American Abolitionists and Antislavery Activists:
Conscience of the Nation

Updated April 4, 2021

l to r: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips

Encyclopedia of Slavery and Abolition in the United States - U




Chapter: “Underground Railroad. - Burr. - Work. -Thompson,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

Violence was the essential element of slavery. From the first slave-hunt in Africa to the surrender of the Rebel army at Appomatox, whenever and wherever its influence was felt, violence was the law of its being. It laid its ruthless hand not only upon the bodies and souls of the slaves, but upon the finer sensibilities and moral convictions of the nation. It trifled with the tenderest feelings, scorned all scruples of conscience, and trampled upon the law of God. To hold a slave was a direct and defiant challenge to the manhood, the patriotism, and the conscience of the individual; the community, and the nation. Nor was it any less it was, indeed, greater because men consented thereto, became reconciled to it, defended it, and even lent their aid to its support; for then it had accomplished its fatal work, and had destroyed what it had at first outraged and debauched. This “constant warfare," as Jefferson, himself a slaveholder, characterized the relation of master and slave, involved all this without any of the accessories of cruelty or excessive ill treatment. No word need be spoken, no blow struck. How much more when the petty tyrant of the lash used harshly his power, and the slave, thus abused and seeking relief in escape, invoked the aid of others in his flight toward the north star and liberty.

Then the whole soul of the true man revolted against such barbarism, and rose in mutiny against the laws which sanctioned and sustained it. Frederick Douglass, standing on the shores of the Chesapeake, and looking wistfully after the white sails which were bearing his heart away but we’re forbidden to take his body, was hardly more restive under the tyranny which bound him to the hated spot than were thousands who were hampered and held back by law from giving him and such as he their helping hand and hearty God-speed. Charles T. Torrey dying in a Baltimore prison, Anthony Burns marching down State Street between files of soldiers to a United States vessel in the stream, and the story of Eliza in “Uncle Tom's Cabin," were but representative facts. They revealed a state of affairs, and purposes resulting therefrom, on which rested what became an important institution, as it was but the necessary and natural consequence of what could not but exist and must reveal itself. It betokened, on the one hand, the imperious desire of the slave to escape from such horrible bondage; and on the other revealed the equally natural wish of others to aid him in that escape. Both were but developments of principles which lie embedded in the human constitution; both arose in obedience to higher laws than any of human enactment. 

Additional and auxiliary causes greatly increased and intensified these natural influences, and prompted to both the attempted escapes and the proffered aid in making them. In the settlement of the Western States a very large per cent of their earlier emigration was from the South.  Being generally the “poor whites," and leaving mainly on account of slavery and the hindrances it interposed in the way of their success in life, these emigrants, strangely enough, took with them their Southern prejudices, and became in their new homes the willing instruments of the same power of which they had been the victims before their removal. At least, this was true of the large majority. A small minority, mostly ministers and members of churches, had left the South from moral considerations, because they were opposed to slavery from principle; and they remained in their new homes no less hostile than before. This hostility was strengthened by the large New England element with which they came in contact; by antislavery discussions, which were so rife in those days and by the aggravated instances of encroachment and outrage which were from time to time revealing the violent and aggressive character of the system.

In addition to the occasional escapes across Mason and Dixon line into contiguous portions of the free States, where, for obvious reasons, the fugitives were specially liable to arrest, soon after the war of 1812 they began to find their way towards Canada. Many of the soldiers of that war, on their return to Virginia and Kentucky, carried back the welcome intelligence that there was a land of freedom towards the north star. Many of the slaves catching at these vague items of information, made them the basis of plans of escape which, in entire ignorance of the distance and dangers of the way, but with the marvelous faith for which that race is so remarkable, they proceeded to put into execution. Many such, as early as 1815, began to find their way ·across the, Western Reserve, where they were pretty sure to find a cheerful welcome, a hearty God-speed, and the needful and directions. Elizur Wright, Jr., whose childhood was spent then, days of them, that they were remarkable for their desire to pay in labor for what they received, and thus "µ,wakened a feeling in the white settlers very different from that which had been indulged towards the lazy mendicant Indians, whose faces had been too familiar before the war.'' Among those whose houses were always open, to the fugitive were the best and leading men of that New England of the West, such men as Leicester King, Elizur Wright, General Perkins, John Sloane of Ravenna, afterward member of Congress; David Hudson, from whom the town of Hudson received its name, a Revolutionary veteran; and Owen Brown, father of the immortal John Brown, who thus early imbibed his love of freedom, and, too his first lessons in practical emancipation.

Illinois, having not only its southern but largely its western boundaries bordering upon the slave States, early and largely participated in the same work. The expulsion from Missouri of Dr. Nelson, one of the ablest, most popular, and most useful of its minister, for entertaining antislavery views, by ruffians armed with rifles, who compelled him to betake himself, like a fugitive slave, to the woods, from which he could escape only by stealth into Illinois; what was tantamount to the expulsion of Lovejoy from the same State for the same cause, and his subsequent murder at Alton; the arrest, trial, conviction, and long imprisonment of Thompson, Burr, and Work, for no other crime than that of ·attempting to aid two fugitive slaves to escape from bondage. These cruel and tragic events filled the public mind with alarm, fixed attention, and pressed home upon all the most pregnant questions, not only of duty and humanity, but of patriotism and personal safety. These facts provoked discussion, led to the organization of societies, and to the putting in motion of the general machinery of means to affect the public mind and purpose. These discussions at the North provoked counter-discussions at the South, of which the slaves were often unbidden hearers. True, they comprehended but vaguely their full import, but they gathered their drift. They learned that there was a land of freedom, such a thing as escape, that many had effected it, that there were those who rendered aid, and that the north star pointed out the way to those friends and to that freedom. The consequence was that the numbers who sought such escapes increased, and that many, every year, gained the eagerly sought boon.

But they could not effect their escape alone and unaided. This exigency, however, was provided for. The discussions which had reached their ears raised up friends at the North, who were willing to render the needed aid and to share in the ·risks they were compelled to run. The Underground Railroad was the popular designation given to those systematic and co-operative efforts which were made by the friends of the fleeing slave to aid him in eluding the pursuit of the slave-hunters, who were generally on his track. This “institution," as it was familiarly called, played an important part in the great drama of slavery and antislavery. By its timely and effective aid thousands were enabled to escape from the prison house of bondage, and to elude the clutches of merciless slavecatchers, pressing after them with hot haste and often with bitter exasperation. They who belonged to it, who guided and sustained its operations, bore-no title, had no written constitution, and were bound by no secret oaths. But they were the true “Sons of Liberty '', the real, not the sham, “Knights of the Golden Circle." Theirs was not the diabolism of slavery, under the divine name of liberty, but fealty to freedom at serious sacrifices of time and money, at grave risks of personal liberty and life, a knight--errantny which, though forbidden by the laws of man, they knew must be in accord with the laws of God,--of him who required them to love their neighbors as themselves, to feel for those in bonds as bound with them, to visit the prisoner in his cell, and to care for the downtrodden and betrayed. Generally, though not exclusively, they were members of Christian churches, who felt both justified and constrained by their religious convictions to ignore those laws of the government which forbade such succor, and the sentiment, rife in both church and state, that frowned upon this disregard of what were popularly regarded the compromises of the Constitution.

The practical working of the system required " stations " at convenient distances, or rather the houses of persons who held themselves in readiness to receive fugitives, singly or in numbers, at any hour of day or night, to feed and shelter, to clothe if necessary, and to conceal until they could be despatched with safety to some other point along the route. There were others who held themselves in like readiness to take them by private or public conveyance. If by the former mode, they generally went in the night, by such routes and with such disguises as gave the best warrant against detection, either by the slavecatchers or their many sympathizers scattered far too thickly even in the free States. To carry forward these operations, however, manifestly required calm and heroic courage, patience and perseverance, wise calculation and shrewd forethought, and no small amount of money. And it happened that there were many willing to make generous contributions of their means, who were unwilling to perform the labor, risk the danger, or compromise themselves by joining personally in a service the popular voice condemned. Indeed, though the cost was great, seldom, if ever, were any held back for the lack of friendly hands to succor and the needful means to carry them forward.

When the wide extent of territory embraced by the Middle, States and all the Western States east of the Mississippi is. borne in mind, and it is remembered that the whole was dotted with these “stations," and covered with a , network of imaginary routes, not found, indeed, in the railway guides or on the railway maps ; that each station had its brave and faithful men and women, ever on the alert to seek out and succor the coming fugitive, and equally intent on deceiving and thwarting his pursuers; that there were always trusty and courageous conductors waiting, like the " minute-men of the Revolution, to take their living and precious freights, often by unfrequented roads, on dark and stormy nights, safely on their way; and that the numbers actually rescued were very great, many counting their trophies by hundreds, some by thousands, two men being credited with the incredible estimate  of over twenty-five hundred each, --there are materials from which to estimate, approximately at least, the amount of labor performed, of cost and risk incurred on the despised and deprecated Underground Railroad, and something of· the magnitude of the results secured. And then, when there are brought into account the daring and endurance, the marvelous hope and sublime trust often exhibited by the fleeing fugitive, and the chivalrous disregard of sacrifice and danger displayed by those who helped him on, it can hardly be deemed extravagant to assert that some of the brightest pages of American history have not yet been written and that for romantic interest, heroic bravery, and persistent courage, incidents might there be found equal to any in the annals of the Revolution or of the Rebellion. It should be added that, while the mode sketched above was that generally employed, there was a great variety in the methods resorted to, usually decided by the circumstances of the case, or by the individuality of the persons employed. They who were engaged in this hazardous enterprise, untrammeled by statutes or precedents, were generally a law to themselves, and adopted the measure that gave the fairest promise of immediate success. The incidents here noticed will but afford illustrations of that state of constant unrest, conflict, and peril, personal and public, which the existence of slavery and antislavery was constantly provoking and rendering inevitable.

There was much in the characteristics and circumstances of Western society, its general heartiness of mind and manners, its rough-and-ready, free-and-easy style of doing things, which alike prompted and facilitated this particular form of philanthropic effort. Its inhabitants, freed from the constraints of the conservatism and conventionalism which naturally obtained in the older States, found less difficulty in coming at once to fundamental principles, and in conforming their conduct thereto. As the supporters of slavery were more outspoken and violent, so its enemies were more positive and determined. Recognizing the paramount claims of right, they had less hesitation in obeying its voice. .A complete list of such and of their doings would fill volumes. Only the briefest mention of a few must serve as examples of the many.

Mr. Van Dorn, an extensive and successful business man of Quincy, Illinois, numbering some two or three hundred fugitives helped onward in a service of twenty-five years, thus explains his course, and gives these reasons for his conduct. “My location was such," he says,” that I had either to ignore my principles or ' hide the outcast ' and take the consequences of being persecuted as a 'despised Abolitionist.' Under these circumstances  I conferred not with flesh and blood,' but avowed my sentiments, and for twenty-five years kept up a ' running fight ' with the minions of darkness, who, in the interests of slavery, were ever ready to devour anyone who would give aid or succor to the fugitive." Rev. Asa Turner, a home missionary, going to Illinois in 1830 and earnestly engaging in the struggle from the first, thus testifies as to the fact and mode in which the stern strife was entered upon and prosecuted. “Conventions, lectures," he writes, “and protests against the wrong, were some of the means relied on, and preaching against it all the time. Somehow the Bible became a wonderful Abolition book to those who were in the battle. One instrumentality later employed was that of helping the fleeing bondmen on their way to freedom. Lines were formed through Iowa and Illinois, and passengers were carried from station to station, usually in the night, till they reached the Canada line. It made large draughts on the pockets and on the physical strength of all engaged. But the work paid gloriously in the answer of a good conscience toward God. Before the war commenced, it became almost impossible for a slaveholder to recapture his runaway." 

For obvious reasons the operations of the Underground Railroad in Ohio were extensive. Among those engaged in it was Levi Coffin of Cincinnati, familiarly called its president. He was a Quaker of great worth, high social position, and extensively known in both this country and Great Britain as a. philanthropist largely engaged in works of benevolence and reform. It has been estimated that he was instrumental in the escape of between two and three thousand slaves. In the northwestern part of the State the house of Rundell Palmer was ever open to receive the fugitive. He claims mention here, not simply for his own fidelity and the prowess of his daughter, but because an incident occurred there that affords a forcible illustration of the stern duties and serious responsibilities they assumed who volunteered the service of such a" station." In midwinter, twelve men and women were brought to his house in early morning, exhausted and hungry from the hardships and hazards of a winter trip from their homes to and across the State. To their consternation and his perplexity, simultaneously with their arrival was that of their infuriated pursuers. Armed with weapons as well as with the authority of the United States, they surrounded and entered .the house, and demanded the immediate surrender of their victims. In this exigency, while the father was endeavoring to throw some legal obstacle in the way, the daughter, afterward the wife of Rev. H. W. Cobb, a young woman of some twenty years, interposed herself between the fugitives and their pursuers, and sternly demanded that they should not be molested until they had been fed. They demurred, brandishing their weapons in her presence; but she boldly stood her ground, and held them at bay until the mother prepared the much-needed breakfast, and the father had-sued out an unavailing process to compel them to prove their property, --something they were unfortunately enabled to do, at least to the satisfaction of the officials. Cowed by the bravery of the heroine; they obeyed her man' date, and went away muttering curses, but declaring that "they never saw such a brave young lady." Such was the spirit and such the stuff demanded by the exigencies of those dark and disgraceful days; such the price they were obliged to pay who would be true to their convictions. All honor to the "brave young lady," and all honor to the brave men and women who were not then found wanting! But who can think without a shudder, even now, of the terrible fate of those twelve men and women who, after enduring all they had encountered, just on the eve of deliverance were thus suddenly and rudely stopped and remanded to a condition made all the more dreadful because of this unsuccessful attempt? What a midwinter journey was that, as they retraced their sorrowful footsteps, entirely in the power of those bad, brutal men! What a fate, too, they probably met at the hands of their exasperated masters! And all this in the name of law, under the aegis of the government, the great body of the people, in the church as, well as out of it, consenting thereto!

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 61-69.


UNDERWOOD, John Curtiss, 1808-1873, Litchfield, New York, jurist, opponent of slavery. 

(Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. VI, p. 210; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 10, Pt. 1, p. 113)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

UNDERWOOD, John Curtiss, jurist, b. in Litchfield, Herkimer co., N. Y., in 1808; d. in Washington, D. C., 7 Dec., 1873. He was graduated at Hamilton in 1832, and removed to Clarke county, Va., where he engaged in farming, and in 1856 was a delegate to the convention that nominated John C. Frémont for president. Being proscribed for his political sentiments, and especially for his opposition to slavery, he removed to New York, where he became secretary to a company that was formed to deal in southern lands. In 1861 he was nominated consul at Callao, Peru, but he accepted instead the office of fifth auditor in the treasury department, and while there was appointed judge of the district court of Virginia. Early in the civil war he affirmed the right of the U. S. government to confiscate the enemy's property, and also maintained the civic rights of colored citizens. In his district Jefferson Davis was indicted for treason, and he refused in June, 1866, to admit the prisoner to bail, on the ground that he was in custody of the military authorities. He still presided in May, 1867, when the Confederate leader was released. Judge Underwood was bitterly assailed for his maintenance of the rights of colored citizens and for his zeal in enforcing the Federal laws, and was forced into litigation on account of his decree sanctioning confiscation. Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. VI, pp. 210.




UPHAM, William, 1792-1853, Leicester, Massachusetts, lawyer, member of Vermont House of Representatives, Whig U.S. Senator, 1843-1853.  Opposed slavery.  He stated, “Slavery is a crime against humanity and a sore evil in the body politic.” 

(Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. VI, p. 213) 

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

UPHAM, William, senator, b. in Leicester, Mass., in August, 1792; d. in Washington, D. C., 14 Jan., 1853. He removed with his father to Vermont in 1802, was educated at the State university, studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1812, and began practice in Montpelier. In 1827-'8 he served in the legislature, was state's attorney for Washington county in 1829, and served again in the legislature in 1830. Elected a U. S. senator as a Whig, he served from 4 Dec., 1843, until his sudden death by small-pox.  Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography, 1888.



See also Slave-Trade: Negotiations with Foreign Powers

For a long time the abolition controversy little disturbed the great clearing - house of public opinion at Washington. Not that Congress at first considered slavery outside of its functions or unsuitable for its deliberations; but from 1829 to 1835 the country was absorbed in other questions. The abolitionists, however, were a folk who pressed into every opening where they could affect public sentiment, and they adopted a system of sending petitions for emancipation in the District of Columbia to members of Congress good-natured enough to present them.

 For some years such petitions were few in number and excited little interest. December 12, 1831, John Quincy Adams presented fifteen petitions, but deprecated a discussion which "would lead to ill will, to heart-burning, to mutual hatred ... without accomplishing anything else." 1 These petitions were referred to committees who reported against granting the prayer. In February, 1835, the House

1 Adams, Memoirs, VIII., 434, 454. 

laid upon the table such a petition, for reasons expressed by Wise, of Virginia: "Sir, slavery, interwoven with our very political existence, is guaranteed by our Constitution and its consequences must be borne by our Northern brethren as resulting from our system of government, and they cannot attack the institution of slavery, without attacking the institutions of the country, our safety, and welfare." This was the first clear notice that discussion of slavery in Congress was thought to be dangerous to the institution.1

Meanwhile, the number of abolitionist petitions steadily increased; and in the House there was at last a member who would not only present but defend them. December 16, 1835, Slade, of Vermont, insisted, as a constitutional right, that an abolition petition should be printed, and he warned the House that the signers included many people not directly connected with the abolitionists. A week later he went into a long argument affirming the power of Congress to prohibit slavery in the District, and protesting against the increasing power of the south in national affairs. "The progress of abolition," said he, "was necessary to preserve the balance of the Constitution or rather to restore it." 2

A few days later, January 7 and 11, 1836, the

1 Tremain, Slavery in District of Columbia., 71; Debates of Congress, XI., 1399.

 2 Congressional Globe, 24 Cong., 1 Sess., 48; Slade, Speech (reprint from National Intelligencer).

same question arose in the Senate through a motion of Calhoun to lay upon the table petitions for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, presented by Morris, of Ohio, and by Buchanan, of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania petition, drawn up by a quarterly meeting of Quakers, set forth: "That, having long felt deep sympathy with that portion of the inhabitants of these United States which is held in bondage, and having no doubt that the happiness and interests, moral and pecuniary, of both master and slave, and our whole community, would be greatly promoted if the inestimable right to liberty was extended equally to all, we contemplate with extreme regret that the District of Columbia, over which you possess entire control, is acknowledged to be one of the greatest marts for the traffic in the persons of human beings in the known world, notwithstanding the principles of the Constitution declare that all men have an - inalienable right to the blessing of liberty. We therefore, earnestly desire that you will enact such laws as will secure the right of freedom to every human being residing within the constitutional jurisdiction of Congress, and prohibit every species of traffic in the persons of men, which is as inconsistent in principle, and inhuman in practice, as the foreign slave trade." 1

The text of this petition is a sufficient comment on Calhoun's declaration that it was "a foul slander

1 Curtis, Buchanan, I., 336

on nearly one half of the states of the Union"; and to his demand that it be not received, in order " that a stop might be put to that agitation which had prevailed in so large a section of the country and which unless checked would endanger the existence of the Union." 1 March 9, 1836, Calhoun's motion was rejected by 36 to l0, and instead was adopted an ingenious compromise offered by Buchanan: "That the prayer of the petition be rejected." This vote, which became the practice of the Senate, avoided the issue of refusing consideration of respectful petitions, while giving opportunity for an emphatic denial of the relief desired. 2 

The House was not disposed to accept this method of both doing and not doing; and on February 8, 1836, a special committee was appointed, under the chairmanship of Pinckney, of South Carolina, which accused the abolitionists of dangerous agitation tending to break up the Union, and recommended a resolution: "That all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions or papers relating in any way or to any extent whatever to the subject of slavery or the abolition of slavery shall, without being either printed or referred, be laid upon the table and that no further action whatever shall be had thereon." s This so - called "gag resolution" was

1 Debates of Congress, XII., 73.

2 Tremain, Slavery in District of Columbia, 76-80; Von Holst, United States, It, 238, 242; Curtis, Buchanan, l., 315-338.

3 Niles' Register, L., 241-248. 

duly adopted, May 26, by a vote of 117 to 68; and the principle was thus laid down that no petitions on slavery should be brought to the attention of the. House.1 When the name of John Quincy Adams was called, he cried: “I hold the resolution to be a direct violation of the Constitution of the United States, of the rules of this House, and of the rights of my constituents." 2

 Pinckney, in support of his resolution, developed a new kind of reasoning, that Congress had "exclusive jurisdiction in all cases whatsoever" over the District only if it was agreeable to the neighboring states; that action by Congress would arouse the south and "endanger the Union itself "; and that therefore "the agitation of such questions in either branch of Congress " shook the confidence of the south in the security of their most important interests. 3

The issue thus presented was by no means so simple as Pinckney thought. Under the general phrase of the Constitution, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or ... the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances," 4 the right to petition had always been held to include the right to bring the petition to the notice of Congress, unless disrespectful in tone,

1 Tremain, Slavery in Dist. of Col., 76; Von Holst, United States, II., 245. 

2 Adams, Memoirs, IX., 287.

3 Niles' Register, L., 245-248.

4 Amendment I.

or praying for unconstitutional action. Under the Pinckney resolutions, it was practically held disrespectful to Congress to mention slavery at all; and unconstitutional to assume that Congress had power of any kind with regard to slavery.

Under the practice of the House at that time the rules expired at the end of every session, but the gag resolution was easily renewed in January, 1837, by a vote of 129 to 69. 1 When the new Congress assembled in December, 1837, resolutions of the Vermont legislature were presented asking their representatives and senators to use their influence to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.  By the doctrine of state sovereignty such resolutions had a different footing in Congress from the memorials of individuals; nevertheless, most of the southern members thereupon withdrew from the House to concert measures against further discussion of slavery in Congress. To this so-called "Memorable Secession '' Rhett, of South Carolina, proposed a special committee to report on the best way of peaceably dissolving the Union; but it finally agreed ·upon a more stringent gag resolution, which was passed next day by a vote of 122 to 74. 2

This policy of non-action, this attempt to ignore the political existence of abolitionists, required an equal silence on the part of the south. Nevertheless, Calhoun, who had now come out as the great

1 Niles' Register, LI., 336.

2 Congressional Globe, 25 Congress. 2 Session. 41, 45.p5

champion of the slave power, December 27, 1837, brought forward in the Senate a series of resolutions intended to fix upon the abolitionists the crimes of inspiring slave insurrections and endangering the Union. After premising that the states are "free, independent and sovereign states," Calhoun's resolutions condemned "any intermeddling of any ... states or a combination of their citizens with the domestic institutions and police of the ·others"; declared it "the solemn duty of the government to resist all attempts by one portion of the Union to use it as an instrument to attack the domestic institutions of another'' ; asserted that abolition was a "manifest breach of faith and a violation of the most solemn obligations, moral and religious"; and that "the intermeddling of any state or states or their citizens to abolish slavery in this district or any of the territories ... would be a direct and dangerous attack on the institutions of all the slave-holding states;" 1

These resolutions laid down several novel doctrines of constitutional law: they declared agitation in free states or attempts to influence Congress against slavery to be breaches of the Constitution, and, if persisted in, sufficient ground for secession.  One of Calhoun's colleagues protested that the resolutions "allowed ground for discussion and that the subject ought not to be allowed to enter the halls of

1 Congressional Globe, 25 Congress, 2 Session. 55.

the Legislative Assembly." 1 Morris, of Ohio, and Swift, of Vermont, were the only members of the Senate to press hard against these resolutions, of which the essentials were adopted by test votes of 31 to 13.

Adams's protest against the gag resolutions was significant; for no other member of Congress had so lively a sense of the political power of the north. After leaving the presidency, he was, in 1830, somewhat to his own surprise, elected to Congress for the district in which he lived, on the anti-Masonic ticket. He was quite unaware of his power in debate, and up to 1835 had been distinctly a proslavery man; as senator, in 1807, he voted against the prohibition of the slave-trade; as negotiator of the treaty of Ghent, he insisted on compensation for slaves taken away by the British; as secretary of state, he turned an unfriendly ear to the overtures of Great Britain for a slave-trade treaty; as president, he never showed any personal interest in the anti-slavery cause. To the day of his death he was never especially interested in the negro slave; his defiant protest against the gag resolution was aroused by his sense that the rights of white freemen were involved. That he was no abolitionist is clear from Garrison's complaint that Mr. Adams had been "zealous in protesting against an effect, and yet was resolved not to strike at the cause." 2 And on June 25, 1836,

1 Congressional Globe, 24 Congress. 1 Sess., 57.

 2 Garrisons, Garrison, II., 325.

in a letter to a Philadelphia abolitionist, Adams says, "You will perceive how far short my opinion on the subject of American slavery fall of the standard which you believe to be that of the true faith." 1 It was not slavery as an unjust and demoralizing system that Adams disliked so much as slavery as an influence paralyzing free speech and endangering the Union. The importance of Adams's position was to show that others than abolitionists could join in resisting what they believed to be the encroachments of the south; and his position as the leader and defender of the right of free criticism of slavery, in and out of Congress, was never disputed.

 In 1838 Adams was joined in the House by Joshua R. Giddings, a big, burly, and fearless man, an energetic speaker, especially skillful in answering questions and parrying interruptions. On entering Congress he at once set himself deliberately to evade the gag resolutions and to bring slavery questions before Congress; he began a series of attacks against the slave-trade in the District of Columbia; he somehow introduced petitions for abolition in the District. February 13, 1839, on the apparently harmless question of building a bridge in the District, he found an opportunity to discuss the slave-trade, slavery, and the right of petition. The Seminole War, which broke out about this time, also furnished him ammunition for

1 Mass. Historical Society, Proceedings, 1902, p. 457.

debates on the question of payment for fugitive slaves who had taken refuge with the Indians; and he wrote a book which proved to his own satisfaction that the war was waged for the sole purpose of re-enslaving these fugitives.1

Giddings complained that "our Northern friends are, in fact, afraid of these Southern bullies." 2 Slade, of Vermont, and Gates, of New York, were the only House members who stood by Giddings and Adams. Daniel Webster was the leading northern Whig, and upon nullification vigorously represented his section. Upon another subject Webster publicly expressed an opinion in 1830: "I regard domestic slavery as one of the greatest evils, both moral and political." 3 In the Senate debates on petitions, in 1836, he held that it was the duty of Congress "to take care that the authority of this government is not brought to bear upon it [slavery] by any indirect interference"; but that the north was unanimous in believing that Congress had power over slavery in the District. 4 A little later he more boldly announced as to slavery that he would "do nothing ... to favor or encourage its further extension "; and with regard to abolition, that the subject "has taken strong hold on the consciences of men--to coerce it into silence ...I know nothing, even in the Constitution or in the Union itself which would

1 Julian, Giddings, 29, 52-101, passim, 365-369.

2 Ibid. 53.

3 Webster, Works, III. 279. 

4 Ibid. IV. 231-233. 

not be endangered by the explosion which might follow." 1

The abolitionists got very little aid and comfort out of this negative attitude; and they got still less from Henry Clay, who as a young man had advocated emancipation in Kentucky, and was conspicuously mild in his theories of slavery. February 7, 1839, he took occasion to make a speech on abolition. A man of strong humanitarian feeling, he could not forbear saying: "I am, Mr. President, no friend of slavery; the Searcher of all Hearts knows that every pulsation of mine beats high and strong in the cause of liberty;" but he added, ' I prefer the liberty of my own country to that of any other people, and the liberty of my own race to that of any other race." 'He criticised the refusal to receive the petitions, preferring to have them referred to a committee, which should report against their object; but held up the abolitionists to odium as demanding a course in the District of Columbia which would be a "great practical inconvenience and annoyance," although he would not squarely say that it was unconstitutional. He scored them also for asking for the prohibition of the domestic slave-trade, which he considered entirely out of the power of Congress; he accused them of standing against the beneficent prospect of colonization, of preaching the amalgamation of the white and black races, of trying to deprive their

1 Webster,” Works”, I., 356.

neighbors of twelve hundred millions of dollars in slave property, of carrying on an agitation which, unless stopped, would break up the Union. 1 This sentiment was well received in the south, and at the close of his speech Calhoun rose and expressed his pleasure: "The work is done! abolition is no more! the South is consolidated!" 2

One of Calhoun's resolutions of 1837 declared that "to refuse to extend to the Southern and Western States any advantage which would tend to strengthen or render them more secure, or increase their limits of population by the acquisition of new territory or states . . . under the plea that the institution of slavery . . .  is immoral or sinful-would be contrary to that equality of rights and advantages which the Constitution was intended to secure." This was an allusion to the new sectional issue of the· annexation of Texas, which Jackson strongly desired and vigorously urged in the last hours of his administration. 3 The farthest point that he could reach was to send a diplomatic agent in the last hours of his administration.4 When Van Buren became president, therefore, Texas was still independent, and he saw to it that no progress was made towards annexation during his administration. The tension in Congress was for a time relieved. 5

1 Cong. Globe, 25 Cong., 3 Sess., App., 354-359.

2 Buckingham, Slave States, I., 147.

3 Richardson, Messages and Papers, III., 278.

4 Ibid., 281.

5 Garrison, Westward Extension (American Nation, XVII.).

In this issue, as in many others, the chief apostle of slavery was John C. Calhoun, senator from South Carolina, who had been once a foremost champion of nationalization, and was now the great leader in state rights; who was at the same time the advocate of democratic government among a favored few, and the author of abstruse reasoning to bolster up slavery. Himself a slave-holder, though known as a just master, as early as 1820 he came to think slavery indispensable; and when the rising importance of cotton gave the large planters a steady and profitable crop, and at the same time his illusions as to employing slaves in manufactures were dissipated, he defended slavery for exactly the reason that John Quincy Adams opposed it, because of what each thought to be the interests of the whites of his own section. Stern, inflexible, and reasoning from selected bases of argument in true scholastic fashion, it was Calhoun's function on slavery, as on nullification, to marshal a body of well-drilled arguments.

 In a formal speech on the subject, March 9, 1836, he took the ground that " Congress has no legitimate jurisdiction over the subject of slavery, either here or elsewhere," the germ of the later doctrine of non-interference, which culminated in the Kansas-Nebraska bill and led to the Civil War: if Congress, had really no authority, then the abolitionists had no right to petition. This is assuming the ground of controversy, but Calhoun made inroads on his other favorite principle of state rights by holding that the abolitionists had no right to discuss slavery at all ; and he demanded of Congress (which in his other view had no jurisdiction over slavery) that it pass affirmative laws for the protection of the slaveholding communities against abolition mail; and he insisted, as a constitutional right, as the moral duty of sister states, and as the condition of a continued union, that the agitation in the north should cease. "The conflicting elements would burst the Union asunder; powerful as are the links that hold it together. Abolition and the Union cannot co-exist ... Come what will, should it cost every drop of blood and every cent of property we must defend ourselves." 1

While Calhoun's resolutions of 1837 were still pending in the Senate, Adams, as was his wont, presented a batch of petitions to the House, and then remarked that "he had in his possession a paper upon which he wished to have a decision of the speaker; the paper, he said, came from twenty persons declaring themselves to be slaves." Was such a petition covered by the gag resolution? The chair left it to the House to decide whether .the petition should be received. Instantly the southern members took alarm, called for the punishment of Adams, and threatened that otherwise “every member from the slave states should immediately in a body quit this House and go home to their constituents." 2 Resolution after resolution was 

1 Calhoun, Works, II., 488, 629.

2 Cong. Globe, 24 Cong., 2 Sess., 165.  

introduced in censure of the Massachusetts member. Adams at last obtained the floor long enough to say that the petition was against the abolition of slavery; but he would "be willing the petition should be received and considered." The next step was a resolution to the effect that Adams should be censured "for creating the impression and leaving the House under such impression that said petition was for the abolition of slavery when he knew it was not." If, as seems likely, this extraordinary petition was ,contrived to put Adams in a dilemma, it missed its aim, for, after several days' debate, it was recognized that "creating an impression" was hardly a parliamentary offence; it was impossible to pass any resolution reflecting on Adams, and the whole controversy was dropped.1 The unwisdom of efforts by gag resolution or by censure to check the flow of abolition petitions was shown by the constant increase in ' the number of those inflammable documents, which, in 1838, had three hundred thousand signatures; the legislatures of Massachusetts and Vermont both voted that the gag resolutions were unconstitutional; 2 and at the beginning of every session there was a fight against them. In December, 1838, a third gag resolution, introduced by a northern man, passed; 3 and January 8, 1840,

1 Cong. Globe, 24 Cong.,2 Sess., 164-176.

2 Von Holst, United States, II., 284.

3 Tremain, Slavery in Dist. of Col., 87; Schouler, United States, IV., 307. 

wearied with bickering, the House, by the fifth gag resolution, made it a standing rule that no memorial on slavery in the District of Columbia or in any state or territory, or the domestic slave-trade, should be entertained in anyway whatsoever. When the rules of the House were revised, Adams for days fought against the inclusion of this rule; and on December 2, 1844, by a vote of 108 to 80, it was abandoned.1

The possibility of servile war for years lay in the mind of John Quincy Adams, and he could not be restrained from uttering it. As early as 1820 he entered in his diary, "If slavery be the destined sword in the hand of the destroying angel, which is to sever the ties of this Union, the same sword will cut in sunder the bond of slavery itself" 2

May 23, 1836, Adams made a speech of five hours, in which he predicted that in case of a general slave insurrection Congress must interfere or foreign powers would interfere, and he took quick advantage of an admission by Wise, of Virginia, that Congress had "the right to interfere for the support and protection of slavery in the states." The sting of Adams's suggestion lay first in the allusion to the possibility of a servile war-for, to the mind of the south, mentioning such a possibility aloud  was the same as advocating it; and second, in its clear statement of the doctrine that circumstances might arise

1 Julian, Giddings, 111; Schouler, United States, IV., 481.

2 Adams, Memoirs, V., 210.

under which the federal government must interfere to emancipate the slaves. This idea Adams never forgot; again, April 14, 1842, he announced in Congress that "when a country is invaded and two hostile armies are set in hostile array, the commanders of both armies have power to emancipate all the slaves in the invaded territory .... I lay this down as the law of nations"; and his own comment upon this speech was, "My speech of this day stung the slavocracy to madness." 1

After four years of a kind of armed truce, President Tyler's renewal of the plans for the annexation of Texas again aroused Congress. In January, 1842, Adams gave the desired opportunity for a conflict by presenting to the House a petition of citizens of Haverhill, Massachusetts, asking Congress to adopt measures for the breaking up of the Union; Adams moved that this petition be referred to a select committee with instructions to prepare a report showing why the petition could not be granted. To silence this inveterate defender of the sanctity of petitions, a conference of southern members agreed to stand by each other, in a resolution of censure that: "A proposition ... to dissolve the organic law ... is a high breach of privilege, a contempt offered to this House, a direct proposition to the legislature and each member of it to commit perjury, and involves necessarily in its execution and its consequences

1 See Charles Francis Adams, in Mass. Hist. Soc., Proceedings, January, 1902, pp. 439-478.

the destruction of our country, and the crime of high treason"; that Adams had "disgraced his country ... might well be held to merit expulsion from the national councils, and the House deem it an act of grace and mercy when they only inflict upon him their severest censure." 1 Wise, of Virginia, made it a personal matter and accused Adams of being in league with British abolitionists.

Considering that Adams had neither signed, advocated, nor approved the petition, this was a strong resolution; and when Adams took the floor, he called for the reading of the constitutional definition of treason and for the clause of the Declaration of Independence which asserts that “when ever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends it is the right of the people to alter it or to abolish it." The excitement rose from hour to hour, and after eleven days of this extraordinary debate, when Adams offered to drop the subject if the resolutions were laid upon the table, the House so voted by 106 to 93; and the Haverhill petition was then refused by II6 to 40. The attempt to silence Adams was never again renewed, to the day of his death on the floor of the House in 1848.

Adams had behind him the prestige of a great name and long experience in parliamentary law. Giddings was still an Ishmaelite, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him; and within two months a similar effort was made to silence him.

1 Congressional Globe, 27 Congress, 2 Session, 168, 169.

The cause was the introduction, March 2, 1842, of a series of resolutions brought about by the Creole slave case, 1 in which he asserted that "slavery being an abridgment of the natural rights of man can exist only by force of positive municipal law." Having accomplished his purpose of calling public attention to the case and of disturbing his fellow-members from the south, Giddings withdrew his resolutions without bringing them to a vote. But Botts, of Virginia, at once offered a resolution to the effect that "this House hold the conduct of said member altogether unwarranted and unwarrantable, and deserving· the severe condemnation of the people of this country and of this body in particular." Giddings was thus put upon the defensive, but the House had tied itself up with its own procedure to such a degree that Giddings found he had no parliamentary status. A second resolution of censure was adopted by 125 to 69, and nothing was left for Giddings but to send in his resignation 2. A special election was held and his district promptly returned him, and with this increased prestige he at once renewed his tactics of exasperation.

Between Slade's first abolition speech of 1835, and the attempts to censure Adams and Giddings in 1842, less than seven years had elapsed; but the

1 See page 294, below. 2 Julian, Giddings, 113-125; Cong: Globe, 27 Cong.,2 Sess., 342-346. 

attitude of the anti-slavery men was totally changed, and every effort to prevent the introduction of abolition petitions had brought about a debate on slavery. The gag resolutions rested on a principle which might be applied to any other subject unpleasant to a majority of the members of Congress, and therefore had to be abandoned. No greater mistake was made throughout the struggle than the assumption that slavery was a subject of such peculiar sanctity that it must not be discussed on the floor 'of Congress. The debates of the House went abroad, and might, perhaps, reach the eyes of slaves; but they equally reached the eyes of freemen, who could appreciate the gibe of the abolitionists, that a subject which could not be safely discussed in the Congress of the United States was an institution harmful to the country; and that, if public discussion was damaging to slavery, the proof was complete that discussion was needed.

Source:  Hart, Albert Bushnell, Slavery and Abolition. In Hart, Albert Bushnell, ed., The American Nation: A History, Vol. 16, 256-275. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1906.



See also Adams, John Quincy; Giddings, Joshua; Atherton’s Resolutions; Calhoun’s Resolutions

Chapter: “Incendiary Publication Bill. - Admission of Arkansas. Conversion of Free Soil into Slave Soil. -Attempt to Censure Mr. Adams. - Right of Petition Denied,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

But violent and repressive measures did not avail; they did not check, they did but increase, the agitation of that period. Something more potent than laying abolition petitions on the table without debate, without being printed or referred, was necessary to arrest the action of the men and women who acknowledged the guilt of any responsibility for the existence and preservation of slavery and the slave-trade in the District of Columbia. Consequently, at the second session of the XXIV the Congress, a large number of petitions were presented praying for their abolition. But the House, under the lead of Mr. Hawes of Kentucky, voted again, by a large majority, that such petitions should be laid upon the table without being printed or referred.

But Mr. Adams, in the persistent prosecution of his avowed policy of presenting petitions whether he approved of their purpose or not, stated to the presiding officer in February that he had in his possession a paper upon which he desired his decision. It came from persons declaring themselves to be slaves, and he wished to know whether it would be considered as coming under the rule of the House. The speaker said it was a novel case, which he would submit to the House for its decision. This became the occasion of a heated and characteristic discussion. Mr. Lawler of Alabama objected to its going to the table. Mr. Lewis of the same State contended that the slaveholding representatives ought to demand of the House the full exercise of its power to punish any member who should offer such a petition. If this was not done, and that promptly, he contended that the members from the slaveholding States should immediately in a body leave the House and return to their constituents. Mr. Grantland of Georgia avowed his willingness not only to second the motion for the punishment of the offender, but to go all length in securing its infliction; and Mr. Alford of the same State was prepared to move that the paper should be burned.

Mr. Patton of Virginia said that he had examined the petition, which purported to have come from nine women of Fredericksburg, in his State. He stated, upon his responsibility as a man, that he could find the name of no woman of decent respectability of that town upon the paper. He recognized among them one name only, and that of a mulatto woman of notoriously infamous character and reputation. The rules being suspended, he moved that the petition be taken from the table and returned to the gentleman who presented it.

Mr. Thompson of South Carolina moved an amendment that Mr. Adams had been guilty of a gross disrespect to the House in presenting a petition purporting to come from slaves, and that he be instantly brought to the bar of the House to receive the severe censure of the Speaker. This motion of Mr. Thompson received some significance from the fact that he was a Whig, revealing, as it did, the anxiety of the leading politicians of that party to stand well with the South. At the same time it afforded a fair illustration of the mode by which the leaders of the Slave Power were enabled to control the two national parties, as, by thus pitting them against each other, they generally gained their support to their most extreme and aggressive measures. Mr. Thompson also gave utterance to the most ultra-sentiments on the subject of slavery; saying that he was thankful and proud that he was born an American, a slaveholder, and a South-Carolinian. He also expressed the opinion that African slavery, in all its bearings, was a blessing.

Mr. Haynes of Georgia expressed his great astonishment that a member of the House could be guilty of so great an outrage upoi1 the dignity of that body. Mr. Granger of New York, a prominent and influential Whig, was the first member from the free States to define his position. He did it by expressing his surprise at Mr. Adams's coarse, and by informing the House that he was opposed to the abolition of slavery in the District so long as it remained in Maryland. Mr. Lewis then presented a substitute for Mr. Thompson's resolution, declaring that, by his attempt to introduce a petition from slaves praying for the abolition of slavery in the District," Mr. Adams had committed an. outrage on the rights and dignity of a portion of the people, a flagrant contempt of the dignity of the House, and, by proposing to extend to slaves a privilege belonging to white people only, he had " invited the slave· population of the South to insurrection." Mr. Thompson accepted the substitute.

During these violent proceedings and exhibitions of wrath Mr. Adams remained calm, simply remarking, at that stage of the proceedings, to Mr. Lewis, that he should be more careful of his facts, inasmuch as this was a petition against, and not for, abolition in the District. This quiet rejoinder greatly nettled the Southern members, and Mr. Thompson at once presented a modification of the resolution, to the effect that Mr. Adams, by creating the impression that the petition was for the abolition of slavery, when he knew it was· not, had trifled with the House. Deprecating the '' levity which was attempted to be thrown upon the subject," be inquired: '' Is it a mere trifle to hoax members from the South to irritate almost to, madness the entire delegation from the slave States? “To these fierce interrogatories Mr. Adams, without rising from his seat, replied that be hoped he should “not be held responsible for all the follies of Southern members."

Mr. Mann, a Democratic representative from New York, took the occasion to define his position. Deprecating Mr. Adams's course, he avowed, for himself, constituents, and friends, that they would abide by the compromises of the Constitution and "live up to the contract;" and Mr. Cambreling, from the same State, pronounced the "petition a hoax," “probably better understood by the gentleman from Massachusetts than by his assailants." 

During three days of excitement and invective Mr. Adams had remained quiet in his seat, not even taking notes of what had been so fiercely and acrimoniously charged against him. After the storm had somewhat subsided, he rose to reply, and received that profound attention which was due to his age, experience, and position. He said, if it had been a petition of slaves for the abolition of slavery he should have at least paused before he brought the subject before the House in any form. However sacred he might hold the right of petition, he would still exercise a discretionary power in bringing before the House petitions which, in his opinion, ought not to be presented. The mere circumstance, however, of a petition being from a slave would not prevent him from presenting it. If a horse or a dog had the power of speech, or of writing, and should send him a petition, he would present it to the House. A petition was a prayer, a supplication to a superior being, that which is offered to our God. He declared that the framers of the Constitution would have repudiated the idea that they were giving the people the right of petition. "That right," he affirmed,” God gave to the whole human race when he made man. My doctrine is that the right of petition is the right of prayer, not depending on the condition of the petitioner."

Mr. Adams said that Mr. Patton made no objection when he presented a petition from women of infamous character; but he did object when they came from colored people. He had presented petitions from ladies as eminently entitled to be called such as any aristocrats in the land; but he had usually called them “women;" and that, said he, to my heart, is a dearer appellation than ladies. Mr. Thompson had said there was such an institution in Washington as a grand jury, and had intimated that Mr. Adams might be indicted for stirring up insurrection. To this menace Mr. Adams replied: “The only answer I make to such a threat from that gentleman is to invite him, when he returns home to his constituents, to study a little the first principles of liberty. That gentleman appears here as the representative of slaveholders, and I should like to be informed how many there are of such representatives on this floor who indorse the sentiment involved in that menace."

These pointed and telling questions brought forth such answers as the more reflecting Southern minds saw to be necessary to relieve themselves and their section from the false position in which Mr. Thompson's incautious remarks had placed them. Mr. Underwood of Kentucky promptly replied that he did not indorse it. Mr. Wise asked if any man from the South did indorse it. He was sure he did ·not. Mr. Thompson, seeing the dilemma in which he had placed himself, said he referred to the laws of South Carolina, by which a member was liable to indictment who should present such a petition.

Mr. Adams, with deep earnestness and amid great sensation, exclaimed, that, if that was the law of South Carolina, and members of her legislature were amenable to petit and grand juries for words spoken in debate, “God Almighty receive my thanks that I am not a citizen of that State ! " He closed by an appeal to the House and to the nation, affirming that it was not he, but those who objected to the discharge of his duty, who were answerable for the consumption of time. This heroic speech of " the old man eloquent" produced a profound impression, and the resolutions of censure were rejected by a large majority; though a resolution, introduced by Mr. Taylor of New York, that slaves do not possess the right of petition, secured to the people of the United States, was adopted by an almost unanimous vote, only eighteen voting against it.

While Mr. Adams encountered such fierce invective and opposition from Southern men and their Northern sympathizers, there were those who stood by him and gave him both countenance and support. Mr. Lincoln, from his own State, took his place by his side, and avowed that he had cheerfully and willingly presented antislavery memorials, and that he intended to do so. Although not an Abolitionist, he vindicated the purity and philanthropic spirit of petitioners for the abolition of slavery and the slave-trade at the capital. Caleb Cushing, from the same State, maintained with great ability that the right of petition was not a right derived from the Constitution, but a pre-existing right of man, secured by a direct prohibition in the Constitution to pass any law to impair or abridge it. Mr. Evans of Maine also defended Mr. Adams, and vindicated the right of petition.

William Slade of Vermont had been a member of the XXIVth Congress, and had stood firmly by the side of Mr. Adams in his devoted advocacy of the right of petition. Loathing slavery and the slave-trade, he was in favor of their suppression in the District of Columbia. Detesting the arrogant assumption of their champions, he was for freedom of speech and action. The legislature of his State had passed resolutions in favor of the suppression of the slave traffic, and of the abolition of slavery in the national capital. In presenting them and the memorials of many citizens of his State, he moved their reference to a select committee, with instructions to report a bill for their abolition and suppression. Proceeding to state the reasons for his motion, he was interrupted by Mr. Legare of South Carolina, one of the ablest, fairest, and most learned of his class. He urged Mr. Slade to ponder well his course before he proceeded further; and he warned him that when the question was forced upon the people of the South they would be ready to take up the gauntlet.

Mr. Slade, unmindful of the interruptions and warnings of the representative of South Carolina, continued his remarks. When he was asked by Mr. Dawson, a Whig representative from Georgia, to yield the floor for an adjournment, he firmly declined. Continuing his remarks, he was called to order by Mr. Wise for reading a judicial decision of one of the Southern courts defining a slave to be a chattel. The Speaker, Mr. Polk of Tennessee, always a willing instrument of the Slave Power, decided that it was not in order to discuss slavery in the States. Mr. Slade denied that he was discussing Slavery in the Southern States, as he was simply quoting a judicial decision of a Southern court, just as he might quote a legal opinion delivered in England. The Speaker, reminding him of the excitement pervading the House, suggested that he should confine himself strictly to the subject of his motion.

Quoting the Declaration of Independence and the bill of rights of several of the States, he was again called to order by Mr. Wise for reading papers without leave of the House. Mr. Wise declared that he had "wantonly discussed 'the abstract question of slavery “; that he was “examining the State constitutions, to show that, as it existed in the States, it was against them and against the laws of God and man.  This was out of order.”  Mr. Slade, proceeding to read the memorial of Dr. Franklin and an opinion of Mr. Madison on slavery, was again called to order by Mr. Griffin of South Carolina.  The Speaker decided that they could not be read without the permission of the House.  Mr. Slade then proposed to send the papers to the Clerk to be read, when the Speaker decided that it would not be in order for the Clerk to read them.

Mr. Slade, proceeding, referred to the feeling in Virginia on the subject of slavery when the government was organized.  But he was interrupted by Mr. Rhett of South Carolina, who impertinently inquired what the opinions in Virginia fifty years ago had to do with slavery in the District of Columbia.  Mr. Wise rose under great excitement.  He said that Mr. Slade had “discussed the whole abstract question of slavery,--of slavery in Virginia, of slavery in my own district; and I now ask all my colleagues to retire with me from this hall.”  Mr. Slade reminded the Speaker that he had not yielded the floor.  Mr. Halsey of Georgia then called on the delegation from Georgia to withdraw with him.  Amid this scene of excitement, noise, and confusion, the voice of Mr. Rhett was heard calling upon the entire delegation from all the slaveholding States to retire from the hall, and to meet in the room of the Committee on the District of Columbia.  Mr. McKay of North Carolina, a leading member of the Democratic party, objected to Mr. Slade’s proceeding any further, and demanded the enforcement of the rule requiring a member, when called to order, to take his seat; and, if decided to be out of order, requiring leave of the House before speaking again.  Mr. Slade asked leave to proceed.  Pending the question of granting leave, the House, on motion of Mr. Rencher of North Carolina, adjourned; sixty-three members, mostly Northern Whigs, voting against the motion.

On the announcement of the adjournment, Mr. Campbell of South Carolina said he had “been appointed as one of the Southern delegation to invite gentlemen representing slave-holding States to attend a meeting now being held in the room of the Committee on the District of Columbia.”  At this meeting members from the slaveholding States agreed to a resolution to silence debate ; and it was placed in. the hands of Mr. Patton of Virginia to be offered as an amendment of the rules at the opening of the House the next day. The resolution was submitted by Mr. Patton and read; and the House, by a vote of one hundred and thirty-five to sixty, suspended the rules for its reception. Mr. Patton, the organ of the seceding slaveholding members, asserted that the resolution involved "a concession-- a concession which we make for the sake of peace, harmony, and union," He then moved the previous question upon the adoption of this resolution: " That all petitions memorials, and papers touching the abolition of slavery, or the buying, selling, or transferring slaves, in any State, or District, or Territory of the United States, be laid on the table  without being debated, printed, read, or referred, and that no action be taken thereon." 

The previous question being sustained, the resolution was adopted, more than two thirds of the House voting for it. The Southern members of both parties and the Northern Democrats recorded their votes for it, though the Whigs of the free States voted against it.

Thus was a member of the House of Representatives, in the exercise of an unquestionable right, silenced by trickery and violence. By this revolutionary act did its slaveholding members, unmindful of their oath of office, secede from it, go into a sectional conclave, and there concoct a resolution, to be offered for the support of the House, as a condition precedent of their return to the performance of their sworn duties; thereby abridging and practically denying the sacred right of petition, and suppressing the freedom of debate. They were aided, too, in passing this resolution, by more than fifty of the Northern Democrats. Mr. Adams thus characterized this action amid deafening cries of “Order": " I consider this resolution a violation of the Constitution of the United States, of the right of my constituents and. of the people of the United States to petition, and of every right to freedom of speech, as a member of this House."

The XXVth Congress was still more subservient to the demands of the Slave Power. It voted no£ only to silence the voice of the people, but its own. It struck down the sacred right of the people to petition for the redress of their grievances, by clamor, menace, and resolution, destroyed the freedom of debate, and hushed the voice of the representatives of the people. The Democratic Party had elected Mr. Van Buren President, and had secured a decisive majority in that Congress. By the most abject surrender to the demands of the slaveholding interests did the President justify the appellation generally applied to him as “a Northern man with Southern principles”; and his administration, thus begun, was among the most unhesitating in its subserviency to the Slave Power.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 346-354.

Chapter: “Abolition Petitions. -- Arraignment of Mr. Adams. --Right of Petition Won. -- Mr. Adams's Position,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

The great political struggle of 1840 resulted in the triumph of the Whig party. It secured the Executive and majorities in both houses of Congress. But freedom gained little by the change. The Slave Power still controlled the general government. The new administration soon became quite as obsequious as the one it had displaced. Within thirty days after entering on the duties of his office, President Harrison died. Vice-President Tyler -- a Whig in name rather than in sentiment and opinion -- succeeded him. General Harrison had been reared in Virginia, and educated under the malign influences of slavery. As governor of the Territory of Indiana he had striven to secure for it a temporary suspension of the ordinance of 1787. In Congress he had generally complied with the requirements of the slave-masters. In his Inaugural Address he had prepared a paragraph which would have been highly offensive to the members of his party who had advocated the right of petition and the freedom of debate; but, at the suggestion of Mr. Olay, it was so modified as to mean little or nothing. While antislavery men had little to hope from President Harrison, they had everything to fear from President Tyler. He was an ultra slave- holder, and in feeling, sentiment, and opinion lie was narrow, bigoted, and sectional.

On the 31st of May an extra session of Congress was convened. On the first day Mr. Wise moved that the rules of the last House be adopted for ten days, and that a committee of nine be appointed for their revision. Mr. Adams moved to amend the motion by inserting, "except the twenty-first rule, which is hereby rescinded. This rule excluded antislavery petitions. In support of his motion Mr. Adams gave the history of that rule, adopted when “a majority of the House -were anxious above all things not to be thought Abolitionists." “It was,'' he said, '" a Democratic measure, a measure of Northern men with Southern principles, a sectional measure." Mr. Adams's amendment was agreed to by a vote of one hundred and twelve to one hundred and four.

Mr. Charles J. Ingersoll, a Democratic politician of Pennsylvania, moved a reconsideration of that vote. Alluding to the remark of Mr. Adams that he was a Northern man, he announced himself to be a middle man. He proceeded to warn the slaveholders that the signs of the times behooved them to be more on the alert than they had ever yet been in guarding their rights against abolition; and that they had never yet taken ground as high as he would take. He said there were more than two thousand abolition societies; and he advised the South to combine and move in solid phalanx in defence of its endangered interests. In the course of the debate Mr. Adams had expressed the opinion that, if the free people of the North had nothing to do with the people of the South, they should not be called upon to aid in suppressing servile insurrections. He had also stated that, in the event of such insurrections, Congress would have the constitutional power to interfere with slavery, and would dispose of it according to ·the dictates of justice and humanity. Mr. Ingersoll expressed horror at the position of Mr. Adams, and proclaimed his readiness to march at any moment to suppress an insurrection of the slaves. Mr. Johnson of Maryland said he had seen a letter from President Tyler recommending the members of the House to support the twenty-first rule. The reading of the letter was called for by Mr. Adams; to which Mr. Johnson replied that it was not an official letter, but the President's individual opinion.

Mr. Thomas F. Marshall, a new Whig member from Kentucky, made a brilliant and characteristic speech. "I shall vote," said he,” against reconsideration. In other words, I shall vote in favor of receiving all the petitions stowed away in his abolition drawer. Why? Because I do not want this subject coming up year after year and, it may be, century after century. I want the question settled now. I shall move that they be committed to a committee of Northern gentlemen, and the gentleman of Massachusetts placed at its head. I want to try it as a question of history. There is something poetical in the idea that the son of the man whose stalwart arms and brawny shoulders had aided in laying the corner-stone of this temple of our liberties should be the incendiary who should light the flame for its destruction."

Mr. Wise, in the course of this debate, sharply censured the Speaker, John White of Kentucky, for appointing Mr. Giddings chairman of the Committee on Claims, and Mr. Adams chairman of Committee on Foreign Affairs. He denounced the Abolitionists as “a few dangerous fanatics, unsupported, unbacked, and discountenanced by the virtue, intelligence, and patriotism of the North." He insisted that the House could not be organized until the “hydra of abolition “is crushed. This he declared to be a vital question, far surpassing all the financial and currency questions of the day. Mr. King of Georgia announced that if abolition petitions should be received, and discussion be tolerated, the Southern members would be obliged to leave their seats.

Kenneth Rayner, a Whig member from North Carolina, asked Mr. Adams if he would present a petition from Fanny Wright and her followers, praying Congress to abolish the institution of marriage. Mr. Adams replied: "Why, the most damning sin of slavery is that it does abolish the institution of marriage. How, then, could I have any more objection to receiving such petitions than I should have to the perpetuation of slavery, which destroys the sacred institution of marriage? “Cries of order were raised, and Mr. Adams took his seat, remarking,” If the gentleman is afraid to receive answers, he should take care to ask no questions." Mr. Giddings, who afterward so signalized himself for his advocacy of the cause of equal rights, participated in the debate. Alluding to his silence. which he explained to be the result of no want of interest in the subject, but because he came there for the purpose of attending to the business for which the session was called, he declared that they were fully organized and ready to proceed to business when the motion for reconsideration was made, and they were called upon to reject all the rules they had adopted because they had rejected one. He rejoiced that Northern members had remained silent, thus giving evidence of their desire ·to attend to the public business, though many things had been said to which they desired to reply. Mr. Ingersoll's motion to ·reconsider was lost. Mr. Wise moved to reconsider the vote by which the House adopted the rules, with the exception of the twenty-first, and his motion prevailed by a majority of two.

Mr. Rayner then moved that the rules of the last House be adopted, but his motion was lost by nine majority. He spoke for three hours. In his speech he complimented very highly Northern Democrats who had voted against the right of petition. He admitted that slavery was “a misfortune to any people among whom it exists”; and yet he violently denounced those who would subvert it. “Before you accomplish your purpose," he said,” you must march over hecatombs of bodies; you must convert every one of our smiling fields into a camp; you must beat every one of your ploughshares into swords. Long, long before you reach the banks of the Roanoke, every stream will run red with your blood, every hill will whiten with your bones. Attempt this wild project when you will, and if there be any truth in heathen story, the banks of the Styx will be lined with your shivering ghosts for a hundred years to come. We will trample you under our feet, and trail your crown and sceptre in the dust."

Mr. Stuart, a Whig member from Virginia, presented a resolution that the rules of the last House not suspended by any rule or resolution adopted at that session be adopted as the rules of the House. On this motion he moved the previous question, but withdrew it at the request of Mr. Nisbet of Georgia, who wished to address the House. Referring in unequivocal and bitter words to Mr. Adams, he said: "I have listened with strong and burning indignation to the language that has been indulged in by the hoary-headed member from Massachusetts. I have been compelled to think of the Mantuan bard:

‘Tantrene in animis crelestibus irre? ‘

As I looked at him, throwing forth such sentiments and language, I was forcibly reminded of Vesuvius, which, while its summit was clothed in white, vomited a fiery stream, which spread desolation and ruin whence it came." Mr. Nisbet renewed the motion for the previous question, which was agreed to, and Mr. Stuart's motion was adopted. At the regular session of the XXVIIth Congress the contest for the right of petition and freedom of debate was renewed, Mr. Adams standing forth as their inflexible champion. This action of Mr. Adams excited the bitterest animosity of members from the slaveholding States of both· parties, and of Northern members sympathizing with them. The representatives of slavery affected to despise and put under the ban of social ostracism Slade, Giddings, and Gates. But the commanding ability, the historic position, and reputation of Mr. Adams, while they shielded him from their contempt, real or affected, aroused their bitterest hostility and hate.

On the 14th of January, 1842, Mr. Adams, having the floor for the presentation of petitions, said : "I hold in my hand the petition of Benjamin Emerson and forty-five other citizens of Haverhill, Massachusetts, praying Congress to adopt immediate measures for the peaceful dissolution of the union of these States." Hardly had these words fallen from his lips when several slaveholding members, many of them then known and since proved to be disunionists, clamorously demanded leave to speak. But Mr. Adams, having the floor, moved the reference of this petition to a select committee of nine members, with instructions to report an answer to the petitioners showing the reason why their prayer could not be granted. From all parts of the House came vehement and passionate demands for the floor, which was given to Mr. Hopkins of Virginia. He inquired of the Speaker if it would be in order to burn the petition in the presence of the House. Mr. Wise inquired if it would be in order to present a resolution censuring Mr. Adams; and such a resolution was introduced by Mr. Gilmer of the same State. Mr. Adams expressed the hope that the resolution would be received and debated, and that he might have an opportunity of defending his action.

The House adjourned, and notice was given that the members from the slave States would hold a meeting that evening for consultation. The meeting was held; and Thomas F. Marshall, a Whig from Kentucky, a brilliant speaker, of whose future career high expectations were entertained, was selected as the leader in the work of censure. While this conclave was preparing for the trial, a few members of the House assembled at the room of Mr. Giddings. Joshua Leavitt and Theodore D. Weld, among the ablest and most effective advocates of emancipation, were present, and were commissioned to call on Mr. Adams and tender him any assistance in the power of the persons then assembled to render. The venerable statesman expressed his most profound gratitude for this offer of friendly aid, and requested them to examine certain points in the authorities, a list of which he gave them. These gentlemen performed their task with alacrity and success, so that, on the assembling of the House next day, the desk of Mr. Adams was covered with volumes ready for immediate use. 

Immediately after the reading of the journal, Mr. Marshall submitted three resolutions, as an amendment to that offered by Mr. Gilmer, in which it was set forth that the act of Mr. Adams might be held to merit expulsion; that the House deemed it an act of mercy and grace when they only inflicted upon him the severest censure for conduct so unworthy of his past relations to the State and his present position, and that this they did for the maintenance of their purity and dignity ; and for the rest they turned him over to his own conscience and the indignation of all American citizens. Mr. Marshall evidently entered upon his work with heart and hope. He was an orator of rare power, though ambitious, egotistical, and of unbalanced judgment. Like too many men of rare gifts and high promise, he became the victim of intemperance; and though, through the persuasive influence of the late Governor Briggs of Massachusetts, then a member, he reformed for a few months, he soon relapsed, and became an utter wreck. When he rose to speak on this occasion the galleries were thronged and the House filled with privileged persons. He spoke with so much eloquence and force that the enemies of Mr. Adams were very much elated and his friends not a little depressed.

When Mr. Marshall closed, the venerable statesman, rising, asked the Clerk to read the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, which declares when any form of government becomes destructive of the ends of establishment it is the right or the duty of the people to alter or abolish it, and reorganize its powers in such form as to them shall appear best to secure their interest and happiness. He then proceeded to maintain that the people had a right to reform abuses of the government, and bring it back to the performance of duties for which it was instituted; that they had a right to ask Congress to do what they thought they ought to do, and it was the duty of Congress to state the reason why their prayer should not be granted. He charged that the people were oppressed by the denial of the right of petition, and of the freedom of debate, and that the South was endeavoring to destroy the right of habeas corpus and trial by jury, and to force slavery on the free States. He said emphatically, that, if the rights of the people were to be taken away by a coalition between Southern slaveholders and Northern Democrats, it was time for the people to arise and assert their rights. He asked for more time in which to prepare his defence; and Mr. Horace Everett of Vermont moved a postponement of two weeks for that purpose.

Henry A. Wise then took the floor and spoke at great length, charging Mr. Adams with conspiring with British Abolitionists to destroy the Union. He bitterly denounced Mr. Adams for saying that, in case of insurrection, the President might, if necessary to restore peace, emancipate the slaves. Having supported Mr. Tyler against the great body of Whigs in and out of Congress, he called upon the Democratic Party to put down Abolitionism; for, if slavery were destroyed, he said, the great democratic principle of equality among men would become obsolete.

Mr. Adams replied to the bitter and violent assault of Mr. Wise with terrible severity. Alluding to his connection, as a second to Mr. Graves, with the duel in which Mr. Cilley was killed, he said that Mr. Wise had come into that hall a few years since "with his hands dripping with human gore, a blotch of human blood upon his face." Turning from Mr. Wise, Mr. Adams replied to the speech of Mr. Marshall, who had charged him with high treason. He thanked God that the Constitution of the United States had defined treason, and that it was not left for the “puny mind “of the gentleman of Kentucky to define that crime. He said that, were he Mr. Marshall's father, he would “advise him to return to Kentucky, and take his place in some law school, and commence the study of that profession he has disgraced." Mr. Adams proceeded to arraign the slaveholders, and to open an aggressive war upon the champions of slavery.

The resolution of censure was opposed by Mr. Underwood, a Whig member from Kentucky, who announced his opposition to all rules denominated "gag laws." Mr. Arnold, a Whig member from Tennessee, sustained Mr. Adams and denounced the twenty-first rule as a violation of the Constitution. Mr. Botts bravely lent his support, and referred to the fact that, a few years before, Mr. Rhett of South Carolina had drawn up resolutions for the dissolution of the Union, and had sought for an opportunity to present them. Mr. Gilmer offered to withdraw his resolution of censure if Mr. Adams would withdraw the petition. But this he sternly refused to do, declaring that he would not violate his sense of duty to obtain the favor or forbearance of the House.

Mr. Marshall again addressed the House, and then called for the previous question. But Mr. Adams demanded the floor, obtained it, and proceeded in his defence. Taking the aggressive, he assailed with great effect slavery and the Slave Power. Mr. Saunders of North Carolina called him to order, but the Speaker allowed him to proceed. From this decision Mr. Saunders appealed, but the House sustained the Speaker.

The next day Mr. Merriwether of Georgia stated that ten or twelve days had been taken up in the trial, and he wished to know how much more time Mr. Adams expected to occupy in his defence. Mr. Adams replied that he was not responsible for the time occupied; that when Warren Hastings was tried Burke occupied some months in a single speech; and he thought he could “close in ninety days." On motion of Mr. Botts the resolutions of censure were laid upon the table by a majority of thirteen. The friends of Mr. Adams were proud of the gallant fight their champion had made, and greatly elated at the signal victory which crowned it. On the other hand, his enemies, baffled, defeated, and humiliated, felt that for once, at least, slavery had lost and freedom had won.

The Whigs had a majority of nearly forty in that Congress. Though the Northern Whigs and a few of their Southern associates were against the twenty-first rule, that arbitrary and obnoxious measure remained during· that Congress without modification.

In the XXVIIIth Congress the Democrats had a large majority. Early in the session Mr. Adams moved the appointment of a committee to report rules for the government of the House. This committee, of which he was chairman, made a report omitting the twenty-first rule. This report was discussed for several weeks, in the morning hour. In this debate Mr. Adams was severely, if not wantonly, assailed by the representatives of the Slave Power. During this long discussion Mr. Dillett of Alabama, in assailing Mr. Adams, quoted these words from a speech delivered by him to the colored people of Pittsburg: “We know that the day of your redemption must come. The time and manner of its coming we know not. It may come in peace, or it may come in blood; but whether in peace or in blood, let it come." Mr. Adams said with emphasis: "I say now, let it come." To this remark of Mr. Adams Mr. Dillett replied: "Yes, the gentleman now says let it come, though it costs the blood of thousands of white men." Mr. Adams quickly responded: "Though it costs the blood of millions of white men, let it come!” Of course the slaveholders were terribly shocked at these words of the venerable statesman.

During the debate several Northern Democrats avowed their opposition to this continued suppression of the right of petition. John P. Hale of New Hampshire, and Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, members of the Democratic party, then first came into Congress, and both of them were in favor of abrogating that' arbitrary, unconstitutional, and indefensible rule. Mr. Hamlin took an early occasion to express his opposition to it, and to advocate the right of the people to petition for the redress of grievances. When he closed, Mr. Adams, who had listened to him with marked attention, crossed the hall and offered him his hand, with the remark: “Light breaketh in the East."

But all efforts were unavailing. The report was laid upon the table by a small majority, and the obnoxious rule was retained. Early; however, in the second session, Mr. Adams again moved to rescind it, and now with more cheering prospects of success. For ten years, amid calumny and abuse, he had struggled to secure for the people the simple right of petition, but always against an unyielding majority. The time had come when that majority was broken, and the rule, by twenty-eight majority, was stricken out. Fourteen members only from the free States, a small remnant of the host Mr. Adams was wont to characterize as “the Swiss guards of slavery fighting for pay," rallied in the last struggle to keep the "gag" alike upon the lips of the people and of their representatives. It was, however, for many years, practically a barren victory, for not only did the petitioners fail in securing a favorable response to their prayers, but with slaveholding cunning the Speakers of the House so constituted the committee to which such petitions were referred that they were never reported upon, and were sent at the close of the session " to the tomb of the Capulets."

That Mr. Adams never identified himself with the antislavery men and associations of his day, and that he distrusted both the immediate objects of their effort and their modes of procedure to obtain those objects, are well known. As late as 1840 he not only declared that he had never given the slightest encouragement to petitions for the immediate and uncompensated abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia or elsewhere, but indulged in the somewhat caustic remark, that, if the total abolition of slavery was the purpose of Divine Providence, other agents and other means would be employed than either the American Colonization or Abolition Societies ; " or if these societies, or either of them, are to be made instrumental in the accomplishment of the great work, they must entirely change their modes of operation, and come down from the empyrean of their fancy to the vapory atmosphere of this nether world."

In his letter of acceptance of the nomination for Congress, in the autumn of 1838, he said: " The abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, or in the Territory of Florida; the prohibition of the internal piracy between the States; the refusal to admit another contaminated State into the Union, are all partial, ineffective plasters for the great elemental evil.

 “‘They will but skin and film the ulcerous part,

While rank corruption mining all within Infects unseen' “

In the April following, in letters addressed to the citizens of the United States whose petitions he had been presenting to Congress, after informing the petitioners that their petitions "had received very little notice from the House," he did not hesitate to inform them that he could not vote for the immediate abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia or in the Territory of Florida, nor for a refusal to admit that Territory as a slaveholding State into the Union. His main reasons were that it was impracticable and would be improper. That it was impracticable he argued, '' because public opinion throughout the Union is against it." It would be improper mainly " because it would operate exclusively upon the people-of the District in compliance with the petitions of those not affected themselves by the law" ; and this would be" contrary to the first principles of our institutions," especially that principle of the Declaration" that derives all the just power of government from the consent of the governed."

But while Mr. Adams failed to accept and approve the distinctive measures of the Abolitionists, there were none who seemed to comprehend more fully than he the magnitude, guilt, inveteracy, and danger to the land of American slavery, and its pervasive and perilous ascendency in every department of the nation's social and civil life. In his letter to his constituents, he had said that “the Union will fall before slavery, or it will fall before the Union." In a letter to the Rhode Island Antislavery Society, written in December, 1838, he used this unequivocal language: "No one attentive to the progress of our history as an independent nation can fail to see that in the silent lapse of time slavery has been winding its cobweb-thread around all our free institutions. This was not the covenant to which we pledged our faith in the Declaration of Independence." The fathers believed and meant slavery to be temporary; emancipation was the end in view, only the "time and mode" were uncertain. “George Washington was an Abolitionist; so was Thomas Jefferson. But were they alive,' and should dare to show their faces and to utter the self-evident truth of the Declaration within the State of South Carolina, they would be hanged." 

“It is not," he said, "an occasional ebullition of popular passion and feeling which marks the contrast between the sentiments of the fathers and the slaveholding doctrines “of their posterity. "It is the perversion of intellect, the depravation of moral feeling, the degradation of man to the standard of the brute, which marks the American school of servile philosophy." But he had faith in the power of truth and of well-directed effort; nor was he hopeless of good results therefrom. In this Rhode Island letter he says: “The fire of liberty burns yet, though with a flickering flame, in New England. It will yet kindle and consume to ashes the dastardly sophisms with which slavery would pollute our souls. I may not live to see the day, but I wait for it only to say with Simeon, ' Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.' “In a letter to Edmund Quincy, written a few months before, declining an invitation to attend an antislavery meeting on account of age and infirmities, he wrote: “I rejoice that the cause of human freedom is falling into younger and more vigorous hands. That in threescore years from the day of the Declaration of Independence its self-evident truths should be yet struggling for existence against the degeneracy of an age pampered with prosperity and languishing into servitude, is a melancholy truth from which I should in vain attempt to shut my eyes. But the summons has gone forth ; the youthful champions of the rights of human nature have buckled and are buckling on their armor, and the scourging overseer, the lynching lawyer, and the servile sophist, and the faithless scribe, and the priestly parasite will vanish before them like Satan touched by the spear of Ithuriel. I live in the faith and hope of the progressive advancement of Christian liberty, and expect to abide by the same in death."

Mr. Adams's public disavowal of all sympathy with the immediate purposes and policy of the Abolitionists, and the somewhat cavalier manner in which he characterized their associations and modes of effort, evoked earnest responses. In February, 1839, Mr. Garrison addressed to him a letter, in which he gave utterance to the feelings and sentiments which his general course and some recent speeches in Congress had produced in many minds. He first quoted some striking expressions from these speeches, setting forth his strong abhorrence of slavery. Mr. Adams had said: "The moral principle which had interdicted the African slave-trade pronounced at once the sentence of condemnation upon slavery." He had also said:  “Unyielding opposition against slavery is interwoven with every pulsation of my heart. Resistance against it, feeble and inefficient as the last accents of a failing voice may be, shall still be heard while the power of utterance shall remain, and shall never cease till the pitcher shall be broken at the fountain, the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit unto God who gave it."

In view of these and similar utterances Mr. Garrison wrote: “There are two parties in this country who are equally puzzled to reconcile your abhorrence of slavery with your determination not to vote for its abolition in the District of Columbia, the slaveholders of the South and the Abolitionists of the North. In your theory of human rights the latter understand that you agree in principle with those who by the help of God are resolved upon subverting a foul and bloody system. In your unwillingness to carry that theory into practice, the former perceive that you are acting in concert with all that is despotic and inhuman in the land. You are claimed and rejected by both at the same moment." On one occasion Mr. Adams had used this expression: "I say it here openly, that the Abolitionists and Antislavery Societies may take in regard to me what course they please." To this Mr. Garrison replied: “If you had been as explicit in your declarations at the time your election was pending as you now are, a majority of your constituents would have cast their votes for some other candidate."

Mr. Birney, as late as 1843, expressed himself concerning Mr. Adams's course in language equally unequivocal. ''His course," he said, " in my judgment has been eccentric, whimsical, inconsistent, and, taken as a whole, thus far is unworthy of a statesman of large views and a right temper in a great national conjuncture." "He has given the Abolitionists words, words, WORDS, and to their adversaries everything that is substantial."

A most elaborate and able reply to Mr. Adams's letters was made by William Goodell. His long connection with the antislavery reform, his large acquaintance with the subject, and his unquestioned ability, enabled him to present with clearness the views of the school he represented. He began by bestowing upon the services of Mr. Adams in the cause of the right of petition the most unstinted praise, declaring that he “could not fail to be written down as the people's champion of the people's right of petition." His first criticism was that Mr. Adams's letter breathed too much the air of despondency. He had said that if the South continued to maintain its position it was impossible for the Union long to continue, and that he hung his “head in despondency at the prospect for the rights of man," as " if the grand crisis had arrived and liberty appeared to be breathing its last gasp." But, added Mr. Goodell, with a confidence that now seems surprising, considering the rough usage and the kind and extent of opposition the few antislavery men of that day were compelled to encounter, "I cannot, I dare not, I will not permit myself to yield to such feelings. No; I am an Abolitionist, and therefore I will not yet despair of the republic…As an Abolitionist I cannot despair so long as there is a press left in the country unfettered, or while a tongue moves among our thirteen millions ungagged; or so long as there remains a scrip of unsoiled paper, or quill of an uncaged eagle by which an unbought and unmanacled hand can write ABOLITION and Freedom." ·

In defence of the doctrine that in immediate abolition lay the only hope of the nation, Mr. Goodell urged that there was no hope in the colonization scheme, of which Mr. Adams himself had said, “the search of the philosopher's stone and the casting of nativities by the course of the stars were rational and sensible amusements in the comparison." He urged also Mr. Adams's unavailing attempt to introduce a scheme of gradual emancipation into the House, and his admission that he "had no expectation that it would be received." As to the impracticability of abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia he said that it could only be said to be “unpractised, not impracticable." To Mr. Adams's expressed disinclination to make these opinions “articles of a religious creed," or to “exercise force or constraint for the liberation of a slave," he replied: "The thunders of Sinai you would have hushed. The weapons of the ballot-box in this warfare you would take from the hands of freemen… Why should not the South be at peace with you? What Abolitionists in our ranks could not make peace on the same terms? "

Now that slavery is destroyed and the conflicting views of the different schools are among the dead issues of the past, comparatively small importance inheres in the detailed arguments that were then urged in their support. But the main points of those differences and their discussions must ever be matters of special interest to those who would clearly comprehend the nature and progress of that struggle. These discrepancies of thought and feeling, often expressed with some degree of acerbity, were entertained by men of unquestioned ability, profound convictions, and inflexible integrity; by men who were alike hostile to slavery, impatient at its domination, and anxious for its overthrow. Why then did they exist among those whose names are so honorably associated with the conflict itself? Among the elements of any satisfactory answer stands pre-eminently the character of the question which confronted them. Its magnitude and immense difficulties they could not, as events have shown, fully comprehend. Therefore they could not clearly discern just what duty and true policy required. In the darkness of the hour and amid the perplexing difficulties of the situation they could not but grope their way, and it is little cause of wonder that they did not always strike the same path. With strong individuality and positiveness of character, their very earnestness, honesty, and anxiety to adopt the best methods of action very likely increased the danger of disagreement, and sometimes, no doubt, made them uncharitable toward each other. The question had so many bearings and involved so many issues that little short of Divine wisdom was sufficient to point out the path of a safe deliverance. These difficulties were greatly increased, too, by the general demoralization of the people and their indifference to any action. The “perversion of intellect and depravation of moral feeling " of which Mr. Adams complained always exerted their paralyzing influences on all modes of action, however wisely devised or discreetly pursued.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 423-438.





Chapter: “Emancipation of the Slaves of Rebels,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

Though Congress had adopted antislavery measures and passed several acts offensive to slavemasters, and in derogation of what had hitherto been regarded their rights, it had never grappled squarely with the single question, free from all complications, Shall treason, pure and simple, work the forfeiture of all slaveholding rights under the Constitution? In the measures hitherto adopted or under debate, there had been special reasons, side issues, which afforded of themselves considerations why such action should be taken, and which were urged as arguments in vindication of their adoption. It was, however, inevitable that this question would present itself, to be met, considered, and answered. Indeed, the right answer and a definite and accepted policy upon this one single issue had become a necessity, and it could not but simplify matters much in regard to these other subordinate and more complicated inquiries to give that answer.

Accordingly, in the special session and soon after Congress came together, Mr. Pomeroy of Kansas introduced into the Senate a bill for the abolition of slavery, as a military necessity, " in any of the States that claim to have seceded from the government." It "was, however, only read twice, and referred, but never acted on. But immediately on the assembling of that body at its regular session in December, Mr. Trumbull of Illinois introduced a bill, providing that the slaves of all who had taken np arms against the United States should "become forever thereafter free, any law to the contrary notwithstanding." In his speech, on introducing his bill, Mr. Trumbull set forth with great clearness and force the reasons why it should become a law. Saying that the right to take slaves as "property," as they were professedly held, by the rules of war was undoubted, he spoke of it "as one of the most efficient means for attaining the end for which the armies of the Union had been called forth, the right to restore to them the God-given liberty of which they had been unjustly deprived." It was, he said, only a question of "policy"; and of that he had no doubt. He spoke of the mistaken "leniency" with which they had treated treason, as if it were a " trivial offence," which could be atoned for by "a promise to do so no more."

On the 25th of February it came up for general debate, which was very extended, and partook largely of both a discussion of the principles involved, and criticisms on matters of detail contained in the separate sections. Mr. Pomeroy having taken exception to the third section, for what appeared to him an implied indorsement of the Fugitive Slave Act in the case of loyal slaveholders, Mr. Sumner expressed his concurrence, saying, "I have never called that a law, or even an act. I regard it simply as a bill; still, a bill having no authority under the Constitution of the United States." He moved an amendment, which Mr. Trumbull promptly accepted. Thus was opened a discussion which continued for nearly five months, before the final vote was reached. In it were revealed, by the motions, amendments, and substitutes offered, and in the speeches made, the intrinsic difficulties of the measure and the wide diversity of opinion that obtained thereon. Even at the great crisis and momentous juncture in the history of the Republic, and among those who regarded it as the opportune moment to strike for freedom, to vindicate the primal truths of human rights, — the foundation principles of free institutions, — and to break the chains that bound the slave, and the nation as well, did this diversity appear. Mr. Trumbull spoke again in its behalf, defending it from the assaults that had been made upon it. He spoke of "the opportunity to strike a blow for freedom" which a wicked Rebellion presented, "thereby destroying to a great extent its source and origin, and the only thing which has ever seriously threatened the peace of the Union." Mr. Morrill of Maine, who had offered a joint resolution to confiscate the property of Rebels, and to satisfy the just claims of loyal persons, involving the emancipation of slaves, contended, when slavery made war on the nation, that its right was "lost in its audacious revolt and armed assault on the government," and that any cry "to be let alone" amid the cannonading of Sumter was "a shallow pretence to conceal a wicked purpose."

Mr. Howard of Michigan spoke with great force of thought and expression in favor of the bill, finding arguments therefor in the deleterious influence which the slaveholding interest had always exerted upon the Federal government. He spoke of the " traitorous eloquence " of those who had lost " the balance of power " through their " incautious haste in forcing the North ern Democracy to adopt obnoxious measures that had united the Northern people to resist the further attempts of their ambition." He said that " God's innocent air was loaded with execrations against a government which had never harmed a hair of their heads, and whose only fault was that it had loved them, not wisely, but too well." Mr. Wilson said he did not "expect to realize any large amount of property from any confiscation bill," for he presumed, after the war was over and the "din of battle had ceased," that they should "deal gently with the masses of the people engaged in the Rebellion." The emancipation of the slaves of Rebels he confessed to be his "chief object of solicitude." "Slavery," he said, "is the great rebel, the giant criminal, the murderer striving with bloody hands to throttle our government, and destroy our country, — the great rebel with hands dripping with the blood of my murdered countrymen. I give the criminal no quarter." Were he to do that, he added, "I should feel that I was a traitor to my native land, and deserved a traitor's doom." He said that if they were unwise enough to keep slavery, "to hold fast to the chains that bind three millions of men in bondage," they would have an enemy always ready to seize on all fit opportunities to raise their disloyal hands against the perpetuity of the Republic." "Nothing," he said, "but the prejudices of association on the one hand, or timidity on the other, can hold us back from doing the duty we owe to our country in this crisis." "Amidst the sacrifices of this hour," asked Mr. Wilmot of Pennsylvania, "this universal wreck of interests, shall the slaveholding traitor grasp securely his human chattel? "

The bill, however, encountered strong opposition from both Southern and Northern men. Differing widely in sentiment and in the reasons for their course, they agreed in their condemnation of the proposed measure. Among the loudest, if not the most potent, voices raised against it was that of Garrett Davis of Kentucky, announcing the most extreme opinions, and advocating, in most offensive terms, the theory of the "white man's government." He declared that neither the Declaration nor the Constitution embraced slaves or the negro race. The latter, he said, "no more embraces Indians or slaves than it does quadrupeds or wild beasts. The only partners to our political partnership were the white men. The negro was not, and he cannot now constitutionally be, any party to it." Mr. Powell of the same State denounced with great severity the antislavery policy of the government. Mr. Willey of Virginia did not so much object to the confiscation of slaves as a war measure, if it could be coupled with colonization, but his opposition to emancipation without the removal of the freedmen was determined and deadly. Virginia, he contended, would not allow it, but would be driven to the policy of re-enslavement, not only of the manumitted, but of "the sixty thousand free negroes already there." He predicted that the same consequences would follow in all the slave States. "Sir," he said, "the evil will be unendurable; and the result will be the re-enslavement of the slaves thus manumitted, as well as those already free." Mr. Saulsbury of Delaware was more pronounced in his opposition, not only predicting but defending the policy of the re-enslavement of not only those set free but the whole race. Saying that he did not suggest what he did not favor, and that he took all the responsibility for his utterance, he added: "I say to you, sir, and I say to the country, that if you send five thousand slaves into Delaware, — we have got about two thousand slaves now, and we have about twenty thousand free negroes, — if you send five thousand more of that class among us, contrary to our law, contrary to our will, I avow upon the floor of the American Senate that I will go before my people for enslaving the whole race, because I say that this country is the white man's country." He spoke of the " filthy negro," and of the impossibility of raising him "to the elevation of the white man." Mr. Carlile of Virginia made a similar threat. "Self-preservation," he said, "would compel the State within which slavery now exists, if the slaves were emancipated, either to expel them from the State or re-enslave them." Alluding to the constitutional provision in several of the Northern States against the entrance of free negroes, he asked: 'What follows? Extermination or re-enslavement. Can it be possible that the Christian sentiment of the North, which, it is said, demands the abolition of slavery, desires the extermination of the negro race?"

Mr. Henderson of Missouri deprecated such action on constitutional grounds, and because, in his judgment, it was "useless." Of slavery, he said: "The shells that passed from Rebel batteries to Fort Sumter, twelve months ago, wrote its doom upon the Southern skies. If they will destroy themselves, let all the responsibility rest upon the authors of the war." Mr. Browning of Illinois and Mr. Collamer of Vermont opposed the bill on the grounds of the Constitution and on the score of expediency. Mr. Cowan of Pennsylvania made a very earnest and impassioned appeal against the policy of the measure. "If it passes," he said, "I think it will be the great historic event of the times. Perhaps the fate of the American Republic may depend on our disposition of it Pass it, and the same messenger who carries it to the South will come back to us with the news of their complete consolidation as one man. We shall then have done that which treason could not do; we ourselves shall then have dissolved the Union; we shall have rent its sacred charter, and extinguished the last vestige of affection for it in the slave States by our blind and passionate folly."

To the threat of Southern Senators that the manumitted slaves should be re-enslaved, Mr. Hale made reply. Saying that lie was not deficient in a proper estimate of Southern " chivalry, bravery, and power," he told them that when they undertook that, they were undertaking " a job they cannot do "; they were setting themselves " in opposition to the moral sentiment of the country and of the world." Affirming his belief that when the Creator of the earth made the earth, and the same Power made colored men, he intended that the colored men he had made should dwell upon the earth he had made; and that it was "a universal edict, irrespective of complexion," that man should eat his bread by the sweat of his face, he added: "I laugh to scorn all attempts and all threats at re-enslaving this people. I tell you it cannot be done." In a similar vein, but in a manner more decided, not to say defiant, Mr. Wade made reference to the same providential argument, and reminded the Southern members that they could not successfully fight against the decrees of Omnipotence. "If every man in Congress," he said, "were to stand forth as an advocate for perpetual and eternal slavery, it would only be the poor instrumentalities of man fighting against God. God and nature have determined the question, and we shall not affect it much either way Slavery might have staggered along against the improvement of the age, against the common consent of mankind, a scoff and a byword on the tongue of all civilized nations, for a great many years; but this Rebellion has sealed its fate, and antedated the time when it becomes impossible. You cannot escape from this war without the emancipation of your negroes. It will not be because I am going to preach it; it will not be because I am going to move anything in that direction; but it is because I see the hand of God taking hold of your delinquency to overrule for good what your rulers meant for evil."

The difficulty of finding some common ground of agreement, even among antislavery men, was shown, too, in the opposition to the bill and an amendment of Mr. Wilson, avowed with a good deal of earnestness by Mr. Hale. "I think," he said, "I have been as anxious and as earnest as anybody to advance the cause of free principles, but it seems to me that the amendment of the Senator from Massachusetts is not in accordance with the Constitution." To this Mr. Wilson replied. After referring to the "popast overshadowing power of slavery, so omnipotent in these walls and over this government," that, notwithstanding all the evils of the war, in its waste of life and treasure, in its agonies of pain and grief, "when we are called upon to deal with it, such is its lingering power over even us, that we can take Rebel lives, take Rebel property, take anything and everything, but are reluctant to touch slavery, the cause of all." "I am willing," said Mr. Hale, in reply, "to go as far as anybody, within the limits of the Constitution, to cripple slavery; and I think the government ought to make use of that as a physical agency in suppressing the Rebellion," not as "a punishment for crime," but "as a war measure." He said that he hoped the Republican party would not "split on the rock on which our predecessors did." Saying that it had "declared often, early, and long its fidelity to the Constitution," he expressed the hope that now it would not do what it had so persistently condemned. "No, sir," he said, "let us — under the flag, the old flag; under the Constitution, the old Constitution — carry on the warfare in which we are engaged."

These divergences of views, even among those who had been most prominent and pronounced in their antislavery action, and the general drift of the discussion, seemed to preclude any reasonable hope of agreement upon any motion or measure then before the Senate. It was therefore moved by Mr. Clark of New Hampshire to refer the whole matter, the original bill, and all motions, amendments, and substitutes, to a select committee. This, too, gave rise to a sharp debate. Mr. Wade said: "The recommittal of this bill, after it has been for four months under our consideration, and at a period which I hope is towards the end of the session, will be a proclamation to the people that will fill them with more despondency for your government than the loss of half a dozen battles; and it will be viewed with as much regret by all the loyal people in the seceded States as by those in the Northern States." Mr. Sumner expressed his regret at differing from the Senator from Ohio, and gave his assent to the proposed recommitment. Mr. Trumbull was opposed to Mr. Clark's motion; "but," he said, "as Senators favorable to the bill insist upon it, I can only acquiesce, and that I desire to do gracefully." The motion was carried by a vote of twenty-four to fourteen; and the committee, consisting of Clark, Collamer, Trumbull, Cowan, Wilson, Harris, Sherman, Henderson, and Willey, was appointed. Mr. Trumbull declining, Mr. Harlan was appointed in his place.

The committee reported "a bill to suppress insurrection, and punish treason and rebellion"; and on the 16th of May it came up for consideration. Its main provision was that at any time after the passage of the act, the President might issue his proclamation that the slaves of persons found, thirty days after the issuing of the proclamation, in arms against the government, will be free, any law or custom to the contrary; that no slave escaping from his master shall be given up, unless the claimant proves he has not given aid or comfort to the Rebellion; and that the President shall be authorized to employ persons of African descent for the suppression of the Rebellion." Mr. Davis moved an amendment, the point of which was indicated by his remark that he did not object to the emancipation of the slaves of Rebels, but that the government should not sell them. He moved another amendment, that the manumitted slaves should be colonized outside of the United States. Mr. Wilson moved that the bill be so amended as to make it the immediate and imperative duty of the President to issue a proclamation, based on the policy of immediate surrender or the emancipation of the slaves of Rebel masters. Mr. Cowan objected to congressional action in the premises, because he contended that "the President and his generals, under the war power, were clothed with ample power." The bill was further debated, but did not reach a vote.

In the House a substantially similar course was pursued. On the first day of the regular session Mr. Eliot of Massachusetts introduced a resolution confiscating the property and freeing the slaves of those engaged in the Rebellion. It did not, however, come up for consideration till the close of the following week, when the mover made a vigorous speech and pleaded earnestly for the action proposed. "It is no time," he said, "for set speech. The times themselves are not set. Speech is demanded, but such as shall crystallize into acts and deeds." He deprecated the modification of Fremont's proclamation, because by it the government failed to secure auxiliaries, ready and anxious to help. Mr. Steele, a Democratic member from New York, made a furious proslavery speech, declaring that it was not slavery, but "the unnecessary agitation of slavery," that was the cause of the war. Mr. Harding of Kentucky spoke in earnest opposition to the measure, predicting the most fearful and fatal consequences therefrom. "A war upon the institution of slavery," he said, "will be not only unconstitutional and revolutionary, not only a criminal violation of the plighted faith of Congress and of the administration, but utterly at war with every principle of sound policy. Whoever lives to see that fearful and mad policy inaugurated will see the sun of American liberty go down in clouds and darkness, to rise no more." He predicted that if a war "righteously begun for the Constitution and the Union should be changed to an antislavery war," then Kentucky would "resist to the last extremity." Mr. Conway of Kansas made an eloquent speech elucidating and enforcing the sentiment that it was only as the nation adopted the policy of emancipation that the war could be any other than " a bloody and brutal encounter between slaveholders for dominion, — a war justly offensive to the enlightened and Christian sentiment of the age."

In addition to these resolutions the first week was very prolific of propositions, involving the same general policy though differing in details, offered by Stevens of Pennsylvania, Campbell, Gurley, and Bingham of Ohio, and Conway of Kansas. On the 17th they were all referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. On the 20th of March Mr. Hickman, chairman of that committee, reported back the bills and resolutions with a recommendation that they do not pass. Mr. Bingham submitted a minority report, recommending the adoption of the bill he had introduced near the beginning of the session, declaring free the slaves of all who had engaged in the Rebellion. Various propositions, amendments, and motions were offered, among which was a motion of Mr. Sheffield of Rhode Island, which was carried, to lay Mr. Bingham's amendment on the table. A motion was finally made and carried to refer the whole subject to a select committee of seven, consisting of Olin, Eliot, Noell, Hutchins, Mallory, Beaman, and Cobb. Mr. Olin was excused, and Mr. Sedgwick of New York was appointed in his place. On the 14th of May Mr. Eliot from the committee reported two bills, — the one confiscating Rebel property, and the other freeing the slaves of Rebels, — and opened the debate on "the twin measures of confiscation and emancipation."

The debate in the House partook of the same general features of that in the Senate. There was a decisive majority in favor of freeing the slaves, though there was a minority equally decided and determined in opposition thereto, some from the North being as determined as any from the South. There were, too. Southern friends of the measure, though they coupled their support with the frankly expressed purpose to inflict upon slavery as little harm as possible thereby. Among those who were agreed upon the necessity and in the purpose of freeing the slaves of Rebels, there were wide and radical differences in regard to the principle involved, and the ground on which to base the action on which they were agreed. Some regarded it as a war measure, to be resorted to on the authority that the public safety is the supreme law, and that the President was abundantly competent of his own motion to execute this law. Others thought that on so grave a matter something more was necessary, and that the legislative branch of the government should alone assume the responsibility. Others still advocated the dual action of both the executive and legislative branches of the government, the latter devising and adopting, and the former executing, its enactments. The confessed fact that the Constitution was silent, or far from being explicit, on some points involved in the required action afforded occasion for the utmost diversity of sentiment, which was largely improved by both those who approved and those who condemned the proposed measure. They who condemned indulged in the most gloomy forebodings, the most frantic appeals, the most menacing threats. To those who advocated the measure it afforded opportunity and occasion for greater and more grateful variety. Differing in details, there was opened a wide range of remark and argument, as they proclaimed the stern demands of personal and political justice, gave voice to the plaintive expostulation of suffering humanity, portrayed the varied evils of slavery and the slave system, descanted upon the blissful fruits of freedom and those victories of peace whose  trophies," in the words of Mr. Sumner, "instead of tattered banners, will be ransomed slaves," and pleaded national honor and safety, all embellished with the charms of graceful rhetoric and enforced with vigorous and impassioned eloquence.

Speaking in opposition, Southern members entered their earnest protests against any policy that tampered with the rights of the masters to their slaves. Mr. Crittenden of Kentucky expressed the conviction that the whole tendency of the bills was to create the idea " that our whole aim is to make the war an Abolition measure." Mr. Mallory of the same State entered his "solemn protest" against the charge that slavery was the cause of the war, and expressed the conviction that it " is the very best condition in which you can place the African race." Mr. Wickliffe of the same State charged John Quincy Adams with being the original founder of the Abolition party. He affirmed that it was upon "his wild, heated, and monstrous doctrine" that the advocates of the measure "base their claim of power." Referring to General Hunter's organization of a brigade of slaves, he said he had introduced a bill concerning this unauthorized action, " to prohibit this outrage, this wrong upon humanity, this stigma upon the character of the nation, which no repentance, not of long rolling years, will efface."

It was reserved, however, for Northern members to utter the most extravagant words, and urge the most humiliating considerations against the measure. Mr. Cox of Ohio, after denying that slavery was the cause of the Rebellion, and saying that it was as difficult to apportion the guilt between secession and abolition "as it was that of the crucifixion" between Judas and the Roman soldiers," exclaimed: "Must these Northern fanatics be sated with negroes, taxes, and blood, with division North and devastation South, and peril to constitutional liberty everywhere, before relief shall come?" Mr. Law of Indiana, after saying that those who would depart from the "compact" of the fathers were traitors and should be "hung high as Haman," exclaimed: "Pass these acts, confiscate under these bills the property of these men, emancipate their negroes, place arms in the hands of these human gorillas to murder their masters and violate their wives and daughters, and you will have a war such as was never witnessed in the worst days of the French Revolution, and horrors never exceeded in St. Domingo, for the balance of this century at least." Even Massachusetts furnished one voice, and that not of a Democrat, to oppose the measure. " That the bills," said Mr. Thomas of that State "before the House are in violation of the law of nations and of the Constitution, I cannot — I say it with all deference to others —I cannot entertain a doubt." Alluding to the "blessed influences" of the Constitution, "under the hand of a guiding and loving Providence," he said: "But not for the blessed memories of the past only do I cling to it. He must be blinded with excess of light, or with the want of it, who does not see that to this nation, trembling on the verge of dissolution, it is the only bond of unity."

But the measure had earnest and able advocates even in the slave States. Said Mr. Noell of Missouri, with forceful and suggestive words, in reply to Mr. Thomas: "I was charmed with the eloquence of the distinguished gentleman from Massachusetts…. But when I heard his impassioned language, my pleasure was not unmixed with pain. My mind ran back to the ruin and desolation of my own section. I wondered how it could be that a gentleman hailing from a district in the old Bay State, which has furnished so many jewels in the crown of our national glory, could find no balm in the Constitution to cure the ills of patriots and loyalists, or guaranties for their security and protection. Sir, must I go back to the persecuted Union men of Missouri, who have been robbed and plundered without mercy by their Rebel enemies, and tell them that the Constitution is in the way of any effective legislation that would hold the enemy's property as security for their safety? Must I tell them that their wives will have again to do like the mother of Ishmael, — take up their little ones and flee to the wilderness? " In the same connection he thus revealed what should not be lost sight of, the fearful price the Union men of the South were compelled to pay for remaining loyal to the government. "Perhaps in standing up here," he said, "for the safety and security of the loyal people there, I may be signing my death-warrant; but, sir, if I go down, I will go down with the heroes of the Cumberland, with my flag still flying."

Referring to this constitutional argument, Mr. Loomis of Connecticut said: "We are told that the Constitution is in the way. But I remember how the Constitution has been perverted from the first in aid of these conspirators against the life of the nation." Saying that every step of the national government in the assertion of its rightful prerogatives had been met by the 'cry that they were violating the Constitution, and that there had seemed to be a deliberate purpose from the first "to emasculate our organic law, to make secession easy," he added: "The Constitution was all bristling with vitality and power to guarantee, protect, and extend slavery, although slavery was nowhere named in that sacred instrument; while liberty, though everywhere guarded by the most explicit guaranties, has had no more meaning for many years past, in the estimation of proslavery commentators, than it had in the old French dictionary, where it was defined only as a word of three syllables."

Slavery with its malign influence and history has seldom received a more searching characterization than in this debate. After saying that "the clamor for the Union as it was came from those who believed in the divinity of slavery," Mr. Julian of Indiana said: "The people of the loyal States understand this question. They know that slavery lies at the bottom of all our troubles. They know that all the unutterable agonies of our many battle-fields, all the terrible sorrows which rend so many thousands of loving hearts, all the ravages and desolation of this stupendous conflict, are to be charged to slavery. They know that its barbarism has molded the leaders of the Rebellion into the most atrocious scoundrels of the nineteenth century, or of any century or age of the world. They know that it gives arsenic to our soldiers, mocks at the agonies of wounded enemies, fires on defenceless women and children, plants torpedoes and infernal machines in its path, boils the dead bodies of our soldiers in caldrons, so that it may make drinking-cups of their skulls, spurs of their jaw bones, and finger-joints as holiday presents for the ' first families of Virginia,' and the ' descendants of the daughter of Pocahontas.' " Mr. Beaman of Michigan, after saying that Northern freemen could have no interest in protecting and sustaining slavery, and that the love of country was stronger than the love of party, thus proceeded: "Republicans are not wedded to slavery, and slavery slew Democracy at the Charleston convention. Slavery, according to a Senator from South Carolina, made these same Northern freemen mudsills. Slavery made Kansas a field of blood. Slavery has destroyed freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Slavery has whipped, driven from their homes, and even hung inoffensive native-born American citizens. Slavery has smitten with blight and mildew fifteen States of the Union, and barbarized millions of our population. And, finally, slavery has made war upon the United States, and has already slain fifty thousand of her loyal men."

Mr. Hanchett of Wisconsin, speaking of the unnatural relation of slavery, said that he who chose to enter it took it with all its chances. He buys human brains and human legs " with the full knowledge that brains were made to think and legs to run. He takes his risk for time and eternity, for peace and for war, for good or for evil, subject to all the incidents of his unnatural tenure." Slavery, said Mr. Rice of Maine, "has ' sown the wind; let it ' reap the whirlwind.' By the laws of peace, it was entitled to protection, and had it; by the laws of war, it is entitled to annihilation. In God's name, let it still have its right." Even some who opposed the measure expressed their complacency at any injury slavery might receive as the legitimate consequence of the treason it prompted. "We are not bound," said Mr. Menzies of Kentucky, "to prevent the escape of the slaves of Rebels, if they are in the way of our armies. If slavery is necessarily and incidentally injured in the progress of the war," and slaves "desert such silly masters, “the injury is" chargeable to those who make war upon the government." Mr. Price of Missouri, after asserting that the war was due to something "quite behind the negro," in "the unrepublican fondness for distinction, parade, and display" of "South Carolina politicians and wealthy planters," who with the "madman's purpose" inaugurated a revolution, added: "I shall shed no tears of pity, if the bold traitors who invoked this storm should be whelmed forever beneath its fiery, waves. It would only be poetic justice if that pestilent triangle that has never grown anything but vice, tar, and treason, should be doomed by the fires of its own kindling."

On the 26th of May Mr. Eliot closed the debate, and the two bills he had reported from the special committee were brought to a vote. The first, or that providing for the confiscation of Rebel property, was passed by a strong majority. The second, or that freeing the slaves of Rebels, coming up for action, the first business was the disposal of the several amendments that had been offered. The amendments having all been voted down the original bill was lost by a vote of seventy-four to seventy-eight. That vote was, however, reconsidered and the bill was recommitted. On the 18th of June Mr. Eliot moved a substitute for the bill reported by the committee, which was accepted by the House, and the bill, as thus amended, was passed by a vote of eighty-two to fifty-four. The gist of this bill consisted in the provision, that all slaves of persons found in rebellion sixty days after the President shall issue his proclamation should be free; and the President should appoint commissioners to carry its pro visions into effect.

The House confiscation bill was taken up in the Senate on the 23d of June. An amendment was moved by Mr. Clark combining confiscation and emancipation. The amendment was sharply debated, but was adopted on the 28th.

The bill as amended was adopted by a vote of twenty-eight to thirteen. The bill as thus amended was taken up in the House on the 3d of July, and the House non-concurred in the Senate's amendment by a vote of eight to one hundred and twenty-four. The Senate insisted and asked for a committee of conference. A committee of conference was appointed, which reported, on the 11th, in substance the Senate amendment. The report was accepted by both bodies, — in the House by a vote of eighty-two to forty-two, in the Senate by a vote of twenty-seven to twelve, —and the President gave it his approval on the 17th. It provided that all slaves of Rebels coming into the possession or under the protection of the government should be deemed captives of war, and made free; that fugitive slaves should not be surrendered; that no person engaged in the military or naval service should render fugitives on pain of being dismissed from the service; and that the President might employ persons of the African race for the suppression of the Rebellion in such manner as he might deem best.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 331-346.



See also Wilmot Proviso; Kansas-Nebraska Bill (1853-1854); Kansas, Conflict over Slavery in the Territory; Brooks-Sumner Affair

Please note that this entry includes two chapters:

·        Wilson, “Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo. -- Acquisition of Territory. --Continuation of the Slavery Struggle,’” 1872

·        Wilson, “Irrepressible Conflict in the Free and Slave States,” 1872

Chapter: “Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo. -- Acquisition of Territory. --Continuation of the Slavery Struggle,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

On the assembling of Congress, in December, 1846, the President, in his Annual Message, reaffirmed his previous' declaration, that Mexico had inaugurated hostilities, and that "American blood had been spilled on American soil." The language of Benton, in his "Thirty Years' View," affirming that “History is bound to pronounce her judgment upon these assumptions, and to say that they are unfounded," does not express the whole truth. They were unequivocally and historically false.

A bill appropriating three millions of dollars for the purpose of negotiations was introduced into the House. In the debate following Mr. Wilmot defined and defended his position. Alluding to the adoption of the proviso by a decisive majority; he expressed the opinion, which the facts by no means warranted, that “the entire South were even then willing to acquiesce." He said the friends of the administration -- of whom he was one -- did not then charge upon him and those who voted with him the defeat of the Two-Million Bill by the introduction of the proviso. He admitted that " the South resisted it manfully, boldly resisted it; but," he added, "it was passed, and there was no cry that the Union was to be severed." Disclaiming all sympathy for, or affiliation with, Abolitionists, Mr. Wilmot said: “I stand by every compromise of the Constitution. I was in favor of the annexation of Texas. The Democracy of the North was for it to a man, and is fighting the war cheerfully, not reluctantly, for Texas and the South." The declarations of the leaders and presses of the administration and the movements of the armies pointed, he said, to the acquisition of New Mexico and California; and he expressed the hope that the President would firmly adhere to his purpose. He desired fresh territory, but it must be preserved from the aggressions of slavery; and for that he contended. “When, in God's name," he asked, "will it be the time for the North to speak out, if not now? If the war is not for slavery, then I do not embarrass the administration with my amendment. If it is for slavery, I am deceived in its object."

Of course Mr. Wilmot was deceived. His declarations and his prompt disclaimer of all sympathy and affiliation with abolition revealed that fact, as also his want of acquaintance with slavery and the designs of the Slave Power. His ignorance, however, was speedily dispelled in the path on which he had so bravely entered; and his subsequent career showed that in the new school he had entered he became thoroughly, rapidly proficient. But at that time he evidently failed to comprehend the real facts of the case, or the true philosophy of those facts. The seeming acquiescence of the South in the vote on his proviso resulted not so much from a disposition to abide by it as from a settled purpose to reverse it as soon as possible, and from the conviction that such reversal could be obtained. He soon learned, however, the strength and tenacity of the Southern purpose to guard with sleepless vigilance the system of slavery, and to keep it from all possible or conceivable danger; but he never failed to render good service in the struggle on which he then entered.

There were other examples, in the same party, of like resistance to the exacting demands of slavery. Among them was that of Bradford R. Wood of New York, subsequently a Republican, and Minister to Denmark during the Rebellion. 

He proclaimed it his purpose that, come what might, so far as he was concerned, slavery should go no further. He combated the idea that, from the nature of the soil and climate, slavery could not exist in the territory to be acquired. "Slavery will go," he said, "wherever man, in his cupidity and lust of power, can carry it." Mr. McClelland, also a Democratic representative from Michigan, afterward Secretary of the Interior under President Pierce, advocated the Wilmot proviso, announcing it “folly to think that our Northern men will emigrate to the most inviting territory in the world where they know they will be compelled to labor side by side with the slave."

Mr. Brinkerhoff, who had drafted the amendment presented by Mr. Wilmot, made an earnest appeal to Northern representatives. They were required, he said, not only to keep open, but to multiply the markets where men were to be sold, -- to multiply human shambles. "Is this act," he inquired, "the nameless infamy of which no color is dark enough to paint, no word has language strong enough adequately to characterize, - at which posterity will blush, which Christianity must abhor, - shall this be our act? The act of freemen and the representatives of freemen? Almighty God, forbid it."

Southern Whigs, like Mr. Stephens, opposed the acquisition of territory only on political grounds. They would dispose of the troublesome proviso by bringing in no new territory to become the occasion of such contest between conflicting parties and sections. Mr. Stephens expressed the conviction that, if the policy of the administration was to be carried out, if the forbidden fruit of Mexican territory was to be seized at every hazard, those who controlled public affairs, instead of reveling in the halls of the Montezumas, or gloating over the ancient cities of the Aztecs, might be compelled to turn, and behold in their rear another and a wider prospect of desolation, carnage, and blood. He was careful, however, to state that his objections originated from no scruples in regard to slavery. That stood, he contended, on a basis as firm as the Bible. “Until Christianity be overthrown," he said, “and some other system of ethics be substituted, the relation of master and slave can never be regarded as an offence against the divine laws."

But the Southern advocates of both the war and slavery naturally opposed a policy that would despoil their section of the animating purpose and motive of the war. In the face of facts patent to all, and with an effrontery that slavery alone could generate, they put in the plea of injured innocence, and were loud in their complaints of Northern aggression. Thomas H. Bayly, a Democratic representative from the eastern shore of Virginia, said that the boldness and strength of the Abolitionists had increased with great rapidity, and he was amazed to see how quiet Southern men were. As a sentinel on the watch-tower, he warned his countrymen against rapidly approaching danger, declaring that they had arrived at a point " when further concessions to the Abolitionists would be alike dishonorable and fatal." Mr. Dowdell of Alabama, alluding to the fact that they were engaged in a foreign war, expressed his surprise that, instead of devising ways and means of replenishing an exhausted treasury, they were engaged in a heated discussion of the question of slavery. "Discord," he said, “reigns where union and harmony should prevail. What has produced this deplorable state of things? Who are the authors of the ill-starred agitation which has so much disturbed our deliberations? In every stage of the history of this proceeding the North has tendered the issue, while the South has reluctantly occupied the position of defendant. . .The question is, as to the locality and condition of those who are slaves. True philanthropy would diffuse, not congregate them into a narrow compass, or make them fixtures on the soil. More horrible still is the purpose, scarcely disguised, of breaking the fetters of the slave by rendering his labor unprofitable, thus substituting for peaceful subjection a bloody contest of rival races. This wholesale proscription of a large section of the Union will never be tolerated until the degeneracy of the South shall invite the chains which reckless power would rivet upon her limbs." 

Nor did the Slave Power lack Northern defenders.  Among them was Mr. Strong of New York, who, although he had voted for it at its first introduction, could now say: “I will oppose this proviso at the present time, come in what shape it may and whatever garb it may assume. It is ill-timed, out of place, has no business here, and is calculated to produce, as it has produced, nothing but mischief, absolute, unmitigated evil." He claimed that the way to fasten slavery upon the country was, to wall it up within its then present limits. In no other way, he said, than by leaving a pathway open toward the tropics, -- permitting the increasing white population and the natural tendency of things to push them gradually and silently, but as certain as destiny, in that direction, - can the more Northern slaveholding states be relieved of their burden.

Early in the session Preston King, then a Democratic member from New York, had made an unsuccessful effort to introduce a bill containing the prohibition of slavery. Mr. Hamlin had also moved, on the 15th of February, an amendment to the "Three-Million Appropriation Bill," providing that there should be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any territory on the continent of America which should be acquired by virtue of that appropriation. Mr. Douglas made an unsuccessful attempt to amend that amendment, so that it should take effect in any territory to be acquired north of the Missouri Compromise line. Mr. Graham of North Carolina then made an unsuccessful motion to amend it by extending the line of the Missouri Compromise to the Pacific Ocean. Mr. Hamlin's amendment was then adopted by a vote of one hundred and fifteen to one hundred and six; and the bill, as amended, passed by a majority of ten.

In the Senate, on the 19th of January, Mr. Sevier of Arkansas reported from the Committee on Foreign Relations a bill appropriating three million dollars to authorize the President to negotiate a peace with Mexico. The long and exciting debate which followed revealed not only the chaotic state and heated effervescence of the public mind, but the crystallizing process going on in the political sentiments of the people around the new policy which the Slave Power was dictating, and which the country was too evidently and too readily accepting. Of course this was not the work of a moment. Southern Whigs could not at once accept and support a policy which ignored their party affiliations and imperiled their party ascendency at the North. However much tl1ey loved slavery, and however willing they were to conserve its interests, they could not, without some hesitation, sacrifice their political aspirations and immolate themselves upon its dark and polluted altar. Though the inexorable power made the exaction, and they were prepared in the final issue to allow its claims to be paramount, they very naturally resisted the policy which rendered such party destruction and such personal immolation probable, if not inevitable. The evidence of such personal struggles and conflicts was more clearly visible in the discussion now under consideration than in any previous or subsequent debate.

Nor could Northern Democrats at once forget all former traditions, or ignore the little remaining conscience, humanity, and political consistency in their party ranks; for they, as well as the Whigs of a later date, found "prejudices" that must be conquered. Though the final surrender was certain, and the leaders were ready enough to make it, it was politic to exhibit a show of resistance; of hesitation, at least. With this key, in hand, the debate will be better understood.

In the Senate the Whigs, though in the minority, strove to avert the threatened catastrophe. Mr. Berrien moved an amendment, declaring that war ought not to be prosecuted with any view to the dismemberment of the Mexican republic, or to the acquisition by conquest of any portion of her territory. But it was rejected. Mr. Upham of Vermont made an unsuccessful attempt to secure as an amendment the Wilmot proviso. After its rejection Mr. Webster presented the resolutions of the Massachusetts legislature, protesting against additions of territory without the express provision that there should be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude. Asserting that it was generally admitted that the war was for the acquisition of territory, he proclaimed that the voice of the free States was clear and distinct in its tones. “I understand," he said,” that an imperative call is made on us to act now, to take security now, to make it certain now that no more slave States shall be added to the Union." He indorsed Mr. Berrien's amendment as the only true policy, and declared that the rejection by the Senate of the Wilmot proviso was "ominous, portentous." He expressed the fear that the nation had not arrived at the beginning of the end. “The future,'' he but too prophetically declared,” is full of difficulties and full of dangers. We are suffering to pass the golden opportunity for securing harmony and the stability of the Constitution. We appear to be rushing upon perils headlong, with our eyes all open."

But the bill passed the Senate by nearly a strict party vote. It was taken up in the House on the last day of the session, and Mr. Wilmot renewed his amendment. But it was rejected by a vote of ninety-seven to one hundred and two; and the bill giving the President three million dollars to negotiate for the acquisition of Mexican territory, without restrictions upon slavery and without any guaranties for freedom, received a majority of thirty-four; and the Slave Power was again victorious.

Of the Senate, as constituted, little had been expected. But the House --even after annexation had ripened into war for territorial acquisition--revealed at the outset a majority in favor of impressing upon every league won by conquest, in ineffaceable characters, the destiny of freedom. But the Slave Power, quickened into greater activity and intensity of purpose by that manifestation of independence, and controlling as it did the President, the Cabinet, the Senate, and the Supreme Court, at once began its work of demoralization. The usual appliances were brought into requisition, and with the usual success. The timid were overawed, and the venal and ambitious were won by promises of place and power. Consequently, the majority of nineteen in August in favor of the Wilmot proviso had melted in March into a minority of five. In the course of that debate Mr. Armistead Burt of South Carolina had told the North that, in that crisis, the South had no traitors. “She has no traitorous son here,'' he said, "to be false to his own honor or faithless to her safety; none at home to betray his blood and his native land." If there were not, among those who had changed their votes, and by that means the result; some who felt the force of this biting sarcasm, there were thousands at the North who realized, with infinite regret and chagrin, that they and the cause of freedom had been wickedly betrayed by this recreant action.

The administration of Mr. Polk, in asking for three millions of dollars, proposed to negotiate a. peace on the basis of the cession by Mexico of Upper and Lower California, New Mexico, and the disputed territory between the Nueces and the Rio Grande, to constitute the latter river the boundary between the two countries, and to secure the right of way across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Having secured, after a long and fierce struggle, in which the Slave Power had put forth all its resources, this appropriation for the acquisition of territory without any restrictions in regard to slavery, the President, on the 15th of April, appointed Nicholas P. Trist of Virginia an agent, with ample power and authority to confer with any person or persons authorized by Mexico to negotiate a treaty of peace, amnesty, and lasting boundaries. Carrying with him the projet of a treaty, Mr. Trist accompanied the army to the valley of Mexico, and, after the battles of Contreras and Cherubusco, met the commissioners of Mexico appointed to negotiate a treaty. For several days, from the 27th of August to the 7th of September, the commissioners were in session. But all negotiations having failed, the war was renewed, and the capital fell. Though he was then recalled, and his authority as peace commissioner revoked, Mr. Trist remained with the army, and, on the 2d of February, 1848, negotiated a treaty of peace.

By this treaty Upper California, New Mexico, and the country between the Nueces and Rio Grande were acquired, fifteen millions of dollars were to be paid to Mexico, and all American claims relinquished. This sum paid to Mexico, the direct expenditures of the war, and other expenses growing out of it, made the pecuniary cost of the territory thus acquired not less than a hundred and thirty millions of dollars. This large expenditure of money, the more costly outlay of life, and the more priceless sacrifice of national honor, were all made for the purpose of enlarging the area of slavery, strengthening the Slave Power, and making its domination more complete, relentless, and secure.

This vast territory, nearly the size of the original thirteen States, had been made free by the new republic. Nor this alone; Mexico sought, though forced to relinquish her claim, to incorporate with the proposed treaty of cession the condition that slavery should be excluded therefrom. Indeed, she instructed her commissioners to insist that “the United States shall engage not to permit slavery in that part of the territory which they shall acquire by treaty." In a communication of the 4th of September, 1847, to Mr. Buchanan, Mr. Trist states that he was told by the Mexican commissioners that " if it were proposed to the people of the United States to part with a portion of their territory, in order that the Inquisition should be therein established, the proposal could not excite stronger feelings of abhorrence than those awakened in Mexico by the prospect of the introduction of slavery in any territory parted with by her."

But these entreaties were unheeded. Mr. Trist refused all such restrictions. “The bare mention," he said,” of such a treaty is an impossibility." No American President, as he expressed it, “would dare to present any such treaty to the Senate." “I assured them," in singular language for the representative of a republic to use in a despatch to his government, " that if it were in their power to offer me the whole territory described in our projet, increased tenfold in value, and in addition to that covered a foot thick with pure gold, upon the single condition that slavery should be excluded therefrom, I could not entertain the offer for a moment, nor even think of communicating it to Washington."

Never had the nation presented itself in a more humiliating attitude, nor occupied a more indefensible position. On this vast territory Mexico had impressed the seal of freedom, and, though in her straits, she had accepted the humiliating condition imposed by her conqueror, she earnestly sought to make it a condition precedent that it should still remain sacred to liberty. But this humane condition was not simply rejected, it was scouted even, and that in language whose very extravagance and hyperbole revealed the earnestness and strength of conviction and purpose it was designed to express. Nor was it simply the expression of an individual opinion. Mr. Trist was a gentleman of capacity and character, never distinguished for his extreme views, and he well knew that even his extraordinary declarations did not more than give expression to the sentiments and determination of the government. Nor is there wanting the evidence of its correctness, in that there was never any disavowal of the same by the government or its agents. And thus it stands confessed to the nations, that republican America preferred war, with all its hazards and cost, to peace and territory, although imperial in size and resources, unless that territory could be devoted to slavery; and would have done so, though that territory were " increased tenfold in value," and " covered a foot thick with pure gold."

At the meeting of the XXXth Congress, in December, 1847, Robert C. Winthrop of Massachusetts was the Whig candidate for Speaker. His capacity, character, and culture, his political and social standing, as well as his parliamentary knowledge and experience, admirably qualified him for that position. His action on the slavery question during the preceding two years unquestionably commended him to the Southern Whigs, and reconciled them to casting their votes for a Northern man. This action, however, that so recommended him to extreme and sensitive Southern Whigs, rendered him as obnoxious to some Northern members. Mr. Palfrey of Massachusetts, Mr. Giddings and Mr. Tuck of New Hampshire, persistently withheld from him their votes. But he was chosen on the third ballot by the withdrawal of the votes of Mr. Tompkins, a Mississippi Whig, and Mr. Holmes, a South Carolina Democrat. In justification of his vote, Mr. Holmes said, in a letter to his constituents, that “the Southern Whigs opposed to the Wilmot proviso nominated Mr. Winthrop in caucus in opposition to a majority of the Northern Whigs, who were in favor of the Wilmot proviso, and who opposed the nomination of Mr. Winthrop." The refusal of Mr. Palfrey to vote for his colleague was very distasteful to Mr. Winthrop and his friends in Massachusetts, and very materially tended to widen the breach between the two wings of the Whig party in that State.

To Caleb B. Smith of Indiana was assigned, by Speaker Winthrop, the then very important position of chairman of the Committee on Territories. He was a native of Massachusetts, a gentleman of ability, and an eloquent and effective speaker; but he did not display the boldness and organizing power the crisis demanded; nor did he manifest that earnestness, zeal, and faith which inspired the courage or won the confidence of others.

Early in the session, Harvey Putnam, a Whig member from New York, introduced a resolution prohibiting slavery in the territory acquired from Mexico. When it came up for consideration, in February, it was laid on the table by twelve majority, on motion of Richard Broadhead, a Pennsylvania Democrat. During the session, the question of extending slavery into the territory won from Mexico, or excluding it therefrom, continually forced itself upon the consideration of 'Congress. The issues involved were presented with elaborate fullness and much to the enlightenment of the country, but no practical results were secured during the session. It was also during this session that Mr. Clayton's specious and subtle device, misnamed a compromise, to unite Oregon, California, and New Mexico in one measure, leaving the slavery questions to be determined by the Supreme Court, so signally failed.

At the opening of the second session of the same Congress, the territorial question which had so largely entered into the Presidential canvass forced itself upon the attention of both Houses. Joseph M. Root of Ohio introduced a resolution instructing the Committee on Territories to introduce bills providing Territorial governments for New Mexico and California, and also excluding slavery. This resolution was adopted by a majority of twenty-seven, all the Democratic members from the free States, excepting eight, voting for it. A bill was soon reported for the government of California, and, early in the following month, another was introduced for the organization of New Mexico. After debate, the bill for the government of California was taken from the Committee of the Whole, and Mr. Sawyer, a Democratic member from Ohio, moved to strike out the prohibition of slavery. But his motion was lost by a majority of seventeen. An amendment, in the nature of a substitute, was offered by Mr. Preston, a Whig member from Virginia, afterward Secretary of the Navy under General Taylor, providing for the organization of California as a State. The House, on motion of Mr. Collins of New York, amended the substitute so as to prohibit slavery. Other amendments were offered, rejected, or withdrawn, and the bill was then passed by a majority of thirty-nine. The Senate, however, by a. majority of three, refused to consider it at all.

Mr. Walker of Wisconsin moved an amendment to the civil and diplomatic appropriation bill, extending the laws of the United States over the territory acquired from Mexico, and authorizing the President to make all needful regulations for the enforcement of the Constitution and laws in that territory. After a full debate, it was adopted by a vote of twenty-nine to twenty-seven. The House refused, by a majority of fourteen, to concur in that amendment. The Senate insisted, and asked a committee of conference. The committee, unable to agree, was discharged. It was then moved by Mr. McClernand, a Democratic member from Illinois, that the House recede from its disagreement with the Senate's amendment, and the motion was agreed to by three majority.

The House having receded, it was moved by Richard W. Thompson, a Whig member from Indiana, that it concur in the amendment of the Senate, with an amendment which was substantially a substitute, and which provided that the existing laws of the territory should be retained and observed until July 4, 1850, unless Congress should sooner provide for the government of these territories. Mr. Thompson's amendment was agreed to by a majority of six, and the Senate amendment, as amended, was adopted. But that body, finding that the House amendment recognized the existing laws prohibiting slavery, refused concurrence, though, after an excited debate, which continued till nearly seven o'clock on Sunday morning, the 4th of March when it receded from its amendment. Its action, however, clearly revealed its spirit and purpose. Professing to believe it vitally important to organize governments in New Mexico and California, it had amended an appropriation bill for that purpose. But the House insisting, the Senate rejected its proposition, and thus revealed its object, in putting in peril, in the closing hours of the session, the civil and diplomatic appropriation bill, to have been, not the establishment of government, but the establishment of slavery. So, after a contest of more than two years, the Slave Power had defeated the proposed inhibition of slavery in the territory won by the blood and treasure of the nation, and Mr. Polk left to his successors the unsolved problem, whether slavery should enter into, or be excluded from it. 

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 18-30.

Chapter: “Irrepressible Conflict in the Free and Slave States,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

THE new departure of the propagandists, inaugurated by the compromise measures of 1850 and completed by the Kansas-Nebraska legislation and the Dred Scott decision, necessitated other and supplementary action in the same direction. Public sentiment must be further debauched to accept more kindly, or with less reluctance, the new dogma. New legislation and new decisions of courts were demanded to carry out and render effective what had been purchased at such enormous cost, and for which such persistent and protracted struggles had been necessary. Laws and decisions, adapted to the condition of things when slavery was regarded as the creature of local law alone, an evil to be tolerated because entailed and believed to be temporary, were found to be entirely inadequate under the new dispensation, when slavery was deemed national and no longer sectional, a creature of the Constitution, a good to be cherished and perpetuated. To secure the adjustment of municipal rules to this new order of things, legislatures and courts were at once assailed, and demands were made for the needful laws and decisions to meet the new wants and provide for the new contingencies thus created.

This was specially true during Mr. Buchanan's administration. Failing in their efforts to make Kansas a slave State, the propagandists turned their eager eyes to New Mexico, Southern California, and the Indian Territory. Near the close of 1858, Mr. Otero, delegate in Congress from New Mexico, wrote from Washington to the secretary of that Territory, urging him to draw up a law, or laws, for the protection of slavery there. He claimed, indeed, that the Constitution and the laws of the United States, especially as interpreted by the Dred Scott decision, did “establish slavery in the Territories”; and yet, he thought, “advantages would result to the Territory "from such legislation. His counsel was taken, and such laws were enacted, -- a slave code, in the language of Mr. Sumner, "most revolting in character, … not only establishing slavery there, including the serfdom of whites, but prohibiting emancipation." The next year after its enactment, on motion of Mr. Bingham of Ohio, the House of Representatives passed “a bill to disapprove and declare null and void" these "Territorial acts." The Senate did not pass the bill; but, while it was on the table, Mr. Douglas took occasion to refer to it, and he boastingly pointed the propagandists to it as one of the fruits of his doctrine of popular sovereignty. “Under this doctrine," he said, "they have converted a tract of free territory into slave territory more than five times the size of the State of New York. Under this doctrine slavery has been extended from the Rio Grande to the Gulf of California, you a degree and a half more slavery than you ever claimed."

In 1859, a bill was introduced into the legislature of California for the division of the State into two parts, with the purpose of making the portion south of the thirty-sixth parallel of latitude slave territory; but it failed to become a law. In the Indian Territory there were four tribes of Indians, -- Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Creeks. Under the fostering care of their governments slavery had become so firmly established that slaveholders thought them worthy of political fellowship, and articles in favor of their admission began to appear in the Southern press. “The progress of civilization," said the New Orleans " Picayune," "in several of the Indian tribes west of the States will soon bring up a new question for the decision of Congress It cannot fail to give interest to this question that each of the Indian tribes has adopted the social institutions of the South." To concentrate and give direction to such efforts, a secret organization was formed to encourage Southern emigration, and to discourage and prevent the entrance into the Territory of all who were hostile to slaveholding institutions. It was hoped thus to guard against the adverse fortune which had defeated their purposes and plans for Kansas. But the Rebellion, which abolished the cause they would serve, rendered abortive all such efforts in its behalf.

The free State Territorial legislature of Kansas in 1858 passed an act abolishing slavery; but it failed to become a law, the governor holding it in his hands until the close of the session. At the next session a new bill was passed, but it was vetoed on the ground that a Territory could not exclude slavery until it became a State. So much for Democratic consistency and regard for the doctrine of popular sovereignty. The bill, however, was passed over the veto. The legislature of Nebraska enacted a law forbidding slavery in that Territory; but that, too, was promptly vetoed by Governor Black, a Pennsylvania Democrat and afterward a colonel in the war, on the ground that the act of the legislature was not properly an act of the people. The Territorial laws of Kansas had been upheld by the administration, but they were for slavery. These were for freedom, and a Democratic administration was willing, not to say anxious, to defeat them.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 633-635.



Chapter: “Hayti and Liberia. — Foreign and Domestic Slave-Trade,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

No more marked, seemingly unnecessary, and apparently wanton display of their ascendency in the control of the Federal government was ever made by the slave-masters than in the foreign policy they demanded and dictated. Instead of concealing the nation's shame, inconsistency, and weakness, they seemed to take special pains to call public attention thereto. Instead of keeping slavery where the fathers placed it, as exceptional, sectional, and temporary, — an evil to be tolerated for the time, because of their exhausted condition, their dread of anarchy, and the threats of the slaveholders of Georgia and South Carolina, that they would "not confederate" unless it were recognized and provided for in the new government, — a kind of domestic arrangement which reflected little honor upon the actors, and the public proclamation of which was far from creditable, — they determined it should appear to the world national and not sectional, not a thing allowed by sufferance, but the dominant element of the government. They desired not only the fact, but the form of control; not the substance alone, but the show. Not satisfied with the immunity and protection accorded their nefarious business at home, they determined that it should be known abroad that they numbered the nation as well as their slaves among their vassals.

No other theory satisfactorily accounts for the persistency with which they opposed every attempt to secure from the government of the United States an acknowledgment of the independence of Hayti and Liberia. The inhabitants of those republics belonged to the despised and tabooed race, and that outweighed the consideration that their governments, modelled like their own, had special claims for republican recognition. President Lincoln, therefore, the representative of another spirit and purpose, in his first animal message to Congress, at its session convened in December, 1861, called its attention to the subject, and urged the adoption of a more benign and worthy policy. In his simple and quiet way, he thus alluded to it: "If any good reason exists why we should persevere longer in withholding our recognition of the independence and sovereignty of Hayti and Liberia, I am unable to discover it. Unwilling, however, to inaugurate a novel policy in regard to them without the approbation of Congress, I submit for your consideration the expediency of an appropriation for maintaining a charge d'affaires near each of those new states. It does not admit of doubt that important commercial advantages might be secured by favorable treaties with them."

On the 4th of February, 1862, Mr. Sumner, from the Committee on Foreign Relations, to which was referred so much of the President's message as related to that subject, reported a bill authorizing the President to appoint diplomatic representatives to the republics of Hayti and Liberia. Coming up on the 22d of April, Mr. Sumner addressed the Senate in an elaborate and well-guarded speech. " The independence of Hayti and Liberia," he said, " has never yet been acknowledged by our government. It would at any time be within the province of the President to do this, either by receiving a diplomatic representative from these republics, or by sending one to them. The action of Congress is not necessary, except so far as an appropriation may be needed to sustain a mission. But the President has seen fit, in his annual message, to invite such action. By this bill, Congress will associate itself with him in the acknowledgment, which, viewed only as an act of justice, comity, and good neighborhood, must commend itself to all candid minds…. A full generation has passed since the acknowledgment of Hayti was urged upon Congress. As an act of justice too long deferred, it aroused even then the active sympathy of multitudes; while, as an act for the benefit of our commerce, it was ably commended by eminent merchants of Boston and New York, without distinction of party. It received the authoritative support of John Quincy Adams, whose vindication of Hayti was associated with his best labors in the other House. The right of petition, which he steadfastly maintained, was long ago established. Slavery in the national capital is now abolished. It remains that this other triumph shall be achieved. Petitioners who years ago united in this prayer, and statesmen who presented the petitions, are dead; but they will all live again in the good work which they generously began."

The measure could not but encounter the opposition of Mr. Davis of Kentucky, who moved an amendment, in the nature of substitute, authorizing the President to appoint a consul to Liberia and a consul-general to Hayti; and he based his opposition to the measure simply on considerations of prejudice and the invidious distinctions of caste. He said: "I am weary, sick, disgusted, despondent, with the introduction of the subject of slaves and slavery into this chamber; and, if I had not happened to be a member of the committee from which this bill was reported, I should not have opened my mouth upon the subject. If, after such a measure should take effect,' the republic of Hayti and the republic of Liberia were to send their ministers plenipotentiary or their charges d'affaires to our government, they would have to be received by the President and by all the functionaries of the government upon the same terms of equality with similar representatives from other powers." Continuing in a strain of ridicule, he borrowed an illustration of his wit from the presence of the Haytien ambassador at the court of France, "a big negro fellow dressed out with his silver and gold," adding that he wanted "no such exhibition as that in our capital." He quoted— and by it illustrated his own brutality, as well as that of him who made it — the reply of Mr. Mason, minister at the same court, to the question: " What do you think of him? " "I think," he replied, "clothes and all, he is worth a thousand dollars." Mr. Sumner made proper reply to this argument of prejudice, the only one urged against the policy proposed; and the bill was passed by a vote of thirty-two to seven.

When it came up in the House, Mr. Gooch of Massachusetts, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, made a clear and careful exposition of the measure, when Mr. Cox offered a similar amendment to that of Mr. Davis in the Senate, and interposed the same objections in almost the same language. He spoke of the African, "full blooded, all gilded and belaced, dressed in court style, with ribbons and spangles, and many other adornments which African vanity will suggest," and he spoke deprecatingly of such being "welcomed as ministers, and having all the rights of Lord Lyons and Count Mercier." To the inquiry of Mr. Fessenden of Maine, "What objection can the gentleman have to such representatives? " he replied, "Objection? Gracious heavens! what innocency! Objection to receiving a black man on an equality with the white men of this country? Every objection which instinct, race, prejudice, and institutions make. What is it for, unless it be to outrage the prejudices of the whites of this country, and to show how audacious the Abolitionists can behave?" Mr. Biddle, Democratic member from Pennsylvania, also opposed it, and spoke of political Abolitionism as "the basest of counterfeits" of genuine philanthropy. Even Mr. Crittenden, aged, venerable, and high-toned, at least as a Southern politician, after expressing the opinion and "pride" that he belonged "to a superior race among the races of the earth," and his desire to "see that pride maintained," added: "The spectacle of such a diplomatic dignitary in our country would, I apprehend, be offensive to the people for many reasons, and wound their habitual sense of superiority to the African race."

The justice of the measure, however, was so apparent, the reasons assigned against its adoption were so unworthy and puerile, and the necessary votes for its enactment were so well assured, that little of argumentation was called for in its support. Freed, for the moment at least, from the disturbing and distorting influence which had for so long clouded the judgment, paralyzed the sensibilities, and deadened the conscience of the American people, their representatives found little difficulty in comprehending the logic of the case, and the justice of a refusal to ostracize people for the color of their skins. Mr. Gooch said: "Justice, sound policy, political wisdom, commercial interest, the example of other governments, and the wishes of the people of our own, all demand that we recognize the independence of Hayti and Liberia, and that, in our intercourse with them, we place them on the same footing as other independent nations…. Why shall we, in our intercourse with the world, make discriminations in relation to color not recognized by the other leading powers of the earth? Certainly the fact, that the great body of slaveholders in this country are to-day in rebellion against this government, and seeking its overthrow, because they have not been able to control all its departments to promote the extension and perpetuation of slavery, does not make it obligatory upon us to do so." Mr. McKnight of Pennsylvania said: "It has been to our glory that we planted the seeds of freedom, civilization, and Christianity on the shores of heathen Africa, and to our shame that we have so long abandoned the culture and nurture of the plant to others." "The whole argument of Mr. Cox," said Mr. Fessenden, "centred in this: Hayti and Liberia are not to be acknowledged, — no matter what reasons may be given to the contrary, — because, if otherwise, we shall see black ambassadors in Washington. In my opinion, the speech of the gentleman was unworthy of his head and heart." Mr. Thomas of Massachusetts, though conservative in his principles and position, spoke eloquently in favor of the bill. "I have no desire," he said, "to enter into the question of the relative capacity of races; but if the inferiority of the African race were established, the inference as to our duty would be very plain. If this colony has been built up by an inferior race of men, they have upon us a yet stronger claim for our countenance, recognition, and, if need be, protection. The instincts of the human mind and heart concur with the policy of men and governments to help and protect the weak. I understand that to a child or to a woman I am to show a degree of forbearance, kindness, and of gentleness even, which I am not necessarily to extend to my equal." Mr. Maynard of Tennessee, though representing a slaveholding State, spoke earnestly in favor of the adoption of the common policy of other nations, to recognize every nationality whose claims were sufficient to justify such recognition, irrespective of all considerations of color or caste; and he expressed the opinion that they would suffer no more harm from the representatives of the proscribed race in the diplomatic galleries than from their proximity and contact with the same race, in the performance of the menial services of servants and attendants. Mr. Cox's amendment was then rejected, and the bill was passed by a vote of eighty-six to thirty-seven, and approved June 5, 1862.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 347-352.


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Please note that this entry includes four chapters:

·        Wilson, “President's Message and Senate Debate,” 1878

·        Wilson, “Special Committees upon the Crisis in the Senate and House,” 1878

·        Wilson, “South Carolina Commissioners. — President's Message,” 1878

·        Wilson, “Amendment of the Constitution,” 1878

Chapter: “President's Message and Senate Debate,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

No meeting of Congress was ever anticipated with more anxiety and apprehension than that of the 3d of December, 1860. In the feverish excitement of the hour all eyes were turned towards Washington to catch the first intimations of what was to be the policy of the government in regard to the recusant and rebellious States. The well-known sympathy of Mr. Buchanan with the South filled one section of the country with hope, the other with apprehension, and both were alike eager to ascertain what the utterances of his message would be. Nor were those utterances calculated greatly to relieve the apprehensions of the patriotic or to disturb the conclusions of the treason able.

Alluding to the " discontent " which, he contended, was generally prevalent, and which he attributed, without equivocation, to Northern and not to Southern wrong-doing, the President affirmed that " the long-continued and intemperate interference of the Northern people on the question of slavery in the Southern States has at length produced its natural effects," which were, in the language of President Jackson, he quoted, to " stimulate " the slaves " to insurrection and to produce all the horrors of civil war." “The time of Congress," he said, " has been occupied in violent speeches on this never ending subject, and appeals in pamphlet and other forms indorsed by distinguished names have been sent forth from this central point and spread broadcast over the Union." The question could be easily settled, he said, by letting the South alone, and permitting it to manage its own affairs in its own way.

Thus aspersing the North and defending the South, he proceeded to the task of dissuading the section he had represented as so grievously wronged from the threatened remedy of secession. The election of Mr. Lincoln, which, though effected by a plurality and not a majority of votes, had been " held in strict conformity with the express provisions " of the Constitution, afforded, he said, no justification for " the destruction of the best system of government ever devised by mortals." In the absence of any overt acts there was, he contended, certainly no good reason for secession in the mere apprehension of what the government might do. Admitting that certain States may have been obnoxious to the charge of unfriendly legislation in the matter of the Fugitive Slave Act, he asserted that the laws of 1793 and 1850 had been the laws of the land, and that in all contested cases they had been faithfully executed. He admitted that in case of failure in that regard “the injured States would be justified in revolutionary resistance to the government of the Union."

But he combated the idea that because a State felt aggrieved, it had a right to secede. Such a principle being admitted, he contended that “the Confederacy is a rope of sand," and " the thirty-three States may resolve themselves into as many petty, jarring, and hostile republics, each one retiring from the Union without responsibility whenever any sudden excitement might impel them to such a course." Be sides arguing ably and conclusively against the State-rights doctrine of the secessionists, quoting the language of Madison, and that of Jackson in his message transmitting the nullifying ordinance of South Carolina in 1833, he triumphantly referred to the manifest intention of the framers of the Constitution. “It was not intended by its framers," he said, " to be the baseless fabric of a vision which, at the touch of the enchanter, would vanish into thin air, but a substantial and mighty fabric, capable of resisting the slow decay of tune, and of defying the storms of ages." After conceding the right of revolution and asserting that secession is neither more nor less than revolution, he inquired: “What in the meantime is the responsibility and true position of the executive?” " He is bound," he answers his own question, " by solemn oath before God and the country to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and from this obligation he cannot be absolved by any human power," though, as in the case of South Carolina, where " the whole machinery of the Federal government had been demolished," he expressed the opinion that " it would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace it," except, it might be, in the collection of customs. He professed, however, his inability to find any provisions of the Constitution " to overcome the united opposition of a single State, not to speak of other States who may place themselves in a similar attitude," and he added that it may be safely asserted that the power to make war against a State is at variance with the whole spirit and intent of the Constitution," To the question whether, if we possessed the power, it would be wise to coerce a State, he replied by saying that " the Union can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens shed in civil war," and that " the sword was not placed in their hands to preserve it by force."

In the absence of the power to preserve the Union by force he urged upon Congress the remedy of " conciliation," and he proposed for that purpose " an explanatory amendment of the Constitution " on three points: " the recognition of the right of property in slaves in States; the duty of protecting it in all the common Territories; and the recognition of the right of the master to have his escaping slave delivered up." “Such an explanatory amendment," he said,” would, it is believed, forever terminate the existing dissension and restore peace and harmony among the States."

With his own views thus expressed, the President laid before Congress the opinion of the Attorney-General, to whom he had propounded the question of executive power in the premises. In this elaborate paper Mr. Black had laid down substantially the same principles and conclusions which the President indorsed and proclaimed. Beginning with the assertion that both the general and State governments were restricted in their action not only within certain limits, fixed by the Constitution, but to certain modes of procedure, he con tended that there was no authority to vary from the prescribed rule, no right to " accomplish a legal purpose by illegal means." He admitted that the duty of the executive to protect the public property was “very clear," as was generally acknowledged in the raid of John Brown at Harper's Ferry, in 1859. Coming, however, to the question whether or not the President had a right to coerce a seceding State, he quoted first the law of 1807 which gave him the power to use the land and naval forces to enforce the laws wherever the militia might be called out by the law of 1795. As the latter authorized the use of the militia whenever the execution of the United States laws was " obstructed in any State by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the power vested in the marshals," so under the later law the President might use the land and naval forces for the same purpose; in other words, he was to help the Federal officers to do what they could not accomplish of themselves. But what, he inquired, is to be done if these Federal officials join in the general defection? If there are no Federal judges and marshals to be helped, then, answering his own question, he expressed the opinion that the use of troops would be "wholly illegal "; and he contended that " under such circumstances to send a military force into any State with orders to act against the people would be simply making war upon them."

"Whether Congress has the constitutional right to make war against one or more States is," he said,” a question for Congress itself to consider," though he added, "no such power is expressly given or implied." Adducing the war-making powers enumerated in the Constitution, his conclusion was that its provisions were made to protect the States and not to make war upon them. “If this view be correct," lie averred, " then the Union must utterly perish at the moment when Congress shall arm one part of the people against another for any purpose beyond that of merely protecting the general government in the execution of its proper constitutional functions" ; and he significantly inquired, " Is any portion of the people bound to contribute their money or blood to carry on a contest like that ? "

The President's message was acceptable to neither extreme. Heartily approved by few, it was sharply criticised and severely condemned by both parties in each house. His harsh language towards the North was distasteful to every sympathizer with freedom, while his decided condemnation of secession disaffected those who favored that mode of solving the great problem. His equivocal position, his nerveless and non-committal policy, his fierce denunciation of those who would preserve, and his deprecatory tone towards those who would destroy, the Union, excited both the surprise and contempt, the wrath and mirth, of those who listened to its unfounded assumptions, its inconsequential suggestions, and its hopelessly inadequate recommendations. Instead of bravely and squarely meeting the fearful issue, and proposing measures commensurate with the exigencies of the hour, he left the country wondering at its imbecility, and oppressed with the sickening conviction that in that supreme moment of the nation's history they who were entrusted with the keeping of its honor and its life were proving themselves faithless to their trust, at least helpless for good.

The delivery of such a message at such a time, with such the temper of both Congress and the country, became the signal of a long and heated debate in both houses. In the Senate the motion to print became the subject of an earnest discussion, which revealed very clearly not only the conflicting views and feelings there entertained, but the strength and positive ness with which they were entertained. Mr. Clingman of North Carolina led off in a speech of extreme opinions and extravagant language. Admitting the patriotism of the President, he intimated that he had failed of putting the case as strongly as the exigencies of the hour required. It was not, he said, simply because Mr. Lincoln was a dangerous man, that the crisis was so full of peril and of well-grounded alarm, but because he was elected for that very reason. Instead of the checks which, the President had intimated, would exist in Congress, should the incoming administration attempt to encroach on the rights of the South, he predicted that “the same organization that elected Mr. Lincoln must soon control both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, and all the officers of the government." He said that the fact, on which the President dwelt, that Mr. Lincoln received hut " a minority of votes " was only an " aggravation, as it turns out that little more than one third of the voters may control all the departments of the government," — a fact, he might have added, which the long-continued domination of the Slave Power had abundantly and disastrously illustrated.

He then expatiated at some length upon the indignities and injustice which the slaveholding States had received from the arrogant North, and he asserted that both South Carolina and all the South had been “wonderfully patient." He contended that the United States “would not submit for a moment to the treatment from a foreign nation that the South has received at the hands of the North." Of the President's proposition that new guaranties should be given to the South, he said, “I do not see how any Southern man can make propositions. If propositions are made, they should come from the North”; and, unless some comprehensive plan of that kind be adopted, he counselled “a peaceable division." Alluding to the intimations that the South would suffer in case of division, he confidently affirmed that they had no fears. He said he did not understand how the President's assertion that the executive might collect the revenue in a State was consistent with the admission that he had no power to coerce a State back into the Union; for he contended that if a seceded State becomes a foreign nation by secession there could certainly be no authority in the government to collect taxes therein. Instead of waiting for overt acts, as the President had intimated, he expressed the opinion that it was best “to meet the issue in limine.'''' “It is idle," he said, “for men to shut their eyes to consequences like these. If anything can be done to avert the evil, let those who have the power do it." He regarded it as one of the wisest remarks of Mr. Calhoun that "the Union could not be saved by eulogies upon it." Joseph Lane of Oregon, the candidate for the Vice-Presidency on the ticket with John C. Breckenridge in the preceding election, led off in a very extreme and violent speech. He affirmed that the recent election had been a verdict of the people that “equality in this country shall not prevail”; that “fifteen States of this Union shall be inferiors." Assuming, too, that the election had decided that territory already free should remain free, he said that on such conditions “there can be no peace in this country, there can be no Union. It does not exist to-day." Mr. Lincoln himself, he admitted, was not an objectionable man; but he was dangerous because he was supported by a party holding such views.

Mr. Iverson of Georgia, the next day, made a very violent and defiant speech. He began by conceding that no State had any right to secede on constitutional ground. He admitted that it was only the right of revolution he urged, which it could exercise only “at its peril," liable, of course, to the infliction of war, if the remaining States should " see fit to regard it as a casus belli." He condemned the position of the President because he represented that " the Federal government is in fact a consolidated government; that it is not a voluntary association of States, — a position," he regarded as “altogether wrong." He affirmed, too, that the States not only had the right to secede, but that some of them had made up their minds to that policy, to go out of the Union while they had the strength. “Sir," he said,” before the 4th of March — before you inaugurate your President — there will be certainly five States, if not eight of them, out of the Union." He admitted that all promised concessions would be of no avail, inasmuch as it was the “public sentiment” of the North against slavery which they feared, and not the personal liberty bills of Northern legislation or the apprehended “overt acts" of the incoming President. Besides, he claimed that there was an enmity between the Northern and Southern people, that was deep and enduring, and which could not be eradicated. “We have not lived in peace," he said; “we are not now living in peace. It is not expected or hoped that we shall ever live in peace." He charged that the Northern people hated the South worse than ever the English people hated the French; nor was there any love lost on the part of the South. He declared that they were going out, “peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must." But he did not expect war, for he believed the North would see it to be its true policy to let them go in peace. “But if war is to come," he said, "let it come. We will meet the Senator from New Hampshire and all the myrmidons of Abolitionism and Black Republicanism everywhere upon our own soil; and, in the language of a distinguished member from Ohio in relation to the Mexican war, '"we will welcome you with bloody hands to hospitable graves.' "

Jefferson Davis of Mississippi did little more than remark that before a declaration of war is made against the State of which he was a citizen, "I expect to be out of the chamber; that when that declaration of war is made, the State of which I am a citizen will be found ready and quite willing to meet it."

Louis T. Wigfall of Texas made a characteristic speech. He dissented from the position of Mr. Iverson, that the act of secession was unconstitutional and revolutionary. He condemned the message, not for the reason which had been urged, that it was " neither one thing nor the other," but for the reason that " it is both one thing and the other," making the additional criticism that " it is difficult for men who have no well-defined ideas upon subjects which they discuss to discuss them so that they can be correctly understood." He spoke of the views of the President as “vague," of his opinions as being “on both sides." He avowed the extremest State-rights doc trines, and contended that any State had a right to secede “with or without cause." “We simply say," he added, " that a man who is distasteful to us has been elected, and we choose to consider that as a sufficient ground for leaving the Union, and we intend to leave the Union." In reply to one who intimated that he had misapprehended the President's message, he said, “I confess, sir, that I do not understand it; and the more I read it the less do I comprehend it."

The Union, however, found advocates. Among them was Mr. Crittenden of Kentucky, who, though a slaveholder, expressed great regret at the course of remark which had been pursued. To the sentiments of the Senator from North Carolina, he entered his most earnest protest, avowing at the same time “the hope that the Union which was the glory of the fathers will not become the shame of their children." In regard to the opinion that the election of Mr. Lincoln afforded cause of alarm, even of secession, he said, “there is at least diversity, great diversity, of opinion." The President's position, he affirmed, that no State has a right to secede from the Union, and the position that “the Union has no right to interpose any obstacle to its secession, seems to me to be altogether contradictory."

Willard Saulsbury of Delaware, though from a slaveholding State, spoke earnestly for the Union. He admitted and claimed that his State had “reaped too many blessings therefrom to cause any son of hers to raise his hand against it." " Sir," he said, " when that Union shall be destroyed by the mad ness and folly of others if, unfortunately, it shall be so destroyed it will be time enough for Delaware and her representatives to say what will be her course."

It remained, however, for the Senator from New Hampshire, to give the true and patriotic response to the imbecile and equivocal counsels of the President, and to the treasonable and defiant utterances of Southern rebels. Claiming to speak only for himself, Mr. Hale declared this to be the reading of the message: “South Carolina has just cause for seceding from the Union; that is the first proposition. The second is, that she has no right to secede. The third is, that we have no right to prevent her from seceding. That is the President's message substantially"; while the power of the government is "a power to do nothing at all." Instead of recommending to Congress some rule of action, “he has entirely avoided it. He has failed to look the thing in the face." Contending that that was not the way to look at the matter, and that the only alternative presented was, “unconditional submission on the part of the majority," or war, he said, if the former be the accepted alternative, “it is a Union of a dictatorial oligarchy on the one side, and a herd of slaves and cowards on the other. That is it, sir, nothing more; nothing less." But rather than such base surrender he chose the latter, “let it come in any form or in any shape." He expressed, too, the additional opinion that, if there were those who were looking for further concessions from the North, “they miscalculate and mistake." Ad mitting every constitutional obligation in the matter of the rendition of fugitive slaves, he quoted Mr. Toombs's previous admission that the general government was faithfully performing all its functions in relation to the slave States, and contended that the sum of all the aggressions of the North upon the South was infinitely outweighed by those committed by the South upon the North. He expressed the fullest conviction that the State he represented would “stand to-day and forever fully acquit of any charge of infraction of the Constitution, or any of its provisions, be they onerous or otherwise." He eloquently alluded to the great experiment of a republic which they were then trying, which it took Rome six hundred years to try, and on which they were “just at the beginning." " At the very hour," he said, " that the States of Italy, taught by the bitter experience of centuries, are seeking by a consolidated constitutional government to come together and unite their energies for liberty, for independence, for progress, if we, untaught by all the past, reckless of the present, and blind to the future, should madly dash ourselves upon this dark ocean, whose shores no eye of prophecy or faith can discern, we shall pre sent a sad spectacle to the world."

But general debate and the miscellaneous remarks that would naturally be made in such a spontaneous discussion of the President's message were not all that the stern and threatening exigencies of the hour demanded. Something more positive and practical must be done. Measures must be devised, if possible, to check the disorganizing and disintegrating tendencies that were menacing the very existence and longer continuance of the body politic. Something must be done to avert the impending blow. The wisdom of the wisest was needed, the mutual conference and comparison of views of the most experienced and sagacious must be called into requisition, and the subject must be removed from the excitement and publicity of the Senate and the House to the quiet and retirement of the committee-room. Accordingly, on the very day of the delivery of the President's message, a motion was made in the House for the appointment of a special committee to which it should be referred. The motion was adopted with very little debate. A similar motion was made in the Senate, which led to longer debate, but it was likewise adopted.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 11-21.

Chapter: “Special Committees upon the Crisis in the Senate and House,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

There can be no intelligent and appreciative reading of the opening debates of the session now under review without careful note of the general bewilderment and feeling of uncertainty that prevailed. While men were measurably clear in their own minds respecting the thing desired, they were very much at loss as to the best, or even possible, way of securing it. Whether occupying extreme or intermediate grounds, the wisest and most astute could only approximate conclusions on which they could with confidence rely. Both the friends and enemies of the government, being ignorant of the purposes and plans of each other, and much more of the Divine purpose and plan involved in the mighty events through which they were passing and toward which they were looking, their own were necessarily inchoate, tentative, and incomplete. Both houses had appointed special committees, and their reports became the subjects of debate and action. Though the House moved first, and its report became the basis of the final action of Congress, some account of the report of the Senate's committee and its consideration is an essential part of a history of the session.

On the 10th Lazarus W. Powell of Kentucky introduced a resolution that " so much of the President's message as relates to the present agitated and distracted condition of the country, and to grievances between the slaveholding and non-slaveholding States be referred to a committee of thirteen members; and that said committee be instructed to inquire into the present condition of the country, and report by bill or otherwise." It became the subject of a long debate, and was not adopted until the 18th. The discussion, however, necessarily revealed at once the sentiments and lines of thought, the wishes and purposes of the different sections and schools at that great crisis. The mover purposely refrained, he said, from any consideration of the “causes" of "the unfortunate state of affairs," only seeking “to restore unity, quiet, and security to a distracted and divided people." Preston King of New York expressed his belief that the Republic would go "safely through the crisis," and his doubt of the necessity of “raising this committee at all”; but if there was “a fitness in it," he favored a full and free inquiry upon the various subjects proposed. James S. Green of Missouri avowed his purpose to vote for the committee, because in his esteem it was important to " use every effort not to precipitately hurry over the precipice and fall into the yawning gulf, without an effort to reason together, to pause a moment to reflect and see if something may not be done." Intimating that he had grave doubts as to the value of any amendments of the Constitution, he expressed the conviction that they were “not worth a straw," so long as “a vitiated and corrupted state of public sentiment prevails, North and South." Saying that there were but two modes of government, by " common consent " and by " physical force," he proposed a resolution " for establishing an armed police force at all necessary points along the line separating the slaveholding from the non-slaveholding States, to prevent the invasion of one State by citizens of another, and also for the efficient execution of the fugitive slave laws." Referring to the raids into Missouri, and to that of John Brown into Virginia, lie contended that it was not enough to punish invaders, the government should “prevent invasion," as also “the abduction of slaves." On the subject of the required rendition of fugitives he quoted largely from distinguished writers and jurists on the subject “to establish the constitutionality of such rendition. Lafayette S. Foster of Connecticut, having inti mated his readiness to support the proposition, the more readily because it came from the dominant party, Stephen S. Douglas of Illinois, expressed his regret at hearing any allusion to party politics. He said he was willing to “act with any party and with any individual of any party “for the preservation of the Constitution and the Union. Professing himself to be as good a party man as any man living, he said, “I do not desire to hear the word party, or to listen to any party appeal, while we are considering and discussing the questions on which the fate of the country now hangs."

Jefferson Davis, whose prominence and subsequent leader ship in the secession movement invested his words with special significance, spoke briefly. “Mr. President," he said, “if the political firmament seemed to me dark before, there has been little in the discussion this morning to cheer or illumine it." Alluding to what he stigmatized the “quack nostrums” which had been proposed, he indicated his conviction that “men must look more deeply, must rise to a higher altitude “if they would relieve the evils which disturb the land and threaten its destruction." The diagnosis of the disease," he said, "must first be stated before we are prepared to prescribe." Enunciating the doctrines of State rights, inveighing against consolidation, and praising the form and even the past administration of the government as of unrivalled excellence, he dwelt with all the force of the most intense expressions upon the utter inadequacy of any mere enactments of law, or the adoption of any mere amendments of the Constitution. The trouble lay deeper, he said, in the feelings of the people, in “sectional hostility," which had been substituted “for the fraternity in which the government was founded…. Then, where is the remedy? the question may be asked. In the hearts of the people, is the ready reply." It was “rooted in fraternity," and -when that was destroyed, the government of the fathers ceased to exist. He said he could “not comprehend the policy of the Southern Senator who would substitute Federal force for State obligations and authority." " I fear," he said, " his proposition is to rear a monster which will break the feeble chain provided, and destroy rights it was intended to guard." Mr. Green, nettled by the opprobrious designation of “quack nostrums," applied to the propositions which had been made, replied with some spirit. He referred to the greater hazard and loss of the border as compared with those of the Gulf States, Mississippi and Louisiana losing, he said, “but one boxed-up negro," while Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland had “lost thousands and thousands and thousands." Their wrongs, he contended, were real, and needed practical remedies, while those of the extreme South were rather “ideal and imaginary."

Charles Sumner spoke briefly, and contented himself with calling public attention to the testimony of General Jackson in 1833, in which he characterized the nullifiers as “wicked demagogues." “The tariff," said the hero of the Hermitage, "it is now known, was a mere pretext ... disunion and a Southern Confederacy the real object. The next pretext will be the negro or slavery question." James Dixon of Connecticut pleaded the cause of harmony. Declaring his dissent from the idea that there was any necessary antagonism between free and slave labor, he expressed the conviction that if slavery should destroy the Union it would be because " the statesmen of the day are incompetent to the task “; and his belief that, if the matter could be left to the people, the " States would continue to be bound together in eternal union by the golden chains of mutual advantage." Albert G. Brown of Mississippi avowed his purpose to vote against the resolution because he had no faith in its efficacy, and because he would not encourage hopes among his people that he knew to be groundless. Acts of Congress, he said, could not extinguish “sectional hate." “You might as well undertake to extract a cancer with a mustard plaster as to root up this political disease by means like these." Mr. Pugh of Ohio opposed with warmth these remarks of Mr. Brown, and pleaded earnestly for harmony and concession. He pronounced Mr. Iverson's assertion, that the two sections hated each other, “a calumny." He deprecated, however, all resort to coercive measures. “What," he inquired, “would South Carolina be worth to herself or to us, if she were dragged captive in chains? .... If she cannot be retained by bonds of affection, or, if estranged, cannot be brought back to us by acts of kindness, why, let her depart in sorrowful silence." Mr. Mason of Virginia would vote for the resolution, though he had no faith that Congress could do anything effective, saying that he should regret extremely if its passage should encourage or lead the non-slaveholding States to look to Congress for any hope of an adjustment of these differences. The difficulty, he said, was not the failure to execute the fugitive slave laws, nor the passage of personal liberty bills, but it was “a social war, — a war of sentiment, of opinion; a war of one form of society against another form of society." He deprecated the proposition that the executive should have the necessary power placed in his hands to execute the laws. That means," he said, that “the law is to march straight forward, like the car of Juggernaut, crushing all who may oppose it." The only ground of hope, he thought, was with the people, who, meeting in conventions at the North as they were then doing at the South, must “determine whether anything and what can be done to save this Union." The debate of the 11th turned largely upon the question whether or not the compromises of the Constitution had been carried out in good faith. Douglas and Pugh contended that they had been, while Green and Iverson maintained that practically they had not been, faithfully executed.

Near the close of the debate Mr. Wade of Ohio made a long and manly speech. With earnest and eloquent voice he vindicated the demands of justice and humanity; characterized with ability and refreshing boldness the course of those who discarded the doctrine of human rights, denied to others what they claimed for themselves, and proved traitorous to their country; and announced with unflinching firmness the purposes of those with whom he acted, and who were soon to assume the reins of power. Referring to the complaints against the Republicans so rife, he remarked that the Republican party had never had an executive officer, while those who made the complaints, though representing a little more than one fourth of the free people of the United States, had generally had the men of their choice in every department of the government, dictating its policies and controlling its action. He alluded to the admissions of Iverson, Mason, and Brown that they had suffered little from personal liberty bills or the failure of Northern States to carry out the compromises of the Constitution; adding the specific testimonies and claims of the Democratic Senators from the North, — Pugh, Douglas, and Fitch,—that the free States had ever proved themselves faithful in that regard. Indeed, he asserted that where one slave had been lost through the unfaithfulness of Northern tribunals, ten men had been murdered by either Southern mobs, or those inspired by Southern hate. The Fugitive Slave Act was fearfully repugnant to Northern feelings, and yet it had generally been faithfully executed, though, at the same time. Northern seamen were habitually imprisoned in Southern ports. And not only had the North been thus generally innocent of the infraction of laws, even those most odious, but he claimed that the distinctive doctrines of those he represented were no "new doctrines." “We stand," he said," where Washington stood, where Jefferson stood, where Madison stood, where Monroe stood. We stand where Adams and Jackson and even Polk stood You have changed your opinion. We stand where we used to stand. That is the only difference." He closed his speech by avowing the purpose of the Republican Party to prohibit slavery in all free territory, to oppose all further compromises, to use the power its recent victory had placed in its hands to maintain the Union, and to coerce, if needed, any seceding States to return to their indebted allegiance. If, however, he added, they should secede and maintain their independence, he warned them that those who rallied around the flag would find “in the fair fields of Mexico" an adjunct that would invite the protectorate of the United States, which “would be sevenfold indemnified by the trade and commerce of that country for what it would lose by secession." The resolution was adopted on the following day, without a division. On the 20th the Vice-President announced the committee, which consisted of Powell, Hunter, Crittenden, Seward, Toombs, Douglas, Collamer, Davis, Wade, Bigler, Rice, Doolittle, and Grimes.

In the House, Alexander H. Boteler of Virginia moved to refer so much of the President's message as pertained to the perilous condition of the country to a committee of one from each State. The motion was promptly adopted by a vote of one hundred and forty-five to thirty-eight, although all the South Carolina delegation and most of those of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi refused to vote on the plea that their respective States had ordered conventions which alone had the power to settle the matter. On the announcement of the committee, a sharp debate sprang up on requests to be excused from serving thereon. George S. Hawkins of Florida, in his speech urging his request, alluded to the fact that his State had already inaugurated measures looking towards secession, and to his own belief that “the time of compromise had passed forever." He criticised the composition of the committee because it did not, he thought, represent fully the sentiment of the country. He said, too, that no Southern man should have made the proposition; that the South “should have stood aloof and assumed an attitude of self-defence, of stern defiance, awaiting an overture from the North." Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio indorsed the sentiments of Mr. Hawkins, protested against the arrangement of the committee, and expressed his unwillingness to compel any one to serve upon it. Reuben Davis of Mississippi deprecated the appointment of the committee, and expressed the conviction that every Southern member should resign. But, as that would not be, he accepted his appointment, to " aid in preventing deception," though he regarded the measure " a tub thrown to the whale to amuse till the 4th of March next," and to " arrest the manly movement of the Southern States." But Hawkins's request was refused by a decisive vote, as was also another by Boyce of South Carolina.

John A. McClernand of Illinois, a prominent member of the conservative Democracy, approved of the committee, though he complained of its composition and of what he chose to regard a " proscription," or a discrimination against those Democrats who had stood up for Southern rights, — an advocacy and support, he thought, which rendered the course of the seceding States all the more reprehensible. “The South," he said, "whose battles we have been fighting, are about to desert us in the hour of our extremity by withdrawing from the Union. I will not believe it until I am forced to do so." But he was not compelled to wait long before the conviction was forced upon him and Northern Democrats generally, that the men who had broken faith with the government, and violated the solemn oaths of office they had voluntarily taken, would have few scruples of party fealty, or anything like adequate remembrance of past services and sacrifices in their behalf; and that they who had for generations disregarded the requirements of all laws, human and Divine, would not be held back from the realization of their long-cherished dreams and plans by any considerations of even partisan comity and obligation.

It having been voted that all resolutions and propositions upon the general subject should be referred to the committee, twenty-five such different propositions were presented and thus referred. A resolution offered by Isaac N. Morris, a Democratic member from Illinois, that the election of Abraham Lincoln did not justify a dissolution of the Union, was adopted by a vote of one hundred and fifteen to forty-four. Another, offered by Martin J. Crawford of Georgia, declaring that the Constitution recognizes property in slaves who cannot become citizens, gave rise to a two days debate, but was finally laid on the table. During the discussion of the motion Mr. McClernand offered a substitute proposing an amendment of the Constitution; but it was voted down.

The committee was appointed, with Mr. Corwin of Ohio chairman. It held its first meeting on the 11th of December, although it did not report until five weeks later. On the 14th of January there were presented eight reports. That of the majority, presented by the chairman, took the middle ground of compromise and comparative moderation, though its prevailing tone was that of surrender, with the manifest purpose to make every concession possible to avert the impending disruption. Though dissenting from the severe arraignment of the North by the President, as unsustained by facts, it urged strongly the importance of fulfilling all constitutional obligations in the matter of returning fugitives, and expressed the belief that a very small fraction of the Northern people was opposed to such reclamation, and also satisfaction that many of the Northern States were already reviewing and revising their statute-books to rid them of all such objectionable legislation. The resolutions proposed for adoption affirmed that all attempts of State legislatures to obstruct the working of the Fugitive Slave Act should be discountenanced ; suggested that the several State legislatures should revise their statutes to ascertain whether or not any were in conflict with provisions of the Constitution; disclaimed all right to meddle with slavery in the States; affirmed that there was no sufficient ground for the dissolution of the Union; declared that the faithful observance of all constitutional obligations was essential to the peace of the country; recommended that the State legislatures should revise their laws concerning the right of the citizens of one State to travel unmolested in another ; and that the States should be requested to enact proper laws against the lawless invasion of one State by the citizens of another. To assure the South that the Republican Party had no ulterior designs on the institution of slavery in the States, it proposed an amendment of the Constitution denying to Congress any power to interfere with slavery “until every State in the Union, by its individual State action, shall consent to its exercise." The question of slavery in the Territories it proposed to adjust by the compromise of admitting New Mexico with its proslavery code; which, like all previous compromises, was simply another concession to slaveholding demands. Though the report appeared sufficiently Southern, containing but one seeming concession to Northern interests and wants, — its recommendation of new provisions for the protection of citizens of one State travelling in another, — it did not answer the demands of the members from Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Delaware, and North Carolina. Something more intensely Southern was requisite; and this they embodied in an elaborate report, closing with a recommendation of the " Crittenden resolutions," or a convention of the States for the amendment of the Constitution, or, in default of these, a plan for peaceful separation.

With the exception of the report signed by Washburn of Wisconsin and Tappan of New Hampshire, which alone had the true ring of freedom and fealty to human rights, each of the eight reports was apologetic and deprecatory in tone, conceding much, sacrificing Northern self-respect, and ignoring, as if they did not exist, all claims of justice and humanity. They all exhibited a feverish anxiety to escape threatened dangers, and to secure relief from the heavy pressure which had so long rested upon the nation. In the report signed by the members from Wisconsin and New Hampshire, and in those alone, was vindicated the great principle of republicanism, that the majority must rule. It affirmed, too, with dignity and a manly positiveness, the obligation resting upon the new and dominant party not to yield to the causeless clamors of those who made the election of Mr. Lincoln the pretence for their treasonable threats and arrogant demands, by granting the guaranties proposed by the majority ; pleaded, against the proposed modifications of Northern statutes to calm and conciliate Southern prejudices and fears, the fact that the courts were open for appeal; and noted the marked inconsistency of Northern men who were so anxious to modify their own laws at Southern dictation, but who had never exhibited any solicitude for the repeal of Southern statutes, by which Northern men had been persistently and remorselessly deprived of the rights and immunities guaranteed by the Constitution. The amendment of the Constitution recommended by the majority it characterized as “a constitutional decree of perpetual bondage." To the proposed admission of New Mexico as a State, it adduced many grave objections, other than that of its pro slavery laws. Against all the propositions of the committee, it urged the impotence of every attempt at conciliation, because the reasons of Southern discontent, they contended, lay not in the unfriendly legislation of the North or in any real apprehension of Northern interference, but in a long-cherished purpose to leave the Union. It styled the Southern States “our sick man," for whose cure the proposed nostrums were “perfectly idle”; and it closed with the remark that the Constitution needed “to be obeyed rather than amended."

The debate upon these reports could not but be earnest and eloquent. The novelty of the situation, the impending dangers to the government, dreaded by some and desired by others, the very darkness and doubts that enveloped all things and hid everything future so impenetrably from the view that men could not even conjecture what a day might bring forth, were well calculated to arouse the most sluggish and wake up the dormant energies of those most determined to remain quiet and undisturbed. If there was sensibility, it could not but be quickened; if there was talent, it could not but be called into action; if there was eloquence, it could not but speak. They who would destroy and they who would conserve the government, they who would disgrace and they who would defend the national flag, were placed in circumstances to call forth their most effective efforts. The disunion they had hitherto talked about as something contingent and, at the worst, at a distance, seemed near at hand; the secession which had been bandied about for so many years as a threat had become an accomplished fact. The “situation," then, became the absorbing subject of debate, whatever might be the specific motion or resolution before either house. Congress became the stage, and its members actors, at least in the prelude of that awful tragedy which was soon to occupy the whole land as its theatre.

Mr. Corwin, in opening the debate, said he should confine himself mainly to “an explanation of the motives which have induced the committee" to make the recommendations of the report. These “motives," it soon transpired, were based on the supposed expediency of the plan proposed, rather than upon its justice and equity. To pacify and persuade the “wayward sisters" to return to their allegiance, and to prevent others from following their lead, and not to vindicate and protect the rights of those States which still remained loyal, was its manifest purpose. He began by an allusion to the fact that twenty-eight years before, in the same house, he had been called to confront the nullification movement of South Carolina, based on the same underlying principles which now prompted the action of the seceding States, — dissatisfaction with the Federal government, secession its remedy. Then the tariff was the bone of contention; now, slavery.

In the prosecution of the work of pacification and persuasion, he reminded the recusant States that they had the courts to which they could resort in all cases of the infraction of the Constitution and the laws. He recognized the right of property in man, and the rightfulness of the Fugitive Slave Act, which, he admitted and insisted, should be faithfully executed, while all personal-liberty laws and other enactments should be made to conform thereto. To the argument that Mr. Lincoln's election foreshadowed the purpose and the danger of an ultimate assault on slavery in the States by an amendment of the Constitution, he interposed for reply a consideration, both statistical and geographical, showing that the party of freedom could never command the necessary two-thirds and three fourths votes to accomplish such a purpose. The fear expressed that the people of New Mexico might be induced to root up slavery when it became a State, he sought to dissipate by the rather singular argument, for a Northern man, that the system of peonage, which he rather indorsed, would be apt to make it a slaveholding State. He closed with an elaborate argument to the effect that the Southern desire for more territory was a mistake, and that her real want was more slaves and less land.

John S. Millson of Virginia, though avowing himself a friend of slavery and " a States-rights man of the straitest sect," deprecated disunion, and pleaded earnestly for those who desired to preserve the nation intact. If a Northern State, he said, should enact the most unjust and unconstitutional laws, there were the courts and retaliating legislation, and they would involve a far less fearful and fatal course than secession. Though he deprecated secession as among the sorest of calamities that could befall the nation, yet he would “oppose every resort to force and every attempt at coercion." Sherrard Clemens, of .the same State, followed in a similar strain, deprecating secession because, he said, with truthful forecast, slavery would be “crucified if this controversy ends in the dismemberment of the Union." He would apply, he said, to the recusant States the language of Jefferson to the New England States in 1798: “A little patience, and we shall see the reign of the witches pass over, their spells dissolved, and the people recovering their true sight, restoring their government to its true principles."

John A. Bingham of Ohio addressed the House with great eloquence and force. Admitting the right of revolution, he showed, that, as this was a government of the people and not of the States, they, and not the States, could avail themselves of that primal right. Concerning the assertion that the plan proposed and adopted by the seceding States was “a peaceable remedy," though it must “blot a great people from the map of nations," he said: “You might as well talk about a peace able earthquake which rends the earth asunder and buries its inhabitants in a common ruin. You might as well talk to me of a peaceable storm which fills the heavens with darkness and the habitations of men with desolation and death." Of the constitutional amendment proposed by the committee, he said: “This amendment, if adopted, will startle the civilized world. It is a written conspiracy against the liberties of four million men and their descendants forever." Of New Mexico he said: “She has to-day upon her statute-book two slave-codes which would bring blushes to the cheek of Caligula." With like earnestness and force Owen Lovejoy of Illinois spoke. Reverently invoking Divine aid and “the wisdom from above," he said that he seemed to stand "in the august presence of thirty-two million people." Those who deprecated coercion he referred to the fact that the seceders had stolen United States property and had fired on a United States vessel. “Those balls," he said, "booming, hissing, disgracing and defying the flag, burn and sting to the very quick continually. And yet, we are asked to compromise and conciliate. Never, as God lives, will I vote for a particle of compromise until that insult is atoned, apologized for, and avenged; never." Speaking of the Saviour, who “nestled beside the lowest form of the most degraded, and whispered, in accents of divine love. My brother," he said: “We might as well mock at the bloody agony of Christ as to jeer at the miseries of the poor slave." “Sir," he said, in closing, “it is a crime to make shipwreck of this government. Let the American people who made it preserve it consecrated to freedom." Mr. Washburn, who had signed one of the minority reports, defended its principles, closing with the declaration that, if the Union must be broken and a new one should be formed, it would be a consolation to those who survived, that they were what they never had been before, "inhabitants of a free country."

In a similar strain spoke Edward McPherson of Pennsylvania. Giving the history and purpose of secession, and subjecting the alleged reasons therefor to a most rigorous examination, he declared that they were “complaints without foundation, grievances without actuality, suffering without wounds, oppression without burdens, and apprehensions without reason." Charles B. Sedgwick of New York contended that the only settlement of the difficulty lay in the path of a vigorous and manly defence of principle. He was opposed to all compromises because, he believed, “the day of compromise has past." “Besides," he added, " I regard the alleged complaints groundless and the proposed remedies puerile." He alluded to slavery as “a perpetual weakness, a disgrace, a calamity," — not a disease to be cured by gentle remedies, but “a case for surgery." “This hour," said Charles H. Van Wyck of the same State, “witnesses the fulfilment of all we have predicted as to the encroachments and demands of slavery. From coercing the labor of one race, it places its hand on our throat, and in the language of the highwayman, demands our money or our life, our government or our principles I think I can see the finger of the Almighty moving on the troubled waters. Men and nations will do but little in warring against his decrees." 

All these Southern complaints, said Thaddeus Stevens, "are mere pretences. The restless spirits of the South desire to have a slave empire, and they use things as excuses. Some of them desire a more brilliant and stronger government than a republic. Their domestic institutions, and the social inequality of their free people, naturally prepare them for a monarchy surrounded by a lordly nobility, — for a throne founded on the neck of labor." Orris S. Ferry of Connecticut, after speaking of and tracing the " thirty years' growth " of the disunion movement, declared the object of its leaders to be the over throw of democratic and the establishment of aristocratic and monarchical institutions, behind whom " stands the mob, just beginning to be conscious of its strength and ready for any desperate enterprise." Deprecating the ascendency of such principles, he drew, in grateful contrast, a picture of New England influences. " Wherever," he said, " along your path way, you find mingled, injustest proportions, reverence for law and love for civil liberty ; wherever you find the highest social order resting securely upon the broadest democracy ; wherever industry is most prevalent, and reaps the most ample rewards; wherever villages cluster thickest, and churches most abound, and schoolhouses are most frequent; wherever Christianity assumes her purest form, and education is most widely disseminated, — there, sir, everywhere then you behold the footprints of New England." He spoke of the Rebellion as more wicked than any “since the angels revolted"; of the report of the committee as a compromise of principle that should not be made at any time, but especially under duress. “I am afraid to compromise," he added, “lest I demoralize the government." In a similar strain were the eloquent remarks of James Humphrey of New York, in response to the charge, made by Mr. Winslow of Kentucky, of insensibility, on the part of the Republicans, in view of the thickening dangers which were menacing the nation. After saying it was no “cold, icy stoicism” that governed their conduct, he added: “If we are motionless amid this convulsion, it is not from insensibility; but because, standing now upon the Constitution of our fathers, we can find no other solid ground on which to plant an advancing footstep. Believe me, this is no ' sullen silence ' that reigns on this side of the chamber when you appeal to us to offer concession to save the Union. It is a solemn fear that such concessions may prove its speedy and complete dismemberment."

James Wilson of Indiana spoke earnestly and effectively against the proposed compromises. After exposing the triviality of the Southern reasons for secession, he characterized the President's plan of conciliation as subversive of every principle of civil liberty. Of the Crittenden plan, he said: “It bristles all over with devilish enginery to guard every outpost and protect every advance of slavery." Of the committee's propositions he said that there was “not a single thing new that is important ; not a single thing old that is not made worse It is a sham ; and I believe, with Carlyle, that whenever you meet a sham, smite it, and smite it, — in God's name, smite it, until it dies, or you die."

Though the report of the committee was thus severely criticised by the friends of freedom as yielding too much and as admitting principles and recommendations at war with the genius of free institutions, many with antislavery convictions and antecedents felt constrained by the pressure of the hour to speak and vote for it. Among them was Charles Francis Adams of Massachusetts, who had been long identified with the antislavery reform, and who was candidate for the Vice Presidency on the Free Soil ticket of 1848. Speaking of the Union as “inwoven in his affections with the labors in its support of two generations, .... mingled with earnest prayers for the welfare of those who are treading after me," he pleaded for its “continuity," in the interests of “republican institutions, as well in America as over the rest of the civilized world." Admitting that the Southern “discontent " and threatened purpose were without good reason, lie still counselled moderation and every reasonable effort to stem and turn the rising current of secession. The grounds of complaint he characterized as personal-liberty bills which never freed a slave, exclusion from territory which slaveholders will never desire to enter, apprehension of an event which will never take place. He spoke of the inexpressible folly of the slaveholders breaking up a government which gave them their only reasonable hope of maintaining power over the bondmen, and of entering upon an experiment that must “ignominiously fail." Still, he would conciliate even those whose course and cause he characterized as so inexcusable and wicked, “on some fair basis like that proposed by the committee."

Among the Southern advocates of union and the report of the committee, were Horace Maynard of Tennessee and Henry "Winter Davis of Maryland. Occupying middle ground, between the antislavery men of the North and the secessionists of the South, and sympathizing with neither, they mingled their pleas for the Union with bitter denunciations upon the heads of both. Mr. Maynard, alluding to the " ineradicable difference of opinion and antagonistic feeling " between the sections, and to the allegations of Mr. Lincoln that the nation could not endure " half slave and half free," of Mr. Seward that there was an " irrepressible conflict " between them, he asked and answered the question, " Can these States remain in the same confederacy part free and part slave? " by saying that he saw " no good reason why they should not continue thus." Admitting that there were " difficulties in the way," in the purpose of many to break the Union, in the unfriendly attitude of some foreign governments, and in " the imbecility of the President " ; deprecating coercion and distrusting any mere " administrative expedients," he deemed the Crittenden resolutions as worthy of consideration, and proposed this impracticable solution of the momentous problem: " Listen to their grievances ; remove the causes of their discontent. Whole peoples are never consciously wrong, and must not be proceeded against as criminals. They are never corrupt, and cannot be purchased with bribes."

Mr. Davis was a gentleman of culture and irreproachable character, an accomplished scholar, and an orator with few to contest his palm of superiority. Few men ever addressed either house with more commanding and thrilling eloquence. His ability and position, and the circumstances of the hour, could not but command his utmost strength, and make this effort peerless even among his own most elaborate and eloquent productions. Belonging to the new American organization, he was prevented by no party affiliation from pronouncing the severest judgment upon both extremes. “We are at an end," he said, “of partisan license, which for thirty years has, in the United States, worn the mask of government. We are about to close the masquerade by the dance of death." Sketching with a free hand, and denouncing, in language no less bitter and biting because it was polished and parliamentary, the political profligacy and demoralization of the hour, he said the belligerent States had reached a point where they were fighting their own quarrels " without regard to the Federal government," " as if the Constitution were silent and dead," while " unconstitutional commissioners flit from State to State, or assemble at the national capital, to counsel peace or instigate war." He spoke of the President as “paralyzed and stupefied”; as "standing amid the crash of the falling Republic, still muttering, ' Not in my time; not in my time. After me the deluge,'" while we are called upon “to deal with the consequences of his incapacity." Detailing, with great force, the consequences of disruption, among which were " to sever the territory we have labored for three generations to establish; pull down the flag of the United States and take a lower station among the nations of the earth ; abandon the high prerogative of leading the march of freedom, the hope of struggling nationalities, and the terror of frowning tyrants," he said that " the Constitution and laws must be sustained, and they who stand across the path of that enforcement must either destroy the power of the United States or it will destroy them." Having asserted that Maryland was still loyal to the flag, in answer to a protest of one of his colleagues against his claim to speak for the State, he declared that if she sought to " go out by convention or otherwise, their authority will be resisted and defied in arms on the soil of Maryland, in the name and by the authority of the Constitution of the United States."

During the debate there was another voice raised for the Union, equally earnest, if not equally eloquent, from the same section, though its extremest portion. A. J. Hamilton of Texas not only pleaded, but pledged himself, for the continued integrity of the nation. Not concealing his bitter animosity towards Northern Abolitionists, he spoke in unmeasured terms against Southern extremists. With pathetic words, he described his great sorrow at the fact that though, when he travelled the two thousand miles intervening between his home and the capital, his " foot had pressed no spot of foreign territory," his " eye rested on not one material object that was not a part and parcel of my country," it would, he feared, on his return, be " changed. When I go hence it will be to find my pathway intercepted by new and strange nationalities. Without ever having wandered from my native land, I must traverse foreign countries if I would return." Speaking of the Federal government as a “shrine," he said: “Yet there are worshippers there; and I am among them. I have been called by warning voices to come out and escape the impending danger; I have been wooed by entreaties and plied with threats. But, sir, neither entreaties nor threats nor hope of reward nor dread of danger shall tear me away until I lay hold of the horns of the altar of my country, and implore Heaven in his own good time to still this storm of civil strife." And his brave record, during the war, showed that these were no empty words.

But at length the exciting debate was brought to a close, and the House proceeded to vote upon the report of the committee. Before reaching that vote it was necessary to dispose of three proposed amendments. The first, offered by John C. Burch of California, proposing a convention for amending the Constitution, was defeated by the vote of seventy-four to one hundred and nine. There was then before the House the proposed amendment of Mr. Clemens, embracing the Critten den resolutions, to which had been proposed another amendment by William Kellogg of Illinois. The last received only thirty-three votes, and the first was defeated by the vote of eighty to one hundred and thirteen. The main question was then put and carried by the decisive vote of one hundred and thirty-seven to fifty-three. The joint resolution for amending the Constitution was then defeated, not receiving the requisite two-thirds vote. The vote, however, was reconsidered, and the resolution received the requisite number of votes, passed the Senate, and was approved by the President.

When the joint resolution came up in the Senate, Mr. Mason offered the Crittenden resolutions as a substitute. In the de bate which followed, Morton S. Wilkinson of Minnesota avowed his purpose to vote against both the resolution and the substitute, expressing the belief that the Northwest would never relinquish the free navigation of the Mississippi from its sources to its mouth; and that, should it be necessary to vindicate their rights by war, the old flag would still wave victorious. Zachary Chandler of Michigan made an earnest speech for the Union. "No concession," he said, "no compromise, — ay, give us strife, even to blood, before a yielding to the demands of traitorous violence." Mr. Crittenden, too, spoke for the Union, but in a very different spirit and strain. He deplored the spectacle presented by Congress, soon to adjourn, but making no provision for the great and imminent needs of the country; talking of war, and providing no force to carry it forward; talking of pacification, and proposing no method to secure it. His speech, however, was an earnest plea for compromise, and deprecatory of the little matter, as he claimed, that was riving the nation, — “the paltry question," as he characterized it, "which divides us," whether slavery should be recognized or excluded from New Mexico.

To the speech of the aged Senator, with its stern rebukes of the Republicans and their proposed adherence to the doctrines of the platform on which they had carried the recent election, and his attempts to belittle the “question" at issue, Lyman Trumbull made a vigorous and fitting reply. Attributing the desperateness of affairs to the irresolution and indecision of the outgoing executive, he expressed his confidence that they would “learn to-morrow, from the eastern front of the capitol, that we have a government, and that will be the beginning of the maintenance of the Union."

Louis Wigfall of Texas made a vituperative and insulting speech, well befitting the man and his cause. “The Star of the West," he said,” swaggered into Charleston harbor, received a blow planted full in the face, and staggered out. Your flag has been insulted; redress it if you dare. You have submitted to it for two months, and you will submit forever. .... We have dissolved the Union; mend it if you can; cement it with blood; try the experiment," Saying that whatever measures Congress might adopt, the seven seceded States would not be persuaded to return, he added: “It is useless to talk about reconstruction. This Federal government is dead. The only question is, whether we will give it a decent Protestant burial, or whether we shall have an Irish wake at the grave." Speaking of the proposition that the seceding States should appoint commissioners to confer with the Federal authorities, he made the insolent remark: " To be very candid with you, I do not think there is any government here with which they could treat One of the partners having with drawn dissolves the firm."

Mr. Wilson avowed his unwillingness to vote for the resolution, because he would not thus make the nation responsible for slavery. “I cannot vote," he said,” in this age and with our lights to put into the Constitution of this Christian and democratic republic this new guaranty for slavery." Mr. Wade, with his usual force and point, expressed his distrust of the proposed remedies, and his conviction that neither Crittenden resolutions nor peace conventions could cure the evils complained of. “Before you can harmonize with us," he said, " you must learn to love liberty, learn to regard the rights of man, and cease to place confidence in the oppression and tyranny of any man To reconstruct your institutions upon a basis that will be permanent and eternal, as you dream, you will have to reconstruct the throne of God, and change the principles on which he has chosen to govern the world."

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 22-42.

Chapter: “South Carolina Commissioners. — President's Message,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

Though the course of events at the South had long betokened the violent collision of hostile forces drawn up in armed array, and the mutterings of approaching storm became more and more distinct, there were hesitation and delay, on the part of the conspirators, in making the first assault and in delivering the first blow. They had indeed long indulged in utterances and preparations which admitted of no other interpretation than that of actual treason and rebellion. They had in fact been guilty of overt acts of crime, had violated the requirements of law, had infringed upon the personal rights of individuals and set at naught the chartered rights of the government. At least such was the expressed opinion of Judge Smalley of the southern district of New York, in a charge to the grand jury delivered near the opening of the year. “War, civil war," he said, " exists in portions of the Union ; persons owing allegiance to the United States have confederated together, and with arms, by force and intimidation, have pre vented the execution of the constitutional acts of Congress, have forcibly seized upon and hold a custom-house and post office, forts, arsenals, vessels, and other property belonging to the United States, and have actually fired upon vessels bearing the United States flag and carrying United States troops.

This.... is high treason by levying war. Either one of those acts will constitute high treason." Though these acts, as avowed by the learned jurist, might have been legally and logically “war, civil war," they were hardly so regarded by either party, by the assailant or assailed. They were looked upon rather as a species of that slaveholding lawlessness which inhered in slavery itself, allowed if not allowable, on which they who cherished the system always ventured, as essential to its safety, and which they who did not accepted as one of the conditions on which alone the Union could be maintained. Though these demonstrations had increased in violence and number, and were the proclaimed exponents of a well-defined and avowed purpose to subvert the government and rend the Union unless their authors were allowed to go in peace, there was a general skepticism on both sides in regard to actual hostilities. There was the traditional sentiment at the South that the Yankee would not fight, and the feeling at the North that this was but the old game of menace and bluster, and that the slaveholders would not be guilty of the ineffable folly of destroying the Union which really constituted the bulwark of their system, the Constitution which afforded, as the event proved, the only guaranty of their alleged property in man. Both, therefore, hesitated. Neither felt quite prepared, in formal terms, to declare war, throw down the gage of battle, and appeal to the stern arbitrament of the sword. But such hesitation could not long continue. Events were hasting to their culmination. The stake was too great, too much had been said and done, and the crisis could be no longer averted. Shall Fort Sumter be relieved and its garrison be supplied? became the immediate question in whose answer was involved the momentous issue. The Rebel demand was the withdrawal of the garrison. “Earnest in those opinions," said Jesse D. Bright in his speech in the United States Senate on the resolution for his expulsion, “I joined others in urgent appeals to the late administration to withdraw our forces from Fort Sumter, and make our differences the subject of peaceful arbitrament." But the administration, as little as it sympathized with the loyal masses of the North, was not prepared for so base a surrender, for such dishonor of the national flag. Still everything was equivocal, evasive, and noncommittal. The annual message of the President and the opinion of his Attorney-General had failed to satisfy either extreme. Nor were there many between those extremes who gave these papers their unqualified indorsement. Something more definite and decisive was demanded, no more by the exigencies of the occasion than by the purposes and plans of the conspirators. It was determined, therefore, by the South Carolina secession leaders to take the initiative, and impose upon the President the necessity of defining his position, for the twofold purpose of putting an end to this uncertainty, and of compelling him to provide for the formal transfer from the Federal government to the jurisdiction of the State what ever the former had hitherto held and controlled within the limits of the latter. Three commissioners were accordingly appointed to proceed to Washington to confer with Mr. Buchanan, " authorized and empowered to treat with the government of the United States for the delivery of the forts, magazines, lighthouses, and other real estate, with their appurtenances, in the limits of South Carolina ; and also for an apportionment of the public debt, and for a division of all other property held by the government of the United States as agent of the Confederate States of which South Carolina was recently a member, and generally to negotiate as to all other measures and arrangements proper to be made and adopted in the existing relation of parties, and for the continuance of peace and amity between this Commonwealth and the government at Washington."

Proceeding at once to the capital, they addressed the President in a communication, dated December 28, 1860, in which, as if secession had already become an accomplished fact, they seemed to assume that nothing remained but an arrangement of the details of separation. Furnishing him an " official copy of the ordinance of secession by which South Carolina resumed the powers she delegated to the government of the United States and has declared her perfect sovereignty and independence," they informed him that it would have been their duty, but for an unforeseen contingency, to propose negotiation and inaugurate their new relations as to " avoid all unnecessary and hostile collision," and " secure mutual respect, general advantage, and a future of good -will" to all concerned. “But," alluding to the surrender of Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney, and the transfer of troops to Fort Sumter on the 27th, they continued, " the events of the last twenty-four hours render such an assurance impossible " ; and they added, with refreshing coolness, not to say insolence, " Until the circumstances are explained in a manner which relieves us of all doubt as to the spirit in which these negotiations shall he conducted, we are forced to suspend all discussion " relating thereto. They urged, too, the immediate withdrawal of the troops from the harbor of Charleston, because, they said, their presence was “a standing menace," and rendered “negotiation impossible."

Such a communication from such a source could not but embarrass the President. His known and pronounced sympathy with the South, his lack of sympathy with the free sentiments of the North, especially as they had become crystallized into the Republican party, and were expressed in its platform and by its presses and speakers, his undoubted loyalty and his distress in view of the treason, long meditated and threatened and now in process of actual execution, rendered it, no doubt, extremely difficult to satisfy himself, much less either of the parties in the strife. Sympathizing with neither extreme, he found it impossible to trace the middle line of either safety or satisfaction. Unable to comply with their traitorous wishes, he displeased the conspirators; failing to rebuke in fitting terms their outspoken treason and insufferable insolence, he aroused the indignation of the loyal masses who could not brook with patience such craven cowardice and pusillanimity. The President acknowledged the receipt of the communication and the enclosed ordinance of secession, and began his response by referring the commissioners to that portion of his annual message in which he had defined his position and given expression to his opinions. Quoting from that paper his disclaimer of any “authority to decide what shall be the relations between the Federal government and South Carolina, ....much less to acknowledge the independence of that State," and his admission of the duty "to submit to Congress the whole question in all its bearings," he added : " Such is my opinion still. I could, therefore, meet you only as private gentlemen of the highest character, and was entirely willing to communicate to Congress any proposition you might have to make to that body upon the subject." Expressing his earnest desire that Congress might adopt such action as would "prevent the inauguration of civil war," he added, "I therefore deeply regret that in your opinion ' the events of the last twenty-four hours render this impossible.' " Proceeding far too apologetically for the head of a great nation which was treating with men guilty of such crimes, he narrated the circumstances of the transfer and the "startling events" that were occurring in such quick succession. He then added, “In the harbor of Charleston we now find three forts confronting each other, over all of which the Federal flag floated four days ago; but now over two of them this flag has been supplanted, and the Palmetto flag has been substituted in its stead. It is under these circumstances that I am urged immediately to withdraw the troops from the harbor of Charleston, and I am informed that without this, negotiation is impossible. This I cannot do; this I will not do."

This refusal of the President, though accompanied with language so apologetical and deprecatory, greatly excited the com missioners. In their reply, sent in on the first day of January, they sharply criticised and censured his course. They threw upon him the responsibility of the result which, they expressed the fear, had probably rendered civil war inevitable. “If you choose," they say, " to force this issue upon us, the State of South Carolina will accept it, and relying upon Him who is the God of Justice, as well as the God of Hosts, will endeavor to perform the great duty which lies before her bravely and hopefully." Referring to the President's intimation that he must defend Fort Sumter, as extinguishing all hope of maintaining peace, they insolently informed him that “we propose returning to Charleston to-morrow afternoon." The President refused to receive the offensive document, and placed upon it this indorsement : " This paper just presented to the President is of such a character that he declines to receive it."

On the 9th of January the President sent a special message to Congress, in which he communicated to that body his general views upon the subject, the facts that had transpired since he had sent in his annual message, and the correspondence which had taken place between the South Carolina commissioners and himself, dated respectively on the 28th and the 31st of December. In it he reaffirmed the general principles advocated in the annual message, accompanied with the general statement that matters had become, and were becoming, more serious, so that, he said, " as the prospect of a bloodless settlement fades away, the public distress becomes more and more aggravated." He reasserted his conviction that, while States had no right to secede, the government had no right to declare war upon those who should secede. " I had no right," he said, " to make aggressive war upon a State ; and I am perfectly satisfied that the Constitution has wisely withheld that power even from Congress " ; though he admitted that military force might be used when the execution of "legal functions" were assailed. To Congress, he claimed, was committed the responsible trust of declaring war wherever the Constitution contemplated such a resort to arms, or to " remove grievances that might lead to war." He expatiated largely upon the " sacred trust " committed to them ; the fearful evils that must follow an appeal to force. He begged for delay, and for time, " the great conservative power." He besought Congress to give its best thoughts to the purpose of averting the threatened evils by some " peaceful solution." The seizure of several " forts, arsenals, and magazines," already made, he admitted was " aggressive," and not in resistance to any attempt to coerce a State. He reiterated his determined purpose that no act of his should increase the excitement, and that he had long re fused to send reinforcements to Major Anderson, lest it might seem " a menace of military coercion." He closed with " an explanation" of Major Anderson's removal from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, and with the assurance that, though he apprehended no trouble in the District of Columbia before the 4th of March, then near approaching, and to which he referred, he deemed it his duty to preserve peace at the capital, and that duty, he said, " shall be performed."

Immediately on the delivery of the message, William A. Howard of Michigan introduced a resolution, that it be referred to a committee of five with instructions to report whether any Federal officer was in communication with any person or persons concerning the surrender of any forts or other public property of the government ; whether any such officer had ever given any pledges not to send reinforcements to any forts in Charleston harbor ; what demand for reinforcements had been made; where the ships of the government were then stationed; whether any public buildings in Charles ton had been seized; whether a revenue-cutter of the United States had been seized. It provided also that the committee have power to report from time to time.

On the 10th Jefferson Davis made a very elaborate and important speech, to which his relations with the Rebellion gave special significance. He began with the remark that the days of abstract argument had passed, and that they were then mainly concerned with events, with facts. From the contemplation of the expected policy of the incoming administration, which, he affirmed, was sternly arrayed by its " platform," against all concession, he said, we turn our eyes to the administration still in power, and we see that " feeble hands now hold the reins of state," " drivellers are taken as counsellors," " vacillation is the law," and policy is changed with every " changing rumor," with " every new phase of causeless fear," while, though nothing has been done to avert the conflict, we are told the responsibility rests upon Congress. He made a strange assertion, betokening at least very singular misapprehension of the gravity of the occasion and the severity of the storm he had been so largely instrumental in raising. Had the garrison, he said, been called away thirty days before, nay, ten days, "peace would have spread its pinions over the land, and calm negotiation would have been the order of the day. But now, drifting into war, we sit discussing abstract questions, reading patchwork from the opinions of men now mingled with the dust." Drifting into a position in which this is to become a government of the army and the navy, lie inquired whether they would sit still and " permit it imperceptibly to slide from the moorings where it was originally anchored, and become a military despotism."

Alluding to the President's admission that he had no power to coerce a State, and yet asserting that he had power to use military force against those resisting the execution of the legal functions of the Federal officer, he denied the latter postulate, and contended that even in extreme cases troops could constitutionally be employed only as a posse comitatus ; and he contended that under the first two Presidents no other idea was entertained. Alluding to a former speech respecting that idea, he said that he had never admitted the right of the general government to maintain a garrison in a State against the wishes of that State. He characterized the President's annual message as " diplomatic," in the sense that " diplomacy is said to abhor certainty, as nature abhors a vacuum," while he affirmed that " it was not within the power of man to reach any fixed conclusion from that message." Alluding to the special message just received, he complained, while some historical information had been communicated, that " no countervailing proposition is presented ; no suggestion is made. We are left drifting loosely, without chart or compass."

He pointed to South Carolina as, in her new attitude, a sovereign nation threatening civil war, and yet, he complained, no suggestions of a peace policy have been made, the appointment of no commissioners to treat with her has been recommended. He enlarged upon the false pride, the cruel policy, of allowing the nation to drift into civil war, rather than withdraw the forces or lower the flag. He wished to regard the flag as that of brethren, and not as waving over angry belligerents. Opposing the position of those who contended that secession was unconstitutional, he took occasion to criticise the position of Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, who had said that " the true place to fight the battle is in the Union, and within the provisions of the Constitution." Assuming that such "fighting" was but a figure of speech, and that the revolution he proposed was " a revolution under the forms of government," he con tended that such was not the policy he believed in, nor the course he would pursue. He would not embarrass the incoming administration, or " handcuff the President," by using, with captious purpose, any legislative power he and those with whom he sympathized possessed. " If I must have a revolution," he said, " I say let it be a revolution such as our fathers made when they were denied their natural rights." The rights, he contended, which the fathers wrested from the British crown in the war of the Revolution, they did not delegate to the Federal government. Had they done so, those battles would have been fought and those sacrifices made in vain. It was only in the exercise of those rights that the people of the seceded States had left the Union and formed governments for themselves ; and the only really practical questions were, " Has the Federal government the right to coerce them back? and secondly, has it the power? " In speaking of the relative damage to be apprehended from a collision between the Northern and Southern States, he expressed the conviction that the South, with its sparse population and plantation system, had much less to fear than a country with populous cities and manufacturing villages.

The question now arises, he said, What shall be done ? Shall this condition of affairs be perpetual, or shall it be so improved that, having learned wisdom by sad experience, the two may return to first allegiance and former union ? He referred to the proposition of dual legislatures and executives which had been made, and, though he distrusted the policy of such a course, contended that it was worthy of consideration. But the grand panacea, he contended, for all their troubles was the policy of peace. The dissolution of the Union he did not regard, with others, the failure of the experiment of self-government or of constitutional government. It was only the failure of that especial trial. He alluded again to the malign influence of the vacillating policy of the administration still in power, to the obstinacy of that which was incoming, and to his growing conviction that the die was cast, and that the separation was inevitable. He referred to his sacrifices for the Union and his love for the flag, and expressed his deep sorrow at " taking a last leave of that object of early affection and proud association."

He said there were two modes of dissolving the Union, — the one by secession, the other by consolidation, — and both were equally real and effective. In either case the Union of the fathers was destroyed. He expatiated on the fact that the platform of the new party destroyed the equality of the States, and contained doctrines that could be made as potent by proclamations and platforms as by armies and invasion. The very figures of speech employed by its friends and advocates indicated, he said, the severity of their policy and the bitterness of their hate. Having their " heel on the Slave Power, grinding it into the dust, triumphing over slavery," these and like expressions betokened the fate in store for those against whose institution such metaphors were employed. Referring to Mr. Seward as "the directing intellect of the party," he said that " with less harshness of expression, but with more of method, he indicated this same purpose of deadly hostility." He said that Mississippi had sounded the warning, but the North un heeding persisted in its purpose of electing its sectional candidate. And now, he affirmed, "the issue is not of our making. Our hands are stainless; you aggressed upon our rights and our homes, and, under the will of God, we will defend them."

Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, then among the younger members of the Senate, immediately responded. Though his reply was less elaborate and extended, it abounded with points that well exposed the sophistries and plausible utterances of the arch secessionist. " We have listened," he said, " to the Senator from Mississippi; and one would suppose, in listening to him here, that he was a friend of the Union, that he desired the perpetuity of this government. He has a most singular way of preserving it, and a most singular way of maintaining the Constitution." It is for the government to abdicate, to with draw its forces in favor of a mob, or of the constituted authorities of Charleston. To avoid civil war, he said, nothing was wanted but a surrender to those who questioned its authority and threatened its power. He talks of the responsibility of Republicans for the state of affairs; but it is South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia that are the responsible parties. "They are making war, and modestly ask us to have peace by submitting to what they ask The stars and stripes have been taken down from the United States buildings in the city of Charleston, and trampled in the dust, and a palmetto flag, with a snake, reared in their place; but if we would avoid civil war, we are told we must submit to this. "Why, sir, any people can have peace at the price of degradation."

In reply to the argument that secession was a right because there was nothing in the Constitution that forbade it, he cited certain provisions in that instrument which inhibited States to levy imposts on imports, or to enter into compacts with foreign powers; while secession necessarily involved the right to do both. The doctrine, he contended, was fatal to anything like a constitutional government, for it invalidated all agreements, all laws, all compromises, making the statutes and guaranties of one day powerless the next, and destroying everything like confidence in the stability of legislation and in the binding force of the most sacred obligations. To the assertion that Congress could not coerce a State he replied that no such thing was claimed, but only the right to coerce the people or individuals of a State. The complaint that the exclusion of slaves from the Territories involved " the inequality of the States," he parried by the denial that any such inequality was either involved or intended. All that the Republican party insisted on was the power to prevent States from taking their own laws into the Territories. As for individuals, he insisted that the people of one State had identically the same power in them that the people of another had. " There is nothing," he said, " in this cry of inequality in regard either to the States or to citizens. We are all to have the same rights." To style the proposal of the Crittenden resolution, making the parallel of latitude of 36° 30' the line between slave and free territory, a proposition " to restore the Missouri Compromise," involved, he contended, a grave " misapprehension." I will vote for the Missouri Compromise, he said, to-morrow, for that would be in effect the exclusion of slavery from Kansas and Nebraska. The Crittenden proposition is a very different matter. That proposes to extend the dividing line into territory not in our possession at the time of the compromise of 1820, involving far more. To the remarks of Mr. Crittenden that the compromise of 1850 allowed New Mexico to establish slavery, and, as New Mexico had established it, he only proposed to recognize that as an established fact, he responded by the remark that he would leave the compromise of 1850 untouched, and not restrict the people of that Territory from the right to repeal that law if they saw fit. Still further, he said that if the Missouri Compromise could be restored as it was in 1854, he would stand by that of 1850.

Henry Clay had said that no human power could compel him to vote to extend slavery over a single foot of territory then free; and yet that is the very thing the Senator is now proposing to do. He expressed the conviction that the South had no cause of complaint. It had had control of the government, had dictated legislation and selected its own instruments to execute it, while the North had been willing to abide by the compromises the South had dictated, even to the execution of the most obnoxious Fugitive Slave Act. During the progress of his speech he was frequently interrupted with personal questions as to his position on the practical execution of this act. He closed with the reiteration of his belief that the South could find neither cause of complaint in the past, nor well-grounded apprehension in the future, in any policy or acts of the incoming administration.

On the 12th Mr. Seward addressed the Senate. His speech was looked for and listened to with profound interest, not to say solicitude. His eminent and statesmanlike abilities and the expectation that he was to be Mr. Lincoln's Secretary of State caused it to be regarded as foreshadowing the policy, a kind of pronunciamento, of the incoming administration. It was marked with the usual characteristics of his eloquence, with its affluence of learning and language, forceful in logic and graceful in its rhetoric, adroit, diplomatic, plentiful in words but chary of its real commitments. Alluding to the sudden and appalling alarm which had taken such strong possession of the public mind, and the various propositions which had been made, he spoke of the duty and the privilege, " among distracted debates," of lifting up his voice for his " whole country and its inestimable Union," grateful even for the violent utterances of disunion, because of the patriotic demonstrations they had evoked. He expressed, too, the conviction that it was " the highest patriotism to endure without complaint the passionate waywardness of political brethren so long as there is hope that they may come to a better mind." His speech might be characterized as the statesman's plea for the Union.

He began by noting what would not save it. Among his specifications were " mere eulogiums " upon it, mutual criminations, debates on slavery in the Territories, arguments that secession was unconstitutional, discussions on the rights of the government to coerce the seceding States, and congressional compromises. While he felt that a Union saved by the sword was of little worth, he differed widely from those who counselled " a conventional or unopposed separation." "The strength of the vase," he beautifully said, " in which the hopes of the nation are held, consists chiefly in its remaining unbroken." There were two prejudices, he added, that should be discarded, — the first, that the Union could be saved by anybody in particular, and the second, that it could be done by "any cunning and insincere compact of pacification." He parried the doctrine that it was not constitutional to coerce States by the reply that the government was a government of the people and not of the States; quoting Mr. Jefferson as authority for the sentiment that " States must be kept within their constitutional sphere by impulsion if they could not be held there by attraction." Union, he said, was "the settled habit of the American people," handed down from colonial times, so that " on the same day they declared themselves independent they proclaimed themselves confederated States."

He then entered upon a labored dissuasion from disunion on the ground that there was " safety " only in remaining one people. Danger must be apprehended, he said, if disunited, first from foreign complications. With diminished size, resources, and power, there would be demanded substantially the same machinery of government, and the same muniments against external and internal foes. The maxim of the fathers, that " the common safety of all is the safety of each of the States," was as true and applicable to the children as to them, and could be no more safely disregarded by the one than the other. Nor was there danger of foreign complications alone. Domestic strife would be seen to follow, and with that entangling foreign alliances would be sought from powers who would give protection only as they were allowed to dictate the terms. " Canada leans on Great Britain not unwillingly, and Switzer land is guaranteed by interested monarchical States."

And the loss of safety, he contended, would practically involve every other form of public calamity. " When once the guardian angel has taken flight, everything is lost." The country's greatness would be destroyed, its progress and prosperity would be arrested, " it would provincialize Mt. Vernon and give this capitol to destruction." The honor and renown paid to the flag of the thirty-three stars and thirteen stripes, the world over, could never be transferred to "the lone star, or a palmetto tree," of one of  "the obscure republics of North America." And liberty, too, " our own peculiar liberty, must languish for a time and then cease to have," while in its stead, the country would be obliged to " accept the hateful and intolerable espionage of military despotism." An allusion in this connection displayed the art of the orator and the felt gravity of the occasion. " While listening to these debates," he said, " I have sometimes forgotten myself in marking their contrasted effects upon the page who customarily stands on the dais before me, and the venerable secretary who sits behind him. The youth exhibits intense but pleased emotion in the excitement, while at every irreverent word that is uttered against the Union the eyes of the aged man are suffused with tears. Let him weep no more. Rather rejoice, for yours has been the lot of a rare felicity. You have seen and been a part of all the greatness of your country, the towering national greatness of all the world. Weep only you, — and weep with all the bitterness of anguish, —who are just stepping on the threshold of life, for that greatness perishes prematurely and exists not for you, nor for me, nor for any that shall come after us." And what, he inquired, is the cause of all this loss of safety, greatness, happiness, and freedom? The election of a President unacceptable to a portion of the people, — "a man of un blemished virtue and amiable manners, unambitious," and so hampered by the " partial success of those who opposed his election," that, without their consent, he cannot appoint a minister or even a police-agent, negotiate a treaty, or procure the passage of a law, and can hardly draw a musket from the public arsenal to defend his own person." And with such a magistrate, so restrained, who has not yet been inaugurated, and, of course, has performed no overt act, there remains the opportunity of a rehearing, and the privilege, in four years, of reversing the popular verdict. How unnatural, as well as unpatriotic, is such a course as is now proposed! Alluding to the slaveholder's dream, long cherished, of a Southern confederacy of the gulf States as "so certainly unwise and so obviously impossible of execution " as to be dismissed without further mention, he proceeded to the consideration of the " other subjects " of agitation and alarm. Concerning them he counselled moderation and concession. Here he would subordinate everything, " Republicanism, Democracy, every other political name or thing " to Union. " I can afford," he said, " to meet prejudice with conciliation, exaction with concession which surrenders no principle, and violence with the right hand of peace. “On the question of the status of the slave in the slaveholding States, he recognized the supremacy of the State laws. He admitted the constitutional obligation resting upon the State to which a slave might flee to return the fugitive, though he said that prudence would modify the fugitive slave laws so as to render them as little obnoxious as possible. He even admitted that he would not alter the Constitution, if he could, to make slavery less the creature of municipal law, while he expressed his willingness to amend that instrument so that Congress should never have the power to interfere with the system. In regard to the Territorial question he expressed his willingness to adopt the same policy which obtained in regard to Oregon, Minnesota, and Kansas, — passing enabling acts without the special inhibition of slavery. He was willing, too, after the excitement of secession and rebel lion had passed away, to call a convention for amending the Constitution. He, too, would vote for properly guarded laws to prevent the invasion of one State by the inhabitants of others. Believing the binding force of " physical bonds " to be greater than "mere covenants, though written on parchment or engraved upon iron," he would remain constant to his purpose for the construction of two Pacific railroads. But, as usual, the Senator was hopeful. Notwithstanding the darkness and doubts that enshrouded the minds of men, he closed his speech with these words of cheer and confident expectation. This government, he said, " shall continue and endure; and men, in after times, shall declare that this generation, which saved the Union from such sudden and unlooked-for dangers, surpassed in magnanimity even that one which laid its foundations in the eternal principles of liberty, justice, and humanity."

These words, noteworthy in themselves, were made more suggestive and instructive by the prominence and position, past and prospective, of the distinguished Senator. His long identification with the antislavery struggle, the general expectation that he would have been the Republican candidate for the Presidency, and his selection by Mr. Lincoln for the first place in the incoming administration, invested and still invests the utterances of this speech with special importance, not to say authority; and their significance is twofold. They indicate, first, the utter baselessness and the reckless effrontery of the charge so freely made then, and so persistently reiterated since even to this present writing, that the war of the Rebellion was provoked by Northern interference with Southern rights, and that the ulterior purpose and plan of the Republican organization meditated damage, if not destruction, to the slave system in the States in which it was recognized and protected by municipal law. Republicans might, indeed, have owned " the soft impeachment " of so far revolting from slave-holding rule as to have resented and resisted the audacious proposition to make slavery national and no longer sectional. Having abolished it from their own borders, at no little cost of effort and sacrifice, there could have been no lack of comity, or proper regard for the compromises, in refusing to yield, without protest and such use of the ballot as they possessed, to that injustice and indignity. Beyond that they sought not to go; and the speech of Mr. Seward, their representative, made in the flush of victory, is sufficient answer to all charges of ulterior purposes, other than those openly pro claimed. Its disavowals, concessions, and commitments are consistent with no other theory.

It also indicates how far from general had become those antislavery ideas that contemplated any interference with slavery wherever existing. It was a part of the slaveholders' strategy to represent the new party as an Abolition party. Had that been true, the fact that Mr. Lincoln was in a minority of a million votes showed that but little more than two fifths of the people were in its favor. But in point of fact the Republican party at the outset was far from being an Abolition organization. It did, indeed, embrace the antislavery men of the nation, excepting the non-voting Abolitionists of the Garrison school. Large numbers, too, who had never joined any distinctive antislavery school or class, but who aided in the election of Mr. Lincoln, were sincerely and earnestly opposed to the extension of slavery into territory already free, and welcomed gladly the hope that, in some way, by the operations of nature's laws or the workings of Providence, it would cease where then existing; that in the good time coming and among the trophies of advancing civilization, would be the breaking of every yoke and the freedom of those hitherto oppressed : but they were prompt and earnest in their disclaimer of either purpose or wish to interfere with the system where established and cherished. Indeed, many, with Mr. Seward, were willing, by constitutional amendment if needful, to guard against any such future interference, though other Republicans doubted the policy of some of his concessions.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 43-59.

Chapter: “Amendment of the Constitution,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to construct any single theory that will satisfactorily account for many of the sayings and doings, the sentiments, purposes, and plans, of the men and parties, sections and schools, involved in the long and heated conflict that at length culminated in the late Rebellion and civil war. In reviewing the history of those days, especially the utterances on record, both North and South, by men at each extreme, and by the far larger number occupying intermediate positions, the most noteworthy facts and features thereof are the confusion of ideas, the conflicts of purposes, and the lack of any well-defined plans that received the advocacy and support of any considerable number. Soon after the report of the committee of thirty-three had been made, Mr. Montgomery of Pennsylvania thus gave expression to his view of public opinion: "I think that every impartial observer who has witnessed our deliberations since the commencement of the session will admit that there is nothing like unity of sentiment or concurrence of opinion among us Day after day is spent in the delivery of speeches, many of which only tend to increase our troubles and add fuel to the flame of public discord "; and he expressed "the doubt whether any speech that has been made or that will be made will change the vote or opinion of a single member."

To this discordance of views was added what was freely charged to be lack of logical consistency and consentaneous ness in the opinions and purposes expressed, especially by those Republicans who were free to disclaim any purpose to infringe upon State-rights and interfere with slavery where existing, but who did not conceal impatience at their alleged constitutional obligations to share in the work of oppression, and their confident expectation that the system would soon yield to the potent influences of reform and pass away. " ' A house divided against itself cannot stand,' " said Mr. Lincoln. "I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union will be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall. But I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other." Similar sentiments and expectations had been freely and confidently expressed by large numbers and leading members of the new party that was soon to assume the reins of power. And all such sentiments, wishes, and expectations were well remembered and faithfully reported within hearing of those whose cherished system was thus menaced. Near the close of the session Mr. Barrett of Missouri addressed the House in a long and carefully elaborated speech, into which were introduced a mass of such utterances culled from leading Republicans. He quoted Mr. Seward as saying that "slavery is not and cannot be perpetual; that it will be overthrown either peacefully and lawfully under this Constitution, or it will work the subversion of the Constitution together with its own overthrow," with a large number of similar expressions from the same individual at different times and places. He quoted largely, too, from Mr. Lincoln, and reached the conclusion that "he was the very embodiment of the sentiments of Mr. Giddings and Mr. Curtis, and of the Abolition party generally." He quoted Mr. Sumner as saying that slavery is such a grievous wrong that it should be "encountered wherever it can be reached; and the battle must be continued without truce or compromise until the field is entirely won." He quoted Mr. Burlingame of Massachusetts as saying that after we shall have elected a President who shall be "the tribune of the people, and after we have exterminated a few doughfaces from the North, then, if the slave Senate will not give way, we will grind it between the upper and nether millstone of our power." From these sentiments, and a large number of like character expressed by others, he drew the conclusion that a party "composed of such materials, announcing such sentiments, fighting such battles, must have an object far beyond the prevention of slavery in a Territory where it can never exist."

That these gentlemen had given expression to such sentiments, and that they honestly regarded slavery as deserving such condemnation and confidently looked forward to its extinguishment, was historically true, though they were equally sincere in their disavowals of any purpose to infringe upon State-rights or to meddle with slaveholding where it legally existed. If there was inconsistency it was not intentional. The inconsistency concerning which many had more self-misgivings was the seeming complicity their support of the compromise might imply or involve. But they reconciled themselves by the consideration that, being estopped from interference by constitutional restrictions, what they could not reach by political agencies would yield to moral forces, and that the laws of nature and the workings of Providence would prove more than a match for even slaveholding persistence and astuteness and non-slaveholding indifference and subserviency. Nor did they hesitate to give expression to these hopes, and indicate with great confidence the reasons therefor. That on some points they miscalculated and were too sanguine may be admitted, for on such a subject no prescience less than divine could accurately forecast the future. Their confident expectations were, however, made note of by the propagandists, and used with no small effect to poison the Southern mind as well as to fire the Southern heart against the North and what they were pleased to characterize its ulterior purposes. They found, also, in the relative advancement and growing preponderance of the free States in population, wealth, and the elements of a superior civilization, too many corroborative arguments in harmony with these antislavery reasonings and expectations to justify supineness or the neglect of those measures demanded to meet, circumvent, or overcome what they so much feared. Nor were they neglectful. As on nothing has the Southern mind been more deeply exercised, so to nothing has Southern thought, scholarship, and statesmanship been more thoroughly devoted. It has been the staple of Southern literature, the subject on which the resources of Southern rhetoric and eloquence have been most lavishly expended. The danger to be apprehended from the growing strength of the free North, its alleged un friendliness to slavery, and its ulterior purpose to effect its overthrow, afforded the problem that challenged investigation, and demanded remedial measures, both commensurate and prompt.

The only alternative presented, it was claimed, was secession, or some assurance that this growing preponderance of the free States should never be used, or taken advantage of, to the detriment of slavery. The secession leaders contended that the only adequate remedy was in separation. Others at the South, equally intent on conserving the system, shrunk from that violent remedy, and contended that there were strength and wisdom enough in what they termed Northern and Southern conservatism to devise and execute some plan by which slavery could be placed beyond the reach of intermeddlers, however fanatical or numerous. But what? What new contrivance could there be? For two generations the Slave Power had held control and dictated the legislation it desired, and an obsequious nation had done little less than record its edicts and clothe with the sanctions of law its behests. Even the Republican party, in its platform on which Mr. Lincoln had just been elected, had disclaimed any purpose to interfere with the system in the States where it existed, and had declared "that the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend." What new guaranties were demanded, or required, or were possible? It has been often asked whether or not the agitation of thirty years, closing at the opening of the Rebellion, had, on the whole, inured to the advantage of freedom or slavery. Many think, perhaps it is the general impression, that this persistent agitation at the North and slaveholding aggressions at the South had in fact brought forth their legitimate fruits, and that the popular mind, at least the men who voted for Mr. Lincoln, had reached the conviction that there was an irrepressible conflict between the two, that the Republic could not endure " half slave and half free," and that the way to prevent slavery from becoming national was to be looked for only in its complete extinction. That there was a providential connection between these antecedent agitations and aggressions and that storm of war which swept, without the popular bidding, if with the popular assent, the system of American slavery from the land, no believer in Providence can doubt; but that the people had been educated by this history of a generation to juster views of human rights and a higher purpose in regard to them, is not so clear as to challenge universal assent ; and there are facts that seem to justify the doubt. Politically at least the progress seemed to be in the wrong direction, and some of the acts of the closing session of the XXXVIth Congress revealed more recklessness of conduct, a lower tone of public morality, and greater sacrifices of principle and self-respect than had ever been reached before. " These facts," said Mr. Trimble of Ohio, in a speech during that session, "show that the public sentiment of the North in opposition to slavery has not progressed since 1820. It then manifested itself against the continuance of slavery in territory where it already had an actual existence. It now manifests itself only in opposition to the extension of slavery into free territory, where it has no existence in law or in fact. In other words, it manifests itself now in precisely the same phase that it manifested itself in the South as well as the North, at the time of the foundation of the government, when both sections concurred in excluding slavery from the great Northwestern Territory." In the same debate, on the report of the committee of thirty-three, a few days before, Mr. Stokes, a Republican member from Tennessee, after avowing himself in favor of the Republican doctrine of the non-extension of slavery into free territory, justified himself for so doing, and fortified his position therein, by quoting largely from the action of political bodies, either conventions or legislatures, mostly Democratic, indorsing the same views. Confining himself to the years 1847-50, he quoted the resolutions and acts of Michigan, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts (Democratic convention), Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Maine. One of the resolutions of the Massachusetts Democrats was as follows: "Resolved, That we are opposed to slavery in every form and color, and in favor of freedom and free soil wherever man lives, throughout God's heritage." And such in substance and spirit, not always in words quite so terse and trenchant, were all the quotations made,—revealing a reluctant acquiescence in the continuance of slavery where existing, but a firm and inflexible determination that it should extend no farther, and that it should be allowed to pollute no other territory then free.

There can, however, be no intelligent and appreciative writing or reading of American history, nothing at least like a philosophical examination of the subject, nothing that will correctly locate the actors, assign them their true positions, and give the proper significance to their actions, which does not recognize and keep in mind three facts which have exerted a commanding if not a controlling influence.

At the South the dominating idea and purpose were slavery and its conservation. To this, as the rule, everything else was held subordinate and was made subservient. But beneath this overshadowing idea and purpose there was great diversity of sentiment, conviction, and plan. Agreed that slavery should, if possible, receive no detriment, men differed widely upon the policy best calculated to secure that result. The more extreme of the slave propagandists favored disunion, and joined in cherishing the dream of a slaveholding confederacy; while large, probably far larger, numbers believed the policy of disunion suicidal, and wisely contended that the place to labor most effectively for it was -within the Union, — a position greatly strengthened by the feeling of loyalty, hard for an American citizen to ignore or eradicate.

At the North the dominating thought was the Union and its preservation. To save the Union seemed to be regarded the first and paramount duty of all true citizenship, for which any sacrifice of feeling, and even, as Senator Cameron confessed, of principle too, seemed none too great. Indeed, this intense loyalty played an important part in the long and fearful drama, witnessed alike in the degrading concessions to which Northern men were persuaded, to preserve the Union, and in the heroic sacrifices it prompted when, concession no longer availing, they were compelled to take the sword to maintain it. Here, too, beneath this almost universal feeling of loyalty there existed great diversity of sentiment and conviction, desire and purpose. Even in the Republican ranks, and especially among the Abolitionists, there was exhibited the same loyalty to the government, though men, having been attracted thereto by various motives and different considerations, exhibited great diversity of sentiment, not only on collateral issues and subordinate topics, but on the very subject itself that had brought them together. Excepting the non-voting members of the Garrison school, constituting but a fraction of the antislavery host, whose rallying cry was "Abolition or Disunion," they all cherished veneration and love for the "dear old flag." Even those who recognized the sin of slavery and opposed it on moral grounds would not seek emancipation even through that flag's dishonor and their nation's destruction or disintegration. Though they admitted the wrongful ness of the system, and could not but condemn the compromises of the Constitution and the national complicity involved therein, they saw no other or better way than to remain in the Union, even with this complicity, obey the laws, or suffer the consequences of their disobedience, if constrained to violate them; but hoping and laboring for the day of deliverance from the horrible bondage for themselves as well as for the slave.

Another fact, no less important in its bearings, and without the recognition of which there can be no appreciative estimate of the causes that produced the results now under review, were the ambitions, aspirations, and revenges of leading men who had personal ends to gain and ulterior purposes to accomplish, and who were willing to put in peril the public interests to promote their own selfish schemes. Alexander H. Stephens, in his speech at the Georgia capital, to dissuade his fellow-citizens from joining in the secession movement, thus charged upon this class their responsibility in producing the results he so deprecated and sought to avert. "Some of our public men," he said, " have failed in their aspirations, it is true, and from that comes a great part of our troubles." Beside these there were those who, if not deserving of such severe censure, had mingled with their admitted patriotism too little firmness, too little persistence, and too little wisdom, so that if there were any alloy of ambition and self-seeking, and they were tempted, as few were not, they yielded when they should have maintained their position, and, if not openly recreant and erratic, they became inconsistent, unreliable, and far less serviceable to the cause than was hoped, and less than their first essays in their country's service gave promise of. As many military men left the field with damaged reputations, so many in the civil departments of the government suffered in the hour of trial and temptation.

The report of the committee of thirty-three contained five propositions. The first, or the joint resolution " declaratory of the opinion of Congress in regard to certain questions now agitating the country, and of measures calculated to reconcile existing differences," having been adopted on the 27th of February, 1861, the second proposition, consisting of a joint resolution to amend the Constitution of the United States, was immediately reported and "read a first and second time." As originally reported it was as follows: "No amendment of this Constitution having for its object any interference within the States with the relation between their citizens and those described in section second of the first article of the Constitution as ' all other persons,' shall originate with any State that does not recognize that relation within its own limits, or shall be valid without the assent of every one of the States composing the Union." Before, however, a vote was taken, the chairman of the committee offered the following substitute, which was adopted: "No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State." On this resolution the vote stood one hundred and twenty to seventy-one. Failing to secure the necessary two-thirds, the resolution was lost. The vote, however, was reconsidered on the next day, and the joint resolution was finally adopted by a vote of one hundred and thirty-three to sixty-five, just one more than the requisite two-thirds, so vacillating, or at best uncertain, were some at least who voted for a proposition whose chief importance now lies in the testimony it bears of the state of feeling and opinion that then existed.

The limited time remaining of the session and the fact that the whole subject had been traversed in the previous and general debate, prevented a protracted discussion, though Mr. Kilgore of Indiana and Mr. Stanton of Ohio, in a few brief and terse remarks, well presented the argument of those Republicans who had been made willing to vote for that extreme measure. " Gentlemen seem to have forgotten," said the former, "the declarations made during the last three weeks by the most ultra-men who are acting with the party, that they not only did not possess the power under the Constitution to interfere with slavery in the States where it existed, but that they had no disposition whatever to do so…. Last evening they seemed to have forgotten those declarations, in a moment of excitement, carried away by wild fanaticism, and for getting the condition of the country and the surroundings of the party." " The proposition," he continued, " is nothing more nor less than a constitutional declaration that Congress shall not possess the power which themselves have declared by votes they do not now possess to interfere with the institution of slavery where it now exists…. If the Republicans to-day have changed their ground, and claim now the right to invade the sovereignty of the States, and interfere with the institution of slavery, — if that is Republican doctrine, then I am no Republican." He still further revealed the important, or at least the apprehended, bearing which the subject and the final decision of the question would exert upon the border Slave-States. " When I discussed," he added, " the political topics of the day before the slaveholders of Maryland during the last canvass," for the purpose, as he explained, of meeting the arguments of Yancey, Rhett, Toombs, and others, " I charged those men with having propagated slander against the Republican party when they charged us with a disposition to invade their rights or interfere with their domestic institutions. I ask those gentlemen who have stood with me upon that question, whether they are willing, by their votes, to fix that charge upon our party, and thereby strengthen the arms of our enemies." He contended, too, that, as their servants, the least that they could do was to submit the question to the people, " to take this proposition to their masters and submit it to them for their approval or rejection."

Mr. Stanton presented another view. He referred to the changed condition of affairs resulting from the secession of seven or eight States. If they should maintain their independence, then he contended that "if the remaining seven slaveholding States remain in this confederacy they are entitled to additional guaranties." Saying that there were then seven slaveholding States and nineteen free States, he proceeded: " In ten years more Delaware will be, for all practical purposes, a free State. That would make twenty free States and six slaveholding States. In a few years more you will have five more free States organized out of the Territories. You will then have the requisite three-fourths to change the Constitution, and to confer on the Federal government and on Congress the power to interfere with slavery in the States. Now, I hold that that power ought never to be vested in Congress, no matter if there were but one slaveholding State…. I am in earnest in this business, and am sincere when I state that I do not desire to interfere with slavery in the States. I apprehend that my colleagues are equally so. I apprehend that they do not desire to interfere with slavery in the States. But will they guarantee that their successors, ten or twenty years hence, will not be? Will they answer for the progress of public opinion in the free States, and for the position which they may assume some years hence? I say that these slave States, if they intend to remain in the Federal Union, have a right to demand this guaranty, and so far as my vote is concerned, they shall have it." He strengthened his claim by saying that it was proposed by the distinguished Senator from New York [Mr. Seward], and adopted by the committee of thirteen, and voted for in that committee by Collamer, Doolittle, Grimes, Seward, and Wade, who were all of the Republican members of the committee; and voted against by Hunter and Toombs. He closed by moving the previous question. He was requested to withdraw it by Mr. Lovejoy, who complained of the unfairness of "having two speeches made on the same side, and none on the other "; but he was inexorable, and the vote was ordered.

In a previous chapter the course of Charles Francis Adams was referred to as an illustration of the different views which men equally honest entertained of duty and of what a wise policy required. In the minority report he made as a member of the committee of thirty-three, he had urged as a reason of his convictions that it was of " no use to propose as an adjustment that which has no prospect of being received as such by the other party," and that, therefore, he had "changed his course and declined to recommend the very measures which he in good faith had offered." He introduced his speech, already referred to in another connection, with these words, expressive of the gravity of the occasion and its demand for sacrifice: —

" In this hour of inexpressible import to the fate of unborn millions, I would that I could clear from my eyes the film of all human passions, to see the truth and right in their naked, living reality, and with their aid to rise to the grandeur of the opportunity to do good to my fellow-men. There have been occasions when the fitting words, uttered in the true place, have helped to right the scale when wavering towards the ruin of a nation. At no time have they been more necessary than now; at no place more requisite than here. The most magnificent example of self-government known to history is in imminent danger of suffering an abrupt mutilation, by reason of the precipitate violence of a few desperate men. I purpose to discuss briefly, and I trust with proper calmness, the cause and the effect of this proceeding, as well as the duty that it entails upon us."

Similar expressions of intense anxiety and alarm, and the pressing need of something to avert, if possible, the threatened catastrophe, ran through the debate of both houses. In the Senate Mr. Crittenden had thus expressed his deep convictions and earnest desire: " With that I am satisfied. It is enough for the dreadful occasion. It is the dreadful occasion that I want to get rid of. Rid me of this, rid the nation of this, and I am willing to take my chance for the future, and meet the perils of every day that may come. Now is the appointed time upon which our destiny depends. Now is the emergency and exigency upon us. Let us provide for them. Save ourselves now, and trust to posterity and that Providence which has so long and so benignly guided this nation, to keep us from the further difficulties which in our national career may be in our way." Such feelings and such convictions in such men not only indicate the stress and strain brought to bear upon them, but suggest moderation in the criticisms and censures of measures, they felt constrained to recommend and support, which may be indulged in by those who, at a safer distance, in cooler moods, and with greater light, can more deliberately and dispassionately give them examination.

There were, however, those who, though they equally appreciated the gravity of the occasion and the need of help, felt that deliverance could not wisely or safely be sought in further compromise, at least in compromise that ignored the claims of moral obligation, and set aside as if of no account the primal rights of man. Their argument was somewhat compendiously stated by Mr. Beale of New York: —

"Sir, I am opposed to any and all compromises,

"1. Because they are to be extorted from us by threats of dissolution of the Union in case we refuse. I desire to see the strength of this government tested, and to know whether the Union is a Federal rope of sand, to be washed away by every wave of passion, or an ' indissoluble government.'

"2. Because they will fail to accomplish the reintegration of the Union.

"Six States have already seceded, and will not be parties to the transaction or bound by it ; and one, if not more, has avowed her determination never to come back, even upon the principle of reconstruction ; and several of them are represented in a convention to form a Southern Confederacy, and have formed such a confederacy.

"3. Because the Republican party is not now in power, and should not submit to any terms as a condition-precedent to obtaining it. "

Our candidate has been constitutionally elected; entertains no principles hostile to the interests of any one of the States. We are resolved to inaugurate him in the same constitutional manner. In the words of the distinguished Senator elect from Ohio, ' inauguration first, adjustment afterward.'

"4. Because the sentiment of nine tenths of the Republicans of the free States is opposed to compromise of principle. I speak not of the commercial circles where the opinion of Mr. Webster prevails, that ' governments were instituted to protect property,' no matter of what kind; but of the intelligent masses of the free country, where, upon the mountain-sides, in the valleys, and along the rivers of the North, no shackle rings, no unpaid labor degrades, but where to work is to be ennobled, and where the god of Freedom baptizes the foreheads of his sons with the dew of toil."

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 96-108.



See also Pearl Incident; US Congress, Anti-Slavery Petitions, Repression of



Chapter: “Slavery Debates of the XXXth Congress.-Southern Caucus,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

The Mexican war and its proposed result --the acquisition of territory to strengthen and extend the system of slavery was a marked era in the history of the Slave Power. It inaugurated and gave the national indorsement to the new purpose of slavery extension. No longer content with the theory of simple conservation, for which they had hitherto so successfully and too logically pleaded the compromises of the Constitution, the slave-masters had succeeded in dragooning the government into the practical adoption of an entirely different, more dangerous, and more disgraceful policy. If it had not formally adopted Mr. Calhoun's newly discovered or newly invented theory, that the Constitution carried slavery wherever it went, it revealed the alarming fact that the, nation was on the high-road to such a conclusion. This war was not only an outrage upon Mexico, upon every principle of humanity and moral rectitude, but it was a public proclamation by the slaveholding oligarchy that it was its determination to commit the nation, unequivocally and irreparably, to its purposes and plans. There were not a few who comprehended the drift of things, and who took alarm, not so much at the extravagance of these claims as at the growing disposition of the nation to yield to them. Consequently the subject of slavery in the abstract was a topic of frequent discussion in the XXXth Congress. Its sinfulness, its wrongs, its deleterious influences, its power over the government and the people, were perhaps more fully discussed in that than in any previous Congress.

Early in the first session, Mt. Clingman of North Carolina led off in a speech on both the moral and the political aspects of slavery. He had been somewhat distinguished for his moderation and candor. He had resisted the action of the South on the right of petition, as also the extreme views of nullification propounded by Mr. Calhoun and his followers. But his speech, which was very long, eloquent, and evidently well considered, showed him to be not only an advocate of slavery, and deeply imbittered against the Abolitionists, but fully impressed with the conviction of the inferiority of the Negro race. He went largely into the history of slavery; contended that it was a normal, providential, and wisely arranged condition of the inferior races; and he revealed the fact, too; that even his moderation and defence of the right of petition had been mainly strategical, because he admitted that, by denying the right, they were preserving a rule which was of " no practical use in itself, so that we were losing ground," he said, " and the Abolitionists gaining thereby."

The Southern Whigs found, too, a voice for the expression of their views in that of Alexander H. Stephens, who spoke near the close of the first session. Though his speech was brief, it presented, in vigorous language and compact form, the sentiments of those who, equally committed to slavery, were not quite prepared to adopt the extreme and violent course marked out by the administration. Its particular theme was the “Compromise bill," though he proposed to confine himself to the simple organization of Territorial governments in New Mexico and California. The speech embraced and elaborated the following propositions: the reference of the whole subject of slavery in those Territories to the judiciary; the fact, that the Constitution protected slavery wherever it existed, but could not establish it where it did not exist; these territories being acquired from Mexico by conquest, all Mexican laws existing at the time of the conquest not incompatible with the Constitution of the United States; and not abrogated by the treaty, were still in force; as slavery did not exist there by Mexican law at the time of the conquest, the Supreme Court could not be expected to decide otherwise than that slavery did not so exist; therefore it was no compromise, but a surrender of Southern interests and rights, to leave the matter as thus proposed. It was a remarkable and providential fact, that so earnest an advocate of slavery as Mr. Stephens was then, and has ever proved himself to be, should have taken that view of the probable action of the Supreme Court. As that court was constituted, it was too evident that the interests of the slaveholders would have been safe in its hands.

During the next session he made another speech, insisting with new arguments against the injustice involved in the threatened acquisition of territory. Alluding to the violent discussions which had taken place upon the pending issues, he said they were all dwarfed by "the greater and graver question of sanctioning the outrages and aggressions upon the Constitution by which the acquisition of these Territories is to be consummated…The safeguards thrown around our institutions by the Constitution will be swept away. The instrument will be defunct. It will be a dead letter. It may preserve its form for a time, and the government, as a huge, inanimate monster, may also preserve its form for a time; but, he predicted, '' its life, its spirit, its soul," --that principle that looks toward and longs for immortality, --will be gone." There was no language too strong to express his disapprobation of the proposed policy, which he described as “the lowest, the meanest, the most corrupting, the most despicable," and based on “the plea of the cheat, the knave, the thief, the highwayman, the brigand, and the lawless of every grade and character." Strengthening the affirmation by putting it in the form of a question, he challenged its defenders to show how they differed from the “detested pirate “who scours the seas.” If I believed," he said, “that all the extravagant stories we hear of the mines of California were true, --which I do not, --it would make no difference with me. If her soil were lined with gold, if it stood out in solid mountain piles, as high as her own Sierra Nevada, I should spurn the degrading temptation." He warned his Southern brethren of the danger of partaking of what Mr. Calhoun himself had characterized as "forbidden fruit." He also referred to the imperfect treaty, concerning which, he said; there was “a clear misunderstanding between the parties “to it, as another reason for hesitation. He spoke of "the dying agonies of the administration" of Mr. Polk, and of his unwillingness to add a single “unnecessary pang."

On the 25th of January, Richard W. Thompson of Indiana addressed the House in a speech in which he represented “the conservatism and conciliatory “spirit of the Northern Whigs, though he expected, he said, the opposition of “the ultra men, both North and South." He defined his position by commenting upon the preamble and resolution of Mr. Gott to prohibit the slave-trade in the District of Columbia. The three points he specially condemned were the assertions in the preamble that the traffic was “contrary to natural justice and the fundamental principles of our political system “; that it was " notoriously a reproach to our-country throughout Christendom" ; and that it was " a serious hindrance to the progress of republican liberty throughout the world." These seemingly obvious positions he questioned, elaborating his denials at great length. He attempted to prove that John Quincy Adams was opposed to the policy of the resolution. "As the acknowledged leader," he said,” of the party· advocating the right of petition, he was enabled to exercise a most potent influence in staying the progress of fanaticism on the subject of slavery in the District and in the States. He did stay its progress, although it required the strength of a giant to arrest it. He put forth his arm and said to it, Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther. He rebuked the incendiary spirit which would have sundered every link in the beautiful cycle of our Union; and its possessors, both in the North and in the South, shrank back before his lofty patriotism and scathing eloquence."

On the 3d of February, Charles Brown of Pennsylvania made an extreme and bitter proslavery speech, entitled "A Reply to Mr. Thompson." He began by saying that for the twenty years of his active political life he had always voted against this whole Abolition agitation, --against every proposition calculated to -interfere with the subject of slavery here or elsewhere."' One of the points he sought to make against Mr. Thompson was his estimate of Mr. Adams's influence upon the slavery agitation. He contended, on the contrary, that “the old man eloquent" had given " his powerful aid to roll on, no who might be crushed by it, the ball of Abolition agitation." Asserting that the agitation was leading them onward and downward,'' and that no one could predict where it would '' end," he criticised very sharply a recent speech of Horace Mann, in which the latter had spoken of the "bowie-knife style of civilization" as obtaining at the South. But he sought to parry the charge by referring to the crimes which had been perpetrated in Massachusetts; and be asked what would be  thought of the candor of a man who should hold them up as fair examples of the state of society in that small commonwealth. He opposed all such crimination and recrimination, and avowed that '' the surest way of removing this unhappy state of feeling “was to vote down every proposition for agitation. He characterized ''all attempts to· raise the negro, politically or socially, to an equality with the white man" as “incendiary in their character and insulting to the South." Affirming that he knew of no Southern encroachments,'' and alluding to the possible contingency of a Civil war between the North and South, growing out of the continued aggressions of the former, he said : " I fear I would be on the side,.. I do not fear, but I know --I would be on the side of injustice and right; and I mean by that that I would be with the South.''

The remainder of the speech, which ran through the most of two days, was made up of equal parts of disparaging remarks against the slave and of laudation of his master, of severe objurgations against the ''fanatical crusaders, who go forth, as of old, under the peaceful banner of the Cross, and with the specious object of doing God's service, to desolate and destroy a nation," and of gloomy presages of what must be the result if their purposes should be carried out.

In a very different strain was the speech made by Mr. McDowell of Virginia, near the close of the session. Leaving the ordinary track of Southern denunciation and menace, he resorted to the far more effective method of earnest entreaty and tender appeal. A graceful and impressive speaker, he held, by the testimony of all who heard him, the house spell-bound for nearly two hours by his subtle logic, his specious pleas, and his brilliant rhetoric, but much more by his passionate allusions to the memories of the past, the claims of the present, veneration for the dead, and the demands of patriotism for the living. Indeed, it may well be doubted whether that or any· previous session of Congress ever afforded a more marked illustration of that peculiar trial of faith, feeling, and principle to which the really wise and conscientious of those days were so often and so truly subjected by the shrewd and politic defenders of slavery and its claims; when to be true to the claims of humanity was, if possible, made to appear to be false to the pledges of the Constitution, recreant to the memories  of the fathers, and indifferent to the safety of the Union; so that, in the parlance of those times, to be known as a liberty loving man was to cast distrust on one's loyalty and love of country. On the other hand, to be known as a "Union-saving” roan was tantamount to a confession or claim that one was not an Abolitionist.

This confusion of ideas, this false position in which the conflict placed men, were skilfully employed and appealed to by Mr. McDowell. Alluding to the gloom and danger which surrounded the nation, he passionately exclaimed: ''What of all these objections, and all others which can be added to them, and the worst of them, --what are they all, when gathered together and piled up to their topmost aggregate, Pelion upon Ossa, but the small dust of the balance, when weighed against --what it may fairly hope to accomplish --the pacification and perpetual union of more than twenty millions of freemen? Our ear must be heavy, and our hearts hard, beyond the ordinary lot of our kind, unless we hear and feel the voice of our motherland, coming up over .all other voices, and calling upon each one of us, in soft and thrilling tones: ' My  son, my son, be true to thy trust ! Be true to me! ' "

Quoting the language of Washington that the government was founded “in a spirit of amity and mutual deference and concession," he enlarged upon the necessity and the claims of “compromise." Pathetically alluding to the inferiority of the South in numbers, and to the fact that they had no other refuge but the Constitution, he avowed his determination to cling to that as the last refuge. He appealed to the magnanimity of the nation, as they remembered the sacrifices thus early made for the sake of union. “What State, for instance," he inquired,” ever sacrificed as Virginia sacrificed in constituting the coequality of the States?" The most powerful in population, in wealth, in physical respectability, in prospective growth and political power, “she surrendered," he said, " these great advantages, generously and without a murmur, that she might co-operate with her sister States in building up a permanent, and, is far as possible, a perfect constitutional safeguard for the protection of the defenceless and .the weak." He dwelt at great length upon the impolicy of the “non-extension” of slavery, contending that it was alike inoperative as a remedy for the evils of slavery or a diminution of the numbers of its victims. “Not a solitary human being," he said most gratuitously, " has been made a slave by ' extension' who would not 'have been one had such extension never taken place." Sketching with great rhetorical force and skill the results, the fearful consequences of repression, he exclaimed: “Light up, if you can, the warfare and the spirit of another Peter the Hermit, and in this case, as in that, you will be rewarded with desolation and a tomb." He then entered largely into a disquisition upon the personal qualities and providential  mission of the slaves upon this continent, the final cause lying either in the doom pronounced on Canaan or " in some high and renovating function which the American slave is yet to fulfil in the redemption of the continent from which he came." He counselled, however, that the nation “should not lay an impatient or unbidden hand “for the sake of controlling it or diverting it from the Divine purpose, whatever it might have been. 

In the closing paragraphs of his speech he referred more particularly to Virginia and Massachusetts as " the representative colonies of our early history, to the courteous colonists of Jamestown," and to " the persecuted and precious people," "the stern, solemn, self-denying Pilgrim, almost ascetic Pilgrim of Plymouth," whose spirit " could not mingle with and that would not be controlled by the corruptions of earth," and he counselled them not to sunder ties so sacredly born. “Spare, 0, spare us," he said,” the curse of a broken brotherhood, of a ruined, ruined, ruined country. Remember there are no groans like the groans of expiring Liberty; no convulsions like those which her dying agonies extort. It took Rome some three hundred years to die. With a far deeper vitality than hers, our end, when it comes, will come with a far keener, crueler, and bitterer pang."

Among other means employed by the slaveholding extremists during the second session of the XXXth Congress to "fire the Southern heart” and unify Southern support, was a meeting of its members to consider and take such action as in their judgment the interests of slavery required. Embracing both parties, it soon revealed the existence of very dissimilar and discordant sentiments among its members. Though agreed, in the main, in the end desired, they differed widely as to the means proposed. Slaveholding Whigs, rightly dreading the effect of the violent measures proposed by the Democrats, under the lead of Mr. Calhoun, upon their party ascendency, led off in strong opposition. Mr. Clayton and Mr. Berrien counselled moderation, and denied the necessity of measures which must pre9ipitate division in their party ranks, if it extended no further. On the other hand, Mr. Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, and others, urged the necessity of decided and strenuous measures. Failing to agree, they adjourned, without fixing upon a day for another meeting. Such a meeting was called, however, a week later, though not so largely attended. During its session two addresses were presented, -­ the one prepared by Mr. Calhoun, and the other by Mr. Berrien. The former, however, received the indorsement of the meeting. It was entitled "An Address of Southern Delegates to their Constituents." It was an able and adroit piece of special pleading, entirely uncandid, one-sided, and intensely sectional. With a singular, not to say monomaniacal, obliviousness of historical facts, it assumed the tone of injured innocence, piteously recounting its list of Northern aggressions. Ignoring the too patent facts that these aggressions had all been on the other side, and· that the North had been only too willing to bow the neck to Southern domination, it went largely and elaborately into an enumeration and description of the classes of grievances of which the South complained. Among them were those that resulted from a failure of the North to carry out the provisions of the fugitive-slave law of 1793, although the worst that could be said was that it did not always rush with alacrity to the help of the slave-hunter when in search of his prey; a refusal, it is to be remembered, in strict accord with the decision of the Supreme Court that States, as such, should not act in such a service. Another class of grievances was exemplified by the antislavery agitation that then existed at the North. The Missouri compromise and the resistance to slavery extension connected with it were cited as indicating the third class of grievances of which complaint was made, ignoring the fact that that compromise was regarded as a Southern triumph. The Wilmot proviso indicated another class of aggressions, though its gist was simply the purpose to prevent the introduction of slavery into territory recently acquired and then free. Allusion was also made to a then recent vote in the House on a motion that a bill be reported for the abolition of the slave-trade in the District of Columbia. Such were the serious grievances and aggressions which constituted the burden of this formal arraignment of the North, the gravamen of its charge. Indeed," the whole paper seems rather the ravings of lunacy than the well-considered utterances of earnest and honest minds, and shows that there were no aggressions of which the South had reason to complain; for in this very paper, drawn up by the great leader himself, no facts appear that give color for a moment to the charge. It did not counsel dissolution, but it recommended a course of action whose natural tendency would have been in that direction. Gratuitously assuming that the North was antislavery, and that the South was essentially slaveholding, it insisted on union among " their constituents,'' even if it necessitated the ignoring of every tie, save that of nationality, which bound them to the North . "Entertaining these views," it added, in closing, "we earnestly entreat you to be united, and for that purpose adopt all necessary measures. Beyond this we do not think it would be proper to go at present."

The spirit and purpose of the friends of freedom were in marked contrast with these exhibitions by the slave-masters and their allies. Though largely in the minority, they had the strength of truth and talent, of a good conscience, and of moral courage. Though the atmosphere, was heavy with the vapors of ignorance and prejudice, and the murky clouds of Southern intolerance and Northern conservatism were surcharged with the lightnings and thunderings, of invective and hate, they seemed equal to the occasion, and rose to “the height of the great argument." It is hard to find in any volumes of the “Globe," or, indeed, in any other volume, finer specimens of forensic eloquence than were afforded by that session.

Among the first to assert their rights and enunciate their principles was John G. Palfrey of Massachusetts. His speech, in itself able, conclusive, and. scholarly, --of which the “National Era '' of the next week remarked that " the force of his argument lost nothing from the courtesy of his manner," gathered additional interest from the distinguished character and antecedents of the speaker himself. Mr. Palfrey, previously a Unitarian clergyman, a professor in Harvard University, and at one time editor of the “North American Review," had inherited quite a large patrimony of slaves. Convinced, however, of the sinfulness of the system, he had given his slaves their freedom and had heartily espoused the cause of emancipation. A member of the Whig party, he had sought to commit it to the principles of freedom. He became also a very active and efficient member of the Free Soil party, formed during that same year, and he had entered Congress a determined foe to slavery and its aggressions.

To such a speech as that of Mr. Clingman he, was prepared as well as prompt to interpose an able and conclusive reply. Recognizing its “courtesy, fairness, moderation, and dignity,'" he dwelt especially upon its topic, “the political aspect of the slave question." "It is," he said, "the great political question of the country, and has been from the beginning of this century, though hitherto not so prominent as now. It is the question which underlies all other questions and- determines their solution." Referring to Mr. Clingman's assertion that free States had the advantage in numbers and wealth, he spoke of the countervailing advantage the slave States found in their superior discipline and unity of interest and purpose, and of " the power exerted by the concentrated energies of an active oligarchy, spread over a country intent on· a single policy and bound together by a common intelligence and a common interest," leading the busy and inert masses, intimidating the weak, beguiling the easy, and bribing the mercenary.  “What wonder," he asks, “that it should find means to perplex the simple and beguile and soothe the good, as well as to enlist and use the selfish? What wonder that it should be able to play off parties against each other, and take to itself effectually the balance of power and the lion's share of the prizes at stake? '' He then proceeded to show, by giving the facts of the case, how the possible had become the actual, and how had thus been placed in the hands of this “active oligarchy “that " political power " which had dominated the nation for the preceding half-century. Perhaps never in briefer compass or with more pregnant words has been described the process by which this '' active oligarchy," so insignificant in numbers and with a spirit and purposes so hateful and so foreign to the genius of free institutions, secured and maintained its terrible ascendency so complete and so long.

Mr. Palfrey then traced the exercise of this power in the " unutterably heinous law " of 1793 for the return of fugitive slaves; the inhuman policy of the government toward the Cherokees and Seminoles, outraged and removed from their homes for the simple crime of harboring fugitives ; the denial of the right of petition; the imprisonment of colored seamen in Southern ports ; the "shameful chapter" of Mr. Hoar's expulsion; the Texas scheme ; and the Mexican war, of which he said : "It has been made to carry widowhood and, orphanage into thousands of American homes, to write a chapter in our history for the execration and loathing of the civilized and Christian world, and the bitter shame of our own wiser posterity." With scholarly fulness and accuracy he exposed the shallowness of the charges brought against the colored race on the score of inferiority and sketched with affluence of language and illustration the diverse results of liberty and slavery, as shown side by side in the Border States. Sketching briefly, but, as the events showed, too hopefully, the rise and progress, the various forms and phases, of antislavery effort, he closed by saying of the slaveholders: " If they insist that Union and Slavery cannot live together, they may be taken at their own word; but it is the Union that must stand." The speech commanded marked attention, and at its close John Quincy Adams exclaimed to those around him: “Thank God! the seal is broken. Massachusetts speaks."

But the marked speech of that great debate was that of Horace Mann. The particular point to which it was addressed was the question of the inhibition or admission of slavery into the Territories. Comprehensive in its scope and plan, exhaustive in its mode of treating the great inquiry, bristling with facts, fortified at every point and packed with, authorities, legal and legislative, and redolent with the spirit of humanity and loyalty to truth, it seemed like the arraignment of the government in the court of the centuries, the utterance at once of the patriot, the philosopher, and the statesman. Though characterized by the orator's bold and startling imagery and illustrations, it did not lack the “plain sinewy, Saxon tongue “which he claimed the subject demanded. Seemingly oblivious of all national compromises and all personal consequences, with an earnestness born of his deep and intense convictions, and of the greatness of the interest at stake, he invoked for his theme a consideration commensurate with its vastness and importance. Alluding to this territory, the destiny of which was to be decided by Congress he said: "Its great future hangs upon om decision. Not only degrees of latitude and longitude, but vast tracts of time -- ages and centuries -- seem at our disposal."

After showing the invalidity and imprudence of the claim that three hundred thousand slaveholders had an equal claim with-that of fifteen millions to common territory, and proving the right of Congress to legislate for the inhibition of slavery in the Territories by an overwhelming weight of authorities, legislative and judicial, he proceeded to the second great division of his argument, the expediency of its use. Here was opened up a wide field in which his affluent and well-trained mind roamed at will, gathering from every source materials for an argument expressed with great forensic force and rhetorical beauty.

Leaving the technical part of his argument, he proceeded to the philosophical considerations, the economic and moral reasons, why “the new-born communities should be exempted from slavery." Prominent among them he adverted to the wastefulness of slavery, not simply in its relations to the national interests of the soil; but in regard to the man himself, destroying his best, his distinctive parts, his mind, his conscience, his hope. ''What," he inquired, would be thought of a Massachusetts farmer who would seize upon his hired man, call in a surgeon, and cut off all the flexor muscles of his arms and legs? I do not ask what you would think of his humanity; but what would you think of his sanity? Yet the planter does more than this when he makes a man a slave. He cuts deeper than the muscles; he destroys the spirit that moves the muscles; he abolishes this mighty power of the intellect, and uses only the weak, degraded, and half-animated forces of the human limbs."

Comparing the results of free and slave States lying side by side, he showed the difference by the admission of Southern men, from whom he quoted largely, as also by a most copious reference to statistics, quoting from the latter the facts that of the five hundred and seventy-two patents issued in 1847, only sixty-six were from the Southern States; that of the books published in the· United States about one fiftieth are from the South. Alluding to the usual gratification felt in Witnessing " the pursuit of knowledge under difficulties; he adds, "-yet here, in what we call republican America, are fifteen great States vying with each other to see which will bring the blackest and most impervious pall of ignorance over three millions Of human beings ; . . to colonize the broad regions of the West with these millions, who shall never be able to read a book or write a word; to whom knowledge shall bring no delight in childhood, no relief in the weary hours of sickness or convalescence; no solace in the decrepitude of age; who shall perceive nothing of the beauties of art, who shall know nothing of the wonders of science, who shall never reach any lofty intellectual conception of  the attributes -of the great Creator; dear to all the hosannas of praise which Nature sings to her Maker; blind to this magnificent temple which God has builded." Alluding to the story of Casper Hauser, then exciting much interest, and which had been described in a book just then published as " The Example of a Crime on the Life of a Soul,'' he said: "There are in this toasted land of light and liberty three million Casper Hausers," and " it is proposed to fill up all the Western world with these proofs of human avarice and guilt.'"

During that  debate Abraham Lincoln, then unknown to fame, made a speech, interesting on account of his subsequent career and' relations to the nation, the same quaint conceptions and felicitous diction, how so gratefully and admiringly remembered; the striking manner in which be showed the disingenuous course of the administration in relation to the Mexican war; the fact that it was this government, and not the Mexican, which began " actual hostilities "; and also the trying embarrassments in which honest members of the Whig party were involved by that action. Alluding to certain interrogatories he had before introduced in some resolutions, “intended to draw the President out, if possible, on this hitherto 'untrodden ground," he said: "Let him answer with facts, and not with arguments. Let him remember he sits where Washington sat and, so remembering, let him answer as Washington would answer. As the nation should not, and the Almighty will not, be evaded, so let him attempt no evasion, no equivocation,' and “show that the soil was ours when the first blood of the war was shed." "I have a selfish motive," he added, “for desiring that the President may do this. I expect to give some votes in connection with the war which, without his so doing, will be of doubtful propriety in my own judgment, but will be free from the doubt if he will do so." If, however, on " any pretense or no pretense," he refuses, " 1 shall be fully convinced of what I more than suspect already, that he is deeply conscious of being in the wrong; that he feels the blood of this war, like the blood of Abel, is crying to Heaven against him; that he ordered General Taylor into the midst of a peaceful Mexican settlement purposely to bring on a war ; that, originally having some strong motive what I will not stop now to give my opinion concerning involve the two countries in a war., and trusting to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze on the exceeding brightness of military glory, -that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood, that serpent’s: eye that charms but to destroy, -he plunged into it, and swept on and on, till, disappointed in his calculation of the ease with which Mexico might be subdued, he now finds himself he knows not where. How like the half-insane mumblings of a fever-dream is the whole war part of the late message! His mind, tasked beyond his power, is running hither and thither, like some tortured creature on a burning surface, finding no. position on which it can settle and be at ease. He is a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed mart. God grant he may be able to show there is not something about his conscience more painful than all his mental perplexity.

In February, 1849, James Wilson of New Hampshire made a speech on “the political influence of slavery," and against” the expediency of permitting it in. these new Territories." Mr. Wilson was a Whig, and his election was among the first fruits of that political revolution in that State which sent Mr. Hale to the Senate and Mr. Tuck to the House. He was a man of large stature and of very imposing presence, and though he seldom spoke, was regarded as one of the most effective speakers either in Congress or in the country. His speech was not characterized so much for original ideas as for his strong, striking, and somewhat quaint mode of expressing his views.

Alluding to the declaration of Mr. Hilliard of Alabama respecting the Southern States, -that they were " isolated, cut off from the sympathy of the Christian states of the world by reason of their peculiar domestic institutions," he said: " I concur entirely with the gentleman in that opinion, and award to him high credit for his honest, frank, and manly avowal of that truth upon this floor." Describing the slavery question as “the question not only of this country, but of the whole Christian world, emphatically the question of the age," he declared that for the last fifty years it had "been the very centre and focus of all our political action, the focal point around which every great national interest has revolved." Comparing it, by reference, " to the movements of the planets in their orbits around the sun," he said that, unlike the sun, " the central point of our political action is as black and as dark as Egyptian darkness, as cold and heartless and sympathizing as the icebergs that roll in the Arctic Ocean.'' Referring to the fact that the framers of the Constitution regarded the system as " temporary," looking forward to the time, " not far· distant, when there would be an end of slavery," and complimenting Mr. Jefferson as "the prime originator of the antislavery movement, but admitting that in after life there was " some change , in his opinions, he added : " The cautious, sagacious, wily politician found other opinions than those of the ardent, sincere, self-sacrificing young patriot to subserve his purposes and aspirations better."' He saw that the institution " was one of those peculiarly constructed machines which the politician could turn to good account; that by it a kind of galvanic chain was constructed, connecting the heartstrings with the purse-strings of any slaveholder in the country; that by the working of this political telegraph it affected, through the nervous fluid, the brain of the whole slaveholding community. It was an engine of mighty political power in the hands of a skilful, sagacious operator." But Mr. Jefferson, though he had repudiated his early sentiments, could not undo what he had so bravely done. "He had," said Mr. Wilson,” strewn upon the earth the seminal principle of a great truth; he had advertised the world of the true character of slavery and the slave-trade; and that truth had taken deep root. It was destined to remain as indestructible as the great truths that lay at the foundation of the throne of God." Giving a rapid sketch of the successive steps of slavery aggression, he came to the annexation of Texas, of which he said: " It inflicted the deepest wound upon the Constitution that has ever been inflicted upon that time-honored instrument. It has depleted it to the very verge of endurance."

Though prior to May, 1844, the whole North, he said, of all parties, was unanimously opposed to it, the Baltimore convention made annexation " a test of· party fidelity." Certain party catchwords were adopted. “Texas and Oregon were tied together by a kind of illicit semi-hymeneal bond." But the Northern Democrats were to be deceived. Oregon was thrown in to cheat them. General Cass spoke often and vigorously in its behalf. Another Western Senator cried aloud, with a voice that might be heard from Capitol Hill to the Grand Monadnock: "We will have 54 ° 40', or we will fight." “But the politicians of the South," he added,” were not sincere; they were only using General Cass, a Northern man, as the wood-chopper uses his beetle. They swung him round and round, bringing his great weight to bear, until, by repeated blows, they beat the brains out of the unfortunate little Dutchman ; and then, upon examining the tool with which they had been operating, they found it battered, split, shivered into splinters, and they threw it unceremoniously away as unfit for further use."

In another mood, he spoke of his anxiety to do nothing in the contest which should wrong his conscience or leave a stain upon his reputation. "I have, sir, an only son, now a little fellow, whom some of this committee may have seen here. Think you that, when I am gone, and he shall grow up to manhood, and shall come forward to act his part among the citizens of his country, I will leave it to be cast into his teeth as a reproach that his father voted to Bend slavery into the Territories? No, 0 no! I look reverently up to the Father of us all, and fervently implore of him to spare that child that reproach. May God· forbid it!”  Even " if the alternative should be presented to me of the extension of slavery or the dissolution of the Union, I would say, rather than extend slavery, let the Union, let the universe itself, be dissolved. Never, never will I raise my hand or my voice to give a vote by which slavery can or may be extended. As God is my judge, I cannot, I will not be moved from my purpose I have now announced." Speaking of the reform which had begun, and of which he spoke more confidently than subsequent events or even his own career justified, he said: " There was a time when, if the Slave Power had any special work to be done, and wanted a Northern man to do it, they hunted him up from New Hampshire. Little unfortunate New Hampshire was called upon to furnish the scavenger to do the dirty work. That day, thank God! has gone by; and it will not come again very soon. ''

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 190-207.



Chapter: “California.-Election of Speaker. -Threats of Disunion,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

On the 5th of March, 1849, General Zachary Taylor was inaugurated President of the United States. A native of Virginia himself a slaveholder, his interests and sympathies were unquestionably rather with the friends than with the foes of slavery. But he doubtless regarded it in its economic rather  than in its civil relations, and had no very distinct opinions or wishes concerning it as an element of political power, whatever may have been the plans and purposes of those who presented him as a candidate for the high office he was chosen to fill. His selection of Cabinet officers indicated clearly his Southern proclivities, though he evidently was not a propagandist. He was, however, a fair-minded man, and undoubtedly intended to administer the government honestly and according to the Constitution as he understood it.

John M. Clayton of Delaware, his Secretary of State, was able, and was regarded, too, as among the most liberal of Southern public men. Mr. Crawford of Georgia, Secretary of War, was a man of moderate abilities and extreme opinions, whose connection with the Galphin claims had strengthened suspicions in regard to his integrity entertained by some. Mr. Preston of Virginia had early been an advocate of gradual emancipation, for which he earnestly and eloquently pleaded in her legislature in 1832. But the Southern pressure had been too strong, and, like other ambitious statesmen of that commonwealth, he had been compelled to succumb and become the advocate of the peculiar institution. Reverdy Johnson of .Maryland, his Attorney-General, one of the ablest lawyers of the country, was fully committed to the slaveholding side of the great issue. The Secretary of the Interior, Thomas Ewing of Ohio, had long been in public life, and was a leading member of his party. He was a Virginian by birth. Born and nurtured in poverty, he was nevertheless aristocratic and conservative in his tendencies. Although representing a free State, the friends of freedom expected and received little from him. William M. Meredith of Pennsylvania, Secretary of the Treasury, was a gentleman of high character, a lawyer of distinction, but with little experience in public affairs.  Jacob Collamer of Vermont was Postmaster-General. He was a, statesman of recognized ability and firmness, and was unquestionably the most decided of any member of the Cabinet in his opposition to the increasing encroachments of the Slave Power. Thus constituted, the administration was called at once to grapple with the engrossing questions then forced with such pertinacity upon the country.

Thus far, the Southern leaders had been successful beyond their most sanguine expectations. Texas had been annexed, a war with Mexico had been provoked and fought to a successful issue, and immense accessions of territory had been secured. These successes had been, indeed, achieved at a fearful cost, involving large loss of blood and treasure, national dishonor and peril, infractions of the Constitution at borne and of treaties of amity abroad. Still the slave-masters had not reached the goal of their ambition and purpose. There were other infractions to be made, other rights to be invaded, and other guaranties to he ignored. And the new administration, among its first duties, was compelled not only to define its position, but to enter upon that line of policy deemed necessary to secure these ulterior purposes of the Slave Power. Whether General Taylor fully comprehended the extent of these purposes may be questioned. He did, however, with a good degree of promptitude, enter upon the work of proposing and encouraging the organization of State governments. Within thirty days after his inauguration, Thomas Butler King, a Whig member of Congress from Georgia, was sent to California for the purpose of expressing to its inhabitants the desire of the administration that they would form a constitution, and ask for admission as a State. This they were ready to do, though for reasons very different from those which impelled the government to desire it. The discovery of gold had drawn to the Pacific coast many enterprising and adventurous young men from the Northern States, who, whatever might have been their moral or political sentiments or personal prejudices, had little desire to enter into competition or companionship with negro slaves. But they needed government; and, as Congress had failed to give them a Territorial organization, interest, the need of protection, and ambition prompted them to respond at once to these intimations of the administration. A proclamation was therefore issued on the 3d of June, 1850, by General Riley, military governor, calling a convention to form a constitution. That convention assembled, framed a constitution, and submitted it to the people. It was adopted, and. at once transmitted to Washington. For the reasons suggested, instead of a provision for slavery it contained a clause expressly prohibiting it. This was, of course, regarded as a fatal omission by those who, still sore and smarting from defeat in their attempts to force slavery" into Oregon as a State, and to obtain its recognition in the Territorial organizations of California and New Mexico, saw slipping from their grasp the coveted fruits of annexation and the Mexican war. It was with infinite chagrin and alarm that they looked upon these evidences of their ill success; and they determined to renew the struggle with greater desperation, to turn the tide that seemed to be setting so strongly against the consummation of their long-cherished schemes. Both in Congress and in the legislatures of the slave States appeared simultaneously demonstrations of these renewed purposes of slaveholding aggressions. The legislature of Virginia requested the governor to call an extra session of Congress should enact the Wilmot proviso, and the governors of Georgia and Alabama recommended that provision should be made for conventions of the people should Congress legislate for the prohibition of slavery in the Territories. Menaces of disunion, too, which had seemed to be losing something of their power, were renewed.

The whole South seemed greatly moved. Her leading and most violent men were very active in breeding discontent and firing the Southern heart. Just before the session of congress a correspondence between Mr. Foote of Mississippi and Mr. Clingman was published. In Mr. Clingman's response he expressed the opinion that the slave States ought to resist any action of Congress for the exclusion of slavery from any of the Territories. Though this avowal of the policy of disunion was that of two rather vain and ambitious men, neither of who was entitled to much weight or influence, it was, nevertheless an indication of Southern feeling and purpose. The cry of disunion, now uttered with more vehemence than ever, and manifestly designed to overawe the timid and dragoon the weak, secured the results for which it had been raised. Many were panic-stricken, and yielded to fear what conscience and reason, humanity and patriotism, urged them to maintain. Appalled by these menaces of disunion, they openly and pitiably disavowed their solemnly declared opinions, abjured their own repeated acts, and thus proved recreant to the enduring interests of the nation.

In consequence of this disturbed condition of affairs, this transition state of the public mind, as it was passing from the old traditional policy which had hitherto obtained to the new which it was about to adopt, the first session of the XXXIst Congress, beginning on the 3d of December, 1849, was marked by a variety of propositions, abstract and practical, introduced oy both the friends and the foes of slavery.  It was remarkable also for its length, its heated debates, its devotion· to slavery-, its submission to the Slave Power, and its disastrous compromises. In it, too, the nation took a new departure in its marauding crusade against the rights of man and the fundamental principles of public and personal morality.

The Senate had a clear Democratic majority. In the House the Whig and Democratic parties were more equally matched, while the Free Soil party was represented by eight members. A sharp and protracted struggle ensued for the choice of Speaker. Robert C. Winthrop was the candidate of the Whigs, and Howell Cobb of the Democrats. Mr. Winthrop, however, failed to receive the full support of either section of his party. While five Southern Whigs refused to give him their votes, his views were far from being in accord with those of the Free Soil members, and his course as Speaker of the XXXth Congress had not been satisfactory. The latter, therefore, peremptorily and persistently refused to give him their votes during the contest, which continued for nearly three weeks, amid deep feeling and much excitement.

On the thirty-ninth ballot, William J. Brown, a Democratic member from Indiana, received one hundred and nine votes; a larger number than had been cast for any other candidate. Mr. Winthrop then withdrew his name from the list of candidates. The Free Soil members being informed that Mr. Brown was willing to pledge himself to arrange satisfactorily the committees on Territories, the judiciary, and the District of Columbia, David Wilmot of Pennsylvania addressed a note to him, stating that they would give him a cheerful and cordial support if assured that these committees should be so arranged. Mr. Brown in his reply promised that, if elected, he would ", constitute the committees on the District of Columbia, on the Territories, and on the judiciary in such a manner as shall be satisfactory to yourself and friends. I am a representative of a free State, and have always been op posed to the extension of slavery, and believe that the Federal government should be relieved from the responsibility of slavery where they have the constitutional power to abolish it."

While this pledge was full and complete in itself, Mr. Brown's standing and associations did not fully commend him to the confidence of all the Free Soil members. Root of Ohio, Julian of Indiana, and Tuck of New Hampshire, refused to give him their votes; but Charles Allen of Massachusetts, Preston King of New York, David Wilmot of Pennsylvania, Charles Durkee of Wisconsin, and Joshua R. Giddings of Ohio, anxious to secure a Speaker who would give the friends of freedom a chance to be heard, through these committees, assumed the responsibility of voting for him. Several Southern Democrats, however, who watched with suspicious interest and surprise this action, withdrew their support from Brown, and he failed of an election by two votes.

Mr. Stanley of North Carolina then rose and offered a resolution requesting the Democrats to appoint a committee of three to confer with the Whigs relative to the choice of officers for the House. An exciting debate ensued, during which Brown's letter to Wilmot was read and sharply criticised. Mr. Meade of Virginia expressed his readiness to take a Speaker, if he was opposed to the abolition of slavery in the District or its prohibition in the Territories, from either side of the House. “If slavery," he said, "is to be abolished in the District or prohibited in the Territories, I trust in God that my eyes have rested upon the last Speaker of the House of Representatives."

This declaration created much excitement. Mr. Root said in reply, that he trusted such calm and moderate counsels would allay agitation and prevent dissolution. But if dissolution was to come, he hoped it would come in “their disorganized attitude," because it would not be “binding," and there would be some hope that it would be set aside. “If dissolution shall come," he said, " after the House is organized, on a report for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, then we are assured there will come a fight in defence of wife, the little ones, the household gods, and all other household furniture." He ridiculed the idea of Southern members who expected some Northern man to come forward with the “olive-branch of peace “in the surrender of North ern rights. He reminded Southern men, who were threatening a dissolution of the Union, that they must remember that the people of the West have a very strong idea that the Mississippi River, to say nothing about its banks, is a part of their territory from its mouth to its source. "We furnish. the water."

William Duer, a Whig member from New York, proclaimed himself ready to vote for a Whig, a Democrat, a Free-Soiler, or anyone but “a disunionist." Mr. Bayly of Virginia denied that there were any disunionists in the House, and asked Mr. Duer to point them out. In reply Duer said he believed there were some from Virginia, and pointed to Meade. “It is false," exclaimed the Virginian. “You are a liar, sir," retorted Duer. Quick as thought, Meade made a rush at Duer, who was immediately surrounded by his friends. A scene of indescribable confusion followed. Calls to order, threats, and violent gesticulations were intermingled. The sergeant-at arms, seizing his mace, bore it among the excited and disorganized members, amid cries of “Take away that bauble!” The excitement having somewhat subsided, Mr. Duer apologized to the House for the language he had used, and quiet was restored.

Mr. Toombs, who up to that time had professed to be a Whig, followed in a vehement and passionate denunciation of the Free Soil members. He declared that the time had come when “we are not to be intimidated by eulogies upon the Union." “I do not hesitate," he said, " to avow before this House and the country, and in the presence of a living God, that if by your legislation you seek to drive us from the Territories and to abolish slavery in this District, I am for disunion; and if my physical courage be equal to the maintenance of my convictions of right and duty, I will devote all I am and all I have to its consummation." He closed his speech, which was frequently applauded by Southern Representatives, with the declaration that if they would not give him security that the organization of the House should not be used to the injury of his constituents, he would say, “Let discord reign forever."

Edward D. Baker, then a Whig Representative from Illinois, said that he could not permit the observations of Mr. Toombs to pass without an immediate and distinct reply. He told the Representatives of the South that when they threatened the dissolution of the Union the people doubted their earnestness; that no fervid declarations, no fiery appeals to Southern feeling, no solemn invocations to Almighty God, would make them believe that there is in this Hall one man who chambers in his secret heart a purpose so accursed and so deadly." He declared that the Representatives of the North would not shrink from uttering their deliberate convictions. “We are freemen," he said,” to speak for freemen, and will act as becomes freemen, in the face of the world and of posterity." He said it was a mournful spectacle to a true-minded man when threats of disunion, fierce and bitter, drew forth shouts of applause as triumphant as if disunion were a glory. “In the name of the men of the North," he said, " so rudely attacked, and speaking what I know to be their sentiments, I say that a dissolution of this Union is, must be, shall be impossible, as long as an American heart beats in an American bosom, or the Almighty sends his wisdom and his goodness to guide and bless us." This eloquent and gifted Representative afterward sealed his devotion to the Union with his blood on the disastrous field of Ball's Bluff.

To this earnest plea for the integrity of the nation, Alexander H. Stephens, then professing to be a Whig, at once replied: “I tell that gentleman, whether he believes it or not, and whether the people believe it or not, that the day in which aggression is consummated on any portion of the country this Union is dissolved." He closed by indorsing fully and unequivocally the speech of Toombs.

Although it required personal bravery as well as moral courage to speak for justice and humanity in that presence, there were those who were ready. Chauncey F. Cleveland, Democratic member from Connecticut, of strong antislavery convictions, expressed his astonishment at these exhibitions of passion, made by Representatives from the South. The people of the North, he said, made no threats, and were not disturbed by threats made by others. They loved liberty and wished to secure it; and, so far as it was in their power, they would secure it, regardless of threats here or elsewhere.

Charles Allen, a Free Soil member from Massachusetts, expressed his regret that “soothing language” had been ad dressed to “the actors in that theatrical display." He reminded the House that when men undertook in earnest the great and hazardous work of subverting established governments, instead of " flashy oratory " and " the machinery of concerted applause" there is heard a language of calm determination, and a countenance thoughtful and solemn in its expression bears testimony to the high resolve that animates the breast. He rebuked “the loud and declamatory threats “of Mr. Toombs to shatter into fragments this Union, and the simultaneous gathering of Southern members in the centre of the hall, each with uplifted hands, clapping at every sally of the vociferous orator. In a manner at once calm, firm, and dignified, he told the Representatives of the South, who “talk of subverting this mighty Union," that " their united forces could not remove one of the marble columns which supports this Hall." Turning to the friends of the ordinance of 1787, Mr. Allen said: “The cry of disunion has been raised in advance. If the legislature of the country, we are told, shall prevent the extension of slavery into free territory, the government is to be overthrown. How is this to be done? The advocates for the unlimited spread of slavery say they will teach you. Teach them a lesson which shall protect this House from such threats hereafter, which shall save not the Union, which is safe, but the country, from all such scenes as we have witnessed this day."

On the 22d of December, a resolution having been adopted that a plurality should effect a choice, Mr. Cobb received one hundred and two votes to one hundred for Mr. Winthrop, and was declared Speaker. Being an extreme Southern man, the committees were organized to protect what were deemed the rights of the South, and to favor the designs of those who were leading the new crusade against freedom. The eight Free Soil members had only insisted on the very moderate demand for a Speaker who would appoint committees in favor of respectfully considering and reporting upon petitions relating to slavery. Mr. Giddings states that they offered to vote for Thaddeus Stevens without other pledges than his antecedent opinions and acts.

The House being organized, President Taylor sent in his annual message. In it he took occasion to recommend to the favorable consideration of Congress the application of California for admission as a State whenever she should present it. He expressed, too, the opinion that the people of New Mexico would also at no distant day present themselves for admission as a State. He thought all causes of uneasiness might be avoided, and confidence and kind feeling produced, by thus awaiting the action of the people of California and New Mexico, who would institute for themselves such forms of government as would be most likely to effect their safety and happiness. When, however, the expected application came, and the President sent to Congress the constitution which had been adopted by the convention of California, though it was accompanied by a Democratic delegation to urge its claims, it met with not merely a cool reception, but with earnest and determined opposition from the very men who had been most anxious for the admission of the Golden State. Indeed, it became the signal and cause of a long, heated, and miscellaneous de bate, especially in the Senate, to which body, after the long contest for Speaker in the House, the great conflict seemed to have been in a measure transferred.

In addition to the case of California, there sprung up minor questions, which were deemed or made to involve the same principle at issue. Among these was a motion to invite Father Mathew, the Irish apostle of temperance, then in Washington, to a seat within the bar of the Senate. To this seemingly harmless and unimportant proposition, Mr. Clemens of Alabama and others interposed a furious opposition, because his name had been appended, with that of O'Connel, to an antislavery appeal to the Irishmen of America. In that signature they detected a crime against the South which merited rebuke, though Mr. Clay expressed the opinion that this pushing the subject of slavery on all possible occasions was impolitic and unwise. Mr. Seward hoped that the Senate, by the adoption of this resolution, would express the sentiment that, " if slavery be an error, if it be a crime, if it be a sin, we deplore its existence, and we shall not withhold from virtue the meed which is its due, because it happens to be combined in the person of one who exhibits not more a devotion to virtue than to the rights of man." Jefferson Davis, of course, opposed the motion. “Of the horde of Abolitionists, foreign and domestic, if I had the power to exclude them all from that Chamber," he avowed,” I would do it." Mr. Hale was not satisfied with the action of Father Mathew, because, when invited by the Boston Abolitionists to unite with them in the celebration of West India emancipation, he had consented to maintain the position of silence, and had disappointed the friends of liberty. But he should vote for the resolution for other reasons. After long debate, the resolution was adopted, though eighteen Southern Senators voted against it.

In the same month, Mr. Upham of Vermont presented the resolutions of that State, which declared slavery to be a crime against humanity, only excused by the framers of the Constitution as a crime entailed upon the country, and tolerated as a thing of inexorable necessity; and instructed its delegation to oppose the annexation of Texas, and to vote for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. The motion to print was strenuously resisted by several Southern Senators, though Mr. Hale expressed the opinion that there was no occasion for this excitement of Southern members. “There have been resolutions enough passed," he said,” against slavery, to make a winding-sheet for every slave and every slaveholder in the Union. Yet, after all, if you sift it to the bottom, you will find very little resolution in the resolutions." Mr. Borland, a Democratic Senator from Arkansas, remarked that he should despise himself if he were unexcited under such circumstances. “I cannot," he said,” argue with the robber who meets me on the highway and demands my purse. I cannot consent to argue with the assassin who seeks to stab me in the dark. I cannot argue with the midnight incendiary who stands ready to apply the torch to my dwelling."

Salmon P. Chase, who had just entered the Senate, spoke briefly in favor of printing the resolution. Replying to the angry threats which had been made, and speaking for Ohio, he said: “No menace of disunion, no resolves tending toward disunion, no intimations of the probability of disunion, in any form, will move us from the path which, in our judgment, it is due to ourselves and the people we represent to pursue."

 Mr. Clemens followed Mr. Chase in a violent speech, in which he asserted that the Union was already dissolved. To this singular assertion Mr. Hale good-humoredly replied, that it would be very comforting to many timid people, with excited nerves and trembling fears, to find that the dissolution of the Union had taken place and they did not know it. Illustrating this point by a turn of pleasantry, he said: “Once in my life, in the capacity of a justice of the peace, I was called on to officiate in uniting a couple in the bonds of matrimony. I asked the man if he would take the woman to be his wedded wife. He replied: 6 I will. I came here to do that very thing.' I then put the question to the woman whether she would have the man for her husband. And when she answered in the affirmative I told them they were husband and wife. She looked up with apparent astonishment, and inquired: ' Is that all? ' Yes,' said I, that is all.' Well,' said she, ' it is not such a mighty affair as I expected it to be, after all.' If this Union is already dissolved, it has produced less commotion in the act than I expected."

The debate was one of great earnestness and vigor, and continued several days. On the 23d, Mr. Phelps of Vermont addressed the Senate in a speech of great force and eloquence. He reminded Senators that the agitation they so much deprecated was only the logical sequence of the Mexican war, which originated in the disposition to extend the boundaries and power of the country, and which carried in its train elements that might end in despoiling the Republic.

Resolutions of the legislature of Missouri were presented by Mr. Benton. They declared that any attempt to legislate against slavery in the District of Columbia or in the Territories would be a violation of the Constitution, and tend to disunion; and they pledged Missouri to co-operate with other Southern slaveholding States in favor of any measures deemed necessary to preserve the system. The resolutions, however, [r. Benton asserted, misrepresented the sentiments of her people, as they never would be found acting in favor of disunion. These preliminary skirmishes in both Houses revealed the temper and tendencies of their members, and indicated the character of the great contest upon which they had entered, a contest that was for months to divide and distract Congress, and for years to disturb and disgrace the nation.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 208-220.

Chapter: “Northern Defection,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

The struggle over the election of Speaker had been marked by extreme violence. The slave-masters had never exhibited greater intolerance, audacity, or a more determined purpose. On the other hand, many Northern men, especially among the Whigs, betrayed marked timidity and vacillation in both their speeches and their votes. Two or three votes especially indicated with painful distinctness the rapidity with which even Northern members were unlearning the lessons of the past, and accepting those of the new school which was then in the ascendant. Thus on the 4th of February, 1850, a motion to lay on the table Mr. Root's resolution inhibiting slavery in the newly acquired territory, was carried by a vote of one hundred and five to seventy-nine, though five weeks before the same motion was rejected; more than thirty Northern members voting for the motion, and several others, though present, declining to vote.

On the same day likewise, Mr. Giddings offered two resolutions, the first declaring that all men were created equal; and the second, that it was the duty of Congress to secure to the people of all the Territories, of whatever complexion, the enjoyment of the inalienable rights of life and liberty. The House, on motion of Mr. Haralson of Georgia, laid the resolutions on the table by a majority of thirteen. These decisive votes settled, at least for that Congress, the policy of slavery prohibition in the Territories. It was evident that the Wilmot proviso was inevitably defeated, and that the policy of excluding slavery from free Territories was ended. The Declaration of Independence and the ordinance of 1787 were thus disowned and rejected by the representatives of the people. By this latter vote it seemed as if Northern Representatives had been thoroughly subdued. They were not only ready to yield to Southern dictation in matters of practical legislation, but they were prepared ignominiously to surrender their opinions, even the time-honored opinions of the Revolution and the Declaration.

The action on Mr. Root's proposition was certainly most extraordinary. In little more than a month there was a change of more than forty votes on substantially the same motion, and that involving one of the most radical issues then before the nation. Of the thirty-two Northern members who voted to lay the motion on the table, in other words, to kill the Wilmot proviso, eighteen were Democrats and fourteen were Whigs. There were twenty-seven absentees from the free States. Some would unquestionably have voted against the motion, had they been present; but charity itself was obliged to believe that some were absent because they preferred to dodge the vote. They therefore were prepared to reverse, not only their own action, but that of the government. No longer pleading the compromises of the Constitution as their apology, they were prepared to assume the aggressive policy dictated by the slave-masters, not making even the pretense of caring for freedom or of laboring in its behalf. The causes of this radical change, this new departure of the government on the slavery issue, were various. The refusal of the Whig national convention to indorse the Wilmot proviso; the timidity of the administration, which seemed mainly anxious to evade the question; the increasing violence of the Slave Power; and, above all, the growing demoralization of the nation under the malign influences, at once so potent and so persistent, these were the causes of the sad and discreditable result. The nation would not do right. It could not stand still. It consequently became more and more pronounced in the wrong.

It was inevitable that the protracted and violent contest for Speaker, and the radical and conflicting principles and purposes of the contending parties, would reveal their influence in the debates which sprang up on the motion to refer the President's message to appropriate committees. Thomas L. Clingman, a Whig member from North Carolina, commenced the debate in a defiant speech in favor of the perpetuity of slavery and the rights of slave-masters. He arraigned the North for " its aggressive attitude" towards the South; declared his disgust with " the senseless and insane cry of Union, Union “; and proclaimed that the people of the South did not love the North well enough to become their slaves, that God had given them the power and the will to resist, and they would take care of themselves. He was followed by Mr. Howard of Texas. He maintained that so much of Texas as lay north of 36 30' should, if connected with any portion of the territory south of it, become slaveholding. He contended that good faith to the South required that the introduction of the principle of free soil there should be resisted.

Mr. Inge, Democratic member from Alabama, referred to " the ominous signs of discord " already apparent on the Whig side of the House, and predicted that General Taylor, like Actaeon, was doomed to be torn in pieces by his own hounds. He sarcastically and contemptuously proclaimed that the open defiance of the South to the Wilmot proviso, and the sternly expressed determination to resist it to the last extremity and at all hazards, had awakened the “Union-loving propensities" of the Northern Whigs, who had “with characteristic discretion" already abandoned it. He avowed that the admission of California would be met by the South “with determined and unmeasured resistance." Holding the Mississippi River, she could levy tribute on the non-slaveholding States seeking egress to the ocean. Cuba, with slavery and kindred sympathies, was ready to spring into the embrace of the South; while a field of indefinite expansion opened invitingly south and west of the Rio Grande. “With these views of future wealth and grandeur lighting up the path of our destiny," he inquired, “can you feel that we fear to tread it alone?".

Robert McLane, a Democratic member from Maryland, went so far in support of Southern pretensions as to frantically exclaim: "If Congress shall abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, Maryland will resume jurisdiction over the same. Her courts, her processes, her constables, are all at command, and even her militia." Though Congress had exclusive jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, yet, if in its discretion it should abolish slavery, the Representative from Baltimore insultingly declared that Maryland would resume its jurisdiction, and that her constables and militia were ready to enforce her authority over the Federal government. Could the impotence of fanaticism and arrogant assumption go further?

In a similar strain Mr. Cabell, a Whig member from Florida, gravely announced, as if he was not the single Representative of one of the weakest and most insignificant States of the Union, that she had determined upon her course of action should Congress adopt the policy of inhibition. “Revolution," he said,” and disunion, will be the inevitable consequence of its consummation." None, however, went so far as Robert Toombs in the assertion of these arrogant demands. Turning to the Northern Representatives, he said: “We have the right to call on you to give your blood to maintain the slaves of the South in bondage. Gentlemen, deceive not your selves; you cannot deceive others. This is a proslavery government. Slavery is stamped on its heart, the Constitution."

Albert G. Brown of Mississippi avowed that he regarded slavery as “a great moral, social, political, and religious blessing? -- a blessing to the slave and a blessing to the master." The outspoken Mississippian graciously admitted, however, that the people of the North thought slavery to be an evil, but impudently added: “Very well, think so; but keep your thoughts to yourselves." Mr. Savage of Tennessee violently denounced antislavery men as the outcasts and offscourings of the earth. Others wrathfully anathematized them as “a pestilent set of vipers that ought in God's name to be destroyed."

Others still, varying the strain somewhat, spoke in a more deprecating manner, and addressed their warnings to the South. Among them, Hilliard of Alabama warned the South that it must make up its mind to resist the inter diction of slavery in new territories, or submit to an “organic change “in its institutions. Meade of Virginia, too, warned the South that, if it submitted to the policy of con fining slavery within its present limits, it must "commence forthwith the work of gradual emancipation.  And this representative of that ancient and proud commonwealth did not blush to confess that she had " a slave population of near half a million, whose value is chiefly dependent on Southern demand." These declarations revealed at once the temper, the principles, and the purposes, of the representatives of the Slave Power.

Nor were these avowals and menaces confined to the halls of Congress. Several of the Southern legislatures adopted resolutions in which they made proclamation that, if Congress prohibited slavery in the new territories, they would resist it “at any and every hazard." Governor George M. Troup of Georgia denounced every opponent of slavery extension as a fanatic, and proclaimed that the dread of death would only stop his machinations. “That dread," he said, “you must present to him in a visible and palpable form." And he actually proposed that Georgia should “march upon Washington and dissolve the government."

While many of the Representatives from Northern States shrank timidly before these angry menaces and vituperative assaults, there were others who maintained with inflexible firmness and unabated zeal the struggling cause of freedom, and who defended the higher and better sentiments of a humane and Christian people. Mr. Root took early occasion to declare that he was not “a compromising man," and he could not compromise on questions of either the Constitution or freedom. “So help me God," he solemnly declared,” I never will." He announced to Southern Representatives that he was inflexibly opposed to any more slave territory or States; and that they might bring the cause to trial as soon as they pleased, and God and the country must decide between them.

Mr. Sackett of New York made an earnest plea against the extension of slavery. Alluding to the admission which had been made that the Mexican war had been fought at the behests of slavery, he exclaimed : " What, sir, a Christian nation, under the flag of freedom, marshalling armies, sending navies, slaughtering and to slaughter, to blot out forever the hopes of freedom and to bury them in the unfathomable abyss of slavery ! .... If the blood and treasure of the South have been poured out for such a purpose, may the gaze of an indignant world rest upon the inhuman butchery... Friends of liberty! Brethren in the cause of humanity, of freedom, and of justice, let us maintain our cause to the end! Let us defend these the liberties our fathers gave us, secure them to ourselves and to our children; and, when we have triumphed, as the temples of religion and virtue, of morality and law, rise up in the wilderness of the West, as the voice of contentment and the chant of the free mingle with the sound of her waters, no slave shall bewail the chains of his race, no God shall condemn the deed we have done."

The voice, too, of Horace Mann, gave no uncertain sound. Peerless at home as a recognized leader in the causes of education and temperance, he was always and everywhere among the earliest and most intrepid in his advocacy of human rights. He followed Mr. Root, on the same day, with a speech of rare ability and eloquence. Alluding to a favorite boast of Southern writers and speakers, that they would defend their system "at any and at every hazard," even of disunion, he proceeded to consider some of the “hazards “of dissolution. Among them he dwelt upon the danger of insurrection and lawless violence, when the power and protection of the national government should be removed. Reminding the House that "the South fosters in its homes three millions of latent rebellions," he inquired, "If there is no Spartacus among them? is the race of Nat Turners extinct?" "In ignorant and imbruted minds," he said, “a thousand motives work which we cannot divine. A thousand excitements madden them which we cannot control. It may be a text of Scripture, it may be the contents of a wine-vault; but the result will be the same, havoc wherever there is wealth, murder wherever there is life, violation wherever there is chastity. Alluding to the heroic sacrifices and feats of bravery and endurance on the part of slaves seeking escape from bondage, he propounded the very natural inquiry, indicating a danger from which the wonderful forbearance of the slaves, and the good providence of God in great measure saved the sinning States: " Will men who devise such things and endure such things be balked in their purposes of hope and revenge when the angel of destruction in the form of an angel of liberty descends into their breasts? "Alluding to the event of civil war, he spoke prophetically: "If the two sections of the country ever marshal themselves against each other, and their squadrons rush to the conflict, it will be a war carried on by such powers of intellect, animated by such vehemence of passion, and sustained by such an abundance of resources, as the world has never before known." He closed his speech on slavery in the Territories with these words, which excited much remark, and were often made the occasion of bitter reproach and charges of disloyalty: " Such is my solemn and abiding conviction of the character of slavery, that, under a full sense of my responsibility to my country and my God, I deliberately say, Better disunion, better a civil and servile war, better anything that God in his providence shall send, than an extension of the boundaries of slavery."

Thaddeus Stevens also made similar reply in a speech of merciless severity and biting sarcasm. To Meade's humiliating confession that the value of Virginia's slaves was chiefly dependent upon a Southern market, he said it meant that Virginia was now only fit to be the breeder, and not the employer, of slaves; that " she is reduced to the condition that her proud chivalry are compelled to turn slave-traders for a livelihood; that, instead of attempting to renovate the soil, and by their own honest labor compel the earth to yield her abundance, instead of seeking for the best breed of cattle and horses to feed on her hills and valleys and fertilize the land, the sons of that great State must devote their time to selecting and growing the most lusty sires and the most fruitful wenches to supply the slave-barracoons of the South." Clingman had boastfully threatened that the South would hold and defend Washington; that it was slaveholding territory, and they did not intend to lose it. Referring to this braggart boast, Stevens said: “We have had a most alarming description of the prowess of the South. We have heard their cannon roar, seen their bayonets bristle, heard the war-cry of the charging chivalry, and seen their bowie-knives gleam within this hall, in the vivid picture of the terrible gentleman from North Carolina." He denounced slaveholding in the United States as the most grinding and absolute despotism the world had ever seen, and held the people of the North who fastened iron chains and riveted manacles upon their fellowmen " as despots, such as history will brand and God abhor "; and he declared that any " Northern man, enlightened by a Northern education, who would, directly or indirectly, by omission or commission, by basely voting or cowardly skulking, permit it to spread over one rood of God's free earth, is a traitor to liberty and recreant to his God."

William H. Bissell, then a Democratic Representative from Illinois, afterward the first Republican governor of that State, spoke also earnestly and vigorously in reply to these South ern menaces of disunion. He said that their complaints were “wholly groundless, or exceedingly trivial," and that, if they had not the slavery question as a plausible pretext for their disunion designs, they would” hunt for such a pretext elsewhere, or invent one." Mr. Seddon of Virginia, afterward Secretary of War in the Southern Confederacy, had asserted that, when the “troops of the North " gave way at a critical moment at Buena Vista, the Mississippi regiment " snatched victory from the jaws of defeat." This unfounded claim, so vauntingly put forth, Colonel Bissell, who commanded an Illinois regiment in that battle, unequivocally denied. He

affirmed that "the Mississippi regiment, for whom this claim is thus gratuitously set up, was not within a mile and a half of the scene of action, nor had it as yet fired a gun or drawn a trigger "; and that the troops which there met and resisted the enemy were the " 2d Kentucky, 2d Illinois, and a portion of the 1st Illinois regiments." This blank and positive denial brought a challenge from Jefferson Davis; but it did not evoke either a retraction or an apology from the Illinois colonel.

Four days after Mr. Webster's speech against reaffirming an ordinance of nature or re-enacting the will of God, Orrin Fowler, a Whig Representative from Massachusetts, made a speech, boldly enunciating and defending the fundamental principles and paramount claims of right and justice, con science and Christianity. A Congregational clergyman, he carried to the halls of Congress the same deference to truth he had inculcated from the sacred desk. He condemned the extension of slavery, on the ground of its sinfulness, because it would be “a wrong done to humanity, to the rights of humanity and to the friends of humanity." " Between doing wrong and suffering wrong," he avowed that true patriots would not hesitate to choose the latter alternative ; and that " the sting of self-reproach and the consciousness of wrong doing would embitter what remains of mortal life " to him who should aid or consent to this extension of slavery.

While Southern men were violent and vituperative, and a few Northern men were true to their convictions and firm in their defence of the truth and of their section, there were those from the free States who spoke timidly and with too many reservations in behalf of opinions they had heretofore maintained. Among them was Mr. Ashmun of Massachusetts, a man of talent, forensic brilliancy, and practical sagacity. He spoke in terms of unmeasured condemnation of the dead issues, berated the government for the folly, wicked ness, and inevitable consequences of the Mexican war, made upon "a weak sister republic," in which " we expended one hundred millions of dollars, throwing in, by way of small change, ten thousand American lives," depicted, as few could, the sad results already upon them, and set home the responsibility where it belonged. “But the soil acquired," he said,” was not merely moistened with American blood; it was sown thick with quickly springing dragons' teeth. For hardly have the shouts of victory from Buena Vista and the palaces of the Montezumas died away, and the bugle of truce sounded the notes of recall to our squadrons, hardly have our eagles folded their returning wings, when our ears are pierced by shrieks, within our own borders, of discord, dissension, and disunion, and threatened civil war." When, however, he came to speak of Mr. Webster's speech, his admiration of its author was far more manifest than his censure of its treachery. With much adulation, the severest condemnation he could pronounce was that, while there may have been in it some conclusions to which his own way was not exactly clear, yet in the spirit in which he spoke he most cordially and heartily concurred. " Whether my difference with him," he said, " upon any of the points involved is not more seeming than substantial, I leave for others to decide ; but of one thing I am sure, that my tongue shall sooner cling to the roof of my mouth than it shall join in the temporary clamor which malignity has raised against him."

On the 23d of April, Mr. Winthrop of Massachusetts made a very able and adroit speech, in which he attempted to reconcile his former votes in favor of the Wilmot proviso with the new policy and new departure he was about to adopt. Ostensibly, and, no doubt, sincerely, he spoke in behalf of patriotism and union. “One tie, however," he said, “I am persuaded, still remains to us all, a common devotion to the union of these States, and a common determination to sacrifice everything but principle to its preservation. Our responsibilities are, indeed, great. This vast republic, stretching from sea to sea, and rapidly outgrowing everything but our affections, looks anxiously to us to take care that it receives no detriment. Nor is it too much to say that the eyes and hearts of the friends of constitutional freedom throughout the world are at this moment turned eagerly here more eagerly than ever before to behold an example of successful republican institutions, and to see them come out safely and triumphantly from the fiery trial to which they are now subjected."

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 221-230.









Chapter: “The Slave-Trade,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

WHILE the Slave Power had been putting forth its gigantic and too successful efforts for expansion, unlimited control, and perpetuity, the prices of slaves had largely appreciated, and the domestic slave-traffic had increased. Indeed, it was estimated that near the close of Mr. Buchanan's administration it had grown to the purchase and sale of thirty thousand slaves a year, at a market value of some thirty million dollars. This trade, with its sad aggregate of suffering and sorrow on the one part, of demoralization and guilt on the other, was carried on unblushingly. The barracoon and auction-block were objects familiar to the public gaze, and domiciled as among the recognized, if not cherished, fixtures of Southern society. Though there was a pretended disfavor shown the slave-trader, yet his business was a necessity of the system in which all were implicated, his rooms and jails were marts of an established trade in which all participated, and he was a factor of a commerce which they all defended. Nor was it easy to see how even the regular slave-trader could become more cruel, more demoralized, and more degraded than they who bought of and sold to him, breaking up thereby families, parting husbands and wives, parents and children, and selling often those, and accepting higher prices therefor, whose increased attractions and market value arose from the fact that their own or kindred blood was coursing through their veins. This growing demand for slave labor in the more Southern States increased the domestic traffic, diminished the number of emancipations, intensified the desire for cheaper labor, and turned the minds of many to the reopening of the African slave-trade.

In 1857 Governor Adams of South Carolina advocated it, declaring the laws which made that traffic piracy “a fraud upon us." In the Southern commercial convention, held in Montgomery in 1858, there were two reports made, one by Spratt of South Carolina, proposing a revival of the slave-trade, and another by Yancey of Alabama, proposing a repeal of the laws making it piracy. Both reports were referred to an adjourned meeting, to be held at Vicksburg the next year. At that meeting votes were adopted for the reopening of the trade, and demanding the unconditional repeal of the law that made it piracy. De Bow's Review, a work of large influence, contained labored articles advocating the same policy, especially for the Gulf and Southwestern States. During that year, too, published letters from the South revealed this growing purpose to supply in this manner the increasing demand for slave labor. It was reported that cargoes of slaves had been landed on the Florida coast; that several vessels were engaged in the traffic; and “that, if the slave-trade is not reopened, the indications are that it soon will be." An ex-member of Congress, after a tour through the Gulf States, stated to Mr. Giddings that the people were determined, and that they would defy the federal government in any attempt to enforce the law against the traffic. Mr. Dowdell of Alabama spoke of the question as one belonging to the States whose industrial policy was to be affected by it; of the trade as “not necessarily immoral," which those laws defined to be piracy, and for which they made the penalty death --, which laws he deemed " highly offensive." Miles and Keitt of South Carolina, Seward and Crawford of Georgia, and Barksdale of Mississippi, concurred substantially in these views. During that summer De Bow and Yancey gave special attention to the subject, explaining and defending the new policy, the latter making its indorsement a test of Southern fealty, and the former recommending it alike to those who " held few slaves or none," and to "large slave-owners."

Alexander H. Stephens, on the occasion of retiring from Congress, made a farewell speech to his constituents, reviewing his congressional career, the history of the government, the series of victories won by the Slave Power, and the needs of the South; the most urgent of which was, he contended, expansion. He said that, though they could "divide Texas into five slave States," and could also wrest additional territory from Mexico, “we have not the population, and might as well abandon the race with our brethren of the North in the colonization of the Territories. It is useless to wage war about abstract rights, or to quarrel and accuse each other of unsoundness, unless we get more Africans." John Forsyth, late minister to Mexico, speaking of the triumphs of the Slave Power, added: “But one stronghold remains to be carried, to complete its triumph, and that is the abrogation of the existing prohibition of the African slave-trade." Ex-Governor McRae of Mississippi expressed the belief that the people of his State were in favor of it, and that, “should the South unite in so just a demand," the North would not refuse. Jefferson Davis, while doubting its desirableness for Mississippi, expressed his entire want of sympathy with those “who prate of the inhumanity and sinfulness of the trade”; and he declared that “the interest of Mississippi, not of the African, dictates my conclusion."

Nor were this increasing desire and demand for the reopening of the slave-trade the only sources of new and threatening complications. A British squadron had been stationed on the coast of Cuba to intercept the slave-ships. These latter often displayed the American flag for the protection of their nefarious commerce; though, notwithstanding this precaution, these British cruisers sometimes visited suspected vessels, and, it was charged, exhibited unnecessary violence and insolence in their search. At least the slave-traders and their sympathizers were loud in their complaints. In consequence, President Buchanan sent to the coast of Cuba several war-vessels to resist all attempted searches, demanding, too, an explanation from the British government. In May, 1858, the Senate unanimously adopted a resolution calling upon the President for information. He immediately replied, warlike resolutions were reported, and defiant speeches were made. But with that insincere and equivocal policy which always marked the conduct of the dominant party when the interests of slavery were involved, as soon as it was ascertained that the Republicans were willing to unite in the vindication of the honor of the flag, the war-fever abated. The latter, being anxious to put an end to the infamous traffic by more efficient legislation and the construction of vessels better fitted for the purpose, and desirous of not being placed in a false position, did join in denouncing the action of the British officers, according to a policy agreed upon before the debate commenced, and after a brief consultation between Seward, Hale, and Wilson. These tactics of the opposition soon cooled the ardor of the administration and its supporters, who cared nothing for the suppression of the slave trade. “No forty Quakers alive," said the New York " Tribune," "could have done so much for peace in a year, as the Senators above mentioned did by their warlike talk during a single afternoon."

Nor did the traffic receive moral support alone from the great Republic. American enterprise, skill, and capital were engaged in its prosecution. The yacht Wanderer landed in December, 1858, near Brunswick, Georgia, several hundred slaves; and the fact was ostentatiously paraded by a portion of the Southern press before the country. The vessel was seized and confiscated in Savannah. But when it was to be sold at auction, the public sentiment was so little opposed to the iniquitous service in which it had been engaged, that its owner's appeal, which he brazenly urged, that those present would not “bid against" him, was successful, and he repurchased it at one quarter of its value. The slight dis grace attending it, and the comparative immunity with which the traffic could be engaged in, seemed to justify the charge of the London “Times," that New York had become “the greatest slave-trading mart in the world." Indeed, the statements and figures put forth, during that and the succeeding year, are astounding and almost incredible. A list appeared in the New York “Evening Post” of eighty-five vessels fitted out from New York, from February, 1859, to July, 1860," for the slave-trade. The New York “Leader," a Democratic organ, asserted that "an average of two vessels each week clear out of our harbor, bound for Africa and a human cargo." The " World " said " that from thirty to sixty thou sand a year are taken from Africa to Cuba by vessels from the single port of New York." So deeply involved in this disgraceful and dreadful traffic were people in this nation during all, but especially the closing years, of Mr. Buchanan's administration; so undoubted, too, was the growing sympathy with it; and so unconcealed were the purposes of many to throw around it the sanction of law, or at least to remove the stigma which past legislation had placed upon it.

The friends of freedom, and all who were jealous for the honor of the flag, deemed additional legislation necessary. In March, 1860, Mr. Wilson submitted to the Senate a resolution instructing the Committee on Foreign Relations to report whether the treaty with Great Britain had been executed, and whether any further legislation was necessary to insure the enforcement of the laws; and in April he introduced a bill for the more effectual suppression of the slave-trade. It provided for the construction of five steam sloops of war, better adapted for the purpose than those then in African waters, in accordance with the stipulations of the Webster-Ashburton treaty; the release of naval officers from legal responsibilities in case of mistaken capture of any suspected craft; a fourfold increase of bounty; to make the fitting-out as well as the sailing of slavers piracy; and sundry other provisions to meet existing defects, and to render more effective and sure legislation upon the subject. While the bill was pending, Commodore Foote, afterward admiral, who distinguished himself so much during the war of the Rebellion, wrote to Mr. Wilson respecting it. “I have read," he wrote, “with deep interest your bill and speech in the Senate, for the suppression of the slave-trade, and beg to say that we have never had any plan at all com parable to the one you have proposed and enforced with such ability. With the modifications I have taken the liberty to suggest, your bill would reach any conceivable case, and result in the extirpation of the slave-trade under our flag. The navy, I am sure, is ready to do its part in the great and humane work of suppressing the most atrocious and revolting trade which ever disgraced human nature."

Mr. Wilson, in support of his bill, adduced the testimonies of slaveholders, that at that time the abhorred traffic flourished "in defiant mockery of the laws, the sentiments, and the opinions of the civilized world “; of three " American ministers to the Brazilian government, -- Proffit, Tod, and Schenck, -- that the American flag is made to protect the piratical traffic of African slavers; and of naval officers in their despatches and letters, equally emphatic in their declarations." No less positive was the testimony of Henry A. Wise, also a minister to Brazil. He said: “Our flag alone gives the requisite protection against the right of search, visit, and seizure," so that” without the aid of our own citizens and our flag it could not be carried on with success at all." Mr. Wilson also affirmed that “American juries refuse to indict or convict the audacious pirate; American jurists misconstrue, misinterpret, and pervert the statutes of the country; American journals justify these deeds of piracy and blood." Referring to South Carolina and its former denunciations of the slave-trade, he called upon the Senate to mark the change. “Grand juries," he said, " refuse to indict the pirates and felons of the slaver Echo; and Captain Corrie, the pirate leader of the Wanderer, instead of the felon's cell or felon's scaffold, now struts the streets, amid applauding thousands." But clear as was the case made out, and necessary as were the provisions proposed, the Senate looked coldly on the measure, and the bill never came to a vote.

The subject soon came up again in another form. Two days after the discussion of Mr. Wilson's bill, the President sent a communication to Congress, covering a letter from the marshal of the Southern District of Florida, setting forth the facts that the captured cargoes of two slavers were at Key West, and that more might be “daily expected." Mr. Benjamin, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, recognizing the need of speedy action, reported a bill making it " lawful for the President of the United States to enter into contract with any person or persons, society or societies, or body corporate, to receive from the United States, for a term not exceeding five years, all negroes," captured on board slave-ships, and to provide them with suitable clothing, food, and shelter for the period of six months and at a cost not exceeding one hundred dollars each. In addition the bill contained a special provision and the appropriation of two hundred thousand dollars for those just landed at Key West.

The debate, though marked by more than the usual atrocities of slaveholding expression and avowal, was not without its redeeming features. The Republicans -- and there were not wanting Democrats who joined therein -- were not afraid to say that humanity and justice were as binding on States as individuals, and that the poorest and most lowly had rights which the highest were bound to respect. But these were the exceptions to the general character of the utterances that were made. With frigid indifference and utter obliviousness of the real facts of the case, Jefferson Davis, after belittling the injury done the African, affirming that he had only “exchanged a black master for a white master," said: " I think that it is carrying sympathy, humanity, or whatever it may be called, to an extreme. Charity begins at home. I have no right to tax our people in order that we may support and educate the barbarians of Africa." Having them on their hands, he said, the only question was to get rid of them in the easiest way, which, in his judgment, was to turn them “loose as near their home as possible. Having the wolf by the ears, the only question is how to let him go. To more than that I cannot consent." Mr. Mason said that when slaves are brought here “we cannot permit them to remain, therefore the obligation is upon us to send them back to Africa. All this talk about its being an act of inhumanity to take them back to the precise place from which we are told they were ruthlessly torn is humbug, “though Mr. Clingman had just admitted that "if we just turn them adrift on the coast of Africa they will starve to death," and Mr. Crittenden immediately added, "to land them on the naked shores of Africa would be literally to kill them." Mr. Toombs expressed his purpose to vote against the bill, because he was opposed to the policy of interfering with the slave-trade. "I never liked the Ashburton treaty," he said; and added: “All this thing of putting our fingers in to pre vent the slave-trade between Africa and Cuba or Africa and Brazil is a policy to be discouraged. It is none of our business."

Is it strange that such men, with such sentiments, should, in less than one short year, have been found arrayed in active rebellion against the government, and in deadly hostility against the nation's life? The bill, however, passed both houses and became a law.

Having failed to secure action upon his bill for the more effective suppression of the slave-trade, Mr. Wilson, on the 16th of June, moved an amendment to the naval appropriation bill of three hundred thousand dollars for the purchase of three steam ships to be employed for the purposes specified. The steamers, he argued, were needed at once. “The crime and guilt," he said, "of the trade is upon our country and countrymen, and we owe it to the world that no American ship, no American capital, no American seamen, shall engage in the slave-trade For the cause of our common humanity, for the good name and fame of our country, for the love of man and the blessing of God, I would do what we can to extinguish a traffic so inhuman and accursed."

Mr. Mason opposed the amendment. He said that he trusted that it would be the policy of the nation to abrogate the treaty with England, which, he said, had been “a failure." The professions of humanity, on the part of the British government, were, he affirmed, "hollow and insincere," and he was opposed to the longer continuance of an arrangement which did no good, and which had been prompted by such motives. Mr. Green denied the right of the government to put a police force on the coast of Africa, and he moved an amendment proposing the abrogation of the British treaty, -- a policy also avowed and defended by Jefferson Davis.

Mr. Wilson, alluding to Mr. Mason's charge, that England had been “false and hypocritical," said,” it might be so, but it was not for them to arraign her before the bar of nations." “The blood," he said, "of the perishing children of Africa is upon our hands. American capital and ships and men, on land and sea, are engaged in that horrid traffic. Our laws are violated; our flag is prostituted; our name is dishonored, and our fame tarnished; and we, the government and people of the United States, stand before the civilized world, and before God, self-accused, self-convicted, and self-condemned. Railing accusations against England will not silence the agonizing moans of dying men, floating upon the seas in stifling American slavers; nor will it silence the reproaches of mankind or our own accusing consciences. Let us of America strive rather to put ourselves right than to put England in the wrong. Let us enforce our own laws; drive from the seas every American slaver; vindicate the honor of our flag now tarnished, and our fame now stained; and then, when we have vindicated our own country, and not till then, let us summon England before the tribunal of mankind to plead against the accusations now made against her policy and her acts."

But all efforts were unavailing, and Mr. Wilson's amendment was defeated by a party vote. The failure of Congress, after this special effort to induce it to take action, to adopt any measures to prevent or even restrict the terrible traffic, produced the natural result of giving it new vigor, and it went on increasing, until the government passed under Republican control. Under its inspiration, with the new ideas engendered by the war and by the dethronement of the Slave Power, a new policy was adopted; the laws, instead of remaining a dead letter, were enforced; slave-traders were arrested and imprisoned; and one, at least, was executed.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 615-623.



Please note that this entry includes two chapters:

·        Wilson, “Menaces of Disunion,” 1872

·        Wilson, “New Dogma of Slavery Protection in the Territories,” 1872

Chapter: “Menaces of Disunion,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

WHEN the XXXVIth Congress met on the 5th of December, 1859, the Southern members exhibited great intensity of feeling and earnestness of purpose. Many had convinced themselves that in secession alone could the South find protection from the rapidly accumulating forces of free institutions. They were indifferent to anything like conciliation and agreement; and they sought rather to aggravate than remove whatever was calculated to widen the breach already existing, and to render hopeless everything but disunion. Such had become the tone of several of their leading presses, and such the sentiment which had been proclaimed at several public meetings held during the summer and autumn.

There were three parties represented in the House by one hundred and nine Republicans, one hundred and one Demo crats, and twenty-seven Americans, or old-line Whigs. On the first ballot for Speaker there was no choice, John Sherman receiving sixty-six, and Galusha A. Grow forty-three votes; the latter, however, withdrawing his name on the declaration of the result. This vote and the state of feeling indicated thereby became the signal of an irregular debate, extending through eight weeks, before an election of Speaker was effected. In it were uttered sentiments of the most disorganizing character and of the baldest treason.

This stormy debate was introduced by a singular resolution, offered by John B. Clark of Missouri, to the effect that the doctrines of a book just published, written by Hinton R. Helper of North Carolina, and styled " The Impending Crisis of the South," were insurrectionary and hostile to the domestic tranquillity of the country; and that no member who had indorsed it was fit to be Speaker. The impertinence of that intrusive measure was indicated, not simply by its conflict with freedom of speech and action, but by the fact that the book condemned was not distinctively an abolition work, but was written not so much in the interest of the black as of the white population, for prudential rather than philanthropic rea sons, more in behalf of the master than the slave, and more to help the non-slaveholding whites than either. A compendium, prepared for general circulation, had received the recommendation of a paper signed by nearly seventy members of the House of Representatives, and by such men as Horace Greeley, William C. Bryant, Thurlow Weed, and John Jay. The special point of the resolution was directed to the fact that Mr. Sherman, one of the candidates for the speakership, was among these signers; and the demand was made by the mover that his name should be withdrawn.

Mr. Millson of Virginia said that he who " consciously, deliberately, and of purpose lends his name and influence to the propagation of such writings, is not only not fit to be a Speaker, but he is not fit to live." This strange and senseless declaration was applauded by the galleries. Mr. Sherman then informed the House that he had never read the work, and that he had never seen a copy of it. He read, too, a letter from Francis P. Blair, in which it was stated that Mr. Helper had promised to expurgate the objectionable passages, and he added that it was in consequence of this assurance that Republican members had joined in the recommendation. Mr. Leake of Virginia, rising under great excitement, demanded of the “candidate of the Abolition party," whether he was opposed to any interference on the subject of slavery. Mr. Sherman too promptly, some thought, replied: “I am opposed to any interference whatever by the people of the free States with the relations of master and slave in the slave States."

But soft words were thrown away. Mr. Keitt confronted them with quotations from the speeches of Mr. Seward, the utterances of the New York “Tribune," concerning the book and the John Brown raid. The South, he said, asked nothing but her rights; "but," he added, "as God is my judge, I would shatter this republic from turret to foundation-stone before I would take one tittle less."

Thaddeus Stevens, mingling sarcasm with severity, and his severity designed more for the North than the South, said he did not blame the Southern members for the course they were pursuing, though he regarded it as untimely and irregular. He did not blame them for their language of intimidation, “for using this threat of rending God's creation from turret to foundation." They had tried intimidation before and it had succeeded. They had tried it “fifty times, and fifty times "they had found" weak and recreant tremblers in the North."

This cool sarcasm of the imperturbable Pennsylvanian was more than the fire-eaters could bear. Mr. Crawford of Georgia, interrupting him, impatiently remarked that they wanted no backing down, but "a square and manly avowal of their sentiments "; at the same time he gave the assurance that there would be no “cowardly shrinking" on the part of the South. Members crowded into the area, and great excitement prevailed. Mr. Stevens contemptuously remarked: “This is the way they frightened us before; now you see exactly what it is, and what it has always been." He raised, however, the point of order that no business should be entered upon until the House was organized. Garnett of Virginia, springing to the floor, at once took issue, and vehemently demanded that the discussion should go on, remarking that there was no power that could stop it. This defiant threat was received with marked approval by Southern men and their sympathizers, both on the floor and in the galleries. This saturnalia of words -- it could hardly be called debate -- proceeded. The arrogant Virginian told Northern members to go home, repress the abolition spirit, repeal their personal liberty laws, and adopt legislation to punish men engaged in such insurrectionary proceedings. "Unless," he said, "you do pass such laws, unless you do put down the spirit of Abolitionism, the Union will be short." Thus boldly and baldly did he avow his contumacy and treason. Mr. Lamar of Mississippi charged Republicans with taking issue with the Constitution, and practically renouncing allegiance to its requirements. Claiming that the fathers had put the negro "as an institution of property and of society and of government into the Constitution," he defied them to put him out. They could do it, but at their peril. Avowing his devotion to the Constitution, he said: “But when its spirit is no longer observed on this floor, I war upon your government. I am against it. I raise then the banner of secession, and I will fight under it as long as the blood ebbs and flows in my veins."

But these remarks were too general, and not sufficiently explicit. Something more specific and direct was necessary, if not to give full expression to the Southern purpose, at least to suitably affect the Northern mind, and to convince it of the imminence of the impending danger. The election of a Republican President was therefore seized upon as the "overt act "that was to seal the doom of the Union, and to place the offending party beyond the pale of Southern endurance. De Jarnette of Virginia said that Mr. Seward was a perjured traitor, whom no Southerner could either consistently support, or even obey, should the nation elect him President. "You may," he said, "elect him President of the North, but of the South never." Mr. Leake, of the same State, avowed her right to secede, with manifest tokens of approval on the Democratic side of the House. Repudiating the sentiment uttered by Governor Wise, of fighting inside of the Union, he said: "We will not fight in the Union, but quit it the instant we think proper to do so." Mr. Pryor, in reply to antislavery utterances, said that slavery was not repugnant to the Constitution; nor was it calculated to impede the progress of the Republic. “The ever-active and turbulent spirit of free labor in the North," he said, "will precipitate the social system into anarchy, if it be not counteracted and controlled by the conservative interests of slave labor in the South." Eight millions of Southern freemen, he contended, could not be subjugated by any combination whatever, "least of all by a miscellaneous mob of crazy fanatics and conscience-stricken traitors." “Were the South," he said, "with its incomparable advantages" and "its monopoly of the staples which rule the commerce of the world," to "reorganize a confederacy," it would rear “a fabric of government which shall survive the lapse of ages, and renew with brighter illustration the republican glories of antiquity."

Mr. Keitt said that “if the Republican Party shall get possession of the government, the Union must perish…. Should the Republican Party succeed in the next Presidential election, my advice to the South is to snap the cords of the Union at once and forever." “This Union," he said, with an amusing ignorance of what he was talking about, “great and powerful as it is, can be tumbled down by the act of any one Southern State. If Florida withdraw, the Federal government would not dare attack her. If it did, its hands would dissolve as if melted by lightning. Let a South ern State withdraw, and wherever her flag floats it will be respected; for it will be the flag of the slaveholding world. But touch it with an armed hand, and the whole South would rush to its defence, and would emerge from the struggle with an organized slaveholding confederacy." Thus wildly and recklessly did the men of that day talk, boasting of a power and prowess which the stern arbitrament of war soon put to the test, only, however, to show that, if they did not over estimate themselves, they underrated others.

The representatives of Georgia were hardly less extreme and defiant, making an election of a Republican President a cause of secession. Crawford said that the question had resolved itself into this: “Slavery or disunion, or no slavery and union”; and he boldly avowed the position which he and his constituents had taken. “In regard to the election of a black Republican President," he added, “I have this to say, -- and I speak the sentiments of every Democrat on this floor from the State of Georgia, -- ' We will never submit to the inauguration of a black Republican President.' I repeat it, -- and I have authority to say so, that no Democratic representative from Georgia will ever submit. They are for ' equality in the Union, or independence out of it.' Having lost all hope of the former, I am for independence forever." And even these treasonable utterances were received with applause from the Democratic side of the House. Underwood, of the same State, bitterly assailed the Republican Party. “I am," he said, "a Georgian. To the State of Georgia I owe my allegiance, -- first, last, and always. By her I intend to stand. If Georgia says secession, if Georgia says disunion, if Georgia says revolution, if Georgia says fight in the Union, or fight out of the Union, I intend to stand by the action of the sovereign people of Georgia."

The voice, too, of Alabama chimed in with this monotone of treason. Speaking in the person of Mr. Moore, she con tended that the election of a Republican President would be cause of secession. " Whenever," he said, " a President is elected by a fanatical majority of the North, those whom I represent are ready, let the consequences be what they may, to fall back on their reserved rights, and say, ' As to this Union, we have no longer any lot or part in it.' ‘Curry, of the same State, in a very philosophical speech on the general issues involved in the underlying controversy, did not hesitate to avow a similar sentiment, and to claim that the election of a Republican President would justify even the extreme measure of national disruption. Pugh avowed that the truest conservatism and the widest statesmanship demanded a speedy termination of all association with such confederates, and the formation of another union of States, homogeneous in population, institutions, interests, and pursuits. Clopton, after saying that war, if there should be any, must come from the North, added: “If war must come, let it come. The smoke that will arise from its fields of carnage and blood may obscure the sun which sends forth life and light and vigor, but when that shall have cleared away, the same sun will shine with undiminished brilliancy upon a redeemed and disenthralled South."

Mississippi spoke in the same strain and fittingly in the person of Barksdale, one of the most violent and extreme of the propagandists. He demanded the protection of slave property in the Territories, and the cessation of slavery agitation. “The army," he said, "which invades the South to subjugate her will never return. Their bodies will enrich the soil." He little dreamed, while making this empty threat, that in less than four years his blood would “enrich the soil" of Gettysburg. Singleton said: “Our determination is fixed and unalterable. We will have an expansion of territory in the Union if you will allow it, or outside of the Union if we must." “Gentlemen of the Republican party," said Reuben Davis, "I warn you. Present your sectional candidate in 1860, elect him as the representative of your system of labor, take possession of the government as your instrument in this irrepressible conflict, and we of the South will tear this Constitution to pieces, and look to our guns for justice and right against aggression and wrong."

But all Southern men were not thus violent and traitorous. There were those, more patriotic and prudent, who deprecated this reckless assertion and style of remark. Among them was Mr. Stokes of Tennessee. Rebuking the disloyalty which had thus revealed itself, he repeated and indorsed the patriotic declaration of Henry Clay: “I will never consent to the dissolution of the Union, never, never, never!" Mr. Nelson, of the same State, also spoke eloquently in the same behalf. " I trust in God," he said, " that these sentiments will fill and swell every American heart as long as he shall lead us in perils to come, as he has led us in perils that are past, by a pillar of cloud by day and by a pillar of fire by night."

Nor were all the appeals to the patriotism of its members from the Republicans. Anti-Lecompton Democrats spoke earnestly in the same behalf. Among them was John Hickman of Pennsylvania. He took occasion to say, in reference to the menaces of disunion, that if dissolution meant a dividing-line of sentiment between the North and the South, it existed already ; that it was dangerous then for a Northern man to travel in the South; that any postmaster whose receipts did not amount to five dollars per annum could, if a letter bearing his frank came into his hands, " open it, examine it, and burn it, on the pretext that it is ' incendiary.'  “But if dissolution," he added, "means that there is to be a division of territory by Mason and Dixon's line, or any other line, I say: ' No; the North will never tolerate a division of the territory.' ‘To an interruption from a Georgian, inquiring how the North could prevent it, he replied that there was as much true courage at the North as at the South. " I always believed it," he said, " and therefore I will express it ; and I believe that, with all the appliances of art to assist, eighteen millions reared in industry, with habits of the right kind, will always be able to cope successfully, if need be, with eight mil lions of men without these appliances." This dignified and well-expressed retort produced a profound impression, and was frequently referred to in the subsequent debates. Near the close of the struggle, Thomas Corwin, whose age, large experience, and wonderful oratorical powers were recognized by all, addressed the House at great length, and was listened to with profound attention. His speech, which was argumentative and strong, abounded in flashes of wit and humor, in patriotic and pathetic appeals. He pleaded for the "Constitution inviolate," and “the Union which it created unbroken." He expressed the conviction that, with the Constitution and the Bible as guides, "the cloven-footed altars of oppression all over the world will fall down, as Dagon of old fell down and was shivered to pieces in the presence of the ark of the living God." Pronouncing disunion a crime of frightful enormity and an unpardonable sin, he said: “Rather than this, we should pray the kind Father of all, even his wicked children, to visit us with the last and worse afflictions that fall on sin and sinful man. Better for us would it be that the fruitful earth should be smitten for a season with barrenness and become dry dust, and refuse its annual fruits; better that the heavens for a time should become brass, and the ear of God deaf to our prayers; better that famine with her cold and skinny fingers should lay hold upon the throats of our wives and children; better that God commission the angel of destruction to go forth over the land, scattering pestilence and death from his dusky wing, than that we should prove faithless to our trust, and by that means our light should be quenched, our liberties destroyed, and all our bright hopes die out in that night which knows no coming dawn."

No less extravagant and extreme were Southern utterances in the Senate. Prominent among its speakers was the bellicose Toombs, with his .usual bluster and bravado, denouncing the Republicans as enemies of the Constitution and country, and avowing his purpose to treat them as such. He said it was vain to talk of peace, fraternity, and a common country. "There is no peace," he said, "no fraternity, no common country." He claimed that the South had just cause of war; indeed, that civil war virtually existed, and that the contingency of disunion but depended upon the success of the Re publicans in the coming contest. "When the time comes," he said, “freemen of Georgia, redeem your pledge. I am ready to redeem mine. Your honor is involved, your faith is plighted. I know you feel a stain as a wound; your peace, your social system, your firesides, are involved. Never permit the Federal government to pass into the traitorous hands of the Black Republican party. Listen to no vain babblings, to no treacherous jargon about ' overt acts ‘; they have already been committed. Defend yourselves; the enemy is already at your doors; wait not to meet him at the hearth-stone, meet him at the door-sill, and drive him from the temple of liberty, or pull down its pillars, and involve him in a common ruin."

Iverson was equally decided, if less violent. In the event of the election of John Sherman he said “I would walk, every one of us, out of the halls of this capitol, and consult our constituents; and I would never enter again until I was bade to do so by those who had the right to control. I would counsel my constituents instantly to dissolve all political ties with a party and a people who thus trample on our rights." He maintained that slavery could be preserved only by a Southern confederacy, and he avowed his purpose to counsel his constituents "to dissolve the Union "should a President be elected by "a Northern sectional party."

Clay of Alabama, in an elaborate speech, maintained that it was impossible for the South to live under a Republican administration. "If my State," he said, "is faithful to the pledges she has made, the principles she has professed; if she is true to her own interest and her own honor; if she is not recreant to all that State pride, integrity, and duty demand, she will never submit to your authority. I will add that unless she, and all the Southern States, with perhaps two, or at most three exceptions, are not faithless to the pledges they have given, they will never submit to the government of a President professing your political faith and elected by your sectional majority."

Equally denunciatory was Clingman of North Carolina. He said that there were hundreds of disunionists at the South where there was one ten years before; that in some of the States they were in the majority; and that a still larger number would be with them on "the happening of a cause." He stigmatized the Republicans as “enemies." The election of a Republican President he regarded as an act sufficiently "overt" to "justify resistance," and he would "not surrender the capitol to a public enemy." "As from this capitol," he said, "so much has gone forth to inflame the public mind, if, our countrymen are to be involved in a bloody struggle, I trust in God that the first fruits of the collision may be reaped here."

Though it had been the policy of the Republicans not to mingle largely in the debate, with its deluge of wrathful and menacing words, but to sit in silence under the rain of threats and treason, Mr. Wilson did reply to the menacing speech of Clingman. "The people of the free States," he said, " have sent their representatives here, not to fight, but to legislate; not to mingle in personal contests, but to deliberate for the good of the whole country; not to shed the blood of their fellow-members, but to maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and uphold the Union: and this they will endeavor to do here, in the legislative halls of the capitol, at all events and at every hazard. In the performance of their duties they will not invade the rights of others, nor permit any infringement of their own. If, while in the discharge of their duties here, they are assaulted with deadly intent, I give the Senator from North Carolina due notice here to-day that those assaults will be repelled and retaliated by sons who will not dishonor fathers that fought at Bunker Hill and conquered at Saratoga. Reluctant to enter into such a contest, yet once in, they will be quite as reluctant to leave it. Though they may not be the first to go into the struggle, they will be the last to leave it in dishonor. So much their constituents demand of them when the ' bloody struggle ' the Senator contemplates is forced upon them, and they will not be disappointed when the exigency comes."

On the 1st of February, and on the forty-fourth ballot, Mr. Sherman having withdrawn his name, William Pennington of New Jersey was elected Speaker. But the war of words still raged. Though the immediate occasion was removed, the great cause still remained. Less violent and audacious perhaps, but no less determined and defiant, were the utterances that ever and anon revealed the hatred of the Union which still rankled within, and the more than half-formed purpose that soon ripened into action for its destruction. Nor was the position of Northern Democrats, with few exceptions, more satisfactory. If they did not utter words of treason, they rebuked but feebly those who did.

And these sentiments and speeches did but too faithfully represent Southern feeling and purpose. During the preceding summer and autumn similar sentiments had been pro claimed promiscuously throughout the Southern States. Jefferson Davis, who had visited New England during the preceding summer, addressed a popular gathering at the capital of his State. Alluding to the event of the election of a Republican President, and to the question, what shall the South do? he said he had but one answer to give, and that was to strike for the independence of Mississippi, and for its immediate withdrawal from the Union. He "advised the people of the South to turn their old muskets into Minnie rifles, prepare powder, shot, shell, ammunition of all kinds, and build fortifications, and thus be prepared for any emergency." Charles James Faulkner, at a public meeting in Virginia, asked: " Should William H. Seward be elected in 1860, where is the man now in our midst who would not call for the impeachment of a governor of Virginia who would silently suffer the armory at Harper's Ferry to pass under the control of such an executive head ? " And yet, almost on the heel of this utterance, he was appointed by the President Minister to France.

Governor Letcher, in his message in January, while the debate in Congress was in progress, put forth sentiments equally disloyal. Referring to the possible election of Mr. Seward, he said that “the idea of permitting such a man to have the control of the army and navy, and the appointment of high executive and judicial officers, postmasters included, cannot be entertained for a moment." Ex-Governor McRae of Mississippi, speaking at the capital of the State, declared it to be his policy, and that of " the Democratic party of the State," " to take independence out of the Union in preference to the loss of constitutional rights, and consequent dishonor and degradation, in it." Iverson of Georgia drew a most flattering picture of "a Southern Confederacy." “In a con federated government," he said, "of their own, the Southern States would enjoy sources of wealth, property, and power unsurpassed by any nation on earth. Our expanding pol icy would stretch far beyond present limits. Central America would join her destiny to ours; and so would Cuba, now withheld from us by the voice and votes of Abolition enemies." So madly did they talk, so wildly did they dream, and so blindly did they forecast the issue of the strife they were provoking, which was looming up darkly and terribly, and which was even then at the door.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 643-654.

Chapter: “New Dogma of Slavery Protection in the Territories” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

DURING the closing days of the rule of the Slave Power in America madness seemed to rule in the counsels of the Southern leaders. At least, their overweening confidence in the security of their position and in the completeness of the subjection to which they had reduced the government seemed akin to madness, or at best to a judicial blindness that hid from their view the natural tendency and necessary result of their policy. There was such a wanton throwing away of power they had been years in accumulating, such a relinquishment of vantage-ground they had gained by their bold and audacious strategy, and such trifling with the interests of their Northern Democratic allies, who had sacrificed and imperilled so much in their behalf and at their behests, that thoughtful men could not fail to realize that there were other purposes, human or divine, to be promoted than those of the immediate actors in these great and pregnant events. To quarrel with such a man as Mr. Douglas, who had done more than any other man to reduce or dragoon the Northern Democracy into Southern support; to divide the Democratic party, with its large majority and its traditional adherence to their policy, and deliberately organize its defeat, and thus secure the election of a Republican President, can hardly be accounted for on any known principles of human action.

As if assured that they had but to speak to be heeded, had but to command to be obeyed, they seemed to regard the results already achieved as but stepping-stones to a higher position and more complete control, the advances already made as only affording a new base of operations. Not content with barren victories or barren abstractions, they at once set about the work of confirming possessions already acquired, utilizing the power and advantages already secured, and perfecting their favorite legislation, already so far advanced. Not satisfied with past concessions, the obliteration of the landmarks of freedom and the refusal of all discrimination in behalf of human rights, they seemed resolved that slavery should become emphatically national, that no part of the Republic should be beyond the reach of its encroachments, that its hated presence should go wherever the Constitution went, and that the flag of the Union should wave only over the land of the slave. In this deliberate, combined, and continued onslaught on human rights and the nation's honor and integrity there was not always perfect agreement among the assailants. Though seemingly alike loyal to the demon they so faithfully served, these cohorts of slavery allowed considerable display of individuality in the mode of expressing it.

Early in the autumn of 1858 the Southern press took the initiative in advocating this advanced position. The Richmond “Enquirer” complained that “the present state of federal legislation was entirely inadequate for the thorough and effectual protection of slave property in the Territories." Assuming that, under the Dred Scott decision, slavery could not be "prohibited” in a Territory, it asked: But how can it be “protected “? It answered: "Congress must intervene to protect slavery in the Territories. A code for its protection ought to be provided." But, it argued, until such legislation is effected, "much, if not all, must depend upon the loyalty and efficiency of the President, who would appoint the executive and judicial officers of the Territory." “Hence, the next Democratic candidate must be pledged" thereto. The Charleston “News" was still more decided and explicit. Admitting that the Dred Scott decision and the Kansas-Nebraska legislation conferred on slavery "the right to go" to the Territories, it contended for the duty of "protecting that right "; and this could not be done, it argued, but by "positive proslavery legislation," and "a federal slave-code for the Territories." As there was no power to “coerce a Territorial legislature to do its constitutional duty, Congress must supply the legislation withheld by the derelict Territory."

Jefferson Davis, leading off as ever, took the advanced position. But, more wary and politic, he contented himself rather with the enunciation of general principles than by demanding immediate legislation. For that he was willing to wait as for the legitimate outcome of the “principles" to which he first sought to commit the Democratic Party. These general principles, he knew, indeed, were a complete abandonment of that “popular sovereignty," the party had been persuaded, at large cost of honor and Northern strength, to adopt ; and that to them and the proposed change Mr. Douglas would be naturally and inflexibly opposed. Indeed, from policy, if not from principle, the latter could not submit to a vassalage quite so ignominious; and he was now prepared to make as vigorous a fight for the doctrine of popular sovereignty against the extremists of the South as he had made against the Republicans of the North.

There were, then, at least three leading ideas which had their advocates at the opening of the XXXVIth Congress. There was the Republican idea of no more slave territory; the popular sovereignty idea, of which Mr. Douglas was the leading exponent; the idea of slavery protection, of which Jefferson Davis then became the champion. The last was embodied in the resolutions of the latter, which became the subject of the great debate of the session. Ideas like these, in the minds of earnest and able men intent on their vindication and immediate adoption, necessarily excited heated discussions. These were intensified by the unconcealed purpose of the Southern leaders to disown Mr. Douglas, and, if possible, to read him out of the Democratic ranks, -- a policy already inaugurated by his removal from the chairmanship of the Committee on Territories. The pent-up fires of long-continued agitation sought vent; the opposing purposes of men and the higher purposes of God were hastening to their culmination and final conflict.

As the House, before organization, launched on the sea of tempestuous debate, a similar demonstration was inaugurated in the Senate. On the 19th of December, Mr. Pugh, in behalf of popular sovereignty, introduced a resolution recommending the repeal of so much of the acts organizing the Territories of New Mexico and Utah as required the laws of their legislatures to be submitted to Congress for approval or rejection. Though an able lawyer, and ready in debate, his mind was more distinguished for acuteness than breadth, more forensic than fundamental in his mode of handling the topics he discussed. He had no sympathy with antislavery ideas, principles, or men, and did not hesitate to disavow all hostility to the most extreme opinions of the Southern school. In tensely partisan, he seemed far more anxious to vindicate the “soundness” of the Northern Democracy, and thus maintain its ascendency in the national councils, than to defend the claims of humanity. He had had large experience of the difficulties and dangers the Democratic Party had encountered because of the incorporation of Southern dogmas into its platform; and he had painful knowledge of the decimation in its numbers it had suffered therefrom. Even under the high sounding phrase of popular sovereignty and in the specious guise of a particular regard for the people's rights, it had not consented to that new departure without manifest damage. Now, when asked to abandon that position for one still more indefensible and outrageous, he saw that its slaveholding allies were making demands to which the Democracy could not safely yield.

In his speech in support of his resolution he denounced the doctrine of slavery protection by Congress in the Territories as "unmitigated Federalism"; and he told his Democratic associates that, though they might be successful in organizing committees in the Senate, they would not be successful else-where. A sharp colloquy sprung up between him, Brown of Mississippi, and Lane of Oregon on the rights of property in slaves, and their origin. The Senator from Ohio contended that the title to such property was in the laws of the State. The Senator from Mississippi claimed that it was in the legislation of Congress, which body, he contended, was under obligation to extend to slave property a kind of protection provided for no other. The Senator from Oregon gained the damaging compliment from Mr. Brown, of having delivered a speech more national, more conservative, and broader than he had heard during the session, perhaps “during half a dozen sessions."

On the 12th of January the resolution came up again, when the mover made a still longer speech, in which he complained that he stood without assistance or sympathy, except from Mr. Douglas, as to his opinions, "from either side of the chamber." A debate, of great bitterness of feeling and personal reference, sprang up between Mr. Davis and Mr. Douglas. After referring at some length, and with no little acrimony, to the removal of the latter from the head of the Committee on Territories because, as admitted by Mr. Davis, of his views on the Territorial question, and because, as claimed by himself, he held the same views he had held for eleven years, and " did not change as suddenly as they," Mr. Douglas expressed his willingness that his assailants might make their charges, and then he said: " I will fire at the lump, and vindicate every word I have said." Having used the expression that his assailants were disposed to "double teams" on him, both Davis and Clay retorted by telling him that he magnified himself, and that there were many who were willing to meet him " man to man," and that he had better despatch one first, before he talked of firing " at the lump."

Mr. Brown, seemingly emulous of his colleague, and anxious to rival him in the championship of the slaveholding cause, was more extreme in his opinions and extravagant in his demands. As if slavery were the chief interest and glory of the Republic, he seemed to regard the Constitution as mainly valuable for the protection it afforded the system; and white men as fulfilling their first duty by standing guard, lest slaves should escape. Not satisfied with its then present limits, with marauding spirit and intent, he did not hesitate to proclaim his wish and purpose to extend the area of bondage far beyond the lines that then restricted its presence, even until " the whole unbounded continent" should be covered thereby. And his actions corresponded with his sentiments. On the 18th of January he introduced into the Senate two resolutions; the first affirming the nationality of slavery ; and the second declaring that the Territorial legislature should " enact adequate and sufficient laws for its protection," and, in default of such legislation, it then became " the admitted duty of Congress to interfere, and pass such laws."

Mr. Wilson, in reply, sketched the rise and progress of slavery in the colonies and the Union. He cited largely the opinions of the fathers and framers of the Constitution, both North and South, and showed their condemnation of it as being in itself exceptional, at war with the spirit and genius of free institutions, and destined, they hoped, to speedy decay and overthrow. He showed, however, the sad decadence of such sentiments, and the growth of the Slave Power, until, he said, it "holds this day the national government, in all its departments, in complete subjection," controlling Congress "with unbroken sway," bidding " the Supreme Court to utter its decrees, and that high tribunal obeys its imperative commands," and "holding the President in the hollow of its hand." He then showed, from abundant quotations, how widespread and rampant had become the sentiment of dis union. Unmindful, he said, of its name and early traditions, forgetful of its past record and utterances, "the American Democracy, led by slave perpetualists and propagandists, secessionists and disunionists, now, in the light of this age, stands before the nations the enemy of human progress, and in favor of the consecration and propagation of all abuses."

On the 2d of February, Jefferson Davis presented a series of resolutions. Their purport and purpose were to commit the Democratic Party to the dogma that the Constitution carried and protected slavery wherever its authority extended. They were put forth as the enunciation of fundamental principles, on which the subsequent policy of the Slave Power was to be based. “I am not seeking legislation in these resolutions," said Mr. Davis; "I am but making great declarations on which legislation may be founded."

In the first three resolutions there was the assertion of certain general facts and assumptions on which rested the declarations embraced in those succeeding them, that as slavery, in some of the States, was an important portion of their domestic institutions, all open or covert attacks designed for its injury or overthrow were a breach of faith; that all attempts to discriminate in relation to persons and property in the Territories were to be resisted. On these was based the fourth, containing the gist of the series, the key-stone of the skilfully constructed arch, the test of Democratic fidelity at that crucial hour of political trial, that neither Congress nor the Territorial legislature "possesses power to annul or impair the constitutional power of any citizen to take and hold his slaves in such Territory." The fifth asserted that, if the Territorial governments should fail to render the proper protection, "it will be the duty of Congress to supply such deficiency." The sixth recognized the right of such Territories, when forming State constitutions, to be admitted into the Union with or without slavery, as they may elect. The seventh, and last of the series, asserted that the Fugitive Slave Act should be faithfully executed, and that all acts of State legislatures designed to nullify it, and laws made in pursuance thereof, were subversive of the Constitution, and revolutionary in their effect.

Mr. Davis made an elaborate speech, in which he explained and defended the “postulates" of the first three resolutions and the deductions of the remaining four. Describing his own position, he said: "I stand half-way between the extreme of squatter sovereignty and of Congressional sovereignty." He contended that the general government could grant no powers to the Territorial legislature which it did not itself possess; neither could it "abdicate" or rightfully refuse to use any powers it actually did possess, or which had been conferred upon it by the Constitution. "Popular sovereignty," he contended, "was a delusion, at war with the provisions and requirements of the Constitution."

Mr. Douglas's speech, running through two days, was able, adroit, audacious; overwhelming with its array of facts, bold and unsparing in its denunciations. He failed, indeed, in his purpose to hold back the Democratic Party from following the extremists in their new departure, and from ranging themselves under the banner of the imperious Mississippian, the coming leader of the Southern confederacy, of whose birth these violent proceedings were the premonitory throes. But if he failed in that, he succeeded in convicting it, and in placing on record, too, the proof, of the most astounding political profligacy of which a great national party was ever guilty. His object, he said, was “personal defence," and not "the discussion of abstract theories of government, or of legal questions which have been lately forced on the Democratic Party as political issues." And yet that “personal defence " became necessarily the political condemnation of the recreant organization, of which he had been a distinguished leader. Abundant materials, and every motive to use them effectively, drew from the Senator a most fearful arraignment of the party that was then threatening to add to its already blackened history a still darker page.

Before proceeding to vote, as they did on the 24th of May, Mr. Doolittle of Wisconsin and others announced their purpose to vote against the resolutions, because they condemned them as a series, though to some of them they had no objection. The vote on the first was thirty-six to nineteen; the former all Democrats and the latter all Republicans. When the second was read, concerning and condemning “open or covert attacks" on slavery, Mr. Harlan offered an amendment, opposing any interference with the "free discussion of the morality or expediency of slavery"; but only twenty votes were recorded in its favor, and the whole resolution was then adopted by the same party vote. The third was adopted by the same vote in the affirmative, though but eighteen voted against it.

On the fourth resolution, denying the power of Congress to prohibit slavery in the Territories, there was more discussion. Mr. Clingman offered and defended an amendment affirming that there was no need of legislation. To this Mr. Brown of Mississippi offered an amendment affirming that there was a necessity for such legislation. Upon these two amendments there was a running and exciting debate, which consumed the day.

In the course of the debate Mr. Lane of Oregon not only indorsed the resolutions as eminently proper, but he said they should have been adopted ten years before by the Democratic party ; for all their trouble had arisen from its " dodging " the responsibility of deciding the question. Mr. Crittenden spoke of "the power of the Territories on the subject of slavery." His age and ability, his general reputation for honesty and personal probity, his long experience in public life, his apparent candor and courtesy of manner gave his words weight with all parties. On this occasion, though he proclaimed the most extreme sentiments, accepted the Dred Scott decision, avowed his purpose to support the resolutions, and spoke deprecatingly of the continued existence of the Republican party, because it was offensive to their " sister States," and calculated to "disturb the peace "; though he spoke as if there were no moral bearings in the slavery question and the public pol icy it demanded, yet he seemed so moderate in manner, so conciliatory in spirit, so patriotic of purpose, so eminently fraternal in feeling, that the temptation was strong, too strong for all to resist, to lose sight of the revolting doctrines he pro claimed in the dress in which they appeared, of the matter in the manner of his discourse.

Mr. Brown's amendment was then rejected, having received but five votes. Clingman's amendment was adopted, the Republicans voting for it. On the fifth resolution much discussion arose on an amendment, that it is not intended to provide a system of laws for the maintenance of slavery, in which Wigfall rebuked Clingman and Brown for their embarrassing interference, by which, he said, they were helping, unwittingly he hoped, " to bolster up a man who has deserted the principles of our party." Though Mr. Wade, speaking for the Republicans, counselled non-interference in the Democratic dispute, it was not in the nature of Mr. Hale to keep silent. Accordingly he volunteered to speak for the Northern Democracy, especially for that of New Hampshire, and he assured the Texan Senator that he need not be afraid of any bad effects on that party of any resolutions however extreme. “I do not think," he said,” that you can pass any resolutions upon this subject of slavery that would stagger them in the least”; and not only that, but they would declare “that they had always been their sentiments." This was indeed the language of sarcasm, but the witty Senator gave expression, in this humorous way, to one of the saddest and most significant facts of American history. For it was true of the Democrats of New Hampshire and in that regard they were not very unlike their brethren in all the Northern States that it did make but little difference what they were called upon to indorse and support. It had become one of the political axioms of the day that the South controlled the politics of the country through its preponderating sway in the national parties. All indeed were not alike subservient; but the large majority of the leaders and the led succumbed. Though they admitted and felt the humiliation, they yielded to the dictation, because they regarded the question as narrowed to the alternative of so yielding, or of abjuring politics altogether, and thus sacrificing both personal preferment and party success. The South, they saw, was in earnest and unyielding; the North was not in earnest, but temporizing, and ever yielding. Of consequence the wishes of the former were heeded; those of the latter were not. Nor was this true of the Democrats alone. Not to the same extent indeed, but generally, the Whigs yielded to the same dictation. After disposing of one or two amendments the resolution was passed, thirty-five voting for it, only two voting in the negative.

When the sixth resolution was called up, Mr. Wilson moved to amend by striking out all after the enacting word, and Inserting that slavery is against natural right, and can only exist by municipal law; that it is the duty of Congress to prevent its extension into the Territories. It, however, received but nine votes. The resolution was then adopted by a vote of thirty-three to twelve. The seventh was then agreed to, only six Republicans voting against even this explicit condemnation of those States who had simply and only enacted laws for the protection of their own citizens. Mr. Wilson then stated that Mr. Clingman's resolution having been adopted by the votes of Republicans, because they agreed with its declaration that there was no need of Congressional protection of slave property in the Territories; but, not wishing to be responsible for any portion of the series, he moved a reconsideration of the vote that adopted it. “I want," he said, "to wash my hands of all connection with any of these resolutions. Everybody knows that all of as on this side of the chamber are opposed to any slave code, now or at any future period, and under any possible circumstances." All the Republicans voting for the motion, the resolution was reconsidered and then rejected. Thus did the Senate of this Republic, in abject obedience to the demands of the Slave Power, and under the lead of Jefferson Davis, place on record its most solemn and emphatic condemnation of the principles, not only of the ordinance of 1787, but of the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Charta of the very government it was pretending to administer. Nor was this action simply negative. It was positive and prospective. By the solemnities of legislative enactment the Senate of the United States made public proclamation and pledge to make slavery and not freedom national, and its conservation the fundamental principle of all subsequent legislation and governmental policy.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 655-665.








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See Also Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

Chapter: “Fugitive Slave Act in Congress,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

The XXXIId Congress met for its first session in December, 1851. The panic-makers demanding congressional indorsement of the compromise measures, there were caucuses of both parties to discuss and decide upon the policy to be adopted. In a caucus of two thirds of the Democratic members of the House, a resolution indorsing these measures, introduced by Mr. Polk of Tennessee, was, with a proposition to refer the matter to the next national convention, laid upon the table. A caucus of a little less than one half of the Whig members was held on the morning of the first day's session, and a resolution indorsing the measures was adopted. On the assembling of the House a brief debate sprang up on the action of those preliminary meetings. James Brooks of New York, announcing the action of the Whigs, by which they presented a harmonious and united front to the country, said it was dangerous for the Democratic Party, with its large majorities, to organize the House by pandering to the abolition Democracy of the North or slavery Democracy of the South. Orrin Fowler of Massachusetts denied the binding obligation of the caucus resolution, and revealed the fact that one third of the members present wished to lay it on the table.

The debate at once elicited and exhibited the party tactics that controlled the nation, showing not only the disposition of the slave-masters to dictate terms to the rival parties, but the anxiety of party leaders to conciliate and control the political strength of the slave-masters. Thus Mr. Cabell of Florida expressed his thanks to God that the Whigs had taken their position, and he intimated that those who seceded from the caucus were no longer Whigs; while Mr. Meade of Virginia denounced the action of the Whigs as a trick, -- an attempt to impose their “rotten party " and its principles on the South. During the continuance of the debate, a Southern Democrat paraded the fact that eighty-two Democrats and only twenty-six Whigs voted for the Fugitive Slave Act; that of fifty Northern Democrats twenty-eight voted for it, while of seven ty-six Northern Whigs only three voted for the measure.

Linn Boyd of Kentucky, who had distinguished himself by his earnest advocacy of the compromise measures, was elected Speaker. President Fillmore, in his message, referred to his previous annual message, reiterated its sentiments and recommendations, and congratulated Congress and the country on the general acquiescence in these measures of “conciliation and peace."

Soon after the assembling of Congress, Mr. Foote of Mississippi introduced into the Senate a resolution declaring the measures of adjustment to be a final settlement of questions growing out of the existence of slavery. Several speeches were made upon the resolution, but it was never brought to a vote. Resolutions were introduced into the House, substantially to the same effect, by Jackson and Hillyer of Georgia, where they were adopted by decisive majorities.

On the 26th of May, Mr. Summer presented a petition from the Society of Friends in New England, asking that the Fugitive Slave Act should be repealed; but there were only ten votes for its consideration. On the 27th of July, he sub mitted a resolution requesting the Committee on the Judiciary to consider the expediency of reporting a bill for the immediate repeal of that Act. The consideration of the resolution was opposed by Mr. Mason of Virginia and Mr. Brooks of Mississippi, who asserted that such a measure would dissolve the Union, and only ten Senators were prepared to vote therefor.

In the Senate, on the 26th of August, he moved to amend the civil and diplomatic bill, so as to provide that no allowance should be made for expenses incurred in the execution of the Fugitive Slave Act, and that such act be repealed. In his speech on their introduction he alluded to the immeasurable importance of the slavery issue, dwarfing all others, and constantly casting its shadow across those halls. Referring to the impotent and inconsistent attempts of the propagandists to enforce silence, while always provoking discussion, he denounced the attempt to repress the liberty of speech, protested against the wrong, and claimed the right to be heard on slavery, as on every other subject. “The convictions of the heart," he said,” cannot be repressed. The utterances of conscience must be heard. They break forth with irrepressible might. As well attempt to check the tides of the ocean, the currents of the Mississippi, or the rushing waters of Niagara. The discussion of slavery will proceed wherever two or three are gathered together, -- by the fireside, on the public highway, at the public meeting, in the church. The movement against slavery is from the Everlasting Arm. Even now it is gathering its forces, soon to be confessed everywhere. It may not yet be felt in the high places of office and power, but all who can put their ears humbly to the ground will hear and comprehend its incessant and advancing tread."

He arraigned the enactment in the name of the Constitution it violated, of the country it dishonored, of the humanity it degraded, of the Christianity it offended, and affirmed that every attribute of God united against it. Referring to the requirements of the Act that every citizen, when summoned, should aid and assist in its prompt and efficient execution, he boldly affirmed that " by the supreme law which commands me to do no injustice, by the comprehensive Christian law of brotherhood, by the Constitution which I am sworn to support, I am bound to disobey this Act." He closed his speech with an earnest demand for the repeal of an act so incompatible with every dictate of truth and every requirement of justice. In the words of Oriental adjuration, he said: “Beware of the wounds of the wounded souls. Oppress not to the utmost a single heart, for a solitary sigh has power to overset a whole world." This speech -- learned, logical, exhaustive, and eloquent, worthy of the cause it advocated -- placed the new Senator at once among the foremost of the forensic debaters of America.

Mr. Clemens of Alabama replied in language significant of the barbarism he fitly represented. Expressing the hope that none of his friends would reply, he said, “I shall only say that the ravings of a maniac may sometimes be dangerous, but the barking of a puppy never did any harm." Mr. Badger followed with a labored reply, in which he characterized the speech as “an elaborate oration, carefully writ ten, studied," and " interspersed with curious quotations from modern learning and ancient lore."

Mr. Dodge of Iowa denounced with great bitterness the Abolitionists, and charged them with entertaining the idea of the equality and amalgamation of the races. He also charged them with “panting for the experiment " of introducing " black-skinned, flat-nosed, and woolly-headed senators and representatives," and seeking to break down all distinctions between whites and blacks in respect to " suffrage, offices, marriage, and every other relation of life."

Mr. Douglas denounced the arguments against the Act as against the Constitution of the country. He maintained that the real objection to the law was not in the “form of the trial," but the fact that “the fugitive is sent back to his mas ter." Mr. Weller said it was the first time in his life he had ever listened to the whole of an Abolition speech; but that speech had been so handsomely embellished with poetry, both Latin and English, so full of classical allusions and rhetorical flourishes, as to make it palatable." But he charged its author with making an inflammatory harangue, and indirectly counselling forcible resistance to the law. Bloodshed, he declared, was inevitable, if the constituents of the Senator obeyed his counsels. Turning to Mr. Sumner, he said, with fierce energy: "Murder, I repeat, is inevitable; and upon your hands, sir, ay, upon your hands, must rest the blood of these murdered men."

Mr. Bright of Indiana avowed himself in favor of silencing fanaticism, putting down agitation and agitators, and against all propositions to disturb the compromise measures. Mr. Cass said the law was then in force, and should “never be touched, or altered, or shaken, or repealed by any vote of mine." Mr. Dixon of Kentucky would say " to the Abolitionists, as Cicero said to Catiline and his wicked associates:  Let them get from within the walls of the city.' Let any patriotic party cut itself loose from them; let them stand alone in the solitude of their own isolated infamy, the scorn of all, as they are now the reproach of every honorable man."

Mr. Clay of Alabama commented with great acrimony upon the position assumed and defended by Mr. Sumner. He spoke of the avowal that he would not personally aid in returning alleged fugitives in a style of remark, considering the relative character and standing of the two, as ill-mannered as it was ill-tempered, as suggestive as it was scandalous. Alluding to Mr. Sumner's alleged “violation of the dignity and proprieties of the Senate," he expressed his regret that there was not some” penal statute " for its punishment. He spoke of him as a " sneaking, sinuous, snake-like poltroon, feeling the obligation neither of the Divine law, nor of the law of the land, nor of the law of honor," to be excluded from the pale of society, neither shown nor allowed to offer the ordinary courtesies of social life. He compared him to Uriah Heep, and concluded by saying: “If we cannot check individual abuses, we may preserve the dignity of this body and rob the serpent of his fangs. We can paralyze his influence by placing him in that nadir of social degradation which he merits."

 Mr. Butler expressed the opinion that primarily there ought to have been no Fugitive Slave Act at all, and that each State was bound to carry out the mandates of the Constitution. He complimented Mr. Rockwell on the soberness of his speech, as of one expressing his real convictions; but he declared that if his were the sentiments of those for whom he had spoken they made the issue of separation inevitable. Turning to Mr. Sumner, he asked if Massachusetts would send back fugitive slaves if the law was repealed. “Will the honorable Senator," he asked,” tell me that he will do it? “Mr. Sumner rejoined by inquiring, “Does the honorable Senator ask me if I would join in sending a fellow-man into bondage?  Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing? ' "

Commenting on the answer, Mr. Butler turned to Mr. Sumner and said, with the dictatorial and insufferable bearing of the plantation, “Then you would not obey the Constitution. Standing here, before this tribunal, where you swore to support it, you rise and tell me you regard it the office of a dog to enforce it. You stand in my presence as a coequal Senator, and tell me it is a dog's office to execute the Constitution of the United States."

 Mr. Mason declared that “the dignity of the Senate had been rudely, grossly, and wantonly assailed by the Senator from Massachusetts ; and not only the dignity of the Senate, but of the whole people, had been trifled with in the presence of the American Senate, either ignorantly or corruptly." Denying that the act refused the right of habeas corpus to a citizen, he avowed that the law had done its office well; “that it had done it in the city of Boston, in the presence of a mob which that Senator and his associates had aroused and in flamed to the very verge of treason."

Mr. Pettit of Indiana remarked that he had lived to hear fall from the lips of a Senator, who had sworn to support the Constitution, the avowal that he disregarded “all such obligations." If a petition was presented for the expulsion of a member who disavowed his constitutional obligations, he would receive it; and if referred to the Judiciary Committee, to which he belonged, he was inclined to think he should vote to report a resolution for expelling the member. He asserted that Senators were not to be tolerated in that body who openly and boldly, in the face of the country, declared that they would violate their oaths. Turning to Mr. Sumner he said: " You swore that you would support the Constitution, all and singular, each and every part, from beginning to end; and you now, in the face of your peers, are the first in the Senate to openly declare that you will violate the oath you have taken and the bond of union your ancestors made for you." This hint at expulsion referred to a purpose seriously entertained by the Democratic leaders. But it was relinquished because it was found, on a canvass of the Senate, that the requisite vote could not be counted on.

Mr. Pettit then reasserted the sentiment he had expressed during the debate on the Nebraska bill, -- that the construction by the Abolitionists of the claim in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal was a “self-evident lie," instead of a self-evident truth. He declared that Jefferson would never have stultified himself by saying that his African negro slave -- who was born his slave, created his slave, begotten his slave, who was his slave during the whole course of gestation -- was created his equal.

To these assaults Mr. Sumner replied with impassioned vehemence and unwonted severity. Singling out the veteran Senators from Virginia and South Carolina, the leaders in this assault, for special mention, he thus coolly and contemptuously dismissed the more vulgar and brutal violence of Pettit and Clay, who had joined in the attack. “Some per sons are best answered," he said,” by silence; best answered by withholding the words which leap impulsively to the lips." Having answered their abuse, he now directed his attention to the arguments of his assailants. In vindication of his purpose not to aid in the execution of the Fugitive Slave Act, he referred to and indorsed a passage in the message of President Jackson, accompanying the veto of the United States bank, in which he affirmed that " each public officer who takes an oath to support the Constitution swears that he will support it as he understands it, and not as it is understood by others." Mr. Sumner avowed that he supported the Constitution as he understood it, and maintained that the Fugitive Slave Act had no foundation in the Constitution, and that it was an open and unmitigated usurpation. Declaring that he stood as upon a rock upon his explicit statement of his constitutional obligations, he again avowed that he would not aid, directly or indirectly, in reducing or surrendering a fellow-man to bondage. Looking around upon the Senate, he then asked if there was a Senator who would stoop to the service of aiding in the surrender of fugitive slaves. To this interrogatory Mr. Clay responded: “He has put the question whether any Senator upon this floor would assist in returning a fugitive slave. I tell him that I would do it." The charge being made that Mr. Sumner had qualified his original declaration, Mr. Toucey of Connecticut expressed his unwillingness t6 hold any Senator to the consequences of a hasty expression spoken in debate, and proposed in a direct and categorical form the question, " Do you recognize the obligation to return a fugitive slave ? " To that query Mr. Sumner responded: “I answer distinctly, No."

The men who constituted the " forlorn hope " of freedom in the Senate at that time were few, and they were compelled to encounter a fierce and imbittered foes, strong in numbers, abilities, and position, and determined to make the most of the advantages afforded them by union and the compromises of the Constitution.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 352-359.



See also Giddings, Joshua

Chapter: “Demand for the Recognition of Property in Slaves,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

Though other elements entered into the complex motive which originated and sustained slavery, that of pecuniary profit was most general and mischievous. Indeed it was ever a prolific source of discord, as there were ever arising conflicting claims in which the principle of property in man was involved. And yet there was a shrinking, on the part of the majority, from its open and undisguised avowal. The fact of slavery was recognized in the Constitution, and the legislation of the general government, but it was as persons, and not as property, that slaves were referred to. Nor was "the guilty fantasy" fully admitted until after many oft-repeated and oft-defeated trials.

Questions growing out of the war of 1812 involving this principle were early brought to the attention of the government. Slaves taken by officers as servants, and slaves hired in other capacities, were lost, and applications for payment were made. In all these cases it was decided that slaves should be considered persons, and not property, and that the government was not to be held liable to pay for slaves lost in the public service, whether killed in battle or disabled and destroyed by any other agency.

In the XXth Congress an application was made by M. D’ Autrieve of New Orleans to be remunerated for the lost time and hospital charges of his slave, Warwick, who was wounded in the Public service. The claim having been referred to the Committee on Claims, Mr. Whittlesey of Ohio reported against it on the ground that the government had never, in a single instance, recognized the principle that slaves were property, or paid for slaves lost in its service. Mr. Livingston of Louisiana .at once denounced the report as a "by blow” to the idea that slaves were property. He appealed to the representatives who were so happy as not to have that kind of property not to lay the foundation for discontent, jealousy, and divisions, by insisting on such a discrimination against Southern interests. He moved an amendment, providing for the compensation asked for. “Allow the claim," he said,” and you do no more than justice; reject it on these, principles, and you shake the Union." 

Upon the bill and amendment a debate continued several weeks, in which some, of the ablest men of the House participated. Much feeling was excited, and the debate was characterized by .a thorough examination of the subject. John Randolph maintained that property was the creation of law, that what "the law makes property is property." He repudiated the doctrine that the Constitution was the protection of slave property. It was created, he contended, by State Laws, and the Southern States were able to maintain it. He expressed the hope that no Southern members would deign to debate the question of property in slaves, or allow the general government under any circumstances to touch the question.

Mr. Drayton of South Carolina maintained that the claim was legitimate, and was justified by the Constitution and the laws. He expressed the deepest abhorrence of slavery in the abstract; said the African slave-ship was .a spectacle from which all men would recoil with horror unless their hearts had been steeled by the vilest love of lucre; but he thought slavery in the States had grown with their growth, and was then irremediable. “Our consolation," he said, is that we did not originate it; when a colony we struggled against it; we found it at our birth; it was a part" of our inheritance, from which we can no more deliver ourselves· than we can from the miasma of our swamps, or the rays of our burning sun. However ameliorated by compassion, however corrected by religion, still slavery is a bitter draught, and the chalice which contains the noxious potion is more frequently pressed by the lips of the master than the slave."

Philip P. Barbour and Archer of Virginia; Hamilton and McDuffie of South Carolina, defended the claim. Some Northern members also spoke-in its favor. Mr. Ingham of Pennsylvania, afterward Secretary of the Treasury under General Jackson, characterized the doctrine advanced by the committee as fallacious, and maintained that if the government had taken the property it was bound to give compensation. Even Edward Everett of Massachusetts favored the claim, remarking that it arose under the provision of the Constitution which declared that private property should not be taken for public uses without compensation; and he added that by rejecting the amendment Congress would introduce into that instrument the qualification, "excepting for slaves."

The claim, however, was strenuously opposed, though, as was 'common in those ·days before sectional lines were so dearly drawn, by varied lines of argument and thought. Thus 'Mr. Storrs of New York agreed with Mr. Randolph that the Constitution had nothing to do with the question, as that never fixed the relation between master and slave. He was, however, in favor of rejecting the claim, leaving the question .at issue to be met under the pressure of some future and more imperious necessity. Tristam Burgess of Rhode Island made a characteristic speech in opposition to the claim. He said the question referred to the deterioration which had happened to a slave while in the performance of ordinary labor for the United States; that no freeman ever made such a claim, or received such compensation; and that this would be the beginning of a series of claims which would be pressed or withdrawn, according to the character of the vote now given. To remove the jealousies of Southern men toward the North he entered upon an apologetical explanation of the state of feeling in the free States on the subject of slavery. There was a small class, he said, who were in favor of immediate emancipation.  They had unbounded zeal, but were entirely without knowledge or wisdom, and could do nothing, as their number was small, their wisdom was small, and their influence was still more inconsiderable. Another class embraced philanthropists, such men as composed the Colonization Society. They looked to the gradual' removal of slavery from this country, and the gradual peopling of Africa with freemen. Southern men, he said unwittingly, though truthfully, had nothing to fear from this large and influential class of genuine philanthropists. There was another class who saw the superiority of free over slave labor; but Southern men would have nothing to fear from that class, as it was composed of those who would never disturb the tenure by which that kind of labor was maintained. He opposed the claim; however, and sharply reproved those who pressed the question and threatened that the decision would dissolve the Union; who declared that the discussion and the Constitution would terminate together; and that Southern gentlemen ·would leave the hall in case of an adverse decision. 

Mr. Barnard of New York opposed the amendment in a speech of remarkable clearness of statement and force of logic. Mr. Miner of Pennsylvania based his opposition mainly on the ground of justice. “I cannot," he said, " give my sanction to the principles that would take the farmer and mechanic of Pennsylvania to defend a Southern city from an invading enemy, risking poverty and death in your defence, and, if one of your slaves in the battle shall be slain, that you may send the tax-gatherer to such farmer and mechanic, if he should chance to survive, demanding aid from him in payment for Such slaves." The amendment was adopted by a close vote, the bill was recommitted to the committee, but was not heard of again.

A similar demand, involving the same principle, was based upon one of the stipulations in the treaty formed in 1820 between the governments of the United States and Spain. By that treaty it was agreed that the inhabitants of Florida should be remunerated for losses sustained by them in the previous military operations in their Territory under General Jackson. The different character of the claims prompted to different responses. The claim growing out of the visit of the American troops in 1814 was mainly for one hundred slaves which camp­ followers had taken; that of the invasion of 1818 was for supplies taken from the inhabitants for the support of the troops. The last was promptly paid; but the first, involving the principle of property in man, Mr. Crawford, an aspirant for the presidency, rejected. The claimants then appealed to Congress, and their claim was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Their appeal to the next Congress secured a favorable report from the committee to which it was referred, as Mr. Everett was ready to pay a claim which Southern statesmen like Crawford and Archer had refused. "But it was rejected in the House. The claim, thus twice defeated in the House, was again presented it to the Secretary of the Treasury. Mr. Woodbury paid several thousand dollars, but ascertaining that Mr. Crawford had refused the demand he, suspended further payment.

Repulsed at the Treasury Department, these persistent claimants again approached Congress. Their petition was referred to the Committee on Claims. But Mr. Giddings being chairman, no action was taken. Appealing again to the same body, .the petitioners were gratified by having their demand referred to the Committee on Territories. Its chairman was James Cooper, a native of Maryland, then a representative from Pennsylvania, afterward senator and a general ln the war of the Rebellion. Though informed by Mr. Giddings of its character, and of the reasons which influenced his adverse decision, yet, belonging to that large class of Northern statesmen which has always seemed to have a tender regard for slaveholders, Mr. Cooper reported in favor of the claims. The bill coming up for consideration, Mr. Giddings, who had mastered the subject, made a vigorous speech in opposition, and so far convinced even Mr. Cooper himself that he refused to vote for his own report. Mr. Adams, becoming deeply interested in the question, and obtaining from the Treasury Department a list of ninety negroes, for whom payment was demanded, spoke strongly in opposition to the, claims. Both he and Mr. Giddings dwelt largely, upon the moral considerations involved in the proposition to recognize the principle of property in man. Their speeches made a deep impression, and though the delegate from. Florida spoke in defence of the bill, there were but thirty-six ayes recorded in its favor. As an illustration of the sentiment and feeling which pervaded the, House, Mr. Giddings states that after the vote was taken,, Mr. Pickens of South Carolina came across· the hall to the seat of his colleague, Mr. Campbell, and asked him why he did not vote for the bill. "Why did not you vote for it?" responded Mr. Campbell. “Because I was ashamed to do so," replied Mr. Pickens. “Such was my case," said. Mr. Campbell. And yet while these slaveholders, from South Carolina were ashamed to support the proposition, the. Democratic members from New Hampshire did not hesitate to record their votes in its favor.

Near the close of the session of 1841 Mr. Thompson of South Carolina asked leave to introduce a bill appropriating one hundred thousand dollars for the benefit of the Seminoles and their chiefs who should surrender for the purpose of emigrating to the West. Mr. Giddings states that the object of the bill was the purchase of the pretended interest of certain white citizens in the exiles they claimed to own. Being better informed than any other member concerning the origin, cause, and history of the Florida war,  he did not fail to oppose the bill, laying bare at the same time the crimes and rascalities involved in a contest prosecuted mainly for the re-enslavement of those and their posterity who had sought in that Territory a refuge from the oppressor. His speech caused great excitement among the Georgia members, and he was repeatedly called to order. When he closed, Mr. Cooper, of that State, replied, denouncing abolitionism as “a moral pestilence," and Mr. Giddings and Mr. Adams as abolition leaders. Black, also of Georgia, followed in a high state of excitement, avowing his purpose to be personally offensive to Mr. Giddings, and declaring if the latter should go to Georgia he “would be hanged." The delegate from Florida made a feeble and vulgar assault, while Mr. Thompson took occasion to say that the Whig: party was not responsible for the conduct of the very obscurest of the obscure individuals belonging to that party." 

To this insulting language Mr. Giddings replied with dignified and unruffled firmness, denying the prerogative of the gentleman to designate his position in the Whig party, and assuring Mr. Thompson that he fully appreciated the insult intended. Though he could not resent it after the method so common at the South, he would say, in the language of a military veteran to a young officer who spat in his face; expecting to draw from him a challenge, " Could I as easily wipe the stain of your blood from my soul, you should not live an hour. Mr. Alford, springing from his seat with profane and menacing language, rushed towards him, but was met by Mr. Briggs of Massachusetts and persuaded to return to his seat. Mr. Thompson again assured the House that he spoke the feelings of both Northern and Southern Whigs, when he assured the member from Ohio that he was considered '' the very obscurest of the obscure members of the Whig party." 

Mr. Giddings states that General Harrison, soon to be inaugurated, arriving in Washington oil the day the debate occurred, expressed great dissatisfaction at its occurrence, and avowed his purpose to relieve the Whig party from any odium brought upon it by the course of Mr. Giddings. The next day Mr. Giddings called upon him, but the President elect gave him such unmistakable indications of his displeasure; that he never called upon him again. Mr. Giddings was from the same State, had served with him in the war of 1812, and had toiled for his election; but, true· to his convictions, he maintained the freedom of debate, and exposed the crimes of the Florida war. Mr. Thompson was from a State that had given General Harrison no vote, and had insulted an honest and God-fearing man, because of his stalwart defence of right and outraged humanity. The former was rewarded by a Northern President with the mission to Mexico, the latter with coldness and manifest tokens of his displeasure. But Mr. Thompson, though the recipient of executive favor, is forgotten, or scarcely remembered, while Mr. Giddings, whom he insolently characterized as " the very obscurest of the obscure individuals belonging to the Whig party,'' left a national reputation which his countrymen cherish with increasing· regard, a name which  they " will not willingly let die."

The British government had agreed to pay the sum of seventy-five thousand dollars for slaves on board the “Hornet" and “Encomium," which had been wrecked in its possessions in the West India waters before its act of emancipation. The President, distributing this appropriation to its claimants without consulting Congress, paid on his retirement four thousand dollars which had not been called for into the treasury. Slave-dealers, claiming this balance which the Secretary of · the Treasury refused to pay without authority of Congress, at once applied to that body. The claim was referred to the Committee of Ways and Means. A bill was reported by unanimous consent of the committee to pay the money to the owners of the slaves. The ever-watchful Giddings went to Mr. Stanley of North Carolina, who had charge of the bill, explained to him its character, and proposed that the Treasurer should be authorized to replace the money, which he held without authority of law, into the hands of the President, who would doubt­ less pay it over to the claimants, and Congress would be relieved of the odium of the transaction. Mr. Stanley agreed to accept the proposition as a substitute for the original bill. The amendment was accepted by the House, but rejected by the Senate. Mr. Giddings states that when it came up in the: House for concurrence, he asked Mr. Stanley for an explanation of that violation of good faith, but received none; that, he then expressed a desire to speak upon the measure, to which Mr. Stanley apparently consented; but when it came up; the latter moved the previous question, and the bill was passed.

Mr. Giddings then, obtaining the floor, moved a reconsideration of the vote. Indignant at the treatment he had received he denounced both it and the measure. Alluding to the fact that it was designed to pay the slaveholding constituents of Mr. Stanley for losses they had incurred in their vocation, he thanked God that he did not hold his seat by the votes of piratical slave-dealers." He entered, too, his earnest protest against the policy of making the Whig party incur the odium of thus sustaining, a commerce in human flesh. He showed how Presidents, Jackson and Van Buren had condescended to become the solicitors and agents of slave-dealers; how they obtained payment from England by falsely representing through Mr. Stevenson, that, Congress "regarded slaves as property, and paid for them as such when lost in the public, service in time of war." He, said the representation was "'untrue," and affirmed that the records would show that when that question had been raised in Congress the House of Representatives had "repudiated" the doctrine. He charged Mr. Stevenson, who was Speaker of the House in 1828, when that doctrine was thus repudiated, with uttering an “unmitigated falsehood."

Mr. Giddings challenged the representatives from Virginia in Congress to show one instance in which the House had decided that slaves were “property," or had voted to pay for them as such. The assertion, he said, was "a libel upon Congress and upon the people of the nation," and he protested that he denied the doctrine and would not be a party to the falsehood. He said. he felt humbled and deeply humiliated, on1ooking around him, to see two hundred and thirty American statesmen sitting in that hall and gravely legislating in behalf of piratical slave-dealers, whose crimes had rendered them moral outlaws, unfit for human association, and fitted only for the gallows. He showed with great force of logic that Congress had neither moral nor constitutional right to involve the people of the free States in a war for the defence of the slave-trade. He sharply criticised, too, both the President and the Senate for their action: in committing the nation to the support of the domestic slave-trade, and of the “heathenish " doctrine of property in man.

Neither Mr. Fillmore who reported nor Mr. Stanley who had charge of the bill attempted any vindication of the principles involved in it. Caleb Cushing, who had become a champion of Mr. Tyler's administration, contended that, the money being in the treasury of the United States, Congress became trustee for its distribution. It was therefore bound to make the distribution without regard to the circumstances under which it came· into, its custody. The motion for reconsideration, failed by a large majority.

Mr. Giddings then rose to a privileged question. He stated that while· he was addressing the House he noticed several persons standing in front of the clerk's desk, one of whom was Mr. Dawson of Louisiana; that when he had concluded his speech he was pushed by what appeared to be the elbow of a person, and at the same moment Mr. Dawson passed him on his way to the clerk's desk; that he addressed him in an undertone, when he turned round, seized the handle of a bowie-knife, which partly protruded from his bosom, and advanced towards him till within striking distance. Looking him in the eye, he inquired whether he pushed him in that rude manner. “Yes," he answered. "For the purpose," inquired Mr. Giddings, “of insulting me?” “Yes," he replied, partially removing his knife from its sheath.  Giddings then said: "No gentleman will wantonly insult another. I have no more to say to you, but turn you over to public contempt as incapable of insulting another." Dawson was then seized by one of his colleagues and taken from the hall. In laying these facts before the House, Mr. Giddings wished it to be distinctly understood that he did not claim the protection of the House, but left that body to protect its own dignity.

Alexander H. H. Stuart, a Whig member from Virginia, afterward Secretary of the Interior, then stated that he had noticed Mr. Dawson standing in front of the clerk's desk; that, from his appearance, he apprehended an intention of violence, but lost sight of him until he appeared in the aisle where Mr. Giddings was standing. Mr. Wise expressed the opinion that the member had intended no insult to Mr. Giddings. Mr. Adams rose and, in allusion to an incident that occurred a few days before when the same individual, offended at some remarks made by Mr. Arnold of Tennessee, went to his seat and assured him that if he did not keep quiet he would "cut his throat from ear to ear," inquired whether he had made the same threat to Mr. Giddings he lied to the gentleman from Tennessee. It was believed that, acting with the approbation of others, Dawson intended to insult Mr. Giddings and thus draw from him a blow, which would have been an excuse for an assault with a deadly weapon. In a letter, written on the same day this scene occurred, David Lee Child wrote: "I was sitting in the gallery. I saw Dawson in the centre of the hall, amidst a crowd of Southern members, all of whom were looking extremely wrathful, and one of them, as I am informed by a member, said with an oath, 'I would like to cut off Giddings's ears.'"

This disgraceful and instructive incident had a threefold significance. It was an illustration of the tone and temper of that slaveholding regime which controlled the land for more than half a century. It revealed the craven spirit of the North, which, though largely in the majority, submitted to such dictation, pocketed such insults, and gave to the villainous cause itself that municipal support and power without which it could not have maintained itself a single day. It revealed, too, the heroism and martyr spirit demanded in the few who dared to confront these violent men and meet the dangers thus incurred. Still such scenes were not without their influence at the North, nor could they fail to impress upon many there some idea of the degrading and dangerous presence of a system that generated such a spirit and prompted to such deeds.

In 1845 the subject of property in man was again forced upon public attention by appeals made to the XXVIIIth Congress for its practical recognition. The way in which this was sought, with its antecedents, was still more degrading, the necessary recital of which may well make any American ear tingle with shame, as thus reminded of the base uses to which the government lent itself in its ignoble service to the slave-mongers.

On assuming the command of the army in Florida in 1836, General Jessup, without authority of law, entered into a contract with the Creeks by which they were to receive such plunder as they might capture; and this unauthorized contract was approved by the President and Secretary of War. .Among this “plunder" were one hundred negroes which they claimed as coming within the meaning of the contract. This understanding was approved by the President and his Secretary of War, and this Christian republic stood before the world as recognizing the principle that prisoners of war might be held as slaves.

Complicating matters still more, he gave orders that eight thousand dollars should be paid for these negroes, and that they be sent to Fort Pike and held as the property of the United States. And even this order was approved by the President, and, so far as his authority could effect it, the nation became the purchaser of slaves. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, however, suggested to the Secretary of War a doubt as to the willingness of Congress, in the then state of the public mind, to appropriate the funds to carry into effect General Jessup's order. For thirteen months this question remained unsettled, and it was finally determined to abrogate General Jessup's order, though it had been approved, and to declare that the Creek Indians were the owners of the negroes sent to Fort Pike.

In this exigency it was suggested, he says, by government officials, to James C. Watson, a Georgia slaveholder, to purchase these negroes, pay for them the sum of fifteen thousand dollars, and receive a bill of sale, on the condition that the Secretary of War should issue an order to the officers of the army to deliver them to him or to his agent. This sale was effected on the 7th of May, 1838. While the government officials were the active parties in the negotiation, the sale was effected in the name of the Creeks. One Collins, brother-in law of Watson, was appointed an agent, and furnished with written instructions by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to repair to New Orleans and receive the negroes.

But a few days before these slaves had been purchased by Watson, General Gaines had issued an order directing Major Clark to make arrangements for the embarkation of the Seminoles and" black prisoners of war," then in Louisiana, for their place of destination in the Indian country. At the same time, as if to make the whole transaction more complicated, the claim of a slave-dealer was allowed by the Louisiana courts to sixty of these negro prisoners. Having secured a favorable decision of the court, he demanded them of General Gaines. But that officer, to his great credit, refused assent, and ordered that they should be confined in the barracks for their safe keeping. He also resisted the requisition of the sheriff of New Orleans, on the ground that they were prisoners of war. Familiar with both the facts and the law of the case; knowing, too, that the most intimate domestic and social relations, from intermarriage and the ties of friendship, existed between them, he was willing to assume the personal responsibility of the costs, to appear before the courts, and to plead the laws of nations and of war in vindication of the position that these negroes were, and should be treated as, prisoners of war. He assured the court that they were not captured from the white people in that or any previous war. Professing to act from his convictions, he said: "I have not learned, while acting in my official capacity on oath, to take the responsibility of doing what is repugnant to law, unjust, and iniquitous, as, I verily believe, any favor shown to this claim would be." The judge, however, assuming, under the laws of Louisiana, that negroes were slaves to someone, discharged the rule, and affirmed the order of sequestration.

Lieutenant Reynolds, leaving thirty-one of the negroes behind, embarked with the Seminoles and negro prisoners of war for the Indian country. But the next day Watson's agent arrived, and, finding that Reynolds had started, immediately followed and overtook him at Vicksburg. Convinced by the evidences of sorrow and mutual interest and attachment exhibited between the Indians and negroes at parting at New Orleans that he must proceed with caution, Lieutenant Reynolds persuaded the agent to accompany him. Arriving at Little Rock, he called upon the government officials for assistance. Governor Roane, though a slaveholder, declared that there were no witnesses to identify the negroes, expressed the apprehension that to enforce the claim would endanger the frontier settlers of Arkansas, and, instead of rendering assistance, ,µ1'ged him to proceed at once to his point of destination. Arriving at Fort Gibson, Lieutenant Reynolds enclosed to General Arbuckle the order of the Indian Commissioner to surrender the negroes to Watson's agent, with the request that he would give him an adequate force to carry his· instructions into effect. The request was refused, however, on the ground that there was no evidence to indicate who were included in the claim.

But the War Department, having been a party to the sale of these “prisoners of war," sought to carry out that slave-dealing bargain so far as the thirty-one negroes remaining at New Orleans were concerned. General Taylor's co-operation was sought in a letter from the Adjutant-General. BlJ.t that honest and straightforward man would be party to no such arrangement. In his letter of reply he said; "I know nothing of the negroes in question, nor of the subject further than what is contained in the communication; but I must state distinctly for the information of all concerned, that, while I shall hold myself ever ready to do the utmost in my power to get the negroes and Indians out of Florida, as well as to remove them to their new homes west of the Mississippi, I cannot, for a moment, consent to meddle with this transaction, or to be concerned for the benefit of Collins, the Creek Indians, or anyone else." This noble letter no more inured to the credit of its writer than it reflected upon the action of General Jessup, of the War Department, and of the President of the United States.

Collins returned to New Orleans, but Major Clark refused to turn the negroes over to him as Watson's .agent. They were at once despatched to their Western home, but only to find new proof of the bad faith of the government. Though it had been stipulated with them, as an inducement for them to go west, that a .separate tract should be assigned them, they found on their arrival that they were to be taken to territory assigned to the Creeks, where they would be subjected to Creek laws. The Cherokees had used their influence to persuade the Seminoles to go west, and they felt that they were in honor bound to fulfil their pledges as far as in their power, and so they consented that they should remain on their reservation until the United States government could be persuaded to discharge its obligations to this aroused and scattered people. 

Without country, the victim' of grasping slaveholders, these Indians and exiles appealed for redress to the same government which had already proved so faithless to its promises. But President Van Buren and Mr. Poinsett, his Secretary of War, instead of regarding these appeals, were renewing their efforts to secure for Watson the negro prisoners of war he had purchased. General Arbuckle, who had been directed to investigate the case, replied that not one of them could be obtained without force. Of course the slave-dealer grew restive and impatient under these delays, and wrote to the Indian Commissioner, severely arraigning the military authorities. Lieutenant Reynolds was under the necessity, therefore, of explaining away these charges. The demands being still pressed, the government made further but ineffectual attempts to meet them. The Seminoles refused to surrender the exiles, and the Creeks would hold no further communication on the ·subject either with Watson or the officials.

Baffled in all these efforts, he turned his attention to Congress, petitioning that body for what he failed to obtain from the officers of the government; and at the commencement of the session in 1839 the petition was referred to the Committee on Claims. Mr. Dawson of Georgia called to it the attention of Mr. Giddings, its chairman; but he reported against it. At the next session it was referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs. A bill was reported; but it failed to become a law. In the XXVIIIth Congress ex-Governor Vance of Ohio was made chairman of the Committee on Claims, in place of Mr. Giddings, who had thus far prevented favorable action, and Mr. Howell Cobb was placed on the committee for the purpose of securing a favorable report. Such a report and bill being presented, it was advocated by Mr. Cobb, Mr. Stephens, and Mr. Belser of Alabama, each alleging that it did not involve the question of property in human flesh; opposed by Mr. Giddings and Mr. Adams; and no vote was reached. Not discouraged, Watson persisted in pressing his claim; though he was again defeated, in 1848, notwithstanding a favorable report from Mr. Daniel of North Carolina.

In February, 1852 Daniel; reported again in its favor. A long debate arose, in which several members took part, a favorable vote was reached, and the bill passed by a majority, of twenty-six, one member alone from the slave States, William R. Cobb of Alabama, voting against it. In the Senate it met but little opposition. Thus was consummated, after a delay and struggle of thirteen years, that infamous bargain between a slave speculator and the United States, by which prisoners of war were sold as slaves, and in which were ignored not only the laws of God and humanity, but the laws of the nation and the laws of war.

Another case involving this idea of property in man was that of Antonio Pacheco, who presented in 1848 a petition to Congress for the loss of the slave Lewis, whom he had let to Major Dade as a guide, who had been captured by the Indians, surrendered to General Jessup, and sent west of the Mississippi. It appeared from the testimony of General Jessup that Lewis was a man of extraordinary talents, who had kept up a correspondence with the Seminoles, and had been sent west as “a dangerous man." The petition was referred to the Committee on Military Affairs, Mr. Burt of South Carolina being chairman; and a bill was reported in accordance with the prayer of the petitioner. Mr. Dickey of Pennsylvania, assisted by Mr. Giddings, drew up an adverse report. At the meeting of the committee the four Democratic members signed the report of the chairman; and Marvin of New York, Wilson of New Hampshire, and Fisher of Ohio signed that of Mr. Dickey. The majority held that slaves were property; and the minority contended that “one man could not hold property in another." No action, however, was taken.

Coming up at the next session, Mr. Dickey and Mr. Wilson of New Hampshire spoke against it, while Mr. Brown of Mississippi and Mr. Cabell of Florida followed on the other side. Mr. Burt closed the debate with the assertion that the simple question involved in the bill is, Are slaves property? The motion to lay it on the table was rejected by nineteen majority. Mr. Giddings moved a reconsideration, in support of which he made a very able speech, accepting the issue tendered by Mr. Burt, and boldly enunciating the doctrines -of · human rights. . By a mistake of the clerk it appeared that the casting vote of the Speaker would be necessary, which would have been cast against the bill. Subsequently, however, it I appeared that one vote had not been counted, and the bill was lost by that majority. A reconsideration was moved and carried, and the bill was passed by a majority of six. By that majority the House of Representatives declared that slaves were property; but the bill was not acted upon by the Senate, and it failed of becoming a law.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 528-544.



See also Confiscation Act of 1861

Chapter: “The Surrender of Fugitive Slaves by Army Officers,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

Slavery was never without a witness of its restrictive and repressive character. Sometimes, indeed, it had done its work so effectually, and had so thoroughly emasculated the bondman of his manhood, that there appeared the solecism of a con tented slave. Either stupefied by its potent poison, or wearing a chain gilded by personal favoritism, he felt not its galling. But such cases were exceptional. Generally, the iron of slavery had so entered his soul, that he never failed to feel the unpardonable indignity and wrong inflicted. As with compressed air, and the accumulated waters of a reservoir, there were never wanting tokens of this internal struggle to be free, indications that its victims felt their restraint, revolted against the unrighteous tyranny, and were always ready, if not on the lookout, for some means and way of escape. Not only were there always occurring individual attempts in that direction, but the underground railroad was an organized protest against the government that protected such a system, against laws that so hampered human beings, reduced them to such straits, and made such sacrifices and risks needful for even the chance of regaining their freedom."

When, then, the civil war was raging, which had been inaugurated by the slave-masters for the destruction of the government and the subversion of the very Constitution on which they had hitherto relied for both authority and aid to recover the fleeing fugitive, slaves were not slow to perceive the logic of events, and to hope that in the melee they might effect their longed-for escape. From the outset there were such escapes, and the fugitives sought refuge within the Union lines, and the question was at once propounded to the government and its ministers, "Shall they, or shall they not, be returned to their masters? " The traditions of the past, the admitted pro visions of the Constitution, even the proclaimed policy of the Republican party, pointed to an affirmative reply, while attending circumstances and other considerations pointed more decidedly in the opposite direction, and led finally to the adoption of a different and more worthy policy.

Among the first, perhaps the first, demonstrations of the kind, involving the question, the answer, and the argument somewhat curtly expressed on which that answer was based, was that at Fortress Monroe, in connection with the demand, already referred to, made on General Butler near the outset of the war. Three slaves presented themselves at the general's camp, and informed him that their master. Colonel Mallory, had gone to the Rebel army, and was about to send them to North Carolina to help in building fortifications. General Butler, in need of laborers, set them at work. He was soon waited upon by an agent of their owner, who demanded that they be given up. The general refused. "Do you mean to set aside your constitutional obligations? " inquired the agent. "Virginia passed an ordinance of secession, and claims to be a foreign country," replied Butler. "I am under no constitutional obligations to a foreign country." "You say we cannot secede," replied the agent, "and so you cannot consistently detain them." "You contend you have seceded, and you cannot consistently claim them," responded one who seldom lacked shrewdness to make fitting reply, or courage to express it. "You are using negroes on your batteries. I shall detain them as contraband of war." This epigrammatic reply was seized upon by the public generally, however lawyers may have viewed it, as a practical solution of the vexed problem that had so long puzzled the wisest, who found it difficult to fulfil at once obligations imposed by the Constitution and those by the higher law of humanity. It also furnished for a time a name for those who were thus made free by the stern exigencies of war, though it was afterward supplanted by the more appropriate designation of freed men.

Similar examples were occurring all along the line of the Union forces, and slaves thus sought refuge within the Federal camps, as they stretched their length from the eastern shores of Virginia to the western borders of Missouri. In the absence of any clearly defined policy on the part of the general government, the different commanders gave answers very much according to their previous prejudices, opinions, social forces, or the pressure of circumstances, brought to bear upon them in their respective localities. In Missouri General Halleck forbade their entrance, and issued an order that they should not be permitted to "enter the lines of any camp or any forces on the march." A similar order was issued by General Williams at Baton Rouge. Generally, however, the Union commanders adopted a more worthy and humane policy, like that of Hunter in South Carolina, Curtis in Arkansas, and Fremont in Missouri, and the fugitives were welcomed and protected; though such a policy was far from being universally acceptable either in the army or at the North. Of the sentiments which too generally obtained, the action of the non-commissioned officers and privates of a company in a Kansas regiment, and of a public meeting in Chicago in the summer of 1862, afford examples. In August of that year the general commanding in Tennessee received a letter from Company G of First Regiment Kansas Volunteers, signed by thirty-six of its members, in which they request the transfer of a colored man from their company for the cause they thus succinctly state: " Our reasons are, firstly, we believe him to be a 'nigger’; secondly, that he was never properly assigned to our company, but, after being refused in several other companies, he was placed in Company G. We have no objection to giving our services to our country, to endure all the privations we may be called upon to endure, but to have one of the company, or even one of the regiment, pointed out as a 'nigger,' while on dress-parade or guard, is more than we like to be called upon to bear." In the indorsement of Colonel Deitzler, their regimental commander, occurs the following dainty expression of feeling and opinion: "He is full two thirds ' nigger,' too black to serve upon terms of equality with white soldiers. I respectfully recommend that he be mustered out of service, or transferred to Jim Lane's nigger brigade. The recommendation is not made out of disrespect for the nigger." About the same time there was a public meeting of the workmen of the leading slaughter and packing houses of Chicago, at which, after giving expression to the alleged intentions of some " to bring negro labor into competition with white men," they resolved, "That we, the packing-house men of the town of South Chicago, pledge ourselves not to work for any packer, under any consideration, who will, in any manner, bring negro labor into competition with our labor."

These conflicting views of his generals, the fact that he felt obliged to countermand the proclamations of Hunter and Fremont, to modify the report of his Secretary of War, with all that these seemingly cross purposes implied and involved, and the equivocal position in which it placed the Republican administration before the eyes of both friends and foes, were exceedingly distasteful and trying to the President. In an interview with delegates from the border slave States at about the same time he thus gave expression to his sense of the difficulties and embarrassments of the situation: "I am pressed with a difficulty not mentioned, with one which threatens division among those who, united, are none too strong. An instance of it is known to you. General Hunter is an honest man. He was, and I hope is still, my friend. I valued him none the less for his agreeing with me in the general wish that all men everywhere could be freed. He proclaimed all men free within certain States, and I repudiated the proclamation. He expected more good and less harm from the measure than I could believe would follow. Yet, in repudiating it, I gave dissatisfaction, if not offence, to many whose support the country cannot afford to lose. And this is not the end of it. The pressure in this direction is still upon me and is increasing."

From the first there were members of Congress who felt that this was a subject on which the legislative branch of the government should speak, and that the responsibility rested upon that body to define the policy to be pursued. Even at the extra session Mr. Lovejoy introduced into the House a resolution, in which it was affirmed that, "in the judgment of this House, it is no part of the duty of the soldiers of the United States to capture and return fugitive slaves." But even a proposition so manifestly correct and proper was at that time beyond its reach, and a Republican Congress summarily laid it on the table by a vote of sixty-six to eighty-one, so faintly did its members comprehend the situation and the real significance of the conflict to which they had been summoned; and, although their attention had been called thereto, they separated without taking any action upon this really vital question of the war.

Immediately on the assembling of Congress at its regular session in December, Mr. Wilson gave notice in the Senate of his intention to introduce a bill to punish officers and privates of the army for arresting, detaining, or delivering up persons claimed as fugitive slaves. On the same day Mr. Lovejoy introduced into the House a bill for the same purpose, and in almost identically the same language. Neither of the bills, however, embodied the final action reached, and they are noteworthy now mainly because they indicate the anxious desire that so promptly introduced the subject in both houses on the third day of their assembling, indicating the drift of thought and purpose that was destined to find expression in specific enactments; but only after large comparison of views and earnest debate. Concerning the end desired there was not much of disagreement, but its members were too much in earnest not to differ on a subject so new and so beset with difficulties as to the means best suited to reach that end. 

On the 17th of December Mr. Sumner introduced into the Senate a resolution instructing the Committee on Military Affairs to "consider the expediency of providing by additional legislation that our national armies shall not be employed in the surrender of fugitive slaves." In introducing it he said he had received many communications, official and private, setting forth the outrages. he would guard against and prevent by specific and positive legislation. " I am glad to know," he said, "that my friend and colleague, the chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs, promises us at once a bill to meet this grievance. It ought to be introduced promptly, and to be passed at once. Our troops ought to be saved from this shame."

Mr. Cowan of Pennsylvania, who, though a Republican, often disagreed with the more pronounced members of his party, expressed the thought that "there need be no possible difficulty whatever upon this question in any of its aspects, and that they had nothing in the world to do with these questions. "We send a general," he said, "to suppress this insurrection. What is his duty? If he meets a negro upon his errand, and that negro is an enemy, he treats him as an enemy; if the negro is a friend, he treats him as a friend, and uses him as such. Nothing, to my mind, can be simpler. How is he to determine the title to that negro? Suppose, Mr. President, you were to go into his camp, and say, ' Sir, here is my negro: I want him.' The obvious answer of the general is, ' My dear sir, that may be all true; I have no desire to raise any issues of fact with you: it may be that this is your negro; but I cannot determine that question; I cannot try the title to him; I am not a court; I am not a jury,' — a great many of them, indeed, are not even lawyers. How are they to determine whether this negro is a slave or not? They cannot determine it; they have no right to determine it. If the master, being a loyal man, in that camp insists, and says, ' This is my negro,' I do not know what other men might do, but, if I were the general, I would say to him, ' If this is your negro, your ' boy," as you call him, — this man that you are educating to civilization and Christianity, — if he will go with you, if he is willing to submit to your guardianship in this behalf, take him, in God's name, and be away with him.' Suppose the claimant says, ' He will not go, and I want to force him,' what then? I would say to him, ' No, you cannot do that; because that presumes that I decide the very question which I am incompetent to decide. I cannot allow you to use force here, because I am the constable of the nation, and I am the repository of its force in this behalf, and you cannot use it.' " The resolution was agreed to.

On the 23d Mr. Wilson introduced a bill to remedy the evil complained of. After reciting facts setting forth that officers in the service, without authority of law and against the plainest dictates of justice and humanity, had delivered up such fugitives, it provided that any officer in the naval or military service who should be guilty of such offence should be "deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be dishonorably discharged and forever ineligible to any appointment in the military or naval service of the United States." The bill was referred to the Committee on Military Affairs. On the 6th of January, 1862, it was reported back with an amendment in the form of a substitute, "That it shall be unlawful for any officer in the military or naval service of the United States to cause any person claimed to be held to service or labor by reason of African descent to be seized, held, detained, or delivered up to or for any person claiming such service or labor; and any officer so offending shall be discharged from service, and be forever ineligible to any appointment in the military or naval service of the United States." A motion for its indefinite postponement, by Mr. Saulsbury of Delaware, was lost by a vote of thirteen to twenty-three. Coming up on the 23d, Mr. Collamer of Vermont said, "Without criticising at all the form of expression of the proposed amendment, I offer a substitute for it, which I send to the Chair: ' No officer of the army or navy of the United States, or of the volunteers or militia in the service of the United States, shall assume or exercise any military command or authority to arrest, detain, hold, or control any person, on account of' such person being holden to service as of African descent; and any such officer so offending shall be dismissed from the service." Mr. Wilson accepted the amendment.

Mr. Saulsbury then offered as an amendment the additional section: "Nor shall any soldier or officer, under like penalty, entice away or detain any person held to service or labor in the United States from his or her master or owner." Mr. Collamer, saying that he did not regard Mr. Saulsbury's amendment as germane to the subject, addressed the Senate in support of his own. "I believe," he said, "we are generally agreed that there is great impropriety in military men exercising military authority within the States, in relation to their internal and municipal affairs; it is very likely to produce collisions that ought to be avoided…. The amendment reported by the committee made it unlawful for an officer to do anything in regard to the seizure or delivery of a person held to service by reason of African descent: it seemed to direct the individual action of the man as a man; which is, I think, hardly legitimate and proper on this occasion. I do not know but that we have officers in our army who are themselves the owners of slaves. According to the provision reported by the committee, such an officer could not even arrest his own slave under the laws of the State in which he was holden. It seems to me, that, in dealing with officers of the army, our business is to deal with them in their official capacity. Therefore, to strip the subject of all sort of question about that, I have drawn and presented the amendment which the Senate have adopted, and which, I think, should pass into a law, — that no officer shall use any military power over this subject. As to his own individual action, that is a matter which must be left to him."

"If you adopt," said Mr. Saulsbury, "the amendment of the Senator from Vermont, you make it penal for a soldier or officer to return, even to a loyal master or owner, his slave; but you provide no penalty against any soldier or any officer for depriving even a loyal master of the services of his slave. My amendment proposes to prohibit, under the same penalty, an officer or a soldier of the army from decoying or enticing away from the service of his master a slave, or from harboring a slave." An amendment of Mr. Saulsbury's amendment, offered by Mr. Rice, a Democratic Senator from Minnesota, adding the words, " who may be a loyal citizen of the United States," was adopted. Mr. Collamer expressed the thought that, under Mr. Saulsbury's amendment, "if any soldier wanted to get dismissed from the service, he would have nothing to do but to entice a slave, and he would get himself and the slave both dismissed."

"I am opposed," said Mr. Wilson, "to this amendment in every shape and form, and to any legislation protecting, covering, or justifying slavery for loyal or disloyal masters. The laws on that subject are all that ought to be given at this time. What I want to do is to put upon the statute-book of this country a prohibition to the officers of the army of the United States from arresting, detaining, and delivering up persons claimed as fugitives by the use of military power. There is no law for it. They have acted in violation of law. Some of these officers have dishonored the profession, and disgraced the country; and I mean, if God is willing and I have the power, to reject their confirmation here for that reason; and I give them the notice now." Mr. Pearce thus presented the not unnatural perplexities of slaveholding Unionists: "The Senator from Massachusetts objects to a proposition which forbids officers and soldiers of the army from enticing, harboring, or preventing the recovery — that is the amount of it — of a fugitive slave, known to be such, upon the application of his master, known to be his lawful owner, according to the laws of the State in which he lives. What is the effect of that? It is an invitation to all the slaves of the State of Maryland, who can do so, to resort to the camp, sure of protection there, first, because no officer of the army can order their delivery up to their master, however loyal or however indisputable his title may be to that slave. It is an invitation, therefore, to all such people to resort to the lines of the army as a harbor of refuge, a place of asylum, a spot where they can be safe from the operation of the undoubted legal rights of the owner. That is the effect of it; and that is an invitation to the whole body of such people, within the loyal State of Maryland, to accomplish their freedom by indirection. It is not an act of emancipation in its terms; but so far as it can operate, and does operate, it leads directly to that result."

In the House the same general subject was receiving consideration on a proposition instructing the Committee on Military Affairs to report a bill for "the enactment of an additional article of war whereby all officers in the military service of the United States shall be prohibited from using any portion of the forces under their respective commands for the purpose of returning fugitives from service or labor, and provide for the punishment of such officers as may violate said article, by dismissal from the service." On the 25th of February Mr. Blair of Missouri, from that committee, reported a bill proposing such an additional article. In the debate that sprung up on its introduction, said Mr. Mallory of Kentucky, ' You are deciding by this article of war that the President of the United States shall not be permitted to send a military force into a State to aid the authorities of that State in enforcing a national law which stands on your statute-book. I ask the gentleman from Missouri whether it is the fixed determination to repeal the Fugitive Slave Law." "I do not propose," replied Mr. Blair, "to decide the question the gentleman has raised, as to whether this bill, if it becomes a law, will repeal the Fugitive Slave Law or not. I believe, in common with a great many others, that the army of the United States has a great deal better business than returning fugitive slaves." "I see," said Mr. Wickliffe of the same State, "by the evidence which has been furnished, that General Grant captured — at Fort Donelson, I think it was — twelve negro slaves among prisoners there taken. They were returned by him to their loyal owners in Kentucky, from whom they had been forced by the Rebel power. Would this bill prevent a military commander from the exercise of such power? " This was a question not altogether free from embarrassment to the administration or its supporters, intent on retaining the border slave States, who made their loyalty so dependent on the consideration that slavery should receive nothing of detriment; as also another, asked by Mr. Grider of the same State. "I am informed," said this gentleman, "that within three counties in my district, the Rebel army has impressed and run off slaves to the value of three hundred thousand dollars. Now, sir, does this article of war propose that these servants shall not be returned, and shall not be intercepted? " Is it singular that, in the presence of such facts, and confronted by such questionings, men whose antislavery convictions were not very strong, and whose antecedent associations had been rather among the enemies than the advocates of such convictions, should have hesitated, and sought some middle course, in the hope, though vain, that it would be the safer path?

But the nation had reached, or was rapidly approaching, the position where it was seen that it was dealing with sterner facts and more inexorable laws than were involved in any vested rights of property or questions of political expediency. Men saw, or were beginning to see, that there was something more potent than the statutes of men, or the compromises of the Constitution, sacred as they had been deemed and faithfully observed; that there were higher laws than any of human enactment, and these not alone of the Decalogue; that even the laws of physical force could not be ignored or set aside by political considerations, or the desire, however strong, to conciliate their Southern brethren and carry out in good faith the provisions and promises of former days. It was becoming every day more and more apparent that the race of slaves em bodied not only a vast physical force that could not be safely overlooked, but a higher moral potency involved in the answer given by the American people to the question whether or not that race should be treated justly or unjustly; and, if risks must be run, it was safer to risk the displeasure of the slave holding Unionists than the displeasure of the Almighty.

As ever, during the debates of those years, was heard, among the loudest and most pronounced, the clarion voice of the member from Ohio. Denouncing the practice of arresting and returning fugitives " as a military despotism the American people should not tolerate for a moment, nor lose a moment in ending, by the enactment of a law " to prevent it, Mr. Bingham added: ' I say that a military officer who assumes, wrongfully assumes, to exercise the functions of civil magistracy, and undertakes to sit upon the right of any human being, born within the limits of this Republic, to the possession of his own person and his own soul, and against whom no offence is charged, is worse than a kidnapper. He has no right to do it; and, by so doing, commits a crime, a great crime. Some of your military officers of high and low degree have been detailing their men for the purpose of seizing, and have seized, persons not accused of crime, but suspected of the virtue of preferring liberty to bondage. Are we to revive here, in this land, the hated rule of the Athenian ostracism, by which men were condemned, not because they were charged with crime or proved guilty of crime, but because they were suspected to possess and practice the virtues of justice and patriotism in such degree as render their presence in the State dangerous to republican equality? Aristides was condemned because he was just; and Themistocles, because he was the savior of the city. I have read in the papers, and I believe it is true, that one of these persons suspected of escaping from bondage to liberty swam across the Ohio River, making for an encampment upon the Indiana shore, where he saw the banner of Liberty flying, which he fondly looked upon as consecrating that place, at least, as sacred to the rights of person, and where even the rights of a hunted bondman would be respected. After having been beaten about, bruised, and mangled against the rocks in the channel of the river, to whose rushing waters he committed his life that he might regain his liberty, he reached the opposite shore." Saying that he was there suspected of being a fugitive from slavery, and that a company of soldiers were detailed to arrest and return him to his owners, he added: "If that practice is to be pursued by the army and navy under the American flag, it ought to cover with midnight blackness every star that burns on its field of azure, and with everlasting infamy the men who dare to desecrate it to such base uses." The bill then passed by the vote of eighty-three to forty-two.

It was reported in the Senate by Mr. Wilson, from the Committee on Military Affairs, on the 4th of March, and made the subject of debate on the 10th. Mr. Davis of Kentucky moved to amend by adding the words, " and also from detaining, harboring, or concealing any such fugitive “; but his amendment received but ten votes. As in the House, it was destined to meet the persistent opposition of the border slave-State members. Mr. Saulsbury moved to so amend as to exempt the States of Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky; but his amendment received but seven votes. Mr. Carlile asked the same question that had been propounded in the House, whether the adoption of such an additional rule was not in conflict with the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law. Mr. Saulsbury wished to amend by inserting a provision inhibiting any attempt to decoy the slaves of loyal masters. A question from Mr. Anthony of Rhode Island, whether officers of the army and all others were not already prohibited by existing laws from enticing and decoying slaves, evoked from Mr. Howard the reply that they were, by "the severe and almost inhuman penalties of the slave law of 1850." "In voting against the amendment, which I shall do," said Mr. Anthony, "I certainly do not wish to be understood that I would vote to give any officer liberty to entice a slave from a loyal master; but I understand the law already prohibits it; it is already an offence, and we are only re-enacting another law." Mr. Saulsbury's amendment only received ten votes, and the bill was passed by a vote of twenty-nine to nine; and was approved by the President on the 13th of March, 1862.

But members were still anxious, and fearful that the dis graceful and, as they were beginning to view it, dangerous practice would still go on, unless some new safeguards were devised. Accordingly, on the 14th of April, on motion of Mr. Wilson, the Senate proceeded to the consideration of a resolution previously presented by him, "to consider and report whether any further legislation is necessary to prevent persons employed in the military service" from returning fugitives. The resolution was never adopted, but the debate thereon indicates very clearly both the facts that excited and the feelings that were excited by the unseemly practice. Mr. Grimes moved to amend the resolution by adding to it the words, "and to report what reorganization of the army, in its personnel or otherwise, may be necessary to promote the public welfare, and bring the Rebellion to a speedy and triumphant end." In his speech he showed, by the facts he recited, the arguments he employed, and the appeals he urged, that the nation, though in a dilemma where no choice was without its difficulties and perils, was in a position no longer tenable, with a policy no longer to be tolerated. " One would think," he said, " that all men would agree in pronouncing that a cruel and despotic order which repeals the Divine precept, ‘Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me,' and arbitrarily forbids the soldier to bestow a crust of bread or a cup of water upon a wretched, famishing fugitive escaping from our own as well as from his enemy. Yet, Mr. President, I grieve to say that there are those, high in rank in the service of the United States, who have sought to break down the spirit of manhood, which is the crowning glory of true soldiers, by requiring them to do acts, outside of their profession, which they abhor, and to smother all impulses to those deeds of charity which they have been taught to believe are the characteristics of Christian gentlemen…. It was known to the country, at an early day after the commencement of the war, that some military commanders were abusing the great power intrusted to them, and were employing the army to assist in the capture and rendition of fugitive slaves, not in aid of any judicial process, but in obedience to their own unbridled will. The effect of this assumption of unauthorized power was to incite the soldiery to disobedience, and to arouse the people to the necessity of proper legislative restraints. It was in compliance with the popular sentiment on this subject that Congress enacted the additional article of war, which was approved on the 13th of March last.... In the month of February last, an officer of the Third Regiment of Iowa Infantry, stationed at a small town in Missouri, succeeded in capturing several Rebel bridge-burners, and some recruiting officers belonging to Price's army. The information that led to their capture was furnished by two or three remarkably shrewd and intelligent slaves, claimed by a lieutenant-colonel in the Rebel army. Shortly afterwards the master despatched an agent, with instructions to seize the slaves, and convey them within the Rebel lines; whereupon the Iowa officer himself seized them, and reported the circumstances to headquarters. The slaves soon understanding the full import of General Halleck's celebrated order No. 3, two of them attempted an escape. This was regarded as an unpardonable sin. The Iowa officer was immediately placed under arrest, and a detachment of the Missouri State militia — men in the pay of this government and under the command of General Halleck — were sent in pursuit of the fugitives. The hunt was successful. The slaves were caught, and returned to their traitor master, but not until one of them had been shot by order of the soldier in command of the pursuing party…. How long, think you, will this method of dealing with the Rebels be endured by the freemen of this country? Are our brothers and sons to be confined within the walls of the tobacco-warehouses and jails of Richmond and Charleston, obliged to perform the most menial offices, subsisted upon the most stinted diet, their lives endangered if they attempt to obtain a breath of fresh air or a beam of God's sunlight at a window, while the Rebels captured by those very men are permitted to go at large on parole, to be pampered with luxuries, to be attended by slaves, and the slaves guarded from escape by our own soldiers ? "

On the 1st of May the Senate, on motion of Mr. Wilson, resumed the consideration of the resolution; the pending question being the amendment moved by Mr. Grimes. Mr. Sumner was " grateful to the Senator from Iowa for the frankness with which he exposed and condemned the recent orders of our generals." He then examined and condemned severely the orders of Generals Hooker, McCook, Buel, Halleck, and the provost-marshal of Louisville. He contrasted and commended the action of General Doubleday and General McDowell. He closed his speech by saying, "Sir, we are making history now. Every victory adds something to that history; but such an order is worse for us than a defeat. More than any defeat, it will discredit us with posterity, and with the friends of liberal institutions in foreign nations. I have said that General Halleck is reputed to be an able officer; but most perversely he undoes with one hand what he does with the other. He undoes by his orders the good he docs as a general. While professing to make war upon the Rebellion, he sustains its chief and most active power, and degrades his gallant army to be the constables of slavery. Slavery is the constant rebel and universal enemy. It is traitor and belligerent together, and is always to be treated accordingly. Tenderness to slavery now is practical disloyalty, and practical alliance with the enemy. Against these officers to whom I have referred to-day I have no personal unkindness. I should much prefer to speak in their praise; but, sir, I am in earnest. While I have the honor of a seat in the Senate, no success, no victory, shall be any apology or any shield to a general who undertakes to insult human nature. From the midst of his triumphs I will drag him forward to receive the condemnation which such conduct deserves."

The border State members, however, though aware that their opposition would be overborne by the force of numbers, met the efforts of the free State members not only with argument and appeal, but with ridicule, captious motions, and the like. Thus Mr. Saulsbury moved to amend the resolution by adding to it, "and what further legislation is necessary to prevent the illegal capture and imprisonment of the free white citizens of the United States." In support of the amendment he said: "But, while we are entertained every morning with a narrative of the grievances of the black men of this country, the free negroes and the slaves of this country, thinking equally as much, and — although it may be an infirmity and a weakness at the present time to say it — thinking a little more, of the free white citizens of my country, I will, in my place, demand that justice shall be done them, and that free white men, who have done naught to injure their country, to destroy its institutions or its Union, shall be protected, and that inquiry shall be made to see if further legislation is necessary to secure them in their rights."

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 285-300.



Chapter: “Petitions against Slavery and the Slave-Trade in the District of Columbia: Denial of the Right of Petition,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872:

Antislavery agitation was producing its legitimate results. The facts and statements, the reasonings and appeals, of the advocates of immediate emancipation excited the apprehensions, if not the convictions, of a portion of the people, and prompted the desire to be purged from all complicity with such outrages, such high-handed crimes against the laws of God and the claims of humanity. Estopped by the compromises of the Constitution from interfering with slavery in the States, men felt all the more anxious to rid themselves of all responsibility for its existence in the District of Columbia, over which it was admitted that Congress had " sole jurisdiction," and in which both slavery and the slave-traffic existed in its most vigorous and revolting forms.

Memorials were largely circulated, very extensively signed, and presented to Congress, invoking its action. John Quincy Adams, having been elected a member of the XXIId Congress, presented, early in the session, fifteen memorials for the abolition of slavery and the slave-trade in the District. He expressed, however, the hope that the subject would not be discussed in the House, and took occasion to say that he could not give his support to the prayer of the petitioners. "Slavery," he said, "in the District, is of little importance"; although he admitted that its existence there was as much a violation of principle as its existence in the States and Territories. The petitions presented by Mr. Adams were referred to the Committee on the District of Columbia. Mr. Doddridge of Virginia, its chairman, promptly reported that it would be unsafe to abolish slavery under existing circumstances, and wrong to do· so until Virginia and Maryland moved in the matter.

At the closing session of the XXIIId Congress John Dickson of New York presented a memorial of the• American Antislavery Society, and also the petition of several hundred ladies of that State, in favor of the abolition of slavery and the slave-trade in the District of Columbia. Early in February, 1835, he addressed the House in an elaborate speech in favor of the prayer of the petitioners. Re contended that neither the Old nor the New Testament, the heathen philosophy nor the Declaration of Independence, recognized differences on account of color the rights of man. Mr. Chinn of Virginia; remarking that he did not wish to disturb the deep sympathy nor the tender mercies of the gentleman from New York, or of the fair memorialists who had made him their champion, moved to lay the whole subject on the table; and his motion was agreed to by a majority of forty.

In February Mr. Phillips of Massachusetts presented a petition from three thousand six hundred ladies of his State. Mr. Dickson presented a memorial from the mayor of Rochester and other citizens, and moved that it be laid on the table and printed. This motion brought up Mr. Johnson of Louisiana. He repudiated the interference of the Northern people with the rights and property of the South. Whenever the North, he declared with deep feeling, should procure legislation by Congress in regard to this species of property, “that moment the Union would be dissolved." Millard Fillmore, afterward President, disavowed most unequivocally, then and forever, any desire on his part to interfere with the rights, or what was termed the property, of the citizens of other States; though he was in favor of printing the memorial. Mr. Clay of Alabama said this memorial was calculated to excite “the most direful calamities “in that part of the Union from which he came.

Mr. Wise of Virginia said that the District was common ground; that, if gentlemen had a right to come upon that ground with “carriages and horses," he had a right to come upon it with “his slaves," and to remain as long as he pleased. " I speak," he said, " for all as strongly as one man can speak for many - for millions - that the South will fight to the hilt against the abolition of slavery, unless the inhabitants themselves, owning slaves, shall petition for it. True Christians and philanthropists will always find their principles and the cause of humanity best subserved by being the friends of slaveholders, rather than of the slaves." The House, on motion of Mr. Archer of Virginia, by more than seventy majority, laid the whole subject on the table. During the session, however, several similar petitions were presented by John Quincy Adams.

On the assembling of the XXIVth Congress, Mr. Fairfield of Maine presented to the House petitions for the abolition of slavery in the District, remarking, however, that he did not wish to be considered as favoring the views of the petitioners. These petitions, on motion of John Y. Mason of Virginia, afterward a member of the Cabinet, and minister to France, were laid on the table by a strong vote, only thirty-one voting for their reception. A few days afterward an antislavery petition, presented by Mr. Briggs of Massachusetts, was referred without debate to the Committee on the District of Columbia. On the same day another was presented by William Jackson of the same State, for a long time thereafter a most practical and efficient worker in the cause of emancipation. Mr. Hammond of South Carolina moved that it be not received. “The large majority,” he said, "by which similar petitions had been rejected, a few days ago, has been very gratifying to me and to the whole South. I had hoped that vote would satisfy gentlemen charged with such petitions of the impropriety of presenting them; but as it does not have that effect, I ask the House to put a more decided seal of reprobation on such petitions by promptly rejecting this." The Speaker stated that he was not aware that such a motion had ever been sustained by any former action of the House.  Mr. Hammond then moved that the House reject the petition.

On this motion he said he did not wish to go into a discussion of the question involved, but he wished to put an end to these petitions. He could not sit there and submit to their being brought forward until the House had become callous to the consequences. In the course of the debate which sprang up on this motion, Mr. Sutherland of Pennsylvania reminded the House that it had already, on that day, that very morning, referred a memorial on this very question to the Committee on the District of Columbia. The Speaker admitted the fact, but added that “it was doubtless through inadvertence; that the members of the House did not generally hear it." Mr. Patton ·of Virginia then moved to reconsider the vote by which the memorial presented by Mr. Briggs was referred. On that motion an excited debate arose. In this discussion were developed the ideas and purposes of the different parties. .A. very small minority sympathized with the specific prayer of the petitioners; but there were differences of opinion in the majority as to the best method of rejecting that prayer. Mr. Hunt of New York said: "Gentlemen on all sides merely differ as to the means· of effecting a general and decisive end, an end they are all seeking, --to give quiet and composure on this exciting question." Substantially agreeing with the South, but still regarding the right of petition “a sacred one," he could " never consent to infringe upon it even by implication." Believing that " the quiet of the community could not be insured by suppressing information and inquiry," he would " refer this and all similar memorials to the Committee on the District of Columbia, or to some select committee, with instructions to make a report that should put this question forever at rest, --silence the fanatics on the one hand, and satisfy our brethren of the South on the other."

Mr. Thomas of Maryland defended the same course. Deprecating the repressive policy, he said: “I am prepared to vote for the reception of the petition, and to declare distinctly that the prayer of these petitioners is unreasonable- and ought not to be granted." Mr. Beardsley of New York would receive the petition, but “reject its prayer”; and then, he added, "they will see no firebrands in this House." Mr. Pierce of New. Hampshire, afterward President, favored the same action for the same end, though he believed the public sentiment of the North was sound, there being “not one in five hundred who would not have these rights of our Southern brethren protected at any and every hazard." The Southern members were divided, some contending that the above was the best method of quieting agitation, others that the stamp of reprobation should be branded on all antislavery agitation by rejecting the petitions on the very threshold of Congress.

At this point of the discussion John Quincy Adams, whose name is so generally identified with this great struggle, addressed the House. Disowning all sympathy with the purpose of the petitioners, he said he would receive the petition because he deemed the right of petition " sacred, to be vindicated at all hazards; while it presents the only effective way to get this question out of the view of the nation and this House." Alluding to his former course, he said that in 1832 he presented similar petitions, though he gave notice to the House and to the country that he should not support them. “In 1834," he said, “similar petitions were presented, and referred to a committee; and from the moment they were referred they went to the tomb of the Capulets…   A distinguished member, Mr. Dickson, made an eloquent speech of two hours in defence. No reply was made. Not a word was said… Other petitions were so referred, and then they slept the sleep of death." Mr. Adams's course on this occasion very much astonished and aggrieved the friends of freedom, and was sharply criticised by Mr. Lundy, Mr. Garrison, and other prominent advocates of the cause. They felt that, even if he had doubted the value of such efforts, he might safely have exhibited more sympathy with the ultimate purpose of the petitioners.

But there was one member who, like Mr. Dickson in the preceding Congress, distinctly and unequivocally avowed himself in favor of the prayer of the petitioners. “The petitioners," said Mr. Slade of Vermont “wish the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia; so do I. They wish to abolish the slave-trade in the District; so do I." He was in favor of referring all antislavery petitions to a committee. The House, however, reconsidered the vote to refer the petition presented by Mr. Briggs to the Committee on the District of Columbia, and then laid it on the table by a majority of seventy-seven.

Early in January, 1836, Mr. Jarvis of Maine submitted a resolution declaring that the subject of the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia ought not to be entertained by Congress; and, if any petition praying for it should thereafter be presented, it ought to be laid on the table without being referred or printed. Mr. Jarvis was one of the most zealous of that class of Northern men who, emulous in their subserviency, seemed to court the distinction of bowing low and of making great sacrifices of principle, humanity, and personal honor to propitiate the slave oligarchy, and thereby maintain the ascendency of the Democratic party and secure the election of Mr. Van Buren to the presidency. And thus it happened that the cause of humanity and of liberty was always imperiled as much by Northern subserviency as by Southern intolerance and exactions!

Mr. Wise pronounced the resolution "entirely evasive and unsatisfactory to the South." "Nothing," he said, "can satisfy them but a bold, direct, and manly vote." He moved to amend the resolution of Mr. Jarvis so as to declare that there was no power of legislation granted to Congress to abolish slavery in the District, and that any attempt to do so would be dangerous to the Union.

The representatives from South Carolina, like the senators from that State, were foremost in asserting the rights and powers of slaveholders. They vied with each other in support of slavery by speech and vote. Mr. Pickens pronounced their system of domestic servitude to be "the same patriarchal system that existed in the first ages of society." "Ours," he said,” is the ancient system of society that existed amongst the Greeks and the Romans, and to a certain extent in the feudal serf system of the Gallic race." With a shameless and audacious effrontery he admitted and affirmed the "robber's right” to be the only foundation of their peculiar institution, for he specifically declared their “system to be a frank and bold one, that sustained itself by open and undisguised power." They had nothing, he said, to conceal or disguise, and he boldly avowed to the world that they owned the blacks through both "intellectual and physical force."

Mr. Hammond, too, expressed extreme views, proclaiming that the “doom of Ham has been branded on the form and features of his African descendants," and that "the hand of fate has united his color and his destiny." He made, too, the impudent and preposterous claim that “domestic slavery produces the highest-toned, the purest and best organization of society that has ever existed on the face of the earth." Avowing that their last thought would be to give up the institution under which they were born and bred, and which they would maintain or die in its defence, he said, " I warn the Abolitionists, ignorant and infatuated barbarians as they are, that, if chance shall throw any of them into our hands, they may expect a felon's death."

Mr. Pinckney, avowing that he was " for the suppression of abolition " by " procuring a direct vote and a practical result upon the whole subject of the abolition of slavery," submitted a resolution to the effect that all antislavery petitions and papers which had been or might be submitted should be referred to a select committee, with instructions to report that Congress had no power to interfere with slavery in the States, and that it ought not to interfere with slavery in the District of Columbia, because that would be a violation of the public faith, unwise, impolitic, and dangerous to the Union. This resolution was adopted, a select committee of nine members was appointed, and Mr. Pinckney was made chairman. In the formation of the committee, however, the usual courtesy was withheld, and not a member known to be in favor of the prayer of the petitioners was placed upon it. On the 18th of May, the committee made a long and elaborate report, occupying an hour and a half in the reading. It concluded with resolutions declaring that Congress possessed no constitutional authority to interfere with slavery in the States; that it ought not to interfere in any way with slavery in the District of Columbia; and that "for the purpose of arresting agitation and restoring tranquility to the public mind " all petitions or papers relating in any way to slavery should be laid on the table without being printed or referred. Upon these resolutions an earnest, furious, and protracted debate sprang up, in which hardly a word was uttered for freedom.

The most extreme representatives of slavery objected to the resolutions because they did not contain the explicit declaration that Congress possessed no constitutional power to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. So demoralized had the nation become, that the resolutions requiring all antislavery petitions and papers to be laid on the table without being considered or referred were adopted by a vote of one hundred and seventeen to sixty-eight. Nearly all those who voted in the negative being Whigs from the free States held with Mr. Adams that the resolution was a direct violation of the Constitution of the United States, the rules of the House, and the rights of their constituents.

While antislavery petitions were receiving the attention of the House they were also before the Senate. Early in January Mr. Morris of Ohio presented two petitions to that body praying for the abolition of slavery and the slave-trade in the District of Columbia. Mr. Calhoun promptly objected to their reception because "one half of the Union as deeply slandered in them"; because "the subject was not within the power of Congress” and because “agitation on the subject must cease." "This," he said, "is a preliminary abolition movement. These Abolitionists move first on the District of Columbia, which is the weakest point, in order to operate afterward on the States. I will resist them as firmly in this movement as I would on the direct question of emancipation." He expressed the conviction that “nothing can, nothing will stop these petitioners but a prompt and strong rejection of them."

This debate, commenced by Mr. Calhoun upon his motion to reject antislavery petitions, was continued for more than two months. Nearly all the Southern and many of the Northern senators participated in it. Southern senators of extreme opinions agreed with Mr. Calhoun in sternly refusing to receive the petitions; others were in favor of receiving them, and instantly rejecting their prayer. A few believed it to be the constitutional duty of the Senate to receive the petitions, refer them, and have a committee report upon them.

Mr. Buchanan presented the petition of the Caln Religious Society of Friends of Pennsylvania. This memorial prayed Congress to enact such laws as would secure the freedom of every human being residing within the constitutional jurisdiction of Congress, and prohibit every species of traffic in the persons of men. Mr. Buchanan was in favor of receiving the petition, and of instantly rejecting its prayer. The test vote was taken upon this memorial. Ten senators voted for Mr. Calhoun's motion not to receive it, while thirty-five voted against it. The question then arose on Mr. Buchanan's motion to reject the prayer of the petitioners, and it was agreed to, only six voting against it. Mr. Calhoun declined to vote in favor of this “device to receive this petition and immediately reject it, without consideration or reflection." “To my mind," he said, "the movement looks like a trick, - a mere piece of artifice to juggle and deceive. I intend no disrespect to the senator. I doubt not his intention is good and believe his feelings are with us, but I must say the course he has intimated is in my opinion the worst possible for the slaveholding States. It surrenders all to the Abolitionists, and gives nothing in turn that will be of the least advantage to us." Failing to secure the rejection of the petition, his colleague, Mr. Preston, accepted Mr. Buchanan's" device," and invoked gentlemen of all parties to unite against the " hot-headed and cold-hearted," " ignorant and bloodthirsty fanatics,'' and to " stamp their nefarious propositions with unqualified reprobation."

During this long debate, in which a majority of the senators participated, harsh and violent utterances were made against those who had felt it to be their duty to free the national capital from the sin of slavery and the crime of slave-trading. Mr. Buchanan denounced them as fanatics. By granting the prayer of the petitions he said they would erect a citadel from which Abolitionists and incendiaries could attack the peace and safety of the citizens of Maryland and the District of Columbia. “You create a. point," he said,” from which trains of gunpowder may be securely laid, extending into the surrounding States, which may at any moment produce a fearful and destructive explosion. By passing such a law you introduce the enemy into the very bosom of these two States, and afford him every opportunity to produce a servile insurrection."

Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, afterward Secretary of the Treasury, declared the Abolitionists to be guided by the blind spirit of fanaticism. "What is this proposition," he inquired, “which we are asked to receive and consider? It is a proposition to violate the Constitution and endanger the Union. It is a proposition for rapine, plunder, and, spoliation. It is a proposition, not merely to attempt to render the slaves of this District freemen, but, in its inevitable results and consequences, to attempt to render the freemen of this District slaves. The mighty revolution proposed by these petitioners would make this District a den of thieves and assassins, of liberated slaves and blacks already free. This proposition would make the District an asylum for fugitive slaves from the States, the grand citadel of Abolitionism, whence it would light the torch of the incendiary and whet the knife of the assassin. Can we, ought we, will we submit to this? No, never! "

Mr. White of Tennessee, then a candidate for the presidency, was in favor of the rejection of antislavery petitions. He referred to the arrest and whipping of Amos Dresser by the citizens of Nashville, and to the threat of the citizens of Kentucky to demolish the building and destroy the types of the "Philanthropist," established by James G. Birney, as evidences of the determined purpose of the people of the South. Mr. Benton denounced the abolition societies. Be said their speeches, publications, petitions, pictures, went not to the understanding of the slaves, but to their passions, inspired vain hopes, and stimulated abortive but, fatal insurrections. To the antislavery societies of France, which contained “the best and the basest of human kind, --Lafayette and the Abbe Gregoire, those purest of philanthropists, and Murat and Anacharsis Cloots, those imps of hell in human shape," --he ascribed the massacre of San Domingo, which wrapped in flames and drenched in blood that beautiful island. He referred to the attempted insurrection at Pointe-Coupee in Louisiana, inspired by the uprising of the slaves in San Domingo, and to the condemnation and execution of fifty of the insurgents, who were hung at intervals along the Mississippi for a hundred and fifty miles, to warn all who were honest in the three hundred and fifty affiliated antislavery societies " to at once secede from those associations that could have no other effect than to revive such tragedies in the Southern States."

Mr. Benton warmly commended the action of the people of the Northern States, with words that carried with them, however, the strongest condemnation. “Their conduct," he said,” is above all praise, above all thanks, above all gratitude. They have chased off the foreign emissaries, silenced the gabbling tongues of female dupes, and dispersed the assemblies, whether fanatical, visionary, or incendiary, of all that congregated to preach against evils that afflicted others, not them, and to propose remedies to aggravate the disease which they pretended to cure. They have acted with a noble spirit. They have exerted a Vigor beyond all law. They have obeyed the enactments, not of the statute-book, but of the heart; and while that spirit is in the heart I care nothing for laws written in a book."

Northern senators, instead of words of honest and indignant rebuke which such language should have received from their lips, joined in this denunciation of their own free States, and of those men and women of large intelligence and stainless lives, whose offence was their love of freedom and efforts for its promotion, as reckless fanatics and wicked incendiaries. Isaac Hill of New Hampshire expressed his abhorrence of the doings of weak or wicked men, who were moving this abolition question at the North." He referred to the removal of an academy at Canaan, New Hampshire, which admitted colored youth, by the citizens of that and the neighboring town; to the escape of George Thompson, disguised in female attire and under the darkness of night, from a mob at the capital of the State, and the burning of his effigy in the public square amid discharges of artillery, as samples of the deep feeling that pervaded New Hampshire. He quoted and commended, too, the resolutions and utterances of Democratic meetings, conventions, and speakers, to show that "the South ought to be fully satisfied with the present disposition of the North."

But the most significant, degrading, not to say disgraceful, speech of that debate was made by Silas Wright. Benjamin Watkins Lee of Virginia had made perhaps the ablest speech in opposition to the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, in which, referring to a work on slavery recently published by Dr. William Ellery Channing of Boston, .he declared that it had filled his mind with deep sorrow, and that it had impaired his strong hope that " the intelligence and good sense of the North would be exercised to suppress this cause of mischief and agitation." Mr. Wright followed with the declaration that he should have been content to have given a silent vote, but he could not do so after reading the extracts from the publication of that distinguished clergyman. He then proceeded to declare that Dr. Channing, in the extracts which had been quoted, had shown himself" as ignorant of the opinions and feelings of the great mass of the Northern citizens as of the merits and virtues of the people of the South." Having taken issue with his opinions, he proceeded to satisfy Southern senators that the sentiments of the people of New York, on the subject of slavery, were as sound as were the sentiments of the people of the South. “I am satisfied,” he said, "the general feeling of my State is the general feeling of the people of the non-slaveholding States." In proof of this general declaration he referred in detail to the Utica mob of 1835, which broke up the antislavery convention there assembled, and destroyed the antislavery press of that city. He referred boastfully to the facts that the grand jury had brought in no bills against any of the rioters, and that from the committee of twenty five, chosen by the mob to carry out their purposes, one man had been chosen State senator, and· another had been made attorney-general of the State. "I have mentioned these facts," said Mr. Wright, " and I might mention many others of a similar character, to show that the: determined feeling of resistance to these dangerous and. wicked agitators in the North had already reached a point beyond law and above law.”

Mr. Wright was one of the most eminent and trusted leaders of the Democratic party, the personal and political friend of Mr. Van Buren, then the Democratic candidate for the presidency, and this substantial indorsement of that violent outrage on the freedom of speech and the constitutional rights of American citizens was doubtless intended to reassure the Slave-holders and to commend that candidate to the confidence and support of the South. 

Amid these denunciations, these approvals, of lawless violence, these humiliating surrenders of the constitutional rights of American citizens, a few senators calmly and firmly maintained the right of the people to petition, and to have their petitions received, referred, and considered. Mr. Morris of Ohio vindicated the right of the people to be heard in their petitions, and reminded senators that while the people believed they possessed that right, “no denial of it by Congress will prevent them from exercising it." Mr. Prentiss of Vermont regretted the harsh expressions which had been applied to the petitioners, and reminded senators that they had fallen into the common error of supposing that all who differed from them did so from unworthy motives, and not from honest convictions. “The petitioners," he said, "have been denounced as incendiaries; they have been charged with criminal, with treasonable intentions,--with intentions to excite a servile war and subject the whole Southern country to pillage, havoc, and devastation. With some of the persons who have signed petitions on this subject I am well acquainted. I know them to be intelligent, patriotic, highly respectable. Their propositions may be strongly stated; their argument may be bold; their illustrations may not be suited to the taste or the judgment of those whose opinions they oppose; but that all, the whole combined, proceeds from a consciousness on their part of doing and saying what is right, I neither have nor can entertain any doubt." He closed his calm, logical, and statesmanlike speech with the expression of the opinion that slavery would cease to exist in the District.

Mr. Webster, too, was in favor of receiving these petitions and referring them to the proper committees. “To reject," he said, “the prayer of a petition at once without reference or consideration is not respectful” to those whose right it is to petition for the redress of grievances. Mr. Morris, then a Democratic member from Ohio, who had bravely vindicated the right of petition, was not present or did not vote. Webster and Davis of Massachusetts, Prentiss and Swift of Vermont, Knight of' Rhode Island, and Hendricks of Indiana, all Northern Whigs, boldly and manfully maintained the right of petition by voting against that discreditable device.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 307-320.



Please note that this entry includes two chapters:

·        Wilson, “Coastwise Slave-Trade. - Demands upon the British Government - Censure of Mr. Giddings,” 1872

·        Wilson, “Hayti and Liberia. — Foreign and Domestic Slave-Trade” (pp. 352-356), 1878

Chapter: “Coastwise Slave-Trade. - Demands upon the British Government - Censure of Mr. Giddings,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

The coastwise slave-trade, legalized by the same act that prohibited the African slave-trade, increased with the increasing domestic slave-traffic. In the year 1830 the schooner “Comet" sailed from Alexandria with a cargo of slaves destined for the New Orleans market. She was wrecked on the False Keys of the Bahama Islands, and her passengers, slaves included, were carried by the wreckers to Nassau, --where the freedom of the slaves was fully recognized. Four years afterward the “Encomium “sailed from Charleston, with a number of slaves on board, destined for Louisiana. She was stranded near the same place, and carried in the same manner into Nassau, where her slaves became free. In 1835 the “Enterprise " sailed from the District of Columbia with a cargo of slaves for Charleston, and was forced to put into Port Hamilton, Bermuda, through stress of weather; and her slaves too became free under the protection of British power.

Of course, the owners of these chattels, thus by accident transformed into men, protested against the loss and demanded redress of their government. Negotiations were commenced by President Jackson, and the American minister was instructed to press their claims upon the British government. Andrew Stevenson of Virginia was at that time the minister of the United States at the Court of St. James. Bred and educated among those who deemed the support of slavery to be one of the highest duties of the government, he entered upon this duty with zeal and alacrity. Claiming that under the Constitution of the United States slaves were property, that there was no distinction: between property in persons and property in things, he asserted that the government of the United States had " in the most solemn manner determined that slaves killed in the service of the United States, even in time of war, were to be regarded as property, and paid for as such." This statement was untrue in fact, and Mr. Stevenson could not but have known it to be so. He had been Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1828, when the case of D' Autrieve was debated at great length, and with learning arid ability. In that case the doctrine that slaves were property was denied in the most emphatic manner.

Mr. Van Buren continued to press these claims upon the British government; and it paid, during his administration, for the slaves of the "Comet" and the "Encomium," stranded prior to West Indian emancipation. But England refused to pay for the slaves on board the "Enterprise," which put into Port Hamilton in 1835, after the abolition of slavery in her colonies. This action was based upon the ideas that by the law of nations the ship on entering Port Hamilton became subject to British laws; that there was no law of slavery there; and that the authorities could not recognize the right of the slave-dealers to hold their slaves as property when they demanded their liberty.

Of course this decision, involving a question of such practical importance to the slaveholders of the United States, was wholly unsatisfactory to their representatives. Mr. Calhoun brought the matter before the Senate in resolutions which asserted that a ship, on the high seas in time of peace, engaged in a lawful voyage, is, according to the law of nations, under the exclusive jurisdiction of the State to which her flag belongs; that, if such ship should be forced by stress of weather or other unavoidable cause into the port of a friendly power, she and her cargo, and the persons on board, with their property, and all the rights belonging to their personal relations as established by the laws of the State to which they belong, would be placed under the protection which the laws of the nation extend to the unfortunate under such circumstances ; that the brig " Enterprise " came within those provisions, and that the detention of the negros on board by the local authorities of the island was an act in violation of the laws of nations and highly unjust to the, citizens to whom they belonged. In his argument in support of these resolutions he admitted that if the slaves had been taken voluntarily into the British port the action of that government would have been correct; but he maintained that the law of nations interposed in case of this enforced entrance into England's jurisdiction. He said it was not a mere abstract question as to the possession of the slaves; that the island of Bermuda was but a short distance from the United States; that the channel between the coast of Florida and the Bahamas is two hundred miles long and not more than fifty wide; that through that long, narrow, and difficult channel the immense trade, which at no distant period would constitute more than half of the trade of the Union, would pass. " The principle set up by the British government,'' he said, " if carried out to its fullest extent, would do much to close this all-important channel, by rendering it too hazardous for use. She has only to give an indefinite extent to the principle applied to the case of the ' Enterprise ' and the work would be done; and why has she not as good a right to apply this principle to a cargo of sugar and to the slaves that produce it?"

Mr. Calhoun was sustained in this point by Mr. King of Alabama and by Mr. Grundy of Tennessee. The resolutions were then referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, and promptly reported back by Mr. Buchanan, with slight modifications. They were advocated by Mr. Clay and Mr. Benton, and opposed only by Mr. Porter, a new senator from Michigan. Seeing that eminent senators around him interposed no objection to the passage of the resolutions, he, obeying the dictates of his own judgment and conscience, says Mr. Giddings, "heroically met the overwhelming influence arrayed against him, and showed the most cogent reasons for rejecting the resolutions, by exhibiting the absurdity of the attempt to change the law of nations by senatorial resolution, and the yet greater absurdity of the attempt to induce the British government to acknowledge the laws of slavery and the slave-trade to exist and be enforced within her ports." He closed by moving to lay the resolutions on the table, and demanded the yeas and nays on his motion; and, on the roll being called, thirty-three senators voted for them, and he alone voted against them. Several senators --among them Webster and Davis of Massachusetts, Wright of New York, Southard of New Jersey, and Smith of Indiana--declined to vote. The resolutions were then passed, thirty-three senators voting for them and none against them. By the passage of these resolutions the Senate of the United States, under the lead of Southern senators, sought to compel the British government to acknowledge the laws and forcibly protect the interest of the slaveholding States. And England, who had just emancipated her own bondmen, was required at this bidding to ignore the claims of justice and humanity in the persons of these slaves, and perform the ignoble service of recapturing those whom the more merciful elements had set free.

The “Hermosa," another slave-ship that sailed from Richmond in 1840 for New Orleans, was wrecked on a British island and taken into Nassau, where the slaves claimed their right to liberty and obtained it. A New Orleans insurance company that had taken risks on the cargo was called on for indemnification for the slaves. A petition was presented to Congress by Mr. Barrow of Louisiana, praying that measures might be taken to obtain from the British government compensation for the slaves thus escaping. On the presentation of this petition he declared that the case might present a question of peace or war with England, and that the people of the Southern States were the last to submit to the principles of international law as construed by the authorities of that country.

In four instances the slaves on board American ships, engaged in the coastwise slave-trade, had found freedom in the British islands. The slaveholders were much exasperated; and, although they demanded redress with great vehemence and pertinacity, their feelings were not soothed by success. Another case arose in the autumn of 1841, under circumstances calculated to intensify excitement and embitter still more their feelings. The brig “Creole," of Richmond, with one hundred and thirty-five slaves on board, sailed for New Orleans in the latter part of October. On the evening of the 7th of November, near the Bahama Islands, nineteen of the slaves, under the lead of Madison Washington, --who is said to have escaped to Canada, and to have returned South with the resolution to obtain his wife or perish in the attempt, --rose and obtained possession of the brig, and directed her to be taken into Nassau, where she arrived two days afterward. In the struggle John R. Howell, a slave-vender, was killed, and Captain Gifford, the first mate, and ten of the crew, were wounded. These self-emancipated freemen had it in their power to take the lives of one and all the white persons on board. But they rose superior to revenge and retaliation. Even the wounded captain and crew testified that "the mutineers said that all they had done was for their own freedom." They proved their object was not to take life, but to secure liberty. The British authorities placed a guard on board the vessel and investigated the circumstances of the case. “The nineteen " of the slaves were held for the purpose of obtaining instructions from the home government, and the others were allowed to go free. The officers of the brig demanded that the mutineers should be left on board, to be taken into some port of the United States and tried for mutiny and murder; but the authorities positively refused to give them up. “This was tantamount," says Colonel Benton, in his “Thirty Years View," "to an acquittal, and even to a justification of all they had done; as, according to British decisions, a slave has a right to kill his master to obtain his freedom."

This affair greatly inflamed· the Southern mind. Southern leaders stormed and Southern presses blustered. They declared, if Great Britain would not listen to the voice of reason, ·resort must be had to some other mode of bringing her to her 'senses and to a just perception of the law of nations ; that the government of the United States would not tamely acquiesce in such gross and oft-repeated invasions of its national rights, and that no man of any party in the South would have patience with " executive, secretary, or minister who should trifle with their impatience or compromise their rights."

On the 23d of December Mr. Barrow of Louisiana presented a memorial from an insurance company in New Orleans which had taken the risk on these slaves. Mr. Barrow said that Congress should act, and set forth to the country and the world the principles of international law which were recognized by her and which would be maintained at all hazards. He wished to trust this matter to other agents than the President and the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the British Queen. “The property of the South," he said,” is unsafe; and, if it is to be subjected to the plundering propensities of British officials, they might be compelled to fit out armaments and destroy Nassau and other nests of incendiaries and plunderers adjacent to our coast."

Mr. Calhoun regarded the case of the “Creole” as one of the most “atrocious and insulting outrages " ever perpetrated by one civilized government upon another. He proceeded to denounce it as" a case of naked piracy," and called upon the government to demand “the pirates “for punishment; and he looked to every man who had “an American heart to raise his voice and his arm against such tyrannical insolence and oppression." His colleague, Mr. Preston, said that the law of nations was " clear and imperative " on the question in dispute between the two governments, and he thought Great Britain, whose government was in the hands of an enlightened and liberal minded statesman, would hardly come in conflict with "this government on such an untenable position."

Mr. King of Alabama was exceedingly belligerent. He thought these lawless attempts of Great Britain, that grasping at universal dominion, would “render war inevitable," unless she retraced her steps. The memorial was then referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. On the 11th of February another debate arose on a resolution, introduced by Mr. Calhoun, requesting the President to communicate to the Senate any authenticated accounts he had received of murder on the brig "Creole," and the wounding of the captain and mate, by slaves on board, and the occurrences which took place at Nassau after the arrival of the vessel at that port; what steps had been taken by the Executive for the punishment of the guilty, the redress of the wrong done to Southern citizens, and the insult offered to the .American flag.  Mr. Clay avowed that he had read the narration of the transaction with "the most thrilling and appalling feelings “; that the " Creole " had been thrown on the Bahama Islands by " an act of mutiny and murder"; and, if the British authorities sanctioned " the enormity," .Americans would be virtually denied the benefits of the coastwise trade around their own country, for their vessels could not proceed in safety from one port to another with slaves on board.

Mr. King seized the occasion to denounce Northern Abolitionists as a set of miserable fanatics and contemptible wretches, who were attempting by every means in their power to disturb the harmony of the government and violate the rights of the South. He said it was settled at an early period of the government that the citizens of the South were to have secured to them " the right to hold slaves against the world," and he thought " the days of this government were numbered if any respectable part of the United States were disposed to side with Great Britain on the question at issue; for the South had rights, and they would maintain them at all hazard, whether invaded at home or violated abroad."

The resolution was adopted, and the President promptly responded through Mr. Webster, Secretary of State, showing that the facts in the case had been received by the government, and that the Secretary had received instructions to prepare a despatch to Mr. Everett, the minister at the Court of St. James, and that it would be done without delay. On moving the reference of the message to the Committee on Foreign Relations, Mr. Calhoun expressed his regret that it was not satisfactory. He had supposed that prompt measures would have been adopted, and that a vessel would have been dispatched to demand, through our minister at London, that the criminals should be given up for trial. But he had been mistaken. He said that the outrage of the British government could not have been greater, nor more clearly contrary to the law of nations, if, instead of taking the persons engaged in "mutiny and murder" from the " Creole,'' they had entered the territory of the United States and taken them " from our jails."

Mr. Webster's despatch to Mr. Everett was speedily prepared, at once called for, communicated to the Senate, and published. It gave great satisfaction to the slaveholders. As soon as it was read in the Senate, Mr. Calhoun rose and said: "The letter which has been read was drawn up with great ability, and covered the ground which has been assumed by all parties in the Senate. I hope that it will have a beneficial effect upon the United States; but upon Great Britain, coming from the quarter it does, this document will do more good than in coming from any other quarter."

The British government was assured by Mr. Webster that the case was one " calling loudly for redress"; that the " Creole" was passing from one port to another of the United States, on a voyage " perfectly lawful,'' with persons bound to service belonging to American citizens, and recognized as property by the Constitution of the United States and in those States in which slavery existed; that the slaves rose, murdered one man, and that the " mutineers and murderers " took the vessel into a British port. He declared that it was the plain and obvious duty of the authorities of Nassau to assist in restoring to the master and crew their vessel, and in enabling them to resume their voyage and to take with them the mutineers and murderers to their own country to answer for their crimes. This extraordinary position and claim were laid before the British government; but all efforts to secure compensation for the slaves, or the surrender of the men who had asserted and maintained their own liberty, were unavailing. England declined to act the ignoble part of a slave-catcher for the slave-traffickers of the United States.

Mr. Giddings, then a member of the House of Representatives, was so impressed with the positions of the President and Senate, that he deemed it to be a duty he owed to his country to combat them. He drew up a series of resolutions, setting forth that prior to the adoption of the Constitution each State exercised full and perfect jurisdiction over slaves in its own territory; that by the adoption of the Constitution no part of that jurisdiction was delegated to the Federal government; that by the Constitution each State surrendered to the Federal government complete jurisdiction over commerce and navigation; that slavery, being an abridgment of the natural rights of men, could exist only by positive municipal law; that, when a ship belonging to a citizen of any State left the waters of the United States and entered upon the high seas, the persons on board became amenable to the laws of the United States; that when the brig " Creole " left Virginia the slavery laws of that State ceased to have jurisdiction over the persons on board; that in resuming their natural rights they violated no law of the United States, nor incurred any legal penalties; that all attempts to gain possession of or to re-enslave these persons were unauthorized by the Constitution and laws of the United States; that all attempts to exert the influence of the nation in favor of the coastwise slave-trade was subversive of the rights of the people of the free States, unauthorized by the Constitution, and prejudicial to the national character.

These resolutions were submitted to the consideration of Mr. Adams. He avowed his readiness to support them, excepting the one denying the right of the Federal government to abolish slavery in the States. He held that the national government, in case of insurrection or war, might, under the war-power, abolish slavery, and, with statesmanlike sagacity and a wise forecast of possible contingencies, which subsequent events proved to be near at hand, he did not wish to give a vote that would be quoted by the friends of slavery as a denial of that power; " but," he added, " I will cheerfully sustain all but that which denies this right to the Federal government.''

When, on the 21st of March, the State of Ohio was called, Mr. Giddings introduced these resolutions, and gave notice that he would call them up for" consideration the next day. The reading of the resolutions attracted profound attention, and created much excitement. Mr. Ward, a Democratic member from New York, proposed to bring the House to an immediate vote by demanding the previous question, Remarking that the resolutions were too important to be adopted or rejected without consideration, Mr. Everett of Vermont moved to lay them on the table; but his motion was defeated by a large majority. Mr. Holmes of South Carolina; rising under great excitement, remarked: "There are certain topics, like certain places, of which it might be said, ' Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.' “The House, by the large vote of one hundred and twenty-two to sixty-one, sustained the previous question. Mr. Everett asked to be excused from voting. As the subject was very important, and would probably come before the Committee on Foreign Relations, of which he was a member, he did not desire to express an opinion until he had examined it. He was a gentleman of high character, ripe age, large experience, and of much influence with his party and in the House. Usually moderate and cautious, on this occasion he seemed to be influenced by the excitement around him, and expressed his “utter abhorrence of the firebrand course of the gentleman from Ohio.'' Mr. Fessenden, then a young and rising member of the House from Maine, thought the resolutions were too important to be voted upon without greater deliberation. Mr. Cushing, then understood to be a special friend of the President and an exponent of his views, after reading the resolutions at the clerk's table, said: “They appear to be a British argument on a great question between the British and American governments, and constitute an approximation to treason on which I intend to vote ' No.'"

At the request of Mr. Fessenden, Mr. Giddings withdrew the resolutions, remarking that they would be published, and gentlemen would have time to examine them with care, and would present them the next day, when the resolutions would be in order. Mr. Botts then rose and, remarking that the withdrawal of the resolutions did not excuse their presentation, submitted a preamble and resolution; the first setting forth that Mr. Giddings, had presented a series of resolutions touching the most important interest connected with a large portion of the Union, then a subject of negotiation with the government of Great Britain of the most delicate nature, the result of which " might involve those nations and perhaps the civilized world in war," in which mutiny and murder were justified and approved in terms shocking all sense of law, order, and humanity; and the latter declaring that this House holds that "the conduct of the said member is altogether inconsistent and unwarranted, and deserving the severest condemnation of the people of this country, and of this body in particular." Objection being made to the consideration of the resolution, Mr. Botts moved a suspension of the rules, but was not sustained by a vote of the House.

As Ohio was still under the call for resolutions, under the rule, Mr. Weller, a Democratic member from that State, adopted Mr. Botts's resolution as his own, offered it, and called for the previous question. Several members questioned the propriety of ordering the previous question; but Mr. Weller, who was a Democrat of the most intense proslavery type, persisted in demanding it. The Speaker, Mr. White of Kentucky, decided that on a question of privilege the previous question could not cut off a member from his defence. Mr. Fillmore appealed from the decision; and the House overruled the Speaker by a large majority, and adjourned.

Thus arraigned for a conscientious discharge of public duty, Mr. Giddings spent the entire night and the forenoon of the next day in preparing for his defence. Calling at the residence of Mr. Adams, for the purpose of consultation, he found, he says," the aged patriot laboring under great distress." He expressed to Mr. Giddings the fear that no defence would be permitted; that the question would be taken without debate, and the vote of censure passed. Mr. Giddings anticipated the vote of censure; but he suggested that the reflections of the night would convince members of “the impropriety of condemning a man unheard." To this suggestion Mr. Adams made the discriminating and suggestive reply: "You are not as familiar with the slaveholding character as I am. Slaveholders act from impulse, not from reflection. They act together from interest, and have no dread of the displeasure of their constituents when they act for slavery."

On the assembling of the House, the Speaker remarked that the first business was on seconding the demand for the previous question. Mr. Weller said he would withdraw his demand for the previous question if Mr. Giddings would proceed with his defence, with the understanding that it should be called when he closed. But, Mr. Giddings refusing to make any terms to secure what he deemed to be his constitutional right, the previous question was ordered by seven majority. Mr. Weller then moved the suspension of the rules, to allow Mr. Giddings to make his defence; but the Speaker pronounced the motion out of order. To the suggestion of Mr. Adams that while the previous question cut off other members it ought not to apply to the member accused, the Speaker replied that the House had decided that the previous question applied to cases of privilege, and the privilege of one was the privilege of all.

The motion was made to hear Mr. Giddings by unanimous consent, and it was announced that such consent had been given. Mr. Giddings then said:" Mr. Speaker, I stand before the House in a peculiar position." Mr. Cooper of Georgia then objected to his proceeding, and he took his seat. Members gathered around Mr. Cooper, and persuaded him to withdraw his objection; but it was renewed by Mr. Calhoun of Massachusetts, who declared that he would not see a member of the House speak under such circumstances.

Mr. Giddings states that when he rose to speak he had intended to say: “It is proposed to pass a vote of censure upon me, substantially for the reason that I differ in opinion from a majority of the members. The vote is about to be taken without giving me an opportunity to be heard. It were idle for me to say I am ignorant of the disposition of a majority of the members to pass a vote of censure. I have been violently assailed in a personal manner, but have had no opportunity of being heard in reply. Nor do I ask for any favor at the hands of gentlemen; but, in the name of an insulted constituency, in behalf of one of the States of this Union, in behalf of the people of these States and of our Federal Constitution, I demand a hearing in the ordinary mode of proceeding. I accept no other privilege. I will receive no other courtesy."

The House, by a vote of one hundred and twenty-five to sixty-nine, adopted the vote of censure. Mr. Giddings then rose and, taking formal leave of the Speaker and officers of the House, retired from the hall. As he reached the front door he met Mr. Clay and Mr. Crittenden. Mr. Giddings states that "as Mr. Clay extended to me his hand he thanked me for the firmness with which I had met the outrage perpetrated upon me, and declared that no man would ever doubt my perfect right to state my own views, particularly while the Executive and the Senate were expressing theirs." Mr. Giddings immediately resigned, returned to Ohio, issued an address to the people of his district, was re-elected by a largely increased majority, and in five weeks took his seat in the House, “clothed with instructions from the people of his district to re-present his resolutions, and maintain to the extent of his power the doctrine which they asserted." He received a warm greeting from the friends of the freedom of debate, who had bravely stood by him in his time of trial.

The action of the House of Representatives, thus signally rebuked by Mr. Giddings's constituents, was also condemned by public meetings, whose proceedings were presented to Congress. Even some Democratic papers, among them the New York "Evening Post,'' asserted the right of Mr. Giddings to present his resolutions. And William C. Bryant, its accomplished editor, declared that if he was a resident of Mr. Giddings's district he would use every honorable means to secure his re-election. This action of the people produced most marked effects upon Congress. The majority who censured Mr. Giddings, fearing if the resolutions were again introduced they would be compelled to vote upon the principles embodied in them, voted, during the remainder of the session, when by the rules resolutions might be presented, to proceed to other business. Finding he could not present the resolutions, he reasserted and vindicated the principles embodied in them in an able and effective speech, which was listened to without interruption. Indeed; notwithstanding all their bluster and arrogant pretension, there seemed from that time a marked falling-off in their zeal, and a manifest disposition to desist from claims they had just declared their purpose to press even to and beyond the very verge of war. And this, notwithstanding the significant fact that the British ministry had not only refused the indemnity so clamorously demanded, but declined to deliver up Madison Washington and his compeers of the " Creole's" brave "nineteen," stigmatized by members of Congress as " murderers and mutineers."  When Lord Ashburton was charged with the mission of settling all questions of difference between the two nations, the British government especially instructed him to hold no correspondence on points pertaining to this controversy.

This sudden change of tactics of Southern members not only appears in marked contrast with their previous violent demonstrations, but provokes no very flattering estimate of the course of those Northern senators who had not a single vote to· cast against the resolutions of Mr. Calhoun, which defiantly demanded what even the South itself found it convenient to forget. Indeed, that absence of a single negative that unbroken silence, spoke louder than words. Trumpet-tongued it proclaimed the vassalage of the nation to the Slave Power, and the ignoble and cruel bondage under which the parties and public men of those days were held. It revealed the humiliating fact that they were obliged to smother their convictions and ignore the claims of truth, and were compelled to take the weightiest questions of government and those of national importance from the high court of reason and conscience into the secret conclave of party cabals, inspired by the spirit of slavery and under the discipline of the plantation. If the time ever comes when "things” shall be "what they seem," and conscience and candor shall take the place of mere policy and pretension, it will be regarded as among the marvels of history that men acting from such motives in their public capacity should ever exhibit anything honorable and hearty in their personal and social relations, or that a representation acquiescing and participating in such an administration of public affairs could be anything but demoralized and debauched in the personnel of which it was composed.

Mr. Giddings had been appointed, by the Speaker, chairman of the Committee on Claims, a position he held at the time of his resignation, when another was appointed for the remainder of the session. At the beginning of the next session, an unavailing effort was made by Southern members to induce the Speaker not to reappoint Mr. Giddings to this important post. Mr. White, a personal friend of Mr. Clay, and among the most liberal of Southern statesmen, had pronounced the vote of censure an outrage, and without hesitation made Mr. Giddings chairman again of the committee. Consisting of nine members, it was composed of four Northern and two Southern Whigs, one Southern and two Northern Democrats. The three Democrats and two Southern Whigs had given their votes for the censure, and they deemed it a humiliation to sit with him as chairman. They accordingly determined to revive an old rule of the House, which had practically become obsolete, authorizing the committees to choose their own chairmen. A member of the committee apprised Mr. Giddings of this purpose, and advised him to resign. Having, however, acted according to the dictates of his conscience, he chose to abide the result. Mr. Arnold, a slaveholding Whig of Tennessee, refusing to support a scheme which he styled an outrage on a member because he was opposed to slavery, the project fell through and Mr. Giddings was permitted to retain his position.

But Mr. Giddings's earnest and outspoken fidelity to principle and to the cause of human rights often involved him in conflicts and exposed him to personal dangers, which well-illustrated at once the coarse brutality and domineering violence of the slave-masters and the rough road they were called to travel who dared to question their supremacy and oppose their policy. A somewhat marked example occurred near the close of the session in 1845. For the purpose of exhibiting the rascality of slaveholding demands, and the guilty subserviency and complicity of the government in yielding to those demands, he referred to the treaty of Indian Spring, by which, after paying the slaveholders of Georgia the sum of $109,000 for slaves who had escaped to Florida, it added the sum of $141,000 as compensation demanded for " the off spring which the females would have borne to their masters had they remained in bondage." And, said Mr. Giddings, Congress actually paid that sum” for children who were never born, but who might have been if their parents had remained faithful slaves." 

Mr. Giddings's characterization of these outrageous and indecent demands and of this utterly indefensible policy greatly nettled the Southern members. Mr. Black of Georgia, in a towering passion, poured forth a torrent of coarse invectives and insinuations. He charged that Mr. Giddings had been interested in the horses and wagon lost by Mr. Torrey in his attempt to aid escaping fugitives; that Torrey died in the penitentiary; that the member of Ohio ought to be there; and, if Congress could decide the question, that would be his doom. With low-minded impertinence, he advised him to return to his constituents to “inquire if he had a character," asserting that he had none in that hall. To this gross assault Mr. Giddings replied with becoming dignity and force. Alluding to the policy which would throw around all executive and congressional action in behalf of slavery the shield "of perpetual silence," he said he did not hold the member from Georgia so much responsible as he did "the more respectable members" who stood around him, for the display of that " brutal coarseness which nothing but the moral putridity of slavery could encourage.", What he had said, he contended, were historic facts that could not be disproved. To the personal assault he should make no other reply than that he stood there clothed with the confidence of an intelligent constituency, while his antagonist, alluding to Mr. Black's failure to secure a re-election, had been discarded.  

Of course, language so direct and severe did but fan to a fiercer flame the fire that was already raging, and a collision seemed inevitable. Mr. Black, approaching Mr. Giddings with an uplifted cane, said: “If you repeat those words I will knock you down." The latter repeating them, the former was seized by his friends and borne from the hall. Mr. Dawson of Louisiana, who on a previous occasion had attempted to assault him, approaching him and, cocking his pistol, profanely exclaimed: " I ‘ll shoot him; by G-d I 'll shoot him ' " At the same moment, Mr. Causin of Maryland placed himself in front of Mr. Dawson, with his right hand upon his weapon concealed in his bosom. At this juncture four members from the Democratic side took their position by the side of the member from Louisiana, each man putting his hand in his pocket and apparently grasping his weapon. At the same moment Mr. Rayner of North Carolina, Mr. Hudson of Massachusetts, and Mr. Foot of Vermont, came to Mr. Giddings's rescue, who, thus confronted and thus supported, continued his speech. Dawson stood fronting him till its close, and Causin remained facing the latter until he returned to the Democratic side. Thus demoralized and imbruted seemed the men, even those high in station, who assumed to be the champions of slavery and its policy. Upon such men moral considerations were lost. The only forces they ever respected were those of physical power.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 439-455.

Chapter: “Hayti and Liberia. — Foreign and Domestic Slave-Trade,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

It was in obedience to this same determination, and for the furtherance of this settled purpose of the slave-masters, that it had been always contrived, under some pretence or other, that the United States government should never lend any effective aid or co-operation to the efforts of other Christian, nations to suppress the foreign slave-trade. Without giving formal expression of positive sympathy with the nefarious traffic, they who dictated the policy of the government had always contrived, by some pretended scruple of the Constitution, or some simulated jealousy of national rights, to hold it back from even the show or form of co-operation; or, if that was granted, to make it so half-hearted and ineffective as to be valueless.

With, however, the passing away of the old dynasty and the ushering in of the new, another and different spirit pre vailed, and other and better results followed. Mr. Lincoln, in his first annual message, transmitted to Congress in December, 1861, took occasion to speak of it as "a subject of gratulation" that "unusual success" had crowned efforts for the suppression of the foreign slave-trade. He enumerated five vessels, fitted out for it, which had been seized and condemned; the conviction and punishment of two mates of vessels engaged in it, and one man who had equipped a vessel for it; and also added that "one captain of a vessel with a cargo of slaves had been convicted and sentenced to the punishment of death." So great was the difference between an earnest purpose to execute the law, and to carry out in good faith the pledges made, and an equally, if not more, earnest purpose to find out "how not to do it."

On the 8th of April, 1862, Mr. Seward sent a despatch to Mr. Adams, our minister to Great Britain, in which he used these words: "I have just signed, with Lord Lyons, a treaty which I trust will be approved by the Senate and the British government. If ratified, it will bring the African slave-trade to an end immediately and forever. Had such a treaty been made in 1808, there would now have been no sedition here, and no disagreement between the United States and foreign nations."

The President having communicated the treaty to Congress on the 12th of June, Mr. Sumner, from the Committee on Foreign Relations, reported a bill to carry into effect the provisions of the treaty, and on the 26th it was taken up for consideration. It was provided that the President should appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, a judge and also an arbitrator to reside at New York; similar officers also to reside at Sierra Leone and at the Cape of Good Hope. It excited little debate beyond a brief exposition of its provisions by the mover, and a protest from Mr. Saulsbury of Delaware, who, though disclaiming any objection to the suppression of the traffic, denied the constitutional power to negotiate such a treaty or to establish such a court. But the bill was soon put upon its passage, the yeas and nays were ordered, and only four were found ready to record their votes against it. The bill was adopted in the House without debate or division, and approved by the President on the 11th of July, 1862. On the 8th of the same month Mr. Foster of Connecticut introduced a bill to amend an act relating to the slave-trade, and on the 15th the Senate proceeded to its consideration. By this bill the President was authorized to enter into an arrangement with one or more foreign governments, having possessions in the West Indies or other tropical regions, to receive all Africans taken from vessels engaged in the slave-trade; and to provide for them suitable clothing, shelter, instruction, and employment at wages agreed upon, and for a period not exceeding five years. The proposed measure excited little remark, though Mr. King of New York objected to its features of "apprenticeship," and it was adopted by a vote of thirty to seven, immediately passed the House, and was approved by the President.

A natural, if not a necessary, concomitant of slavery was the domestic traffic in slaves. Being property, they were not only subject to the laws of demand and supply, but to those laws greatly modified by the peculiar and unique nature of the sentient chattels that were thus bought and sold. Hence there sprang up, and it became a marked feature of the system of which it was an essential adjunct, a domestic commerce in slaves, most distressful to those who were its subjects, most demoralizing to those who were engaged in it, and most damaging to the good name of the nation which allowed and protected it. A policy, therefore, which contemplated the abolition of the system itself could not be complete and fully carried out that did not remove everything that had hitherto protected and regulated this ill-starred traffic.

On the 23d of March, 1864, Mr. Sumner, from the Select Committee on Slavery and Freedmen, reported a bill to prohibit this commerce in slaves among the several States, and on any vessel within the jurisdiction of the United States, and to impose severe penalties on all those who should violate its provisions. It was, however, never taken np for consideration. But when the civil appropriation bill was under consideration, near the close of the session in June, the same Senator moved, as an amendment, the repeal of so much of the act prohibiting the importation of slaves after the year 1808 as "undertakes to regulate the coastwise slave-trade." Objections were urged against it by Mr. Sherman, not because he objected to the purpose of the bill, but because he would keep it " free from disputed political questions"; by Mr. Johnson of Maryland, because, he contended, "the repeal of these sections of the act of 1807 would leave the slave-trade open to unrestrained abuses"; and by Mr. Hendricks, because he regretted to see "all the laws made by the fathers to carry out the Constitution fall, one after the other."

Mr. Sumner replied somewhat sharply. Saying to Mr. Sherman that he had abundant precedent for attaching it to an appropriation bill, he added: "I propose to remove from the statute-book odious provisions in support of slavery. Whoever is in favor of those provisions, whoever is disposed to keep alive the coastwise slave-trade, or whoever wishes to recognize it in our statutes, will naturally vote against my motion. And yet, let me say, that I am at a loss to understand how at this moment, at this stage of our history, any Senator can hesitate to unite with me in this work of expurgation and purification." In reply to Mr. Johnson he said: "I differ radically from the Senator from Maryland. He is always willing to interpret the Constitution for slavery; I interpret it for freedom. He proceeds as if those old days still continued, when slavery was installed supreme over the Supreme Court, giving immunity to slavery everywhere. The times have changed, and the Supreme Court will yet testify to the change. To me it seems clear, that, under the Constitution of the United States, no person can be held as a slave on shipboard within the national jurisdiction, and that the national flag cannot cover a slave."

Mr. Collamer of Vermont spoke earnestly in favor of its passage. Among other considerations which he urged, he said: "In my judgment, all laws, I do not care when they are attempted to be made, nor when they were made, that undertake to deal with slaves, who are persons under the Constitution and our laws, as articles of merchandise in any form, under any regulations of trade whatever, are unconstitutional; and I believe to make a law now to prohibit the carrying of slaves from one State to another for sale is totally unauthorized."

The measure, however, failed in the Committee of the Whole, and was lost by a vote of thirteen to twenty. When it came up in the Senate, Mr. Sumner again introduced his amendment, and with better success; for it was adopted by a vote of twenty-three to fourteen. It was concurred in by the House, and received the Executive signature on the 2d of July, 1864, By this simple amendment was closed up one of the blackest chapters of the world's unwritten history. Few tell of more atrocious and unmitigated outrages, of keener suffering and more protracted misery, with less to cheer and inspire hope, with more to dishearten and make desolate, than did the domestic slave-trade of Christian America.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 352-356.



WHEN Congress met, December 5, 1859, the new House was a conglomerate of 109 Republicans, 88 administration Democrats, 13 anti-Lecompton Democrats, 26 Americans, and 1 Whig. All the Americans were from the South with four exceptions, and they included half the delegations from Maryland, Kentucky, and North Carolina, and six of the ten representatives of Tennessee. Charles Francis Adams, Morrill, Burlingame, Conkling, Grow, Corwin, Sherman, Colfax, Windom were among the Republicans; Miles, Pryor, Curry, Lamar, Reuben Davis, Vallandigham, S. S. Cox, Sickles were among the Democrats. Henry Winter Davis, Gilmer, and Maynard were of the Americans. In the Senate from the northern states were Seward, Sumner, Wilson, Wade, Douglas, Chandler, of Michigan, and Grimes; Davis, Toombs, Slidell, Benjamin, Mallory, and Crittenden (the last an American) from the South.

It was not strange that, with the general feeling strongly accentuated by the Harper's Ferry raid, the slavery question should at once arise, and in the House render impossible for many weeks the election of a speaker Sixty - four Republican representatives had signed a circular in which it was proposed to issue at a very cheap price a compendium of the Impending Crisis, a book written by Hinton R. Helper, a North-Carolinian of the poorer middle class, appealing to the poor whites of the South to emancipate themselves. It was not in human nature to refuse the challenge offered by the circulation of a document which, however true in its statistics, showing the immense disparity of eveµ the agricultural progress between the sections, deeply abusive of the slave-holder and revolutionary in its advice. The purpose stated in the circular was to diffuse the book particularly in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Indiana, and Illinois, the states which were to decide the next presidential contest. Clark, of Missouri, introduced a resolution that no member of the House who had "indorsed the book and recommended it or the compend from it, is fit to be a Speaker of this House,'' and termed the action an incipient movement of treason. 1

Sherman, the Republican candidate, stated that while he had lent his name, he had not seen a copy of either the book or compendium, 2 an action which he fitly characterized in a private letter "a thoughtless, foolish, and unfortunate act.'' 3  

1 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., I Sess., 3.

2 Ibid., 547.

3 Sherman Letters, 78. 

He reinforced his public statement by declaring that his opponents would scan his record "in vain for anything to excite insurrection, to disturb the peace, to invade the rights of the states, to alienate the North and South from each other, or to loosen the ties of fraternal fellowship by which our people have been and should be bound together. I am for the Union and the Constitution, with all the compromises under which it was formed and all the obligations which it imposes." 1 But this did not avail. He was supported until January 30 by the Republicans, when he withdrew his name, and Pennington, of New Jersey, a new member, was elected February 1, on the forty-fourth ballot, by 117 votes, the bare number necessary.

Though the southern leaders retaliated on the friends of Helper's book, they made the same blunder as twenty years before in regard to other incendiary documents. The book which they desired to suppress received an advertisement which spread it over the South, to its deep resentment, and gave it an enormous circulation in the North, where, convincing as were its arguments as to the effects of slavery, it made still more sure Republican success in the doubtful northern states.

Personal encounters on the floor of the House were imminent, arms were carried by many in both Houses, and the animosities in Congress were more than equaled by those of the southern press and by

1 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 1 Sess., 548.

much of the northern. Every expression of members of prominence in both Houses showed how firmly had become fixed in the southern mind the idea of secession should a Republican president be elected. The speech, December 15, 1859, of Martin J. Crawford, of Georgia, against the election of Sherman as speaker, may be taken as the type of many which gave expression to the now dominant feeling of the South. "To talk," said Crawford, "of the settlement of this slavery question is folly; to talk of a compromise upon this subject of slavery is worse than folly; . . . this question has resolved itself at last into a question of slavery and disunion, or no slavery and union, ... I have this to say, and I speak the sentiment of every Democrat on this floor from the state of Georgia: we will never submit to the inauguration of a Black Republican president." (Applause from the Democratic benches and hisses from the Republicans.) 1

This language had its fitting counterpart in the speech of Hickman, of Pennsylvania, an anti-Lecompton Democrat, who said: "The North will never tolerate a division of the territory .... I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet; but I express my belief that there is as much true courage in the North, though it may not be known by the name of chivalry, as there is in the South . . . . I believe ... that with all the appliances of art to assist, eighteen millions of men reared to industry,

1 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., l Sess., 163, 164.

with habits of the right kind, will always be able to cope successfully, if need be, with eight millions of men without these auxiliaries." 1

A private letter from Senator Hammond shows a situation impossible of continuance: “I assure you and you may philosophize upon it, that unless the slavery question can be wholly eliminated from politics, this government is not worth two years', perhaps not two months', purchase. So far as I know, and as I believe, every man in both houses is armed with a revolver-some with two--and a bowie knife. . . . Seeing the oldest and most conservative senators on our side… get revolvers, I most reluctantly got one myself…. I can't carry I.... But I keep a pistol now in my drawer… as a matter of duty to my section... While regarding this Union as cramping the South, I will nevertheless sustain it as long as I can. Yet I will stand by my side-as you would-to the end. I firmly believe that the slaveholding South is now the controlling power of the world-that no other power would face us in hostility. This will be demonstrated if we come to the ultimate; ... cotton, rice, tobacco, and naval stores command the world; and we have sense enough to know it….The North without us would be a motherless calf, bleating about, and die of mange and starvation." 2

1 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 1 Sess., 120.

2 Letter to Francis Lieber, April 19, 1860, Perry, Francis Lieber, 310. 

With such existing and growing antagonism marked by such action as .an act by the Virginia legislature for ''a full and complete arming of the state, "separation was a mere question of time and opportunity. Every utterance of the, kind in Congress had its echo in the press, North and South, but much more powerfully in the latter, since the North was far from being awakened to the imminence of the situation. The close analogy between the irreconcilables of both sections, failed when applied to the effects of, their utterances; the abolitionists were taken seriously by the South; the secessionists were never so taken by the North until actual secession came. The Republicans adopted the habit of simply disbelieving these predictions. Seward said “I remain now in the opinion I have uniformly expressed here and elsewhere that these hasty threats of disunion are so unnatural that they will find no hand to execute them." 1 Senator Wilson could speak, January, 1860, of the "disunion predictions, arguments, and threats" with which." every, breeze from the South is burdened," as " THIS BROAD FARCE” 2

In the Senate, where there were 37 Democrats, 24 Republicans and 2 Americans, with one vacancy each from Oregon, Minnesota, and Texas, the spirit was no better. The resolution of Mason, of Virginia, December 6, 1859, to appoint a committee to inquire

1 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 1 Sess., 914.

2 Ibid., 572. The emphasis is his own. 

into the facts of the Harper's Ferry invasion brought out a sectional discussion, through an amendment offered by Trumbull, of Illinois, to extend the inquiry to the seizure, December, 1885, from the United States arsenal at Liberty, of a quantity of arms (including three field-pieces) by a large body of Missourians for use in Kansas. Nor did the discussion end with the unanimous adoption of the resolution, unamended, December 14; it extended throughout the session, with the added acrimony and personality which the approaching political conventions naturally induced. Toombs, in a very able speech, apostrophizing his state, exclaimed: "Never permit this Federal government to pass into the traitorous hands of the Black Republican party. It has already declared war against you and your institutions. It every day commits acts of war against you; it has already compelled you to arm for your defense. Listen to 'no vain babblings,' to no treacherous jargon about 'overt acts'; they have already been committed. Defend yourselves, the enemy is at your door; wait not to meet him at the hearth stone-meet him at the doorsill and drive him from the temple of liberty or pull down its pillars and involve him in a common ruin." 1

Stephen A. Douglas, January 16, offered a bill of demagogic propitiation to the South, for the protection of states from invasion by another state, based upon Wise's communication, as governor, to

1 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 1 Sess., App.,' 93.

the president, regarding reported conspiracies, and calling upon the latter to take steps to preserve the peace between the states; to which Buchanan had replied that he was at a loss to discover any provision in the Constitution or laws which would authorize him to take steps for such a purpose. In his speech supporting the bill, Douglas had "no hesitation'' in expressing· his "firm and deliberate conviction that the Harper's Ferry crime was the ' natural, logical, inevitable result of the doctrines and teachings of the Republican Party. . . . The great principle that underlies the organization . . . is violent, irreconcilable, eternal warfare upon the institution of American slavery, with the view of its ultimate extinction throughout the land." Its "vitality consists in appeals to northern passion, northern prejudice, northern ambition against southern states, southern institutions, and southern people." 1 The speech was one which could have well been made by a senator from South Carolina instead of from Illinois. Throughout it was typical of Douglas's want of serious conviction of any kind, and of the spirit which we have come to call that of the politician, which will bid for votes at any price; and his action had no other effect than to give opportunity for a long debate on slavery, ending in a strong disunion sentiment by Senator Hunter, of Virginia, a cruel analysis by the keen mind of Davis, and a discussion which showed the general

1 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 1 Sess., 553.

Crudeness of the mental make up of Douglas, who will stand in history, almost with Calhoun, as a marplot against the peace of the Union. Davis offered a bill to issue to any state or territory, on application, arms made at the United States armories on payment of an amount sufficient to replace by manufacture the arms issued, which had in the light of coming events a sufficiently ugly look to cause a united Republican vote in the negative.1

William H. Seward was with one consent regarded by the South as the coming nominee of the Republican Party; his nomination was looking forward to with double bitterness throughout the section, because of the boldness of his expressions on slavery in and out of Congress, and Governor Letcher, of Virginia, gave form to the almost universal sentiment of the South in his message of 1860 to the legislature of Virginia: "'the idea of permitting such a map to have the control and direction of the any and navy of the United States, and the appointment of high judicial and executive officers, postmasters included cannot be entertained by the South for a moment."

The southern leaders recognized that the presidential contest of 1860 would under any circumstances be close, and dangerously so in the divided state of the Democratic Party. For while Douglas was looked upon by the Democracy of the North as certain to be its next candidate, he had been

1 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 1 sess. 1352. 

discarded by the South through the very action by which he had hoped to ingratiate himself with the southerners. His abrogation of the Missouri Compromise at the time of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill was in line with southern views; but when squatter sovereignty failed to take Kansas a; slave territory, Douglas and his doctrine became to the South anathema.

To bring out this internal division of the party, Jefferson Davis, February 2 and March 1, 1860, submitted a series of resolutions, the first and second of which were substantially the state -sovereignty doctrine of Calhoun; the third affirmed it to be the duty of the Senate, "which represents the states iii their sovereign capacity," to resist all attempts to discriminate as to persons or property in the territories; the fourth attacked Douglas's Freeport Doctrine by declaring that "neither Congress nor a territorial legislature, by direct or indirect legislation, has the power to annul or impair the constitutional right of any Citizen, to take his slave property into the common territories and there hold and enjoy the same while the territorial condition remained"; the fifth made it the duty of Congress to supply remedies, if adequate protection should not otherwise be afforded ; the sixth provided that the inhabitants of a territory, ' where admitted as a state, might decide whether to have slavery or not; the seventh demanded that the constitutional provision as to fugitive slaves and the laws made to secure its execution should be honestly and faithfully observed and maintained by all; and that all acts of individuals or state legislatures to defeat or nullify these were "hostile in character, subversive of the constitution and revolutionary in effect." 1

These resolutions abandoned all theories of "noninterference" and of popular sovereignty in favor of the startling proposition that slavery was the normal and constitutional status in every territory, and that Congress must protect that status. The views were not new to Davis's mind; he had stated them broadly July 12, 1848, in a speech upon the Oregon bill, when he " denied that there was any power in Congress or in the people of the territory to interrupt the slave system," and "asserted it to be the duty of the United States to protect the property of a slave-owner during the transit from one state to another," 2 views at the time the more remarkable inasmuch as, when secretary of war in 1854, he cordially assented to Douglas's squatter sovereignty views and aided in advancing them. Davis's resolutions were, however, now offered in effect as the platform of the southern wing of the Democratic party, and Douglas was given to understand that he must stand on this ground or lose the support of the South, which had come to view his doctrine as a bar against the admission or

1 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 1 Sess., 658, 935.

2 Ibid., 30 Cong., 1 Sess., 927. 

establishment of slavery in any territory as effectual as the Wilmot proviso.1

While the two foremost representatives of the Democratic Party, Douglas and Davis, were thus at sword's point, two Republicans of unequal prominence made nearly at the same moment speeches which attracted the attention of the country. The one expected, with almost the certainty of receiving it, the Republican candidacy for president; the other but a year since had been disappointed in the only hope of high political station which he seems to have really held out to himself-the seat in the Senate so long held by Douglas. The possibility of being president but slowly dawned in Lincoln's mind. But he had stepped into greatness, and was carried far on the road to fame, by his debate with- Douglas in 1858.

These speeches were speedily published and had a wide circulation. Their truth, fairness, and logic made Lincoln a marked man in the thoughtful minds of the East as well as among the populace of the West, many thousands of whom he had faced from the platform. He was called upon during 1859 for speeches and addresses in several of the western states-in Kansas, in Wisconsin, in Ohio; and it is not strange that he should have received an invitation from the Young Men's Central Republican Union of New York City to come east. 

1 Speech of Iverson, of Georgia, January 9, 1860, Cong. Globe, Cong., 1 Sess., 380.

His speech in response, at the Cooper Institute, February 27, 1860, before a brilliant and intellectual audience, was a marked and, if we could trace all the threads of politics, perhaps a momentous event. His text was the understanding of those who framed the Constitution as to the power of the Federal government to control slavery in the territories. No better or more powerful presentation of the subject, it may be said none so good or powerful, has been made; and it deserved the praise of Greeley as being “the very best political address to which l ever listened-and I have heard some of Webster's grandest." 1 Lincoln in his final sentence epitomized the principles which were later to give him strength in a period of stress such as seldom falls to man: "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.'' 2

A marked feature of Lincoln's speeches throughout is the frequency with which he speaks of the United States as a "nation. It illustrates the fact that the West, the child itself of the Federal governrnent,3 had become permeated with the idea of nationality, distinct from that of an easily broken association which had become so dear to the mind of the South.

Seward spoke in the Senate but two days later, February 29. His political prominence, the

1 Century Magazine, XX., 373 [July, 1891).

2 Lincoln, Works (ed. of 1898), I., 599-612.

3 See above, p. 3. 

philosophy, restraint, and general nobility of his speech, made it an event in the history of the time. He used as a text the memorial from the legislature of Kansas for admission to the Union, and made a powerful analysis of slavery. "What is just," he said, "to one class of men cart never be injurious to any other; arid what is unjust to any condition of persons in a state is necessarily injurious in some degree to the whole community." The slave state, “affects to extinguish the personality of the laborer, not only as a member of the political body, but also as a parent, husband, child, neighbor, or friend. He thus becomes, in a political view, merely property without moral capacity, and without domestic, moral, and social relations, duties, rights, and remedies.... The state protects not the slave as a man, but the capital of another man which he represents. On the other hand, the state which rejects slavery encourages arid animates and invigorates the laborer by maintaining and developing his natural personality in all the rights and faculties of manhood, and generally with the privileges of citizenship. In the one ease capital invested in slaves becomes a great political force, while in the other labor thus elevated and enfranchised becomes the dominating political power. “1

This speech, reasonable and temperate, was, however' hot bf the kind to suit the fanatical spirit of those abolitionists whose leaders exalted John

1 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 1 Sess., 910. 

Brown to sainthood, but it pleased the reasonable man, to whom Seward was appealing, and met the views of the sober part of the North which, having no fellowship or sympathy with the murderous and disunionist spirit of the Garrison school, was practically the whole North, including not only sympathizers with slavery, but the great body of middle-state and western abolitionists.

May 24, Davis's resolutions came to a vote, and were passed unchanged. On the first resolution there was a strict party vote, 38 to 19. The amendment offered by Harlan, of Iowa, to the second resolution, that “free discussion of the morality and expediency of slavery should never be interfered with," and that “freedom of speech and of the press ... should be maintained inviolate," received but twenty votes. Most of the Republicans refrained from voting on the later resolutions, which were all tranquilly passed.

Congress lingered on into summer, the victim of factional strife. Keitt, in the House, epitomized the beliefs which were at the bottom of southern tactics a year later. "Touch a Southern state," he said, "with armed hand and the whole South would rush to its defense, and would emerge from the struggle with an organized slaveholding confederacy. And how vast would be the power of the South! She is now more imperial than Rome ever was. . . . The South has the monopoly of tropical productions and upon them hang the destinies of peace, civilization and empire." 1 Mad as this now seems, it was then to the southerner an axiom. Cotton was king, and civilization would halt and disappear with the ruin which would come to s9b.thern labor with freedom.

Lovejoy, brother of the man murdered at Alton2 brought, by a violent anti-slavery speech, a scene of disorder in the House, with threats of violence which barely escaped leading to a bloody general fight; and this was followed by a challenge to a duel from Pryor, of Virginia, to Potter, of Wisconsin, who-named bowie-knives as the weapons, a quarrel which attracted the attention and intensified the feeling of the whole Union. Legislation which involved any question of slavery was at a stand-still. A bill to admit Kansas under the Wyandotte constitution passed the House April 11 by 134 to 73, but was laid aside by the Senate June 5, and the Pacific Railroad bill was postponed by relegation to a select committee.

The authorization of a committee under the chairmanship of Covode to inquire into the conduct of the president was another evidence of the violent partisan feeling in the House. The report added to the unpopularity of the president throughout the country by the dissemination of "a crude mass of malicious matter," 3 though with

1 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 1 Sess., App., 97.

2 See Hart, Slavery and Abolition (Am. Nation, XVI.), chap. xvii.

3 Schouler, United States, V., 451.

much of the deeply injurious to the administration.

Mexican anarchy of the period was a question worthy of the thought and space given it in the president's message. Juarez's government, acknowledged by the United States as the constructional authority, held Vera Cruz, but was powerless in the interior, which was given over to lawlessness. Under the so called Miramon government the republic was deeply in debt to foreign powers, and there was already hanging over her art invasion by Spain, England, and France, from which the two first were soon wisely to withdraw. The president, though only hinting at such possibility, proposed to forestall the movement by like action of our own, and "employ a sufficient military force to enter Mexico for the purpose of obtaining indemnity for the past and security for the future." His expressed intension was to aid the constitutional forces of Mexico, the country being "entirely destitute of the power to maintain peace upon her borders or to prevent the incursions of banditti into our territory." 1 A treaty "of transit and commerce and a convention ''to enforce treaty stipulations and to maintain order and security in the territory of the republics of Mexico and the United States'' was signed by out minister, McLeart1 December 14, 1859. For the payment of four millions the United States was to have control and a 

1 Richardson, Messages and Papers, V., 568. I 

certain lien upon Mexican customs dues. While it gave the United States great advantages of isthmus trade and commerce, it gave Juarez a capital which might have enabled him to forestall the empire of Maximilian, but it would, almost beyond doubt, have fixed the grasp of the United States upon Mexico and have made a great extension of the slave power possible. Attempts (and they could only be the attempts of folly in the political situation) to secure Cuba or to extend our influence in Central America or Mexico disappeared in the caldron of sectional feeling. The underlying design was too evident; it was impossible to pass such a treaty in face of such a declaration as that of Senator Brown, of Mississippi: "I want Cuba; I want Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two other Mexican states ; and I want them all for the same reason, for the planting and spreading of slavery . . . . I would spread the blessings of slavery, like the religion of our divine Master, to the uttermost ends of the earth." Brown could also say: " I would make a refusal to acquire territory because it was to be slave territory, a cause of disunion, just as I would make the refusal to admit a new state, because it was to be a slave state, a cause for disunion.''1

The very favorable convention with Spain concluded at Madrid in March, 1860, establishing a joint commission for the adjudication and payment

1 Quoted by Wilson, Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 1 Sess., 571, 573. 

of all claims, was to meet a like fate. The final blow to the hopes of southern extremists was, however, not to come until the very eve of the time when all effort was to be turned against the North, for September 30, 1860, William Walker was captured on the Honduras coast, and twelve days later was shot.

 Source:  Chadwick, French Ensor, Causes of the Civil War. In Hart, Albert Bushnell, ed., The American Nation: A History, Vol. 19, 90-108. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1906.



THE first Congress under the Constitution met in the city of New York, in March, 1789; though a quorum did not appear until the 6th of April. It at once addressed itself to the pressing duty of organizing the new government, and of providing means for its support. When the bill imposing a duty on imports was under consideration in the House of Representatives, Mr. Parker of Virginia moved an amendment, imposing a duty of ten dollars on every slave imported. This amendment excited much interest, especially among the members from South Carolina and Georgia. Mr. Smith, of the former State, hastened to express the hope " that such an important and serious proposition would not be hastily adopted "; and he averred that " no one topic had been yet introduced so important to South Carolina and the welfare of the Union. "

Roger Sherman of Connecticut expressed his approval of "the object of the motion, but did not think it a fit subject to be embraced in this bill. He could not reconcile himself to the insertion of human beings as a subject of import among goods, wares, and merchandise." He then earnestly urged the withdrawal of the amendment, and suggested that it might afterward be introduced as an independent proposition. 

Mr. Jackson of Georgia declared that he was "not surprised, however others might be, at the quarter whence this motion came. Virginia, an old settled State, has her complement of slaves, and, the natural increase being sufficient for her purpose, she was careless of recruiting her numbers by importation. But gentlemen ought to let their neighbors get supplied before they imposed such a burden." He expressed his confidence that, on account of the unsuitableness of the motion to the business in hand, it would be withdrawn. Alluding petulantly to the “white slaves " " imported from all the jails of Europe," he contended that they should be "equally taxed" with the African, and that such a course would be equally constitutional and proper.

To the suggestion of withdrawing the amendment, Mr. Parker --who had, on moving it, expressed his regret that the Constitution prevented Congress from prohibiting altogether the importation of slaves --declared that, " having introduced the motion on mature reflection, he did not like to withdraw it." He proceeded further, and expressed the hope that " Congress would do all in their power to restore to human nature its inherent privileges; to wipe off, if possible, the stigma under which America labored; to do away the inconsistency in our principles justly charge upon us; and to show by our actions the purer beneficence of the doctrine held out to the world in our Declaration of Independence."

Mr. Sherman again avowed his opposition to the amendment, as it was inconsistent with the principle of the bill, which was to raise revenue, while the principle of the amendment was to correct a moral evil. Fisher Ames of Massachusetts expressed his detestation of" slavery from his soul; but he had some doubts whether imposing a duty on such importation would not have an appearance of countenancing the practice."

Mr. Jackson further opposed the amendment. "It is," he said, "the fashion of the day to favor the liberty of slaves. I believe that they are better off as they are, and better off than they were in Africa. Experience has shown that liberated slaves will not work for a living." He then asked if Virginia would free her negroes, and declared that “when the practice comes to be tried, then the sound of liberty will lose those charms which make it grateful to the ravished ear."

The amendment was supported by Mr. Bland of Virginia, who expressed the wish that slavery had never been introduced into America, and was willing to join in any measure to prevent its extending further. Mr. Madison said that the clause in the Constitution allowing a tax was inserted, he believed, “for the purpose of enabling Congress to give some testimony of the sense of America with respect to the African trade. By expressing a national disapprobation of that trade, it is to be hoped we may destroy it, and so save ourselves from reproaches and our posterity from the imbecility ever attendant upon a country filled with slaves. This is as much the interest of Carolina and Georgia as of any other State. Every addition they receive to their number of slaves tends to weakness and renders them less capable of self-defense. In case of hostility with other nations, their slave population will be a means, not of repelling invasion, but of inviting attack. It is the duty of the general government to protect every part of the Union against danger, as well internal as external. Everything, therefore, which tends to increase this danger, though it might be a local affair, yet, if it involves national expense or safety, becomes of concern to any part of the Union, and a proper subject for the consideration of those charged with the general administration of the government."

These views of Mr. Madison were humane, just, comprehensive, and statesmanlike. Had they been generally entertained and adhered to by Southern statesmen, and accepted by the Southern people, the amelioration, restriction, and extinction of slavery, rather than its expansion and perpetuation, would have been their chosen policy. But widely differing counsels prevailed. Not only the nation, indeed, but Mr. Madison himself, and the class of Southern men he represented, failed to employ the powers here enunciated in behalf of freedom and humanity, or to maintain the humane sentiments here avowed. They soon yielded to the force of circumstances, for which they had not calculated, and which they seemed powerless to control; and became, if not the advocates, the consenting witnesses to the aggressive encroachments and assaults on human rights. They had not anticipated and were not prepared for the soon disclosed fact that to the ordinary motives for the continued existence of slavery there were to be added the stimulus of the greatly increased industries --developed and fostered by the new government. Nor had they then realized how exacting and tyrannous the slave-masters, flushed with their successes in the convention, would soon become, and with what tenacity and persistency they would press the advantages they then gained. They had faint conceptions of the concessions made in the Constitution to the slave interest. For from the time they were made the demands of consistency and the logic of those concessions were always against them. Consenting to the great wrong, they lost too much of their moral power. Leaving the rock of principle, they found no foothold on the shifting sands of expediency and compromise, on which they could stand against the compact forces of the Slave Power, however vile and desperate its cause might be. Ever after these fatal concessions in the Constitution the nation seemed like a strong man struggling in toils and meshes; or, rather, like the giant shorn of his locks, sleeping in the lap of the wanton who had lured him to dishonor, if not to destruction.

At the suggestion of Mr. Madison Mr. Parker withdrew his amendment, with the understanding that it should be afterward brought up as a distinct measure. The subject was subsequently referred to a committee, of which he was made chairman. He reported a bill which was referred to the next session; but it was never acted upon. The men who extorted from the framers of the Constitution the permission to continue the slave-trade for twenty years were in no mood to allow a tax of ten dollars on every imported African. They were not only jealous of any action on the part of the Federal government, but they determined to secure the full benefits of the traffic in human flesh.

Within one year after the organization of the first Congress, memorials were presented deploring the evils of slavery and praying for immediate action for their abatement. They revealed a deep sense of justice, a high regard for the rights of man, and a profound recognition of the claims of morality arid religion. On the 11th of February, 1790, a petition was presented from the Quakers to the House of Representatives. The memorialists alluded to the fact that " the same religious society addressed, in 1783, the then Congress on the same subject; which body, though the Christian rectitude of the concern was by the delegates generally acknowledged, yet, not being vested with the powers of legislation, declined" acting on the subject. They say: " As professors of faith in that ever blessed, all-perfect Lawgiver, whose injunction remains of undiminished obligation,--' Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them' ; and firmly believing that unfeigned righteousness in public as well as private, citizens is the only sure ground of hope of the divine blessing; .... we feel it incumbent on us, as a religious body, to attempt to excite your attention to the affecting subject, " and induce you to " exert your upright endeavors to the full extent of your power. " They expressed the confident expectation that the exercise of that power “must produce the abolition of the slave-trade.”

Mr. Hartley of Pennsylvania moved that a petition coming from '' so numerous and respectable a part of the community “should be referred to a committee. To this motion Mr. Smith of South Carolina objected; saying, however respectable the petitioners were, there were others, equally respectable, op­ posed to their object. Mr. Parker of Virginia expressed his pleasure that “so many were attending to matters of such momentous concern to the future happiness and prosperity of the people.” Mr. Madison thought it proper to receive and consider the petition, “because, if there is anything within the Federal authority to restrain such violation of the rights of nature and of mankind, it should be done.” But Mr. Stone of Maryland declared it “unfortunate that religious sects seemed to imagine that they understood the rights of human nature better than all the world besides”; and Mr. Burke of South Carolina, referring contemptuously to some Quakers present, said, “The men in the galleries were meddling with 

what did not belong to them; and, though he had great respect for the Quakers, he did not think they had more virtue and religion than many others, perhaps not so much as some others."

Mr. Jackson of Georgia, an Englishman by birth, an officer in the Revolutionary army, and a delegate to the convention .which framed the Constitution, wanted "to know if the whole morality of the world is confined to the Quakers? Do they understand the rights of mankind and the disposition of mankind better than others? The Saviour had more benevolence and commiseration than they pretend to have, and he admitted slavery. “Mr. Gerry maintained the right of petition, and defended the action of the Society of Friends, who wished to see measures pursued by every nation to wipe off the indelible stain brought upon all who were concerned in it. The memorial was finally laid upon the table, and thus ended the first debate on antislavery petitions in Congress.

On the 12th of February, 1790, a memorial was presented from the “Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery “signed and said to have been written by Franklin. As this illustrious citizen died soon afterward, the "American people are justified in regarding it as the last and wisest of the many sage counsels bequeathed by him to his countrymen. After alluding to the origin, objects, and general constituency of the society, being" of various religious denominations, " and to the gratifying circumstance that similar associations were forming at home and abroad, the memorial proceeds: " That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty Being, alike objects of his care and equally designed for the enjoyment of happiness, the Christian religion teaches us to believe, and the political creed of Americans fully coincides with that position. " It quotes, too, from the preamble of the Constitution, as indicating one of the objects of that instrument for promoting “the welfare and securing the blessings of liberty to the people of the United States, “which "blessings of liberty,” it declares, “ought rightfully to be administered without distinction of color." “From a persuasion, too, “it continues, “that equal liberty was originally the portion and is still the birthright of all men, we earnestly entreat your serious attention to the subject of slavery; that you will be pleased to countenance the restoration to liberty of those unhappy men who, alone in .this land of freedom, are degraded to perpetual bondage, and who, amidst the general joy of surrounding freemen, are groaning in servile subjection; that you will devise means for removing this inconsistency from the character of the American people; …and that you will step to the very verge of power vested in you for discouraging every species of traffic in the persons of our fellow-men. "

The memorial of the preceding day was called up, and both were made the subject of an able and exciting debate. Mr. Tucker of South Carolina was “surprised to see another memorial upon the same subject, and that signed by a man who ought to have known the Constitution better.” The argument, so often repeated since, was urged, that the movement would aggravate the very evil it was sought to ameliorate and remove, by buoying up the slave with hopes which must be disappointed, and necessitating a severity which would not otherwise be required. He parried the religious argument of the memorial by urging the indorsement of the Southern clergy, who, he said, did not condemn either slavery or the slave-trade. This damaging reference was only too well deserved, and too significant of their subsequent and disastrous course, even up to and throughout the Rebellion. With few exceptions, they failed as religious teachers of educating the people up to the standard of a scriptural morality, shirked· the duties imposed upon them by the claims of patriotism, humanity, and religion, betrayed their sacred trust, and proved recreant alike to the claims of benevolence and the Word of God. The weapons they should have pointed against the cruel and wicked system they turned in its defence. Omniscience alone can estimate how much of the subsequent guilt, suffering, and even the destruction of the South was due to their influence who1 thus early, became the blind leaders of the blind. There were not wanting, likewise, at that early date, those who urged the same arguments on which so many changes have been rung since, - the same deprecatory allusions to the danger of discussion, the same reminders of the compromises on which alone the Union was or could have been based. Mr. Baldwin of Georgia, a native of Connecticut, and one of the framers of the Constitution, reminded members that this was “a subject of a most delicate nature"; that in the convention" the Southern States were so tender upon this point that they had wellnigh broken up without coming to any determination" It was emphatically declared by Mr. Smith of South Carolina, that the Southern “States would never have entered the Confederation unless their property had been guaranteed to them." “When we entered into this Confederacy," he said, "we did it from political and not from moral motives. And I don't think my constituents want to learn morals from the petitioners. I don't believe they want improvement in their moral systems. If they do, they can learn it at home'.''

On the other hand, Mr. Scott of Pennsylvania defended the memorialists, and condemned in strong and unequivocal language the slave traffic. "I look 'Upon the slave-trade" he said,” to be one of the most abominable things on earth; and, if there were neither God nor Devil, I should oppose it on principles of humanity and the law of humanity. I cannot, for my part, conceive how any person can be said to acquire property in another. Perhaps in our legislative capacity we can go no further than impose a duty of ten dollars. I do not know how far I might go if I was one of the judges of the United States, and these people were to come before me and claim their emancipation; but I am sure I would go as far as I could."

To these humane· and noble utterances Mr. Jackson of Georgia replied: “If that gentleman is guided by religion, he will find that it is not against it. He will see, from Genesis to Revelation, the current setting strong the other way." In reply to his declaration, that if he were a judge he would go as far as he could in emancipating the people, he said: “I believe that his judgment would be of short duration in Georgia; perhaps even the existence of such a judge would be of short duration." 

The memorials were referred to a select committee, consisting of Foster of New Hampshire, Gerry of Massachusetts, Huntington of Connecticut, Lawrence of New York, Sinnickson of New Jersey, Hartley of Pennsylvania, and Parker of Virginia. From this committee Mr. Hartley made a report, manifestly well considered and carefully drawn up. In it the committee say that, from the nature of the matters contained in the memorials, they were induced to examine the powers vested in Congress under the present Constitution. Their conclusion was that the general government was prohibited from interfering with the slave-trade until the year 1808, that it was prohibited from interfering with the emancipation of slaves within the States, and that it had no right to interfere with the internal regulations of particular States. But they declared that Congress had power, if deemed advisable, to lay a tax of ten dollars on each slave imported; that it had the power to interdict the trade for foreign supply, and that it might regulate the home traffic in the interests of humanity; and that it might prohibit foreigners from fitting out vessels in American ports. The committee closed by informing the memorialists that, so far as Congress could do it constitutionally, it would aim to promote their humane objects "on the principles of justice, humanity, and good policy."

A report, however, so guarded and carefully restrained by the limitations of the Constitution, so moderate in tone and temper, was received with marked demonstrations of hostility by the representatives of the slaveholding class, and its consideration postponed for a. week. When it was taken up, Mr. Smith of South Carolina moved to "negative the whole report." But it was taken up by paragraphs, and the same line of argument, already sketched, was pursued. The greatest violence and impatience, with denunciation and threats, came from South Carolina and Georgia, --then, as since, the self-constituted guardians and defenders of Southern interests and Southern honor. They applied the same epithets to the Quakers then which their successors have so freely used in regard to all antislavery reformers. They stigmatized them, as they have Christians and philanthropists since; as hypocritical pretenders to a sanctity they did not possess, as factious intermeddlers with what did not concern them. They declared the compromises of the Constitution to be the only conditions on which the Union could be preserved; and they sternly demanded that freedom of discussion on the subject of slavery should not be tolerated.

Among the champions of slavery, the most able and conspicuous, as well as rancorous and violent, were Smith, Tucker, and Burke of South Carolina, and Jackson and Baldwin of Georgia. Mr. Smith made an elaborate defence of slavery and the slave-trade on historical, scriptural, and humanitarian grounds. He denied the "horrors of the Middle Passage," and contended that slaves imported from Africa were benefited by the change, as they were here saved from a worse fate which awaited them in their native land. Freedom, however, was not without its true and steady defenders, - men who enunciated with great boldness and force the fundamental principles, the primal truths, not only of natural rights and obligation, but of Christian morality and duty. Trammelled, indeed, by those compromises which have always hampered the advocates of human rights under the Constitution, even the most conscientious and outspoken, they yet boldly denounced the system which had no sanction in reason or revelation. The most distinguished of these advocates were Vining of Delaware, and Scott and Boudinot of Pennsylvania.

This great and pregnant debate was closed on the 23d of March, when a substitute for the report was adopted in committee of the whole. On the suggestion of Mr. Madison, who desired to quiet the fears of the South, by showing that Congress claimed no power to prohibit the slave-trade till 1808, and no power to abolish slavery at all, the House, by a vote of twenty-nine to twenty-five, entered on the journal the report of the committee, and also the report of the committee of the whole, as amendments to that report. The amendments reported by the committee of the whole stood, therefore, as the judgment of the House.

By these resolutions the House of Representatives declared that the importation of such persons as any of the States should admit could not be prohibited by Congress before 1808 ; that Congress had no power to interfere with emancipation or the treatment of slaves in the States ; but that it had authority to restrain the citizens of the United States from carrying on the slave-trade to supply foreigners with slaves, and that it had the power to make regulations for the humane treatment on their passage, of slaves imported by citizens into States admitting such importations. Though these resolutions had not the authority of a legislative enactment, yet in all the subsequent conflicts growing out of the slavery question the doctrines therein embodied have been generally recognized as the true exposition of the Constitution, and of the powers of Congress touching that matter.

This debate on slavery was strikingly characteristic and significant. It clearly revealed in tone and temper, matter and manner, thought and language, that difference between the friends of freedom and the supporters of slavery, which has ever marked discussions growing out of their diversity of interests, views, feelings, and purposes. On the one side the debate was grave, dignified, and regardful of the rights of man and the authority of God; on the other, it was flippant, contemptuous, and indifferent alike to the claims of humanity, the courtesies of debate, and the binding obligations of a Christian morality.

The abolition societies of Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Virginia, in 1791, presented memorials calling upon Congress to exercise those powers which the House of Representatives had declared that Congress possessed, in the resolutions of the committee of the whole, which had been entered upon the journal. These memorials were referred to a special committee of which Mr. Benson of New York was made chairman. No action was taken by the committee. At the next session other memorials of a similar character were presented. But they were permitted to lie without action or reference.

In November, 1792, Mr. Ames presented a petition from Warner Mifflin, a Quaker gentleman of Delaware, setting forth the injustice of slavery and the wrongs of the slave. Two days afterward Mr. Steele of North Carolina called attention to the petition, and moved that it be taken from the table and returned to the petitioner, and that the record of its reception be erased. Smith of South Carolina denounced the petition as "the mere rant and rhapsody of a meddling fanatic, interlarded with texts of Scripture." He declared the real object of the petition to be to “create disunion among the States and to excite the most horrible insurrections." Declaring that petitions of that character were not calculated to ameliorate the condition of the slaves, but to excite a spirit of restlessness, which made greater securities necessary, he called upon the House to sustain the motion, and thus convince " this troublesome enthusiast, and others who might be disposed to communicate their ravings and wild effusions, that they would meet the treatment they justly deserve." Mr. Ames disapproved the object of the petitioners; but defended the general right of petition, and justified, on that ground, his presentation of the memorial. The House sustained the motion to return the memorial to the petitioner; and Mr. Steele then withdrew his motion to erase the record of its reception from the journal. This high-handed measure was a clear and palpable violation of the constitutional right of petition, a gross indignity to the petitioner, and an insult to a free people.



See also US Constitution, Proposed Amendments; US Constitution, Thirteenth Amendment

WHEN the British forces had been withdrawn from the country, the American army disbanded, and then, the common danger removed, other evils revealed themselves and other dangers menaced. The people were deeply embarrassed by public and private indebtedness, by a depreciated currency, and by the general derangement of business, resulting from an exhausting warfare with the .first power of the globe. It became almost impossible to enforce the collection of debts or to maintain public order. The distress and discontent of the people revealed themselves in forcible attempts to obstruct the action of the judicial tribunals, while the public disorders threatened anarchy and civil war. Then, too, the Confederation, which had so signally failed to command fully the resources or the county during the war, more clearly manifested its weakness. Then the statesmen and soldiers, whose wisdom and valor had carried the country through the Revolution, were profoundly concerned at the grave and ominous aspect of national affairs. Under this pressure of difficulties and dangers, which threatened to defeat and destroy much of what had been gained and won by the blood and treasure, the hardships and hazards of the contest, a convention was called to revise the Articles of Confederation; and it gave the country the Constitution of the United States.

The convention assembled at Philadelphia in May, 1787. It was a body of men of marked ability and large experience in public affairs. It embraced many of the Revolutionary leaders, from both council-chamber and field, while among its younger members were several who at once took rank among the foremost public men of the new Republic. Nor did their abilities exceed their necessities, or transcend the greatness of the occasion. To make " a more perfect union " of States so widely scattered on a narrow strip of the Atlantic coast, so diverse in origin and history, so alien in spirit and propose, so jealous of their own interests and fearful of the encroachments of others, impoverished and distressed by war, might reasonably be expected to disclose difficulties of the gravest import. In forming such a general government, of States so unequal in territory, population, and wealth, there would naturally exist not merely the general reluctance to relinquish their individual prerogatives as independent States, but also the fear of the larger States, that in the government their influence would not be commensurate with their relative size, while the smaller States would hardly be satisfied with a share graduated by any such standard. Their history immediately preceding the assembling of the convention had but aggravated this natural tendency. State rights had been vigilantly guarded, and State power reluctantly relinquished to the Continental Congress, even under the pressing exigencies of war. State pride, too, was intense; State rivalries and jealousies were active. Consequently, the more thoughtful members of the convention apprehended that the main hindrances in the way of success would spring from such sources, indeed, that the great difficulty would be to reconcile the differences between the larger and smaller States. The result, however, revealed the fact that all these difficulties were, if not lost; overshadowed by another issue far more serious and threatening. The real obstacle was found in the antagonism between freedom and slavery, between the States which had accepted and were accepting the former and the States which clung with such persistent determination to the latter. Indeed, we have the statement of Mr. Madison himself that "the institution of slavery and its consequences furnished the line of discrimination." Nor, in the lights of the present day and the revelations of the nation's subsequent history, is this at all surprising.

The theory of human equality had been enunciated by the first Continental Congress, and proclaimed in the deathless words of the Declaration of Independence. It had been incorporated into the Bills of Rights of several of the States, and had been illustrated by the judicial proceedings of several of their courts. It was held by some of the most eminent members of the convention, and also by other leading statesmen of that era. But there came into this convention of illustrious men, assembled to frame a constitution for a Christian nation, a powerful minority believing in and representing chattel slavery. In that crisis of the country, -- where its very existence was imperil, and the only alternative seemed to be a constitution or anarchy, --that minority made it a condition precedent to their assent that the convention should comply with the exactions of the slaveholding interest. The representatives of that interest, -able, arbitrary, and adroit, taking advantage of the necessities of the country, wrung from the convention fatal concessions, which then and thereafter trammeled the hand of Liberty and armed the hand of Slavery.

The framers of the Constitution have been sharply criticised for their concessions to the slaveholding interest. These concessions, in direct antagonism with the doctrines of human rights so grandly proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, greatly embarrassed them then, and have been used with fatal force by the Slave Power in its dominating and aggressive career since. But posterity, remembering the fearful stress of circumstances under which those concessions were made, and recalling the significant question of Alexander Hamilton, " Is it possible to deliberate between anarchy and confusion on one side, and the chance of good on the other ? " will mingle large charity with its censure. Whatever may be the judgments of coming generations, removed from the disturbing and distorting influences of the past and present hour, and occupying a higher plane of thought and feeling, concerning the framers of the Constitution and their concessions to the Slave· Power under the terrible pressure to which they were subjected, it does not become the men of later times, who have made compromise after compromise, far greater sacrifices of principle, and far more guilty concessions, with but a tithe of that pressure resting upon them, to reproach them. Whoever else may be, they are not the men to cast stones.

There was a great struggle in the convention touching the basis of representation in Congress, in which the question of slavery largely mingled. It originated in the strife between the larger and smaller States, the latter contending for an equal and the former for a proportional -representation. The Virginia plan proposed to base the representation on free inhabitants and three fifths of all other persons. Twice the convention voted in favor of' a proportional representation. Having failed to secure an equal representation in the House, the party representing the smaller States made a strenuous effort to secure an equality of representation in the Senate; but the proposition was defeated by a tie vote. The State-rights members, being defeated, manifested much dissatisfaction.

On motion of Mr. Sherman of Connecticut, a committee of conference of one from each State was appointed. In this committee Franklin proposed that the States should be equally represented in the Senate; while for the House the Virginia proposition should be adopted, allowing one representative for forty thousand inhabitants, slaves being counted in the ratio of three fifths.

It having been determined that the States should not be equally represented in the House, new questions arose, and new divisions and parties were developed. A committee, consisting of Morris, Gorham, King, Randolph, and Rutledge, reported a proposition that future representation should be distributed among the States in a compound proportion of wealth and numbers. This report was referred to a committee of one from each State; and this committee reported the temporary apportionment finally introduced into the Constitution, with a House of sixty-five members. Future apportionments, however, could not be easily determined.

Mr. Patterson of New Jersey, one of the leaders of the party of State Rights, opposed the representation of slaves, because it afforded an "indirect encouragement of the slave-trade." He said that Congress, in its acts concerning the quota of troops, was ashamed to use the word “slave," and substituted a description. He could look upon slaves in no other light than as property, and strenuously opposed their representation. In reply, Mr. Madison admitted the soundness of the general principle, but bought it should forever silence the claims of the small States ; and he suggested that the House should be based on the whole number of free inhabitants, and the Senate, which represented property, on the whole number, including slaves.

Mr. King expressed the opinion that the Southern States, being the richest, would not league themselves with the Northern unless some attention was paid to their wealth. It was proposed by Mr. Randolph that the future apportionments should be regulated by a periodical census. It was then moved, as a substitute, by Mr. Williamson of North Carolina, to reckon in the census the freemen, and three fifths of all other persons. It was strenuously insisted by Pierce Butler and Charles C. Pinckney, of South Carolina, that slaves should be counted like all other persons. Mr. Williamson's proposition was supported by Mr. Gorham and Mr. Gerry, of Massachusetts. It was insisted by Mr. Butler that the labor of a slave in South Carolina is as productive as that of a freeman in Massachusetts; that slaves are as valuable to the nation as freemen, and that an equal representation ought to be allowed. 

Mr. Mason of Virginia thought slaves ought not to be excluded in the basis of representation; but that they were not equal to freemen. The three-fifths clause was stoutly opposed by Mr. Morris, as “an encouragement to the slave-trade, an injustice to human nature." Mr. Wilson of Pennsylvania was apprehensive that the people of his State would be disgusted by this "blending of blacks and white." He thought, if slaves were admitted as citizens, they should be admitted on an equality, with other citizens; but if as property, then, he- asked, why not admit them as other property? Mr. Butler's amendment to count slaves equally with free persons was lost1 - Delaware, South Carolina, and Georgia only voting for it. Mr. Williamson's substitute, basing the House on a periodical census of the inhabitants, slaves being counted in the ratio of three fifths, was defeated, - Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina voting against it. South Carolina voted against it because she demanded an equal representation for slaves. The proposition of Mr. Randolph for a periodical census was also defeated. It was then unanimously agreed, on motion of Mr. Morris, that taxation should be in proportion to representation.

Up to this point, though the struggle had been sharp, slavery had rather lost than gained. The three propositions--to count the slaves according to their numbers, to count them in the ratio of three fifths, and to have a periodical census taken -- had been lost. The proposition now before the convention was to base all future apportionments upon the compound ratio of wealth and numbers. As parliamentary eloquence and tactics had not succeeded, something more stringent was demanded. The soft words of persuasion had failed; the virtue of stones must be tried. The ever-present and ever-potent argument of the plantation -- the whip--must be put in requisition. Nor did it fail. The recusant members were at once brought to terms, and the fatal lesson was taught and learned which was not forgotten for nearly three quarters of a century.

General Davie of North Carolina, who had been a silent member to that time, arose and emphatically declared, " It is time to speak out: I see," he said, " that it is meant by some gentlemen to deprive the Southern States of any representation of their blacks. I am sure that North Carolina will never confederate on any terms that do not rate them at least as three fifths. If the Eastern States mean to exclude them altogether, then the business is at an end." The menace was effective, and secured at once what no amount of debate had accomplished. .Mr. Johnson of Connecticut at once arose and hastened to declare that the whole population should be counted. Mr. Randolph renewed the proposition to count slaves as three fifths in the basis of representation. The proposition was now ,carried, -- Connecticut, Pennsylvania., Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia voting for it; New Jersey and Delaware opposing it; while Massachusetts and South Carolina divided. By this vote it was provided that the half a million slaves in the five Southern States, and their increase in coming years, should be counted in the basis of representation in the House, and in the Electoral College, in the ratio of three fifths.

Thus, by this most illogical measure, by which votes were given, in effect, to a portion of the community from which not only the right of citizenship, but all rights, were studiously withheld, -- and these votes not to be cast by themselves, and for their benefit, but by their masters, for their injury, -- large power was placed in the hands of the slaveholding class, which was long used with terrible effect for its aggrandizement and the nation's harm. In many of the sharply .contested and evenly balanced struggles between the friends and foes of freedom it gave the latter the needed majority and turned the scale against the cause of justice. In the great struggle of 1820, to make Missouri free, it gave to slavery its victory; and in that of 1854, to remove the landmarks of freedom, its power for evil was equally decisive. In, 1800 it decided the presidential election, and gave it to the slaveholding Democracy, and thus enthroned the Slave Power in the General Government, from which it was never dislodged until the election of Mr. Lincoln.

On the 24th of July a Committee of Detail was appointed, consisting of Rutledge, Randolph, Gorham, Ellsworth, and Wilson. To this committee was referred the work of the convention, embodied in twenty-three resolutions, and the propositions offered by Mr. Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, and also of Mr. Patterson of New Jersey. Mr. Charles C. Pinckney, one of the most eminent men of that age, the very embodiment and exponent of the rising Slave Power, perhaps emboldened by the success of the member from North Carolina, rose and pronounced another ultimatum of Southern demands. He reminded the convention that if it did not provide proper security for Southern interests he should vote against whatever report the committee should bring in. In other words, it was a notice to the convention that the South would demand not only an enumeration of slaves in the basis of representation, but the right to continue their importation without taxation, and sue other guaranties as the exigencies of their peculiar institution demanded.

On the 6th of August the Committee of Detail brought in its report. It was in substance a sketch of the Constitution as finally adopted. It provided that no duty should be laid on exports, and that no navigation acts should be passed except by a two-thirds vote. The importation of slaves was not to be prohibited; neither was any tax to be imposed upon such importation. Those provisions were wholly in the interest of the slaveholders. The exports of rice, tobacco, and indigo -- products of slave labor -- were not to be taxed. Slaves were to be imported untaxed and without hindrance from the Federal government. Foreign vessels were to enter Southern ports and carry Southern products unembarrassed by any discriminating duties in favor of Northern shipping.

The avarice, the ambition, and the sagacity of the slaveholding interest have never been more clearly revealed than in this report of the Committee of Detail. At its head stood John Rutledge, who completely embodied the pride, arrogance, and dominating characteristics of the extreme South, and who, needed no hint from his colleague to watch over and guard its interests. Had the subtle and adroit policy of that report been fully indorsed and adopted by the convention and the people, the ascendency of the slave States, and the consequent humiliation and helplessness of the free States, would have been complete.

The first Continental Congress, in the Articles of Association, had pledged the united colonies against the importation of slaves ; and the Congress of 1776, in releasing the colonies from some of the provisions of the Articles of Association, had resolved that" no slave be imported into any of the United States." Most of the States had united in prohibiting the slave-trade. North Carolina had imposed a duty on importations; while South Carolina and Georgia were in favor, not only of perpetuating slavery, but also of continuing the slave traffic. Some Northern merchants, forgetful of the pledges of the government, still employed their ships in the hateful trade. Two years before the assembling of the convention, Dr. Samuel Hopkins had stated that portions of the people were “going into the practice of that sevenfold abomination, the slave trade." While Maryland and Virginia agreed with the slaveholders of South Carolina and Georgia against taxing exports, the products of slave labor, and were opposed to navigation laws for the encouragement of the shipping interest, they were opposed it is hardly uncharitable to believe, for the twofold reason that they did not need foreign slaves, and were themselves engaged in the domestic slave-traffic --to the reopening and continuance of the African slave-trade. Consequently the slaveholding class was not a unit in supporting the report of the Committee of Detail.

That report, dictated by the Carolinas and Georgia, deeply aroused the feelings of delegates from the free States. Mr. King of Massachusetts took the earliest opportunity to denounce "the admission of slaves” into the basis of apportionment. He stated that by the report of the committee “the importation of slaves could not be prohibited, and exports could not be taxed”; that “there was so much inequality and unreasonableness in all this that the people of the North could never be reconciled to it. He never could agree to let slaves be imported without limitation, and then be represented in the national legislature. Either slaves should not be represented, or exports should be taxable."

Gouverneur Morris followed in an eloquent denunciation of slavery, emphatically declaring that "it was a nefarious institution; it was the curse of Heaven on the States where it prevailed." "Upon what principle is it," he asked, “that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens, and let them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other property included? The houses in this city are worth more than all the wretched slaves that cover the rice-swamps of South Carolina.'' He declared that the inhabitants of the South, who went to the coast of Africa, and, in defiance of the declared law of humanity, tore away their fellow-creatures, and damned them to the most cruel bondage, had more power than the citizens of the North, who viewed with horror a practice so nefarious. He added “that domestic slavery is the most prominent feature in the aristocratic countenance of the proposed Constitution. The vassalage of the poor has ever been the favorite offspring of the aristocracy. And what is the proposed compensation for the Northern states for a sacrifice of every principle of right, every impulse of humanity'? They are to bind themselves to march their militia, for the defence of the Southern States, against those very slaves. The Southern States are not to be restrained from importing fresh supplies of wretched Africans at once to increase the danger of attack and the difficulty of defence; nay, they are to be encouraged to it by having their votes in the national government increased in proportion, and at the same time to have their slaves fund exports exempt from all contributions to the public service. He then emphatically avowed that he would '' sooner submit himself to a tax for paying for all the slaves in the United States than to saddle posterity with such a constitution." He closed his speech by moving to confine the basis of representation to free inhabitants.

Roger Sherman opposed the motion; and, in doing it, made the very extraordinary declaration, for a New England man, that he “did not regard the admission of negroes as liable to such insuperable objections. Charles Pinckney, in reply to Mr. Morris, asserted that he could demonstrate that the fisheries and the Western frontiers were more burdensome than the slaves. Mr. Morris's motion was rejected, New Jersey alone voting for it.

When the clause came up forbidding any restrictions on the importation of slaves, Luther Martin of Maryland moved an amendment, allowing such importation to be taxed. He stated that, as five slaves were equal to three freemen, the permission to import them was an encouragement of the slave-trade. "Slaves,'' he said, “weakened the Union which other parts are 'bound to protect. The privilege of importing them is therefore, unreasonable. Such a feature in the Constitution is inconsistent with the principles of the Revolution, and dishonorable to the American character."

Mr. Rutledge, chairman of the committee, declared that he "did not see how this section would encourage the importation of slaves.'' In reply to the assertion that the Union was to protect the slaves, he said that he would readily exempt the other States from every obligation to protect the South." He averred that '" religion and humanity have nothing to do with this question. Interest alone is the governing principle with nations. The true question is, whether the Southern States · shall or shall not be parties to the Union:'" Thus the issue me was distinctly made by the chairman of the Committee of Detail, that the Southern States would enter the Union only on the condition that the African slave-trade should be continued. Appealing to commercial cupidity, he said that, if the Northern States consulted their own interest, they would not oppose the increase of slaves, because it would increase the commodities of which they would become the carriers.  Nor was the appeal without effect.

Mr. Ellsworth, a member of the committee, immediately avowed himself in favor of the provision as it stood. "Let every State, he said, " import what it pleases. The morality of wisdom of slavery are considerations belonging to the States. What enriches a part enriches the whole, and the State are the best judges of their particular interests. The old confederation had not meddled with this point; and he did not see any greater necessity for bringing it into the policy of the new one." ·

Charles Pinckney, speaking for the ·slaveholding class, emphatically asserted: “South Carolina can never receive the plan, if it prohibits the slave trade. In every proposed extension of the powers of Congress, that State has expressly and watchfully excepted the power of meddling with the importation of negroes."

George Mason of Virginia strongly denounced the slave trade, laying the blame of it on the avarice of British merchants, and lamenting that his Eastern brothers had from the lust of gain embarked in the traffic. “Slavery," he said, "discourages arts and manufactures. The poor despise labor when performed by slaves. It prevents the emigration of whites, who really enrich and strengthen the country. It produces the most pernicious effects on manners, --every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. It brings the judgment of Heaven on a country. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins by national calamities." He then avowed that he held it essential in every point of view that the general government should have power to prevent the increase of slavery.

Mr. Ellsworth thought that, if the question was to be viewed in a moral light, the convention should go further, and free those already in the country. In Maryland and Virginia it was cheaper to raise than to import; but in the sickly rice-swamps, he coldly said, foreign importation was necessary, and it would be unjust to South Carolina and Georgia to prohibit their importation. "Let us not," he said, "intermeddle. As population increases, poor laborers will be so plenty as to render slaves useless. Slavery in time will not be a speck in our country."

Mr. Sherman joined Mr. Ellsworth in allowing the clause as reported by' the committee to stand. Charles C. Pinckney avowed that “South Carolina and Georgia cannot do without slaves. As to Virginia, she will gain by stopping importation. Her slaves will rise in value, and she has more than she wants. It would be unfair to ask South Carolina and Georgia to confederate on such unequal terms." The importation of slaves, he maintained, would be for the benefit of the whole Union. The more slaves, the more produce; the greater carrying trade, the more consumption, the more revenue. The delegation from South Carolina united in the emphatic declaration that, if the slave-trade was prohibited, South Carolina would not come into the Union. Mr. Baldwin of Georgia, too, avowed that his State would not confederate unless she were allowed to import slaves ; and Mr. Williamson joined in expressing the opinion that, if South Carolina and Georgia were not allowed to import slaves, they would not become members of the Union. Mr. Wilson of Pennsylvania suggested that, “if negroes were the only imports not subject to a duty, such an exception would amount to a bounty." Gerry of Massachusetts and Langdon of New Hampshire would give no sanction whatever to the slave-trade.

Mr. King thought the exemption of slaves from duty, while every other import was subject to it, was an inequality that .could not fail to strike the commercial sagacity of the Northern and Middle States. Mr. Charles Pinckney hastened to move a recommitment, with a view to a tax on slaves equal to a tax imposed on other imports. His motion was seconded by Mr. Rutledge, his colleague. It was proposed by Gouverneur Morris that the clauses relating to navigation laws and taxation on exports should be referred, making the significant and pregnant suggestion that "these things may form a bargain between the Northern and Southern States." The commitment was supported by Mr. Randolph, who avowed that he would rather risk the Constitution than support the clause as it stood. Mr. Sherman said that a tax on slaves implied that they were property; and Mr. Ellsworth continued to support the article as reported by the committee. The motion to commit prevailed, and the matter was referred to a committee of one from each State. This committee made "a bargain," and reported it. The prohibition of export duties was retained, the restriction of the enactment of navigation laws was stricken out, and the slave-trade permitted till 1800, subject to the imposition of such a duty on slaves as Congress might determine.

This report was supported by Mr. Williamson and Mr. Gorham; but the tax was objected to by Mr. Sherman, because it implied that slaves were property, and because the tax was too small to discourage importation. But Mr. Gorham replied that the tax should be regarded, not as implying that men were property, but as a discouragement to their importation. Mr. Madison “thought it wrong to admit into the Constitution the idea that there could be property in man," and a change was therefore made in the ·phraseology to .remove that objection.

Mr. Charles C. Pinckney moved to extend the time of the slave-trade from 1800 to 1808. This motion was seconded by Mr. Gorham of Massachusetts, and was carried by the votes of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, and South Carolina; against the votes of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia. The restriction on the .enactment of navigation laws was then stricken out; and Charles C. Pinckney, Mr. Butler,-and Mr. Rutledge gave the vote of South Carolina in favor :of striking out the restrictions, because of the liberal conduct of the Eastern States in giving them twenty years of extension to the slave-trade.

Thus New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut stand on the record as parties to a dishonorable and humiliating " bargain," by -which, for a mere commercial consideration, the removal of all restriction on Congress to enact navigation laws,-they gave twenty years to the African slave-traffic, unrestrained by national legislation. Opposition to giving Congress power to encourage, develop, and protect the commercial and navigating interest of the nation sprung from the narrowness, jealousy, and all-pervading selfishness of slaveholding society. Statesmanship demanded such restrictions should be excluded from the organic law of a free and commercial nation. Duty to their own section, to their whole country, required that the delegates from New England should resist the incorporation of that plantation policy into the Constitution they were framing for a continental empire. But it will ever be a matter of regret, as well as of reproach, that those New England States achieved their success by a surrender of principles in accord alike with the dictates of humanity and the divine precepts of the Christian religion. And, as men correctly apprehend the true nature of that “bargain," the real significance and true value of Mr. Pinckney's damaging words or praise will be appreciated, when he declared that " he had had prejudices against the Eastern States before he came here ; but he would acknowledge that he had found them as liberal and' candid as any men whatever." Nor will the record seem any more flattering because other extreme Southern men joined in that commendation.

It will be remembered that when the Committee of Detail was appointed, to which were referred the results then reached by the convention, Charles C. Pinckney rose and reminded the body that; if the committee failed to insert some provision against the abolition of slavery, he should be bound by the duty he owed South Carolina to vote against its report.. At that time slavery had disappeared, or was disappearing, in the seven Northern States, where it never had to any great extent exffited ; but there were more than half a million of slaves in .Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. While many of the most eminent men of those States, especially of Virginia, believed slavery to be in every form an evil, and desired the inauguration of a system of emancipation; the body of the people, influenced by pecuniary interests, and the pride, passion, and prejudices of race, were in favor of its continuance. Statesmen, quick to discover the drift of public sentiment, were then beginning to look to the slaveholding interest as an element of political power. In the work of obtaining securities for slavery the able statesmen South Carolina sent to the convention took the lead. She could enter no union, they said, accept no constitution, unless slaves should enter into the basis of representation, the slave-trade be continued, and provision be made for the rendition of slaves escaping from their masters.

But the Committee of Detail reported no provision for the rendition of fugitive slaves. When the article came under consideration providing· that the citizens of each State should be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of the citizens of the several States, Mr. Pinckney again demanded a provision "in favor of property in slaves." The article, however, was adopted without any such clause.

When the article respecting fugitives from justice escaping from one State into another· came up for consideration, Mr. Butler, on behalf of South Carolina, moved to require " fugitive slaves and servants to be delivered up like criminals." 

This amendment was objected to by Mr. Wilson, for the inconsequential reason that it would require the delivery to be made at the public expense; while Mr. Sherman remarked, with little more appreciation of the magnitude of the question involved, that he saw “no more propriety in the public seizing and surrendering a servant than a horse." Mr. Butler then withdrew his amendment, for the purpose of putting it in a new form. But the next day, the 29th of August, he introduced it, and it was agreed to without a division.

This provision was inserted in the Constitution for the express purpose of securing what did not exist under the Articles of Confederation, --the rendition of slaves escaping from one State into another. General Pinckney, the exponent of that class of slaveholders who were in favor of the perpetuity of the slavery of the African race, demanded this provision as a condition precedent to the adoption of the Constitution; and the convention yielded. In the convention of South Carolina for its ratification General Pinckney emphatically declared: “We have a right to recover our slaves in whatever part of America they may take refuge. In short, considering all circumstances, we have made the best terms for the security of this species of property it was in our power to make. We would have made better, if we could; but, on the whole, I do not think them bad." It was stated by Mr. Madison, in the convention of Virginia, that “this clause was expressly inserted to enable owners of slaves to reclaim them." It was stated, too, in the North Carolina Convention, by Mr. Iredell, afterward judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, that, though the word " slave " was not mentioned, owing to the peculiar scruples of Northern delegates on the subject of slavery, the article was inserted to enable masters to recover their slaves escaping into other States.

Thus was incorporated into the Constitution that fearful and far-reaching provision which actually transformed the whole territory of the Republic into one vast hunting-ground, in which brutal men --such as slavery alone can make --might range at pleasure, and, under cover of the cruel and inhuman statutes it authorized, hunt, seize, and return to bondage men and women whose only crimes were a desire to be free and a heroism to dare the perils of escape for that priceless boon ; while their friends, and the friends of justice and humanity, could only look on, impotent for help, blushing at their country's degradation, and sympathizing, though vainly, with its victims. The only palliation to be urged for thus yielding to the wicked demands and the imperious threats of slave-masters was the weakness of faith and courage naturally arising from the perils menacing the country, and the too confident expectation that slavery was to be but a temporary system, soon to pass away. 

From the opening of the War of the Revolution to the meeting of the convention, the supporters of slavery had moved with hesitating step. The clash of arms, and the enunciation of the primal truth of human rights in the Declaration of Independence, in the constitutions of several of the States, and by eminent statesmen and philanthropists, threatened the security and perpetuity of the system. Action against the slave-trade, emancipation in several of the Northern States, the permission of Virginia to humane masters to give freedom to their slaves, the plan devised, but not adopted, for gradual emancipation in Virginia by Thomas Jefferson and George Wythe, the ordinance inhibiting slavery in the vast territory northwest of the Ohio, showed the tendencies of the age, weakened the confidence of slaveholders in the stability of their system, while at the same time they begot a too credulous expectation among the friends of freedom of its speedy downfall.

But the incorporation of the fatal concessions to slavery into the fundamental law of the nation breathed into the system new life, and inspired new hope in those desirous of its indefinite perpetuation. Little did the men of that convention comprehend the full significance of their action in the added vitality which these concessions imparted to the slave system. Little did they anticipate the stimulus which would be given to it by a stable government, the opening of fresh territory, and the large increase of the cotton culture. Little did they foresee the wonderful growth and expansion of a system that was to poison the fountain of national life and diffuse its pestiferous influences throughout the land. Nor did they at all realize that even· then they were bowing before a newborn power, which would for more than two generations pervert the government from the very purposes for which they were establishing it, until at last it should perish in the vain attempt to compass its overthrow.



Chapter: “The Prigg Case. - The Use of its Jails Forbidden by Massachusetts. - An Amendment of the Constitution Proposed,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

Mr. Adams moved to suspend the rules relating to petitions; and at the end of the third day lie obtained a vote upon his motion, for which there were eighty to one hundred and six, every Northern Whig voting for a suspension of the rules, and thirty-five Northern Democrats-voting against it. Failing to obtain a suspension of the rules, Mr. Adams placed the petition in the hands of the Clerk of the House under the standing rule.

The resolution of Massachusetts proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, so as to base representation upon " free persons," was presented to the House by  Mr. Adams, on the 21st of December; 1843. He moved its reference to a select committee of nine members. Mr. Wise immediately rose, and, with great warmth of manner, said he would now strike his flag. From that day forth he would oppose nothing, and leave it to the gentleman from Massachusetts and others to take the responsibility. Lifting his hands, amid great sensation among the members; who crowded around him, he exclaimed: “I say solemnly before God, as a Southern man, that we are worsted in this fight. From this day forth and forever I withdraw from the fight. I say to my constituents that, the way this battle has been fought, there is no hope for your rights. Your interests are doomed to be destroyed." He declared, in the name of God and of his country, that he left the awful responsibility upon the North to infringe the Constitution. He solemnly pledged himself, however, to renew the battle, -- not on that floor, but before his constituents and. the people of the country.

Mr. Holmes of South Carolina said the gentleman from Virginia might retire from the contest; but he would renew the battle, day after day; so long as the waves were rolling from the North and threatening to overwhelm them. But, instead of relinquishing the struggle on that floor, he would sound the tocsin, and give battle at once with the gentleman from Massachusetts, and those who were with him engaged in fierce hostility against their countrymen, and who were then striving to take from them their rights of representation.

Amid the excitement Mr. Adams remained calm. He reminded members that these were the resolutions of the Democratic legislature of Massachusetts, for in both branches the Democrats were in the majority. He expressed his regret that the gentlemen from Virginia and South Carolina; one of whom renounced the 'war" and the other renewed it, should indulge in such martial and belligerent figures of speech That hall, he said; was no fit place for battle of any kind. It was a place for deliberation;  it was a place for the deliberation of friends met to consult upon themes of' common interest; He said that Wise had never done a " wiser " thing than to abandon a position no longer tenable; and he advised Holmes to strip off the glittering armor in which he had clad himself, fake off his epaulets and throw away his sword; and follow the example of Wise, and retire from a position which " thank God Almighty,” was no longer tenable. He said he was not, and never had been, an Abolitionist in the sense of any abolition society he was acquainted with; but he believed, with Jefferson, that the God of nature had decreed the freedom of the slaves; and the sooner it came the better. In the sense that Thomas Jefferson was an Abolitionist he was one. He hoped the day would come when slavery would be a word without a meaning in the English language, when there should not be found a slave on all the earth. That, he thought, would be the consummation of the Christian religion; the fulfilment of the glorious promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, confirmed by the gospel of the New. He said he had little companionship with antislavery associations. He held his opinions from God and from the Declaration of Independence, which was permitted to hang in that hall, "however any portion of it may in practice have been turned out of doors." He closed by expressing his devotion to the Union and to the Constitution, and with the emphatic denial of the power of the House to refuse to receive a petition for the amendment of any of its parts.

The resolutions were then referred to a select committee of which Mr. Adams was made chairman. There were six reports. The report signed by Mr. Adams and Mr. Giddings, and writ­ ten by Mr. Adams, was a terrible arraignment of the ·supporters of slavery, especially for their denial of the right of petition. It asserted that slavery was opposed to the teachings of the gospel ; that the Declaration of Independence embodied the essential doctrines of Christianity ; and that it constituted a sacred pledge, in the name of God, to abolish slavery as soon as practicable, and to substitute freedom in its stead. It vindicated the action of Massachusetts, in proposing the amendment for the purification of the common Constitution from that unnatural and inconsistent element of a slave representation in the government of a free people. The report proposed to refer the question to the next session of Congress. While a majority of the committee could not concur in signing either of the several reports prepared, they did agree in the opinion that the amendment proposed by Massachusetts should not be recommended; and the House adopted a resolution to that effect, with only thirteen dissenting votes.

When the resolutions were presented to the Senate by Mr. Bates, they were denounced ill vituperative and violent language. Mr. King of Alabama characterized them as seditious, incendiary, and revolutionary, deserving the condemnation and execration of every well-wisher of the government. To this assault upon Massachusetts and her people, and to these misrepresentations .of the proposed amendment, no reply was made. Mr. Bates, avowing that he had no desire to excite discussion, asked that the resolutions be laid on the table and printed. But this modest request was denied by the chivalric defenders of State sovereignty; and the Senate refused to print them by a vote of more than two to one. To add to this indignity, the resolutions of Georgia replying to those of Massachusetts had been received and ordered to be printed. Mr. Bates, though reminding the Senate that Georgia had received a courtesy which had been denied to Massachusetts, did not renew the motion to print, nor was there any Southern senator sufficiently magnanimous to do it. Instead of feeling any humiliation at such discourtesy, the slaveholding members rather gloried in the deed as an evidence of their power, and of the helplessness of those they held in a vassalage hardly less degrading than that of their slaves. As Force was the only divinity they worshipped, or whose claims they heeded, the voices of justice, courtesy, and magnanimity fell but lightly upon their ears.

This indignity put upon Massachusetts was, however, keenly felt by her people. Nor were they satisfied with the action of their senators. They thought that Mr. Bates and Mr. Choate should have repelled the aspersions cast upon their State, denounced the discourtesy of the Senate, and vindicated the action of the legislature. That feeling soon found utterance in the legislature itself.

When the resolutions against the annexation of Texas were pending in the Senate, Henry Wilson of Middlesex moved an amendment requesting Massachusetts senators in Congress to prevent, if possible, the consummation of that slaveholding scheme. The resolution implied a rebuke for their timid action, and Mr. Wilson commented freely on what he characterized as their want of spirit. He wished to call their attention to the fact that upon the question of slavery the legislature was in sober earnest; that it wished "them to feel, to think, and to act as Massachusetts men, who have been reared under the institutions of the Pilgrim Fathers, should think, feel, and act."

Mr. Wilson's amendment was unanimously adopted. The resolution, however, was amended in the House by the insertion of the words “Representatives in Congress," which, of course, destroyed its significance and thwarted its purpose. But the Senate refused to concur in the amendment, and firmly adhered to the original resolution. Charles Francis Adams spoke strongly against receding. The people, he said, were dissatisfied with the action of their senators, and it was due to them that they should know what the people expected of them. The resolution said to them that Massachusetts would forgive the past if they would make great exertions for the future. There was a sharp debate in the House upon the question of receding from its amendment. Mr. Boutwell, then, the leader of the Democratic Party, spoke in favor of receding; and, Mr. Richardson, a young Democratic member from Woburn, advocated the same policy. “Our Representatives in Congress" he said," have behaved themselves like men. They have stood like rocks, like beacons in the wide waste but our Senators did not dare to rise when the fame, honor, and integrity of Massachusetts, were attacked." The House, however, refused, by a vote of one hundred and fifteen to one hundred and twenty-eight, to recede from its amendment. A committee of conference was appointed, and it was agreed, to strike out of the resolutions that which referred to the senators. Mr. Saltonstall, chairman of the committee of conference, on the part of the House, and who, perhaps, had done more than anyone to prevent the passage of the resolution in that body, assured the senatorial members of the committee that the object for which the resolution had been introduced had been already attained, and that both of the senators felt very keenly the criticisms which had been made in the legislature upon their course. 

Virginia went farther than any of her sister States in the condemnation of the proposition of Massachusetts to amend the Constitution. Her legislature not only denounced the proposition, but requested the, governor to return to, the executive of Massachusetts the resolutions that had been transmitted to him. This act of discourtesy not only showed how deeply the proposed amendment incensed the Slave Power, but also a lack of good breeding and comity of manners, to which qualities the slave-masters ever laid large claim, but of which this and similar acts revealed them to be sadly destitute. The governor complied with the request. The action of Virginia was transmitted by Governor Briggs to the legislature, and referred to a special committee. Linus Child, its chairman, reported that the action of Virginia was without, precedent, in derogation of the rights of the States; and in violation of the courtesies which should characterize the proceedings of sister States. The doctrines embodied in the original resolutions were restated and reaffirmed, and this report was unanimously adopted in both houses. To aggravate the discourtesy shown to Massachusetts, while it reveals and illustrates the constant humiliations imposed upon the free States by the insolent power that ruled, the resolutions of Virginia, in which a deliberate insult had been offered to a sister State, were presented in the Senate of the United States, and were courteously received by that body, which had, with studied disrespect, refused to print the original resolution to which these were the response.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 482-487.





THE necessities of slavery not only brought it into constant contact with freemen and free institutions at home, but often and seriously disturbed the foreign relations of the American government. Perhaps among the most mischievous and mortifying of its influences was the humiliating attitude in which it placed the nation before the world. Indeed, the saddest page of the history of the Slave Power is the record of the nation's diplomatic correspondence with other governments upon this subject. The persistent and shameless requirements of the slave masters forced it ever to compromise its dignity, consistency, and conscience by registering their edicts at home, and boisterously demanding their execution abroad. It was not a paid agent indeed, for, like that of the slaves themselves, its service was an unrequited toil, its only rewards being the disgrace it incurred and the increased rigors of the despotism by which it was bound. Even a cursory survey of its course in these foreign relations will reveal ample and mournful evidences of the national subserviency and sacrifices to those vile behests. At the very outset, before the government was fairly launched, or the Treaty of Peace signed, even in the very efforts to secure it, this solicitude was revealed, as if the conservation of slavery was more important 'than the salvation of the country.

During the progress of the war many slaves, having escaped from their masters, found refuge on board British vessels, and were carried away.  At the critical moment of negotiating this treaty the slave-masters, for both pecuniary and political reasons, seized this most inopportune juncture to press their claims for compensation for such slaves. They found one subservient to their wishes, in Henry Laurens of South Carolina, who was one of the commission, consisting of himself, Franklin, Adams, and Jay, sent to Paris on this important and delicate errand. At his suggestion the seventh article was inserted in the Treaty of Peace, by which it was provided 'that the British army " should not carry away any negroes or other property.”

 Mr. Chief Justice Jay was afterward appointed to negotiate a treaty of amity and Commerce. He was instructed by the government to demand Compensation for these slaves. Lord Granville resisted the demand and declined its payment. In communicating the fact to this government Mr. Jay characterized the claim as '" an odious one," and the treaty was made without the provision. It consequently encountered stern opposition in the Senate. Mr. Gunn of Georgia presented a resolution affirming that'" many negroes and other property” had been carried away by the British army in contravention of the Treaty of Peace. The President was required to renew the negotiations to secure indemnity for such losses; and the commissioner was further instructed, if he failed to secure the desired compensation under the treaty, to press the claim on the ground that to grant it would “tend to produce the desired friendship between the two governments." And this pertinacity in its demands was only a representative fact, indicating the deep and determined purpose of the Slave Power, even in its beginnings, to inaugurate a policy that was never remitted, until the power itself was stricken down by the very conflict it had itself evoked in its own behalf.

One of the consequences of the French Revolution was the investiture of the free blacks of San Domingo with the privileges of citizenship. This application of the revolutionary, watchwords of that stormy period, its “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," excited great commotion and opposition in that island, especially among its white inhabitants. This commotion was fostered by British aid, and, with the varying fortunes of war, continued until 1798, when the negroes, left in full possession of the island, free and emancipated, organized the government of Hayti. Though Napoleon sought to resubjugate the island, and sacrificed in the attempt some forty thousand troops, the French commander was forced to surrender to the victorious Haytien armies in 1802, and Hayti became an independent nation, subsequently acknowledged as such by the governments of France and England.

Of course the existence of such a government on the very borders of this nation necessarily provoked demonstrations and responses from the American government. The natural supposition should have been, that a government with such an origin and history, with so much resembling its own, would have kindled into a warm and glowing enthusiasm the sympathy and good wishes of the United States. She should have eagerly welcomed this young republic to her side as one of the accompanying fruits of her own struggle. The welcome actually extended was, however, wholly different. Though the Haytien government had been established for several years without the presence of a single hostile soldier, and without even one alleged offence, the American Congress passed, in 1806, an Act to suspend commercial intercourse. The reasons of this unfriendly act against a young republic, trying the experiment of free government under circumstances so peculiar and difficult, were more unworthy than the-act itself. The French Emperor, irritated by his defeat, and great losses, sought to secure unworthy concessions from the American government, and to gain by diplomacy what he had so signally failed to secure by arms. He meant to starve into subjection a brave people whom he could not coerce. He accordingly demanded of the United States the immediate cessation of commerce with those he styled "the rebels of San Domingo, that race of African slaves, the reproach and refuse of nature," affirming also that he expected "from the dignity and candor of the government of the Union, that an end be put to it promptly." How was that imperious demand received? With the dignity which should have marked the conduct of a nation Lasing its claims to nationality on the public proclamation of the great doctrine of human rights and equality? On the contrary, the demanded legislation was rushed through Congress with indecorous haste in less than two months.

The same temper and purpose of the government were exhibited in its attitude towards Hayti in connection with the Panama Congress. In his Annual Message to Congress, in 1823, Mr. Monroe announced as the policy of the United States, that European powers would not be permitted to interfere in the affairs of the nations on the American Continent, and that this continent should not be considered as subject to future colonization by those Powers. That declaration, known as the “Monroe doctrine," inspired Mexico and the nations of South America, struggling for independence, with great confidence in the government of the United States. An invitation was extended on the 2d of November, by the Colombian Minister at Washington, to the government of the United States, to send commissioners to the proposed Congress at Panama. Among the topics proposed for consideration was the adoption of more effectual means for" the entire abolitio1i of the African slave-trade, by a more general and uniform co-operation." There was more of force and significance in this request, from the fact that the United States had proposed a convention with Colombia for this very purpose, to which the latter had acceded, though as yet the United States had withheld its final ratification. That invitation was accepted by Mr. Adams; and John Sergeant of Pennsylvania and Richard C. Anderson of Kentucky were nominated as commissioners, and William B. Rochester of New York as secretary. The President in his first Annual Message, in 1825, called the attention of Congress to the Panama Mission, and so much of his Message as related to that subject was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. It had been announced in the invitation that among the subjects to be considered at Panama were the slave-trade and the condition of Hayti, Cuba, and Porto Rico. This committee, through its chairman, Mr. Macon of North Carolina, made an elaborate report, written by Mr. Tazewell of Virginia, a member of the committee, against the expediency of the mission. The proposition to meet the South American States in the proposed Congress at Panama intensely excited and aroused the slave holding interests. The Committee on Foreign Affairs consequently embodied and expressed in their report the opinions and purposes of the Slave Power. The committee declared that the policy of the government towards Hayti had been fixed for ·more than a third of a century. '"we purchase," says the report, '' coffee from her and pay for it; but we interchange no consuls or ministers. We receive no mulatto consuls or black ambassadors from her; and why? Because the peace of eleven States in this Union will not permit the fruits of a successful negro insurrection to be exhibited among them. It will not permit black consuls and ambassadors to establish themselves in our cities, and to parade through our country, and to give their fellow-blacks in the United States proof in hand of the honors that await them in a like successful effort on their part. It will not permit the fact to be seen and told, that for the murder of their masters and mistresses they are to find friends among the white people of the United States." The report proceeded to declare emphatically that the question of Haytien independence had been determined; that it could not be discussed '' in this chamber on this day “; and that Congress should not advise and consult in a council with five nations, who had put a black man on an equality with the white, -" five nations, who have at this moment black generals in their armies and mulatto members in their congresses.”

The report of the 'committee, declaring it inexpedient to send commissioners to Panama, was defeated by five majority, and the Senate, on motion of Mr. Mills of Massachusetts, proceeded to consider the nominations. The question elicited a very able debate, in which senators representing the interests of slavery enunciated very explicitly the opinions and purposes of the slaveholding oligarchy. In that debate Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina took the lead. He asserted that the question of slavery was a domestic question, and that the language of the United States to foreign nations ought to be, “We cannot permit to be touched." He declared that he considered the rights of the slaveholding States “in that species of property as not open to discussion either here or elsewhere "; that " to call into question our rights is grossly to violate them, to attempt to instruct us on this subject is to insult us, to dare to assail our institutions is wantonly to invade our peace." As to the slave-trade, be congratulated, the Senate that treaty with England and Colombia had failed. He said that the question of the independence of Hayti could not be considered in connection with revolutionary governments, who had marched to victory under universal emancipation, and had colored men at the head of their armies, in their legislative halls, and in their executive departments. He insisted that the government should direct ''all our ministers in South America and Mexico to protest against the independence of Hayti.'.' He denounced. Mr. Sergeant as “a distinguished advocate of the Missouri restriction, an acknowledged abolitionist," sent to plead the cause of the South at the Congress of Panama.

Mr. Hamilton of South Carolina affirmed, the sentiments of the Southern people to be that “Haytien independence is not to be tolerated in any form." Mr. Johnson of Louisiana was equally explicit and decided. Indeed, he went a step further, and avowed that the nation should not recognize the independence of Hayti, but that it should remonstrate with the South American governments and Mexico against such acknowledgment.

In 1838, twelve years later, a petition was presented, praying for the usual recognition of international relations with that republic. But it ·was received with the same hostile demonstrations. Mr. Legare of South Carolina characterized the petition as treason, and the petitioners “as traitors, not to their country only, but to the whole human race." Mr. Wise of Virginia was equally violent, denouncing the desire as "the abolition spirit” that would have men of such an origin recognized by commercial and international reciprocity. "Nor would he do it," he said,” if they had been free for centuries." And this persistent and intolerant opposition was maintained before the world, not only to the manifest damage of national reputation, but also to the detriment of the commercial interests of the country. "We stand aloof,'' says Mr. Grennell, "as if they were a lawless tribe of savages. While all other powers have long since acknowledged them as an independent sovereignty, we refuse to recognize them. Others profit by their commerce at our expense."

The war of 1812 against England, in its inception, progress, and fi11al treaty of peace, afforded another occasion for similar demonstrations on the part of the slave interest, and a similar subserviency on the part of the government. The number of slaves at the time of the declaration of war exceeded twelve hundred thousand. From the organization of the government under the Constitution, in 1789, they had doubled in numbers and increased at least fivefold in value. Although the slave­ trade had been prohibited for more than four years, several thousands of slaves were annually smuggled into the country, and the domestic slave-trade had largely increased' under the stimulating influences of the Louisiana purchase, the opening of new lands, and the rapid increase of the cotton culture. The South, then under the complete control of the slave-masters, was gaining a like ascendency over the Federal government, and a dominating influence over the non-slaveholding States.

0n the eve of the dec1aration of war John Randolph, speaking in opposition to it, bitterly denounced the idea of a war for maritime rights, by the invasion of Canada, while the coast of the Southern States was exposed to the enemy. “While talking," he said, "of Canada, we have too much reason to shudder for our safety at home. I speak from facts, when I say that the night bell never tolls for tire in Richmond that the frightened mother does not hug her infant more closely to her bosom, not knowing what may have happened." He denounced "the infernal principles of French fraternity," declared that there were not " wanting members of this House to preach on this floor the doctrine of imprescriptible rights to a crowded audience of blacks in the galleries ;· teaching them that they are equal to their masters ; in other words, advising them to cut their masters' throats."  Similar doctrines, he said, are spread throughout the South by Yankee peddlers; and there are even owners of slaves so infatuated as, by the general tenor of their conversation, by their contempt of order, morality, and religion, unthinkingly to cherish these seeds of destruction. He asserted that the whole South had been thrown, by the spreading of these infernal doctrines, into a state of insecurity, and that men, dead to the operation of moral causes, had taken from the slave the habits of loyalty and obedience which lightened his servitude, and were now trusting to "' the mere physical strength of the shackle " that holds him. “You have deprived him of all moral restraint," he said ; " you have tempted him to eat of the tree of knowledge just enough to perfect him in wickedness ; you have opened his eyes to his nakedness ; you have roused his nature against the hand that has fed him and has clothed him and has cherished him in sickness, -- that hand which, before he became a pupil in your school, he was accustomed to press to his lips with respectful affection ; you have done all this, -- and now you point him to the whip and the gibbet as incentives to sullen; reluctant obedience." He said there was not a spot on all the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, the city of Baltimore alone excepted, safe from attack or capable of defence ; and he expressed the hope that God would  forbid that the Southern States should ever see on their shores an enemy with these " infernal principles of French fraternity " in the van. 

Whether the slaves had imbibed the infernal principles of French fraternity or not, many availed themselves of the presence of British blockading vessels in Southern waters, especially in the Chesapeake Bay, to leave the enforced service of American masters and accept offers to enter the British service, or to become free settlers in the British Possessions. It is stated by Mr. Hildreth, in his History of the United States, that a plan to take ·possession of the isthmus between the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays, and there train a black army, was only rejected because the British, being slaveholders themselves, diet not like to encourage insurrection elsewhere.

In the year 1814, peace commissioners were appointed. In the instructions given these commissioners by Mr. Monroe, Secretary of State, they were directed to be watchful of the interests of the slave-holders. In his instructions of the 28th of January, 1814, he, said: '' the negroes, taken from the Southern States, should be returned to their owners, or paid for at their full value." Indeed, this was one of the conditions on which they· were to insist in, the proposed negotiations. In. the treaty of peace, negotiated: at Ghent, the restoration of slaves was expressly provided for. When it was ratified, on the 17th of February, 1815, three commissioners were immediately appointed, to repair at once to the British squadron in the Chesapeake Bay, with authority to receive absconding slaves on board such vessels. The commander of the squadron promptly and peremptorily refused their surrender. The officer in temporary command maintained that the treaty had no reference to slaves who had sought protection on board British vessels, and that it only applied to, slaves "originally captured in forts or places, and who were- remaining in such forts or places at the-time of its ratification by the two governments."

On the arrival of Admiral Cockburn the demand was renewed ; but he gave the same interpretation to the treaty, though at the same, time he surrendered, eighty slaves found on Cumberland Island when it was captured by the British forces, and who, had not been removed at the time of the ratification of the treaty. Mr. Monroe, Secretary of State, at once applied to the English Charge des Affaires at Washington, requesting him to direct the British naval commander to surrender the fugitives. But that officer, putting the same construction upon the treaty as had been put upon it by the British naval officers, refused to comply with the request. The British squadron sailing for Bermuda with the fugitives on board, the government immediately dispatched an agent, with authority to demand of the governor of that island their surrender. To this demand of the government of the United States for the surrender of men who had sought liberty and protection under the flag of England, the British governor emphatically replied that he" would rather Bermuda, with every man, woman, and child in it, were sunk under the sea, than surrender one slave that had sought protection under the flag of England." Notwithstanding this brave and manly response, worthy alike of the individual and of the representative of the British government, the American agent still persisted in his claim, and addressed the Admiral then in those waters, offering to furnish him a list .of the slaves. But Admiral Griffith assured Mr. Spaulding, the agent of the United States, that there was no one at Bermuda or any other British port "competent to deliver up persons who, during the late wars, had placed themselves under the protection of the British flag." Repulsed by both the civil and naval officers of England, the government of the United States demanded of the British Cabinet the execution of the treaty, as it understood it, by the surrender of fugitive slaves who had taken refuge from oppression on board the vessels of that government. But the demand was promptly rejected, and the American government was assured by Lord Castlereagh that England would never have consented to a treaty that required the delivery of persons who had sought its protection.

The government of the United States, completely dominated by the slaveholders, persisting in its demands, the British government consented to refer the question to the decision of the Emperor of Russia. The Emperor decided in favor of the construction of the treaty made by the American government. After further negotiations it was decided that commissioners should be appointed, who should hold their sessions in Washington, receive and adjust the claims presented, and decide upon the number and value of the slaves. The commissioners, on the part of the United States, insisting on interest, further negotiations were entered into, and the British government paid over, by the convention of November, 1826, more than twelve hundred thousand dollars, in full of all demands. Thus, during nearly twelve years, the government of the United States pressed upon the British government the payment in full for persons who had fled from the cruelty and nameless wrongs of chattel slavery and found freedom and protection on the-decks of the British navy. To secure the re-enslavement of the escaping fugitives, or payment in full for the souls and bodies of these victims of oppression, the, American government made its demands at the negotiations at Ghent, pressed them on. British admirals, governors, charge des affaires, and the British Cabinet, before the imperial master of Russia and even higgled for interest before the joint commission: appointed to adjust and fix the price of human chattels.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 112-122.



See also Dred Scott, US Supreme Court and Slavery; Van Zandt Case




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