Page images
PDF
EPUB

doubt. There can be no doubt that the state of California was left without a government, in a state of anarchy, and that she was obliged to furnish a government for herself. She did it at a vast expense. In leaving her in this condition so long—we voluntarily did so, to be sure, but still we committed a breach of our treaty with Mexico—a breach of our treaty with California; for we were bound to protect and defend her against foreign enemies and against domestic dangers. We neglected to do so. She provided the government for herself. It cost her the amount of at least three hundred thousand dollars. The money which, if not in her possession, is the fund over which she asserts the claim, is now to be placed in the treasury of the United States. Is it not just, that out of that sum which is thus at our disposal, we shall pay over to her the amount she has expended? Why wait for any more favorable time? The best time to be just, is always the time when we have the power, and when the demand is made. I hope, therefore, the amendment will be adopted.

IMPROVEMENT OF RIVERS AND HARBORS.

MARCH 3, 1851

ALLUSIONs have been made in the progress of this debate to two places which have been named with favor by the House of Representatives for appropriations—Big Sodus and Little Sodus. The wit and ingenuity and eloquence of the Senate have been exhausted upon these cases. Sir, I beg leave, in behalf of these places, to say, that although their names may subject their importance to suspicion, yet that they are located upon a large inland sea—that that sea is one of five which, connected with rivers, constitute a channel for commerce which is unsurpassed on this continent, and unsurpassed on any continent on earth—that they are all portions of the great river, consisting of the lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan, and Superior, and the Niagara, and the St. Lawrence, which rolls to the ocean a tide of waters exceeding that of even the Mississippi river itself—and that, if the senators who have indulged themselves in mirth at the expense of these places had examined the documents upon their tables, they would have found that these two harbors are indispensable to the navigation upon that broad and majestic river—that they are indispensable to the security of life and safety of property—that they are useful for defence, and that one of them constitutes the best harbor on Lake Ontario, and that both are connected with the commerce of the Erie canal, which bears into the commercial emporium of this country a larger volume of freight than any other channel of communication, unless it is the Mississippi; and that the commerce to which this is tributary exceeds all the foreign commerce of the United States. So much I have felt called upon to say with respect to these places. If there be nothing more objectionable than these appropriations, there can be no senator on this floor, who, upon any ground of constitutional construction adopted by the democratic party, or any other, can refuse to vote for the whole bill.

We who support this bill believe we are in the right; they who oppose it believe they are right; thus far the balance of numbers has been on our side. I have been among those who have been content with that advantage, and have not opened my mouth from the beginning of the debate until now, and I shall not open it now to criminate the motives or the wisdom of the opponents of the bill, nor even to defend the policy of the bill. It is a question of opinion, one of those which is devolved upon Congress to settle by the Constitution; it can only be settled by a comparison of opinions and the test of votes. We have been ready any moment, and certainly without questioning the motives, or sagacity, or wisdom of our adversaries, to come to a vote without debate. We are now willing; it is not necessary to be satisfied that this bill can pass; that is not the question we are required to decide. The simple question is to let it be determined whether the bill can pass or not. That is the question. Let us have the ques tion. We are ready. The other side have had the advantage of debate for two whole days. It is said that that is not enough. Mr. President, the number of working days, or secular days, is only seventy-eight in this session. This bill has had two full days for its consideration, one-fortieth part of the whole time of this session. Who shall say that when the Constitution limits this session to eighty working days, it is unreasonable to expect both the friends and the opponents of this bill to come to a vote after the expiration of two days, which days have been so far prolonged as to meet each other in the night.

CONTESTED SEAT OF SENATOR YULEE.

DECEMBER 1, 1852.

I THINK there is no doubt about the principle, that a person who presents prima facie evidence of his election as a senator must be admitted. We all agree about that. The question here in this case, however, is, whether there are not two persons presenting such evidence in support of conflicting claims.

The Senator from Florida, Mr. MORTON) in behalf of one candidate, presents the Governor's certificate of election, or, what is to the same effect, a commission founded on an election or appointment by the legislature. Such evidence has been received by the Senate as prima facie from the earliest history of the government, and, therefore, if unopposed, would be ample and adequate now.

But the same senator presents, in behalf of another candidate, certified proceedings of the Legislature of Florida, which, he claims, show that he was duly chosen or appointed by that body. This form of evidence has always been accepted by the Senate also. No senator from the state of New York ever brought a commission or certificate from the governor. All of them have brought here credentials given by the legislature, or certificates by their officers, authenticating their action, and nothing more.

Thus each candidate submits sufficient prima facie evidence, and they are equal in position. This is so, subject to one question. The legislative certificate, after reciting what Mr. YULEE claims to be an election, shows that the presiding officer decided that there was no election, and the legislature proceeded to a new election. But that involves the question, whether what had already been done constituted an election or not. It is understood that fifty-eight members of the legislature attended : twenty

nine voted for Mr. YULEE, and twenty-nine cast blank ballots. If these be counted as adverse ballots, then Mr. YULEE was not elected. If they be counted as no ballots, or as nothing, then he was elected. Now, I have no judgment formed on that question. The bias of my mind is adverse to the latter view. But it is a question, a real question, a grave question. I do not see how I can vote for the admission of the candidate holding the governor's certificate, without deciding this question, which I wish to hear discussed. In order to do exact justice, therefore, I shall vote for the motion of the Senator from Indiana, to refer to a select committee.

I do not see that the precedent in the case of the Senator from Illinois (Mr. SHIELDS] touches this question. That senator presented his credentials, and there was no adverse claimant. If I recollect aright, there was alleged to be evidence that he was not qualified to accept the place; but there was no question as to his having been elected or appointed to it by the legislature of the state. There was but one certificate, or one prima facie case, made out. On these considerations, as at present advised, I shall vote for the motion of the honorable Senator from Indiana.

ON THE REPEAL OF THE FUGITIVE SLAVE LAW

FEBRUARY 17, 1851.

MR. PRESIDENT,—The record of the Senate shows this to be the character of its past action on this subject. That when a petition relating to the laws concerning fugitives from service was presented it was referred, if its object was to render those laws more stringent than they are now adjudicated to be. A bill, the effect of which is to increase the rigors of the law, has received a reference. Petitions for the amendment of those laws, so as to render them less rigorous, are denied a reference. That is one discrepancy. The record shows another, viz. : that when a petition is submitted to the Senate, on the motion of a Senator from Pennsylvania, praying even for an amelioration or a repeal of these laws, it receives a reference. When a petition for precisely the

same object is presented by a Senator from New York, it is denied a reference.

I shall vote against the reconsideration of the reference which has been made, as well because I am in favor of equal and exact justice to both sides of this question, as because it is my duty to insist upon equal and exact justice from the Senate to all its members. But I shall vote against the reconsideration for another reason. For the reason that I think it most injudicious and most unwise to deny a reference to a petition of any class of citizens of the United States, whether they be such as those who have sent here the petitition now presented by the honorable Senator from Maine, consisting of what has been called here the elite of society, or whether it be sent here by plain, unassuming republican citizens. I hold that all are entitled to equal legislative respect and consideration, and I never stop to inquire to which of the two classes petitioners belong. I have never obtruded upon the Senate the character, title, or rank of any person whose name was annexed to a petition relating to the present subject presented by myself.

But there is still another reason that I am glad to have an opportunity to state; and that is, that if the object of the Senate be to suppress agitation, in my poor judgment they take exactly the wrong course to do it. For years upon years, the Congress of the United States, in one or other branch, refused, in one form or another, to receive and consider petitions on the subject of slavery. The effect was a denial of the right of petition. History, I think, has settled the point, that that denial of the right of petition increased the agitation on the subject of slavery instead of diminishing it. Now, I hold it to be precisely the same in effect, whether the Senate shall refuse to receive the petition and reject the petitioners from their doors, or whether they shall go through the formality of receiving the petition, laying it upon the table, and denying it reference and consideration. Whatever my opinion, then, of the merits of petitions may be, I am in favor, when they are respectful, of giving them not only a hearing, but a consideration.

But I desire to state further upon this subject, that I am in favor of receiving these petitions for the purpose of consideration and legislative action. The Congress of the United States, at the last session, attempted to do this thing

Vol. 1-23.

« PreviousContinue »