Page images


FEBRUARY 6, 1850.

NOTE.-MR. HALE. I have also received a petition from inhabitants of Pennsylvania and Delaware, stating that they believe that the federal constitution, in giving its support to slavery, violates the divine law and makes war upon human rights, and is inconsistent with republican principles; and that the attempt to unite slavery and freedom in one body politic has already brought upon the country great and manifold evils, and has fully proved that no such union can exist but by the sacrifice of freedom to the supremacy of slavery. They respectfully ask Congress to propose without delay some plan for the immediate and peaceful dissolution of the American Union.

THE VICE-PRESIDENT. The question will be on the reception of this petition.

MR. SEWARD moved that the petition be received and referred to a committee, with instructions to report that Congress had no power or motive to act for the dissolution of the Union. And on that motion, said:

MR. PRESIDENT:-I have considered the course taken by a distinguished and lamented statesman in the other House upon the occasion of the presentation of petitions of a character similar to that of the petition which is now presented—I mean the late John Quincy Adams, and I am satisfied, as he was, that the memorial ought to be received, by way of vindicating the right of petition. I have no more sympathy than he had with the object of a petition which prays for a dissolution of this Union. I have no fear of a dissolution of the Union. I believe that it was not made by madmen, nor can madmen destroy it; and I believe none but madmen would petition for its dissolution; and my rule always is, in regard to madmen, never to have any controversy with them.

I desire that the issue involved in this question shall be distinctly understood. It is this. On the one side of the House, it is the proposition that this petition shall not be received; that is, it is a virtual rejection of the petition. On the other side, it is proposed that the petition shall be received, and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, with instructions to report that the Senate

has not the power nor the disposition to entertain the question. There is no question whether the Union ought to be dissolved at all; we are unanimous against that. Under these circumstances, I shall vote for the reception of the petition, for the reasons I have stated.

MR. FOOTE. Will the honorable Senator vote for the reception of a petition which he announced the other day, in our hearing, to be devised by madmen?

MR. SEWARD. I have never yet seen the petition of any human being that I would not receive, and I do not know that I ever shall. It is not enough to justify me in refusing to hear any human being, that I have not the power to grant the prayer of his petition. The Constitution imposes no restriction or modification upon the right of petition. Petitions presented by madmen are very harmless, and the way to render them more harmless is to hear them, and give them an answer- -a civil answer. It is a soft answer that turns away wrath. I believe that if no petitions upon the subject of slavery had been rejected, there would never have been a petition for the dissolution of the Union. So long as you suffer those who are disunionists to maintain a false issue upon the right of petition, so long do I believe that that right will be misused and perverted for such purpose. It is for that reason that I desire to receive this and all other petitions.

The distinguished Senator from Michigan [Mr. Cass] has adverted to one or two cases, and he asks, by way of a parallel, whether we would receive petitions under such circumstances—as, for instance, petitions to declare that there is no God? Well, sir, I have seen an incident very similar to that tried in legislative experience. I have seen large masses of men agitated by what they regarded as dangers of the union of the Church and the State, growing out of the employment of chaplains in legislative bodies. I have seen then petitions presented, and a great public effort made to compel the attention of the legislative body to a discussion of the question. They were received and kindly examined, and a disposition made of them, in accordance with the views of the legislative body.

The result on that occasion was a complete termination of the agitation. I remember also petitions presented to legislative bodies to prohibit the reading of the Bible in the common schools, and the question then arose as to the wisest way to dispose of

them. Some wished to reject and others to receive them and give them an answer. They were received, and a calm and elaborate answer made to them. That was more than ten years ago, and no petition of the kind has been since presented. No petition for the dissolution of the Union will be again presented, if we receive this, and give the answer to it that is in the mouth as well as in the heart of every member of this body. It is a simple question of reasons. We are not above giving reasons to our fellow men. George Washington himself was not above giving a reason why this Union should not be dissolved. He gave such reasons earnestly and fully in his Farewell Address. The Senate of the United States, in my humble judgment, is not above the petition of the humblest citizen of the United States, and the declaration that they cannot and will not entertain the dissolution is a question upon which they might, with great propriety and with great advantage, act at this time.

NOTE.-The reception of the petition was denied: Ayes, 3. Nays, 51.-ED


JANUARY 30, 1850.

NOTE.-Mr. Seward had submitted the following resolution:

Resolved, That the conduct of Austria and of Russia, in the war in which those powers have subverted the nationality and the liberties of Hungary, has been marked by injustice, oppression, and barbarity, which justly deserve the condemnation of mankind, while they commend the Hungarian people to the sympathies of other nations, and especially of republican states; and that the Committee on the Public Lands be directed to inquire and report on the propriety of setting apart a portion of the public domain to be granted, free of all charges, to the exiles of Hungary already arrived, and hereafter to arrive, in the United States, as well as to the exiles fleeing from oppression in other European countries.

Mr. PRESIDENT: It will be recollected that, at a very early day in the session, the distinguished Senator from Michigan, [Mr. CASS,] introduced a resolution, in which it was proposed to instruct the Committee on Foreign Relations, to consider and report upon the expediency of suspending diplomatic relations with Austria; on which occasion that honorable senator enforced the resolution by a speech of surpassing power and interest; and that the grounds upon which he recommended the suspension of diplomatic intercourse with Austria were the oppression and barbarity of Austria

in the recent wars with Hungary. I listened with very great interest, and with deep attention, to the speech of the senator, in which he portrayed his accusations against that power. But I was not prepared, and I am not yet prepared, to think the suspension of foreign relations with Austria is the proper form of giving expression to the sentiment which is expressed by the senator, and in which I cordially sympathize, and in which, I doubt not, every member of the Senate sympathizes with him. It was under those circumstances that I submitted the resolution to the Senate, in which I have expressed this sentiment of the American people, of condemnation of the atrocious conduct of Austria, and of deep and profound sympathy with the Hungarian people in their struggles for nationality and independence.

I regret very much that the honorable Senator from Illinois [Mr. DOUGLAS] has thought it necessary, upon the present occasion, to raise a question of comparative merit between the nativeborn and the foreign citizen. If the question, however, must be raised, I am free to say, that to the extent which is implied in the resolution which I have submitted, I give the preference to the foreigner, the emigrant; and that is to this extent: The man who is expelled by tyranny from his own land, in consequence of an effort to establish its nationality and independence, I give, in my sympathies, in my admiration, in my respect, a preference over one who has lost nothing, done nothing, suffered nothing, for his own freedom or for the freedom of mankind.

Further than this, I would not go; and if the Senator from Illinois has inferred that I have sympathies for men of other lands, as men, in preference to my own countrymen, he does me an injustice, which, in due time, when his proposition comes before the Senate, he will have an opportunity to correct. I, sir, have never been-I am not now-I do not know what I may be— but I never have been in favor of making the profits arising from the sale of the public lands a source of ordinary revenue in the operations of the government. I have always maintained, and I think I always shall maintain, that it is a great fund, the common property of the whole people of the United States, properly to be applied to objects of great national improvement and beneficence. And in this particular instance, I believe that a proper opportunity is afforded for us to exercise our charity toward those who are entitled to our sympathies for their own struggles for liberty

and independence in foreign lands. Sir, I have never intimated an objection, I do not now say, that I have the slightest objection to the bill insisted upon by my respectable friend from Illinois, which is, I believe, the same in principle with the proposition of the distinguished Senator from Massachusetts, [Mr. WEBSTER,] and with that introduced to-day by the distinguished Senator from Texas, [Mr. HOUSTON.] When their propositions come before the Senate, they shall have my cordial support. I only say this, that the duty of making an expression in regard to the struggles for liberty in Europe was the subject under consideration when my proposition was submitted, and nothing more. I intended to go that length; that expression, I shall humbly insist, ought to be made; and it is not wise, in my judgment, to connect it with other propositions, which will also receive my support. So that I would not have the bill of the distinguished Senator from Illinois, [Mr. DOUGLAS,] or whoever may be entitled to the paternity of it, to be allowed to embarrass the proposition which I have had the honor to submit; nor shall my proposition be allowed to embarrass that of the Senator from Illinois. I hope that I am now understood upon the subject, and that I have relieved myself from whatever censure may have arisen from a misunderstanding of my intentions.

I ask the indulgence of the Senate for one moment, in reply to some remarks of my friend from Georgia, [Mr. DAWSON.] He has alluded to the motives which he supposed to operate upon members of this body, in bringing before the Senate questions of this character. My reply to the senator upon that point will be exceedingly brief. It is, that I am here for public measures, not for private ends that no imputation which can be made, even by a friend whom I esteem and respect so highly as I do my friend from Georgia, shall ever put me before this body, or any other, on a defence of myself against suspicions or complaints of this kind. And now, sir, the point in the remarks which I made, which elicited the most severe rebuke from my friend from Georgia was, that I had always been opposed to the applying of the current revenues arising from the public lands to the ordinary expenses of the federal government. And the senator persisted in supposing that I intended that they should be applied for no other purpose than a charity fund. I will illustrate, for the information of the senator and others, what I mean by the application of those revenues to great national purposes and objects.

« PreviousContinue »