Abbildungen der Seite
PDF

FREEDOM AND PUBLIC FAITH.

SPEECH

OF

WILLIAM H. SEWAKD,

ON THE

ABROGATION OF THE MISSOURI COMPROMISE,

IN THE

KANSAS AND NEBRASKA BILLS.

SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, FEBRUARY IT, 1854.

WASHINGTON, D. C.

BUELL & BLANCHARD, PRINTERS.

1854.

SPEECH OF WILLIAM H. SEWARD.

Mr. President:

The United States, at the close of the Revolution, rested southward on the St. Mary's, and westward on the Mississippi, and possessed a broad, unoccupied domain, circumscribed by those rivers, the Alleghany mountains, and the great* Northern lakes. The Constitution anticipated the division of this domain into States, to be admitted as members of the Union, but it neither provided for nor anticipated any enlargement of the national boundaries. The People, engaged in reorganizing their Governments, improving their social systems, and establishing relations of commerce and friendship with other nations, remained many years content within their apparently ample limits. But it was already foreseen that the free navigation of the Mississippi would soon become an urgent public want.

France, although she had lost Canada, in chivalrous battle, on the Heights of Abraham, in 1763, nevertheless, still retained her ancient territories on the western bank of the Mississippi. She had also, just before the breaking out of her own fearful revolution, re-acquired, by a secret treaty, the possessions on the Gulf of Mexico, which, in a recent war, had been wrested from her by Spain. Her First Consul, among those brilliant achievements which proved him the first Statesman as well as the first Captain of Europe, sagaciously sold the whole of these possessions to the United States, for a liberal sum, and thus replenished his treasury, while he saved from his enemies, and transferred to a friendly Power, distant and vast regions, which, for want of adequate naval force, he was unable to defend.

This purchase of Louisiana from France, by the United Stated, involved a grave dispute concerning the western limits of that province; and that controversy, having remained open until 1819, was then adjusted by a treaty, in which they relinquished Texas to Spain, and accepted a cession of the early-discovered and long-inhabited provinces of East Florida and West Florida. The United States stipulated, in each of these cases, to admit the countries thus annexed into the Federal Union.

The acquisitions of Oregon, by discovery and occupation, of Texas, by her voluntary annexation, and of New Mexico and California, including what is now called Utah, by war, completed that rapid course of enlargement, at the close of which our frontier has been fixed near the centre of what was New Spain, on the At

lantic side of the continent, while on the west, as on the east, only an ocean separates us from the nations of the ol4 world. It is not in my way now to speculate on the question, how long we are to rest on these advanced positions.

Slavery, before the Revolution, existed in all the thirteen Colonies, as it did also in nearly all the other European plantations in America. But it had been forced by British authority, for political and commercial ends, on the American People, against their own sagacious instincts of policy, and their stronger feelings of justice and humanity.

They had protested and remonstrated against the system, earnestly, for forty years, and they ceased to protest and remonstrate against it only when they finally committed their entire cause of complaint to the arbitrament of arms. An earnest spirit of emancipation was abroad in the Colonies at the close of the Revolution, and all of them, except, perhaps, South Carolina and Georgia, anticipated, desired, and designed an early removal of the system from the country. The suppression of the African slave trade, which was universally regarded as ancillary to that great measure, was not, without much reluctance, postponed until 1808.

While there was no national power, and no claim or desire for national power, anywhere, to compel involuntary emancipation in the States where slavery existed, there was at the same time a very general desire and a strong purpose to prevent its introduction into new communities yet to be formed, and into new States yet to be established. Mr. Jefferson proposed, as early as 1784, to exclude it from the national domain which should be constituted by cessions from the States to the United States. He recommended and urged the measure as ancillary, also, to the ultimate policy of emancipation. There seems to have been at first no very deep jealousy between the emancipating and the non-emancipating States; and the policy of admitting new States was not disturbed by questions concerning slavery. Vermont, a non-slaveholding State, was admitted in 1793. Kentucky, a tramontane slaveholding community, having been detached from Virginia., was admitted, without being questioned, about the same lime. So, also, Tennessee, which was a similar community separated from North Carolina, was admitted in 1796, with a stipulation that the Ordinance which Mr. Jefferson had first proposed, and which had in the mean time been adopted for the Territory northwest of the Ohio, should not be held to apply within her limits. The same course was adopted in organizing Territorial Governments for Mississippi and Alabama, slaveholding communities which had been detached from South Carolina and Georgia. All these States and Territories were situated southwest of the Ohio river, all were more or less already peopled by slaveholders with their slaves; and to have excluded slavery within their limits would have been a national act, not of preventing the introduction of slavery, but of abolishing slavery. In short, the region southwest of the Ohio river presented a field in which the policy of preventing the introduction of slavery was impracticable. Our forefathers never attempted what was impracticable.

But the case was otherwise in that fair and broad region which stretched away from the banks of the Ohio, northward to the lakes, and westward to the Mississippi. It was yet free, or practically free, from the presence ef slaves, and was nearly uninhabited, and quite unoccupied. There was then no Baltimore and Ohio railroad, no Erie railroad, no New York Central railroad, no Boston and Ogdensburgh railroad; there was no railroad through Canada; nor, indeed, any road around or across the mountains; no imperial Erie canal, no Welland canal, no lockages around the rapids and the falls of the St. Lawrence, the Mohawk, and the Niagara rivers, and no steam navigation on the Jakes or on the Hudson, or on the Mississippi. There, in that remote "and secluded region, the prevention of the introduction of slavery was possible; and there our forefathers, who left no possible national good unattempted, did prevent it. It makes one's heart bound with joy and gratitude, and lift itself up with mingled pride and veneration, to read the history of that great transaction. Discarding the trite and common forms of expressing the national will, they did not merely "vote," or "resolve," or " enact," as on other occasions, but they "Ordained," in language marked at once with precision, amplification, solemnity, and emphasis, that there " shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said Territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." And they further Ordained and declared that this law should be considered a Compact between the original States and the People and States of said Territory, and forever remain unalterable, unless by common consent. The Ordinance was agreed to unanimously. Virginia, in re-affirming her cession of the territory, ratified it, and the first Congress held under the Constitution solemnly renewed and confirmed it.

In pursuance of this Ordinance, the several Territorial Governments successively established in the Northwest Territory were organized wiih a prohibition of the introduction of slave

ry, and in due time, though at successive periods, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, States erected within that Territory, have come into the Union with Constitutions in their hands forever prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, except for the punishment of crime. They are yet young; but, nevertheless, who has ever seen elsewhere such States as they are! There are gathered the young, the vigorous, the active, the enlightened sons of every State, the flower and choice of every State in this broad Union; and there the emigrant for conscience sake, and for freedom s sake, from every land in Europe, from proud and all-conquering Britain, from heartbroken Ireland, from sunny Italy, from mercurial France, from spiritual Germany, from chivalrous Hungary, and from honest and brave old Sweden and Norway. Thence are already coming ample supplies of corn and wheat and wine for the manufacturers of the East, for the planters of the tropics, and even for the artisans and the armies of Europe; and thence will continue to come in long succession, as they have already begun to come, statesmen and legislators for this continent.

Thus it appears, Mr. President, that it was the policy of our fathers, in regard to the original domain of the United States, to prevent the introduction of slavery, wherever it was practicable. .This policy encountered greater difficulites when it came under consideration with a view to its establishment in regions not included within our original domain. While slavery had been actually abolished already, hy some of the emancipating States, several of them, owing to a great change in the relative value of the productions of slave labor, had fallen off into the class of non-emancipating States; and now the whole family of States was divided and classified as slaveholding or slave States, and non-slaveholding or free States. A rivalry for political ascendency was soon developed; and, besides the motives of interest and philanthropy which had before existed, there was now on each side a desire to increase, from among the candidates for admission into the Union, the number of States in their respective classes, and so their relative weight and influence in the Federal Councils.

The country which had been acquired from France was, in 1804, organized in two Territories, one of which, including New Orleans as its capital, was called Orleans, and the other, having St. Louis for its chief town, was called Louisiana. In 1812, the Territory of Orleans was admitted as a new State, under the name of Louisiana. It had been an old slaveholding colony of France, and the prevention of slavery within it would have been a simple act of abolition. At the same time, the Territory of Louisiana, by authority of Congress, took the name of Missouri; and, in 1819, the portion thereof which now constitutes the State of Arkansas was detached, and beame a Territory,

« ZurückWeiter »