Page images

well be spared—those who clamor for disunion, either to abolish slavery or to prevent emancipation, and those who surrender principles or sound policy to clamors so idle.

Sir, the agitations which alarm us are not signs of evils to come, but mild efforts of the commonwealth for relief from mis

chiefs past.

There is a way, and one way only, to put them at rest. go back to the ground where our forefathers stood. While we leave slavery to the care of the states where it exists, let us inflexibly direct the policy of the Federal Government to circumscribe its limits and favor its ultimate extinguishment. Let those who have this misfortune entailed upon them, instead of contriving how to maintain an equilibrium that never had existence, consider carefully how at some time—it may be ten, or twenty, or even fifty years hence

by some means, by all means of their own, and with our aid, without sudden change or violent action—they may bring about the emancipation of labor and its restoration to its just dignity and power in the state. Let them take hope to themselves, give hope to the free states, awaken hope throughout the world. They will thus anticipate only what must happen at some time, and what they themselves must desire if it can come safely, and as soon as it can come without danger. Let them do only this, and every cause of disagreement will cease immediately and forever. We shall then not merely endure each other, but we shall be reconciled together, and shall realize once more the concord which results from mutual league, united councils, and equal hopes and hazards in the most sublime and beneficent enterprise the earth has witnessed. The fingers of the Powers above would tune the harmony of such a peace.


SEPTEMBER 11, 186 0.

INTRODUCTORY NOTE--Mr. CLAY's bill for the abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia being under consideration in committee of the whole, Mr. PRATT, of Maryland, moved amendments which provided that the offence of enticing a slave to escape, or the offence of assisting or favoring such an escape, or of harboring a slave with a view to assist his escape from slavery, should be a felony, punishable with not less than two nor more than ten years' imprisonment in the penitentiary; and further conferring upon corporations in the District of Columbia authority to impose conditions upon the residence of free colored persons within the District.

These amendments were adopted by a vote of yeas 26, nays 16; whereupon Mr. SEWARD submitted a proposition to strike out the whole bill and insert the following


Sec. 1. Slavery shall forever cease within the District of Columbia, and all persons held in bondage therein shall be free. The Secretary of the Interior shall audit and pay, to all persons holding slaves within the District at the time this act takes effect, such damages as they shall suffer by the passage thereof; and the sum of two hundred thousand dollars is hereby appropriated to carry this act into execution, out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated.

Sec. 2. An election sball be held in the District of Columbia to ascertain whether this bill is approved by the people thereof. Those who approve the act shall express their approbation by a ballot containing the words, “ For emancipation in the District." Those who are opposed shall vote by ballot containing the words, “ Against emancipation in the District." All persons entitled to vote for any municipal officer in the District, and all citizens of the United States residing within the District permanently, shall be deemed qualified to vote at such election. Such election shall be held within six months from the passage of this act, and on public notice of not less than three munths, to be given by the Marshal of the District.If a majority of the votes given at such election shall be in favor of this act, it shall go into effect immediately. "If a majority of the votes shall be against the same, this act sball be void and of no effect.

The question was on the substitute.

In submitting so grave a proposition as this, I am aware that it would be no unreasonable demand on the patience of the Senate or that of the country, to ask for time enough to explain the policy of the measure, and to defend the form in which it is submitted. But there remain only fifteen secular days of this session of Congress, and in my judgment the time has come for debate to cease, and for action to go on. I forbore from debate on offering the amendment for this reason; and I forbore, also, because at an earlier stage of the session, I had discussed at large all the principles involved in the measure. had yet another reason for that forbearance.

Speaking for myself alone, and imputing no prejudice and no injustice to others, I may be allowed to remark that the abolition of slavery anywhere seems to me a just and wise policy, provided it can be effected without producing injury outweighing its benefits. Opposition to emancipation in the District of Columbia, therefore, seemed to me to be a bad cause, and it is in the nature of a bad cause to betray itself. I did not mistake, then, in supposing that the opposition which my proposition would encounter would prove its best vindication.

Influenced by these considerations, I shall not now address myself to the broad merits of the question, but shall be content with simply adverting to the points which have been made during the present debate.

The first point was made by the honorable senator from Georgia, [Mr. Dawson) with the concurrence of some other senators, and consisted in the improper or bad motives which they saw fit to impute to the author of the measure. Sir, the great instructor in the art of reasoning (Lord Bacon) teaches that it is better always to answer to the "matter” of an adversary than to his person.” The imputation of motives does not come within that rule, and therefore it falls at my feet. The measure I have submitted is either right or wrong. If right, no unworthiness of motive of mine can detract from its merits ; if

wrong, no purity of motive can redeem it.

The second point is that which has been so fully answered by the honorable and distinguished senator from Kentucky, [Mr. CLAY) viz. : that Congress has no power to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. I find that power in the Constitution, and it is defined by these words : “To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over such district, not exceeding ten miles square, as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of government of the United States."

The District of Columbia is that district not exceeding ten miles square. It has become the seat of the government of the United States by cession of the state of Maryland, accepted by Congress. It is of the very nature of the power that it is “exclusive," and applies “to all cases whatsoever," whenever the district becomes, in the manner defined, the seat of the government of the United States. This, I think, is a conclusive answer to the argument of the honorable senator from Kentucky, that it is limited by an implied understanding that it should not be exercised to abolish slavery. Neither could the state of Maryland make nor could the United States yield such a reservation.

An exclusive power is that power which is possessed and may be exercised independently of all other sovereignties on earth. Congress, then, having “exclusive power," has absolute sovereignty, unless cases be excepted in which it shall not be exercised. But such exceptions are excluded by the broad expression, “in all cases whatsoever."

Those who framed the Constitution were fully aware of the extent of the power which it conferred. Mr. Madison thus describes it in the 43d number of the Federalist :

" The indispensable necessity of complete authority at the seat of government, carries its own evidence with it. It is a power exercised by every legislature in the Union-I might say of the world—by virtue of its general supremacy."

Yes, sir, it is a complete, not an imperfect power. It is a power over the district, equal to any authority which can be exercised by any legislature of any state in this Union," or by any legislature of any state or nation“ in the world.It is a power described in the philosophy of government, as“ summum imperium, summo modo—a power, within the region of its exercise, complete, absolute, universal. Now, every legislature in this Union, every sovereign authority in the world, has the power to abolish slavery. More than half the states in this Union have abolished or prohibited it. France, England, and Mexico, have abolished and prohibited it. Congress can do, in the District of Columbia, what they have done within their respective dominions.

I dwell upon this point only a moment longer. Slavery within the District of Columbia exists only by the action of Congress. Instead of pursuing the argument further, to prove that Congress has the power to make a free man, I demand proof that Congress possesses the power to make a slave, or hold a man in bondage.

All the other points which have been raised, apply, not to the

merits of the proposition for emancipation, but only to the form and manner of carrying it into effect. Such were the objections raised by my honorable and esteemed friend from Connecticut, [Mr. BALDWIN,) and my no less honorable and esteemed friend from Massachusetts, [Mr. WINTHROP.] It will be seen at once, that these objections concede that the principle of the measure is right. Nevertheless, without holding those gentlemen to this concession, but leaving them to judge and act for themselves, I shall be content to reply to them, so far only as to vindicate the plan of emancipation embodied in the amendment. What, then, is the form, and what the manner proposed! The amendment declares that slavery shall forever cease in the District of Columbia, and that all persons held in bondage therein, when the act shall go into effect, shall be free. It directs the Secretary of the Interior to pay the damages which any person holding slaves within the district shall incur by reason of its passage, and it appropriates two hundred thousand dollars as a fund for that purpose. The amendment further provides for an election, in which the qualified and competent citizens of the district shall express their approbation or disapprobation of the act. If they disapprove, it shall be void and of no effect.

I submit, sir, in the first place, that the plan is adequate. It will secure the abolition of slavery within the district, if it obtain the consent of those who are most particularly concerned in the question. I have not learned from either of my honorable friends that he is in favor of emancipating the slaves without the consent of the people in the district, and we have all heard other honorable senators insist upon that consent as indispensable. I do not insist upon it for myself. I have only surrendered so much to their objections ; but if a majority of the Senate shall waive the objection, it would give me pleasure to modify the plan accordingly.

Secondly, the plan is an equal one. While it restores to the slave the inestimable right of freedom; it awards to him, who, by authority of Congress, has hitherto held the slave in bondage, a just remuneration and indemnity for his loss. It is, then, adequate and equal.

Thirdly, the plan is not violent nor capricious, but is deliberate and prudent; for it makes this solemn transaction to depend upon a canvass to be continued not less than three months, nor longer than six months, among the people of the district.

« PreviousContinue »