Page images

throughout the Nation. Article six of that Ordinance reads thus:

"There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said Territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: Provided, always, that any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed, and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid."

The existence of slavery within the States was recognized and protected by the constitution, and Congress held that it had no right to interfere with the domestic relations of the States.


In February, 1819, the Territory of Missouri, which was formed out of a part of the Louisiana purchase, asked permission to form a constitution preparatory to being admitted into the Union as a State. When the bill for this purpose was presented to the House of Representatives on the 13th of February, Mr. Tallmadge, of New York, proposed to insert a clause providing "that the further introduction of slavery, or involuntary servitude, be prohibited, except for the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted; and that all children born in said State after the admission thereof into the Union, shall be free at the age of twenty-five years." The announcement of this amendment produced a great sensation in the House, and throughout the country. It was believed by the advocates of slavery that the resolutions of the House of Representatives of 1790, in reply to the first petition presented to it for the abolition of slavery, which declared the policy of the Government to be non-interference with slavery in the States, had settled the question of the powers of the Federal government respecting slavery. The bill continued to be the subject

of a long and angry debate in the House, and finally passed that body by a small majority as amended by Mr. Tallmadge, but it was defeated in the Senate.

When Congress re-assembled in December, 1819, the discussion as to the admission of Missouri was again renewed, and again the House passed the bill as amended by Mr. Tallmadge, but when it reached the Senate the clause prohibiting slavery was stricken out, and an amendment, offered by Senator Thomas, of Illinois, was substituted, which was in these words: "Section 8. And be it further enacted, That in all the territory ceded by France to the United States, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude, not included within the limits of the State contemplated by this act, slavery and involuntary servitude otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall be and is hereby forever prohibited: Provided, always, that any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any State or Territory of the United States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed, and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid." The title of the bill was amended so as to agree with this section when it was sent to the House of Representatives for its concurrence. The House refused to accept the amendment of the Senate, and a committee of conference was appointed by both houses for the purpose of agreeing upon a bill acceptable to both sections of the country.

During the sitting of the conference committee, Thomas Jefferson, who was then living in retirement at Monticello, Virginia, and who was sincerely opposed to slavery, wrote a patriotic letter in opposition to the passage of the bill as amended by Mr. Thomas; he deprecated the thought of establishing a sectional line, and said the mere

suggestion of such a line sounded to him like a fire-bell at night, and that its consummation might sound the deathknell of the Union.

After weeks of bitter discussion before the committee of conference, the amendment offered by the Illinois Senator was adopted, and the bill as agreed upon by the committee passed the Senate March 2, 1820, by a vote of 27 ayes to 15 noes, when it was sent to the House for its concurrence. The bill passed that body on the same day by a vote of 134 ayes to 42 noes. Both the Illinois Senators, Edwards and Thomas, and the Representative, Mr. Cook, voted for the bill. (See the House and Senate Journals.)

After the passage of the bill, in a letter under date of April 13, 1820, addressed to Wm. Short, Mr. Jefferson said:


"I had laid down a law to myself, never to write, talk or even think of politics, to know nothing of public affairs, and therefore had ceased to read newspapers, yet the Missouri question aroused and filled me with alarm. have been among the most sanguine in believing that our Union would be of long duration. I now doubt it much. My only comfort and confidence is that I shall not live to see this; and I envy not the present generation the glory of throwing away the fruits of their fathers' sacrifice of life and fortune, and of rendering desperate the experiment which was to decide ultimately whether man was capable of self-government." (See Volume 7 of Jefferson's Complete Works.)

Notwithstanding the compromise was introduced by Mr. Thomas, Benton tells us in his Thirty Years in the United States Senate, that its adoption was the work of the proslavery men.

The constitution under which Missouri applied for admission into the Union sanctioned slavery, and contained a clause which prohibited the Legislature from interfering with the question.

There was also a clause in it authorizing the Legislature to prohibit the emigration of free people of color into the State, and this clause was laid hold of in Congress to resist the admission of the State. It was treated as a breach of that clause in the Federal constitution which guarantees equal privileges in all the States to the citizens of every State, of which privileges the right of emigration was one; and free people of color being admitted to citizenship in some of the States, this prohibition of emigration was held to be a violation of that privilege in their persons. Here followed an equally angry discussion over the peculiar features of this constitution, and it did not end until a committee of conference of the two houses had met and agreed upon a resolution favoring the admission of the State upon the condition that her Legislature should first declare that the clause in the constitution relative to the colored emigration into the State should never be construed to authorize the passage of any act by which any citizen of any of the States of the Union should be excluded from the enjoyment of any privilege to which he may be entitled under the Constitution of the United States, and the President of the United States being furnished with a copy of said act, should, by proclamation, declare the State to be admitted. This resolution was passed in the House by a vote of 86 to 82, and in the Senate by a vote of 28 to 14.

The Legislature of Missouri complied with the requirements of this resolution, and on the 10th of August, 1821, President Monroe issued a proclamation declaring the admission of Missouri into the Union, in complete accordance with law.

In his last message to Congress, President Polk had recommended the extension of the line 36° 30' north latitude to the Pacific, thus leaving it to the people

[ocr errors]

south of that line whether they would have slavery or not. This proposition was acceptable to the people of the South, but it did not meet with favor in the North.


In 1849, when California applied to be admitted into the Union, with a constitution which prohibited slavery, the sectional controversy was again renewed, with alarming fury, and grave fears were entertained for the safety of the Union. Zachary Taylor was President, and while recognizing, in his first message, the gravity of the situation, and the danger which threatened the country from the sectional controversy, he expressed his determination to faithfully discharge his duties to the whole country, and recommended the admission of California, under the constitution her people had chosen; and advised that Utah and New Mexico be organized as Territories, with liberty to decide the question of slavery for themselves, when they were ready to enter the Union as States.

Regarding the preservation of the Union, President Taylor said:

"But attachment to the union of the States should be habitually fostered in every American heart. For more than half a century, during which kingdoms and empires have fallen, this Union has stood unshaken. The patriots who formed it have long since descended to the grave; yet still it remains the proudest monument to their memory, and the object of affection and admiration with every one worthy to bear the American name. In my judgment its dissolution would be the greatest of calamities, and to avert that should be the study of every American. Upon its preservation must depend our own happiness and that of countless generations to come. Whatever dangers may threaten it, I shall stand by it, and maintain it in its integrity, to the full extent of the obligations imposed and the power conferred upon me by the Constitution."

« PreviousContinue »