Page images

common heritage of mankind, bestowed upon them by the Creator of the universe. We are his stewards, and must so discharge our trust as to secure in the highest attainable degree their happiness. How momentous that trust is, we may learn from the instructions of the founder of modern philosophy :

“No man,” says Bacon, “can by care-taking, as the Scripture saith, add a cubit to his stature in this little model of a man's body; but, in the great frame of kingdoms and commonwealths, it is in the power of princes or estates to add amplitude and greatness to their kingdoms. For, by introducing such ordinances, constitutions, and customs, as are wise, they may sow greatness to their posterity and successors. But these things are commonly vot observed, but left to take their chance."

This is a state, and we are deliberating for it, just as our fathers deliberated in establishing the institutions we enjoy. Whatever superiority there is in our condition and hopes over those of any other “ kingdom” or “estate,” is due to the fortunate circum

” stance that our ancestors did not leave things to “take their chance," but that they “ added amplitude and greatness” to our commonwealth “by introducing such ordinances, constitutions, and customs, as were wise.” We in our turn hare succeeded to the same responsibilities, and we cannot approach the duty before us wisely or justly, except we raise ourselves to the great consideration of how we can most certainly “sow greatness to our posterity and successors."

And now the simple, bold, and even awful question which presents itself to us is this : Shall we, who are founding institutions, social and political, for countless millions; shall we, who know by experience the wise and the just, and are free to choose them, and to reject the erroneous and unjust; shall we establish human bondage, or permit it by our sufferance to be established ? Sir, our forefathers would not have hesitated an hour. They found slavery existing here, and they left it only because they could not remove it. There is not only no free state which would now establish it, but there is no slave state, which, if it had had the free alternative as we now have, would have founded slavery. Indeed, our revolutionary predecessors had precisely the same question before them in establishing an organic law under which the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin, have since come into the Union, and they solemnly repudiated and excluded slavery from those states forever. I confess that the most alarming evidence of our degeneracy which has yet been given is found in the fact that we even debate such a question.

Sir, there is no Christian nation, thus free to choose as we are, which would establish slavery. I speak on due consideration, , because Britain, France, and Mexico, have abolished slavery, and all other European states are preparing to abolish it as speedily as they can. We cannot establish slavery, because there are certain elements of the security, welfare, and greatness of nations, which we all admit, or ought to admit, and recognize as essential; and these are the security of natural rights, the diffusion of knowledge, and the freedom of industry. Slavery is incompatible with all of these; and, just in proportion to the extent that it prevails and controls in any republican state, just to that extent it subverts the principle of democracy, and converts the state into an aristocracy or a despotism. I will not offend sensibilities by drawing my proofs from the slave states existing among ourselves; but I will draw them from the greatest of the European slave states.

The population of Russia in Europe, in 1844, was 54,251,000 Of these were serfs


[ocr errors]

The residue nobles, clergy, and merchants, &c.


The Imperial government abandons the control over the fiftythree and a half millions to their owners; and these owners, included in the 751,000, are thus a privileged class, or aristocracy. If ever the government interferes at all with the serfs, who are the only laboring population, it is by edicts designed to abridge their opportunities of education, and thus continue their debasement. What was the origin of this system? Conquest, in which the captivity of the conquered was made perpetual and hereditary. This, it seems to me, is identical with American slavery, only at one and the same time exaggerated by the greater disproportion between the privileged classes and the slaves in their respective numbers, and yet relieved of the unhappiest feature of American slavery, the distinction of castes. What but this renders Russia at once the most arbitrary despotism and the most barbarous state in Europe? And what is its effect, but industry comparatively profitless, and sedition, not occasional and partial, but chronic and pervading the empire. I speak of slavery not in the language of fancy, but in the language of philosophy. Montesquieu remarked upon the proposition to introduce slavery into France, that the demand for slavery was the demand of luxury and corruption,

and not the demand of patriotism. Of all slavery, African slavery is the worst, for it combines practically the features of what is distinguished as real slavery or serfdom with the personal slavery known in the oriental world. Its domestic features lead to vice, while its political features render it injurious and dangerous to the state.

I cannot stop to debate long with those who maintain that slavery is itself practically economical and humane. I might be content with saying that there are some axioms in political science that a statesman or a founder of states may adopt, especially in the Congress of the United States, and that among those axioms are these : That all men are created equal, and have inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the choice of pursuits of happiness; that knowledge promotes virtue, and righteousness exalteth a nation; that freedom is preferable to slavery, and that democratic governments, where they can be maintained by acquiescence, without force, are preferable to institutions exercising arbitrary and irresponsible power.

It remains only to remark that our own experience has proved the dangerous influence and tendency of slavery. All our apprehensions of dangers, present and future, begin and end with slavery. If slavery, limited as it yet is, now threatens to subvert the Constitution, how can we, as wise and prudent statesmen, enlarge its boundaries and increase its influence, and thus increase already impending dangers ? Whether, then, I regard merely the welfare of the future inhabitants of the new territories, or the security and welfare of the whole people of the United States, or the welfare of the whole family of mankind, I cannot consent to introduce slavery into any part of this continent which is now exempt from what seems to me so great an evil. These are my reasons for declining to compromise the question relating to slavery as a condition of the admission of California.

In acting upon an occasion so grave as this, a respectful consideration is due to the arguments, founded on extraneous considerations, of senators who commend a course different from that which I have preferred. The first of these arguments is, that Congress has no power to legislate on the subject of slavery within the territories.

Sir, Congress may admit new states; and since Congress may admit, it follows that Congress may reject new states. The discretion

VOL. 1-6.

of Congress in admitting is absolute, except that, when admitted, the state must be a republican state, and must be a STATE: that is, it shall have the constitutional form and powers of a state. But the greater includes the less, and therefore Congress may impose conditions of admission not inconsistent with those fundamental powers and forms. Boundaries are such.

Boundaries are such. The reservation of the public domain is such. The right to divide is such. The ordinance excluding slavery is such a condition. The organization of a terri

a tory is ancillary or preliminary; it is the inchoate, the initiative act of admission, and is performed under the clause granting the powers necessary to execute the express powers of the Constitution.

This power comes from the treaty-making power also, and I think it well traced to the power to make needful rules and regulations concerning the public domain. But this question is not a material one now; the power is here to be exercised. The question now is, How is it to be exercised ? not whether we shall exercise it at all, however derived. And the right to regulate property, to administer justice in regard to property, is assumed in every territorial charter. If we have the power to legislate concerning property, we have the power to legislate concerning personal rights. Freedom is a personal right; and Congress, being the supreme legislature, has the same right in regard to property and personal rights in territories that the states would have if organized.

The next of this class of arguments is, that the inhibition of slavery in the new territories is unnecessary; and when I come to this question, I encounter the loss of many who lead in favor of admitting California. I had hoped, some time ago, that upon

the vastly important question of inhibiting slavery in the new territories, we should have had the aid especially of the distinguished senator from Missouri, (Mr. BENTON,] and when he announced his opposition to that measure I was induced to exclaim

Cur in theatrum, Cato severe, venisti?

An ideo, tantum, veneras ut exires ! But, sir, I have no right to complain. The senator is crowning a life of eminent public service by a heroic and magnanimous act in bringing California into the Union. Grateful to him for this, I leave it to himself to determine how far considerations of human freedom shall govern the course which he thinks proper to pursue.

The argument is, that the Proviso is unnecessary. I answer, then there can be no error in insisting upon it. But why is it unnecessary? It is said, first, by reason of climate. I answer, if this be so, why do not the representatives of the slave states concede the Proviso? They deny that the climate prevents the introduction of slavery. Then I will leave nothing to a contingency. But, in truth, I think the weight of argument is against the proposition. Is there any climate where slavery has not existed ? It has prevailed all over Europe, from sunny Italy to bleak England, and is existing now, stronger than in any other land, in icebound Russia. But it will be replied, that this is not African slavery. I rejoin, that only makes the case the stronger. If this vigorous Saxon race of ours was reduced to slavery while it retained the courage of semi-barbarism in its own high northern latitude, what security does climate afford against the transplantation of the more gentle, more docile, and already enslaved and debased African to the genial climate of New Mexico and Eastern California

Sir, there is no climate uncongenial to slavery. It is true it is less productive than free labor in many northern countries. But so it is less productive than free white labor in even tropical climates. Labor is in quick demand in all new countries. Slave labor is cheaper than free labor, and it would go first into new regions; and wherever it goes it brings labor into dishonor, and therefore free white labor avoids competition with it. Sir, I might rely on climate if I had not been born in a land where slavery existed—and this land was all of it north of the fortieth parallel of latitude; and if I did not know the struggle it has cost, and which is yet going on, to get complete relief from the institution and its baleful consequences. I desire to propound this question to those who are now in favor of dispensing with the Wilmot Proviso: Was the ordinance of 1787 necessary or not? Necessary, we all agree. It has received too many elaborate eulogiums to be now decried as an idle and superfluous thing. And yet that ordinance extended the inhibition of slavery from the thirty-seventh to the fortieth parallel of north latitude. And now we are told that the inhibition named is unnecessary anywhere north of 36° 30'! We are told that we may rely upon the laws of God, which prohibit slave labor north of that line, and that it is absurd to re-enact the laws of God. Sir, there is no human enactmeret

« PreviousContinue »