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that this sum will be paid, they may be able to obtain so much
more credit and so much greater facility in conducting their
operations, that they will be able to complete the work.

There is one other thing to be remembered, that this will be
the only way of crossing the isthmus for many years to come.
Public attention has been very strongly drawn to this subject.
We have now extensive territories on the other side of the con
tinent, and although we do not know whether the immediate
object of those who invest their capital in the undertaking will
be attained, although we do not know whether they will, for
ten years to come, be remunerated for their outlay, still the
advantage to the public which must accrue from the direction
given to the business of the country which must necessarily be
carried through that channel, will be of so decided a character
that it ought to be undertaken. Whether the hopes and expec
tations of those who visit the gold region shall or shall not be
realized, the commerce of the country will, nevertheless, be ben
efited, by having a ready communication between the Atlantic
and Pacific coast. I believe, therefore, that the public gener
ally are decidedly in favor of some immediate measure, to be
begun now, to open a communication which shall so much
shorten the distance between the United States on this side of
the mountains and the territory of the United States on the
other side. It is in this point of view that I think this is pre
cisely the measure that is called for by the judgment of the
whole country, and the only practicable measure that has been
suggested ; and it is for these reasons that I sustain it.


ON the 25th of January, 1850, Mr. Clay submitted a series of resolu
tions to the Senate, on the subject of slavery, in connection with the va
rious questions which had arisen in consequence of the acquisition of
Mexican territory. These resolutions furnished the occasion of a pro
tracted debate. On Wednesday, the 6th of March, Mr. Walker of
Wisconsin engaged in the discussion, but owing to the length of time
taken up by repeated interruptions, he was unable to finish his argu
ment. In the mean time it had been generally understood that Mr.
Webster would, at an early day, take an opportunity of addressing the
Senate on the present aspect of the slavery question, on the dangers to
the Union of the existing agitation, and on the terms of honorable adjust
ment. In the expectation of hearing a speech from him on these all-
important topics, an immense audience assembled in the Senate-cham
ber at an early hour of Thursday, the 7th of March. The floor, the
galleries, and the antechambers of the Senate were crowded, and it was
with difficulty that the members themselves were able to force their way
to their seats.

At twelve o clock the special order of the day was announced, and
the Vice-President stated that Mr. Walker of Wisconsin was entitled to
the floor. That gentleman, however, rose and said,

" Mr. President, this vast audience has not come together to hear
me, and there is but one man, in my opinion, who can assemble such
an audience. They expect to hear him, and I feel it to be rny duty,
therefore, as it is my pleasure, to give the floor to the Senator from
Massachusetts. I understand it is immaterial to him upon which of these
questions he speaks, and therefore I will not move to postpone the spe
cial order."

Mr. Webster then rose, and, after making his acknowledgments to the

* A Speech delivered in the Senate of the United States, on the 7th of March,


Senators from Wisconsin (Mr. Walker) and New York (Mr. Seward)
for their courtesy in yielding the floor to him, delivered the follow
ing speech, which, in consideration of its character and of the man
ner in which it was received throughout the country, has been entitled
a speech for "the Constitution and the Union." In the pamphlet
edition it was dedicated in the following terms to the people of Massa
chusetts :







]\Ir. PRESIDENT, I wish to speak to-day, not as a Massachu-"

setts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American, and a
member of the Senate of the United States. It is fortunate that
there .is a Senate of the United States ; a body not yet moved
from its propriety, not lost to a just sense of its own dignity
and its own high responsibilities, and a body to which the coun
try looks, with confidence, for wise, moderate, patriotic, and
healing counsels. It is not to be denied that we live in the
midst of strong agitations, and are surrounded by very consider
able dangers to our institutions and government. The impris
oned winds are let loose. The East, the North, and the stormy
South combine to throw the whole sea into .commotion, to
toss its billows to the skies, and disclose its profoundest depths.
I do not affect to regard myself, Mr. President, as holding, or
as fit to hold, the helm in this combat with the political ele
ments ; but I have a duty to perform, and I mean to perform it
with fidelity, not without a sense of existing dangers, but not
without hope. I have a part to act, not for my own security or
safety, for I am looking out for no fragment upon which, to
float away from the wreck, if wreck there must be, but for the
good of the whole, and the preservation of all ; and there is that
VOL. v. 28


which will keep me to my duty during this struggle, whether
the sun and the stars shall appear, or shall not appear for many
clays. I speak to-day for the preservation of the Union. " Hear
me for my cause." I speak to-day, out of a solicitous and anx
ious heart, for the restoration to the country of that quiet and
that harmony which make the blessings of this Union so rich,
and so dear to us alLj^ These are the topics that I propose to
myself to discuss ; these are the motives, and the sole motives,
that influence me in the wish to communicate my opinions to
the Senate and the country ; and if I can do any thing, how
ever little, for the promotion of these ends, I shall have accom
plished all that I expect.

Mr. President, it may not be amiss to recur very briefly
to the events which, equally sudden and extraordinary, have
brought the country into its present political condition. In
May, 1846, the United States declared war against Mexico.
Our armies, then on the frontiers, entered the provinces of that
republic, met and defeated all her troops, penetrated her moun
tain passes, and occupied her capital. The marine force of the
United States took possession of her forts and her towns, on
the Atlantic and on the Pacific. In less than two years a treaty
was negotiated, by which Mexico ceded to the United States a
vast territory, extending seven or eight hundred miles along the
shores of the Pacific, and reaching back over the mountains,
and across the desert, until it joins the frontier of the State of
Texas. It so happened, in the distracted and feeble condition of
the Mexican government, that, before the declaration of war by
the United States against Mexico had become known in Califor
nia, the people of California, under the lead of American offi
cers, overthrew the existing Mexican provincial government, and
raised an independent flag. When the news arrived at San
Francisco that war had been declared by the United States
against Mexico, this independent flag was pulled down, and
the stars and stripes of this Union hoisted in its stead. So,
Sir, before the war was over, the forces of the United States, mil
itary and naval, had possession of San Francisco and Upper
California, and a great rush of emigrants from various parts
of the world took place into California in 1846 and 1847. But
now behold another wonder.

In January of 1848, a party of Mormons made a discovery


of an extraordinarily rich mine of gold, or rather of a great
quantity of gold, hardly proper to be called a mine, for it was
spread near the surface, on the lower part of the south, or
American, branch of the Sacramento. They attempted to con
ceal then: discovery for some time ; but soon another discovery
of gold, perhaps of greater importance, was made, on another
part of the American branch of the Sacramento, and near Sut
ler s Fort, as it is called. The fame of these discoveries spread
far and wide. They inflamed more and more the spirit of em
igration towards California, which had already been excited ;
and adventurers crowded into the country by hundreds, and
flocked towards the Bay of San Francisco. This, as I have
said, took place in the winter and spring of 1848. The dig
ging commenced in the spring of that year, and from that
time to this the work of searching for gold has been prosecuted
with a success not heretofore known in the history of this globe.
You recollect, Sir, how incredulous at first the American pub
lic was at the accounts which reached us of these discoveries ;
but we all know, now, that these accounts received, and con
tinue to receive, daily confirmation, and down to the present
moment I suppose the assurance is as strong, after the experi
ence of these several months, of the existence of deposits of gold
apparently inexhaustible in the regions near San Francisco, in
California, as it was at any period of the earlier dates of the

It so happened, Sir, that although, after the return of peace,
it became a very important subject for legislative consideration
and legislative decision to provide a proper territorial govern
ment for California, yet differences of opinion between the two
houses of Congress prevented the establishment of any such
territorial government at the last session. Under this state of
things, the inhabitants of California, already amounting to a
considerable number, thought it to be their duty, in the sum
mer of last year, to establish a local government. Under the
proclamation of General Riley, the people chose delegates to
a convention, and that convention met at Monterey. It
formed a constitution for the State of California, which, being
referred to the people, was adopted by them in their primary
assemblages. Desirous of immediate connection with the Unit
ed States, its Senators were appointed and representatives cho-

328 SPEECH OF THE 7-ni OF MARCH, 1850,

sen, who have come hither, bringing with them the authentic
constitution of the State of California ; and they now present
themselves, asking, in behalf of their constituents, that it may
be admitted into this Union as one of the United States. This
constitution, Sir, contains an express prohibition of slavery, or
involuntary servitude, in the State of California. It is said, and
I suppose truly, that, of the members who composed that con
vention, some sixteen were natives of, and had been residents in,
the slave-holding States, about twenty-two were from the non-
slave-holding States, and the remaining ten members were either
native Californians or old settlers in that country. This prohi
bition of slavery, it is said, was inserted with entire unanimity.

It is this circumstance, Sir, the prohibition of slavery, which
has contributed to raise, I do not say it has wholly raised,
the dispute as to the propriety of the admission of California
into the Union under this constitution. It is not to be de
nied, Mr. President, nobody thinks of denying, that, whatever
reasons were assigned at the commencement of the late war
with Mexico, it was prosecuted for the purpose of the acquisi
tion of territory, and under the alleged argument that the cession
of territory was the only form in which proper compensation
could be obtained by the United States from Mexico, for the
various claims and demands which the people of this country
had against that government. At any rate, it will be found that
President Polk s message, at the commencement of the session
of December, 1847, avowed that the war was to be prosecuted
until some acquisition of territory should be made. As the ac
quisition was to be south of the line of the United States, in warm
climates and countries, it was naturally, I suppose, expected by
the South, that whatever acquisitions were made in that region
would be added to the slave-holding portion of the United States.
Very little of accurate information was possessed of the real
physical character, either of California or New Mexico, and
events have not turned out as was expected. Both California
and New Mexico are likely to come in as free States ; and there
fore some degree of disappointment and surprise has resulted.
In other words, it is obvious that the question which has so long
harassed the country, and at some times very seriously alarmed
the minds of wise and good men, has come upon us for a fresh
discussion ; the question of slavery in these United States.


Now, Sir, I propose, perhaps at the expense of some detail
and consequent detention of the Senate, to review historically
this question, which, partly in consequence of its own impor
tance, and partly, perhaps mostly, in consequence of the manner
in which it has been discussed in different portions of the coun
try, has been a source of so much alienation and unkind feel
ing between them.

We all know, Sir, that slavery has existed in the world from
time immemorial. There was slavery, in the earliest periods,
of history, among the Oriental nations. There was slavery
among the Jews; the theocratic government of that people
issued no injunction against it. There was slavery among the
Greeks; and the ingenious philosophy of the Greeks found,
or sought to find, a justification for it exactly upon the grounds
which have been assumed for such a justification in this coun
try ; that is, a natural and original difference among the races
of mankind, and the inferiority of the black or colored race to
the white. The Greeks justified their system of slavery upon
that idea, precisely. They held the African and some of the
Asiatic tribes to be inferior to the white race ; but they did
not show, I think, by any close process of logic, that, if this
were true, the more intelligent and the stronger had therefore a
right to subjugate the weaker.

The more manly philosophy and jurisprudence of the Romans
placed the justification of slavery on entirely different grounds.
The Roman jurists, from the first and down to the fall of the
empire, admitted that slavery was against the natural law, by
which, as they maintained, all men, of whatsoever clime, color,
or capacity, were equal ; but they justified slavery, first, upon
the ground and authority of the law of nations, arguing, and
arguing truly, that at that day the conventional law of nations
admitted that captives in war, whose lives, according to the no
tions of the times, were at the absolute disposal of the captors,
might, in exchange for exemption from death, be made slaves
for life, and that such servitude might descend to their poster
ity. The jurists of Rome also maintained, that, by the civil
law, there might be servitude or slavery, personal and heredi
tary ; first, by the voluntary act of an individual, who might
sell himself into slavery ; secondly, by his being reduced into a
state of slavery by his creditors, in satisfaction of his debts ;


and, thirdly, by being placed in a state of servitude or slavery
for crime. At the introduction of Christianity, the Roman
world was full of slaves, and I suppose there is to be found no
injunction against that relation between man and man in the
teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ or of any of his Apos
tles. The object of the instruction imparted to mankind by
the founder of Christianity was to touch the heart, purify the
soul, and improve the lives of individual men. That object
went directly to the first fountain of all the political and social
relations of the human race, as well as of all true religious
feeling, the individual heart and mind of man.

Now, Sir, upon the general nature and influence of slav
ery there exists a wide difference of opinion between the
northern portion of this country and the southern.] It is said,
on the one side, that, although not the subject of any injunc
tion or direct prohibition in the New Testament, slavery is a
wrong ; that it is founded merely in the right of the strongest ;
and that it is an oppression, like unjust wars, like all those
conflicts by which a powerful nation subjects a weaker to its
will; and that, in its nature, whatever may be said of it in
the modifications which have taken place, it is not according
to the meek spirit of the Gospel. It is not "kindly aftec-
tioned " ; it does not " seek another s, and not its own " ; it
does not "let the oppressed go free." These are sentiments
that are cherished, and of late with greatly augmented force,
among the people of the Northern States. They have taken
hold of the religious sentiment of that part of the country, as
they have, more or less, taken hold of the religious feelings of a
considerable portion of mankind. The South, upon the other
side, having been accustomed to this relation between the two
races all their lives, from their birth, having been taught, in
general, to treat the subjects of this bondage with care and
kindness, and I believe, in general, feeling great kindness for
them, have not taken the view of the subject which I have
mentioned. [There are thousands of religious men, with con
sciences as tender as any of their brethren at the North, who
do not see the unlawfulness of slavery; and there are more
thousands, perhaps, that, whatsoever they may think of it in its
origin, and as a matter depending upon natural right, yet take
things as they are, and, finding slavery to be an established re-


lation of the society in which they live, can see no way in
which, Iek4keir -opinions tm ihe abstract question be what they
may, it is in the power of the present generation to relieve
themselves from this relation. And candor obliges me to say,
that I believe they are just as conscientious, many of them,
and the religious people, all of them, as they are at the North
who hold different opinions. (

The honorable Senator from South Carolina* the other day
alluded to the separation of that great religious community, the
Methodist Episcopal Church. That separation was brought
about by differences of opinion upon this particular subject of
slavery. I felt great concern, as that dispute went on, about
the result. I was in hopes that the difference of opinion
might be adjusted, because I looked upon that religious de
nomination as one of the great props of religion and morals
throughout the whole country, from Maine to Georgia, and
westward to our utmost western boundary. The result was
against my wishes and against my hopes. I have read all
their proceedings and all their arguments; but I have never
yet been able to come to the conclusion that there was any
real ground for that separation ; in other words, that any good
could be produced by that separation. I must say I think there
was some want of candor and charity. Sir, when a question
of this kind seizes on the religious sentiments of mankind, and
comes to be discussed in religious assemblies of the clergy and
laity, there is always to be expected, or always to be feared, a
great degree of excitement. It is in the nature of man, mani
fested by his whole history, that religious disputes are apt to
become warm in proportion to the strength of the convictions
which men entertain of the magnitude of the questions at
issue. In all such disputes, there will sometimes be found men
with whom every thing is absolute ; absolutely wrong, or abso
lutely right. They see the right clearly; they think others
ought so to see it, and they are disposed to establish a broad
line of distinction between what is right and what is wrong.
They are not seldom willing to establish that line upon their
own convictions of truth and justice ; and are ready to mark
and guard it by placing along it a series of dogmas, as lines of

* Mr. Calhoun.


boundary on the earth s surface are marked by posts and
stones. There are men who, with clear perceptions, as they
think, of their own duty, do not see how too eager a pursuit of
one duty may involve them in the violation of others, or how
too warm an embracement of one truth may lead to a disre
gard of other truths equally important. As I heard it stated
strongly, not many days ago, these persons are disposed to
mount upon some particular duty, as upon a war-horse,
and to drive furiously on and upon and over all other duties
that may stand in the way. There are men who, in refer
ence to disputes of that sort, are of opinion that human du-
I ties may be ascertained with the exactness of mathematics.
They deal with morals as with mathematics ; and they think
what is right may be distinguished from what is wrong with
the precision of an algebraic equation. They have, therefore,
none too much charity towards others who differ from them.
They are apt, too, to think that nothing is good but what is
perfect, and that there are no compromises or modifications to
be made in consideration of difference of opinion or in defer
ence to other men s judgment. If their perspicacious vision
enables them to detect a spot on the face of the sun, they think
that a good reason why the sun should be struck down from
heaven. They prefer the chance of running into utter darkness
to living in heavenly light, if that heavenly light be not abso
lutely without any imperfection. There are impatient men;
too impatient always to give heed to the admonition of St.
Paul, that we are not to " do evil that good may come " ; too
impatient to wait for the slow progress of moral causes in the
improvement of mankind. They do not remember that the
doctrines and the miracles of Jesus Christ have, in eighteen
hundred years, converted only a small portion of the human
race ; and among the nations that are converted to Christianity,
they forget how many vices and crimes, public and private,
still prevail, and that many of them, public crimes especially,
which are so clearly offences against the Christian religion,
pass without exciting particular indignation. Thus wars are
waged, and unjust wars. I do not deny that there may be
just wars. There certainly are ; but it was the remark of an
eminent person, not many years ago, on the other side of the
Atlantic, that it is one of the greatest reproaches to human


nature that wars are sometimes just. The defence of nations
sometimes causes a just war against the injustice of other na
tions. In this state of sentiment upon the general nature of
slavery lies the cause of a great part of those unhappy divis
ions, exasperations, and reproaches which find vent and sup
port in different parts of the Union.

But we must view things as they are. Slavery does ex
ist in the United States. It did exist in the States before
the adoption of this Constitution, and at that time. Let
us, therefore, consider for a moment what was the state of
sentiment, North and South, in regard to slavery, at the time
this Constitution was adopted. A remarkable change has
taken place since ; but what did the wise and great men of
all parts of the country think of slavery then ? In what es
timation did they hold it at the time when this Constitution
was adopted ? It will be found, Sir, if we will carry ourselves
by historical research back to that day, and ascertain men s
opinions by authentic records still existing among us, that there
was then no diversity of opinion between the North and the
South upon the subject of slavery. It will be found that both
parts of the country held it equally an evil, a moral and politi
cal evil. It will not be found that, either at the North or at
the South, there was much, though there was some, invective
against slavery as inhuman and cruel. The great ground of
objection to it was political ; that it weakened the social fab
ric; that, taking the place of free labor, society became less
strong and labor less productive ; and therefore we find from all

Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe works of Daniel Webster (Volume 05) → online text (page 32 of 53)