John A. (John Adams) Dix.

Speeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) online

. (page 17 of 40)
Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 17 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

(waiving all questions of constitutional power) upon general
considerations of expediency, without regard to tlie particular
conditions on which it is proposed to be received. The ad-
mission of Texas is the only case of this kind which has
occurred since the adoption of the Constitution. Slavery
existed in that republic at the time of the admission, and we
did not require that it should be abolished. It is true, the
compromise line adopted on the adjustment of the Missouri
question was fixed as one of the conditions of the admission.
Slavery was prohibited north of 36" 30' north latitude. But
it is equally true, I believe, that there was no settlement then,
if there is now, in that part of Texas which lies north of the
parallel of latitude referred to. There was no slavery to be
abolished. It was an uninhabited wilderness. I believe it


to be true, also, that Texas, notwithstanding- the fundamental
condition on which she was admitted into the Union, — that
slavery should not exist above 86° SCX, — has extended to
her whole territory, without reservation, the provisions of
her constitution in respect to slavery ; one of which is, that
" the Legislature shall have no power to pass laws for the
emancipation of slaves, without the consent of their owners ;
nor without paying their owners, previous to such emancipa-
tion, a full equivalent, in money, for the slaves so emanci-

The reasonings which prevailed with some of those who
voted for the admission of Texas, without further restriction,
are all founded on the single fact that slavery existed in
that republic. We took it as we found it. The same rea-
sonings, applied to the acquisition of foreign territory in
which slavery does not exist, demand that it shall be received
as we find it, and that we shall so maintain it as long as it
continues to be territory. If it shall at any time thereafter
be organized into a State, and admitted into the Union, it is
entitled to come in with all the political rights of the original
States, and, therefore, free to determine for itself what its
forms of organization, political or social, shall be, provided
they are not inconsistent with the obligations of the funda-
mental compact between the States, or with any stipulation
or compromise in respect to the territory from which it is
formed. If slavery exists when a State comes into the
Union, it may be subsequently abolished in such form as
the constitution or laws of the State prescribe for expressing"
the sovereign will or assent. On the other hand, if slavery
does not exist when a State comes into the Union, it may be
subsequently established by the act of the State, without
violating any provision of the federal Constitution. This
freedom of action is inseparable from the sovereignty of the
State, and there is no authority to control it by federal

I have thus stated what I understand to be the conceded


rights of the States in respect to this subject. I admit, to
the fullest extent, the exclusive control of each State over
the subject, within its own jurisdiction. I admit the right
of the States to be exempt from every species of intermed-
dling or interference within their own limits. I have always
acted in conformity with this admission. I introduced reso-
lutions in the first meeting ever held at the North in opposi-
tion to the movements of the Abolitionists. The meeting
was held in Albany in 1835, and its proceedings not only
met with the approbation of a large portion of the people of
the non-slaveholding States of all parties, but I believe they
met also with the approbation of the whole South. They
were founded upon the principle I have already stated, —
perfect freedom in each State, under the guaranties of the
Constitution, to determine for itself, without external inter-
ference, whether it will abolish, continue, or establish slavery
within its own limits.

I return again, for an instant, to the question of acquiring
new territory, as territory, belonging to other independent
nations. We have done so in two instances, — by the pur-
chase of Louisiana in 1803, and Florida in 1820. Slavery
existed in both ; and, at the time of acquiring them, no pro-
vision was made for abolishing or restraining it. They
were, in this respect, taken as they were found. I refer to
these cases to show that there has been no interference with
slavery, by those who are opposed to it in principle, where it
has actually existed, when acquiring new territory, and that
they have been willing on such occasions to leave it to the
silent influences of the moral and physical causes, which
must ultimately determine its limits, both in point of time
and geographical extent.

A higher question than any ever yet presented to us is
made by this bill. It proposes an appropriation of money
to purchase territory from Mexico, — a measure of which I
approve. I am in favor of the appropriation and the pur-
chase. I have always been in favor of acquiring California


on just terms. Its ports on the Pacific Ocean would be
invaluable to us, and they are of little use to Mexico.

By a fundamental law of the Mexican republic, slavery
is prohibited throughout its political jurisdiction. I know it
has been assumed that slavery exists in Mexico ; but I be-
lieve it will be found that the assertion has been made with-
out sufficient consideration. It is not denied that slavery
is forever prohibited by the constitution of Mexico. The
prohibition was, I believe, first proclaimed by President
Guerrero, in 1829: it has since been ingrafted upon the
constitution. I am aware that barbarous usages, established
under the Spanish rule, still continue, and among them some
which enforce the collection of debts by personal restraint
of the debtor. But they do not exceed in barbarity the laws
of some of our States, in which debt was, until very recently,
and is perhaps now, treated as a crime, and punished by
imprisonment. The old colonial usages of Mexico do no
more than to compel a debtor to pay his debt by labor, and
give the creditor a control over his person until it is paid.
In the city of Mexico, if a connnon laborer owes money, his
creditor may send him to a bakery, and keep him there until
he has paid his debt. It is a usage of the place. The
jjeoncs, as they are termed, are common laborers. The
term was, I believe, originally derived from Asia. It was
in vogue in the early periods of the Spanish dominion in
Mexico. In the second despatch of Fernando Cortez to the
Emperor Charles V., (the first is not extant,) in the original
Spanish, he speaks of his departure from Vera Cruz with
fifteen horse, and trescientos peones^ — three hundred foot-
soldiers. The military application of the term is obsolete in
Mexico, and it is now applied, I believe, exclusively to com-
mon laborers. They constitute, perhaps, a third of the pop-
ulation of the republic. Multitudes of them labor on the
large estates {haciendas) for their daily bread ; and if they
become indebted to the proprietor, he may compel them to
remain on the estate until they pay him. This is the extent


of what is termed slavery in Mexico. It is an arbitrary
process of enforcing the payment of debts ; and it is decid-
edly more merciful than imprisonment for debt. It is a
usage regulated by colonial laws, which are yet unrepealed,
and it must wear out gradually, like all usages which have
beconje incorporated into the social organization of a people,
and which are incompatible with its spirit.

I will read a few passages from a Spanish work on
Mexico, (" Ensayo Historico de las Revoluciones de Me-
gico," — Political Essay on the Revolutions of Mexico,)
which illustrate the condition of that republic in respect to
this and other remnants of her colonial dependence. The
author (Zavala) speaks of the laboring classes, or peones.)
thus : —

"More than three millions of individuals called suddenly to enjoy
the most ample rights of citizenship, from the state of the most op-
probrious slavery, without any immovable property, without a knowl-
edge of any art or employment, and without commerce or industry."

The following passages sketch graphically the struggle
which is in progress between arbitrary and liberal prin-
ciples : —

" From the year 1808 to the year 1830, that is to say, in the space
of a generation, such a change of ideas, of opinions, of parties, and of
interests has supervened, as to overthrow a recognized and respected
form of government, and to transfer seven millions of people from
despotism and arbitrary powder to the most liberal theories. Customs
and habits alone, which are transmitted in movements, actions, and
continued examples, have not changed ; for how can abstract doc-
trines change suddenly the course of life?

" There is, then, a continual sti'uggle between the doctrines which
are professed, the institutions which are adopted, the principles which
are established, on the one side, and the abuses which are sanctified,
the customs Avhich prevail, the semi-feudal rights which are respected,
on the other ; between national sovereignty, equality of political rights,
the liberty of the press, popular government, on the one side, and
between the intervention of an armed force, privileged rights, relig-
ious intolerance, and the proprietors of immense estates."


Mexico is still in a state of political transition, passing
from an arbitrary to a liberal system, and time will be
necessary to enable her to eradicate and heal deeply-seated
disorders in her social organization. For more than fifty
years after the establishment of our independence, debt was
punished as a crime in my own State. How can we expect
Mexico, in less than half that period, to cast off' all the
badges of her colonial servitude '? But to return to the point
from which I departed, — she has a provision in her consti-
tution prohibiting slavery forever.

Shall the territory we acquire from her come to us with
this prohibition, or shall it be made an area for the further
extension of slavery'? In other words, shall we purchase
territory where slavery is now prohibited, and virtually
rescind the prohibition '? Shall we ingraft slavery upon
territory where it does not lawfully or constitutionally exist,
using the arms of the Union to conquer, or the treasure of
the Union to purchase it "? These are the questions presented
to us ; and the resolutions passed by the legislatures of
New York and other non-slaveholditig States have antici-
pated and given them negative answers. The New York re-
solutions declare, that, " if any territory is hereafter acquired
by the United States, or annexed thereto, the act by which
such territory is acquired or annexed, whatever such act may
be, should contain an unalterable fundamental article or pro-
vision, whereby slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a
punishment for crime, shall be forever excluded from the ter-
ritory acquired or annexed"; and they instruct the Senators
from the State to " use their best efforts to carry into effect
the views expressed in the foregoing resolutions."

This vote of instruction passed the Senate unanimously,
the question upon it having been taken separately from the
other resolutions. All parties and divisions of party concurred
in the propriety of the instruction, and of course in the sub-
ject-matter of the resolutions ; for it is not to be supposed
that any one would vote to instruct Senators to do what he



believed wrong". I ought to state, that three votes in the
Senate, out of twenty-six, (the whole number,^ and nine votes
in the House, out of one hundred and five, were cast against
the resolution containing the proposed restriction ; but I
believe all the members who gave these twelve votes, with,
perhaps, a single exception, avowed themselves in favor of
the principle asserted, though they voted against the resolu-
tion, because they objected to the form in which it was pre-
sented, or the time selected for passing it. I believe I
may safely say, that there is no difference of opinion in the
legislature on the subject of excluding slavery from any
territory hereafter to be acquired. I have no knowledge of
the views of the members, except so far as they may be
inferred from the terms of the resolution. I have had no
communication, direct or indirect, with any one of them.
But it may be reasonably presumed that their conclusions
were strengthened by the fact, that, in the territory bordering
upon us on all sides, slavery is excluded, and that to receive
it without restriction would be, according to the construction
of those who oppose restriction, to extend and establish
slavery where it is not now permitted to exist. On this
question, I believe I hazard nothing in saying, that not only
New York, but all the non-slaveholding States, are undivided
in opinion.

Mr. President, in the adoption of the resolutions to which
I have referred, the non-slaveholding States have taken no
new ground. It is older than the Constitution under which
we live. It belongs to the era of the Confederation, — to the
period of partial organization, which intervened between
the adoption of the Articles of Confederation and the es-
tablishment of the Federal Government. In 1787^ when
a government was instituted for the territory northwest
of the Ohio river, by the same men, or the associ-
ates of the same men, who were the authors of the Dec-
laration of Independence and the framers of the Constitu-
tion, they included in the ordinance a provision prohibiting


slavery and involuntary servitude. I will read it to the
Senate : —

" There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the
said Territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes, whereof the
party shall have been duly convicted : Provided, always, That any
person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is law-
fully claimed in any one of the original States, such fugitive may be
lawfully reclaimed, and conveyed to the person claiming his or her
labor or service aforesaid."

The proviso in the bill which came from the House is in
substance the same.

I have referred to the year 1787 as the period of the
adoption of the provision I have read. But it had, in fact,
a still earlier origin. It was proposed in 1784< by Mr. Jeffer-
son, but failed for want of the votes of the requisite number
of States. The thirteen original States then composed the
Confederation ; the votes were taken by States, each State
counting one ; seven States, or a majority, were necessary to
carry any question ; some questions could only be decided
affirmatively by nine votes ; and this proposition received the
votes of only six States. Maryland, Virginia, and South
Carolina, at that time voted against it. North Carolina was
divided. Mr. Jefferson of Virginia, the author of the pro-
vision, and Mr. Williamson of North Carolina, voted in its
favor. The author of the Declaration of Independence and
the author of the slavery restriction in the ordinance of
1787 are the same person. The principles proclaimed in
the one were doubtless designed by the author to be practi-
cally enforced in the other. He stands before the world, as
far as the obligations of our social condition permitted, con-
sistent with himself.

The ordinance, of which the provision I have quoted is a
part, finally passed in the affirmative in 1787? ^^'ith a slight
modification in its terms. It received the votes of eight
States. There was but one vote against it, and that was
given by a member from New York, though the vote of the



State was given for it. Georgia, South Carolina, North
Carolina, and Virginia unanimously supported it. Much of
the Northwestern Territory was then a forest, and in the
hands of the fathers of the Constitution its future destiny
was placed. They performed their duty under that high
sense of conscientiousness and responsibility which seems to
have guided all their deliberations in providing for their own
government and that of the States then about to spring up
in the bosom of the wilderness ; and I venture to say that
the entire population of that wide-spread territory, now in-
stinct with life, and strength, and freedom, and intelligence,
and all the blessings of civilization, looks back with approba-
tion and gratitude upon the conduct of those who gave
direction and shape to the political character of the com-
munities it contains.

The non-slaveholding States have, by their resolutions,
placed themselves upon the ground taken by Jefferson more
than sixty years ago. Circumstances render the position of
Jefferson even higher than that now taken by them. Slavery
existed de jure^ if not de facto ^ in the Northwestern Terri-
tory in 1787. The ordinance was a virtual abolition of it.
The proposition, originally made in 1784< by Mr. Jefferson,
was, that after the year 1800 it should cease to exist. He
proposed to take sixteen years for its abolition. The ordi-
nance, as it passed, went into immediate eff'ect. The non-
slaveholding States only ask, that, in the acquisition of terri-
tory now free, slavery shall not be established. In the one
case, it was abolished where it existed ; in the other, it is
only proposed to be excluded where it does not exist.

The course of the non-slaveholding States has been de-
nounced as aggressive. Sir, it has, from the earliest period,
been liberal and forbearing. They have acquiesced in all the
propositions which have been made from time to time to add
southern territory to the Union ; they have concurred in
appropriating money for the purpose, contributing their own
share, and thus bearing a part of the burden of the purchase.


They united in the purchase of Louisiana, in the purchase of
Florida, and in the annexation of Texas. They have contrib-
uted in these cases to the extension of slavery over a geo-
graphical area exceeding that of the thirteen original States,
— equal to four fifths of that of the original States and their
territories. They have voted for the admission of States from
Louisiana and Florida, with provisions in their constitutions
not only recognizing slavery, but prohibiting its abolition by
the legislative power of those States. They have acceded
to all this upon the principle of leaving the States free to
regulate this subject for themselves within their own limits.
In Texas, slavery existed only nominally. That republic
had an area of more than three hundred thousand square
miles, according to the boundaries claimed by its congress.
Its population, bond and free, when admitted into the Union,
did not exceed one hundred and fifty thousand souls. It
was, for the most part, un})opulated. Its admission into the
Union with slavery was, therefore, a virtual extension of
slavery over an area equal to more than half the area of the
original thirteen States. We were told that attempts had
been made by foreign governments to abolish slavery in
Texas, and that the success of these attempts would endan-
ger the domestic tranquillity of the Southern States. The
non-slaveholding States were appealed to, on this and other
grounds, to unite in the immediate annexation of Texas.
They yielded their assent. In all this they have acqui-
esced. Sir, they have done more : they have contributed
to it ; for it could never have been accomplished but by the
aid of Northern votes. They believe they have fulfilled to-
wards the South every obligation of fraternal duty. And yet
they are accused of aggression, because they will not consent
to the extension of slavery to free territory.

We have been told by our Southern friends, with few
exceptions, that they regarded slavery as a moral and social
evil, for which they were not responsible, — an evil forced
upon them by foreign rulers during their colonial depend-



ence. It is under this view of tlie subject that they have
been sustained by their friends in the North, not only in the
full possession and enjoyment of all their rights over this
subject within their own limits under the Constitution, (this
is a duty none should be so unscrupulous as to disre-
gard,) but in purchasing slave territory, and establishing
slaveholding States. Acquisition has gone on uninterrupted
by us, and indeed aided by us, until there is no longer any
slave territory on this continent to bring into the Union.
We have literally absorbed it all.

The non-slaveholding States are now asked to go further :
to purchase free territory and leave it open to the extension
of slavery; to extend to free soil and to free communities an
evil which our Southern friends have told us was forced upo.n
them against their wishes and consent. The unanimity with
which the legislatures of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio,
and other States have acted in reference to this proposition,
is but an index to the universal opinion which pervades the
whole North and West. They never can give their assent
to it. It is regarded by all parties as involving a principle
which rises far above the fleeting interests of the day, — a
principle which tliey should not be asked to yield ; for by
yielding it, they would consider themselves instrumental to
the extension of what they believe to be wrong, and what,
in their opinion, nothing but necessity can justify.

If the principle by which the non-slaveholding States have
been governed in acquiring territory is acquiesced in, this
question may be settled in a moment, and without agitation.
Let the territory, if any is acquired, be taken as it is found,
— with the provision of the Mexican constitution abolishing
slavery forever. Apply to it the principle which was applied
to Florida and Texas. The non-slaveholding- States have
never refused to acquire territory with slavery where it act-
ually existed. Let the South not refuse now to take free
territory where slavery does not exist, and leave it free.

We are told that slavery must not be excluded from the


territories, because emigrants from the Southern States can-
not go there with their property, or, in other words, their
slaves, and that this would be " an entire exclusion of the
slaveholding States." Sir, I do not so understand it. It
is not exclusion to the slaveholder, nor is it exclusion to the
free laborer of the South who owns no slaves. The slave-
holder who emigrates to territory where slavery does not
exist may employ free labor. The free laborer of the South
who emigrates to free territory is surely not injured in his
condition. It is not so with the free laborer of the North
in respect to slave territory. He will not go where he is
compelled to toil side by side with the slave. He is as
effectually excluded as he would be by a positive prohibition.
He will not emigrate with his property to territory open
to slaves. The property of the free laborer is in himself,
— in his powers of exertion, his capacity for endurance,
in the labor of his hands. To him these are of as much
value as the property which the n)aster has in his slaves.
I am not very familiarly acquainted with the internal con-
dition of the Southern States ; but I suppose there is a very
numerous class in them, especially in Maryland, Virginia,
North Carolina, Kentucky, and Missouri, — I mean the non-
slaveholdlng free laborers, — who will be benefited by pro-
viding that territory, which is free when acquired, shall
remain free. I think I am not mistaken in supposing
this class to be far more numerous in some, if not all the
States I have named, than the class holding slaves. Am I
mistaken in supposing free labor is a powerful, if not a
dominant, interest in the States referred to ? Wherever free
labor has gone forth on this continent, the forest has bowed
before it ; towns and villages have sprung up like magic
in its track ; canals, railroads, and busy industry, in all its
imaginable forms, have marked its progress ; civilization,
in its highest attributes, follows it ; knowledge and religion
go with it hand in hand. Obliterate everything else, and
you may trace its march by the school-house, sowing broad-



cast the seeds of intelligence, and the spire, " losing- itself
in air, as if guiding the thoughts of man to heaven." Sir,
I speak of free labor everywhere, — in the South as well

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 17 of 40)