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“Resolved, That the people of the South will do us great injustice if they allow themselves to believe that the few among us who are interfering with the question of slavery are acting in accordance with the sentiment of the North on this subject ; and we do not hesitate to assure them that the great body of the Northern people entertain opinions similar to those expressed in these resolutions.
“Finally Resolved, That we make these declarations to our Southern brethren in the same spirit of amity which bound together their fathers and ours during a long and eventful struggle for independence, and that we do, in full remembrance of that common association, plight them our faith to maintain in practice, so far as lies in our power, what we have thus solemnly declared.”
These resolutions, which I offered as chairman of a committee appointed on my motion, were enforced by a speech from myself sustaining the several positions assumed in them, as a matter of obligation and duty, arising under the political compact between the States. My sentiments are unchanged; and I have no hesitation in saying that nothing inconsistent with them will be found in anything I have said since that time.
2. FREE-SOILISM. In August, 1846, when President Polk asked of Congress two millions of dollars (afterward increased to three millions), with a view to terminate the war with Mexico, a proviso was proposed by Mr. Wilmot, of Pennsylvania, and adopted by the House of Representatives, prohibiting the introduction of slavery into any territory which might be acquired. It was sent to the Senate on the last day of the session, but was not acted on. In 1847 it was renewed, and in the mean time a large number of the non-slaveholding States had passed resolutions instructing their Senators, and requesting their representatives in Congress, to sustain it. New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania, in the order in which they are named, preceded New York in their action on this subject. The ground taken in Congress and in most of the States was that, as slavery had been abolished in Mexico, it ought not to be revived or allowed to be introduced into any territory she might cede to us, as long as the latter continued in the Territorial condition. The right of a State, on coming into the Union, to establish or legalize slavery, as a local institution, was generally conceded. I have always considered it above all control or interference by the Federal Government; and on the 1st of March, 1847, in my first speech in the Senate on this subject, I made the following propositions, with a view to the settlement of the whole question:
“1. All external interference with slavery in the States is a violation of the compromises of the Constitution, and dangerous to the harmony and perpetuity of the Federal Union.
“2. If territory is acquired by the United States, it should, in respect to slavery, be left as it is found. If slavery exists therein at the time of the acquisition, it should not be the subject of legislation by Congress. On the other hand, if slavery does not exist therein at the time of the acquisition, its introduction ought to be prohibited while the territory continues to be governed as such.
“3. All legislation by Congress in respect to slavery in the territory belonging to the United States ceases to be operative when the inhabitants are permitted to form a State Government; and the admission of a State into the Union carries with it, by virtue of the sovereignty such admission confers, the right to dispose of the whole question of slavery without external interference."
These propositions I considered in substantial accordance with the resolutions of the Legislature of the State I represented, and they were in conformity to my own opinions.
It did not, of course, escape my notice at the time I made these propositions—which were reiterated in 1848, in the words in which they are above given (and I think I so stated to some of my associates in the Senate)—that their adoption as a final adjustment of the dispute would bring Cuba into the l'nion, when the proper time should arrive, as a Territory first and a State afterward, without any question as to the existence of slavery in that island.
This, then, was the position of fourteen of the thirty States in 1848—that if any territory was acquired from Mexico (slavery having been abolished) it should continue free from slavery as long as it was governed as a Territory, leaving to the people, when they should organize a State, to decide for themselves what their condition in this respect should be. This position I sustained from 1847 to 1849. My convictions of its justice were, I trust, as sincere as the opinions of those from whom I differed. I have never attempted any explanation of my action on this question otherwise than as my recorded speeches in the Senate explain it; and I am sure that nothing will be found in them which can be justly considered offensive by those who disagreed with me. To the people of the State of New Yorkwhose instructions, given through the Legislature, I obeyed and defended—I have always been ready to account.
Some of the State Legislatures in 1848 went farther, and passed resolutions against the admission of any future slaveholding State into the Union. I never assented to such a proposition. On the contrary, I believed it to be irreconcilable with
I our obligations to others—certainly to Texas—and it was inconsistent with my own views of State sovereignty.
The long-pending controversy was settled after my term of service in the Senate had expired—1st, by the admission of California into the Union, with a Constitution, formed by herself, prohibiting slavery; and, 2d, by the organization of Territorial governments for Mexico and Utah without such a prohibition. These acts were regarded, and generally acquiesced in, as a settlement of the whole question. This was my view of the subject, and I have so treated it on all occasions.
3. FUGITIVE SLAVES. I have always acknowledged the right of the slaveholding States to demand the surrender of fugitive slaves under that provision of the Constitution which requires the surrender of persons held to service or labor; the right of Congress to legislate on the subject, and the obligation to pass an effective law.
In a debate in the Senate of the United States, on the 26th of July, 1848, I made the following remarks :
“The Northern States have been repeatedly charged in this debate, and on many previous occasions, with aggression and violations of the constitutional compact in their action on the subject of slavery. With regard to the surrender of fugitive slaves—the case most frequently cited—it is possible that there may have been some action, or inaction, in particular States, not in strict accordance with the good faith they ought to observe in this respect. I know not how it is, but we know there is an effective power to legislate on this subject in Congress, and I am sure there will be no want of co-operation on our part in carrying out the requirements of the Constitution, by providing all reasonable means for executing them.”
Since the law of 1850 passed I have uniformly declared myself in favor of carrying it into execution, like every other law of the land. My views with regard to this and all other obligations of a kindred character are clearly expressed in the following extract from an address delivered at Boston, in November, 1852, repeated on several occasions in New England and this State, and published in January last :
"And, 1st, let it be distinctly understood that the law must be inflexibly maintained. I use the term law in its largest sense, not only as including what has been specifically decreed, but as comprehending the general order, on the preservation of which the inviolability of all public authority depends. The law is the will of the people, constitutionally expressed. Whoever arrays himself against it, excepting to procure its repeal, in the mode prescribed by the fundamental compact, commits an act of treachery to the people themselves.
“The law is the basis of all popular supremacy. It is the very feature by which free government is distinguished from despotism. To uphold it is one of the highest duties which is devolved on us as freemen. It is always possible that those who are intrusted with its execution may err in the performance of their duty. They may employ unnecessary, arbitrary, or even wanton severity in enforcing it. For all this they may be held to a rigid account. But no error in the execution can impair the obligation to uphold it. It must be understood, and without reservation, that the law is to be inflexibly maintained.”
4. THE HIGHER LAW. In July, 1850, shortly after the promulgation of Governor Seward's higher law doctrine, I referred to it in an address to the Democracy of Herkimer County, in this State-published immediately after-in the following terms:
“In the maintenance of principles which we believe to be vital to our honor or prosperity let us not forget that we have duties to perform in a twofold relation—to ourselves, and others in our sister States, as members of a common Union, which we are pledged to maintain under all its constitutional forms, and to our Democratic brethren in this State, with whom we have been associated in numberless contests and trials. Our first duty is fidelity to the Constitution. If we fail in the observance of any one of its requirements, how can we call on the people of other States to be faithful to it? If, as has been said, there is a Power above the Constitution, His will, so far as it has been revealed to us, inculcates obedience to the Government under which we live, while it is administered in accordance with the fundamental compact; submission to the laws, fidelity to duties arising under the Constitution, and a spirit of justice to our political associates. I am in favor of conforming to all its requirements, and of carrying them out fully and in good faith, no matter what they may be. No one of our obligations under the Constitution can be less imperative than another. Disobedience to one is infidelity to all.”
I believe I have, in the foregoing remarks and extracts from speeches heretofore delivered, covered all the ground of imputation against me, including the proceedings of the Baltimore Convention of 1852, which contained nothing of importance not asserted in previous conventions, except an endorsement of the compromise measures, as a settlement of the slavery question, and a deprecation of all future agitation of it, “here or elsewhere.” In these proceedings I expressed at the first meeting held in this city to ratify them my cordial concurrence, and I was, during the greater part of the late canvass for the Presidency, in the field in this and other States.
It is with great regret that I have, for the first time in my life, felt constrained to vindicate myself from the imputations of sentiments I have never entertained or uttered. I had heard, previously to the receipt of your favor, that I was assailed by Whig speakers in the South as an Abolitionist; and I was willing to leave my vindication to time and events as the best correctors of all such misrepresentation and error. But when told by you that they were used as instruments of assault upon the President and the Democracy of Georgia, I felt that no personal consideration should induce me to remain silent. In connection with the subject I deem it due to myself to say that, before my letter to you of the 31st ult. was written, I had expressed to the President a desire to be relieved, as soon as the public convenience would permit, from the office I now hold—an office which nothing but the hope of being useful to the Democratic cause in this State would have induced me to accept—and that I am not, and have never been, by any act of my own, a candidate for any other. I am, dear Sir, very respectfully yours,
JOHN A. Dix.
(Vol. I., page 348.)
New York, November 10, 1800. To the lion. Howell Cobb:
Dear Sir,—The movements in some of the Southern States, with a view to the dissolution of the Union, have, as you may suppose, given us the greatest uneasiness, and I cannot refrain from writing to you on the subject. I do so because you have been charged-unjustly, I do not doubt-with favoring these movements, and because I sincerely think there is no Southern