Daniel Webster.

The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster With an Essay on Daniel Webster as a Master of English Style online

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Mr. President, for a good many years I have struggled in opposition to
every thing which I thought tended to strengthen the arm of executive
power. I think it is growing more and more formidable every day. And I
think that by yielding to it in this, as in other instances, we give it
a strength which it will be difficult hereafter to resist. I think that
it is nothing less than the fear of executive power which induces us to
acquiesce in the acquisition of territory; fear, _fear_, and nothing

In the little part which I have acted in public life, it has been my
purpose to maintain the people of the United States, what the
Constitution designed to make them, _one people_, one in interest, one
in character, and one in political feeling. If we depart from that, we
break it all up. What sympathy can there be between the people of Mexico
and California and the inhabitants of the Valley of the Mississippi and
the Eastern States in the choice of a President? Do they know the same
man? Do they concur in any general constitutional principles? Not at

Arbitrary governments may have territories and distant possessions,
because arbitrary governments may rule them by different laws and
different systems. Russia may rule in the Ukraine and the provinces of
the Caucasus and Kamtschatka by different codes, ordinances, or ukases.
We can do no such thing. They must be of us, _part_ of us, or else

I think I see that in progress which will disfigure and deform the
Constitution. While these territories remain territories, they will be a
trouble and an annoyance; they will draw after them vast expenses; they
will probably require as many troops as we have maintained during the
last twenty years to defend them against the Indian tribes. We must
maintain an army at that immense distance. When they shall become
States, they will be still more likely to give us trouble.

I think I see a course adopted which is likely to turn the Constitution
of the land into a deformed monster, into a curse rather than a
blessing; in fact, a frame of an unequal government, not founded on
popular representation, not founded on equality, but on the grossest
inequality; and I think that this process will go on, or that there is
_danger_ that it will go on, until this Union shall fall to pieces. I
resist it, to-day and always! Whoever falters or whoever flies, I
continue the contest!

I know, Sir, that all the portents are discouraging. Would to God I
could auspicate good influences! Would to God that those who think with
me, and myself, could hope for stronger support! Would that we could
stand where we desire to stand! I see the signs are sinister. But with
few, or alone, my position is fixed. If there were time, I would gladly
awaken the country. I believe the country might be awakened, although it
may be too late. For myself, supported or unsupported, by the blessing
of God, I shall do my duty. I see well enough all the adverse
indications. But I am sustained by a deep and a conscientious sense of
duty; and while supported by that feeling, and while such great
interests are at stake, I defy auguries, and ask no omen but my
country's cause!

[Footnote 1: Mr. Jefferson.]

[Footnote 2: Mr. Upshur.]

[Footnote 3: Mr. Tyler.]

[Footnote 4: Mr. Rusk.]

[Footnote 5: Mr. Rusk.]

[Footnote 6: Major Gaines.]



[In the course of the first session of the Thirtieth Congress, a bill
passed the House of Representatives to organize a government for the
Territory of Oregon. This bill received several amendments on its
passage through the Senate, and among them one moved by Mr. Douglass of
Illinois, on the 10th of August, by which the eighth section of the law
of the 6th of March, 1820, for the admission of Missouri, was revived
and adopted, as a part of the bill, and declared to be "in full force,
and binding, for the future organization of the territories of the
United States, in the same sense and with the same understanding with
which it was originally adopted."

This, with some of the other amendments of the Senate, was disagreed to
by the House. On the return of the bill to the Senate, a discussion
arose, and continued for several days, on the question of agreement or
disagreement with the amendments of the House to the Senate's

The principal subject of this discussion was whether the Senate would
recede from the above-mentioned amendment moved by Mr. Douglass, which
was finally decided in the affirmative. In these discussions, a
considerable portion of which was of a conversational character, Mr.
Webster took a leading part; but of most of what was said by him, as by
other Senators, no report has been preserved. The session of the Senate
at which the last and most animated discussion of this subject took
place, nominally on Saturday of the 12th of August, was prolonged till
ten o'clock, A.M., of Sunday, the 13th. In the course of the debate on
this day Mr. Webster spoke as follows.]

I am very little inclined to prolong this debate, and I hope I am
utterly disinclined to bring into it any new warmth or excitement. I
wish to say a few words, however, first, upon the question as it is
presented to us, as a parliamentary question; and secondly, upon the
general political questions involved in the debate.

As a question of parliamentary proceeding, I understand the case to be
this. The House of Representatives sent us a bill for the establishment
of a territorial government in Oregon; and no motion has been made in
the Senate to strike out any part of that bill. The bill purporting to
respect Oregon, simply and alone, has not been the subject of any
objection in this branch of the legislature. The Senate has proposed no
important amendment to this bill, affecting Oregon itself; and the
honorable member from Missouri[1] was right, entirely right, when he
said that the amendment now under consideration had no relation to
Oregon. That is perfectly true; and therefore the amendment which the
Senate has adopted, and the House has disagreed to, has no connection
with the immediate subject before it. The truth is, that it is an
amendment by which the Senate wished to have now a public, legal
declaration, not respecting Oregon, but respecting the newly acquired
territories of California and New Mexico. It wishes now to make a line
of slavery, which shall include those new territories. The amendment
says that the line of the "Missouri Compromise" shall be the line to the
Pacific, and then goes on to say, in the language of the bill as it now
stands, that the Ordinance of 1787 shall be applicable to Oregon; and
therefore I say that the amendment proposed is foreign to the immediate
object of the bill. It does nothing to modify, restrain, or affect, in
any way, the government which we propose to establish over Oregon, or
the condition or character of that government, or of the people under
it. In a parliamentary view, this is the state of the case.

Now, Sir, this amendment has been attached to this bill by a strong
majority of the Senate. That majority had the right, as it had the
power, to pass it. The House disagreed to that amendment. If the
majority of the Senate, who attached it to the bill, are of opinion that
a conference with the House will lead to some adjustment of the
question, by which this amendment, or something equivalent to it, may be
adopted by the House, it is very proper for them to urge a conference.
It is very fair, quite parliamentary, and there is not a word to be said
against it. But my position is that of one who voted against the
amendment, who thinks that it ought not to be attached to this bill; and
therefore I naturally vote for the motion to get rid of it, that is, "to

So much for the parliamentary question. Now there are two or three
political questions arising in this case, which I wish to state
dispassionately; not to argue, but to state. The honorable member from
Georgia,[2] for whom I have great respect, and with whom it is my
delight to cultivate personal friendship, has stated, with great
propriety, the importance of this question. He has said, that it is a
question interesting to the South and to the North, and one which may
very well also attract the attention of mankind. He has not stated any
part of this too strongly. It is such a question. Without doubt, it is a
question which may well attract the attention of mankind. On the
subjects involved in this debate, the whole world is not now asleep. It
is wide awake; and I agree with the honorable member, that, if what is
now proposed to be done by us who resist this amendment is, as he
supposes, unjust and injurious to any portion of this community, or
against its constitutional rights, that injustice should be presented to
the civilized world, and we, who concur in the proceeding, ought to
submit ourselves to its rebuke. I am glad that the honorable gentleman
proposes to refer this question to the great tribunal of Modern
Civilization, as well as the great tribunal of the American People. It
is proper. It is a question of magnitude enough, of interest enough, to
all the civilized nations of the earth, to call from those who support
the one side or the other a statement of the grounds upon which they

Now I propose to state as briefly as I can the grounds upon which I
proceed, historical and constitutional; and will endeavor to use as few
words as possible, so that I may relieve the Senate from hearing me at
the earliest possible moment. In the first place, to view the matter
historically. This Constitution, founded in 1787, and the government
under it, organized in 1789, do recognize the existence of slavery in
certain States then belonging to the Union, and a particular description
of slavery. I hope that what I am about to say may be received without
any supposition that I intend the slightest disrespect. But this
particular description of slavery does not, I believe, now exist in
Europe, nor in any other civilized portion of the habitable globe. It is
not a predial slavery. It is not analogous to the case of the _predial_
slaves, or slaves _glebae adscripti_ of Russia, or Hungary, or other
states. It is a peculiar system of personal slavery, by which the person
who is called a slave is transferable as a chattel, from hand to hand. I
speak of this as a fact; and that is the fact. And I will say further,
perhaps other gentlemen may remember the instances, that although
slavery, as a system of servitude attached to the earth, exists in
various countries of Europe, I am not at the present moment aware of any
place on the globe in which this property of man in a human being as a
slave, transferable as a chattel, exists, except America. Now, that it
existed, in the form in which it still exists, in certain States, at the
formation of this Constitution, and that the framers of that
instrument, and those who adopted it, agreed that, as far as it existed,
it should not be disturbed or interfered with by the new general
government, there is no doubt.

The Constitution of the United States recognizes it as an existing fact,
an existing relation between the inhabitants of the Southern States. I
do not call it an "institution," because that term is not applicable to
it; for that seems to imply a voluntary establishment. When I first came
here, it was a matter of frequent reproach to England, the mother
country, that slavery had been entailed upon the colonies by her,
against their consent, and that which is now considered a cherished
"institution" was then regarded as, I will not say an _evil_, but an
entailment on the Colonies by the policy of the mother country against
their wishes. At any rate, it stands upon the Constitution. The
Constitution was adopted in 1788, and went into operation in 1789. When
it was adopted, the state of the country was this: slavery existed in
the Southern States; there was a very large extent of unoccupied
territory, the whole Northwestern Territory, which, it was understood,
was destined to be formed into States; and it was then determined that
no slavery should exist in this territory. I gather now, as a matter of
inference from the history of the time and the history of the debates,
that the prevailing motives with the North for agreeing to this
recognition of the existence of slavery in the Southern States, and
giving a representation to those States founded in part upon their
slaves, rested on the supposition that no acquisition of territory would
be made to form new States on the southern frontier of this country,
either by cession or conquest. No one looked to any acquisition of new
territory on the southern or southwestern frontier. The exclusion of
slavery from the Northwestern Territory and the prospective abolition of
the foreign slave trade were generally, the former unanimously, agreed
to; and on the basis of these considerations, the South insisted that
where slavery existed it should not be interfered with, and that it
should have a certain ratio of representation in Congress. And now, Sir,
I am one, who, believing such to be the understanding on which the
Constitution was framed, mean to abide by it.

There is another principle, equally clear, by which I mean to abide; and
that is, that in the Convention, and in the first Congress, when
appealed to on the subject by petitions, and all along in the history of
this government, it was and has been a conceded point, that slavery in
the States in which it exists is a matter of State regulation
exclusively, and that Congress has not the least power over it, or right
to interfere with it. Therefore I say, that all agitations and attempts
to disturb the relations between master and slave, by persons not living
in the slave States, are unconstitutional in their spirit, and are, in
my opinion, productive of nothing but evil and mischief. I countenance
none of them. The manner in which the governments of those States where
slavery exists are to regulate it, is for their own consideration, under
their responsibility to their constituents, to the general laws of
propriety, humanity, and justice, and to God. Associations formed
elsewhere, springing from a feeling of humanity, or any other cause,
have nothing whatever to do with it, nor right to interfere with it.
They have never received any encouragement from me, and they never will.
In my opinion, they have done nothing but delay and defeat their own
professed objects.

I have now stated, as I understand it, the condition of things upon the
adoption of the Constitution of the United States. What has happened
since? Sir, it has happened that, above and beyond all contemplation or
expectation of the original framers of the Constitution, or the people
who adopted it, foreign territory has been acquired by cession, first
from France, and then from Spain, on our southern frontier. And what has
been the result? Five slave-holding States have been created and added
to the Union, bringing ten Senators into this body, (I include Texas,
which I consider in the light of a foreign acquisition also,) and up to
this hour in which I address you, not one free State has been admitted
to the Union from all this acquired territory!

MR. BERRIEN (in his seat). Yes, Iowa.

Iowa is not yet in the Union. Her Senators are not here. When she comes
in, there will be one to five, one free State to five slave States,
formed out of new territories. Now, it seems strange to me that there
should be any complaint of injustice exercised by the North toward the
South. Northern votes have been necessary, they have been ready, and
they have been given, to aid in the admission of these five new
slave-holding States. These are facts; and as the gentleman from Georgia
has very properly put it as a case in which we are to present ourselves
before the world for its judgment, let us now see how we stand. I do not
represent the North. I state my own case; and I present the matter in
that light in which I am willing, as an individual member of Congress,
to be judged by civilized humanity. I say then, that, according to true
history, the slave-holding interest in this country has not been a
disfavored interest; it has not been disfavored by the North. The North
has concurred to bring in these five slave-holding States out of newly
acquired territory, which acquisitions were not at all in the
contemplation of the Convention which formed the Constitution, or of the
people when they agreed that there should be a representation of three
fifths of the slaves in the then existing States.

Mr. President, what is the result of this? We stand here now, at least I
do, for one, to say, that, considering there have been already five new
slave-holding States formed out of newly acquired territory, and only
one non-slave-holding State, at most, I do not feel that I am called on
to go further; I do not feel the obligation to yield more. But our
friends of the South say, You deprive us of all our rights. We have
fought for this territory, and you deny us participation in it. Let us
consider this question as it really is; and since the honorable
gentleman from Georgia proposes to leave the case to the enlightened and
impartial judgment of mankind, and as I agree with him that it is a case
proper to be considered by the enlightened part of mankind, let us see
how the matter in truth stands. Gentlemen who advocate the case which my
honorable friend from Georgia, with so much ability, sustains, declare
that we invade their rights, that we deprive them of a participation in
the enjoyment of territories acquired by the common services and common
exertions of all. Is this true? How deprive? Of what do we deprive them?
Why, they say that we deprive them of the privilege of carrying their
slaves, as slaves, into the new territories. Well, Sir, what is the
amount of that? They say that in this way we deprive them of the
opportunity of going into this acquired territory with their property.
Their "property"? What do they mean by "property"? We certainly do not
deprive them of the privilege of going into these newly acquired
territories with all that, in the general estimate of human society, in
the general, and common, and universal understanding of mankind, is
esteemed property. Not at all. The truth is just this. They have, in
their own States, peculiar laws, which create property in persons. They
have a system of local legislation on which slavery rests; while
everybody agrees that it is against natural law, or at least against the
common understanding which prevails among men as to what is natural law.

I am not going into metaphysics, for therein I should encounter the
honorable member from South Carolina,[3] and we should find "no end, in
wandering mazes lost," until after the time for the adjournment of
Congress. The Southern States have peculiar laws, and by those laws
there is property in slaves. This is purely local. The real meaning,
then, of Southern gentlemen, in making this complaint, is, that they
cannot go into the territories of the United States carrying with them
their own peculiar local law, a law which creates property in persons.
This, according to their own statement, is all the ground of complaint
they have. Now here, I think, gentlemen are unjust towards us. How
unjust they are, others will judge; generations that will come after us
will judge. It will not be contended that this sort of personal slavery
exists by general law. It exists only by local law. I do not mean to
deny the validity of that local law where it is established; but I say
it is, after all, local law. It is nothing more. And wherever that local
law does not extend, property in persons does not exist. Well, Sir, what
is now the demand on the part of our Southern friends? They say, "We
will carry our local laws with us wherever we go. We insist that
Congress does us injustice unless it establishes in the territory in
which we wish to go our own local law." This demand I for one resist,
and shall resist. It goes upon the idea that there is an inequality,
unless persons under this local law, and holding property by authority
of that law, can go into new territory and there establish that local
law, to the exclusion of the general law. Mr. President, it was a maxim
of the civil law, that, between slavery and freedom, freedom should
always be presumed, and slavery must always be proved. If any question
arose as to the _status_ of an individual in Rome, he was presumed to be
free until he was proved to be a slave, because slavery is an exception
to the general rule. Such, I suppose, is the general law of mankind. An
individual is to be presumed to be free, until a law can be produced
which creates ownership in his person. I do not dispute the force and
validity of the local law, as I have already said; but I say, it is a
matter to be proved; and therefore, if individuals go into any part of
the earth, it is to be proved that they are not freemen, or else the
presumption is that they are.

Now our friends seem to think that an inequality arises from restraining
them from going into the territories, unless there be a law provided
which shall protect their ownership in persons. The assertion is, that
we create an inequality. Is there nothing to be said on the other side
in relation to inequality? Sir, from the date of this Constitution, and
in the counsels that formed and established this Constitution, and I
suppose in all men's judgment since, it is received as a settled truth,
that slave labor and free labor do not exist well together. I have
before me a declaration of Mr. Mason, in the Convention that formed the
Constitution, to that effect. Mr. Mason, as is well known, was a
distinguished member from Virginia. He says that the objection to slave
labor is, that it puts free white labor in disrepute; that it causes
labor to be regarded as derogatory to the character of the free white
man, and that the free white man despises to work, to use his
expression, where slaves are employed. This is a matter of great
interest to the free States, if it be true, as to a great extent it
certainly is, that wherever slave labor prevails free white labor is
excluded or discouraged. I agree that slave labor does not necessarily
exclude free labor totally. There is free white labor in Virginia,
Tennessee, and other States, where most of the labor is done by slaves.
But it necessarily loses something of its respectability, by the side
of, and when associated with, slave labor. Wherever labor is mainly
performed by slaves, it is regarded as degrading to freemen. The freemen
of the North, therefore, have a deep interest in keeping labor free,
exclusively free, in the new territories.

But, Sir, let us look further into this alleged inequality. There is no
pretence that Southern people may not go into territory which shall be
subject to the Ordinance of 1787. The only restraint is, that they shall
not carry slaves thither, and continue that relation. They say this
shuts them altogether out. Why, Sir, there can be nothing more
inaccurate in point of fact than this statement. I understand that one
half the people who settled Illinois are people, or descendants of
people, who came from the Southern States. And I suppose that one third
of the people of Ohio are those, or descendants of those, who emigrated
from the South; and I venture to say, that, in respect to those two
States, they are at this day settled by people of Southern origin in as
great a proportion as they are by people of Northern origin, according
to the general numbers and proportion of people, South and North. There
are as many people from the South, in proportion to the whole people of
the South, in those States, as there are from the North, in proportion
to the whole people of the North. There is, then, no exclusion of
Southern people; there is only the exclusion of a peculiar local law.
Neither in principle nor in fact is there any inequality.

The question now is, whether it is not competent to Congress, in the
exercise of a fair and just discretion, considering that there have been
five slave-holding States added to this Union out of foreign
acquisitions, and as yet only one free State, to prevent their further
increase. That is the question. I see no injustice in it. As to the
power of Congress, I have nothing to add to what I said the other day.
Congress has full power over the subject. It may establish any such
government, and any such laws, in the territories, as in its discretion

Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster With an Essay on Daniel Webster as a Master of English Style → online text (page 99 of 122)