John A. (John Adams) Dix.

Speeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) online

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was left, so ftir as it was contemplated at all, to be exercised
by Congress, according to its own views of humanity and
justice. I humbly think this construction sustained by what
I said on a former occasion. It is shown also by the deed
of the cession by North Carolina of western territory now
constituting the State of Tennessee, in which it was provided,
" that no regulations made, or to be made, by Congress shall
tend to emancipate slaves," — a prohibition implying a right
to regulate, restrict, and exclude them.

The Senator from Florida ^ read to the Senate yesterday
1 Mr. Wcstcott


the facsimile of an original paper found among the man-
uscripts of Mr. Monroe, and in liis handwriting, by wliich
it appears, that when the Missouri compromise act, as it is
called, was passed, he took the opinions of the members of
his Cabinet, in writing, in respect to the constitutionality
of that act. The Senator from South Carolina ^ was one
of the Cabinet; and as I took, and endeavored to sustain,
on a late occasion, the position that Congress possesses the
right to prohibit slavery in the territoi-ies of the United States,
I am naturally desirous of fortifying it with all the authority
I can command ; and I shall be particularly gratified, if it
shall be found that the distingnisiied Senator alluded to,
though now denying the right, was then in favor of it.
I will read to the Senate all of this paper which relates
to the subject : —

(From Mr. Monroe's manuscripts.) — A paper indorsed " Interroga-
tories, Missouri ; March 4, 1820. To the Heads of Departments
and Attorney- General : "
Questions (on opposite page) :

" Has Congress a right, under the powers vested in it by the Con-
stitution, to make a reguhition prohibiting slavery in a Territory ?

" Is the eighth section of the act which passed both Houses on the
3d instant, for the admission of Missouri into the Union, consistent
with the Constitution ? "

With the above is the original draught of the following
letter, in President Monroe's handwriting, on half a sheet
of paper, but not indorsed or addressed to any one. There
are interlineations, but the text, as left by the writer, is as
follows : —

'• Dear Sir : The question which lately agitated Congress and the
public has been settled, as you have seen, by the passage of an act
for the admission of Missouri as a State, unrestrained, and Arkansas
likewise, when it reaches maturity, and the establishment of the 36°
30' north latitude as a line, north of which slavery is prohibited, and
permitted to the south. I took the opinion, in wi'iting, of the Admm-
istration as to the constitutionality of restraining Territories, \/ind the
vote of every member loas unanimous and. '-] which was explicit in favor

1 Mr. Calhoun. ^ tIio words in Italics are erased in the original draught.


of it, and as it was that the 8th section of the act was apphcable to
Territories only, and not to States when they should be admitted into
the Union, On this latter point I had at first some doubt ; but the
opinioQ of others, whose opinions were entitled to weight with me,
supported by the sense in which it was viewed by all who voted on the
subject in Congress, as will appear by the Journals, satisfied me re-
specting it."

This letter has been supposed to have been written to
General Jackson, though there is no evidence of the fact.

Mr. FooTE, "Were these interrogatories sent? or was it merely a
statement for his own private convenience ?

It is impossible to say, except so far as the paper may
be considered as indicating the use made of them. I state
the facts as they have been related to me. The paper was
found among Mr. Monroe's manuscripts, and is in his hand-
writing. It was read to the Senate yesterday by the Sena-
tor from Florida,^ for another purpose, and the evidence of
its authenticity I understand to be in his possession.

IMr. Calhoux. If the Senator will give way, it will be perhaps bet-
ter that I make a statement at once respecting this subject, as far as
my recollection will serve me. During the whole period of Mr. Mon-
roe's administration, I remember no occasion on which the members of
his administration gave written ojiinions. I have an impi"ession —
though not a very distinct one — that on one occasion they were
required to give written opinions ; but for some reason, not now recol-
lected, the request was not carried into effect. He was decidedly
opposed to the imposition of any restriction on the admission of Mis-
souri into the Union, and I am strongly of the impression that he was
opposed in feeling to what was called the Missouri compromise,

Mr. JoHXSOX, of Maryland, Is this the original letter ?

I understand it to be a facsimile of the original. As
a long period (nearly thirty yearsj has elapsed since the act
to admit Missouri into the Union was passed, it is quite
natural that the Senator from South Carolina should have
forgotten the circumstances attending the discussion of it
in the Cabinet. Having heard, some days ago, of the ex-
istence of such a paper, and being very desirous of ascertain-
ing the facts, I wrote to Mr. Charles Francis Adams, of

1 Mr. Westcott.


Boston, a son of the late ex-President, inquiring of him if his
father's diary contained anything- on the subject. In reply to
my inquiry, I received an extract from the diary of the father,
certified by the son, which I will now read, and which con-
firms fully the statement contained in Mr. Monroe's letter :

Extracts from the Diary of John Quincy Adams.

"March 3, 1820. — Wlien I came this day to my office, I found
there a note requesting me to call at one o'clock at the President's
House. It was then one, and I immediately went over. He expected
that the two bills, for the admission of Maine and to enable INIissouri
to make a constitution, would have been brought to hira for his signa-
ture ; and he had summoned all the members of the Administration
to ask their opinions in wiuting, to be deposited in the Department of
State, upon two qiiestions : 1, Whether Congress had a constitutional
right to prohibit slavery in a Territory ? and 2, Whether the 8th sec-
tion of the Missouri bill (which interdicts slavery forever in the terri-
tory north of 36i latitude) was applicable only to the territorial state,
or would extend to it after it should become a State ? As to the first
question, it was unanimously agreed that Congress have the power to
prohibit slavery in the Territories."

This is the first extract ; and before I proceed to the
others, I will state that, in respect to the second question,
there was a diversity of opinion, — Mr. Adams contending
that a State would be bound by such a prohibition after its
admission into the Union, and the other members of the
Cabinet, that it was only operative during the territorial
term. In order to secure unanimity in the answers, the
second question was modified, as will appear by the remain-
ing extracts which I proceed to give : —

" March 5. — The President sent me yesterday the two questions
in writing, upon which he desired to have answers in writing, to be
deposited in the Department of State. He wrote me that it would be
in time, if he should have the answers to-morrow. The first question
is in general terms, as it was stated at the meeting on Friday. The
second was modified to an inquiry whether the 8th section of the Mis-
souri bill is consistent with the Constitution. To this I can without
hesitation answer by a simple affirmative, and so after some reflection I
concluded to answer both

" March G I took to the President's my answers to his two


constitutional questions, and he desired me to have them deposited in
the department, together with those of the other members of the Ad-
ministration. They differed only as they assigned their reason for
thinking the 8th section of the Missouri bill consistent with the Con-
stitution, because they considered it as only applying to the terri-
torial term ; and I barely gave my opinion, without assigning for it
any explanatory reason. The President signed the Missouri bill this

These extracts are certified to be

" a true copy from the original by me,

" Charles Francis Adams."
Mr. Calhoun. Has any search been made in the State Depart-
ment for these written opinions ?

The State Department has been examined, — how thor-
oughly I do not know, — but they have not been found.

Mr. Westcott. I made an examination, as I stated yesterday,
myself, but could find none. This letter is in Mr. Monroe's handwrit-
ing, and from its tenor is supposed to have been intended to be ad-
di'esscd to General Jackson. I understand that, upon examination of
General Jackson's papers, a letter was found from Mr. ]\Ionroe, con-
taining everything which is contained in this draught, except that part
which relates to the action of the Cabinet. The letter was also dated
the same day. I presume, therefore, that, upon writing the letter to
General Jackson, ultimately, unless it was intended for some one else,
Mr. Monroe left out that portion relating to the action of the Cabinet in
relation to the " Missouri compromise."

I have examined the letter referred to, as addressed to
General Jackson, and find that it was written in 18)21, while
the paper containing the interrogatories was dated the 4th of
March, 1820; and the former has only two of the last para-
graphs of the letter before us ; all the rest being dift'erent.

Mr. Calhoun. If any written opinion was ever given by me, it
has entirely escaped my memory ; and I feel satisfied, if ever given,
it was very little more than an assent or dissent to the course adopted
by the Administration. J\Ir. Adams had the advantage of keeping a
diary, which no doubt may be relied upon, as far as he is individually
concerned; but which, of course, is liable to mistakes, as far as it rep-
resents the views and acts of others. In this case there may be some
explanation, if all the facts were known, which would reconcile his
statement with my recollection. But of one thing I feel perfectly


sure, that I could never have directed my attention and foi-med an
opinion on so important a subject, as a member of his Cabinet, and re-
duced it to writing, for the purpose of being preserved, without recol-
lecting it.

Mr. JoHXSON, of Maryland, was understood to say, that, on exam-
ining tlie letter, he did not think it sustained the fact the Senator
from New York was endeavoring to prove. He observed that Mr.
Monroe had first stated that the opinion of the Administration was
unanimous, and that he had erased the word unanimous, and substi-
tuted the word explicit, which had quite a different meaning.

Mr. Calhoux. I feel justified in saying, from all the circumstan-
ces of this case, including the facts stated by the Senator from IMary-
land, and the absence of any written opinion on the file of the State
Department, that, notwithstanding the certificate from Mr. Adams's
diary, no such opinions were given as it states. There is some mis-
take about it, but how it originated I am at a loss to conceive. Per-
haps it may be explained by the vague impression, as I have stated,
on my mind, that the opmions were called for, but never formally
given in writing, at least not beyond a mere assent or dissent as to the
course ultimately adopted. I know well all about the compromise ;
the cause which led to it, and the reason why, that the Northern men
who voted against it were universally sacrificed for so doing. It is
quite a mistake, as some suppose, that they were sacrificed for voting
for the compromise. The very reverse is the case. The cause I will
proceed to state : During the session of the compromise, Mr. Lowndes
and myself resided together. He was a member of the House of
Representatives, and I was Secretary of War. We both felt the
-magnitude of the subject. Missouri, at the preceding session, had
presented herself for admission as a member of the Union. She had
formed a constitution and government, in accordance with an act of
Congress. Her admission was refused on the ground that her con-
stitution admitted of slavery ; and she was remanded back to have
the objectionable provision expunged. She refused to comply with
the requisition, and at the next session again knocked at the door of
Congress for admission, with her constitution as it originally stood.
This gave rise to one of the most agitating discussions that ever oc-
curred in Congress. The subject was one of repeated conversation
between Mr. Lowndes and myself. The question was, what was to
be done, and what would be the consequence if she was not admitted ?
After full reflection, we both agreed that Missouri was a State made
so by a regular process of law, and never could be remanded back to
the territorial condition. Such being the case, we also agreed that
the only question was, whether she should be a State in or out of
the Union? and it was for Congress to decide which position she


should occupy. My friend made one of his able and lucid speeches on
the occasion ; but whether it has been preserved or not, I am not able
to say. It carried conviction to the minds of all, and in fact settled
the question. The question was narrowed down to a single point.
All saw that if Missouri was not admitted, she would remain an inde-
pendent state on the w^est bank of the Mississippi, and would become
the nucleus of a new confederation of states extending over the whole
of Louisiana. None were willing to contribute to such a result ; and
the only question that remained with the Northern members who had
opposed her admission was, to devise some means of escaping from the
awkward dilemma in which they found themselves. To back out or
compromise, were the only alternatives left ; and the latter was eagerly
seized to avoid the disgrace of the former, — so eagerly, that all who
opposed it at the North were considered traitors to that section of the
Union, and sacrificed for their votes.

Mr. FoOTE. The gentleman referred to, and from whose journal
an extract has been read, as is well known, has been always regarded
as a most violent partisan of the peculiar views he held in relation to
this subject. I beg leave most i-espectfully to inquire of the honor-
able Senator from New York, whether this statement or extract read
has been sworn to or not ?

The statement was, as I have said, taken from the diary of
Mr. Adams,- certified, but not sworn to, by his son, a gentle-
man of tile liighest respectability.

I do not intend to enter into any discussion concerning the
Missouri compromise, or the testimony I have presented. I
leave it to speak for itself, and to others to say how far it
shall be considered to outweigh the recollections of the Sena-
tor from South Carolina. I will only add, that there is the
strongest possible coincidence between Mr. Monroe's letter
and Mr. Adams's diary in all the important facts. Both
state the questions to have been " in writing " ; both show
that they were submitted in the shape in which they were to
be answered, on the 4th of March, 1820. The identity of
the questions is another striking coincidence. The only
material variation is that suggested by the Senator from
Maryland. Mr. Adams states, that the opinion of the mem-
bers of the Cabinet was " unanimous " in favor of the power
of Congress to prohibit slavery in the tenitories of the


United States. Mr. Monroe wrote " unanimous " in the first
instance, and then substituted "exphcit," — an alteration he'
might very naturally have made, on reflection, in writing to
a friend, in order to avoid giving a clue to the opinions of
individual members of his administration. The answers
were very brief, as Mr. Adams shows ; but from the man-
ner in which the questions were drawn, the answers, whether
aflfirmative or negative, must either have asserted or denied
the constitutional power of Congress to prohibit slavery in
the territories. But all this I am willing to submit to the
candid judgment of others.

Let me now cite a few of the remarks made in the Fed-
eral convention on the subject of slavery and slave represen-
tation. On the 12th of July, Mr. Randolph, of Virginia,
said, " That express security ought to be provided for includ-
ing slaves in the ratio of representation. He lamented that
such a species of property existed ; but as it did exist, the
holders of it would require this security. It was perceived
that the design was entertained by some of excluding slaves
altogether ; the legislature, therefore, ought not to be left at

In the convention of Virginia, by which the Constitution
was ratified. Governor Randolph entered into an elaborate
argument to show that Congress had no right to abolish sla-
very in the States. It was feared that under the power of
prohibiting the slave-trade, or under the power to regulate
commerce, or under some implied power, slavery within the
limits of the States might be interfered with by Congress.

On the 13th of July, Mr. Butler, of South Carolina,
said : " The security the Southern States want is, that their
negroes may not be taken from them, which some gentlemen
within or without doors have a very good mind to do."

This was the tenor of the discussions in the State conven-
tions by which the Constitution was ratified. They looked
to security from abolition or emancipation by Congress within
their own limits. Extension of slavery beyond their limits



was hardly thought of; and I have no hesitation in saying-,
from the tone of the debates, that, if it had been fully dis-
cussed, it would have been to brand it with general disap-

On the 22d of August, a very full and interesting debate
arose in the Federal convention on the question of prohibiting
the importation- of slaves. The only objects contended for
in any quarter were, the right to import them, and an exemp-
tion of the States from all interference with slavery within
their own limits on the part of the Federal government. It
was generally conceded, except by the extreme South, that
slavery would ultimately be abolished. And yet the slave
population has gone on steadily increasing, from 600,000 to
3,000,000 of souls ; and now we are engaged in a struggle
to enlarge the area of slavery, or to prevent its exclusion
from tenitory in which it does not exist.

Mr. Calhoun. I must beg the Senator from New York to state
me more correctly. We are not contending for the extension of the
area of slavery, and if he places us upon that ground, he places us in
a very false position. What we do contend for is, that the Southern
States, as members of our Union, are entitled to equal rights and equal
dignity, in every respect, with the northern ; and that there is nothing
in the Constitution to deprive us of this equality, in consequence of
being slaveholders.

The Senator contends for the right of carrying slaves into
the territories. I understand this to be an extension of sla-
very, and with all deference to him, I can call it by no other

In connection with this subject, we were asked by the Sen-
ator from Virginia, whether any one believes that State
would ever have come into the Union, if the right to exclude
slaves from the territories had been insisted on 1 I answer,
yes; and on the strength of the known ooinions of her dele-
gates in the convention.

Mr. Madison would not consent " to admit in the Consti-
tution the idea that there could be property in men." He
was unwilling to postpone the prohibition of the slave-trade


twenty years. " So long a term," he added, " will be more
dishonorable to the American character than to say nothing
about it in the Constitution." His laiiguage and his action
then, and on all occasions, were in favor of the restriction of
slavery, and not in favor of its extension. The opinion of
General Washington, the President of the convention, on the
subject of slavery, is well known. I have already referred
to the opinion of Mr. Randolph. Colonel Mason was still
more decided and explicit. His language may be quoted
now with the more effect, when those who have come after
him differ with him so widely in opinion : —

" This infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British merchants.
The British government constantly checked the attempts of Virginia
to put a stop to it. The present question concerns not the importing
States alone, but the whole Union. The evil of having slaves was
experienced during the late war. Had slaves been treated as they
might have been by the enemy, they would have proved dangerous
instruments in their hands ; but their folly dealt by the slaves as it did

by the Tories Maryland and Virginia (he said) had already

prohibited the importation of slaves expressly ; North Carolina had
done the same in substance. All this would be in vain, if South
Carolina and Georgia be at liberty to import. The western people
are already calling out for slaves for their new lands, and will fill that
country w^ith slaves if they can be got through South Carolina and
Georgia. Slavery discourages arts and manufactures. The poor de-
spise labor, when performed by slaves : they prevent the emigration

of whites who really enrich and strengthen a country As to

the States being in possession of the right to import, this Avas the case
with many other rights now to be properly given up. He held it
essential, in every point of view, that the general government should
have power to prevent the increase of slavery."

To this declaration in the Federal convention, I might add,
that, in the convention of Virginia, he alleged, as one of the
objections to the Constitution, that it continued the slave-
trade for twenty-two years.

The Senator from Virginia wears, with equal dignity and
grace, the name of the illustrious statesman I have quoted.
It is quite probable that there is a closer bond of connection


between them.^ But how different is their language, and the
causes they have espoused, at the distance of more than half
a century from each other ! The patriot of the revolution
denounced the British government for forcing slaves upon
Virginia ao;"ainst her remonstrances. The Senator from that
State is contending here, in her name, for the right to carry
slaves into Oregon, against the wishes and prohibitions of
the inhabitants.

But to return from this digression. The four distin-
guished individuals I have named constituted a majority of
the delegation from Virginia ; and I believe I am authorized,
from their avowed opinions, to say, that if there had been a
positive provision in the Constitution authorizing Congress
to prohibit the introduction of slaves into territories there-
after to be acquired, it would not only not have been deemed
an impediment to the accession of Virginia to the Union, but
that it would have met their decided approbation. But in
this case, as in many others, the framers of the Constitution
fell far short of the reality, when they looked forward to the
future progress of the country. The period in which they
lived was enveloped in uncertainty and doubt ; and it was
only reserved to a few of the more sanguine to obtain some
partial glimpses of the prosperity and fame to which their
country was destined. It was the very limited foreknowl-
edge of her growth and extension, which left so many of
the exigencies we have met unprovided for by direct and
positive regulation.

Mr. President, it was chiefly in the school of Virginia that
the little knowledge I possess of the theory of our institu-
tions, and of the principles of political liberty and justice,
was acquired. I have been accustomed to regard Mr.
Jeflferson as a standard, to which we might safely refer for
the settlement of most questions of political power and
duty: and it is with something more than ordinary pain

1 Mr. Dix subsequently ascertained that the Senator was a grandson of Col-
onel Mason.


and regret that I have seen his principles assailed, and his
acts repudiated and condemned.

I was not a little surprised, too, to hear the Senator from
Virginia rest the legal justification of slavery upon the
right of conquest, and its introduction into that State during
her colonial dependence on the common law of England.

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 32 of 40)