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State of the Union. Speech of Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois, in the Senate, January 3, 1861 online

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The Senate having under consideration the following
resolution reported by the select committee of thirteen,
appointed to consider the agitated and distracted condition
of the country —

Resolved, That the committee have not been able to agree
upon any general plan of adjustment, and report that fact
to the Senate, together witli the journal of the committee ;

Mr. DOUGLAS said:

Mr. President: No act of my public life has
ever caused me so much regret as the necessity of
voting in the special committee of thirteen for the
resolution reporting to the Senate our inaljility to
agree upon any general plan of adjustment, which

been organized upon the basis of non-interfer-
ence by Congress with the domestic institutions
of the people. During that period several new
Territories were organized, including Tennessee,
Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and Aiabarna.
In no one of these Territories did Congress at-
tempt to interfere with the question of slavery,
either to introduce or exclude, protect or prohibit
it. During the whole of this period there was
peace and good-will between the people of all
parts of the Union so far as the question of sla-
very was concerned.

But the first time Congress ever attempted to in-

would restore peace to the country and insure the 'j terfere with and control that question, regardless
integrity of the Union . If we wish to understand the 1 1 of the wishes of the people interested in i t, the Union
real causes which have produced such wide-spread 1 1 was put in jeopardy, and was only saved from dis-
and deep-seated discontent in the slaveholding J j solution by the adoption of the compromise of 1820.
States, we must go back beyond the recent pres-j[ In the famous Missouri controversy, the majority
dential election, and trace the origin and history 1 1 of the North demanded that Congress should pro-
of the slavery agitation from the period when it Lhibit slavery forever in all the territory acquired
first became an active element in Federal politics. I fromFrance,extendingfromtheStateofLouisiana

Without fatiguing the Senate with tedious d
tails, I may be permitted to assume, without the
fear of successful contradiction, that whenever the
Federal Government has attempted to decide and
control the slavery question in the newly acquired
Territories, regardless of the wishes of the in-
habitants, alienation of feeling, sectional strife,
and discord have ensued; and whenever Congress
has refrained from such interference, harmony
and fraternal feeling have been restored. The
whole volume of our nation's history may be con-
fidently appealed to in support of this proposi-
tion. The most memorable instances are the fear-
ful sectional controversies which brougiit the
Union to the verge of disruption in 1820, and again
in 1850. It was the territorial question in each
case which presented the chief points of difficulty,
because it involved the irritating question of the
relative political power of the two sections. All
the other questions, which entered into and served
to increase the slavery agitation, were deemed of
secondary importance, and dwindled into insig-
nificance so soon as the territorial question was
definitely settled.

From the period of the organization of the Fed-
eral Government, under the Constitution, in 1789,
down to 1820, all the territorial governments had

to the British possessions on the north, and from
the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains. The
South and the conservative minority of the North,
on the contrary, stood firmly upon the ground of
non-intervention, denying the right of Congress
to touch the subject. They did not ask Con-
gress to interfere for protection nor for any pur-
pose; while they opposed the right and justice of
exclusion. Thus, each party, with their respect-
ive positions distinctly defined — the one for and
the other against congressional intervention —
maintained its position with desperate persistency
until disunion seemed inevitable, when a com-
promise was effected by an equitable partition of
the territory between the two sections on the line
of 36° 30', prohibiting slavery on the one side
and permitting it on the other.

In the adoption of this compromise, each party
yielded one half of its claim for the sake of the
Union. It was designed to form the basis of per-
petual peace on the slavery question by establish-
uig a rule in accordance with which all future con-
troversy would be avoided. The line of partition
was distinctly marked so far as our territory might
extend; and, by irresistible inference, the spirit of
the compromise required the extension of the line
on the same parallel whenever we sliould extend



• 31^


our tenitorial limits. The North and the South — ;
altliougheach was dissatisfied with the terms of the |
Battlement, each having surrendered one half of its
claim — by common const-nt agreed to acquiesce in
it, \nd abide by it as a permanent basis of peace
up.' 1 the slavery question. It is true, that there
were a few discontented spirits in both sections
who attempted to renew the controversy from
time to time; but the deep Union feeling pre-
vailf^ , and the masses of the people were disposed
to sljind ijy the settlement as the surest means of
ave/ting future difficulties.

Ijtacc was restored, fraternal feeling returned,
an* we were a happy and united people so long
ay we adhered to, and carried out in good faith,
OSe Missouri compromise, according to its spirit
ts well as its letter. In 1845, when Texas was
/'annexed to the Union, the policy of an equitable
■ partition on the line of 36° 30' was adhered to,
and carried into eflect by the extension of the line
as far westward as the new acquisition might
reach. It is true, there was much diversity of
opinion as to the propriety and wisdom of an-
nexing Texas. In the North the measure was
opposed by large numbers upon the distinct
ground that it was enlarging the area of slave
territory within the Union; and in the South it
probably received much additional support for
the same reason; but, while it may have been op-
posed and supported, in some degree, north and
south, from these considerations, no considerable
number in either section objected to it upon the
ground that it extended and carried out the policy
of the Missouri compromise. The objection was
solely to the acquisition of the country, and not
to the application of the Missouri compromise to
it, if acquired. No fair-minded man could deny
that every reason which induced the adoption of
the line in 1820 demanded its extension through
Texas, and every new acquisition, whenever we
enlarged our territorial possessions in that direc-
tion. No man would have been deemed faithful
to the obligations of the Missouri compromise at j
that day, who was opposed to its application to |
future acquisitions. i

The record shows that Texas was annexed to j
the Union upon the express condition that the
Missouri compromise should be extended and
made applicable to the country, so far as our new
boundaries might reach. Ihe history of that
acquisition will show that I not only supported
the annexation of Texas, but that I urgtd the
necessity of applying the Missouri compromise
to it, for the purpose of extending it through New
Mexico and California to the Pacific ocean, when-
ever we should acquire those Territories, a.^ a
means of putting an end to the slavery agitation

The annexation of Texas drew after it the war
with Mexico, and the treaty of peace left us in pos-
session of California and New Mexico. This large
acquisition of new territory was made the occa-
sion for renewing the Missouri controversy. The
ajritalion of 1849-50 was a secnnil edition of that
of Lsr.)-JI). It was stimuhit<>d by the same mo-
tives, aiming at the same ends, and cnfoivod by
the same arguments. The northern majority
invoked the intervention of Congress to prohibit

slavery everywhere in the Terriu^ries oithe Uni-
ted States — both sides of the Miss>uri lint_»eouth
as well as north of 30° 30'. The .'louth, t<^ether
with a conservative minority in the\orth,'etood
firmly upon the ground of non-intervfcuion,(4;ny-
ing the right of Congress to inttrfer. with ihe
subject, but avowing a willingness, in Jie spirit
of concession for the sake of peace and th. Union,
to adhere to and carry out the policy of ai equit-
able partition on the line of 36° 30' to the lt-\cific
ocean, in the same sense in which it was adopted
in 18^, and according to the understanding wl^n
Texas was annexed in 1845. Every argumeit
and reason, every consideration of patriotism anQ
duty, which induced the adoption of tln^olicy
in 18~0, and its application to Texas in 1^5, de-
manded its application to California and New
Mexico in 1848. The peace of the country, the
fraternal feelings of all its parts, the safety of the
Union, all were involved.

Utider these circumstances, as chairman of the
Committee on Territories, I introduced into the
Senate the followinj proposition, which was
adopted by a vote of 33 to XJl in the Senate, but
rejected in the House of Representatives. I read
from the Journal, August 10, 1848, page 563:

" On iiirilioii liy Mr. DoiiiLvs Id ainond the bill, section
fourteen, line one, by inserting alter tlie word 'enacted:'

" That the line of ;«j' 30 of norlli latitude, known as the
Missouri eoniproniise line, as delim-d by the eighth section
of an act entitled ' .\n act to authorize the people of the
Missouri Tcrritor>' to form a constitution and Slate gov-
ernment, and for the admission of such 5?uile into the
Union on an enual I'outino with the original States, and to
prohibit slavery in certain Territories, approvinl March 6,
lt<20." be, and the same is hereby, declared to extend to the
Pacilie ocean ; and the said ei(;hth section, togellier witll
the compromise therein effected, is hereby revived, and
declared to be in full force and binding, for the future or-
ganization of the Territories of the I'nited Stat«s. in the
same sense, and with the same understanding, with which
it was originally adopted ;
" It was deie'rmined in the affirmative — yeas 33, nays 21.
" On motion by .>Ir. IUi.uwin, the yeiis and nays being
desired by one filth of the Senators present, those who
voted in the aflirinalive are :

>' Messrs. Ateliison, Bailger, Bell, Benton, Berrien, Bor-
land, Bright. Butler, C':illiuun, Camenm, U.ivis of Missis-
sippi, Dickinson, DuugliLs, Downs, Fitzgerald. Foole, Han-
negan, Houston, Hunter, Johnson i>f .Maryland, Johnson of
Louisiana, Johnson of Georgia, King. Lewis, Mangum, Ma-

I son, Metealf, Pearce, Sebastian, Spruance, Sturgeon, Tur-

! iiev, Underwood.

I '> Those who \ oted in the negative arc :

1 " Messrs. .-Mien, .Mherton, Baldwin, Bradbury, Breede,
Clark, Corwin, Davis of Ma.ssaehusetLs, Dayloii, Dii,
Dodge. Feleh, Green, Hale, Hamlin, .Miller, Nile?, Phelps,

; Ipham, Walker, Webster.

I " So the proposed amendment was agreed to."

I The bill, as amended, was then ordered to be
engrossed for a third reading, by a vote of 33 to
I 2*2, and was read the third time, and passed on the
5 same day. By the classification of the votes for
my |>rop(isiti(in to carry out the Missouri com-
: promise, it will be seen that all the southern Sen-
ators, twenty-six in number, including Mr. Cal-
j houn, voted in the affirmative; and of the northern
Senators, seven voted in the affirmative and twen-
ty-one in the negative. The proposition was re-
jected in the House of Renresentalives by almost
'a siclional vote, the whole South voting for it,
; and a large majority of the North against it.
i It was the rejection of that proposition— the rc-
' pudiation of the policy of an equitable partition

of the territory between the two sections, on the
line of 360^0' — which reopened the floodgates of
slavery agitation and deluged the whole country
with sectional strife and bitterness, until the Union
was again brought to the verge of disruption,
before tiie swelling tide of bitter waters could be
turned back, and passion and prejudice could be
made to give place to reason and patriotism.

Had the Senate's proposition been concurred
in by the House of Representatives; had the pol-
icy of an equitable partition been adhered to; had
the Missouri compromise been carried out in
good faith, tlirough our newly acquired territory, '
to the Pacific ocean, there would have been an :
end to the slavery agitation forever. For, the line ■
of partition between free and slave territory being
once firmly established and distinctly defined
from the Atlantic to the Pacific, all new acqui-
sitions, whether on the North or the South, would i
have conformed to that adjustment, without ex- [
citing the passions, or wounding the sensibilities,!
or disturbing the harmony of our people. I do |
not think it would have made any material dif-l
ference in respect to the condition of the new i
States to be formed out of such territory, for I ]
have always believed, and often said, that the
existence or non-existence of African slavery de-
pends more upon the necessities of climate, health,
and productions, than upon congressional and
territorial enactments. It was in reference to this
great truth that Mr. Webster said that the con- j
dition of all the territory acquired from Mexico,'
so far as the question of slavery was concerned,
was irrevocably fixed and settled by an irrepeal-
able law — the law of climate, and of physical ge-1
ography, and of the formation of the earth. You '
might as well attempt by act of Congress to com- |
pel cotton to grow upon the tops of the Rocky'
Mountains and rice upon the summits of the
Sierra Nevada, as to compel slavery to exist, by
congressional enactment, where neither climate, '
nor health, nor productions, will render it neces-
sary and self-sustaining. Yet the desire, on the
one hand, for the extension of slavery into re-
gions where it is physically impossible to sustain
it, and, on the other hand, to abolish and exclude
it from those countries wliere the white man can-
not endure the climate and cultivate the soil,
threatens to keep the agitation of this question
perpetually in Congress, until the passions of the
people shall become so inflamed that civil war
and disunion shall become inevitable. It is the
territorial question — whether slavery shall exist
in those vast regions, in utter disregard of the
wishes and necessities of the people inhabiting
them — that is convulsing and dissolving the Re-
public; a question in which we have no direct
interest, about which we have very little knowl-
edge, and which the people of those Territories
must and will eventually decide for themselves
and to suit themselves, no matter what Congress
may do. But for this territorial question there
would be very little difRculty in settling the other
matters in controversy. The Abolitionists could
never endanger the peace of the country or the
existence of the Union by the agitation of the
slavery question in the District of Columbia by
itself, or in the dock-yards, forts, and arsenals in

the slaveholding States, or upon the fugitive slave
law, or upon any minor issue, or upon them all
together, if the territorial question could be finally
and irrevocably settled.

I repeat, it was the repudiation of the policy of
the Missouri compromise, the refusal to apply it
to the territory acquired from Mexico, when of-
fered by me, and supported by the whole South,
in August, 1848, which reopened the agitation
and revived the Missouri controversy. The com-
promise of 1820 once repudiated, the policy of an
equitable partition of the territory abandoned, the
proposition to extend it to the Pacific being re-
jected, and the origmal controversy reopened with
increased bitterness, each party threw itself back
on its original extreme position — the one demand-
ing its exclusion everywhere, and the other in-
sisting upon its right to go everywhere in the
Territories, Tegardless of the wishes of the people
inhabiting them. All the arguments,p7-o and con.,
used in 1819-20 were repeated in 1849-50. The
question was the same, and the relative position of
the two sections the same.

Such was the condition of things at the open-
ing of the session of 1849-50, when Mr. Clay
resumed his seat in this body.

The purest patriots in tiie land had become
alarmed for the fate of the Republic. The im-
mortal Clay, whose life had been devoted to the
rights, interests, and glory of his country, had
retired to the shades of Ashland to prepare for an-
other and a better world. When, in his retirement,
hearing the harsh and discordant notes of sec-
tional strife and disunion, he consented, at the
earnest solicitation of his countrymen, to resume
his seat in the Senate, the theater of his great
deeds, to see if, by his experience, his wisdom,
the renown of his great name, and his strong hold
upon the confidence and affections of the Ameri-
can people, he could not do something to restore
peace to a distracted country. From the moment
of his arrival among us he became, by common
consent, and as a matter of course, the leader of
the Union men. His first idea was to revive and
extend to the Pacificocean the Missouri compro-
mise line, with the same understanding and legal
effect in which it had been adopted in 1820, and
continued through Texas in 1845. I was one of
his humble followers and trusted friends in en-
deavoring to carry out that policy, and in connec-
tion with others, at his special request, carefully
canvassed both Houses of Congress to ascertain
whether it was possible to obtain a majority vote
in each House for the measure. We found no dif-
ficulty with the southern Senators and Repre-
sentatives, and could secure the cooperation of a
minority from the North; but not enough to give
us a majority in both Houses. Hence the Mis-
souri compromise was abandoned by its friends,
nor from choice, but from ikability to carry it
into effect in good faith. It was with extreme re-
luctance that Mr. Clay, and those of us who acted
with him and shared his confidence, were lirought
to the conclusion that v/e must abandon, from in-
ability to carry out, the line of policy which had
saved the Union in 1820, and given peace to the
country for many happy years.

Finding ourselves unable to maintain that pol-


cy, we yielded to a stern necessity, and turned I to open and proti'Ct tlio nmtes of emigration and
ur attention to the discovery of some other plan i travel to California and Oregon could not be de-
_y which the existing difficulties could be settled, i nied. The measure could not be postponed longer
and future troubles avoided. I need not detail the I without endangering the peace of the frontier set-
circumstances under which Mr. Clay brought for- : tlements, and incurring the hazards of an Indian
ward his plan of adjustment, which received the ! war, growing out of the constant collisions be-
sanction of the two Houses of Congress and the I tween the emigrants and the Indian tribes through
approbation of the American people, and is famil- | whose country they were compellc'd to pass,
iarly known as the compromise measures of 1850. 1 Early in December, 1853, Senator Dodge, of
These measures were designed to accomplish the i Iowa, introduced a bill for the organization of the
same results as the act of 182(), but in a different : Territory of Nebraska, which was referred to the
mode. The leading feature and chief merit of Committee on Territories, of which I was chair-
each was to banish the slavery agitation from the man. The committee did not volunteer their ser-
Halls of Congress and the arena of Federal poli- | vices on the occasion. The bill was referred to
tics. The act of 1820 was intended to attain this us by the vote of the Senate, and our action was
end by an equitable partition of the Territories ; in discharge of a plain duly imposed upon us by
between the contending sections. The acts of 1850 ! an express command of the body,
were designed to atuiin the same i.nd by remitting The first r|uestion which addressed itself to the
the whole question of slavery to the decision of the calm and deliberate consideration of the comtnit-
peopleof the Territories,. subject tit the limitations ! tee was: upon what basis shall the organization
of the Constitution, and let the Federal courts j of the territory be formed.' Whether upon the
determine the validity and constitutionality of the I theory of a geographical line and an equitable par-
territorial enactments tVom time to time, as cases I tition of the territory in accordance with the corn-
should arise and appeals be taken to the Supreme promise of 1820, which had been abandoned by
Court of the United States. The one, proposed to | its supporters not from choice, but from our in-^
settle the question by a geographical line and an ' ability to carry it out: or upon the principle of
equitable partition; and the other by the principles non-intervention and popular sovereignty, accord-
ofpopularsovereigntyinaccordance with the Con- ) ing to the compromise measures of 1850, which
stitution. The object of both being the same, I i had taken the place of the Missouri compromise.'
supported each in turn a.s a means of attaining a j The committee, upon mature deliberation, and
desirable end. i with great unaiiimity, decided that all future ter-

After the compromise measures of 1S50 had be- ritorial organizations should be formed upon the
come the law of the land, those who had opposed I principles and model of the compromise mea.sures
their enactment appealed to their constituents to' of 1850, inasmuch as in the recent presidential
sustain them in their opposition, and implored] election (1852) botli of the great political parties
them not to acquiesce in the principles upon which of the country, (Whig and Democratic,) of which
they were founded, and never to cease to war upon I the Senate was composed, stood pledged to those
them until they should be annulled and effaced measures as a substitute for the act of 1620; and
from the statute-book. The contest before the ' the committee instructed me, as their organ, to
people was fierce and bitter, accompanied some- i prepare a report and draft a substitute for Mr.
times with acts of violence and intimidation; but ; Dodge's bill in accordance with these views. I^
fortunately,Mr.Claylivedlongenough lofeeland I will now read from the record, at the hazard of

know that his last great efforts for the peace of
the country and the'perpetuity of the Union — the
crowning acts of a brilliant and glorious career in
the public service — had met the approval and re-
ceived the almost unanimous indorticment of his
grateful countrymen. The repose which thecoun-

try was permitted to enjoy for a brief period

w../,„^,l t^ K.^ n toniMnrniv iiiice ill the sectional' lion which itasrciit iniimrtiinct! demuiids, and beg leave to
pioved to be a tempoiaiy tiucc in the s- ciioiai ^ report it b.-.ck to the .Senaie, with various amendmenis, in
conflict, and not a permanent peace upon the sla- »
very question. The purpose of reopening the

being somewhat tedious, in order that the Senate
and the country may judge with what fidelity I
performed this duty:

" Jaiinary 4ih, 1654, Mr. IJoi-olas niado tlie fullowing
report : "The Coinuiitlec on Tfiritories. to which w.-is re-
ferred a hill lor an act to establish the Territorv- of Nebraskn,
liavc jivcn the same tliat serious and dcliberair cnnsldera-

rni ol'a snbsliiute for tiie hill.

JMie principal nnicndnienis which yonr roniinlttoe

aeitation for a cono-ressional prohibition of sla- i deem It ihi-irduty to commend lo the lavornble notion oi
:?ry in all the Territories whenever an opportu- , X^:^:;,^:^:;X^';i!JZ:il;^:^':::::::^o/^^
nity or excuse could be had, seems never to Jiave | far as ihry arc upplioalile lo territorial organlz:iIions, .ye

been abandoned by those who originated th
scheme for partisan pur|ioses, in 1815*, and were
baffled in their designs by the adoi)ti()n of the Mi.s-
souri compromise in 1820; and who renewed the
attempt in 1848, but were again doomed to .•4u(1er
a mortifying defeat in the adoption of the compro-
mise measures of 1850. Th<! ()p[)orlunity and
Eretext for renewing the agitation was discovered
y those who had never aliandoned the design,

1 3 4

Online LibraryYA Pamphlet Collection (Library of Congress) DLC [State of the Union. Speech of Hon. Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois, in the Senate, January 3, 1861 → online text (page 1 of 4)