Page images

which is just that is not a re-enactment of the law of God. The Constitution of the United States and the constitutions of all the states are full of such re-enactments. Wherever I find a law of God or a law of nature disregarded, or in danger of being disregarded, there I shall vote to re-affirm it, with all the sanction of the civil authority. But I find no authority for the position that climate prevents slavery anywhere. It is the indolence of mankind in any climate, and not any natural necessity, that introduces slavery in any climate.

I shall dwell only very briefly on the argument derived from the Mexican laws. The proposition, that those laws must remain in force until altered by laws of our own, is satisfactory; and so is the proposition that those Mexican laws abolished and continue to prohibit slavery. And still I deem an enactment by ourselves wise, and even necessary. Both of the propositions I have stated are denied with just as much confidence by southern statesmen and jurists as they are affirmed by those of the free states. The population of the new territories is rapidly becoming an American one, to whom the Mexican code will seem a foreign one, entitled to little deference or obedience.

Slavery has never obtained anywhere by express legislative authority, but always by trampling down laws higher than any mere municipal laws—the laws of nature and of nations. There can be no oppression in superadding the sanction of Congress to the authority which is so weak and so vehemently questioned. And there is some possibility, if not probability, that the institution may obtain a foothold surreptitiously, if it shall not be absolutely forbidden by our own authority.

What is insisted upon, therefore, is not a mere abstraction or a mere sentiment, as is contended by those who waive the proviso. And what is conclusive on the subject is, that it is conceded on all hands that the effect of insisting on it is to prevent the intrusion of slavery into the region to which it is proposed to apply it.

It is insisted that the diffusion of slavery will not increase its evils. The argument seems to me merely specious, and quite unsound. I desire to propose one or two questions in reply to it. Is slavery stronger or weaker in these United States, from its diffusion into Missouri? Is slavery weaker or stronger in these United States, from the exclusion of it from the northwest territory? The answers to these questions will settle the whole controversy.

[ocr errors]

And this brings me to the great and all-absorbing argument that the Union is in danger of being dissolved, and that it can only be saved by compromise. I do not know what I would not do to save the Union; and therefore I shall bestow upon this subject a very deliberate consideration.

I do not overlook the fact that the entire delegation from the slave states, although they differ in regard to the details of the compromise proposed, and perhaps in regard to the exact circumstances of the crisis, seem to concur in this momentous warning. Nor do I doubt at all the patriotic devotion to the Union which is expressed by those from whom this warning proceeds. And yet, sir, although such warnings have been yttered with impassioned solemnity in my hearing every day for near three months, my confidence in the Union remains unshaken. I think they are to be received with no inconsiderable distrust, because they are uttered under the influence of a controlling interest to be secured, a paramount object to be gained; and that is an equilibrium of power in the republic. I think they are to be received with even more distrust, because, with the most profound respect, they are uttered under an obviously high excitement. Nor is that excitement an unnatural one. It is a law of our nature that the passions disturb the reason and judgment just in proportion to the importance of the occasion, and the consequent necessity for calmness and candor. I think they are to be distrusted, because there is a diversity of opinion in regard to the nature and operation of this excitement. The senators from some states say that it has brought all parties in their own region into unanimity. The honorable senator from Kentucky [Mr. Clay) says that the danger lies in the violence of party spirit, and refers us for proof to the difficulties which attended the organization of the house of representatives.

Sir, in my humble judgment, it is not the fierce conflict of parties that we are seeing and hearing; but, on the contrary, it is the agony of distracted partiesma convulsion resulting from the too narrow foundations of both the great parties, and of all parties -foundations laid in compromises of natural justice and of human liberty. A question, a moral question, transcending the too narrow creeds of parties, has arisen ; the public conscience expands with it, and the green withes of party associations give way and break, and fall off from it. No, sir; it is not the state that is dying of the fever of party spirit. It is merely a paralysis of parties, pre

monitory however of their restoration, with new elements of health and vigor to be imbibed from that spirit of the age which is so justly called Progress.

Nor is the evil that of unlicensed, irregular, and turbulent faction. We are told that twenty legislatures are in session, burning like furnaces, heating and inflaming the popular passions. But these twenty legislatures are constitutional furnaces. They are performing their customary functions, imparting healthful heat and vitality while within their constitutional jurisdiction. If they rage beyond its limits, the popular passions of this country are not at all, I think, in danger of being inflamed to excess. No, sir; let none of these fires be extinguished. Forever let them burn and blaze. They are neither ominous meteors nor baleful comets, but planets; and bright and intense as their heat may be, it is their native temperature, and they must still obey the law which, by attraction toward this solar centre, holds them in their spheres.

I see nothing of that conflict between the southern and northern states, or between their representative bodies, which seems to be on all sides of me assumed. Not a word of menace, not a word of anger, not an intemperate word, has been uttered in the northern legislatures. They firmly but calmly assert their convictions ; but at the same time they assert their unqualified consent to submit to the common arbiter, and for weal or wo abide the fortunes of the Union.

What if there be less of moderation in the legislatures of the south? It only indicates on which side the balance is inclining, and that the decision of the momentous question is near at hand. I agree with those who say that there can be no peaceful dissolution—no dissolution of the Union by the secession of states; but that disunion, dissolution, happen when it may, will and must be revolution. I discover no omens of revolution. The predictions of the political astrologers do not agree as to the time or manner in which it is to occur. According to the authority of the honorable senator from Alabama, [Mr. CLEMENS,] the event has already happened, and the Union is now in ruins. According the honorable and distinguished senator from South Carolina, [Mr. Calhoun,] it is not to be immediate, but to be developed by time.

What are the omens to which our attention is directed ? I see nothing but a broad difference of opinion here, and the excitement consequent upon it.

I have observed that revolutions which begin in the palace seldom go beyond the palace walls, and they affect only the dynasty which reigns there. This revolution, if I understand it, began in this Senate chamber a year ago, when the representatives from the southern states assembled here and addressed their constituents on what were called the aggressions of the northern states. No revolution was designed at that time, and all that has happened since is the return to Congress of legislative resolutions, which seem to me to be only conventional responses to the address which emanated from the capitol.

Sir, in any condition of society there can be no revolution without a cause, an adequate cause. What cause exists here? We are admitting a new state; but there is nothing new in that: we have already admitted seventeen before. But it is said that the slave states are in danger of losing political power by the admission of the new state. Well, sir, is there anything new in that? The slave states have always been losing political power, and they always will be while they have any to lose. At first, twelve of the thirteen states were slave states; now only fifteen out of the thirty are slaves states. Moreover, the change is constitutionally made, and the government was constructed so as to permit changes of the balance of power, in obedience to changes of the forces of the body politic. Danton used to say, “It's all well while the people cry Danton and Robespierre; but wo for me if ever the people learn to say, Robespierre and Danton!” That is all of it, sir. The people have been accustomed to say, “the South and the North ;" they are only beginning now to say, “ the North and the South.”

Sir, those who would alarm us with the terrors of revolution have not well considered the structure of this government, and the organization of its forces. It is a democracy of property and persons, with a fair approximation towards universal education, and operating by means of universal suffrage. The constituent members of this democracy are the only persons who could subvert it; and they are not the citizens of a metropolis like Paris, or of a region subjected to the influences of a metropolis like France; but they are husbandmen, dispersed over this broad land, on the mountain and on the plain, and on the prairie, from the

ocean to the Rocky Mountains, and from the great lakes to the gulf; and this people are now, while we are discussing their imaginary danger, at peace and in their happy homes, as unconcerned and uninformed of their peril as they are of events occurring in the moon. Nor have the alarmists made due allowance in their calculations for the influence of conservative reaction, strong in any government, and irresistible in a rural republic, operating by universal suffrage. That principle of reaction is due to the force of the habits of acquiescence and loyalty among the people. No man better understood this principle than MacHIAVELLI, who has told us, in regard to factions, that “no safe reliance can be placed in the force of nature and the bravery of words, except it be corroborated by custom." Do the alarmists remember that this government has stood sixty years already without exacting one drop of blood ?--that this government has stood sixty years, and yet treason is an obsolete crime? That day, I trust, is far off when the fountains of popular contentment shall be broken up; but, whenever it shall come, it will bring forth a higher illustration than has ever yet been given of the excellence of the democratic system ; for then it will be seen how calmly, how firmly, how nobly, a great people can act in preserving their Constitution; whom “love of country moveth, example teacheth, company comforteth, emulation quickeneth, and glory exalteth.”

When the founders of the new republic of the south come to draw over the face of this empire, along or between its parallels of latitude or longitude, their ominous lines of dismemberment, soon to be broadly and deeply shaded with fraternal blood, they may come to the discovery then, if not before, that the natural and even the political connections of the region embraced forbid such a partition ; that its possible divisions are not northern and southern at all, but eastern and western, Atlantic and Pacific; and that nature and commerce have allied indissolubly for weal and wo the seceders and those from whom they are to be separated; that while they would rush into a civil war to restore an imaginary equilibrium between the northern states and the southern states, a new equilibrium has taken its place, in which all those states are on the one side, and the boundless west is on the other.

Sir, when the founders of the republic of the south come to draw those fearful lines, they will indicate what portions of the

[merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »