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fight against the Russians. American senators were in the habit of giving to their friends letters to the Russian minister, in order to enable them to obtain from him commissions in the Russian army during the Crimean war. Did we suppose that we were violating the neutrality laws? We knew that each person that went on that service went on his own responsbility. If he got a leg shot off, he could not call upon us to protect him, or to punish the man who shot the gun. So it is with those who choose to go to Nicaragua and try their fortunes there. I had hoped that the feverish excitement in favor of these expeditions would have ceased long ago, and that we should be enabled to acquire whatever interest we desired in Central America in a regular, lawful manner, through negotiation rather than through these expeditions. But, sir, when I am called upon to express an opinion in regard to the legality of these movements, I must say that in my judgment the arrest of Walker was an act in violation of the law of nations and unauthorized by our own neutrality laws. To this extent, like the gentlemen around me who have spoken, I dissent from the President of the United States. I do so with deep regret, with great pain. My anxiety to act with that distinguished gentleman, and conform to his recommendations as far as possible, will induce me to give the benefit of all doubts in his favor; but where my judgment is clear, like my friend from Mississippi [Mr. Brown], I must take it upon myself to speak my own opinions and abide the consequences.
THE ACQUISITION OF CUBA.
In December, 1858, after the election of that year in Illinois, Mr. Douglas visited the city of New Orleans. He was about closing his speech in explanation of his course upon Lecomptonism, when there were loud cries of “Cuba' Cuba'” from the audience. In response to these calls, Mr. Douglas said:
“It is our destiny to have Cuba, and it is folly to debate the question. It naturally belongs to the American continent. It guards the mouth of the Mississippi River, which is the heart of the American continent, and the body of the American nation. Its acquisition is a matter of time only. Our government should adopt the policy of receiving Cuba as soon as a fair and just opportunity shall be presented. Whether that opportunity occur next year or the year after, whenever the occasion arises and the opportunity presents itself, it should be embraced.
“The same is true of Central America and Mexico. It will not do to say we have territory enough. When the Constitution was formed there was enough, yet in a few years afterward we needed more. We acquired Louisiana and Florida, Texas and California, just as the increase in our population and our interests demanded. When, in 1850, the Clayton-Bulwer treaty was sent to the Senate for ratification, I fought it to the end. They then asked what I wanted with Central America. I told them I did not want it then, but the time would come when we must have it. They then asked what my objection to the treaty was. I told them I objected to that, among other clauses of it, which said that neither Great Britain nor the United States should ever buy, annex, colonize, or acquire any portion of Central America. I said I would never consent to a treaty with any foreign power pledging ourselves not to do in the future whatever interest or necessity might compel us to do. I was then told by veteran senators, as my distinguished friend well knows (looking toward Mr. Soulé), that Central America was so far off that we should never want it. I told them then, “Yes; a good way off—half way to California, and on the direct road to it.' I said it was our right and duty to open all the highways between the Atlantic and the Gulf States and our possessions on the Pacific, and that I would enter into no treaty with Great Britain or any other government concerning the affairs of the American continent. And here, without a breach of confidence, I may be permitted to state a conversation which took place at that time between myself and the British minister, Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer, on that point. He took occasion to remonstrate with me that my position with regard to the treaty was unjust and untenable; that the treaty was fair because it was reciprocal, and it was reciprocal because it pledged that neither Great Britain nor the United States should ever purchase, colonize, or acquire any territory in Central America. I told him that it would be fair if they would add one word to the treaty, so that it would read that neither Great Britain nor the United States should ever occupy or hold dominion over Central America or Asia. But he said, ‘You have no interests in Asia.’ ‘No,' answered I, ‘and you have none in Central America.” “‘But,” said he, “you can never establish any rights in Asia.’ ‘No,' said I, ‘and we don't mean that you shall ever establish any in America.’ I told him it would be just as respectful for us to ask that pledge in reference to Asia, as it was for Great Britain to ask it from us in reference to Central America. “If experience shall continue to prove, what the past may be considered to have demonstrated, that those little Central American powers can not maintain self-government, the interests of Christendom require that some power should preserve order for them. Hence I maintain that we should adopt and observe a line of policy in unison with our own interests and our destiny. I do not wish to force things. We live in a rapid age. Events crowd upon each other with marvelous rapidity. I do not want territory any faster than we can occupy, Americanize, and civilize it. I am no filibuster. I am opposed to unlawful expeditions. But, on the other hand, I am opposed to this country acting as a miserable constabulary for France and England. “I am in favor of expansion as fast as consistent with our interest and the increase and development of our population and resources; but I am not in favor of that policy unless the great principle of non-intervention and the right of the people to decide the question of slavery and all other domestic questions for themselves shall be maintained. If that principle prevail, we have a future before us more glorious than that of any other people that ever existed. Our republic will endure for thousands of years. Progress will be the law of its destiny. It will gain new strength with every state brought into the confederacy. Then there will be peace and harmony between the free states and the slave states. The more degrees of latitude and longitude embraced beneath our Constitution, the better. The greater the variety of productions, the better; for then we shall have the principles of free trade apply to the important staples of the world, making us the greatest planting as well as the greatest manufacturing, the greatest commercial as well as the greatest agricultural power on the globe.”
MR. Douglas took an active part in the proceedings which resulted in the measures of legislation known as the “Compromise of 1850.” The general history of that compromise is well known to the American people. It has for a number of years been so thoroughly and so frequently discussed, that its history, as well as its provisions, have become familiar to all who take an interest in political matters.
A brief synopsis of the events preceding and attending the adoption of that compromise will not be uninteresting, at least to those whose interest in the history of Mr. Douglas's career has induced them to read thus far in these pages. By the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (voted against by Mr. Douglas), the United States, acquired the territory of California, Utah, and New Mexico. That treaty was ratified in 1848, and Congress shortly after adjourned without making any provision for the government of the newly-acquired country. During the short session of 1848–'9 several efforts were made, the most prominent of which was the Clayton Compromise, and the amendment of Mr. Walker of Wisconsin, which, though they both passed the Senate, failed to meet the approval of the House of Representatives. The struggle was between the friends and the opponents of the Wilmot Proviso. Congress adjourned on the 4th of March, 1849, without having made any provision for the government of the new territories. In the mean time the discovery of gold in California had drawn thousands to that state; a civil government was absolutely necessary. The only government there was that of General Riley, who, by virtue of his office as commander of the American forces, exercised to a limited extent the functions of a civil governor. During the summer of 1849, the people of California, aided by General Riley, who acted under instructions from Washington, called a convention, formed a state Constitution, elected state officers, put their state government in operation, elected two United States senators and two members of the
House of Representatives. The Constitution of the new state prohibited slavery. These proceedings in California had greatly added to the excitement upon the pending issue of a congressional prohibition of slavery in the territories. Those who had opposed any action of Congress which applied a prohibition of slavery to any part of the new territory denounced the action of the people of California. They demanded that the usurpation by the squatters on the Pacific should be rebuked by Congress. It was held by many that the action of California was a “snap judgment” upon the South; that, taking advantage of the non-action by Congress, the people of California had been induced to do, that, by the proceeding of establishing a state government and the adoption of a Constitution prohibiting slavery, which Congress had positively refused to do, and which Congress had not the power to do. To admit California as a state, to recognize the “usurpation” of sovereign powers by her people, and to recognize her broad, emphatic, and sweeping prohibition of slavery, by which the people of one half the states of the Union were to be forever denied the privilege and right of remaining with their property upon the common territory of all the states, was to do indirectly that which Congress could not do directly without giving good cause for a withdrawal from the Union by those states thus placed upon an inequality of right in the territories. This was the argument against the admission of California as far as the Slavery question was involved. But that was only one point in the great controversy. The majority of the Northern members elected to Congress were pledged to vote for the application of the Wilmot Proviso to all the territories of the United States. The Texas Boundary question was another vexed and exciting question. Texas claimed, as part of her territory, a vast region now embraced in the territorial limits of New Mexico. Texas was a slaveholding state. To admit her claims was to deliver up a large portion of “free soil” to the “slave power.” In the general excitement, the subjects of the local traffic in slaves and the continuance of slavery in the District of Columbia were agitated; and last, but not least, was the no less exciting, and, even to this day, hotly contested claim for a sufficient law to enforce the constitutional mandate for the rendition of fugitive slaves. Both sides had demands, and both sides were determined to resist the demands of each other. The Supreme Court having decided that it was not obligatory on the part of the states to provide by their laws for the enforcement of the rights of claimants of fugitive slaves, . the existing law of Congress on that subject was clearly insuf. ficient. Following this decision, many of the states abolished all laws intended to aid in the rendition of fugitives from service; others passed laws prohibiting their officers from aiding in any such cause. The North—and, when we use the terms North and South in this matter, we mean the representatives in Congress of the extreme sentiments of both sections—the North required, 1. The establishment of governments for all the territories of the United States, with a prohibition of slavery. 2. The admission of California. 3. The abolition of the local slave-trade in the District of Columbia. 4. The abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. The South claimed: 1. An efficient fugitive slave act. 2. The establishment of territorial governments for all the territories, including California, but without a prohibition of slavery. The Texas Boundary question was one on which the several parties divided, the South supporting the claims of Texas, and the North insisting that the disputed territory formed part of New Mexico. State Legislatures had passed various resolutions during the controversy, taking strong grounds upon these several subjects. Most of the Northern states had instructed their senators to vote for the Wilmot Proviso, and one of these states so instructing was Illinois. When Congress met in December, 1849, these exciting questions were fully before the people. General Taylor had been elected President by the votes of the most ultra anti-slavery states, and by the votes of the most ultra Southern states. The two extremes had rejected the wise, and safe, and only practicable principle of General Cass, as avowed in his Nicholson Letter, and had put their confidence in a man whose views were, to speak most kindly, unknown. Massachusetts and Vermont had voted with Georgia and Tennessee; both extremes were sure that the candidate represented their respective views. Somebody was to be undeceived.