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HISTORY OF THE SLAVERY QUESTION TO 1787. THE COMPROMISES OF THE CONSTITUTION ON SLAVERY.
The news that the treaty of peace had been signed at Ghent was received with loud jubilation. Jay had been denounced as a British hireling and a traitor, while the contents of the treaty negotiated by him were still kept secret. The same party now boasted of a magnificent triumph, before it knew the stipulations of the peace concluded by its ambassadors. This over-hasty joy was the best proof in what straits the administration found itself and how weary of war the whole nation was.
The extraordinary capacity of political parties to forget at the demand of the moment, stood the Democrats in good stead. If the declaration of war had been delayed only a short time, the United States would have heard that the orders in council already mentioned had been recalled. From the beginning of the war, the so-called pressing of alleged British subjects found on American ships was the only one of the officially stated causes of the declaration of war which remained in existence.' The report made to the house of representatives, June 3, 1812, by the committee on foreign affairs, declared that "it is impossible for the United States to consider themselves an independent nation" as long as this mischievous practice was not put an end to.2 In the course of hostilities, it was reiterated by the executive as well as sharply declared by congress, that a prime object of the war was to force England
1 Am. State Papers, VIII., p. 125.
2 Ibid, VIII., p. 159.
to give up this pretended right. Even the conclusion of a truce was made dependent upon England's abandonment of this practice. Monroe, in his instructions of April 13, 1813, to the plenipotentiaries who were charged with the negotiations for peace, declared that "a submission to it by the United States would be the abandonment, in favor of Great Britain, of all claim to neutral rights and of all other rights on the ocean." But on June 27, 1814, he communicated to the peace commissioners, by order of the president, the advice that they should conclude the treaty without any stipulation on this point, if it should appear to be an impassable obstacle. It so happened that in the treaty of peace not a word was said on either this point, or the whole question of neutral rights.5
Under these circumstances it needed a bold front to begin the message, in which the president announced to congress the conclusion of peace, with the words: "I congratulate you and our constituents upon an event which is highly honorable to the nation, and terminates with peculiar felicity a campaign signalized by the most brilliant successes." The Federalists naturally did not fail to point out with biting mockery the contrast between the facts and this presumptuous assertion. But the people by no means always see events in a new light on account of their results. The nation wished peace if it did not have to be bought in a precisely shameful way, and had feared for some time lest it should perhaps cost some unbearable
1 Am. State Papers, VIII., pp. 333, 425, 560.
* Ibid, VIII., pp. 318, 336, 345.
* Ibid, VIII., p. 567. There are two differently paged editions of the State Papers. In the other edition, this reference would be: Amer. State Papers, Foreign Relations, III., p. 695.
4 Ibid, VIII., pp. 593-4.
Statutes at Large, III., pp. 218-223.
American State Papers, VIII., p. 653. Statesman's Manual, I., p. 325. In the latter the message is erroneously dated on the 20th instead of the 18th of February.
sacrifice. It was not difficult, then, for it to persuade itself, with the help of the national pride, that the restoration of the status ante was "highly honorable." The picture, seen through the smoke of Jackson's victory," was fair enough to look upon. It happened, moreover, that the state of things in Europe promised a long peace, and so there was practically little ground for the fear that England would soon again have occasion to attempt a violation of neutral rights or the impressment of sailors. And her inclination to risk such an attempt must decrease every day with the powerful growth of the United States in population as well as in wealth.
Despite the mockery and the blame, thoroughly justified in certain respects, which the Federalists lavished upon the Democratic party, the latter came out of the war strengthened, while all was now over with the Federalists. Holmes had warned them that they were driving on to the "shipwreck of their party." Now that the sufferings of the war and of the whole "policy of restriction" were over and, thanks to the great prosperity of the country, were quickly forgotten, men only remembered how tardily the Federalists had discharged their duty to the Union in its hour of need. The latter could not free themselves from the suspicion that they had been willing to wholly withdraw their aid from the country, or even to turn against it, for a convincing proof against such a suspicion can not be brought forward when a man will not be convinced. The positive assertions of their opponents left a shadow upon them, and the mass of the party was well contented to let itself be considered as innocently led astray. All the blame lavished upon the Federalists on account of their conduct during the war was ever more and more summed up in the one expression "Hartford convention," and the inexpiable guilt which was conveyed by these words rested
DEATH OF THE FEDERALIST PARTY.
1 See the whole speech in Niles' Reg., VI., Sup., pp.180-184.
only on the leaders. These apt tactics isolated the leaders. more and more, and soon made the number of their followers dwindle into a little crowd, not worth noticing.1
The Democrats remained masters of the field, practically without a contest, and until circumstances developed new questions which could serve as a basis for party action their supremacy could no longer be endangered. The European commotions which had given rise to dangerous crises in American politics since Washington's first administration, had finally come to an end. On this side of the water, too, there was no longer any great danger of internal commotion to be cared for. The dawn of the "era of good feeling" had come.
This time of outward rest was of no slight value for the inner strengthening of the Union. In this commonwealth, which developes with truly wonderful rapidity, as much progress is often made in months as in years in the more completely crystalized states of Europe. But it was a destructive delusion which now mastered many heads, that this momentary rest could become permanent. If a republican form of government were the condition precedent of the millenium, when lion and lamb will lie down together; if the United States was the land chosen by fate; yet the realization of this dream was now more distant than on
'In the next presidential election only 34 of the 217 electoral votes were cast for the Federalist candidates. Even Rhode Island had now cut loose from her union with Massachusetts and Connecticut, while little Delaware voted for Rufus King. How demoralized the party had become appears still more clearly from the fact that the three states divided up their vote for vice-president. Massachusetts voted for Howard, Delaware for Harper, and Connecticut divided her votes between Ross and Marshall. (Deb. of Cong., V., p. 662.) The union of the Federalist votes upon King was, on account of his peculiar position in regard to the war, an equally convincing proof of how deep the party had sunk in public estimation. He, like the other Federalists, had been opposed to the declaration of war, but had wished, when it had once been declared, that they should support it with all their strength. Compare Niles' Reg., VII., pp. 318, 326, 327.
the day of the birth of the Union. The dragon-seed of Islavery had steadily grown rank and had already budded out so far that its true nature had often been recognized and very plainly pointed out. The violence with which former questions had been fought out, and their pressing importance, had, up to this time, only pushed this weightiest of all questions again and again into the background. But now it began every day to protrude itself more into the foreground, and in a few years it led to a crisis which was more dangerous than all the others through which the Union had passed since the adoption of the new constitution. The contest over the conditions of the admission of Missouri to the Union cannot be discussed until the history of the slavery question up to this time has been recalled.
LEGALITY OF SLAVERY.
At the outbreak of the American revolution slavery was a recognized fact in all the thirteen colonies. Whether it was thoroughly legal may at least be questioned. Neither according to the common nor the statutory law of England had slavery a legal existence, and both common and statutory laws were valid in the colonies so far as they applied to their circumstances and were not in opposition to their peculiar rights and privileges. But the charters of the colonies make no mention of slavery, and give the colonies no legal powers from which an undeniable right for the
The supreme court of the United States declared in 1815, in the case of the town of Powlet vs. Clark: "Independent, however, of such a provision [as appears in the first "royal commission" for the provinces] we take it to be a clear principle that the common law in force at the emigration of our ancestors is deemed the birthright of the colonies, unless so far as it is inapplicable to their situation or repugnant to their other rights and privileges. A fortiori, the principle applies to a royal province." Cranch, Reports, IX., p. 333; Curtis, Dec. of the Sup. Ct., III., pp. 370, 371. The first congress mentioned the common law, in its declaration of rights of Oct. 14, 1774, among the "indubitable rights and liberties to which the respective colonies are entitled." Journal of Congress, I.. D. 28.