John A. (John Adams) Dix.

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of the States to be formed out of it into the Union on " an
equal footing with the original States." Neither the actual
tenure of slaves, nor the right to hold them, could have
been considered essential to the full fruition of the political
liberty which the States possessed as members of the Union.

2. The prohibition was not considered inconsistent with
the terms of cession of the territory by Virginia in 1784^,
which required that the States to be formed out of it should
be " republican States, and admitted members of the Fed-
eral Union, having the same rights of sovereignty, freedom,
and independence." These rights of sovereignty, freedom,
and independence, therefore, which the members of the
Federal Union enjoyed, were by the Congress of the Con-
federation, and the first Congress, deemed fully possessed,
although the right to hold slaves was prohibited. Virginia


concurred in passing the ordinance in the Congress of the
Confederation in 1787? and in continuing it in force in the
first Congress under the Constitution in 1789.

Whatever doubt there may be as to the original vahdity
of the ordinance, I believe, its authority has always been
respected by responsible tribunals. I will read a decision
from the Supreme Court of Louisiana, in the case of Merry
V. Chexnaider, 8 Martin's Reports, (new series,) 699: —

" On appeal from the Court of the First District, Porter, J., de-
livered the opinion of the court. The plaintiff sues in this action to
recover his freedom, and from the evidence on record is clearly entitled
to it. He was born in the Northwestern Territory since the enact-
ment of Congress, in 1787, of the ordinance for the government of that
country, according to the Gth article of which there could be therein
neither slavery nor involuntary servitude. This ordinance fixed forever
the character of the population in the region over which it is extended,
and takes away all foundation from the claim set up in this instance
by the defendant. The act of cession by Virginia did not deprive Con-
gress of the power to make such a regulation.

" It is therefore ordered, adjudged, and decreed, that the judgment
of the district court be affinned with costs."

This decision was pronounced in 1830, and it fully sus-
tains the view of the subject I have taken.

II. On the 7th of April, 1798, an act was passed for
an amicable settlement of limits with the State of Georgia,
and authorizing the establishment of a government in the
Mississippi territory. This act authorized the President
to establish therein a government in all respects similar to
that in the territory northwest of the Ohio river, ex-
cepting the sixth article of the ordinance of 1787- It then
prohibited the importation of slaves into the Territory from
any place without the limits of the United States. This
act was passed ten years (less a few months) before Con-
gress was authorized by the Constitution to prohibit the
importation of slaves into the States which were originally
parties to the Federal compact. This provision of the Con-
stitution applied only to the then existing States. It did


not exteiul to the States thereafter to be formed, or to the
territories of the United States, — a fact of the higliest im-
portance, if it is to he regarded as a hmitation of a vested
power. The exercise by Congress of the power of pro-
liibiting the introduction of slaves into the Mississippi Ter-
ritory from foreign countries appears to have passed without
opposition. I find no division in either House on that clause
of the bill. This fact shows the undisputed interpretation
put at that day on the Constitution of the United States
in respect to the powers of Congress over every matter of
domestic concern in the territory belonging to the United
States, and especially over the subject of slavery, the most
delicate of all. There was a direct exercise by Congress, in
respect to the territories, of a power which was positively
prohibited in respect to the States existing at the adoption
of the Constitution. This act passed under the adminis-
tration of the elder Adams.

III. At the first session of the 6th Congress, chap. 41,
laws of 1800, an act was passed to divide the territory
belonffine: to the United States northwest of the Ohio river
into two separate governments. This act created a territorial
government for Indiana in all respects similar to that pro-
vided by the ordinance of 17^7 foi' the government of the
Northwest territory. This precedent reaffirms the prin-
ciples contained in the ordinance. The act was signed by
the elder Adams.

IV. On the 26th of March, 1804, an act was passed
dividing Louisiana into two territories, and providing for
the temporary government thereof. All that part of the
territory south of the 33d parallel of latitude, now the south-
ern boundary of Arkansas, was erected into the territory
of Orleans.

The 10th section of the act had three provisions in respect

to slavery in the Territory: 1. The importation of slaves,

from any place without the limits of the United States, was

prohibited ; 2, The importation, from any place w'ithin the



limits of the United States, of slaves imported since the 1st
May, 1798, was prohibited; and, S. The importation of
slaves, except by a " citizen of the United States removing
into said Territory for actual settlement, and being at the
time of such removal bona fide owner of such slaves," was

When this section was under discussion in the Senate, a
motion was made to strike out the last clause, and it was
negatived by a vote of 19 to 9- Among the votes in the
negative w^ere John Ereckcniridge and John Brown of
Kentucky, Jesse Franklin of Nortli Carolina, James Jackson
of Georgia, Samuel Smith of Maryland, Thomas Sumpter
of South Carohna, WiUiam H. Wells and Samuel White of
Delaware ; 8 of the 19 from slaveholding States.

The House Journal does not show any opposition to this
section. The vote on the final passage of the bill was QQ
yeas and 2\ nays. Of the latter, only 7 — 0"tj third of the
whole number — were from slaveholding States.

The territory of Orleans appears to have remained sub-
ject to these restrictions — certainly all but the first — until
181j2, when it was erected into a State, with the name of
Louisiana. At least I can find nothing to the contrary. On
the 2d March, 1805, an act further providing for the
government of the Territory was passed, by which the ordi-
nance of 1787 was applied to it, except the sixth article, pro-
hibiting slavery forever, and so much of the second para-
graph as regulated the descent and distribution of estates.
But, by the eighth section of the act, the act of March 26,
1804*, dividing the territory of Louisiana, which was limited
in its operation to one year and to the end of the next session
of Congress thereafter, was continued in full force until re-
pealed, excepting so far as it was repugnant to the act of
1805. The restrictions on the importation of slaves were
not repugnant to that act, and they must have been contin-
ued in operation. I state this fact because it has been sup-
posed and asserted that the act of 1804^ was repealed the


next year ; as though Congress had passed it inconsiderately,
and had thus early hecome convinced of the illegality of the
restrictions upon slavery which it contained. But the lan-
guage of the act of 1805 cannot be held to repeal these
restrictions. There is no authority for such a construction.
On the contrary, I find a decision of the supreme court of
Louisiana, showing that they were continued in force. I will
read an extract from it to the Senate : —

" Formerly, while the act dividing Louisiana into two territories
was in force in this country, slaves, introduced here in contravention
to it, were freed by operation of law ; but that act was merged in the
legislative provisiona which were subsequently enacted on the subject
of importation of slaves into the United States generally." — Gomez
V. Bonneval, 6 Martin's Rep. 656, {Sap. Court of La.) 1819.

The general law referred to went into operation on the
1st of January, 1808. If, therefore, there was, as this de-
cision shows, a merger in 1808, there could have been no
repeal in 1805.

There cannot be a stronger case to show the control Con-
gress has exercised ov^er the subject. Slavery existed in
Louisiana when it was ceded to the United States. Con-
gress did not impose any restriction on the tenure of slaves
then held in the Territory : that might have impaired vested
rights of property under the local law, which the L^hited
States had covenanted in the treaty of cession to maintain
and protect. But Congress not only proceeded, at once, to
prohibit the importation of slaves from foreign countries, but
to prohibit their introduction from the States of the Union,
excepting when accompanying and belonging to citizens of
the United States moving into the Territory to become resi-
dents. This was to impose restrictions upon its extension,
even within the Territory in which it existed. It was a di-
rect prohibition of the domestic slave-trade. It was an exer-
cise of power, in respect to the territories, which Congress
did not possess in respect to the States. It was an anticipa-
tion, by four years, of the time at which Congress was au-


thorized to prohibit the importation of slaves into the origi-
nal States. This act was signed by Jefferson.

V. On the 11th January, 180.5, an act was passed estab-
lishing the territory of Michigan, with a government " in
all respects similar to that provided by the ordinance of Con-
gress, passed on the 13th day of July, 1787? for the gov-
ernment of the territory of the United States northwest of
the river Ohio."

VI. On the 3d of February, 1809, a similar government
was established for the territory of Illinois. These two
last acts also passed under Mr. Jefferson's administration.

VII. On the 4th of Jtme, 1812, an act was passed "pro-
viding for the government of the territory of Missouri," and
the laws and regulations in force in the district of Louisiana
were continued in operation.

VIII. On the 3d March, 1817, a government was formed
for the territory of Alabama, and the laws then in force
within it as a part of Mississippi were continued in opera-
tion. These two acts were passed under Mr. Madison.

IX. On the 2d March, 1819, the territory of Arkansas
was formed from the territory of Missouri, and a govern-
ment established for it.

X. On the 6th March, 1820, the inhabitants of Missouri
were authorized to form a constitution and state govern-
ment, and slavery was prohibited in all that part of the ter-
ritory of Louisiana north of S6° 30^ north latitude. In this
exercise of legislative power the greatest latitude is given
to the authority claimed under the clause of the Constitution
respecting the territory of the United States.

XL On the 30th March, 1822, an act was passed for the
establishment of a territorial g'overnment in Florida, con-
taining provisions making it unlawful " to import or bring
into the said Territory, from any place without the limits of
the L^nited States," any slave or slaves.

These three acts were passed under Mr. Monroe's admin-


XII. On the 20th April, 1836, an act was passed "estab-
lishing the territorial government of Wisconsin," securing
to the inhabitants "the rights, privileges, and advantages"
secured to the people of the Northwestern territory by the
ordinance of 17^7? subjecting them to the " conditions, re-
strictions, and prohibitions" contained in said ordinance, and
extending the laws of the United States over them. This
act was signed by General Jackson.

XIII. On the l!2th June, 1838, a territorial government
for Iowa was established, and the laws of the United States
extended over it. This act was signed by Mr. Van

And here, Mr. President, I close this rapid specification
of legislative precedents, commencing with the first Con-
gress, and running, with a current of authority uninter-
rupted and almost unopposed, through more than half a
century, down to the present day.

By looking through these acts, it will be found that the
power of governing the persons occupying the territory
belonging to the United States has been exercised by Con-
gress in almost every form, and for a great variety of pur-
poses, municipal as well as political. Officers have been
appointed, their qualifications prescribed; the right of suf-
frage fixed, limited, and extended; the descent and distribu-
tion of estates regulated ; courts organized and their powers
defined; personal rights secured; and, in general, the whole
power of legislation has been controlled by Congress through
the supervision it has retained over the laws passed by the
legislative assemblies of the territories.

Let me now see how far this exercise of legislative power
has been sanctioned by judicial interpretations. I quote
from decisions of the Supreme Court, the highest judicial
tribunal in the United States. That court, in reference to
the clause of the Constitution giving Congress power to dis-
pose of, and make all needful rules and regulations respect-
ing, the territory belonging to the United States, say : —


" Perhaps the power of governing a territory belonging to the
United States, which has not, by becoming a State, acquired the means
of self-government, may result necessarily from the facts that it is not
within the jurisdiction of any particular State, and is within the
power and jurisdiction of the United States. The right to govern
may be the inevitable consequence of the right to acquire territory.
Wliichever may be the source whence the power is derived, its pos-
session is unquestioned." — Chief Justice Marshall ; the American
Insurance Company v. Canter, 1 Peters, 542.

" The power given in this clause is of the most plenary kind. Rules
and regulations respecting the temtory of the United States : they
necessarily confer complete jurisdiction. It was necessary to confer
it without limitation, to enable the new government to redeem the
pledge given to the old in relation to the formation and powers of the
new States." — The Cherokee Nation v. The State of Georgia, 5
Peters, 44.

" The term ' territory,' as here used, is merely descriptive of one kind
of property, and is equivalent to the word ' lands,' and Congress has
the same power over it as over any other property belonging to the
United States ; and this power is vested in Congress without limitation,
and has been considered the foundation upon which the territorial
governments rest. In the case of McCulloch v. the State of Mary-
land, 4 Wheaton, 422, the Chief Justice, in giving the opinion of the
court, speaking of this article and the powers of Congress growing
out of it, applies it to the territorial governments, and says all admit
their constitutionality. And again, in the case of the American Insur-
ance Company v. Canter, 1 Peters, 542, in speaking of the cession
of Florida, under the treaty with Spain, he says that Florida, until
she shall become a State, continues to be a territory of the United
States, governed by virtue of that clause in the Constitution which
empowers Congress to make all needful rules and regulations respect-
ing the territory or other property of the United States." — The
United States v. Gratiot et al. 14 Peters, 537.

I might refer to other decisions of the court, in which
the same principle is recognized, though less directly per-
haps, hut sustaining the same interpretation of the Constitu-
tion, and giving validity to the legislative precedents I have
cited. Writers on constitutional law (Rawle, Sergeant,
Story) concur in this construction. In short, it is believed
that no power exercised under the Constitution of such
magnitude as that of governing the territories belonging



to tlie United States has been more unifoj-mly acquiesced
in from the formation of the government to the present day,
and in all its departments, legislative, executive, and judicial.
No system of rules would be safe, if its authority could be
disputed and overturned, in the face of such comprehensive
and long-continued sanctions. Government, law, social and
political order, would become unstable, uncertain, and worth-
less, as safeguards either to property or life, if their founda-
tions could be thus sapped and undermined by logical sub-
tlety and refinement, by new versions of the Constitution
at war with its ancient interpretations, and running counter
to the whole course of the public administration from the
earliest periods of time.

And here, Mr. President, I dismiss the question of power.
If, as I think, the affirmative is sustained, something, never-
theless, remains to be considered. A power may be pos-
sessed, and yet it may not be right to exert it. Its exercise
must be justified by considerations of public or private advan-
tage : it must not work either public or private wrong. I
propose to consider it under this aspect.

And, in the first place, I intend to say nothing in regard
to private interests excepting this, that there is no proposi-
tion before us to interfere with slavery where it exists, no
restriction on the exercise of private or personal rights with-
in the sphere of the local laws under which they arise. The
question before us is, whether slaves shall be permitted to be
introduced into Oregon, or whether their introduction shall
be prohibited. It is a remote territory, generally conceded
(though in this I do not concur, as I shall hereafter explain
more fully) as not likely to be occupied by slaves, if they
were allowed to be carried there. The fact that it is gener-
ally admitted to be unfit for slave labor must divest the ques-
tion of all practical infringement of private rights, even in
the estimation of those who take extreme views of the sub-
ject. I shall therefore consider it only in its bearing upon
great public interests.


Mr. President, I consider this question, in the form it has
assumed, as involving the extension of slavery. I consider
it so under the motion to strike out the twelfth section, which
substantially prohibits the introduction of slaves into Oregon.
But it is made so more particularly by the amendment offered
by my friend from Mississippi,^ which provides —

" That nothing contained in this act shall be so construed as to au-
thorize tlie prohibition of domestic slavery in said territory whilst it
remains in the condition of a territory of the United States."

I understand this as an assertion of the right to carry
slaves into Oregon, both against the interference of Congress
and the desire of the inhabitants to exclude them. I under-
stand it as maintaining the right to introduce domestic sla-
very into Oregon. This is extension, and against the wishes
of the inhabitants who have prohibited its introduction. Let
me, then, present some considerations concerning this whole
subject of extension.

Those who oppose the extension of slavery to wider lim-
its believe that such extension promotes the multiplication of
slaves. On the other hand, it is contended that it makes no
addition to their numbers, but merely spreads them over a
broader surface. This position is believed to be wholly in-
consistent with all the received laws of population. The
tendency of the human race is to increase in a compound
ratio of the extent and productiveness of the surface on
which it is sustained. The highest possible impulse is
given to this increase in an unoccupied country, distin-
guished for its fertility, and offering certain rewards for the
products of labor. This is the character of our own soil.
Wherever slave labor can be carried, it will, for a time, be
productive. Missouri affords a strong illustration of the
truth of this proposition. That State lies wholly north of
36° SO', north latitude, excepting a strip about thirty miles
wide on the Mississippi, running down to the thirty-sixth
parallel ; and yet, though so far north, slavery made rapid

1 Mr. Davis.


progress there after her admission into the Union. By the
census of 18)20, there were 10,222 slaves; in 1830,
24<,820, an increase of one hundred and forty per cent, in
ten years; and in 184-0,58,240, an increase of one hundred
and thirty-five per cent, in ten years. For several years, the
slave population increased more rapidly than the free. In
all new and fertile soils, where the demands for labor are
urg-ent, this will be the inevitable result. The multiplication
of the human species is governed by laws as inflexible and
certain as those which govern the reproduction of vegetable
life. In both, the stimulus, whatever it may be, constitutes
the law of the increase. I am aware that the ratio of in-
crease in Missouri, both in respect to the white and the
black race, was materially modified by immigration ; and to
that extent the result is independent of the application of
the principle I have stated. But it can hardly be denied
that surface, productive surface, is the great element in our
extension. It is this alone which has carried the ratio of
our increase far beyond that of any other people. If we
had been restricted to tlie area of the thirteen original
States, how ditferent would have been the result of our de-
cennial enumerations ! The same principle governs the white
and the black races. The laws of labor, subsistence, and
population act on both, though not everywhere with the
same intensity.

If these conclusions are just, an enlargement of the sur-
face over which slavery is spread carries with it, by force of
invincible laws, a multiplication of the race held in bondage :
in other words, a substantial increase of the number of
slaves. Extension in respect to surface is multiplication in
point of number. The two propositions cannot be legiti-
mately separated either in reasoning or in practice. In this
view of the subject, the extension of slavery is a reproduc-
tion of the original responsibility of introducing it ; and in
this respect it has a moral bearing, to which the great mass
of the community cannot be indiiferent.



Mr. President, in providing for the government of our
territories, while they continue subject to the exclusive reg-
ulation of Congress, no view of the subject would be com-
plete which overlooks the part we are performing in the
great movement of civilized society, on both sides of the
Atlantic. Let us turn our attention to some of the consid-
erations which suggest themselves in connection with this
point. It requires no powers of prophecy to foretell that we
are destined to spread ourselves over the greater portion of
the American continent on this side the great lakes, — south
to the densely peopled portions of Mexico, and west to the
Pacific. Nor is it an idle dream of the imagination to fore-
see in our political organization the foundations of an em-
pire increasing more rapidly, and destined to expand to
broader limits, than the Roman republic : not an empire,
like the latter, founded in war, and propagating itself by brute
force, but an empire founded in peace, and extending itself
by industry, enterprise, and the arts of civilization. Rome,
in receiving into her bosom the surrounding population as
she conquered them, instructed them in the art of war,
and made them the instruments of new aggressions. We
receive into ours the surplus ])opulation of the Old World,
to instruct them in the arts of peace, and to accelerate the
march of civilization across the western continent. There
is nothing in the history of human society so calculated to
exalt it as the spectacle we present, — receiving into the
bonds of friendship, and admitting to the rights of citizen-
ship, the surplus of the over-peopled and over-governed
countries of Europe. These annual additions constitute an
element of no inconsiderable force in the ratio of our pro-
gression. In the last quarter of a century — about the
period we take for a duplication of our numbers — we have
received, from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Ireland alone, nearly a million of immigrants, and from
continental Europe we have had large additions. These

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 29 of 40)