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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 con

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 coun
try. I believe the country might be awakened, although it may
be too late. For myself, supported or unsupported, by the bless
ing of God, I shall do my duty. I see well enough all the ad
verse indications. But I am sustained by a deep and a con
scientious 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 !

VOL. v. 26


IN the course of the first session of the Thirtieth Congress, a bill passed
the House of Representatives to organize a government for the Terri
tory 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 disa
greed to by the House. On the return of the bill to the Senate, a dis
cussion arose, and continued for several days, on the question of agree
ment 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 ex-

* Remarks made in the Senate of the United Slates, on the 12th of August,


citement. 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 honora
ble member from Missouri * was right, entirely right, when he
said that the amendment now under consideration had no rela
tion 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 be
fore it. The truth is, that it is an amendment by which the
Senate wishes to have now a public, legal declaration, not re
specting 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 amend
ment 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 amend
ment proposed is foreign to the immediate object of the bill. It
does nothing to modify, restrain, or affect, in any way, the gov
ernment which we propose to establish over Oregon, or the con
dition 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, w T ho 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 amend
ment, or something equivalent to it, may be adopted by the

* Mr. Benton.


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 mo
tion to get rid of it, that is, " to recede."

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,* 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 atten
tion of mankind. He has not stated any part of this too strong
ly. It is such a question. Without doubt, it is a question
which may well attract the attention of mankind. On the sub
jects 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 amend
ment 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 na
tions of the earth, to call from those who support the one side
or the other a statement of the grounds upon which they act.

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 Sen
ate 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.

* Mr. Berrien.


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 glebes, adscripts of Russia, or Hun
gary, or other states. It is a peculiar system of personal slav
ery, 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 fram-
ers 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 ex
isting 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 fre
quent reproach to England, the mother country, that slavery
had been entailed upon the colonies by her, against their con
sent, 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 Ter
ritory, 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 pre
vailing 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 Ter
ritory 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 slav
ery 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 Con
gress, 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. There
fore J say, that all agitations and attempts to disturb the rela
tions 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 counte
nance 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 con
stituents, 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, for-


eign 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 exer
cised 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 in
terest 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 contempla
tion 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 new
ly acquired territory, and only one non-slaveholding 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 man
kind, let us see how the matter in truth stands. Gentlemen
who advocate the case which my honorable friend from Geor
gia, with so much ability, sustains, declare that we invade their
rights, that we deprive them of a participation in the enjoy
ment of territories acquired by the common services and com
mon 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 ter
ritories. 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 u property " ?
What do they mean by " property " ? W"e certainly do not
deprive them of the privilege of going into these newly ac
quired territories with all that, in the general estimate of human
society, in the general, and common, and universal understand
ing 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 lo
cal legislation on which slavery rests ; while every body agrees
that it is against natural law, or at least against the common
understanding which prevails among men as to what is nat
ural law.

I am not going into metaphysics, for therein I should encoun
ter the honorable member from South Carolina,* and we should
find " no end, in wandering mazes lost," until after the time for
the adjournment of Congress. The Southern States have pecu
liar 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

* Mr. Calhoun.


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 territo
ry 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 hold
ing property by authority of that law, can go into new terri
tory 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 pre
sumed 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 owner
ship 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 noth
ing 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 Conven
tion 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 dis
couraged. I agree that slave labor does not necessarily exclude
free labor totally. There is free white labor in Virginia, Ten
nessee, 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. Wher
ever labor is mainly performed by slaves, it is regarded as de
grading to freemen. The freemen of the North, therefore, have
a deep interest in keeping labor free, exclusively free, in the new

But, Sir, let us look further into this alleged inequality.
There is no pretence that Southern people may not go into ter
ritory which shall be subject to the Ordinance of 1787. The
only restraint is, that they shall not carry slaves thither, and con
tinue 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 emigrat
ed from the South ; and I venture to say, that, in respect to
those two States, they are at this day settled by people of South
ern origin in as great a proportion as they are by people of
Northern origin, according to the general numbers and propor
tion of people, South and North. There are as many peo
ple from the South, in proportion to the whole people of the
South, in those States, as there are from the North, in propor
tion to the whole people of the North. There is, then, no ex
clusion of Southern people ; there is only the exclusion of a
peculiar local law. Neither in principle nor in fact is there any

The question now is, whether it is not competent to Con
gress, in the exercise of a fair and just discretion, considering
that there have been five slave-holding States added to this Un
ion 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 it may see
fit. It is subject, of course, to the rules of justice and propri
ety ; but it is under no constitutional restraints.

I have said that I shall consent to no extension of the area
of slavery upon this continent, nor to any increase of slave
representation in the other house of Congress. I have now
stated my reasons for my conduct and my vote. We of the
North have already gone, in this respect, far beyond all that
any Southern man could have expected, or did expect, at the
time of the adoption of the Constitution. I repeat the state
ment of the fact of the creation of five new slave-holding States
out of newly acquired territory. We have done that which,
if those who framed the Constitution had foreseen, they never
would have agreed to slave representation. We have yielded
thus far; and we have now in the House of Representatives
twenty persons voting upon this very question, and upon all
other questions, who are there only in virtue of the representa
tion of slaves.

Let me conclude, therefore, by remarking, that, while I am
willing to present this as showing my own judgment and posi
tion, in regard to this case, and I beg it to be understood that
I am speaking for no other than myself, and while I am willing
to offer it to the whole world as my own justification, I rest on
these propositions : First, That when this Constitution was
adopted, nobody looked for any new acquisition of territory to
be formed into slave-holding States. Secondly, That the prin
ciples of the Constitution prohibited, and were intended to pro
hibit, and should be construed to prohibit, all interference of the

Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe works of Daniel Webster (Volume 05) → online text (page 30 of 53)