John A. (John Adams) Dix.

Speeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) online

. (page 31 of 40)
Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 31 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

which secures to the inhabitants " the rights, privileges, and
immunities heretofore granted and secured to the territory
of Iowa and its inhabitants."

I know there is a difference of opinion in respect to the
true construction of the twelfth section of the act organ-
izing a government for the territory of Iowa. The Sen-
ator from Maryland,^ whose legal opinions are entitled to
great weight, is of opinion that the slavery restrictions con-
tained in the twelfth section of the act organizing a territo-
rial government for Wisconsin, from which territory Iowa

1 Mr. Johnson.


was taken, are embraced in the twelfth section of the act
establishing- a government for the latter. The Senators
from North Carolina and Georgia ^ consider the conditions,
prohibitions, and restrictions, imposed by the ordinance of
1787, on the one hand, and the rights, privileges, and ad-
vantages, secured on the other, as distinct, substantive prop-
ositions, of which the latter only are embraced in the
twelfth section of the last-named act. And although I will
not undertake to decide between them, I confess this seems
to me the most reasonable construction. Practically, this
question was of no importance as to Iowa, as slavery was
excluded from that territory, which was a part of Louisiana,
by the Missouri compromise.

Let us now look at the next provision of this section,
which I consider the most important. It declares that the
laws now existing in Oregon shall continue to be valid and
operative, &c.

One of these laws contains a prohibition of slavery. I
will read it ; it is article one, section four, of the organic
laws of Oregon : —

" There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in said
territory, otherwise than for the punishment of crimes, whereof the
party shall be duly convicted."

This prohibition is adopted by the section I am consider-
ing ; and the exclusion of slavery will, for the time, be as
complete as though it were expressly prohibited by an adop-
tion of the amendment oifered by the Senator from New
Hampshire, and subsequently withdrawn by him. That
amendment subjected the territory of Oregon to the restric-
tions and prohibitions of the ordinance of 1787- It would
have been a perpetual exclusion of slavery ; and in this re-
spect it differs from the twelfth section as it stands. For
instance : under this section the inhabitants of Oregon
might rescind or repeal the law prohibiting slavery; this
act of repeal would go into immediate effect, and slaves

1 Mr. Badger and Mr. Berrien.


could be introduced into the territory. The sixth section,
however, provides that all laws passed by the governor and
legislative assembly shall be submitted to Congress, and if
disapproved, shall be void and of no effect. If such an act
of repeal should be passed, it would bring the question again
before Congress for its approval or disapproval. Such an
act is certainly very unlikely to be passed by the legislative
authority of the territory. Still, the positive prohibition
contained in the ordinance of 1787 is preferable as making
a final disposition of the question ; and it is in accordance
with the whole legislation of the country in respect to terri-
tories situated like this. I shall, therefore, at a proper time,
unless some other Senator does so, offer an amendment to
that effect.

I regret exceedingly, Mr. President, to have taxed the
patience of the Senate so long ; but I believed I was per-
forming a duty to high principles, and to the State I have,
in part, the honor to represent ; and no consideration could
induce me to shrink from the performance of it.

Before I conclude, I desire to state some positions which
I took last winter, in discussing what was termed the three
million bill. I thought then, and I think still, that they
constitute the only jjractical and reasonable basis for the
settlement of this question. They were these : —

1. All external interference with slavery in the States is a
violation of the compromises of the Constitution, and dan-
gerous to the harmony and j)erpetuity of the Federal Union.

2. If territory is acquired by the United States, it should,
in respect to slavery, be received as it is found. If slavery
exists therein at the time of the acquisition, it should not be
the subject of legislation by Congress. On the other hand,
if slavery does not exist therein at the time of the acquisi-
tion, its introduction ought to be prohibited while the terri-
tory continues to be governed as such.

3. All legislation by Congress, in respect to slavery in
the territory belonging to the United States, ceases to be


operative when the Inhabitants are permitted to form a state
government; and the admission of a state into the Union
carries with it, by force of the sovereignty such admission
confers, the right to dispose of the whole question of slavery
at its discretion, without external interference.

These positions were in substantial accordance, as I sup-
posed, with the declared opinions of the legislature of New
York ; and they have been recently reaffirmed, so far as the
exclusion of slavery from the territory in which it does not
now exist is concerned.

I beheve this to be the only just, equal, and reasonable
basis on which this question can be amicably settled. Such
a result may be hopeless. Extreme views on both sides
may defeat all adjustment of it on friendly terms. If so, I
shall have the consolation of reflecting, that, while my own
opinions lie between those extremes, while they have been
advanced, as I trust, in language no one can deem offensive,
they have been maintained with a steadiness which ought
always to accompany settled convictions of right and duty.

Mr. President, I conclude by saying for New York, as I
think I am authorized to say by her legislative resolutions,
that, while she will adhere steadfastly to all the compromises
of the Constitution, and while she will resist all interference
with slavery in the States as unauthorized and disorganizing,
she will never consent to its extension to territory in which
it does not now exist, and especially where it is now pro-
hibited. On the contrary, she will, in every constitutional
mode, oppose all such extension, as of evil tendency in
government, wrong in itself, and repugnant to the humanity
and civilization of the age.


The following speech was delivered by Mr. Dix on the 2Gth July,
1848. The bill under discussion embraced the whole subject of organ-
izing governments for the territories acquired from Mexico ; but the
only material point of disagreement in the Senate was the question
of permitting slavery to be established in those territories. The South-
ern Senators insisted that citizens of the United States had the right,
under the Constitution, to carry into those territories whatever was
recognized as property in the States from which they emigrated. The
free States denied this doctrine, and insisted that, slavery having been
abolished in Mexico, it could only be restored by positive enactment.
But to remove all doubt on this point, it was contended that the acts
organizing goveriunents in these territories should contain an absolute
prohibition of slavery in order to save the government from the re-
proach of reestablishing it where it had long been abolished by the
fundamental law.

Mil. President : It is with great reluctance that I throw
myself on the indulgence of the Senate a second time in
this discussion. But since I spoke, positions have heen
taken in the debate, and assertions made, which I cannot
pass by without comment ; and especially am I unwilling to
be silent when the whole subject is presented to us under a
new phase by the report of the committee of eight, and
brings up a train of considerations having an important
bearing upon the question.

Before I proceed to notice, as I shall very briefly, the pro-
visions of the bill reported by the committee, I desire to say
something on other topics which have been introduced into
the discussion.

The Northern States have been repeatedly charged in this
debate, and on many previous occasions, with aggression,
and violations of the constitutional compact, in their action on


the vsubject of slavery. With regard to the surrender of fu-
gitive slaves — the case most frequently cited — it is possible
that there may have been some action, or inaction, in par-
ticular States, not in strict accordance with the good faith
they ought to observe in this respect. I know not how
this is; but there is an effective power to legislate on
this subject in Congress ; and I am sure there will be no
want of cooperation on our part, in carrying out the require-
ments of the Constitution, by providing all reasonable means
for executing them.

The Senator from South Carolina,-' in the remarks he ad-
dressed to the Senate yesterday, made repeated allusions to
me in connection with the suggestion of a superior civiliza-
tion in the non-slaveholding States. I have made no such
suggestion. I have drawn no parallel. I have made no
distinction, in this respect, between the North and the South.
And in the case to which he particularly referred, and in
which I spoke of " spires pointing to the skies," in language
perhaps somewhat more flowery than I am accustomed to
use, 1 expressly said that I made no distinction between the
two great sections of the Union.

But this is a matter on which I shall not dwell. I am
but an individual ; and a misapprehension which concerns
only myself is comparatively of little importance. But when
the Senator, turning from me, assails the State I have the
honor to* represent, when the misconception does injustice to
those who have given me their confidence, he wounds me in
a more tender point, and I cannot pass his remarks by with-
out a more extended notice.

Mr. President, I endeavored to get the floor yesterday
when the Senator took his seat, and I made repeated at-
tempts afterwards, in all of which I was unsuccessful. I
wished to notice, at the moment and on the spot, the imputa-
tions which he had cast on the State of New York, in lan-
guage I regretted to hear from any Senator on this floor.

1 Mr. Butler.


He said a requisition had been made, some years ago, on the
governor of the State by the executive of Virginia, for the
surrender of persons convicted of stealing a shive within the
jurisdiction of the latter State ; that the governor had re-
fused to surrender them, and that this refusal had been sus-
tained by both branches of the legislature ; and on this state-
ment he charged New York with a want of " common hon-
esty." Sir, these are harsh epithets — epithets which should
not have been applied to us without a full knowledge of the
facts. The Senator labors under a great misapprehension.
The responsibility, which he charged on the State, rests upon
the governor alone. The facts'are these :

In 1841 a requisition was made by the executive of Vir-
ginia on the governor of New York, for three persons,
charged with stealinor- a slave in the former State. The
governor refused to surrender them, for the reason assigned
in the following resolution, which was adopted by both
branches of the legislature of New York early in 1842 : —

" "Whereas the governor of tlie State has refused to deliver up, on
the demand of the executive authority of Virginia, Peter Johnson,
Edward Smith, and Isaac Gansey, alleged fugitives from justice,
charged with the crime of theft, viz : stealing a slave within the juris-
diction and against the laws of Virginia: and Avhercas the governor
has assigned, as the reason for such refusal, that the stealing of a slave
within the jurisdiction of and against the laws of Virginia, is not a
felony or other crime within the meaning of the second section of the
fourth article of the Constitution of the United States :

" Resolved, That, in the opinion of this legislature, stealing a slave
within the jurisdiction and against the laws of Virginia, is a crime
within tlie meaning of the second section of the foui'th article of the
Constitution of the United States.

'^Resolved, That the governor be requested to transmit the fore-
going preamble and resolution to the executive department of Vir-

These resolutions, as I have said, passed both branches of
the legislature. I am unable to state the vote ; but I was
then a member of the assembly, and I remember that it
passed that body by a very decided majority.


Thus it seems that the legislature of New York, in both
its branches, representing the people of the State in a double
capacity, — for the Senate was at that time the High Court
for the Correction of Errors, the highest judicial tribunal
in the State, — disclaimed and condemned the act of the
governor, and left the responsibility to rest on him alone.
Beyond this it could not go. The act to be performed was
executive, and the legislature had no control over him to
compel the performance.

But the Senator did not stop here. His speech was re-
plete with reproachful allusions to New York, too indefinite
to be met witii a distinct reply ; and he concluded by saying
that he expected nothing good from her. Sir, there have
been periods, in the history of the country, when she was
neither inactive nor inefficient in her efforts for the public
good. In 18375 '^vhen the whole banking system throughout
the Union exploded, — when the President of the Bank of the
United States was putting forth manifestoes and employing
the whole strength of that institution to continue the suspen-
sion of specie payments, — and when, I believe I may say,
most other portions of the Union were disposed to yield, —
New York stood almost alone in opposing it. She com-
pelled her own banks to resume the discharge of their obli-
gations under the penalty of a forfeiture of their charters ;
she became the centre of all that was sound in commerce and
finance ; find through the influence and the power of her ex-
ample the country was saved from years of dishonor and
pecuniary embarrassment.

In 1814<, when the whole Southern coast was at the mercy
of the public enemy, and portions of it ravaged and laid
waste, when the administration here was too weak to defend
the capital, and when the very edifice in which we sit was
given to the flames by British vandalism. New York stood
again almost alone and unassisted, and carried on the contest
upon her own frontier chiefly with her own means. She
raised money and men, and contributed to sustain the honor


of our arms in a series of the most desperate engagements
ever fought on this continent.

Of her institutions, social and political, I need say noth-
ing, — the monuments she has reared to science, and to the
arts, her great artificial channels of intercourse, and above
all, her system of common-school education, embracing every
child that is born or is brought within her limits. These are
well known to all who hear me ; and they say for her more
than any words of mine can speak.

Less than a year ago two noble-spirited bands stood, side
by side, on one of the bloodiest battle-fields of Mexico.
They were led on by chivalrous men, animated by the single
resolution of upholding their country's honor and their own.
They Mere the New York and the Palmetto regiments. The
blows they gave fell upon the ranks of the enemy with equal
force; those they received were sustained with equal firm-
ness. More than a third of these gallant combatants fell
together. The grass, which has groAvii up rich and rank
upon that battle-fielil, can tell wliere their blood was poured
out in common streams. The noble leader of the Palmetto
regiment was among the slain,^ — borne from the field of
carnage, {)erhaps, by the united hands of those whom he led,
and those who, though coming from a distant part of the
Union, fought by his side with the same devotion as his own
followers. Sir, there should be something in these sacred
memories to disarm reproach — at least of its injustice.
Let me commend them to the calm reflection of the Senator
from South Carolina, who has so deep an interest in the glory
and the grief of that battle-field. He is neither ungenerous
nor unjust. Let me ask him to think of these things, and
say whether some good may not come from New York.

But I j)ass to a charge more immediately connected with
the subject under discussion — the application of the princi-
ples of the ordinance of 1787 to the territories of the United

1 Colonel Butler here alluded to was the brother of the Senator to whom Mr.
Dix was replying.


States. This charge concerns the whole North ; and I am
ready to meet it.

In 184«6 and 184-7, most of the non-slaveholding States,
on In'gh considerations of moral and political principle,, de-
clared, that no new territory ought to be acquired without a
fundamental provision excluding slavery. These declarations
had an express and an exclusive reference to acquisitions
from Mexico, where slavery had long been abolished, both
by executive and constitutional acts. They amounted prac-
tically to declarations against the extension of slavery to free
territory, and no more. New York did not take the lead in
these declarations. The first legislative resolutions received
here came from the State of Vermont, and were presented to
this body on the 28th January, 1847. The New York reso-
lutions were presented on the 6th February ensuing ; those
of Pennsylvania on the 8th ; of Rhode Island, on the 10th ;
of Ohio, on the 16th ; of New Hampshire and New Jersey,
on the 19th; of Michigan, on the 1st of March; and of
Massachusetts, on the 3d, — the last day of the session.
Connecticut passed resolutions on the 24th of June ; but
Congress had then adjourned, and they were presented at
the commencement of the subsequent session. Delaware, a
slaveholding State, followed, and requested her (Senators to
vote for the exclusion of slavery from territory thereafter
to be acquired. Here are eleven States which have passed
resolutions on this question. It was a spontaneous move-
ment on the part of the non-slaveholding States, neither
led on by New York nor set on foot by her, but arising out
of indications in Congress of an intention to acquire terri-
tory from Mexico, and leave it open to the introduction of
slaves ; and every one knows they will be carried wherever
they are permitted.

On looking at the dates of these several resolutions, I find
New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Pennsylva-
nia preceded New York, in the order in which I name them,
in acting on this subject in their respective legislatures.


Three of the small New-England States, which the Senator
from Virginia, who spoke first on this question,^ would have
us believe New York was seeking to seduce, and in the end
to swallow up, were actually the pioneers in this movement.
Pennsylvania was next in the field. New York did but fol-
low and sustain them in their declarations against the exten-
sion of slavery to territory in which it does not exist.

Such is the history of this movement, commencing as
far back as July, 1846, almost coeval with the war with
Mexico, and originating in a charge of intending to conquer
territory for the purpose of planting slaverer upon it. And
these public declarations may perhaps be properly regarded
in a tVA'^ofold light, so far as motive, on the part of the leg-
islatures, is concerned : first, to exonerate themselves from
the imputation ; and, second, to array their influence against
such a design, if it should be entertained in any quarter.

Let me now take a somewhat larger view of this whole
subject of Northern aggression. It VA^as said, I think,
by a Southern member of the Federal convention, though
it may have been in Congress after the adoption of the
Constitution, that no slaveholding State would thereafter be
admitted into the Union ; that there were eight States in-
terested in abolishing slaverv, and five interested in main-
taining it, and that they would act accordingly in voting
for the admission of new States. This prophecy had no
foundation in truth. The members of Congress from the
North have voted as freely and readily for the admission
of slaveholding- as for non-slaveholdino- States into the Union.
If we look around us upon this floor, we shall find all prog-
nostics founded upon the supposed prejudices or the unkind
feeling of the North utterly falsified. Sir, there are ten
Senators here representing slaveholding States formed from
territory acquired since the Constitution was adopted. How
many are there representing free States formed from new
territory 1 Not a single one ! But for a domestic difficulty

1 Mr. Mason.


in Iowa, it is true, that State would have been represented
here, and we should then have had two Senators from free
States against ten from slaveholdlng States formed out of
territory purchased by the common treasure and maintained
by the common blood of the whole Union. We have
given up the territory constituting these States to the South.
We have reserved no portion of them to Northern emigra-
tion, excepting the misshapen strip of Texas north of 36°
30', which, so far as extent and productive value are con-
cerned, is, for all purposes of a fair and equitable division,
the merest mockery. The area of these five States is equal
to two thirds of the entire area of the thirteen original States.
This the North has done for the maintenance of slavery, —
sir, I might say for the extension of slavery and the multi-
plication of slaves ; for this vast surface was almost unin-
habited when it was acquired, and it is now filled up with
a slaveholding population. There are more than half a
million of slaves in these five States, not one tenth part of
whom would have been there, if the right to exclude them
had been insisted on. But we have stood on the ground
of non-interference. Where we have found slavery, we
have left it. We have not countenanced any measure of
abolition or emancipation. On the contrary, we have uni-
formly opposed all interference with slavery in the States.
With the single exception of the Louisiana territory, we
have left it to spread itself over the areas on which it ex-
isted only nominally. We have almost gone, at the North,
to the extreme of mobbing abolitionism, when it contem-
plated interference with the question of slavery in the States,
and of instituting a scrutiny of the public mails to arrest
the circulation of incendiary publications. And now, after
all this active cooperation in the promotion of the objects
and interests of the slaveholding States, how are we met ?
By charges of aggression, of hostility, and of violating the
constitutional compact.

Sir, we stand firmly upon the compromises of the Consti-



tution. We have ever done so. We shall continue to do so.
We have gone further. We have opposed all interference
by Congress with slavery in the District of Columbia, over
which Congress is empowered by the Constitution to " ex-
ercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever." Beyond
this we cannot go. I deny that any compromise in framing
the Constitution, or any guaranty arising under its provis-
ions, extends, or was designed to extend, to the regulation
of slavery in the territories. What were the compromises
of the Constitution] They were three: 1. That the small
States should be equally represented in the Senate with the
large States ; 2. That tlie slave population in the States
should constitute a part of the basis of representation in
Congress ; 3. That the importation of slaves into the States
then existing should not be prohibited prior to 1808. These
were the three great compromises on which the adoption of
the Constitution may be considered as having turned. In
settling them, some reference was naturally had to the dis-
tribution and regulation of the powers vested in the Federal
government and reserved to the States and the people re-

Now, sir, what was the security sought for by the South
in the adoption of these compromises ? Was it tliat Con-
gress should impose no restriction on the extension of slavery
to the territories 1 No, sir. That power I have no doubt

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 31 of 40)