John A. (John Adams) Dix.

Speeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) online

. (page 34 of 40)
Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 34 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

present. I take it as it is. The territorial government is
prohibited from legislating ; Congress does not legislate ;
and slavery will extend itself over the whole of New Mex-
ico and California. It will enter the great basin ; it will
take possession of the maritime valley of California — the
American Italy ; and when planted there, neither you, sir,
nor I, nor our children, will live to see it eradicated.

And, with this assurance, which no man can reasonably
doubt, we are invited to leave this matter " to the silent
operation of the Constitution" ; when we all know that the
Constitution does no more than vest in Congress the power
to legislate for the territories. It is an invitation to us
to leave this power unexercised, and to let slavery extend
itself wherever self-interest can carry it. It is the same
argument that was used in the Federal convention against
the abolition of the slave-trade. Our fathers were invited to
leave the whole subject to the laws of nature. It is the
argument which has been employed on all occasions to resist
every attempt to prevent the extension of slavery. It was
urged against restrictions upon Louisiana, against restric-
tions upon the territory northwest of the Ohio river, against

1 Mr. Calhoun.



restrictions upon the territory west and northwest of the
Mississippi, when Missouri was admitted into the Union.
Did those who have gone before us yield to these per-
suasions of self-interest? No, sir; they refused to accede
to them. They prohibited the introduction of slaves into
the territories. They considered it as a political question,
proper only to be decided by themselves, and not to be
shuffled off upon the judiciary. They met the responsibility
like men, and decided it according- to the dictates of duty
and right. This scheme of the committee, so far as it pro-
fesses to be a compromise, secures nothing to the North.
To the South it yields up all. It concedes all that is asked,
all that is desired. It imposes no restrictions ; it sets up
no barrier ; it leaves the whole field open to be entered,
and taken possession of, unresisted and unopposed. It is
an unconditional surrende: ; it has not even the grace of
a capitulation upon terns.

If gentlemen suppose this proposition will calm the pre-
vailing excitement, th.y are greatly mistaken. What does it
contain calculated to allay agitation in the North \ Does it
concede anything to the non-slaveholding States \ No, sir.
It excludes slavery nowhere — not even in Oregon. It
only continues her prohibition in force for three months after
the first meeting of her legislative assembly. The prohi-
bition is then to cease. From that moment slaves may be
introduced, unless the prohibition is reenacted. They \vill
not be excluded then, if Congress shall disapprove the reen-
actnient. Oregon comes here with an organic law prohib-
iting slavery forever; and we throw it back upon her with a
mere temporary vitality. We virtually invite her to recon-
sider it, as if it had been passed without due reflection, or
as if, on further deliberation, she may think it advisable to
receive slaves into her bosom. Indeed, it is not necessary
for her to do any act. She has only to be passive. We
virtually repeal the prohibition. And this the committee
give us to calm excitement ! Sir, I consider this whole



scheme of legislation unworthy of the high character of the
country, unworthy of our fathers, unworthy of ourselves.
It is commended to us, that Congress may avoid the decis-
ion of the question. It is an evasion of responsihility,
which will defeat its own purpose. It is sowing the seeds
of a future agitation, vastly more profound and exciting
than this. It is a temporary colonization of this controversy,
to be sent out to the Pacific to stir up dissension among the
first settlers, and then to be brought back here, after a time,
to renew agitation among ourselves. It will turn out, like
every other device of timidity, which shrinks from one em-
barrassment only to plunge deeper into another.

But, sir, we have reason to be thankful that our case is
not utterly void of hope. We are flattered by the chairman
of the committee with the assurance, that Congress will be
at liberty hereafter to give us the Missouri compromise, and
run out the line of 86° 30' to the Pacific. He considers
the arrangement temporary.

It is not so with the Senator fiom South Carolina.^
He has pronounced it permanent. And, what is eminently
worthy of attention, the bill was to speak for itself. It was
so announced. Well, sir, it has spoken for several members
of the committee ; and it is so artfully or so inartificially
contrived, that it speaks a totally different language in each

But let us pause and survey this bow of promise which
the chairman of the committee has hung out in the distance
for our encouragement and hope — the Missouri compro-
mise. When it presents itself, I shall be opposed to it —
utterly, irreconcilably ; because it will extend slavery where
it does not exist ; because it would subvert the laws of Mex-
ico which have abolished slavery, and introduce it where it
is proliibited. It bears no analogy to the compromise of
18!20. That settlement of the question, which was confined -
to Louisiana, contracted the area of slavery. This wouhst

1 Mr. Calhoun.



extend It. The whole of Louisiana was open to the intro-
duction of slaves. Slavery nominally existed there. But
beyond the limits of the State of Missouri, north of 36° S(y,
the territory was nearly uninhabited. The compromise in-
vaded no right. It was no act of abolition or emancipation;
but it prohibited the extension of slavery to areas over which,
without such a prohibition, it would have been extended.
How widely different is this proposition ? It is to extend
slavery where, without the sanction of the public authority,
direct or indirect, it cannot go or exist. It is a proposition
to establish slavery by law in a district of country more than
two hundred thousand square miles in extent, equal to the
entire area of France or the Spanish peninsula. On every
principle of justice and right I shall be opposed to it: justice
to ourselves, to our national character, and to the future mill-
ions who are to occupy the great Pacific, or maritime valley
of California — literally the Italy of America, in all but the
monuments and classical recollections of the other. Let us
look at this question practically. The proposed compromise
would carry out the line of 36° SCX to the Pacific, and pro-
hibit slavery north of it. Let us see the geographical di-
visions it would make. It would divide New Mexico just
above Santa Fe, leaving that city and two thirds of the entire
state or territory to the South. How is the distinction be-
tween free and slave territory to be maintained ] Are we to
have two territories with separate political organizations, or
only one with an astronomical line separating the bond from
the free ? Passing New Mexico, the compromise line would
cross the Sierra Madre, or Rocky-Mountain chain, and enter
a district but little explored, but, so far as known, barren
and almost worthless, — leaving a strip of three parallels of
latitude to the South. It would next graze the great basin
of California — one of the most remarkable features in the
geographical conformation of this continent — represented
by Fremont as Asiatic rather than i\.merican in its character.
It is five hundred miles in extent in all directions, enclosed


by mountains, — the Sierra Maclre on one side, and the
Sierra Nevada on the other, — and has its own systems of
lakes and rivers. It is for the most part sterile, but with
numerous and in some cases extensive tracts capable of
cultivation. Passing the great basin without touching it, the
compromise line would cross the Sierra Nevada, and enter
the maritime valley of California, five hundred miles in length
and one hundred and fifty in width from the summit of the
mountain chain, which forms its eastern boundary, to the
coast range on the Pacific. This valley — the finest in the
western hemisphere — is represented by Fremont as bearing
a close resemblance to Italy in extent, in climate, and in its
capacity for production. It is the natural region of the vine
and the olive, and of the infinite variety of grains and fruits
which the earth brings forth in tropical climates. Though
much farther north, it has all the mildness of the tropical
regions on the eastern face of this continent. The compro-
mise line would sever this noble valley latitudinally, leaving
four hundred miles to the North and one hundred to the
South. It yields nothing to the production of which slave
labor is necessary. Slavery would go there as a bane and
a hindrance, rather than as an aid, even to production.
Why, then, seek to introduce it, when no good purpose is to
be answered, when it can only prove an element of unmixed
evil ? Why sever a region which nature designed for unity
in its geographical conformation, its climate, soil, and capacity
for production ^ How is the social distinction which the
compromise line would introduce to be preserved inviolate ?
Will you hav'e two governments, or one with an imaginary
line to define the boundary between slavery and freedom 1
Sir, this whole scheme of division is wrong in all its elements,
— geographically, politically, morally wrong, — and I will
have no part in it.

Such, Mr. President, would be the Missouri compromise
line, applied to New Mexico and California. Bad as it
would be, the bill reported by the committee is still worse.


It leaves all open : it surrenders all. It will dedicate the
whole of this noble valley to slavery, and exclude from it the
freemen of the North, who will not go where their labor is
to be degraded by mingling it with the labor of blacks.
Sir, there were gallant bands from the North and West, who
" coined their hearts and dropped their blood for drachmas "
on the ensanguined plains of Mexico to make this acquisi-
tion. They are gone beyond the reach of sympathy on the
one hand, or injustice on the other. But against their fa-
thers and their children, you will by this act put forth an
edict of perpetual exclusion from an inheritance purchased
by filial and paternal blood.

There is another consideration which ought not to be
overlooked. We have been accused, for the last two years,
of makino- war on Mexico to obtain territory for the exten-
sion of slavery. We have denied the truth of these impu-
tations. We have resented them as doing injustice to our
intentions. And yet, sir, the treaty is hardly ratified before
we are engaged in a struggle in the American Senate to
extend slavery to the territory we have acquired. How
can we stand up, in the face of the civilized world, and deny
these imputations, if the proposition of leaving these territo-
ries open to the introduction of slaves is consummated 1

I do entreat our Southern friends earnestly, solemnly, not
to press this measure upon us : I mean that of insisting on
the right to carry slaves into New Mexico and California.
I say to you in sincerity and with the deepest conviction of
the truth of what I say, that the Northern feeling can go
no further in this direction. I appeal to you, through the
memory of the past, to do us the justice we have rendered
to you. You asked for Florida. You said it shut you out
from the Gulf of Mexico. It was an inlet for political
intrigue and social disorganization. It was necessary for
your safety. We united with you to obtain it. Our blood,
our treasure was freely shared with you in making the ac-
quisition. We gave it up to you without reserve. You


asked for Texas. It was said to be in danger of falling
under the control of your commercial rivals. It was neces-
sary to your safety. You said it would become a theatre
for the intrigues of abolitionism. Your slave population
might be endangered without it. We united with you again,
and gave you back, by legislation and arms, what you had
lost a quarter of a century before by diplomacy. We have
now acquired free territory. We ask only that it may re-
main free. Do not ask us to unite with you in extending
slavery to it. We abstain from all interference with slavery
where it exists. We cannot sanction its extension, directly
or indirectly, where it does not exist. And if the authority
of the United States is exerted for this purpose, — if slavery
is carried into and established, as it will be by this bill, in
the territory we have acquired, — I am constrained to say, —
I say it in sorrow, — the bond of confidence which unites the
two sections of the Union will be rent asunder, and years of
alienation and unkindness may intervene before it can be
restored, if ever, in its wonted tenacity and strength. Not
that I have any present fears for the integrity of the Union.
I have not. It is capable of sustaining far ruder shocks
than any possible settlement of this question can give. But
what I fear is that the current of reciprocal kindness and
confidence, which runs through every portion of the commu-
nity, pervading, refreshing, invigorating all, may be turned
out of its course, and forced into channels to which the com-
mon feeling is alien, and in which it may be converted into
a fountain of bitterness and strife. I conjure you, then, to
avoid all this. Ask us not to do what every principle we
have been taught, and taught by your fathers, to venerate,
condemns as unnatural and unjust.


The following speech was delivered by Mr. Dix on the 23d of Jan-
uary, 1849, in support of a bill providing for reciprocal trade with
Canada, in certain enumerated articles. The subject had been for
several years before Congress, and though the i)roposition did not finally
succeed until some years later, the light shed upon it by the debate of
1849 no doubt contributed largely to its success.

Mr. President : Since this bill was taken up for discus-
sion I have been unable, from indisposition and other causes,
to bestow upon it the reflection which is due to the impor-
tance of the subject. But I will proceed, nevertheless, with
such preparation as I have been able to make, to explain the
objects of the measure and its probable effects ; and I will
endeavor, at the same time, to answer some of the leading
objections which have been made to it.

If I entertained the belief that the operation of the bill
would be prejudicial to the interest of any portion of
the Union, I should not be its advocate. The first object of
all public legislation is to advance the general welfare of the
country ; but this object ought certainly not to be sought
for at the expense of any particular section, or indeed of
any single interest. I believe this bill is entirely free from
objection in this respect, that it will be eminently advanta-
geous both to the United States and Canada, and do no
wrong or injury in any quarter.

Before I proceed to examine the practical operation of
the measure upon the commercial interests of the two coun-
tries, I wish to notice a preliminary objection which has
been raised.


It is supposed that the privileg'es conferred hy this hill
upon Canada will he extended, hy virtue of certain reci-
procity treaties into which we have entered, to the foreign
states with which those engagements have heen contracted.
I take a totally different view of the suhject. I believe
Senators have put an erroneous construction upon the obli-
gations of the compacts to which they refer.

We have reciprocity treaties with Russia, Denmark, Han-
over, Prussia, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the Hanseatic repub-
lics, and several other foreign countries. They are treaties
with sovereign states, and, by every fair rule of construc-
tion, their stipulations, so far as they guarantee reciprocity,
must be deemed to relate to engagements with other powers
equally independent. The commercial arrangement proposed
by this bill is with a European colony adjoining us, — one of
those dependencies which the states of the Eastern hem-
isphere are accustomed to except in their compacts with us
for reciprocity of commerce and navigation. If any of the
states with which we have treaties stipulating for the same
privileges which we confer on others had dependencies sit-
uated like Canada in respect to us, those states might per-
haps acquire in respect to such dependencies the same privi-
leges we shall confer on Canada if the bill passes ; but I do
not admit that they would acquire those privileges for their
metropolitan possessions, and for the reason that colonies
have always been made practical exceptions to the general
rule of international intercourse. Possibly a special reser-
vation may be necessary in every compact, from the provis-
ions of which it is designed to exclude them ; but I do not,
as I shall show, consider it a matter of any consequence in
this case. This we know in respect to Canada, that it is
not only expressly excluded from the terms of our commer-
cial intercourse with Great Britain, but it is the subject of
distinct stipulations ; and yet the British Legation, in ac-
cordance with the wishes of the Canadians, has urged this
measure upon us under instructions from home, without the


least idea that they would gain for Great Britain under our
reciprocity treaty with her the privileges they desire us to
confer on Canada.

Tile honorable Senator from Maryland ^ said that we had
" given a construction to these reciprocal provisions worthy
of notice ; " and he alluded to our treaty with Portugal in
1840, by which it was expressly agreed that the stipulation
in our treaty with France in 1831, in regard to French
wines, should not be interfered with. This construction is
perfectly consistent with the view of the subject I take. These
two treaties were with independent powers ; they were with
continental powers in Europe almost bordering on each
other ; and a g'eneral stipulation in respect to equality of
duties necessarily required an express reservation to author-
ize us to make the duties on any of their products unequal.
This, however, is a totally different thing from a commer-
cial arrangement between us and a European colony adjoin-
ing us.

But in coming to the conclusion that our commercial
relations with Russia, Prussia, and other powers, under the
reciprocity treaties we have formed with them, will not be
affected by this bill, I put it on other grounds.

These treaties relate to commerce and navigation, and are
intended to regulate the commercial intercourse carried on
by those countries with the United States on the ocean.
They have certainly not been understood as referring to
inland trade and exchange between countries bordering on
each other. The right to regulate their interior intercourse
with adjoining states has not been supposed to be at all im-
paired by these commercial engagements. If it were other-
wise, if these treaties restrained the states which are parties
to them from admitting articles free of duty from a neigh-
boring country, except upon condition of extending the same
privilege to the other contracting parties, we should at this
very moment be entitled? in our intercourse with Prussia, to

1 Mr. Pearce.


all the benefits of the custom-house exemptions of the Zoll-
Verein, of which that kingdom is a leading" member. Prus-
sia borders on a number of the ZoU-Verein States. These
states interchange with her their common products free of
duty under the Zoll-Verein compact, or Customs Union.
They have stood to each other in the same relation in which
we stand to Canada. They had duties on their respective
products as we have. They have abolished them, as we
propose to do in respect to Canada on a part of ours.

Now, will it be contended that we are entitled to the same
freedom of intercourse with Prussia which she shares with
those states, because she has stipulated to impose no higher
duties on our products than on those of other countries "?
Surely not ; and for the very reason that the stipulations of
our treaty with her are intended to apply to external inter-
course by sea, and not to inland arrangements between bor-
dering states. The intention of our treaties of reciprocity
is stamped upon them in characters not to be misunderstood.
The first stipulation (for those of latter years are of much
the same import) limits the reciprocal liberty of commerce
and navi"ation which the treaties were formed to secure to
" the ports, places, waters^ and rivers of the territories of
each party, wherein foreign commerce is permitted." The
second stipulation regulates the duties to be imposed on the
vessels of the contracting parties engaged in that commerce.
The third regulates the duties to be paid on the importation
or exportation of their respective products. I admit that,
by the letter of these treaties, this bill might affect our com-
mercial relations under them. But I insist that all compacts
are to be construed according to their manifest intention,
not by one stipulation alone, but by all which relate to the
same subject-matter ; and I might apply these observations
with great force to my first position, and say that those
treaties did not contemplate commercial relations with colo-
nial dependencies like Canada. But the whole tenor of
their stipulations shows them to have been designed to reg-


ulate commerce on the sea, and not the interior traffic car-
ried on by the inhabitants of countries separated from each
other by a mere statistical boundary or an astronomical line.
They are treaties of commerce and navigation — not of one
alone, but of both combined.

When this measure was first proposed, I inquired of the
State and Treasury Departments whether it would affect
our commercial relations with foreign states under reciproci-
ty treaties, and a decided answer was given by both in the
negativ^e. My own examination of the subject has brought
me to the same conclusion, whether upon the same grounds
I do not know.

If this construction be erroneous, if the privileges pro-
posed to be conferred on Canada will be extended to the for-
eign states referred to, then, I repeat, we sliall, on the same
principle, become entitled to the privileges of the Zoll-Verein,
in Prussia, and perhaps gain access for our products, through
her, to all the other states of that political association, com-
prehending, I believe, twenty-eight out of the thirty-seven
states of the Germanic Confederation. This would, prima
facie^ be an immense advantage, though it is not clear that
it would be of any practical benefit. But no one dreamt,
when our reciprocity treaties were formed, that they con-
ferred any such privileges on us ; and I venture to say it
will never occur to any of the states which are parties to
those treaties that the proposed arrangement with Canada
will confer any new privileges on them.

But if it were otherwise, the privileges the bill confers
are reciprocal. We concede nothing which we do not gain
in return. If Hanover, Prussia, and Mecklenburg-Schwerin
should acquire the privileges conferred on Canada by this
bill, we should acquire in respect to them the privileges the
bill confers on us. There would be entire reciprocity.
Our chances of profiting by the arrangement would be as
good as theirs. The Hanse-Towns might send us a few
more hams ; but there is scarcely an article enumerated in


the bill which can be brouglit to us with advantage from the
states on the German Ocean and the Baltic. We are too
distant for agricultural exchanges. Besides, we are essen-
tially as agricultural as they. Wheat is the only article
likely, under any circumstances, to come here, except in the
most inconsiderable quantities. In 1837, when flour was
ten, eleven, and twelve dollars a barrel, we received over a
million of bushels of wheat from Germany, not half the quan-
tity we sent in 1847 into Canada, Nova Scotia, and New
Brunswick ; but in the former year, under the influence of
these enormous prices, England herself sent us over seven
hundred thousand bushels, — nearly as much as Germany ;
and yet she imported in 18i7 over eighty-six millions of
bushels of grain. But such occasions very rarely occur ;

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 34 of 40)