Copyright
Daniel Webster.

The works of Daniel Webster (Volume 05) online

. (page 34 of 53)
Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe works of Daniel Webster (Volume 05) → online text (page 34 of 53)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


344 SPEECH OF THE TTH OF MARCH, 1850,

ment ; and they voted for it just as it is, and their eyes were
all open to its true character. The honorable member from
South Carolina who addressed us the other day was then Sec
retary of State. His correspondence with Mr. Murphy, the
Charge d Affaires of the United States in Texas, had been pub
lished. That correspondence was all before those gentlemen,
and the Secretary had the boldness and candor to avow in that
correspondence, that the great object sought by the annexation
of Texas was to strengthen the slave interest of the South.
Why, Sir, he said so in so many words

MR. CALHOUN. Will the honorable Senator permit me to interrupt
him for a moment ?

Certainly.

MR. CALHOUN. I am veiy reluctant to interrupt the honorable gentle
man ; but, upon a point of so much importance, I deem it right to put
myself rectus in curia. I did not put it upon the ground assumed by
the Senator. I put it upon this ground : that Great Britain had an
nounced to this country, in so many words, that her object was to abol
ish slavery in Texas, and, through Texas, to accomplish the abolition
of slavery in the United States and the world. The ground I put it on
was, that it would make an exposed frontier, and, if Great Britain suc
ceeded in her object, it would be impossible that that frontier could be
secured against the aggressions of the Abolitionists ; and that this govern
ment was bound, under the guaranties of the Constitution, to protect us
against such a state of things.

That comes, I suppose, Sir, to exactly the same thing. It
was, that Texas must be obtained for the security of the slave
interest of the South.

MR. CALHOUN. Another view is very distinctly given.

That was the object set forth in the correspondence of a
worthy gentleman not now living,* who preceded the honorable
member from South Carolina in the Department of State.
There repose on the files of the Department, as I have occasion
to know, strong letters from Mr. Upshur to the United States
minister in England, and I believe there are some to the same
minister from the honorable Senator himself, asserting to this
effect the sentiments of this government ; namely, that Great

* Mr. Upshur.



FOR THE CONSTITUTION AND THE UNION. 345

Britain was expected not to interfere to take Texas out of the
hands of its then existing government and make it a free coun
try. But my argument, my suggestion, is this ; that those gen
tlemen who composed the Northern Democracy when Texas
was brought into the Union saw clearly that it was brought
in as a slave country, and brought in for the purpose of be
ing maintained as slave territory, to the Greek Kalends. I
rather think the honorable gentleman who was then Secre
tary of State might, in some of his correspondence with Mr.
Murphy, have suggested that it was not expedient to say too
much about this object, lest it should create some alarm.
At any rate, Mr. Murphy wrote to him that England was
anxious to get rid of the constitution of Texas, because it
was a constitution establishing slavery ; and that what the
United States had to do was to aid the people of Texas in
upholding their constitution ; but that nothing should be said
which should offend the fanatical men of the North. But, Sir,
the honorable member did avow this object himself, openly,
boldly, and manfully ; he did not disguise his conduct or his
motives.

MR. CALHOUN. Never, never.

What he means he is very apt to say.

MR. CALHOUN. Always, always.

And I honor him for it.

This admission of Texas was in 1845. Then, in 1847,
flagrante bello between the United States and Mexico, the
proposition I have mentioned was brought forward by my
friend from Georgia, and the Northern Democracy voted stead
ily against it. Their remedy was to apply to the acquisitions,
after they should come in, the Wilmot Proviso. What follows ?
These two gentlemen,* worthy and honorable and influential
men, (and if they had not been they could not have carried the
measure,) these two gentlemen, members of this body, brought
in Texas, and by their votes they also prevented the passage
of the resolution of the honorable member from Georgia, and
then they went home and took the lead in the Free Soil
party. And there they stand, Sir! They leave us here, bound

* Messrs. Niles of Connecticut and Dix of New York.



346 SPEECH OF THE 7-rn OF MARCH, 1850,

in honor and conscience by the resolutions of annexation ; they
leave us here, to take the odium of fulfilling the obligations in
favor of slavery which they voted us into, or else the greater
odium of violating those obligations, while they are at home
making capital and rousing speeches for free soil and no slav
ery. And therefore I say, Sir, that there is not a chapter in our
history, respecting public measures and public men, more fulJ
of what would create surprise, more full of what does create, in
my mind, extreme mortification, than that of the conduct of
the Northern Democracy on this subject.

Mr. President, sometimes, when a man is found in a new
relation to things around him and to other men, he says the
world has changed, and that he has not changed. I believe,
Sir, that our self-respect leads us often to make this declaration
in regard to ourselves when it is not exactly true. An individ
ual is more apt to change, perhaps, than all the world around
him. But, under the present circumstances, and under the re
sponsibility which I know I incur by what I am now stating
here, I feel at liberty to recur to the various expressions and
statements, made at various times, of my own opinions and
resolutions respecting the admission of Texas, and all that has
followed. Sir, as early as 1836, or in the early part of 1837,
there was conversation and correspondence between myself and
some private friends on this project of annexing Texas to the
United States ; and an honorable gentleman with whom I have
had a long acquaintance, a friend of mine, now perhaps in this
chamber, I mean General Hamilton, of South Carolina, was
privy to that correspondence. I had voted for the recognition
of Texan independence, because I believed it to be an exist
ing fact, surprising and astonishing as it was, and I wished
well to the new republic ; but I manifested from the first utter
opposition to bringing her, with her slave territory, into the
Union. I happened, in 1837, to make a public address to po
litical friends in New York, and I then stated my sentiments
upon the subject. It was the first time that I had occasion to
advert to it ; and I will ask a friend near me to have the kind
ness to read an extract from the speech made by me on that
occasion. It was delivered in Niblo s Garden, in 1837.

Mr. Greene then read the following extract from the speech of Mr.
Webster to which he referred :



FOR THE CONSTITUTION AND THE UNION. 347

" Gentlemen, we all sec that, by whomsoever possessed, Texas is
likely to be a slave-holding country ; and I frankly avow my entire un
willingness to do any thing which shall extend the slavery of the Afri
can race on this continent, or add other slave-holding States to the
Union. When I say that I regard slavery in itself as a great moral,
social, and political evil, I only use language which has been adopt
ed by distinguished men, themselves citizens of slave-holding States.
I shall do nothing, therefore, to favor or encourage its further exten
sion. We have slavery already amongst us. The Constitution found
it in the Union ; it recognized it, and gave it solemn guaranties. To
the full extent of these guaranties we are all bound, in honor, in justice,
and by the Constitution. All the stipulations contained in the Consti
tution in favor of the slave-holding States which are already in the
Union ought to be fulfilled, and, so far as depends on me, shall be
fulfilled, in the fulness of their spirit, and to the exactness of their let
ter. Slavery, as it exists in the States, is beyond the reach of Congress.
It is a concern of the States themselves ; they have never submitted
it to Congress, and Congress has no rightful power over it. I shall con
cur, therefore, in no act, no measure, no menace, no indication of
purpose, which shall interfere or threaten to interfere with the exclusive
authority of the several States over the subject of slavery as it exists
within their respective limits. All this appears to me to be matter of
plain and imperative duty.

" But when we come to speak of admitting new States, the subject
assumes an entirely different aspect. Our rights and our duties are then
both different

" I see, therefore, no political necessity for the annexation of Texas
to the Union ; no advantages to be derived from it ; and objections to it
of a strong, and, in my judgment, decisive character."

I have nothing, Sir, to add to, or to take from, those senti
ments. That speech, the Senate will perceive, was made in
1837. The purpose of immediately annexing Texas at that
time was abandoned or postponed; and it was not revived
with any vigor for some years. In the mean time it happened
that I had become a member of the executive administration,
and was for a short period in the Department of State. The
annexation of Texas was a subject of conversation, not confi
dential, with the President and heads of departments, as well
as with other public men. No serious attempt was then made,
however, to bring it about. I left the Department of State in
May, 1843, and shortly after I learned, though by means which



348 SPEECH OF THE TTH OF MARCH, 1850,

were no way connected with official information, that a design
had been taken up of bringing Texas, with her slave territory
and population, into this Union. I was in Washington at the
time, and persons are now here who will remember that we
had an arranged meeting for conversation upon it. I went
home to Massachusetts and proclaimed the existence of that
purpose, but I could get no audience and but little attention.
Some did not believe it, and some were too much engaged in
their own pursuits to give it any heed. They had gone to their
farms or to then- merchandise, and it was impossible to arouse
any feeling in New England, or in Massachusetts, that should
combine the two great political parties against this annexa
tion ; and, indeed, there was no hope of bringing the North
ern Democracy into that view, for their leaning was all the
other way. But, Sir, even with Whigs, and leading Whigs, I
am ashamed to say, there was a great indifference towards the
admission of Texas, with slave territory, into this Union.

The project went on. I was then out of Congress. The
annexation resolutions passed on the 1st of March, 1845 ; the
legislature of Texas complied with the conditions and accepted
the guaranties ; for the language of the resolution is, that Texas
is to come in " upon the conditions and under the guaranties
herein prescribed." I was returned to the Senate in March,
1845, and was here in December following, when the accep
tance by Texas of the conditions proposed by Congress was
communicated to us by the President, and an act for the con
summation of the union was laid before the two houses. The
connection was then not completed. A final law, doing the deed
of annexation ultimately, had not been passed ; and when it was
put upon its final passage here, I expressed my opposition to
it, and recorded my vote in the negative ; and there that vote
stands, with the observations that I made upon that occasion.*
Nor is this the only occasion on which I have expressed my
self to the same effect. It has happened that, between 1837
and this time, on various occasions, I have expressed my en
tire opposition to the admission of slave States, or the acquisi
tion of new slave territories, to be added to the United States.
I know, Sir, no change in my own sentiments, or my own pur-

* See the remarks on the Admission of Texas, p. 55 of this volume.



FOR THE CONSTITUTION AND THE UNION. 349

poses, in that respect. I will now ask my friend from Rhode
Island to read another extract from a speech of mine made at
a Whig Convention in Springfield, Massachusetts, in the month
of September, 1847.

Mr. Greene here read the following extract :

" We hear much just now of a panacea for the dangers and evils of
slavery and slave annexation, which they call the Wilmot Proviso.
That certainly is a just sentiment, but it is not a sentiment to found any
new party upon. It is not a sentiment on which Massachusetts Whigs
differ. There is not a man in this hall who holds to it more firmly than
I do, nor one who adheres to it more than another.

" I feel some little interest in this matter, Sir. Did not I commit my
self in 1837 to the whole doctrine, fully, entirely ? And I must be per
mitted to say that I cannot quite consent that more recent discoverers
should claim the merit and take out a patent.

" I deny the priority of their invention. Allow me to say, Sir, it is
not their thunder

" We are to use the first and the last and every occasion which offers
to oppose the extension of slave power.

"But I speak of it here, as in Congress, as a political question, a
question for statesmen to act upon. We must so regard it. I certainly
do not mean to say that it is less important in a moral point of view,
that it is not more important in many other points of view ; but as a
legislator, or in any official capacity, I must look at it, consider it, and
decide it as a matter of political action."

On other occasions, in debates here, I have expressed my de
termination to vote for no acquisition, or cession, or annexation,
north or south, east or west. My opinion has been, that we
have territory enough, and that we should follow the Spartan
maxim, " Improve, adorn what you have," seek no further. I
think that it was in some observations that I made on the three-
million loan bill that I avowed this sentiment. In short, Sir,
it has been avowed quite as often, in as many places, and
before as many assemblies, as any humble opinions of mine
ought to be avowed.

But now that, under certain conditions, Texas is in the Un
ion, with all her territory, as a slave State, with a solemn pledge,
also, that, if she shall be divided into many States, those States
may come in as slave States south of 36 30 , how are we to
deal with this subject ? I know no way of honest legislation,

VOL. v. 30



350 SPEECH OF THE TTH OF MARCH, 1850,

when the proper time comes for the enactment, but to carry
into effect all that we have stipulated to do. I do not entirely
agree with my honorable friend from Tennessee,* that, as soon
as the time comes when she is entitled to another representa
tive, we should create a new State. On former occasions, in
creating new States out of territories, we have generally gone
upon the idea that, when the population of the territory
amounts to about sixty thousand, we would consent to its ad
mission as a State. But it is quite a different thing when a
State is divided, and two or more States made out of it. It
does not follow in such a case that the same rule of appor
tionment should be applied. That, however, is a matter for
the consideration of Congress, when the proper time arrives.
I may not then be here ; I may have no vote to give on the
occasion ; but I wish it to be distinctly understood, that, ac
cording to my view of the matter, this government is solemnly
pledged, by law and contract, to create new States out of
Texas, with her consent, when her population shall justify and
call for such a proceeding, and, so far as such States are formed
out of Texan territory lying south of 36 30 , to let them come
in as slave States. That is the meaning of the contract which
our friends, the Northern Democracy, have left us to fulfil ; and
I, for one, mean to fulfil it, because I will not violate the faith
of the government. What I mean to say is, that the time for
the admission of new States formed out of Texas, the number
of such States, their boundaries, the requisite amount of pop
ulation, and all other things connected with the admission, are
in the free discretion of Congress, except this ; to wit, that, when
new States formed out of Texas are to be admitted, they have
a right, by legal stipulation and contract, to come in as slave
States.

Now, as to California and New Mexico, I hold slavery to be
excluded from those territories by a law even superior to that
which admits and sanctions it in Texas. I mean the law of
nature, of physical geography, the law of the formation of the
earth. That law settles for ever, with a strength beyond all
terms of human enactment, that slavery cannot exist in Califor
nia or New Mexico. Understand me, Sir ; I mean slavery as

* Mr. Bell.



FOR THE CONSTITUTION AND THE UNION. 351

we regard it ; the slavery of the colored race as it exists in
the Southern States. I shall not discuss the point, but leave
it to the learned gentlemen who have undertaken to discuss
it; but I suppose there is no slavery of that description in Cal
ifornia now. I understand that peonism, a sort of penal servi
tude, exists there, or rather a sort of voluntary sale of a man
and his offspring for debt, an arrangement of a peculiar
nature known to the law of Mexico. But what I mean to
say is, that it is as impossible that African slavery, as we
see it among us, should find its way, or be introduced, into
California and New Mexico, as any other natural impossibil
ity. California and New Mexico are Asiatic in their forma
tion and scenery. They are composed of vast ridges of moun
tains, of great height, with broken ridges and deep valleys.
The sides of these mountains are entirely barren ; their tops
capped by perennial snow. There may be in California, now
made free by its constitution, and no doubt there are, some
tracts of valuable land. But it is not so in New Mexico. Pray,
what is the evidence which every gentleman must have obtained
on this subject, from information sought by himself or com
municated by others? I have inquired and read all I could
find, in order to acquire information on this important subject.
"What is there in New Mexico that could, by any possibility,
induce any body to go there with slaves ? There are some nar
row strips of tillable land on the borders of the rivers ; but the
rivers themselves dry up before midsummer is gone. All that
the people can do in that region is to raise some little articles,
some little wheat for their tortillas, and that by irrigation. And
who expects to see a hundred black men cultivating tobacco,
corn, cotton, rice, or any thing else, on lands in New Mexico,
made fertile only by irrigation ?

I look upon it, therefore, as a fixed fact, to use the current
expression of the day, that both California and New Mexico
are destined to be free, so far as they are settled at all, which
I believe, in regard to New Mexico, will be but partially for
a great length of time ; free by the arrangement of things or
dained by the Power above us. I have therefore to say, in this
respect also, that this country is fixed for freedom, to as many
persons as shall ever live in it, by a less repealable law than that
which attaches to the right of holding slaves in Texas ; and I



SPEECH OF THE TTH OF MARCH, 1850,

will say further, that, if a resolution or a bill were now before
us, to provide a territorial government for New Mexico, I would
not vote to put any prohibition into it whatever. Such a pro
hibition would be idle, as it respects any effect it would have
upon the territory ; and I would not take pains uselessly to re
affirm an ordinance of nature, nor to reenact the will of God.
I would put in no Wilmot Proviso for the mere purpose of a
taunt or a reproach. I would put into it no evidence of
the votes of superior power, exercised for no purpose but to
wound the pride, whether a just and a rational pride, or an ir
rational pride, of the citizens of the Southern States. I have
no such object, no such purpose. They would think it a
taunt, an indignity ; they would think it to be an act taking
away from them what they regard as a proper equality of
privilege. Whether they expect to realize any benefit from it
or not, they would think it at least a plain theoretic wrong ;
that something more or less derogatory to their character and
their rights had taken place. I propose to inflict no such
wound upon any body, unless something essentially impor
tant to the country, and efficient to the preservation of liberty
and freedom, is to be effected. I repeat, therefore, Sir, and,
as I do not propose to address the Senate often on this sub
ject, I repeat it because I wish it to be distinctly understood,
that, for the reasons stated, if a proposition were now here to
establish a government for New Mexico, and it was moved
to insert a provision for a prohibition of slavery, I would not
vote for it.

Sir, if we were now making a government for New Mexico,
and any body should propose a Wilmot Proviso, I should treat
it exactly as Mr. Polk treated that provision for excluding slav
ery from Oregon. Mr. Polk was known to be in opinion decid
edly averse to the Wilmot Proviso ; but he felt the necessity
of establishing a government for the Territory of Oregon. The
proviso was in the bill, but he knew it would be entirely nu
gatory ; and, since it must be entirely nugatory, since it took
away no right, no describable, no tangible, no appreciable right
of the South, he said he would sign the bill for the sake of en
acting a law to form a government in that Territory, and let
that entirely useless, and, in that connection, entirely senseless,
proviso remain. Sir, we hear occasionally of the annexation



FOR THE CONSTITUTION AND THE UNION. 353

of Canada; and if there be any man, any of the Northern
Democracy, or any one of the Free Soil party, who supposes it
necessary to insert a Wilmot Proviso in a territorial govern
ment for New Mexico, that man would of course be of opinion
that it is necessary to protect the everlasting snows of Canada
from the foot of slavery by the same overspreading wing of an
act of Congress. Sir, wherever there is a substantive good to be
done, wherever there is a foot of land to be prevented from be
coming slave territory, I am ready to assert the principle of the
exclusion of slavery. I am pledged to it from the year 1837 ;
I have been pledged to it again and again ; and I will perform
those pledges ; but I will not do a thing unnecessarily that
wounds the feelings of others, or that does discredit to my own
understanding.

Now, Mr. President, I have established, so far as I proposed
to do so, the proposition with which I set out, and upon which
I intend to stand or fall ; and that is, that the whole territory
within the former United States, or in the newly acquired Mex
ican provinces, has a fixed and settled character, now fixed
and settled by law which cannot be repealed; in the case
of Texas without a violation of public faith, and by no hu
man power in regard to California or New Mexico ; that,
therefore, under one or other of these laws, every foot of land
in the States or in the Territories has already received a fixed
and decided character.

Mr. President, in the excited times in which we live, there is
found to exist a state of crimination and recrimination between
the North and South. There are lists of grievances produced
by each ; and those grievances, real or supposed, alienate the
minds of one portion of the country from the other, exasperate
the feelings, and subdue the sense of fraternal affection, patri
otic love, and mutual regard. I shall bestow a little attention,
Sir, upon these various grievances existing on the one side and
on the other. I begin with complaints of the South. I will
not answer, further than I have, the general statements of the
honorable Senator from South Carolina, that the North has
prospered at the expense of the South in consequence of the
manner of administering this government, in the collecting of
its revenues, and so forth. These are disputed topics, and
30*



354 SPEECH OF THE TTH OF MARCH, 1850,

have no inclination to enter into them. But I will allude to
othe^r complaints of the South, and especially to one which
has in my opinion just foundation; and that is, that there
has been found at the North, among individuals and among
legislators, a disinclination to perform fully their constitu
tional duties in regard to the return of persons bound to ser
vice who have escaped into the free States. In that respect,
the South, in my judgment, is right, and the North is wrong.
Every member of every Northern legislature is bound by oath,



Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe works of Daniel Webster (Volume 05) → online text (page 34 of 53)