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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 insufficient. 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 Columbia.
4. The abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.
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.
Happily for the country, and happily for the peace and harmony of the Union which he had so long and so nobly served, and upon every page of whose history for half a century his name and deeds will ever stand as bright as the brightest and as pure as the purest, HENRY CLAY had come forth from his retirement, had quit the peaceful shades of Ashland, once more to mingle in the strife of contending sections, and once more by his magic voice to quell the storm, and guide the hostile factions into one common path of peace and safety. At that time the Senate was in its zenith. It numbered among its members men whose names were historical—Webster, Phelps, Calhoun, Benton, Berrien, King (we name only those who are no longer living), each was in himself a host, whose loss can best be appreciated by stating that a Sumner now represents Massachusetts, and an Iverson holds the seat of Berrien. The list of senators of that session will compare, in all the elements of true greatness, with that of the same number of men in any country in any age. The House of Representatives failed for several weeks in organizing. At last, by the adoption of the plurality rule, on the 22d of December, Mr. Cobb was elected speaker. A portion of the North would not vote for Mr. Winthrop because he was not sufficiently ultra as an anti-slavery man, and a portion of the South refused to vote for Mr. Cobb because he was not ultra enough on the other extreme.
The President's message was received a few days later, and the country were advised for the first time as to the views of the administration upon the Territorial question. The President recommended to the favorable consideration of Congress the action taken by the people of California for admission into the Union. He also recommended that Congress should abstain from any action with respect to the Territory of New Mexico, as the people there would, at no distant period, present themselves for admission into the Union. This message was not calculated to quiet the storm. The administration was charged with having instigated the proceedings in California, and resolutions calling for information were introduced into both houses. These, after warm discussion, were adopted.
The questions at issue were soon brought before the Senate in a variety of forms. On the 14th of January, Mr. Houston submitted a series of resolutions covering most of the subjects. On the 16th Mr. Benton introduced a bill proposing to Texas a
reduction of her limits, and to pay her fifteen millions of dollars. On the same day Mr. Foote introduced a bill establishing territorial governments for California, Deseret, New Mexico, and to enable the people of San Jacinto (a new state to be formed out of Texas) to form a state government. And Mr. Butler, from the Committee on the Judiciary, reported a Fugitive Slave Bill. On the 8th of January the resolutions of the State of Vermont upon the subject of slavery were presented, and the motion to print them was objected to. In December a resolution tendering the apostle of temperance, Father Mathew, the privilege of the floor, was introduced, was debated
the debate turning exclusively upon the anti-slavery views of that gentle
On the 29th of January Mr. Clay submitted his famous series of resolutions proposing a plan of settlement of all the distracting questions. They were promptly discussed.
On February 5th and 6th Mr. Clay addressed the Senate . upon the subjects embraced in his resolutions. On the 13th of the same month the President communicated to the Senate the Constitution of the State of California. Mr. Benton suggested its reference to a select committee. Mr. Foote suggested that it be referred to a select committee of fifteen, to be instructed to consider all the questions relating to slavery in the territories, etc. Mr. Douglas moved to refer it to the Committee on Territories, of which he was chairman.
On February 25th Mr. Foote offered his resolution to refer all the pending resolutions, etc., upon the subject of the Territories, Texas Boundary, California, etc., to a select committee of thirteen. He stated that it was his wish that this committee should be constituted as follows: Mr. Clay, Chairman ; three Northern Whigs, three Northern Democrats, three Southern Whigs, and three Southern Democrats. On the 28th of February Mr. Bell submitted a series of resolutions embracing a plan of compromise.
In the mean time, from the first day the Senate had proceeded to legislative business, Mr. Hale had from time to time presented petitions praying the prohibition of slavery in the Territories, others praying its abolition in the District of Columbia, others remonstrating against the admission of slave states, etc., etc. The presentation of these petitions frequently led to very exciting discussions, sometimes consuming the entire day's sit
ting. They were generally stopped by an objection to their reception, and then by an affirmative vote upon laying the motion to receive on the table. The debates on all these propositions embraced all the questions involved in the complicated series. On the 7th of February Mr. Hale presented a memorial praying the dissolution of the Union. A debate upon its reception took place, in which Mr. Douglas defined his position upon the subject of the duty of Congress to receive petitions generally, and particularly upon the reception of petitions relating to slavery. The debate on this question was continued several hours on several successive days. Mr. Douglas's remarks will be found elsewhere in this volume.
Mr. Benton having moved to amend Mr. Douglas's motion to refer the President's message and the California Constitution to the Committee on Territories, by adding that said committee be instructed to report a bill for the admission of California, disconnected with any other subject of legislation, and this amendment having opened up on that motion a debate upon the general subject of slavery and the propriety of passing a compromise in one omnibus bill, Mr. Douglas, on the 22d of January, moved to take up from the table the memorial of the people of Deseret asking a state or territorial government, and refer it to his committee. An animated debate took place -the South generally urging the reference to the Judiciary Committee. The motion, however, was agreed to-yeas 30, nays 20. He then moved to refer the bill introduced by Mr. Foote to the same committee, and this motion was also agreed to-yeas 25, nays 22. The committee now had the entire subject before them. The debates on the general subject continued. On the 4th of March, Mr. Calhoun, who had been in failing health for some time, appeared in the Senate, and his last great speech was read to a crowded chamber by Mr. Mason. Three days later, on March 7th, Webster made his famous speech, and the spectre of the Wilmot Proviso was banished. From that day forth it lost its terrors, and a better feeling prevailed. There were no longer any fears of its adoption, and the attention was then directed to some broad, national, and just principle which should be adopted as a final rule in all like cases. On March 14th and 15th Mr. Douglas addressed the Senate upon the subject of the admission of California-a speech which, for argument and power, will