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like every other officer in the country, to support the Constitu
tion of the United States; and the article of the Constitution*
which says to these States that they shall deliver up fugitives
from service is as binding in honor and conscience as any other
article. No man fulfils his duty in any legislature who sets
himself to find excuses, evasions, escapes from this constitu
tional obligation. I have always thought that the Constitu
tion addressed itself to the legislatures of the States or to the
States themselves. It says that those persons escaping to
other States " shall be delivered up," and I confess I have al
ways been of the opinion that it was an injunction upon the
States themselves. When it is said that a person escaping
into another State, and coming therefore within the jurisdiction
of that State, shall be delivered up, it seems to me the import
of the clause is, that the State itself, in obedience to the Con
stitution, shall cause him to be delivered up. That is my
judgment. I have always entertained that opinion, and I en
tertain it now. But when the subject, some years ago, was
before the Supreme Court of the United States, the majority
of the judges held that the power to cause fugitives from ser
vice to be delivered up was a power to be exercised under the
authority of this government. I do not know, on the whole,
that it may not have been a fortunate decision. My habit is
to respect the result of judicial deliberations and the solemnity
of judicial decisions. As it now stands, the business of seeing
that these fugitives are delivered up resides in the power of
Congress and the national judicature, and my friend at the
head of the Judiciary Committee f has a bill on the subject
now before the Senate, which, with some amendments to it, I

* Art. IV. Sect. 2, 2. f Mr, Mason.


propose to support, with all its provisions, to the fullest extent.
And I desire to call the attention of all sober-minded men at
the North, of all conscientious men, of all men who are not
carried away by some fanatical idea or some false impression,
to their constitutional obligations. I put it to all the sober and
sound minds at the North as a question of morals and a ques
tion of conscience. What right have they, in their legislative
capacity or any other capacity, to endeavor to get round this
Constitution, or to embarrass the free exercise of the rights se
cured by the Constitution to the persons whose slaves escape
from them ? None at all ; none at all. Neither in the forum
of conscience, nor before the face of the Constitution, are they,
in my opinion, justified in such an attempt. Of course it is a
matter for their consideration. They probably, in the excite
ment of the times, have not stopped to consider of this. They
have followed what seemed to be the current of thought and of
motives, as the occasion arose, and they have neglected to in
vestigate fully the real question, and to consider their constitu
tional obligations ; which, I am sure, if they did consider, they
would fulfil with alacrity. I repeat, therefore, Sir, that here is
a well-founded ground of complaint against the North, w r hich
ought to be removed, w r hich it is now in the power of the dif
ferent departments of this government to remove ; which calls
for the enactment of proper laws authorizing the judicature of
this government, in the several States, to do all that is neces
sary for the recapture of fugitive slaves and for their restora
tion to those who claim them. Wherever I go, and when
ever I speak on the subject, and when I speak here I desire to
speak to the whole North, I say that the South has been in
jured in this respect, and has a right to complain ; and the
North has been too careless of what I think the Consti
tution peremptorily and emphatically enjoins upon her as a

Complaint has been made against certain resolutions that
emanate from legislatures at the North, and are sent here to us,
not only on the subject of slavery in this District, but some
times recommending Congress to consider the means of abol
ishing slavery in the States. I should be sorry to be called
upon to present any resolutions here which could not be refer
able to any committee or any power in Congress ; and there-


fore I should be unwilling to receive from the legislature of
Massachusetts any instructions to present resolutions expres
sive of any opinion whatever on the subject of slavery, as it ex
ists as the present moment in the States, for two reasons : first,
because I do not consider that the legislature of Massachusetts
has any thing to do with it ; and next, because I do not consider
that I, as her representative here, have any thing to do with it.
It has become, in my opinion, quite too common ; and if the
legislatures of the States do not like that opinion, they have
a great deal more power to put it down than I have to uphold
it ; it has become, in my opinion, quite too common a practice
for the State legislatures to present resolutions here on all sub
jects and to instruct us on all subjects. There is no public man
that requires instruction more than I do, or who requires infor
mation more than I do, or desires it more heartily ; but I do not
like to have it in too imperative a shape. I took notice, with
pleasure, of some remarks made upon this subject, the other
day, in the Senate of Massachusetts, by a young man of talent
and character, of whom the best hopes may be entertained. I
mean Mr. Hillard. He told the Senate of Massachusetts that
he would vote for no instructions \vhatever to be forwarded to
members of Congress, nor for any resolutions to be offered ex
pressive of the sense of Massachusetts as to what her members
of Congress ought to do. He said that he saw no propriety in
one set of public servants giving instructions and reading lec
tures to another set of public servants. To his own master
each of them must stand or fall, and that master is his constit
uents. I wish these sentiments could become more common. I
have never entered into the question, and never shall, as to the
binding force of instructions. I will, however, simply say this :
if there be any matter pending in this body, while I am a mem
ber of it, in which Massachusetts has an interest of her own
not adverse to the general interests of the country, I shall pur
sue her instructions with gladness of heart and with all the
efficiency which I can bring to the occasion. But if the ques
tion be one which affects her interest, and at the same time
equally affects the interests of all the other States, I shall no
more regard her particular wishes or instructions than I should
regard the wishes of a man who might appoint me an arbi
trator or referee to decide some question of important private


right between him and his neighbor, and then instruct me to
decide in his favor. If ever there was a government upon
earth it is this government, if ever there was a body upon earth
it is this body, which should consider itself as composed by
agreement of all, each member appointed by some, but organ
ized by the general consent of all, sitting here, under the solemn
obligations of oath and conscience, to do that which they think
to be best for the good of the whole.

Then, Sir, there are the Abolition societies, of which I am
unwilling to speak, but in regard to which I have very clear
notions and opinions. I do not think them useful. I think
their operations for the last twenty years have produced noth
ing good or valuable. At the same time, I believe thousands
of their members to be honest and good men, perfectly well-
meaning men. They have excited feelings ; they think they
must do something for the cause of liberty ; and, in their sphere
of action, they do not see what else they can do than to con
tribute to an Abolition press, or an Abolition society, or to pay
an Abolition lecturer. I do not mean to impute gross motives
even to the leaders of these societies, but I am not blind to the
consequences of their proceedings. I cannot but see what mis
chiefs their interference with the South has produced. And is
it not plain to every man ? Let any gentleman who entertains
doubts on this point recur to the debates in the Virginia House
of Delegates in 1832, and he will see with what freedom a
proposition made by Mr. Jefferson Randolph for the gradual
abolition of slavery was discussed in that body. Every one
spoke of slavery as he thought ; very ignominious and dispar
aging names and epithets were applied to it. The debates in
the House of Delegates on that occasion, I believe, were all pub
lished. They were read by every colored man who could read,
and to those who could not read, those debates were read by
others. At that time Virginia was not unwilling or afraid to
discuss this question, and to let that part of her population
know as much of the discussion as they could learn. That
was in 1832. As has been said by the honorable member
from South Carolina, these Abolition societies commenced their
course of action in 1835. It is said, I do not know how true it
may be, that they sent incendiary publications into the slave
States ; at any rate, they attempted to arouse, and did arouse,


a very strong feeling ; in other words, they created great agita
tion in the North against Southern slavery. Well, what was
the result ? The bonds of the slaves were bound more firmly
than before, their rivets were more strongly fastened. Public
opinion, which in Virginia had begun to be exhibited against
slavery, and was opening out for the discussion of the question,
drew back and shut itself up in its castle. I wish to know
whether any body in Virginia can now talk openly as Mr.
Randolph, Governor McDowell, and others talked in 1832, and
sent their remarks to the press ? We all know the fact, and we
all know the cause ; and every thing that these agitating peo
ple have done has been, not to enlarge, but to restrain, not to
set free, but to bind faster, the slave population of the South.*

Again, Sir, the violence of the Northern press is complained
of. The press violent ! Why, Sir, the press is violent every
where. There are outrageous reproaches in the North against
the South, and there are reproaches as vehement in the South
against the North. Sir, the extremists of both parts of this
country are violent; they mistake loud and violent talk for
eloquence and for reason. They think that he who talks loud
est reasons best. And this we must expect, when the press is
free, as it is here, and I trust always will be ; for, with all its
licentiousness and all its evil, the entire and absolute freedom
of the press is essential to the preservation of government on
the basis of a free constitution. Wherever it exists there will
be foolish and violent paragraphs in the newspapers, as there
are, I am sorry to say, foolish and violent speeches in both
houses of Congress. In truth, Sir, I must say that, in my opin
ion, the vernacular tongue of the country has become greatly
vitiated, depraved, and corrupted by the style of our Congres
sional debates. And if it were possible for those debates to
vitiate the principles of the people as much as they have de
praved their tastes, I should cry out, " God save the Republic !"

Well, in all this I see no solid grievance, no grievance pre
sented by the South, within the redress of the government, but
the single one to which I have referred ; and that is, the want
of a proper regard to the injunction of the Constitution for the
delivery of fugitive slaves.

* See Note at the end of the Speech.


There are also complaints of the North against the South. I
need not go over them particularly. The first and gravest is,
that the North adopted the Constitution, recognizing the exist
ence of slavery in the States, and recognizing the right, to a. cer
tain extent, of the representation of slaves in Congress, under a
state of sentiment and expectation which does not now exist; and
that, by events, by circumstances, by the eagerness of the South
to acquire territory and extend her slave population, the North
finds itself, in regard to the relative influence of the South and
the North, of the free States and the slave States, where it
never did expect to find itself when they agreed to the compact
of the Constitution. They complain, therefore, that, instead of
slavery being regarded as an evil, as it was then, an evil which
all hoped would be extinguished gradually, it is now regarded
by the South as an institution to be cherished, and preserved,
and extended ; an institution which the South has already ex
tended to the utmost of her power by the acquisition of new

Well, then, passing from that, every body in the North reads ;
and every body reads whatsoever the newspapers contain ; and
the newspapers, some of them, especially those presses to which
I have alluded, are careful to spread about among the people
every reproachful sentiment uttered by any Southern man bear
ing at all against the North; everything that is calculated to
exasperate and to alienate ; and there are many such things, as
every body will admit, from the South, or some portion of it,
which are disseminated among the reading people ; and they do
exasperate, and alienate, and produce a most mischievous effect
upon the public mind at the North. Sir, I would not notice
things of this sort appearing in obscure quarters ; but one thing
has occurred in this debate which struck me very forcibly. An
honorable member from Louisiana addressed us the other day
on this subject. I suppose there is not a more amiable and
worthy gentleman in this chamber, nor a gentleman who would
be more slow to give offence to any body, and he did not mean
in his remarks to give offence. But what did he say ? Why,
Sir, he took pains to run a contrast between the slaves of the
South and the laboring people of the North, giving the prefer
ence, in all points of condition, and comfort, and happiness, to
the slaves of the South. The honorable member, doubtless, did


not suppose that he gave any offence, or did any injustice. He
was merely expressing his opinion. But does he know how re
marks of that sort will be received by the laboring people of the
North ? Why, who are the laboring people of the North ? They
are the whole North. They are the people who till their own
farms with their own hands ; freeholders, educated men, inde
pendent men. Let me say, Sir, that five sixths of the whole
property of the North is in the hands of the laborers of the
North ; they cultivate their farms, they educate their children,
they provide the means of independence. If they are not free
holders, they earn wages ; these wages accumulate, are turned
into capital, into new freeholds, and small capitalists are created.
Such is the case, and such the course of things, among the in
dustrious and frugal. And what can these people think when
so respectable and worthy a gentleman as the member from
Louisiana undertakes to prove that the absolute ignorance and
the abject slavery of the South are more in conformity with the
high purposes and destiny of immortal, rational human beings,
than the educated, the independent free labor of the North ?

There is a more tangible and irritating cause of grievance at
the North. Free blacks are constantly employed in the vessels
of the North, generally as cooks or stewards. When the vessel
arrives at a Southern port, these free colored men are taken on
shore, by the police or municipal authority, imprisoned, and
kept in prison till the vessel is again ready to sail. This is not
only irritating, but exceedingly unjustifiable and oppressive.
Mr. Hoar s mission, some time ago, to South Carolina, was a
well-intended effort to remove this cause of complaint. The
North thinks such imprisonments illegal and unconstitutional ;
and as the cases occur constantly and frequently, they regard it
as a great grievance.

Now, Sir, so far as any of these grievances have their founda
tion in matters of law, they can be redressed, and ought to be
redressed; and so far as they have their foundation in matters
of opinion, in sentiment, in mutual crimination and recrimina
tion, all that we can do is to endeavor to allay the agitation,
and cultivate a better feeling and more fraternal sentiments be
tween the South and the North.

Mr. President, I should much prefer to have heard from every
member on this floor declarations of opinion that this Union


could never be dissolved, than the declaration of opinion by any
body, that, in any case, under the pressure of any circumstan
ces, such a dissolution was possible. I hear with distress and
anguish the word " secession," especially when it falls from the
lips of those who are patriotic, and known to the country, and
known all over the world, for their political services. Seces
sion ! Peaceable secession ! Sir, your eyes and mine are never
destined to see that miracle. The dismemberment of this vast
country without convulsion ! The breaking up of the fountains
of the great deep without ruffling the surface! Who is so fool
ish, I beg every body s pardon, as to expect to see any such
thing ? Sir, he who sees these States, now revolving in har
mony around a common centre, and expects to see them quit
their places and fly off without convulsion, may look the next
hour to see the heavenly bodies rush from their spheres, and jos
tle against each other in the realms of space, without causing
the wreck of the universe. There can be no such thing as a
peaceable secession. Peaceable secession is an utter impossibil
ity. Is the great Constitution under which we live, covering
this whole country, is it to be thawed and melted away by
secession, as the snows on the mountain melt under the influ
ence of a vernal sun, disappear almost unobserved, and run
off? No, Sir! No, Sir! I will not state what might pro
duce the disruption of the Union ; but, Sir, I see as plainly as I
see the sun in heaven what that disruption itself must produce ;
I see that it must produce war, and such a war as I will not
describe, in its twofold character.

/Peaceable secession ! Peaceable secession ! The concurrent
agreement of all the members of this great republic to separate !
A voluntary separation, with alimony on one side and on the
other. Why, what would be the result ? Where is the line to
be drawn ? What States are to secede ? What is to remain
American? What am I to be? An American no longer?
Am I to become a sectional man, a local man, a separatist,
with no country in common with the gentlemen who sit around
me here, or who fill the other house of Congress ? Heaven for
bid ! Where is the flag of the republic to remain ? W^here is
the eagle still to tower ? or is he to cower, and shrink, and fall to
the ground? Why, Sir, our ancestors, our fathers and our
grandfathers,. those of them that are yet living amongst us with
VOL. v. 31

62 SPEECH OF THE 7ra OF MARCH, 1850,

prolonged lives, would rebuke and reproach us ; and our children
and our grandchildren would cry out shame upon us, if we of
this generation should dishonor these ensigns of the power of
the government and the harmony of that Union which is every
^day felt among us with so much joy and gratitude. j What is to
become of the army ? What is to become of the navy ? What
is to become of the public lands ? How is each of the thirty
States to defend itself? I know, although the idea has not
been stated distinctly, there is to be, or it is supposed possible
that there will be, a Southern Confederacy. I do not mean,
when I allude to this statement, that any one seriously contem
plates such a state of things. I do not mean to say that it is
true, but I have heard it suggested elsewhere, that the idea has
been entertained, that, after the dissolution of this Union, a
Southern Confederacy might be formed. I am sorry, Sir, that
it has ever been thought of, talked of, or dreamed of, in the wild
est flights of human imagination. But the idea, so far as it ex
ists, must be of a separation, assigning the slave States to one
side and the free States to the other. Sir, I may express my
self too strongly, perhaps, but there are impossibilities in the
natural as well as in the physical world, and I hold the idea of a
separation of these States, those that are free to form one gov
ernment, and those that are slave-holding to form another, as
such an impossibility. We could not separate the States by
any such line, if we were to draw it. We could not sit down
here to-day and draw a line of separation that would satisfy any
five men in the country. There are natural causes that would
keep and tie us together, and there are social and domestic rela
tions which we could not break if we would, and which we
should not if we could.

Sir, nobody can look over the face of this country at the pres
ent moment, nobody can see where its population is the most
dense and growing, without being ready to admit, and com
pelled to admit, that ere long the strength of America will be
in the Valley of the Mississippi. Well, now, Sir, I beg to in
quire what the wildest enthusiast has to say on the possibility
of cutting that river in two, and leaving free States at its
source and on its branches, and slave States down near its
mouth, each forming a separate government ? Pray, Sir, let
<ne say to the people of this country, that these things are wor-


thy of their pondering and of their consideration. Here, Sir, are
five millions of freemen in the free States north of the river
Ohio. Can any body suppose that this population can be sev
ered, by a line that divides them from the territory of a foreign
and an alien government, down somewhere, the Lord knows
where, upon the lower banks of the Mississippi ? What would
become of Missouri? Will she join the arrondissement of the
slave States ? Shall the man from the Yellow Stone and the
Platte be connected, in the new republic, with the man who
lives on the southern extremity of the Cape of Florida ? Sir,
I am ashamed to pursue this line of remark. I dislike it, I
have an utter disgust for it. I would rather hear of natural
blasts and mildews, war, pestilence, and famine, than to hear
gentlemen talk of secession. To break up this great govern
ment ! to dismember this glorious country ! to astonish Europe
with an act of folly such as Europe for two centuries has never
beheld in any government or any people! No, Sir! no, Sir!
There will be no secession ! Gentlemen are not serious when
they talk of secession.

Sir, I hear there is to be a convention held at Nashville. I
am bound to believe that, if worthy gentlemen meet at Nashville
in convention, their object will be to adopt conciliatory coun
sels ; to advise the South to forbearance and moderation, and to
advise the North to forbearance and moderation ; and to incul
cate principles of brotherly love and affection, and attachment
to the Constitution of the country as it now is. I believe, if the
convention meet at all, it will be for this purpose ; for certainly,
if they meet for any purpose hostile to the Union, they have
been singularly inappropriate in their selection of a place. I
remember, Sir, that, when the treaty of Amiens was concluded
between France and England, a sturdy Englishman and a dis
tinguished orator, who regarded the conditions of the peace as
ignominious to England, said in the House of Commons, that,
if King William could know the terms of that treaty, he would
turn in his coffin ! Let me commend this saying of Mr. Wind-
ham, in all its emphasis and in all its force, to any persons
who shall meet at Nashville for the purpose of concerting meas
ures for the overthrow of this Union over the bones of Andrew
Jackson !

Sir, I wish now to make two remarks, and hasten to a conclu-


sion. I wish to say, in regard to Texas, that if it should be
hereafter, at any time, the pleasure of the government of Texas
to cede to the United States a portion, larger or smaller, of her
territory which lies adjacent to New Mexico, and north of
36 30 of north latitude, to be formed into free States, for a
fair equivalent in money or in the payment of her debt, I think
it an object well worthy the consideration of Congress, and I
shall be happy to concur in it myself, if I should have a con

Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe works of Daniel Webster (Volume 05) → online text (page 35 of 53)