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the slightest possible difference, in my estimation, whether they
are to be free States or slave States. I am not disposed to
convert a Territory that is immature, and not fit to come into
the Union on account of want of population, into a State,
merely because it will be a free State. That does not weigh
with me a hair. But my objection has been and is, as I have
stated, or attempted to state, that the admission of States
with so small an amount of population deranges the system.
It makes the Senate what it was never intended by the Con
stitution to be. Nevertheless, Sir, as I favor the admission of
California, although she presents herself before us with some
irregularities in her course of proceeding, so there are greater
evils, in my judgment, than the admission of New Mexico as
a State now, at once, or than the provision that she shall be ad
mitted in a certain time hereafter. I do not think that so great
an evil as it would be to leave New Mexico without a govern
ment, without protection, on the very eve of probable hostilities
with Texas, so far as I can discern ; for, to my mind, there is
the highest degree of probability that there will arise collisions,
contests, and, for aught I know, bloodshed, if the boundaries
of New Mexico are not settled by Congress.

Sir, I know no question so important, connected with all
these matters, as this settlement of the Texan boundary. That
immediately and intimately, in my judgment, touches the ques
tion of the duration of peace and quiet in the country ; and I
cannot conceive how gentlemen, looking upon that subject in
all its aspects, can satisfy themselves with the idea of retiring
from their seats here, and leaving it where it is. I should be
derelict to my duty if I did not persist, to the last, in bringing
it to a decision by the authority of Congress. If a motion
be made, as it has been announced is intended, to lay this
bill upon the table, and that motion prevails, this measure
is at an end. Then there must be a resort to some other
measures ; and I am disposed to say that, in case of the fail
ure of this bill, I shall be in favor of a bill which shall provide
for three things ; namely, the admission of California with its


present constitution and boundaries, the settlement of the Tex
an boundary, and the admission of New Mexico as a State.
Such a measure will produce a termination of the controversies
which now agitate us, and relieve the country from distraction.
Sir, this measure is opposed by the North, or some of the
North, and by the South, or some of the South ; and it has the
remarkable misfortune to encounter resistance by persons the
most directly opposed to each other in every matter connected
with the subject under consideration. There are those, (I do
not speak, of course, of members of Congress, and I do not de
sire to be understood as making any allusion whatever, in
what I may say, to members of this house or of the other,)
there are those in the country who say, on the part of the
South, that the South by this bill gives up every thing to the
North, and that they will fight it to the last ; and there are
those, on the part of the North, who say, that this bill gives up
every thing to the South, and that they will fight it to the last.
And really, Sir, strange as it may seem, this disposition to
make battle upon the bill, by those who never agreed in any
thing before under the light of heaven, has created a sort of
fellowship and good feeling between them. One says, Give
me your hand, my good fellow ; you mean to go against this
bill to the death, because it gives up the rights of the South ; I
mean to go against the bill to the death, because it gives up
the rights of the North ; let us shake hands and cry out, " Down
with the bill ! " and then unitedly raise the shout,

" A day, an hour, of virtuous liberty
Is worth a whole eternity in bondage ! "

Such is the consistency of the opposition to this measure.

Now, Sir, I ascribe nothing but the best and purest motives
to any of the gentlemen, on either side of this chamber, or of
the other house, who take a view of this subject which differs
from my own. I cannot but regret, certainly, that gentlemen
who sit around me, and especially my honorable colleague,* and
my friends from Massachusetts in the other house, are obliged,
by their sense of duty, to oppose a measure which I feel bound
by my conscience to support to the utmost of my ability. They
are just as high-minded, as patriotic, as pure, and every way as

* Mr. Davis.


well-intentioned as I am ; and, Sir, if it was put to vote, and
the question were to be decided by a majority, I must confess
my friends from Massachusetts would outvote me. But still
my own opinions are not in the least degree changed. I feel
that every interest of the State, one of whose representatives I
am, as well as every great interest of the whole country, requires
that this measure, or some measure as healing, composing, and
conciliatory as this, should be adopted by Congress before its
adjournment. That is my object, and I shall steadily pursue it.
Let us examine this. If I may analyze the matter a little,
both in regard to the North and the South, Massachusetts,
being a Northern State, may be taken as a representative of
Northern interests. What does she gain by this bill ? What
does she lose by it ? If this bill passes, Massachusetts and the
North gain the admission of California as a free State, with her
present constitution, a very highly desirable object, as I believe,
to all the North. She gains, also, the quieting of the New
Mexican question and the Texas boundary, which, in my judg
ment, as I have already said, is the most important of all these
questions, because it is the one most immediately menacing
evil consequences, if such consequences be not arrested by this
or some similar measure. She gains the quiet of New Mexico,
and she gains the settlement of the Texas boundary, objects all
desirable and most important. More than that, Sir, she gains,
and the whole North gains, and the whole country gains, the
final adjustment of by far the greater part of all the slavery
questions. When I speak of this bill in that connection, I mean
also to connect it with the other subjects recommended by the
committee ; and I say that, if the whole report of that committee
could be carried out, one of the greatest of all possible benefits
will be secured ; that is, the settlement, to an extent of far more
than a majority of them all, of the questions connected with
slavery which have so long agitated the country. And then,
Sir, Massachusetts, and the North, and the whole country, gain
the restoration of this government to the ordinary exercise of its
functions. The North and the South will see Congress replaced
in its position of an active, beneficial, parental legislature for
the whole "Union. Consider, Sir, what has happened ? While
it is of the utmost importance that this restoration of Congress
to the exercise of its ordinary functions should be accom-


plished, here we are, seven or eight months from the beginning
of the session, hardly able to keep the government alive. All is
paralysis. We are nearly brought to a stand. Every thing is
suspended upon this one topic, this one idea, as if there were no
object in government, no uses in government, no duties of those
who administer government, but to settle one question.

Well, Sir, the next inquiry is, What do Massachusetts and
the North, the antislavery States, lose by this adjustment? I
put the question to every gentleman here, and to every man in
the country. They lose the application of what is called the
Wilmot Proviso to these Territories, and that is all. There is
nothing else that I suppose the \vhole North are not willing to
do, or willing to have done. They wish to get California into
the Union and quiet New Mexico ; they \vish to terminate the
dispute about the Texan boundary, cost what it reasonably
may. They make no sacrifice in all these. What they sacri
fice is this : the application of the Wilmot Proviso to the Ter
ritories of New Mexico and Utah; and that is all. Now, what
is the importance of that loss, or that sacrifice, in any reasonable
man s estimate ? Its importance, Sir, depends upon its ne
cessity. If, in any reasonable man s judgment, the necessity of
the application of that proviso to New Mexico is apparent, why,
then it is important to those who hold that the further extension
of slavery is to be resisted, as a matter of principle. But if it
be not necessary, if circumstances do not call for it, why, then
there is no sacrifice made in refusing or declining to apply the
Wilmot Proviso.

Now, Sir, allow me to say, that the Wilmot Proviso is no
matter of principle ; it is a means to an end ; and it cannot be
raised to the dignity of a principle. The principle of the North
I take to be, that there shall be no further extension of slave
territory. Let that be admitted ; what then ? It does not ne
cessarily follow that in every case you must apply the Wilmot
Proviso. If there are other circumstances that are imperative
and conclusive, and such as influence and control the judgment
of reasonable men, rendering it unnecessary, for the establish
ment of that principle, to apply a measure which is obnoxious
and disagreeable to others, and regarded by them as derogatory
to their equality as members of the Union, then, I say, it is
neither right, nor patriotic, nor just to apply it.

VOL. v. 36


My honorable colleague admitted the other day, with great
propriety and frankness, that if it were certain, or if it could be
made certain, that natural causes necessarily exclude slavery
from New Mexico, then the restriction ought not to be inserted
in the bill. Now, by certainty I suppose my colleague meant
not mathematical certainty ; I suppose he meant that high prob
ability, that moral certainty, which governs men in all the con
cerns of life. Our duties to society, our pursuits in life, are all
measured by that high probability which is something short of
mathematical certainty, but which we are bound to act upon in
every daily transaction, either in a public or in a private ca
pacity. The question, therefore, (I address myself to gentlemen
of the North,) is this: Is the probability of the exclusion of
slavery from New Mexico by natural causes so high, and strong,
and conclusive, as that we should act upon it as we act on the
same degree of probability applied to other questions, in civil,
moral, and social relations ? I shall not recur to what I have
myself said, heretofore, on this subject; for I suppose my friend
from Pennsylvania,* and my friend from Connecticut,! who dis
cussed this matter latterly, have left it proved, and as much
demonstrated as any problem of a moral and political character
can be demonstrated, that New Mexico is not a country in which
slavery exists, or into which it can ever be introduced. If that
were not so upon previous evidence, and if now any thing further
need be added, we have before us to-day an authentic expres
sion of the will of the inhabitants of that country themselves,
who, it is agreed on all hands, have the ultimate right of decis
ion on a subject that concerns themselves alone, and that expres
sion is against slavery.

What is it, then, that is yielded by the North but a mem
abstraction, a naked possibility, upon which no man would act?
No man would venture a farthing to-day for a great inheritance
to be bestowed on him when slavery should be established
in New Mexico. Now that there is an authentic declaration
upon the subject by the people of New Mexico themselves,
what is there that should lead us to hesitate in settling this
matter ? Why should we proceed upon the ground of adher
ing to the Wilmot Proviso as an abstract notion ? And I must

* Mr, Cooper. f Mr. Smith.


be permitted to say, that, as applied to this case, it is all an ab
straction. I do not mean to say that the injunction against
slavery in the Ordinance of 1787 was a mere abstraction ; on
the contrary, it had its uses ; but I say the application of that
rule to this case is a mere abstraction, and nothing else. It does
not affect the state of things in the slightest degree, present or
future. Every thing is to be now, and remain hereafter, with or
without that restriction, just as it would the other way. It is,
therefore, in my judgment, clearly an abstraction.

I am sorry, Sir, very sorry, that my friend from Connecticut,*
who has studied this case a great deal more than I have, not
only as a member of this body, but while he was a member of
the other house, and has demonstrated, beyond the power of
any conscientious man s denial, that there can be no slavery in
the Territory about which we are speaking, that the South
is mistaken in supposing it possible to derive any benefit
from it, and that the North is mistaken in supposing that that
which they desire to prohibit will ever need any prohibition
there ; I am sorry to see that my very able friend, having de
monstrated the case, did not carry out his own demonstration.
The expression of his purpose to vote against this bill followed
one of the clearest and strongest demonstrations in its favor
that I have heard from the mouth of man. What is the reason
of his opposition ? Why, the gentleman said he was instructed
by the legislature of Connecticut to oppose it; and, on the
whole, he did not feel it to be his duty to depart from those

It has become, Sir, an object of considerable importance in
the history of this government, to inquire how far instructions,
given ex parte and under one state of circumstances, are to gov
ern those who are to act under another state of circumstances,
and not upon an ex parte hearing, but upon a hearing of the
whole matter. The proposition, that a member of this govern
ment, in giving a vote to bind all the country, is to take as his
instructions the will of a small part of the country, whether in
his own State or out of it, is a proposition that is above or below
all argument. Where men are sworn to act conscientiously for
the good of the whole, according to their own best judgment

* Mr. Smith.


and opinion, if the proposition is asserted that they are, never
theless, bound to take the individual opinion of a few, and be
exclusively bound by that opinion, there is no room for argument ;
every man s moral perception, without argument, decides on
such a proposition. I know, Sir, that, in a popular government
like ours, instructions of this sort will be given, and pledges re
quired. It is in the nature of the case. Political men in this
country love the people ; they love popular applause and promo
tion, and they are willing to make promises ; and, as in other
sorts of love, so in this, when the blood burns, the soul prodi
gally lends the tongue vows. It is especially the case in some
States, in which, in electioneering contests, instructions become
little constitutions, which men vow to support. These instruc
tions are often given under circumstances very remote from
those that exist when the duty comes to be performed ; and, I
am sorry to say, they are often given on collateral considerations.
I will not say when or where, how remotely or how lately ; but
I am very much inclined to think that we should find, in the
history of the country, cases in which instructions are ready to
be given, or ready to be withheld, as the support of some little
fragment of some sectional party may be, or may not be, ob
tained thereby.

Sir, it is curious enough to observe how differently this idea,
that a member chosen into a public body, to act for the whole
country, is bound, nevertheless, by the instructions of those
who elected him, which has risen to a sort of rule in some of the
American States, is received and treated elsewhere. According
to our notions and habits of thinking, it is not only allowable
for, but incumbent upon, a member of Congress, to follow the
instructions given by his own particular constituents, although
his vote affects the interest, the honor, the welfare, the renown,
of twenty millions of people. As an instance, Sir, of the various
views taken of this subject, as a question of morals, I may re
fer to what happened in the Chamber of Deputies of France
some years ago, perhaps while the honorable member from
Michigan* was residing in Paris, but more probably shortly
after his return. A gentleman, who was a candidate for the
Chamber of Deputies, promised his constituents that on a cer-

* Mr. Cass.


tain measure, expected to come before the Chamber, he -would
vote as they required. They required him to vote so and so,
and he said he would do it. Well, Sir, he was chosen ; and
when he came to the Chamber to take the oath of office, he
was told, Not so fast ! Objection was made. The Chamber
said he did not come there as a fair man ; he did not come
as an impartial man, to judge of the interests of the whole
country upon the great questions that were to come before the
Chamber. He was pledged and trammelled ; he had given up
his conscience and promised his vote, and therefore did not
stand on an equality with other members of that assembly who
came unpledged and untrammelled, and bound to exercise their
own best judgments. In short, they rejected him ; and whoever
wishes to see the most beautiful disquisition upon political mor
als, and the duty of those who represent the people, that I know
of since the time of Mr. Burke s speech at Bristol, can be grati
fied by reading M. Guizot s speech on that occasion. The
member came under pledges made to a few to give his vote for
them, although it might be against the many, and they held
him not to be a worthy representative of France, fit to act
on the questions which concerned the interests of the whole

I know, Sir, how easily we glide into this habit of following
instructions; although I know, also, that members of Con
gress wish to act conscientiously always, and I believe they
wish themselves free from these trammels. But the truth is,
that under the doctrine of instructions Congress is not free.
To the extent to which this doctrine may at any time prevail in
it, the two houses are not deliberative bodies. Congress needs
a " Wilmot Proviso," much more than the snow-capped moun
tains of New Mexico or the salt plains of Utah. If the genius
of American liberty, or some angel from a higher sphere, could
fly over the land with a scroll bearing words, and with power to
give effect to those words, and those words should be, " Be it
ordained that neither in the Senate nor in the House of Repre
sentatives in Congress assembled shall there be slavery or in
voluntary servitude, except for crime," it would be a glorious
crowning honor to the Constitution of the United States. O
thou spirit of Nathan Dane ! How couldst thou take so much
pains to set men s limbs free in the Territories, and never deign


to add even a proviso in favor of the freedom of opinion and
conscience in the halls of Congress !

Sir, I am of opinion that every public consideration connected
with the interests of the State, one of whose representatives,
and the most humble of them all, I am, shows the absolute
necessity of settling this question at once, upon fair and reason
able terms ; the necessity of judging subjects according to their
real merit and importance, and acting accordingly ; and that we
should not be carried away by fancies of gorgons, hydras, and
chimeras dire, to the utter disregard of all that is substantially
valuable, important, and essential in the administration of the
government. Massachusetts, one of the smallest of the States
of the Union, circumscribed within the limits of eight thousand
square miles of barren, rocky, and sterile territory, possesses
within its limits at this moment nearly a million of people.
With the same ratio of population, New York would contain
nearly six million people, and Virginia more than seven million.
What are the occupations and pursuits of such a population
on so small a territory? A very small portion of them live
by the tillage of the land. They are engaged in those pur
suits which fall under the control, protection, and regulation of
the laws of this government. These pursuits are commerce,
navigation, the fisheries, and manufactures, every one of which
is under the influence of the operation of acts of Congress every
clay. On none of these subjects does Congress ever pass a law
that does not materially affect the happiness, industry, and pros
perity of Massachusetts ; yes, and of Rhode Island too [look
ing at the Rhode Island Senators]. Is it not, then, of great im
portance to all these interests that the government should be
carried on regularly? that it should have the power of action,
of motion, and legislation ? Is it not the greatest calamity, that
it should be all paralyzed, hung up, dependent upon one idea,
as if there was no object in government, no use in government,
no desirable protection from government, and no desirable legis
lation by government, except what relates to the single topic of
slavery ?

I cannot conceive that these great interests would be readily
surrendered by the business men of the country, the laboring
community of the Northern States, to abstractions, to naked
possibilities, to idle fears that evils may ensue if a particular


abstract measure be not passed. Men must live ; to live, they
must work. And how is this to be done, if in this way all the
business of society is stopped, and every thing is placed in a
state of stagnation, and no man can even conjecture when the
ordinary march of affairs is to be resumed. Depend upon it,
the people of the North wish to see an end put to this state of
things. They desire to see a measure of conciliation pass, and
to have harmony restored; to be again in the enjoyment of a
good government, under the protection and action of good laws ;
and that their interrupted labors may be profitably resumed,
that their daily employment may return, that their daily means
of subsistence and education for themselves and their families
may be provided. There has not been, in my acquaintance
with the people of this country, a moment in which so much
alarm has been experienced, so much sinking of the heart felt,
at the state of public affairs, in a time of peace, as now. I
leave it to others to judge for themselves, who may better know
public opinion ; but, for my part, I believe it is the conviction of
five sixths of the whole North, that questions such as have occu
pied us here should not be allowed any longer to embarrass the
government, and defeat the just hopes of those who support
it, and expect to live under its protection and care.

I have alluded to the argument of my friend from Connecti
cut, because it is the ablest argument on this subject that I have
heard ; and I have alluded to his intimated vote as illustrating
what I consider the evil of instructing men, before a case arises,
as to what shall be their conduct upon that case. The hon
orable member from Connecticut is as independent as any other
man, and of course will not understand me to mean any thing
personal in what I have said. I take his case merely as an
illustration of the folly and absurdity of instructions. Why
should a man of his strength of intellect, and while acting for
the whole country, be controlled in his judgment by instructions
given by others, with little knowledge of the circumstances, and
no view of the whole case ?

I have now, Mr. President, said what I think the North may
gain, and what it may lose. Now let us inquire how it is with
the South. In the first place, I think that the South, if all these
measures pass, will gain an acceptable and satisfactory mode
for the reclamation of fugitive slaves. As to the territorial ac-


quisitions, I am bound in candor to say, taking Maryland as an
example, for instance, that Maryland will gain just what Massa
chusetts loses, and that is nothing at all ; because I have not the
slightest idea that, by any thing we can do here, any provision
could be made by which the territory of New Mexico and Utah
could become susceptible of slave labor, and so useful to the
South. Now, let me say, Mr. President, with great respect and

Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe works of Daniel Webster (Volume 05) → online text (page 41 of 53)