« PreviousContinue »
his Cabinet as Thomas Jefferson and Edmund Randolph, of Virginia, and Alexander Hamilton, of New York. Either these men, fresh from their work of constructing the Constitution, did not know what it meant-or they were dishonest, and violated their oaths to support the Constitution-or else the Act excluding slavery from all the Territory within the jurisdiction of the National Government, was legitimately within the power conferred upon Congress by the Constitution. And if that Act is Constitutional, then Congress has always possessed the legitimate authority to exclude slavery from the Territories; and the South, having taken the lead in that policy, have no right to complain of any subsequent exercise of that authority.
But this was only the commencement of a long list of similar measures, covering a period of sixty years, from the ordinance for the Government of the Northwest Territory in 1789, to the Bill for the territorial government of Oregon in 1848. The Territory now constituting the State of Tennessee, was ceded to the United States by North Carolina. The deed of cession contained the following express provision; "that no regulation, made or to be made by Congress, shall tend to emancipate slaves ;"—a clear admission of the authority of Congress over the subject. This deed was accepted by Congress, April 2, 1790. This shows that the permission or prohibition of slavery in the Territories was then acknowledged on all hands to be within the legitimate power of the general Government. The following Acts are of similar import. May 20th, 1790, an Act for the government of the Territory south of the river Ohio; April 7th, 1798, an Act for the government of the Mississippi Territory; May 10th, 1800, another Act with reference to the same Territory; March 26th, 1804, an Act for the government of Louisiana; March 2d, 1805, an Act for the government of the Territory of Orleans; June 4th, 1812, an Act for the government of Missouri Territory; March 30th, 1822, an Act for the government of the Territory of Florida. In all these acts the power of Congress over slavery in the Territories is especially recognized, not by prohibiting, but by permitting it to remain.
The following Acts contain not only the recognition, but the exercise of the power of Congress over slavery in the Territories: May 7th, 1800, an Act for the government of
the Indiana Territory; January 11th, 1805, for the ment of the Michigan Territory; May 3d, 1809, for the government of the Illinois Territory; March 6th, 1820, the act known as the "Missouri Compromise," prohibiting slavery in all the remaining Territory, acquired from France, lying north of 36° 30', north latitude; April 20th, 1836, an Act for the government of the Territory of Wisconsin; June 12th, 1838, for the government of the Territory of Iowa; and August 14th, 1848, for the government of the Territory of Oregon. These Acts were approved by Presidents Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren and Polk. Here, then, is the practical interpretation of the Constitution on this subject, commencing with those who were the authors of the Constitution and continuing unbroken for sixty years. During all this time, we hear of no objection to these measures on the ground that they were unconstitutional. But in 1856, when political demagogues found themselves sorely in need of some refuge from the indignation of the people, for the disturbance and agitation they had brought upon the country by the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, that measure was pronounced unconstitutional by Justices of the Supreme Court, who, if arraigned to-day before an impartial jury upon the charge of high treason, would probably escape the halter on the sole ground that nature will so soon save the hangman the trouble. That Act, by its repeal, and the disastrous consequences that have followed, has been made a very prominent subject of discussion for the last six or eight years. It may be permitted us to remark, however, that when the measure was adopted in Congress it received in the Senate the vote of every member from the slave States, and aid enough from the free States to carry it by a vote of two to one. In the House it was carried by a vote of 134 to 42-more than three to one-receiving a large majority of the Southern vote in its favor, with considerable support from the free States. The Missouri Compromise was, therefore, emphatically a Southern measure. Before approving that act, Mr. Monroe submitted to the members of his Cabinet the following questions: "1. Has Congress a right, under the powers vested in it by the Constitution, to make a regulation prohibiting slavery in a Territory? 2. Is the 8th section of the act which passed both Houses of Congress
on the 3d instant, for the admission of Missouri into the Union, consistent with the Constitution?" A written answer was requested of each member of the Cabinet, to be placed on file in the State Department. The answers to both questions were unanimous in the affirmative;—that Congress had the power to prohibit slavery in a Territory, and that the section of the Missouri act containing the prohibition was constitutional. Among those who thus endorsed the compromise were William Wirt, of Virginia, William H. Crawford of Georgia, and John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina. Thus, to the almost unanimous support of the Missouri Compromise, by the Southern members of Congress, we add the express approval of three Southern members of the Cabinet, the sanction of a Southern President, and the decisions of the highest judicial tribunals in the country, both State and National, for more than thirty years. Indeed, nothing is better established by the whole history of the country, legislative, executive and judicial, than the authority of Congress over slavery in the Territories; and the claim of the slave-holder to the right to take his slaves into the free Territories, and to be protected in the possession of them there, by national legislation, is entirely repugnant to the whole policy of the Government from the beginning. Nor have they any good ground of complaint because they are not protected. It is not the fault of the Government, but the peculiar character of the property they claim to possess, and the inherent defectiveness of their title. The slave-holder can go into the Territories and take with him, and be protected in the possession of, every kind of property, recognized as such by the Common Law. He needs no interference of Congress to secure him in the possession of horses and cattle, houses and land. They are recognized as property everywhere. But slaves can be held as property, only within the jurisdiction of those local laws which declare them to be property, and recognize the title by which they are held. If a slave-holder voluntarily takes his slaves beyond the limit of such laws, he frees them from slavery, just as absolutely-in the language of the courts—
as if he had executed a deed of emancipation in their behalf." The slave-holder is well aware of the defective title by which he holds his slaves; and if he takes them where there is no law recognizing that title-no law by which he
can compel their service, or punish their disobedience-he does it on his own responsibility, and at his own risk. The
7 On this point we present the following extracts from the speeches of three Southern gentlemen of some note. The first is from Mr. Toombs, of Georgia, on the question of prohibiting Slavery in Califor nia and New Mexico, delivered in the House of Representatives in 1848:
"To lull the popular apprehension at the South, some gentlemen on this floor have spoken of it as a judicial question. The Supreme Court has ever been an unsafe reliance upon political questions. Its duty is to decide what law is-and that duty it performs well-and not what it ought to be. Their former adjudication settles these principles: that if, under our system, the Constitution of the United States does extend over our conquests without further action of this Government, it does not otherwise affect the question of Slavery there, except to authorize the owners of fugitive slaves, who should escape to these Territories, to recover them under its provisions; that the Constitution, though it recognizes and protects Slavery both in the States and in the Territories of the Union, when and where it lawfully exists, establishes it nowhere. And, as the necessary result from these adjudications, Slavery being abolished in New Mexico and California, the Southern slaveholder who emigrates to these Territories with his slaves has no legal guaranties for the protection of this property. Let us not deceive ourselves; these questions have already been settled by our courts, and if we are wise we will act in reference to them."
Mr. Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia, in a speech in the House of Representatives, August 7, 1848, said:
"The Constitution secures to all the citizens of all the States and Territories of this Union the rights to which they are entitled by the laws of the place. If Virginia or Georgia should abolish Slavery, the Constitution no more re-establishes it there than it has re-established it in Pennsylvania, New York, and other States where it has been abolished. The Constitution no more carries the local law of Slavery of any State or Territory where, by law it is prohibited, than it carries any other local law-no more than it carries the law of interest upon money, the statute of limitations, the laws of distribution, or the penal laws of a State. Slavery is an institution which depends solely upon the municipal laws of the place where it exists."
Mr. Badger, of North Carolina, in a speech in the Senate of the United States, July 26, 1848, said:
"Slavery, as it exists under the Constitution of the United States, is a State institution. It does not exist as an institution of the United States. Nor is it recognized as an institution of the United States, otherwise than as a State institution. Gentlemen say that every American citizen has a right to go into the newly acquired territory. It is needless to examine that, for no one proposes to exclude them. But it is another and a different question whether he has a right to carry a slave there; and, because the slave was recognized as property in the State from which he came, to insist that, therefore, such slave shall be recognized as property in the Territory to which he goes. The affirmative of this question cannot, in my opinion, be maintained."
Government certainly is not to blame-the North is not to blame-if he chooses in this way to emancipate his slaves.
The South often complains of the sentiment of the free States in regard to slavery. That we are opposed to it, is true; that we regard it as a great wrong, moral, social and political, is also true. But this is nothing new with us. It was the common sentiment, not at the North alone, but at the South as well, at the time the government was founded. This is susceptible of the clearest proof; but it needs none, for it is admitted by the Southern leaders themselves. Mr. A. H. Stephens, in his speech at Savannah, giving an exposition of the Confederate Constitution, says: "The prevailing ideas entertained by him [Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This.... was the prevailing idea of the time." The pretence of Southern leaders, that the founders of this Republic, entertaining such opinions of the institution of slavery, embodied, nevertheless, in our Constitution a form of Government especially designed to support, extend and perpetuate that institution, is the climax of absurdity. It accuses such men as Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and their great compeers, of infidelity to their most deliberate and sincere convictions-infidelity to God, to man and their country-for the purpose of perpetuating an institution which they believed to be wrong in principle,a moral, social and political evil. Thank God, the time is far distant when, in the judgment of American patriots, the founders of our Government need to be defended against such a charge.
As to the general complaint at the South that the policy of the national Government has been prejudicial to Southern interests, and unfriendly to Southern prosperity, it is proved to be false by the whole course of our history. Before the Declaration of Independence was adopted, one of the noblest passages contained in the original draft in the hand-writing of Jefferson, had to be stricken out, as a sedative to the chronic nervousness of the Southern slave