John A. (John Adams) Dix.

Speeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) online

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as the North. Even on the hypothesis of an equality in
the claims of free and slave labor, (which I do not admit,)
the argument in favor of taking this territory as we find
it appears to me unanswerable.

Mr. President, I would not have voted to connect the
proviso in the bill passed by the House, and now awaiting
the action of the Senate, with any measure for the prose-
cution of the war. My State would not have desired it.
The resolutions of the legislature are in favor of all proper
measures for the prosecution of the war. ■ From the com-
mencement of the war, my honorable colleague and myself
have sustained all measures recommended by the admin-
istration for carrying it on ; and, as a member of the Com-
mittee on Military Affairs, I have had some share in matur-
ing them. I have voted for the pecuniary means asked
for, the number and description of troops which were
deemed necessary for the purpose, and a commanding gen-
eral for the armies in Mexico, with a rank in some de-
gree commensurate with the numerical force to be combined,
and moved in combination. I have opposed all propositions
to clog military bills with extraneous matter, thus postpon-
ing our action upon them at a critical period in the cam-
paign. The bill under consideration is of a different char-
acter. It is a proposition to purchase territory. My friend,
the chairman of the Committee on Foreigrn Relations,^ with
his characteristic frankness and directness of purpose, —
qualities as honorable in a legislator as they are in a man,
— has gone so far as to indicate the extent of the acquisi-
tion which, in his opinion, we ought to expect, — California
and New Mexico. The object, then, is not in doubt. It
is avowedly to acquire foreign territory. Under these cir-
cumstances, is it not appropriate to know on what terms

^ Mr. Sevier.



foreign territory shall become territory of the United States,
when on these terms may depend the propriety of apply-
ing- the public treasure to make the purchase ? The leg-
islature of New York so considered it. The questions of
time and circumstances were fully discussed before the adop-
tion of the resolutions. The proposition under discussion
is not a measure fur the prosecution of the war. It was
not deemed an indispensable peace measure ; for when the
pecuniary claims are all on our side, an appropriation of
money necessarily contemplates objects beyond that of mak-
ing peace. I say this in justice to the New York legislature,
as well as its Representatives in Congress, who were, with
a single exception, unanimous in favor of the proviso. If
it shall fail to receive the sanction of the Senate now, it
must again arise on any proposition to acquire new ter-
ritory, and arise in a form in which a decision cannot be
avoided. It will be sustained with greater unanimity ; for
those who now hesitate on the point of time, or from a nat-
ural desire to postpone the settlement of embarrassing issues,
will be found in its favor.

Whatever doubt may have been entertained heretofore
with regard to the necessity of making the declaration con-
tained in the proviso, I think there can be none now. It
is distinctly assumed that there is no power under the Con-
stitution to prohibit slavery in the territories. While it
is contended that there is power under the Constitution to
acquire slave territory, and to introduce slave States into
the Union, it is denied that there is any authority to restrain
or prohibit slavery in free territory. We have gone on and
introduced into the Union all the slave territory on this
continent ; and wlien we reach free territory, we are told
that the extension of the provisions of the Constitution to
it renders it, ijoso facto, by virtue of the compromises of
the Constitution, open to slavery. According to this con-
struction, the extension of our Constitution and laws to any
portion of the Mexican territory, either by conquest or peace-


ful acquisition, overturns the local law, overturns the provis-
ion of the constitution of Mexico, which declares slavery to
be forever prohibited. Mr. President, is this the true inter-
pretation of the Constitution under which we live 1 Is it
armed with full power to bring slave territory into the
Union, but void of all power to bring in free territory and
maintain it free ] Is this the government, to use the lan-
guage of Jefferson, our fathers fought for ? The construc-
tion referred to would establish as a fundamental provision
of the acquisition of new territory that it shall be open to
slavery, even though free when acquired. Sir, I have not
time, at this late period of the session, to discuss this ques-
tion with the deliberation and care its importance demands.
But a future occasion may come, and I will not shrink from
the discussion.

I have heard with great regret the dissolution of the
Union spoken of in connection with this measure. I can
hardly think those who so connect the two subjects are
aware of the position in which they place themselves. It
is virtually declaring, that, unless we will consent to bring
free territory into the Union, and leave it open to the exten-
sion of slavery, the Union shall be dissolved. Our South-
ern friends have heretofore stood upon the ground of de-
fence ; of maintaining slavery within their own limits
against interference from without. Tiie ground of exten-
sion is now taken, and of extending slavery upon free
territory. I cannot believe this position will be sustained
by the Southern States. It is new ground, and it is taken
with avowals which are calculated to spread surprise and
alarm throughout the non-slaveholding States.

The course of the non-slaveholding States under these
new developments will, I doubt not, be steady and firm.
No State will stand by the Union with a more inflexible
determination to maintain it than New York, — none will
adhere more tenaciously to all the obligations of the Con-
stitution. And yet, sir, none could hope for a higher career


of prosperity if the States were to be dissevered. In eigliteen
years her entire debt, under the provisions of her new consti-
tution, will be paid, and she will be left with an annual sur-
plus inconie of at least three millions of dollars from her in-
ternal improvements, after defraying all the expenses of her
government. Standing, as she does, on the line of commer-
cial intercourse between the Atlantic and the great lakes,
with the rich and productive States bordering on them, the
addition of the custom-house to her internal channels of com-
munication would make her the wealthiest community, in
proportion to her population, within the pale of civilization.
She would be an empire in herself. But she scorns to
enter into an estimate of these advantages. She will not
"calculate the value of the Union." She prefers to stand,
as she does, on the same footing with the smallest of the
States, herself the most populous and powerful, rather than
to stand foremost and preeminent in the field of disunion.
In whatever manner this question shall be decided, she will
be found on the side of the Union, not to resist dismem-
berment by force, — for disunion is better than intestine
war, — but to contribute by her influence and her counsels
to uphold the fabric of the federative system.

Mr. President, I regret to hear either disunion or civil
war spoken of in connection with this measure. But, I
repeat, the former is to be preferred to the latter. In wars
waged with foreign countries, deplorable as they always are,
there are some moral fruits which atone, in a slight degree,
for their accompanying evils. There is the sense of national
honor, — the parent of high achievement ; the sentiment of
patriotic devotion to the country, which shrinks from no
labor or sacrifice in the public cause ; and the feeling of
mutual sympathy and dependence, which pervades and unites
all classes in the hour of adversity and peril. Far as they
are overbalanced by the domestic bereavement and the public
evil which war always brings in its train, they serve to
purify the thoughts of something of their selfishness by turn-



ing them away from the sordid channels in which they are
too apt to run. But civil war has no ameliorations. It is
pure, unmixed demoralization. It dissolves all national and
domestic ties. It renders selfishness more odious, by wed-
ding it to hatred and cruelty. The after-generation, which
reaps the bitter harvest of intestine war, is scarcely less to be
commiserated than that by whose hands the poisonous seed
is sown. Less, far less than these, would be the evils of

But, sir, we shall have neither. The interests, the feel-
ings, the good sense of the country, all revolt at internal
dissension in every form. If this question shall be decided
against the non-slaveholding States, if their voice shall be
unheeded. New York will not, for that reason, listen to
any suicidal project of dismemberment. No, sir ; no. By
no agency of hers shall the fraternal bonds which unite
her to her sisters be rent asunder. Their destiny, whatever
it may be, shall be also hers. Be it for evil or for good,
she will cling to them to the last. But I say for her and
in her name, — I believe I do not misunderstand her reso-
lutions, — that she can never consent to become a party to
the extension of slavery to free territory on this continent.
If it is to be extended to new areas, — areas now conse-
crated to free labor, — the work must be done by other
hands than hers ; and she must leave it to time and to
the order of Providence to determine what shall be the
legitimate fruits of measures which she believes to be
wrong, and to which she can never yield her assent.


The following speech was delivered on the 26th of January, 1848,
in support of a bill to raise an additional military force with a view to
retain possession of the territory of Mexico, until she should consent to
make peace on terms satisfactory to the United States. The resolu-
tions of Mr. Calhoun, alluded to by Mr. Dix at the commencement of
his speech, declared that, " to conquer Mexico, and to hold it either as
a province or incorporate it into the Union, would be inconsistent with
the avowed object for which war has been prosecuted ; a departure
from the settled policy of the government ; in conflict with its char-
acter and genius ; and in the end subversive of our free and popular

Mr. President : It was my wish to address the Senate
on the resolutions offered by the Senator from South Caro-
lina,^ and not on this bill. I should have preferred to do
so, because I am always unwilling to delay action on any
measure relating to the war, and because the resolutions
afford a wider field for inquiry and discussion. But as the
debate has become general, and extended to almost every
topic that can well be introduced under either, the force of
the considerations by which I have been influenced has
become so weakened, that I have not thought it necessary
to defer longer what I wish to say.

Two leading questions divide and agitate the public mind
in respect to the future conduct of the war with Mexico.
The first of these questions is. Shall we withdraw our forces
from the Mexican territory, and leave the subject of in-
demnity for injuries and the adjustment of a boundary be-
tween the two republics to future negotiation, relying on
a magnanimous course of conduct on our part to produce
a corresponding feeling on the part of Mexico ? There
are other propositions, subordinate to this, which may be

1 Mr. Callioun.


considered as parts of the same general scheme of pohcy, —
such as that of withdrawing from the Mexican capital and
the interior districts, and assuming an exterior line of oc-
cupation. I shall apply to all these propositions the same
arguments ; and if I were to undertake to distinguish
between them, I am not sure that I should make any dif-
ference in the force of the application. For, whether we
withdraw from Mexico altogether, or take a defensive line
which shall include all the territory we intend to hold per-
manently as indemnity, the consequences to result from it,
so far as they affect the question of peace, would, it ap-
pears to me, be the same.

The second question is. Shall we retain the possession
of the territory we have acquired until Mexico shall consent
to make a treaty of peace which shall provide ample com-
pensation for the wrongs of which we complain, and settle
to our satisfaction the boundary in dispute ?

Regarding these questions as involving the permanent
welfare of the country, I have considered them with the
greatest solicitude; and though never more profoundly im-
pressed with a sense of the responsibility which belongs
to the solution of problems of such magnitude and difficulty,
my reflections have, nevertheless, led me to a clear and
settled conviction as to the course which justice and policy
seem to indicate and demand. The first question, in itself
of the highest importance, has been answered affirmatively
on this floor ; and it derives additional interest from the
fact, that it has also been answered in the affirmative by
a statesman, now retired from the busy scenes of political
life, who, from his talents, experience, and public services,
justly commands the respect of his countrymen, and whose
opinions on any subject are entitled to be weighed with
candor and deliberation. I have endeavored to attribute
to his opinions, and to those of others who coincide with
him wholly or in part, all the importance which belongs
to them, and to consider them with the deference due to


the distinguished sources from which they emanate. I
beHeve I have done so ; and yet I have, after the fullest
reflection, come to conclusions totally different from theirs.
I believe it would be in the highest degree unjust to our-
selves, possessing, as we do, well-founded claims on Mexico,
to withdraw our forces from her territory altogether ; and
exceedingly unwise, as a matter of policy, looking to the
future political relations of the two countries, to withdraw
from it partially, and assume a line of defence, without a
treaty of peace. On the contrary, I am in favor of re-
taining possession, for the present, of all we have acquired,
not as a permanent conquest, but as the most effective
means of bringing about, what all most earnestly desire, a
restoration of peace ; and I will, with the indulgence of
the Senate, proceed to state, with as much brevity as the
magnitude of the subject admits, my objections to the course
suggested by the first question, and my reasons in fevor
of the course suggested by the other.

I desire, at the outset, to state this proposition, to the
truth of which, I think, all will yield their assent : that no
policy which does not carry with it a reasonable assurance
of healing the dissensions dividing the two countries, and
of restoring, permanently, amicable relations between them,
ought to receive our support. We may differ in opinion,
and perhaps hopelessly, as to the measures best calculated
to produce this result ; but if it were possible for us to
come to an agreement in respect to them, the ])roj)riety
of their adoption could scarcely admit of controversy. This
proposition being conceded, as I think it will be, it follows
that, if the measure proposed — to withdraw our forces
from Mexico — be not calculated to bring about a speedy
and permanent peace, but, on the contrary, if it be rather
calculated to open a field of domestic dissension, and pos-
sibly of external interference, in tbat distracted country, to
be followed, in all probability, by a renewal of active hos-
tilities with us, and under circumstances to make us feel


severely the loss of the advantage which we have gained,
and which it is projjosed voluntarily to surrender, — then,
it appears to me, it can present no claim to our favorahle
consideration. I shall endeavor to show, hefore I sit down,
that tiie policy referred to is exposed to all these dangers
and evils.

I do not propose to enter into an examination of the
origin of the war. From the moment the collision took
place hetvveen our forces and those of Mexico on the Rio
Grande, I considered all hope of an accommodation, with-
out a full trial of strength in the field, to he out of the ques-
tion. I believed the peculiar character of the Mexicans
would render any such hope illusive. Whether that col-
lision was produced in any degree by our own mistakes,
or whether the war itself was brought about by the man-
ner in which Texas was annexed to the Union, are ques-
tions I do not propose to discuss now ; and, if it were not
too late, I would submit whether the discussion could serve
any other purpose but to exhibit divided councils to our
adversary, and to inspire him with the hope of obtaining
more favorable terms of peace by protracting his resist-
ance. No one can be less disposed than myself to abridge,
in any degree, the legitimate boundaries of discussion. But
I am not disposed to enter into such an investigation now.
The urgent concern is to know, not how the war origi-
nated, not who is responsible for it, but in what manner
it can be brought to a speedy and honorable termination, —
whether, as some suppose, we ought to retire from the
field, or whether, as appears to me, the only hope of an
accommodation lies in a firm and determined maintenance
of our position.

The probable consequences of an abandonment of the ad-
vantages we have gained may be better understood by see-
ing what those advantages are. I speak in a military point
of view. While addressing the Senate in February last, on
an army bill then under consideration, I had occasion to



state that the whole of northern Mexico, as far south as
the mouth of the Rio Grande and the 26th parallel of
latitude, was virtually in our possession, comprehending
about two thirds of the territory of that republic, and about
one tenth of its inhabitants. Our acquisitions have since
been augmented by the reduction of Vera Cruz and the
Castle of San Juan de Ulua ; the capture of Jalapa, Perote,
and Puebla ; the surrender of the city of Mexico, and the
occupation of the three States of Vera Cruz, Puebla, and
Mexico, with nearly two millions and a half of souls. It
is true, our forces have not overrun every portion of the
territory of those States ; but their chief towns have been
reduced, the military forces which defended them captured
or dispersed, their civil authorities superseded, their capital
occupied, and the whole machinery of government within
the conquered States virtually transferred to our hands.
All this has been achieved with an army at no one period
exceeding fifteen thousand men, and against forces from
three to five times more numerous than those actually en-
gaged on our side, in every conflict since the fall of Vera

I had occasion, on presenting some army petitions a few
weeks ago, to refer to the brilliant successes by which these
acquisitions were made ; and I will not trespass on the at-
tention of the Senate by repeating what I said at that
time.^ But I cannot forbear to say, that there is a moral

1 The reference alluded to is con- arms, until then unknown to the inliab-

tained in the following extract: — itants of Mexico, was sufficient in itself

" I will not detain the Senate by en- to make his force, small as it was, irre-

tering into any detailed review of these sistible. In the eyes of that simple

events witli a view to enforce tlie ap- and superstitious people, he seemed

peal contiiineil in the petition on the armed with superhuman power. Other

attention. I hope, however, I may be circumstances combined to Jaeilitate

indulged in saying, in justice to those his success. The native tribes, by

who bore a part in them, that the first whom the country was possessed, were

conquest of Mexico cannot, as it ap- distinct communities, not always ac-

pears to me, be compared with the knowledging the same head, and often

second, either as to the obstacles over- divided among themselves by impla-

come, or as to the relative strength of c.nble liostilitj' and resentments. Cortez,

the invaders. The triumphs of Cortez by his consummate prudence and art,

were achieved bj' policy, and by supe- turned these dissensions to his own ac-

riority in discipline and in the imple- count; he lured the parties to thera

ments of warfare. The use of fire- into his own service^ and when he pre-


in the contest, the effect of which is not hkely to be lost
on ourselves or others. At the call of their country, our
people have literally rushed to arms. The emulation has
been to be received into the service, not to be excused from
it. Individuals from the plough, the counting-house, the law-
office, and the workshop, have taken the field, braving in-
clement seasons and inhospitable climates without a murmur,
and, though wholly unused to arms, withstanding the most
destructive fire, and storming batteries at the point of the
bayonet, with the coolness, intrepidity, and spirit of veterans.
I believe I may safely say, there has been no parallel to
these achievements by undisciplined forces since the French
revolution. I am not sure that history can furnish a paral-
lel. As to the regular army, we always expect it to be
gallant and heroic, and we are never disappointed. The
whole conduct of the war in the field has exhibited the
highest evidence of our military capacity. It confirms an
opinion I have always held, — that a soldier is formidable
in ratio of the importance he possesses in the order of the
political system of which he is a part. It establishes an-
other position of vital importance to us : that, under the
protection of our militia system, the country may, at the

sented himself at the gates of the city indomitable courage of their followers,
of Mexico, he was at the liead of four With lialf his force left on the battle-
thousand of the most warlike of the field or in the hospital, and with less
natives, as auxiliaries to the band of than six thousand men, after a series
Spaniards with which he commenced of desperate contests, he took posses-
his marcli from Vera Cruz. Thus his sion of the city of Mexico, containing
early successes were as much the tri- nearly two hundred thousand inhabi-
umph of policy as of arms. General tants, and defended by the remnant of
Scott, and the gallant band he led, had an army of more tlian thirty tliousaiid
no such advantages. The whole popu- soldiers. I confess I know nothing in
lation of the country, from Vera Cruz modern warfare wliich exceeds in brill-
to Mexico, was united as one man iancy the movements of the American
against him, and animated by the army from the Gulf to the city of Mex-
fiercest animosity. He was opposed ico. I shall not attempt to speak of
by military forces armed like his own, them in the language of eulogiura.
often better disciplined, occupying po- They are not a fit theme for such com-
sitions chosen by themselves, strong ment. Like the achievements of Gen-
by nature, and fortified according to eral Taylor and his brave men on tlie
the strictest rules of art. These ob- Rio Grande, at Monterey, and Buena
stacles were overcome by his skill as a Vista, the highest and most appropriate
tactician, aided by a corps of oflacers praise is contained in the simplest state-
imsurpassed for their knowledge of the ment of facts."
art of attack and defence, and by the


termination of every contest, lay aside the more massive
and burdensome parts of its armor, and become prepared,
with energies renewed by that very capacity, for succeed-
ing scenes of danger.

Mr. President, the political condition of Mexico has been
gradually approaching a dissolution of all responsible gov-
ernment, and of the civil order which constitutes her an
independent State. This lamentable situation is not the
fruit alone of our military successes. The factions by wliich
that country has been distracted, each in turn gaining and
maintaining a temporary ascendency, and often by brute
force, lie at the foundation of the social and political disorder
which has reigned there for the last twenty years. To
most of the abuses of the old colonial system of Spain she

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 18 of 40)