing new or peculiar in a provision for the exclusion of slavery; it has been established in the States north-west of the river Ohio, and has existed from the beginning in the old States where slavery is forbidden. The citizens of States where slavery is allowed, may become inhabitants of Missouri, but cannot hold slaves there, nor in any other State where slavery is prohibited. As well might the laws prohibiting slavery in the old States become the subject of complaint, as the proposed exclusion of slavery in Missouri; but there is no foundation for such complaint in either case. It is further urged, that the admission of slaves into Missouri would be limited to the slaves who are already within the United States; that their health and comfort would be promoted by their dispersion, and that their numbers would be the same whether they remain confined to the States where slavery exists, or are dispersed over the new States that may be admitted into the Union.
That none but domestic slaves would be introduced into Missouri, and the other new and frontier States, is most fully disproved by the thousands of fresh slaves, which, in violation of our laws, are annually imported into Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
We may renew our efforts, and enact new laws with heavier penalties against the importation of slaves: the revenue cutters may more diligently watch our shores, and the naval force may be employed on the coast of Africa, and on the ocean, to break up the slave trade—but these means will not put an end to it; so long as markets are open for the purchase of slaves, so long they will be supplied;—and so long as we permit the existence of slavery in our new and frontier States, so long slave markets will exist. The plea of humanity is equally inadmissible, since no one who has ever witnessed the experiment will believe that the condition of slaves is made better by the breaking up, and separation of their families, nor by their removal from the old States to the new ones; and the objection to the provision of the bill, excluding slavery from Missouri, is equally applicable to the like prohibitions of the old States: these should be revoked, in order that the slaves now confined to certain States, may, for their health and comfort, and multiplication, be spread over the whole Union.
Slavery cannot exist in Missouri without the consent of Congress; the question may therefore be considered, in certain lights, as a new one, it being the first instance in which an inquiry respecting slavery, in a case so free from the influence of the ancient laws, usages, and manners of the country, has come before the Senate.
The territory of Missouri is beyond our ancient limits, and the inquiry whether slavery shall exist there, is open to many of the arguments that might be employed, had slavery never existed within the United States. It is a question of no ordinary importance. Freedom and slavery are the parties which stand this day before the Senate; and upon its decision the empire of the one or the other will be established in the new State which we are about to admit into the Union.
If slavery be permitted in Missouri with the climate, and soil, and in the circumstances of this territory, what hope can be entertained that it will ever be prohibited in any of the new States that will be formed in the immense region west of the Mississippi? Will the co-extensive establishment of slavery and of the new States throughout this region, lessen the dangers of domestic insurrection, or of foreign aggression? Will this manner of executing the great trust of admitting new States into the Union, contribute to assimilate our manners and usages, to increase our mutual affection and confidence, and to establish that equality of benefits and burdens which constitutes the true basis of our strength and union? Will the militia of the nation, which must furnish our soldiers and seamen, increase as slaves increase? Will the actual disproportion in the military service of the nation be thereby diminished?—a disproportion that will be, as it has been, readily borne, as between the original States, because it arises out of their compact of Union, but which may become a badge of inferiority, if required for the protection of those who, being free to choose, persist in the establishment of maxims, the inevitable effect of which will deprive them of the power to contribute to the common defence, and even of the ability to protect themselves. There are limits within which our federal system must stop; no one has supposed that it could be indefinitely extended—we are now about to pass our original boundary; if this can be done without affecting the principles of our free governments, it can be accomplished only by the most vigilant attention to plant, cherish, and sustain the principles of liberty in the new States, that may be formed beyond our ancient limits; with our utmost caution in this respect, it may still be justly apprehended that the General Government must be made stronger as we become more extended.
But if, instead of freedom, slavery is to prevail and spread, as we extend our dominion, can any reflecting man fail to see the necessity of giving to the General Government greater powers, to enable it to afford the protection that will be demanded of it? powers that will be difficult to control, and which may prove fatal to the public liberties.
OF MARYLAND. (BORN 1764, DIED 1822.)
ON THE MISSOURI QUESTION'—UNITED STATES
SENATE, FEBRUARY 15, 1820.
As I am not a very frequent speaker in this assembly, and have shown a desire, I trust, rather to listen to the wisdom of others than to lay claim to superior knowledge by undertaking to advise, even when advice, by being seasonable in point of time, might have some chance of being profitable, you will, perhaps, bear with me if I venture to trouble you once more on that eternal subject which has lingered here, until all its natural interest is exhausted, and every topic connected with it is literally worn to tatters. I shall, I assure you, sir, speak with laudable brevity—not merely on account of the feeble state of my health, and from some reverence for the laws of good taste which forbid me to speak otherwise, but also from a sense of justice to those who honor me with their attention. My single purpose, as I suggested yesterday, is to subject to a friendly, yet close examination, some portions of a speech, imposing, certainly, on account of the distinguished quarter from whence it came—not very imposing (if I may so say, without departing from that respect which I sincerely feel and intend to manifest for eminent abilities and long experience) for any other reason.
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I confess to you, nevertheless, that some of the principles announced by the honorable gentleman from New York, with an explicitness that reflected the highest credit on his candor, did, when they were first presented, startle me not a little. They were not perhaps entirely new. Perhaps I had seen them before in some shadowy and doubtful shape,
"If shape it might be called, that shape had none, Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb?"
But in the honorable gentleman's speech they were shadowy and doubtful no longer. He exhibited them in forms so boldly and accurately—with contours so distinctly traced—with features so pronounced and striking that I was unconscious for a moment that they might be old acquaintances. I received them as a novi hospites within these walls, and gazed upon them with astonishment and alarm. I have recovered, however, thank God, from this paroxysm of terror, although not from that of astonishment. I have sought and found tranquillity and courage in my former consolatory faith. My reliance is that these principles will obtain no general currency; for, if they should, it requires no gloomy imagination to sadden the perspective of the future. My reliance is upon the unsophisticated good sense and noble spirit of the American people. I have what I may be allowed to call a proud and patriotic trust, that they will give countenance to no principles which, if followed out to their obvious consequences, will not only shake the goodly fabric of the Union to its foundations, but reduce it to a melancholy ruin. The people of this country, if I do not wholly mistake their character, are wise as well as virtuous. They know the value of that federal association which is to them the single pledge and guarantee of power and peace. Their warm and pious affections will cling to it as to their only hope of prosperity and happiness, in defiance of pernicious abstractions, by whomsoever inculcated, or howsoever seductive or alluring in their aspect.'
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Sir, it was but the other day that we were forbidden, (properly forbidden I am sure, for the prohibition came from you,) to assume that there existed any intention to impose a prospective restraint on the domestic legislation of Missouri—a restraint to act upon it contemporaneously with its origin as a State, and to continue adhesive to it through all the stages of its political existence. We are now, however, permitted to know that it is determined by a sort of political surgery to amputate one of the limbs of its local sovereignty, and thus mangled and disparaged, and thus only, to receive it into the bosom of the Constitution. It is now avowed that, while Maine is to be ushered into the Union with every possible demonstration of studious reverence on our part, and on hers, with colors flying, and all the other graceful accompaniments of honorable triumph, this ill-conditioned upstart of the West, this obscure foundling of a wilderness that was but yesterday the hunting-ground of the savage, is to find her way into the American family as she can, with an humiliating badge of remediless inferiority patched upon her garments, with the mark of recent, qualified manumission upon her, or rather with a brand upon her forehead to tell the stogy of her territorial vassalage, and to perpetuate the memory of her evil propensities. It is now avowed that, while the robust district of Maine is to be seated by the side of her truly respectable parent, co-ordinate in authority and honor, and is to be dandled into that power and dignity of which she does not stand in need, but which undoubtedly she deserves, the more infantine and feeble Missouri is to be repelled with harshness, and forbidden to come at all, unless with the iron collar of servitude about her neck, instead of the civic crown of republican freedom upon her brows, and is to be doomed forever to leading-strings, unless she will exchange those leading-strings for shackles.
I am told that you have the power to establish this odious and revolting distinction, and I am referred for the proofs of that power to various parts of the Constitution, but principally to that part of it which authorizes the admission of new States into the Union. I am myself of opinion that it is in that part only that the advocates for this restriction can, with any hope of success, apply for a license to impose it; and that the efforts which have been made to find it in other portions of that instrument, are too desperate to require to be encountered. I shall, however, examine those other portions before I have done, lest it should be supposed by those who have relied upon them, that what I omit to answer I believe to be unanswerable.
The clause of the Constitution which relates to the admission of new States is in these words: "The Congress may admit new States into this Union," etc., and the advocates for restriction maintain that the use of the word "may" imports discretion to admit or to reject; and that in this discretion is wrapped up another—that of prescribing the terms and conditions of admission in case you are willing to admit: "Cujus est dare ejus est disponere." I will not for the present inquire whether this involved discretion to dictate the terms of admission belongs to you or not. It is fit that I should first look to the nature and extent of it.
I think I may assume that if such a power be anything but nominal, it is much more than adequate to the present object—that it is a power of vast expansion, to which human sagacity can assign no reasonable limits—that it is a capacious reservoir of authority, from which you may take, in all time to come, as occasion may serve, the means of oppression as well as of benefaction. I know that it professes at this moment to be the chosen instrument of protecting mercy, and would win upon us by its benignant smiles; but I know, too, it can frown and play the tyrant, if it be so disposed. Notwithstanding the softness which it now assumes, and the care with which it conceals its giant proportions beneath the deceitful drapery of sentiment, when it next appears before you it may show itself with a sterner countenance and in more awful dimensions. It is, to speak the truth, sir, a power of colossal size—if indeed it be not an abuse of language to call it by the gentle name of a power. Sir, it is a wilderness of power, of which fancy in her happiest mood is unable to perceive the far distant and shadowy boundary. Armed with such a power, with religion in one hand and philanthropy in the other, and followed with a goodly train of public and private virtues, you may achieve more conquests over sovereignties not your own than falls to the common lot of even uncommon ambition. By the aid of such a power, skilfully employed, you may "bridge your way" over the Hellespont that separates State legislation from that of Congress; and you may do so for pretty much the same purpose with which Xerxes once bridged his way across the Hellespont that separates Asia from Europe. He did so, in the language of Milton, "the liberties of Greece to yoke." You may do so for the analogous purpose of subjugating and reducing the sovereignties of States, as your taste or convenience may suggest, and fashioning them to your imperial will. There are those in this House who appear to think, and I doubt not sincerely, that the particular restraint now under consideration is wise, and benevolent, and good; wise as respects the Union—good as respects Missouri—benevolent as respects the unhappy victims whom with a novel kindness it would incarcerate in the south, and bless by decay and extirpation. Let all such beware, lest in their desire for the effect which they believe the restriction will produce, they are too easily satisfied that they have the right to impose it. The moral beauty of the present purpose, or even its political recommendations (whatever they may be), can do nothing for a power like this, which claims to prescribe conditions ad libitum, and to be competent to this purpose, because it is competent to all. This restriction, if it be not smothered in its birth, will be but a small part of the progeny of the prolific power. It teems with a mighty brood, of which this may be entitled to the distinction of comeliness as well as of primogeniture. The rest may want the boasted loveliness of their predecessor, and be even uglier than "Lapland witches".
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I would not discourage authorized legislation upon those kindly, generous, and noble feelings which Providence has given to us for the best of purposes; but when power to act is under discussion, I will not look to the end in view, lest I should become indifferent to the lawfulness of the means. Let us discard from this high constitutional question all those extrinsic considerations which have been forced into its discussion. Let us endeavor to approach it with a philosophic impartiality of temper—with a sincere desire to ascertain the boundaries of our authority, and a determination to keep our wishes in subjection to our allegiance to the Constitution.
Slavery, we are told in many a pamphlet, memorial, and speech, with which the press has lately groaned, is a foul blot upon our otherwise immaculate reputation. Let this be conceded—yet you are no nearer than before to the conclusion that you possess power which may deal with other subjects as effectually as with this. Slavery, we are further told, with some pomp of metaphor, is a canker at the root of all that is excellent in this republican empire, a pestilent disease that is snatching the youthful bloom from its cheek, prostrating its honor and withering its strength. Be it so—yet if you have power to medicine to it in the way proposed, and in virtue of the diploma which you claim, you have also power in the distribution of your political alexipharmics to present the deadliest drugs to every territory that would become a State, and bid it drink or remain a colony forever. Slavery, we are also told, is now "rolling onward with a rapid tide towards the boundless regions of the West," threatening to doom them to sterility and sorrow, unless some potent voice can say to it,thus far shalt thou go, and no farther. Slavery engenders pride and indolence in him who commands, and inflicts intellectual and moral degradation on him who serves. Slavery, in fine, is unchristian and abominable. Sir, I shall not stop to deny that slavery is all this and more; but I shall not think myself the less authorized to deny that it is for you to stay the course of this dark torrent, by opposing to it a mound raised up by the labors of this portentous discretion on the domain of others—a mound which you cannot erect but through the instrumentality of a trespass of no ordinary kind—not the comparatively innocent trespass that beats down a few blades of grass which the first kind sun or the next refreshing shower may cause to spring again—but that which levels with the ground the lordliest trees of the forest, and claims immortality for the destruction which it inflicts.
I shall not, I am sure, be told that I exaggerate this power. It has been admitted here and elsewhere that I do not. But I want no such concession. It is manifest that as a discretionary power it is everything or nothing—that its head is in the clouds, or that it is a mere figment of enthusiastic speculation—that it has no existence, or that it is an alarming vortex ready to swallow up all such portions of the sovereignty of an infant State as you may think fit to cast into it as preparatory to the introduction into the union of the miserable residue. No man can contradict me when I say, that if you have this power, you may squeeze down a new-born sovereign State to the size of a pigmy, and then taking it between finger and thumb, stick it into some niche of the Union, and still continue by way of mockery to call it a State in the sense of the Constitution. You may waste it to a shadow, and then introduce it into the society of flesh and blood an object of scorn and derision. You may sweat and reduce it to a thing of skin and bone, and then place the ominous skeleton beside the ruddy and healthful members of the Union, that it may have leisure to mourn the lamentable difference between itself and its companions, to brood over its disastrous promotion, and to seek in justifiable discontent an opportunity for separation, and insurrection, and rebellion. What may you not do by dexterity and perseverance with this terrific power? You may give to a new State, in the form of terms which it cannot refuse, (as I shall show you hereafter,) a statute book of a thousand volumes—providing not for ordinary cases only, but even for possibilities; you may lay the yoke, no matter whether light or heavy, upon the necks of the latest posterity; you may send this searching power into every hamlet for centuries to come, by laws enacted in the spirit of prophecy, and regulating all those dear relations of domestic concern which belong to local legislation, and which even local legislation touches with a delicate and sparing hand. This is the first inroad. But will it be the last? This provision is but a pioneer for others of a more desolating aspect. It is that fatal bridge of which Milton speaks, and when once firmly built, what shall hinder you to pass it when you please for the purpose of plundering power after power at the expense of new States, as you will still continue to call them, and raising up prospective codes irrevocable and immortal, which shall leave to those States the empty shadows of domestic sovereignty, and convert them into petty pageants, in themselves contemptible, but rendered infinitely more so by the contrast of their humble faculties with the proud and admitted pretensions of those who having doomed them to the inferiority of vassals, have condescended to take them into their society and under their protection?
"New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union." It is objected that the word "may" imports power, not obligation—a right to decide—a discretion to grant or refuse.
To this it might be answered that power is duty on many occasions. But let it be conceded that it is discretionary. What consequence follows? A power to refuse, in a case like this, does not necessarily involve a power to exact terms. You must look to the result which is the declared object of the power. Whether you will arrive at it, or not, may depend on your will; but you cannot compromise with the result intended and professed.
What then is the professed result? To admit a State into this Union.
What is that Union? A confederation of States equal in sovereignty—capable of everything which the Constitution does not forbid, or authorize Congress to forbid. It is an equal union, between parties equally sovereign. They were sovereign independently of the Union. The object of the Union was common protection for the exercise of already existing sovereignty. The parties gave up a portion of that sovereignty to insure the remainder. As far as they gave it up by the common compact they have ceased to be sovereign. The Union provides the means of defending the residue; and it is into that Union that a new State is to come. By acceding to it, the new State is placed on the same footing with the original States. It accedes for the same purpose, i.e., protection for their unsurrendered sovereignty. If it comes in shorn of its beams—crippled and disparaged beyond the original States, it is not into the original Union that it comes. For it is a different sort of Union. The first was Union inter pares. This is a Union between "disparates"—between giants and a dwarf—between power and feebleness—between full proportioned sovereignties and a miserable image of power—a thing which that very Union has shrunk and shrivelled from its just size, instead of preserving it in its true dimensions.
It is into this Union, i. e., the Union of the Federal Constitution, that you are to admit, or refuse to admit. You can admit into no other. You cannot make the Union, as to the new State, what it is not as to the old; for then it is not this Union that you open for the entrance of a new party. If you make it enter into a new and additional compact, is it any longer the same Union?
We are told that admitting a State into the Union is a compact. Yes, but what sort of a compact? A compact that it shall be a member of the Union, as the Constitution has made it. You cannot new fashion it. You may make a compact to admit, but when admitted the original compact prevails. The Union is a compact, with a provision of political power and agents for the accomplishment of its objects. Vary that compact as to a new State—give new energy to that political power so as to make it act with more force upon a new State than upon the old—make the will of those agents more effectually the arbiter of the fate of a new State than of the old, and it may be confidently said that the new State has not entered into this Union, but into another Union. How far the Union has been varied is another question. But that it has been varied is clear.
If I am told that by the bill relative to Missouri, you do not legislate upon a new State, I answer that you do; and I answer further that it is immaterial whether you do or not. But it is upon Missouri, as a State, that your terms and conditions are to act. Until Missouri is a State, the terms and conditions are nothing. You legislate in the shape of terms and conditions, prospectively—and you so legislate upon it that when it comes into the Union it is to be bound by a contract degrading and diminishing its sovereignty—and is to be stripped of rights which the original parties to the Union did not consent to abandon, and which that Union (so far as depends upon it) takes under its protection and guarantee.
Is the right to hold slaves a right which Massachusetts enjoys? If it is, Massachusetts is under this Union in a different character from Missouri. The compact of Union for it, is different from the same compact of Union for Missouri. The power of Congress is different—everything which depends upon the Union is, in that respect, different.
But it is immaterial whether you legislate for Missouri as a State or not. The effect of your legislation is to bring it into the Union with a portion of its sovereignty taken away.
But it is a State which you are to admit. What is a State in the sense of the Constitution? It is not a State in the general—but a State as you find it in the Constitution. A State, generally, is a body politic or independent political society of men. But the State which you are to admit must be more or less than this political entity. What must it be? Ask the constitution. It shows what it means by a State by reference to the parties to it. It must be such a State as Massachusetts, Virginia, and the other members of the American confederacy—a State with full sovereignty except as the constitution restricts it.
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In a word, the whole amount of the argument on the other side is, that you may refuse to admit a new State, and that therefore if you admit, you may prescribe the terms.
The answer to that argument is—that even if you can refuse, you can prescribe no terms which are inconsistent with the act you are to do. You can prescribe no conditions which, if carried into effect, would make the new State less a sovereign State than, under the Union as it stands, it would be. You can prescribe no terms which will make the compact of Union between it and the original States essentially different from that compact among the original States. You may admit, or refuse to admit: but if you admit, you must admit a State in the sense of the Constitution—a State with all such sovereignty as belongs to the original parties: and it must be into this Union that you are to admit it, not into a Union of your own dictating, formed out of the existing Union by qualifications and new compacts, altering its character and effect, and making it fall short of its protecting energy in reference to the new State, whilst it acquires an energy of another sort—the energy of restraint and destruction.
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One of the most signal errors with which the argument on the other side has abounded, is this of considering the proposed restriction as if levelled at the introduction or establishment of slavery. And hence the vehement declamation, which, among other things, has informed us that slavery originated in fraud or violence.
The truth is, that the restriction has no relation, real or pretended, to the right of making slaves of those who are free, or of introducing slavery where it does not already exist. It applies to those who are admitted to be already slaves, and who (with their posterity) would continue to be slaves if they should remain where they are at present; and to a place where slavery already exists by the local law. Their civil condition will not be altered by their removal from Virginia, or Carolina, to Missouri. They will not be more slaves than they now are. Their abode, indeed, will be different, but their bondage the same. Their numbers may possibly be augmented by the diffusion, and I think they will. But this can only happen because their hardships will be mitigated, and their comforts increased. The checks to population, which exist in the older States, will be diminished. The restriction, therefore does not prevent the establishment of slavery, either with reference to persons or place; but simply inhibits the removal from place to place (the law in each being the same) of a slave, or make his emancipation the consequence of that removal. It acts professedly merely on slavery as it exists, and thus acting restrains its present lawful effects. That slavery, like many other human institutions, originated in fraud or violence, may be conceded: but, however it originated, it is established among us, and no man seeks a further establishment of it by new importations of freemen to be converted into slaves. On the contrary, all are anxious to mitigate its evils, by all the means within the reach of the appropriate authority, the domestic legislatures of the different States.
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Of the declaration of our independence, which has also been quoted in support of the perilous doctrines now urged upon us, I need not now speak at large. I have shown on a former occasion how idle it is to rely upon that instrument for such a purpose, and I will not fatigue you by mere repetition. The self-evident truths announced in the Declaration of Independence are not truths at all, if taken literally; and the practical conclusions contained in the same passage of that declaration prove that they were never designed to be so received.
The articles of confederation contain nothing on the subject; whilst the actual Constitution recognizes the legal existence of slavery by various provisions. The power of prohibiting the slave trade is involved in that of regulating commerce, but this is coupled with an express inhibition to the exercise of it for twenty years. How then can that Constitution which expressly permits the importation of slaves authorize the National Government to set on foot a crusade against slavery?
The clause respecting fugitive slaves is affirmative and active in its effects. It is a direct sanction and positive protection of the right of the master to the services of his slave as derived under the local laws of the States. The phraseology in which it is wrapped up still leaves the intention clear, and the words, "persons held to service or labor in one State under the laws thereof," have always been interpreted to extend to the case of slaves, in the various acts of Congress which have been passed to give efficacy to the provision, and in the judicial application of those laws. So also in the clause prescribing the ratio of representation—the phrase, "three-fifths of all other persons," is equivalent to slaves, or it means nothing. And yet we are told that those who are acting under a Constitution which sanctions the existence of slavery in those States which choose to tolerate it, are at liberty to hold that no law can sanction its existence.
It is idle to make the rightfulness of an act the measure of sovereign power. The distinction between sovereign power and the moral right to exercise it has always been recognized. All political power may be abused, but is it to stop where abuse may begin? The power of declaring war is a power of vast capacity for mischief, and capable of inflicting the most wide-spread desolation. But it is given to Congress without stint and without measure. Is a citizen, or are the courts of justice to inquire whether that, or any other law, is just, before they obey or execute it? And are there any degrees of injustice which will withdraw from sovereign power the capacity of making a given law?
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The power is "to admit new States into this Union," and it may be safely conceded that here is discretion to admit or refuse. The question is, what must we do if we do anything? What must we admit, and into what? The answer is a State—and into this Union.
The distinction between Federal rights and local rights, is an idle distinction. Because the new State acquires Federal rights, it is not, therefore, in this Union. The Union is a compact; and is it an equal party to that compact, because it has equal Federal rights?
How is the Union formed? By equal contributions of power. Make one member sacrifice more than another, and it becomes unequal. The compact is of two parts:
1. The thing obtained—Federal rights. 2. The price paid—local sovereignty.
You may disturb the balance of the Union, either by diminishing the thing acquired, or increasing the sacrifice paid.
What were the purposes of coming into the Union among the original States? The States were originally sovereign without limit, as to foreign and domestic concerns. But being incapable of protecting themselves singly, they entered into the Union to defend themselves against foreign violence. The domestic concerns of the people were not, in general, to be acted on by it. The security of the power, of managing them by domestic legislature, is one of the great objects of the Union. The Union is a means, not an end. By requiring greater sacrifices of domestic power, the end is sacrificed to the means. Suppose the surrender of all, or nearly all, the domestic powers of legislation were required; the means would there have swallowed up the end.