James D. Richardson.

A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents Volume 5, part 3: Franklin Pierce online

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to the special notice of Congress. Unlike the great States of Europe and
Asia and many of those of America, these United States are wasting
their strength neither in foreign war nor domestic strife. Whatever
of discontent or public dissatisfaction exists is attributable to the
imperfections of human nature or is incident to all governments, however
perfect, which human wisdom can devise. Such subjects of political
agitation as occupy the public mind consist to a great extent of
exaggeration of inevitable evils, or overzeal in social improvement, or
mere imagination of grievance, having but remote connection with any
of the constitutional functions or duties of the Federal Government.
To whatever extent these questions exhibit a tendency menacing to the
stability of the Constitution or the integrity of the Union, and no
further, they demand the consideration of the Executive and require
to be presented by him to Congress.

Before the thirteen colonies became a confederation of independent
States they were associated only by community of transatlantic origin,
by geographical position, and by the mutual tie of common dependence on
Great Britain. When that tie was sundered they severally assumed the
powers and rights of absolute self-government. The municipal and social
institutions of each, its laws of property and of personal relation,
even its political organization, were such only as each one chose to
establish, wholly without interference from any other. In the language
of the Declaration of Independence, each State had "full power to levy
war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do
all other acts and things which independent states may of right do." The
several colonies differed in climate, in soil, in natural productions,
in religion, in systems of education, in legislation, and in the forms
of political administration, and they continued to differ in these
respects when they voluntarily allied themselves as States to carry
on the War of the Revolution.

The object of that war was to disenthrall the united colonies from
foreign rule, which had proved to be oppressive, and to separate them
permanently from the mother country. The political result was the
foundation of a Federal Republic of the free white men of the colonies,
constituted, as they were, in distinct and reciprocally independent
State governments. As for the subject races, whether Indian or
African, the wise and brave statesmen of that day, being engaged in
no extravagant scheme of social change, left them as they were, and
thus preserved themselves and their posterity from the anarchy and the
ever-recurring civil wars which have prevailed in other revolutionized
European colonies of America.

When the confederated States found it convenient to modify the
conditions of their association by giving to the General Government
direct access in some respects to the people of the States, instead of
confining it to action on the States as such, they proceeded to frame
the existing Constitution, adhering steadily to one guiding thought,
which was to delegate only such power as was necessary and proper to the
execution of specific purposes, or, in other words, to retain as much as
possible consistently with those purposes of the independent powers of
the individual States. For objects of common defense and security, they
intrusted to the General Government certain carefully defined functions,
leaving all others as the undelegated rights of the separate independent
sovereignties.

Such is the constitutional theory of our Government, the practical
observance of which has carried us, and us alone among modern republics,
through nearly three generations of time without the cost of one drop
of blood shed in civil war. With freedom and concert of action, it has
enabled us to contend successfully on the battlefield against foreign
foes, has elevated the feeble colonies into powerful States, and has
raised our industrial productions and our commerce which transports them
to the level of the richest and the greatest nations of Europe. And the
admirable adaptation of our political institutions to their objects,
combining local self-government with aggregate strength, has established
the practicability of a government like ours to cover a continent with
confederate states.

The Congress of the United States is in effect that congress of
sovereignties which good men in the Old World have sought for, but
could never attain, and which imparts to America an exemption from the
mutable leagues for common action, from the wars, the mutual invasions,
and vague aspirations after the balance of power which convulse from
time to time the Governments of Europe. Our cooperative action rests
in the conditions of permanent confederation prescribed by the
Constitution. Our balance of power is in the separate reserved rights
of the States and their equal representation in the Senate. That
independent sovereignty in every one of the States, with its reserved
rights of local self-government assured to each by their coequal power
in the Senate, was the fundamental condition of the Constitution.
Without it the Union would never have existed. However desirous the
larger States might be to reorganize the Government so as to give
to their population its proportionate weight in the common counsels,
they knew it was impossible unless they conceded to the smaller ones
authority to exercise at least a negative influence on all the measures
of the Government, whether legislative or executive, through their equal
representation in the Senate. Indeed, the larger States themselves could
not have failed to perceive that the same power was equally necessary
to them for the security of their own domestic interests against the
aggregate force of the General Government. In a word, the original
States went into this permanent league on the agreed premises of
exerting their common strength for the defense of the whole and of
all its parts, but of utterly excluding all capability of reciprocal
aggression. Each solemnly bound itself to all the others neither to
undertake nor permit any encroachment upon or intermeddling with
another's reserved rights.

Where it was deemed expedient particular rights of the States were
expressly guaranteed by the Constitution, but in all things besides
these rights were guarded by the limitation of the powers granted and by
express reservation of all powers not granted in the compact of union.
Thus the great power of taxation was limited to purposes of common
defense and general welfare, excluding objects appertaining to the local
legislation of the several States; and those purposes of general welfare
and common defense were afterwards defined by specific enumeration as
being matters only of co-relation between the States themselves or
between them and foreign governments, which, because of their common and
general nature, could not be left to the separate control of each State.

Of the circumstances of local condition, interest, and rights in which
a portion of the States, constituting one great section of the Union,
differed from the rest and from another section, the most important was
the peculiarity of a larger relative colored population in the Southern
than in the Northern States.

A population of this class, held in subjection, existed in nearly all
the States, but was more numerous and of more serious concernment in the
South than in the North on account of natural differences of climate and
production; and it was foreseen that, for the same reasons, while this
population would diminish and sooner or later cease to exist in some
States, it might increase in others. The peculiar character and
magnitude of this question of local rights, not in material relations
only, but still more in social ones, caused it to enter into the special
stipulations of the Constitution.

Hence, while the General Government, as well by the enumerated powers
granted to it as by those not enumerated, and therefore refused to it,
was forbidden to touch this matter in the sense of attack or offense,
it was placed under the general safeguard of the Union in the sense of
defense against either invasion or domestic violence, like all other
local interests of the several States. Each State expressly stipulated,
as well for itself as for each and all of its citizens, and every
citizen of each State became solemnly bound by his allegiance to the
Constitution that any person held to service or labor in one State,
escaping into another, should not, in consequence of any law or
regulation thereof, be discharged from such service or labor, but should
be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor
might be due by the laws of his State.

Thus and thus only, by the reciprocal guaranty of all the rights of
every State against interference on the part of another, was the present
form of government established by our fathers and transmitted to us, and
by no other means is it possible for it to exist. If one State ceases
to respect the rights of another and obtrusively intermeddles with its
local interests; if a portion of the States assume to impose their
institutions on the others or refuse to fulfill their obligations to
them, we are no longer united, friendly States, but distracted, hostile
ones, with little capacity left of common advantage, but abundant means
of reciprocal injury and mischief. Practically it is immaterial whether
aggressive interference between the States or deliberate refusal on the
part of any one of them to comply with constitutional obligations arise
from erroneous conviction or blind prejudice, whether it be perpetrated
by direction or indirection. In either case it is full of threat and of
danger to the durability of the Union.

Placed in the office of Chief Magistrate as the executive agent of the
whole country, bound to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,
and specially enjoined by the Constitution to give information to
Congress on the state of the Union, it would be palpable neglect of duty
on my part to pass over a subject like this, which beyond all things at
the present time vitally concerns individual and public security.

It has been matter of painful regret to see States conspicuous for their
services in founding this Republic and equally sharing its advantages
disregard their constitutional obligations to it. Although conscious
of their inability to heal admitted and palpable social evils of their
own, and which are completely within their jurisdiction, they engage
in the offensive and hopeless undertaking of reforming the domestic
institutions of other States, wholly beyond their control and authority.
In the vain pursuit of ends by them entirely unattainable, and which
they may not legally attempt to compass, they peril the very existence
of the Constitution and all the countless benefits which it has
conferred. While the people of the Southern States confine their
attention to their own affairs, not presuming officiously to intermeddle
with the social institutions of the Northern States, too many of the
inhabitants of the latter are permanently organized in associations to
inflict injury on the former by wrongful acts, which would be cause of
war as between foreign powers and only fail to be such in our system
because perpetrated under cover of the Union.

Is it possible to present this subject as truth and the occasion require
without noticing the reiterated but groundless allegation that the
South has persistently asserted claims and obtained advantages in the
practical administration of the General Government to the prejudice of
the North, and in which the latter has acquiesced? That is, the States
which either promote or tolerate attacks on the rights of persons and of
property in other States, to disguise their own injustice, pretend or
imagine, and constantly aver, that they, whose constitutional rights are
thus systematically assailed, are themselves the aggressors. At the
present time this imputed aggression, resting, as it does, only in the
vague declamatory charges of political agitators, resolves itself into
misapprehension, or misinterpretation, of the principles and facts of
the political organization of the new Territories of the United States.

What is the voice of history? When the ordinance which provided for the
government of the territory northwest of the river Ohio and for its
eventual subdivision into new States was adopted in the Congress of the
Confederation, it is not to be supposed that the question of future
relative power as between the States which retained and those which did
not retain a numerous colored population escaped notice or failed to
be considered. And yet the concession of that vast territory to the
interests and opinions of the Northern States, a territory now the seat
of five among the largest members of the Union, was in great measure the
act of the State of Virginia and of the South.

When Louisiana was acquired by the United States, it was an acquisition
not less to the North than to the South; for while it was important to
the country at the mouth of the river Mississippi to become the emporium
of the country above it, so also it was even more important to the whole
Union to have that emporium; and although the new province, by reason of
its imperfect settlement, was mainly regarded as on the Gulf of Mexico,
yet in fact it extended to the opposite boundaries of the United States,
with far greater breadth above than below, and was in territory, as in
everything else, equally at least an accession to the Northern States.
It is mere delusion and prejudice, therefore, to speak of Louisiana as
acquisition in the special interest of the South.

The patriotic and just men who participated in that act were influenced
by motives far above all sectional jealousies. It was in truth the great
event which, by completing for us the possession of the Valley of the
Mississippi, with commercial access to the Gulf of Mexico, imparted
unity and strength to the whole Confederation and attached together by
indissoluble ties the East and the West, as well as the North and the
South.

As to Florida, that was but the transfer by Spain to the United States
of territory on the east side of the river Mississippi in exchange for
large territory which the United States transferred to Spain on the west
side of that river, as the entire diplomatic history of the transaction
serves to demonstrate. Moreover, it was an acquisition demanded by the
commercial interests and the security of the whole Union.

In the meantime the people of the United States had grown up to a proper
consciousness of their strength, and in a brief contest with France and
in a second serious war with Great Britain they had shaken off all which
remained of undue reverence for Europe, and emerged from the atmosphere
of those transatlantic influences which surrounded the infant Republic,
and had begun to turn their attention to the full and systematic
development of the internal resources of the Union.

Among the evanescent controversies of that period the most conspicuous
was the question of regulation by Congress of the social condition of
the future States to be founded in the territory of Louisiana.

The ordinance for the government of the territory northwest of the river
Ohio had contained a provision which prohibited the use of servile labor
therein, subject to the condition of the extraditions of fugitives from
service due in any other part of the United States. Subsequently to the
adoption of the Constitution this provision ceased to remain as a law,
for its operation as such was absolutely superseded by the Constitution.
But the recollection of the fact excited the zeal of social propagandism
in some sections of the Confederation, and when a second State, that of
Missouri, came to be formed in the territory of Louisiana proposition
was made to extend to the latter territory the restriction originally
applied to the country situated between the rivers Ohio and Mississippi.

Most questionable as was this proposition in all its constitutional
relations, nevertheless it received the sanction of Congress, with
some slight modifications of line, to save the existing rights of the
intended new State. It was reluctantly acquiesced in by Southern States
as a sacrifice to the cause of peace and of the Union, not only of the
rights stipulated by the treaty of Louisiana, but of the principle
of equality among the States guaranteed by the Constitution. It was
received by the Northern States with angry and resentful condemnation
and complaint, because it did not concede all which they had exactingly
demanded. Having passed through the forms of legislation, it took its
place in the statute book, standing open to repeal, like any other act
of doubtful constitutionality, subject to be pronounced null and void by
the courts of law, and possessing no possible efficacy to control the
rights of the States which might thereafter be organized out of any part
of the original territory of Louisiana.

In all this, if any aggression there were, any innovation upon
preexisting rights, to which portion of the Union are they justly
chargeable?

This controversy passed away with the occasion, nothing surviving it
save the dormant letter of the statute.

But long afterwards, when by the proposed accession of the Republic of
Texas the United States were to take their next step in territorial
greatness, a similar contingency occurred and became the occasion for
systematized attempts to intervene in the domestic affairs of one
section of the Union, in defiance of their rights as States and of the
stipulations of the Constitution. These attempts assumed a practical
direction in the shape of persevering endeavors by some of the
Representatives in both Houses of Congress to deprive the Southern
States of the supposed benefit of the provisions of the act authorizing
the organization of the State of Missouri.

But the good sense of the people and the vital force of the Constitution
triumphed over sectional prejudice and the political errors of the day,
and the State of Texas returned to the Union as she was, with social
institutions which her people had chosen for themselves and with express
agreement by the reannexing act that she should be susceptible of
subdivision into a plurality of States.

Whatever advantage the interests of the Southern States, as such, gained
by this were far inferior in results, as they unfolded in the progress
of time, to those which sprang from previous concessions made by the
South.

To every thoughtful friend of the Union, to the true lovers of their
country, to all who longed and labored for the full success of this
great experiment of republican institutions, it was cause of gratulation
that such an opportunity had occurred to illustrate our advancing power
on this continent and to furnish to the world additional assurance of
the strength and stability of the Constitution. Who would wish to see
Florida still a European colony? Who would rejoice to hail Texas
as a lone star instead of one in the galaxy of States? Who does not
appreciate the incalculable benefits of the acquisition of Louisiana?
And yet narrow views and sectional purposes would inevitably have
excluded them all from the Union.

But another struggle on the same point ensued when our victorious
armies returned from Mexico and it devolved on Congress to provide for
the territories acquired by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The great
relations of the subject had now become distinct and clear to the
perception of the public mind, which appreciated the evils of sectional
controversy upon the question of the admission of new States. In that
crisis intense solicitude pervaded the nation. But the patriotic
impulses of the popular heart, guided by the admonitory advice of the
Father of his Country, rose superior to all the difficulties of the
incorporation of a new empire into the Union. In the counsels of
Congress there was manifested extreme antagonism of opinion and
action between some Representatives, who sought by the abusive and
unconstitutional employment of the legislative powers of the Government
to interfere in the condition of the inchoate States and to impose their
own social theories upon the latter, and other Representatives, who
repelled the interposition of the General Government in this respect and
maintained the self-constituting rights of the States. In truth, the
thing attempted was in form alone action of the General Government,
while in reality it was the endeavor, by abuse of legislative power,
to force the ideas of internal policy entertained in particular States
upon allied independent States. Once more the Constitution and the
Union triumphed signally. The new territories were organized without
restrictions on the disputed point, and were thus left to judge in that
particular for themselves; and the sense of constitutional faith proved
vigorous enough in Congress not only to accomplish this primary object,
but also the incidental and hardly less important one of so amending the
provisions of the statute for the extradition of fugitives, from service
as to place that public duty under the safeguard of the General
Government, and thus relieve it from obstacles raised up by the
legislation of some of the States.

Vain declamation regarding the provisions of law for the extradition of
fugitives from service, with occasional episodes of frantic effort to
obstruct their execution by riot and murder, continued for a brief time
to agitate certain localities. But the true principle of leaving each
State and Territory to regulate its own laws of labor according to its
own sense of right and expediency had acquired fast hold of the public
judgment, to such a degree that by common consent it was observed in the
organization of the Territory of Washington.

When, more recently, it became requisite to organize the Territories
of Nebraska and Kansas, it was the natural and legitimate, if not the
inevitable, consequence of previous events and legislation that the same
great and sound principle which had already been applied to Utah and New
Mexico should be applied to them - that they should stand exempt from the
restrictions proposed in the act relative to the State of Missouri.

These restrictions were, in the estimation of many thoughtful men, null
from the beginning, unauthorized by the Constitution, contrary to the
treaty stipulations for the cession of Louisiana, and inconsistent with
the equality of these States.

They had been stripped of all moral authority by persistent efforts to
procure their indirect repeal through contradictory enactments. They had
been practically abrogated by the legislation attending the organization
of Utah, New Mexico, and Washington. If any vitality remained in them it
would have been taken away, in effect, by the new Territorial acts in
the form originally proposed to the Senate at the first session of the
last Congress. It was manly and ingenuous, as well as patriotic and
just, to do this directly and plainly, and thus relieve the statute book
of an act which might be of possible future injury, but of no possible
future benefit; and the measure of its repeal was the final consummation
and complete recognition of the principle that no portion of the United
States shall undertake through assumption of the powers of the General
Government to dictate the social institutions of any other portion.

The scope and effect of the language of repeal were not left in doubt.
It was declared in terms to be "the true intent and meaning of this act
not to legislate slavery into any Territory or State, nor to exclude it
therefrom, but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and
regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to
the Constitution of the United States."

The measure could not be withstood upon its merits alone. It was
attacked with violence on the false or delusive pretext that it
constituted a breach of faith. Never was objection more utterly
destitute of substantial justification. When before was it imagined by
sensible men that a regulative or declarative statute, whether enacted
ten or forty years ago, is irrepealable; that an act of Congress is
above the Constitution? If, indeed, there were in the facts any cause to
impute bad faith, it would attach to those only who have never ceased,
from the time of the enactment of the restrictive provision to the
present day, to denounce and condemn it; who have constantly refused


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Online LibraryJames D. RichardsonA Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents Volume 5, part 3: Franklin Pierce → online text (page 18 of 27)