Page images

company had been but this: "The settlers shall be under the immediate government of congress in such mode and for such time as congress shall judge proper;" the ordinance contained no allusion to slavery; and in that form it received its first reading and was ordered to be printed.

Grayson, then the presiding officer of congress, had always opposed slavery. Two years before he had wished success to the attempt of King for its restriction; and everything points to him * as the immediate cause of the tranquil spirit of disinterested statesmanship which took possession of every southern man in the assembly. Of the members of Virginia, Richard Henry Lee had stood against Jefferson on this very question ; but now he acted with Grayson, and from the states of which no man had yielded before, every one chose the part which was to bring on their memory the benedictions of all coming ages. Obeying an intimation from the South, Nathan Dane copied from Jefferson the prohibition of involuntary servitude in the territory, and quieted alarm by adding from the report of King a clause for the delivering up of the fugitive slave. This at the second reading of the ordinance he moved as a sixth article of compact, and, on the thirteenth day of July 1787, the great statute forbidding slavery to cross the river Ohio was passed by the vote of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts, all the states that were then present in congress. Pennsylvania and three states of New England were absent;

* William Grayson voted for King's motion of reference, by which the prohibition of slavery was to be immediate; he expressed the hope that congress

would be liberal enough to adopt King's motion; he gave, more than any other man in congress, efficient attention to the territorial questions ; in 1785 he framed and carried through congress an ordinance for the sale of western lands; his influence as president of congress was great ; his record as against slavery is clearer than that of any other southern man who was present in 1787. The assent of Virginia being requisite to the validity of the ordinance, he entreated Monroe to obtain that consent. The consent was not obtained. Though in shattered health, he then became a member of the next Virginia legislature, and was conspicuous in obtaining the assent of Virginia. Add to this in the debate on excluding slavery from the territory of Arkansas, Hugb Nelson of Virginia was quoted as having ascribed the measure to Grayson. Austin Scott fell upon, and was so good as to point out to me, this passage in Annals of Congress for February 1819, column 1225. Thus far no direct report of Nelson's speech has been found.

Maryland only of the South. Of the eighteen members of congress

who answered to their names, every one said “aye excepting Abraham Yates the younger of New York, who insisted on leaving to all future ages a record of his want of good judgment, right feeling, and common sense.

Thomas Jefferson first summoned congress to prohibit slavery in all the territory of the United States; Rufus King lifted up the measure when it lay almost lifeless on the ground, and suggested the immediate instead of the prospective prohibition ; a congress composed of five southern states to one from New England, and two from the middle states, headed by William Grayson, supported by Richard Henry Lee, and using Nathan Dane as scribe, carried the measure to the goal in the amended form in which King had caused it to be referred to a committee; and, as Jefferson had proposed, placed it under the sanction of an irrevocable compact.*

The ordinance being passed, the terms of a sale between the United States and Manasseh Cutler and Winthrop Sargent, as agents of the Ohio company, were rapidly brought to a close, substantially on the basis of the report of Carrington.t

The occupation of the purchased lands began immediately, and proceeded with the order, courage, and regularity of men accustomed to the discipline of soldiers. “No colony in America,” said Washington in his joy, “was ever settled under such favorable auspices as that which has just commenced at the Muskingum. Information, property, and strength will be its characteristics. I know many of the settlers personally, and there never were men better calculated to promote the welfare of such a community.” I Before a year had passed by, free labor kept its sleepless watch on the Ohio.

But this was not enough. Virginia had retained the right to a very large tract north-west of the Ohio, and should she consent that her own sons should be forbidden to cross the river with their slaves to her own lands?

It was necessary for her to give her consent before the ordinance could be secure; and Grayson earnestly entreated

* Nathan Dane to Rufus King, 16 July 1787.

+ Compare Carrington's report with its amended form in Journals of Congress, iv., Appendix 17.

# Sparks, ix., 385.

Monroe to gain that consent before the year should go out. But Monroe was not equal to the task, and nothing was accomplished.

At the next election of the assembly of Virginia, Grayson, who was not a candidate in the preceding or the following year, was chosen a delegate; and then a powerful committee, on which were Carrington, Monroe, Edmund Randolph, and Grayson, successfully brought forward the bill by which Virginia confirmed the ordinance for the colonization of all the territory then in the possession of the United States by freemen alone.

The white men of that day everywhere held themselves bound to respect and protect the black men in their liberty and property. The suffrage was not as yet regarded as a right incident to manhood, and could be extended only according to the judgment of those who were found in possession of it. When in 1785 an act providing for the gradual abolition of slavery within the state of New York, while it placed the chil. dren born of slaves in the rank of citizens, deprived them of the privileges of electors, the council of revision, Clinton and Sloss Hobart being present, and adopting the report of Chancellor Livingston, negatived the act, because, “ in violation of the rules of justice and against the letter and spirit of the constitution," it disfranchised the black, mulatto, and mustee citizens who had heretofore been entitled to a vote. The veto prevailed ;* and in the state of New York the colored man retained his impartial right of suffrage till the constitution of 1821. Virginia, which continued to recognise free negroes as citizens, in the session in which it sanctioned the north-western ordinance, enacted that any person who should be convicted of stealing or selling any free person for a slave shall suffer death without benefit of clergy.t This was the protection which Virginia, when the constitution was forming, extended to the black man.

* Street's New York Council of Revision, 268, 269. † Hening, xii., 631





The twenty-three resolutions of the convention were distributed by the committee of detail into as many articles, which included new subjects of the gravest moment. On the sixth of August 1787 every member of the convention received a copy of this draft of a constitution, printed on broadsides in large type, with wide spaces and margin for minutes of amendments.* The experience of more than two months had inspired its members with the courage and the disposition to make still bolder grants of power to the union.

The instrument + opens with the sublime words: “We, the people of the states,” enumerating New Hampshire and every other of the thirteen, “do ordain, declare, and establish the following constitution for the government of ourselves and our posterity.” +

When in 1776"the good people” of thirteen colonies, each having an organized separate home government, and each hitherto forming an integral part of one common empire, jointly prepared to declare themselves free and independent states, it was their first care to ascertain of whom they were composed. The question they agreed to investigate and decide

* Of these copies six hare been examined, including that of the president of the convention, and, as is believed, that of its secretary.

+ Gilpin, 1226; Elliot, 376,

“We the people of Massachusetts-do-ordain and establish the following --constitution of civil government for ourselves and posterity.” Preamble to the first constitution of Massachusetts.

by a joint act of them all. For this end congress selected from its numbers five of its ablest jurists and most trusted statesmen: John Adams of Massachusetts, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, and Robert R. Livingston of New York; the fairest representation that could have been made of New England, of the South, and of the central states. The committee thought not of embarrassing themselves with the introduction of any new theory of citizenship; they looked solely for existing facts. They found colonies with well-known territorial boundaries; and inhabitants of the territory of each colony; and their unanimous report, unanimously accepted by congress, was: “ All persons abiding within any of the United Colonies, and deriving protection from the laws of the same, owe allegiance to the said laws, and are members of such colony.” From "persons making a visitation or temporary stay,” only a secondary allegiance was held to be due.

When the articles of confederation were framed with the grand principle of intercitizenship, which gave to the American confederation a superiority over every one that preceded it, the same definition of membership of the community was repeated, except that intercitizenship was not extended to the pauper, or the vagabond, or the fugitive from justice, or the slave. And now these free inhabitants of every one of the United States, this collective people, proclaim their common intention, by their own innate life, to institute a general government.

For the name of the government they chose “The United States of America; words which expressed unity in plurality and being endeared by usage were preferred to any new description.

That there might be no room to question where paramount allegiance would be due, the second article declared : “The government shall consist of supreme legislative, executive, and judicial powers." +

To maintain that supremacy, the legislature of the United States was itself authorized to carry into execution all powers vested by this new constitution in the government of the Unit* Journals of Congress for 5, 17, and 24 June 1776. Gilpin, 1226; Elliot, 377.

« PreviousContinue »