John A. (John Adams) Dix.

Speeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) online

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tirely in accordance with the liberal principles by which we
profess to be governed. It would be but a poor encour-
agement to a country adopting our political maxims to some
extent, and carrying them into the administration of her
own commercial affairs, to be driven from the liberal policy
she has espoused into the old system of exclusion ; to be
thus checked at the very outset in her attempts to cast off
the shackles which she has regarded as the greatest imped-
iment to her prosperity ; to be forced to this alternative, too,
by us, the country, above all others, most interested in the
establishment and maintenance of an enlightened policy in
government and in commerce.


The sjDeech which follows — the lust made by Mr. Dix in the
Senate — was delivered on the 28th February, 1849, three days before
the adjournment of Congress. The question before the Senate, pre-
sented in a variety of forms, was the institution of governments for the
territories acquired from Mexico, — a question embarrassed throughout
by the determination of the Senators from the slave States to extend
slavery to those territories, and by a majority of the Senators from the
free States to guard, by an express prohibition, against what they deemed
a moral and political evil, and the national dishonor of restoring it where
it had been formally abolished.

I REGRET to be under the necessity of asking the indul-
gence of the Senate at this late period of the session ; but I
feel it my duty to make some remarks upon the amendment
offered by the Senator from Wisconsin,^ and the general
subject to which it relates. I regret also to be under the
necessity of discussing the question of providing a govern-
ment for California, in the form under which it is presented
to us, — in an amendment to an appropriation bill. Inde-
pendently of this objection, I have considered it from the
beginning a measure of too great importance to be disposed
of in this incidental manner. The proposition of the Sen-
ator from Tennessee,^ also in the form of an amendment to
this bill, was almost ruled out of this body, upon the ground
that it was incongruous and out of place. It received in
the end but four votes. I consider this amendment equally
irrelevant and misplaced.

The amendment of the Senator from Tennessee proposed to

admit California and New Mexico into the Union as a State.

The amendment of the Senator from Wisconsin arms the

President with extraordinary powers to govern these terri-

1 Mr. Walker. "^ Mr. Bell.


tories. On the score of congruity, in respect to the general
jDurposes of the bill upon which they were proposed to be in-
grafted, I see no difference between them ; and I do not
understand how one proposition should be resisted on the
ground that it is incongruous, and the other entertained as
unobjectionable in this respect. Although I did not concur
in the propriet)^ of the proposition of the Senator from Ten-
nessee, and although I considered his argument not very hap-
pily adjusted to the conclusion it aimed to enforce, yet I must
say that I decidedly prefer his proposition to the one before
us. I would rather admit California and New Mexico into
the Union as a State, wholly unfit as I think they are, than
to arm the President with despotic powers to govern them,
— not from any distrust of the individual by whom those
powers would be exercised, but because I consider such a
delegation of authority to any individual utterly indefensible.
The proposition of the Senator from Tennessee is disposed
of, and I have therefore not a word to say in respect to it.
But there are three other propositions before this body : first,
the bill introduced by the select committee, of which the
Senator from Illinois ^ is chairman ; second, the amendment
of the Senator from Wisconsin, now under immediate con-
sideration ; and, third, the territorial bill which was received
from the House yesterday, and referred to the Committee on
Territories this morning. The first creates a State out of
a portion of Cahfornia, and admits it into the Union ; it also
creates the State of New Mexico mfuturo^ and leaves it out
^pf the Union. The amendment of the Senator from Wis-
^consin vests in the President all the power which a state or
territorial government ought to possess over both territories.
It authorizes him to prescribe and establish all proper and
needful rules and regulations, in conformity with the Con-
stitution of the United States, to carry into operation the
laws referred to in the first part of the proposition, for the
preservation of order and tranquillity, and the establishment

1 Mr. Douglas.


of justice therein, — not an executive, but a creative power, —
and from time to time to modify or change said rules and reg-
ulations, in such a manner as may seem to him desirable and
proper. It authorizes him to establish offices, and to appoint
and commission officers, for such terms as he may think prop-
er, and to fix their compensation. It is literally arming- him
with dictatorial powers. It appears to me to delegate to him,
nearly in the language of the Constitution, the power under
which the authority to establish governments for the territories
has been claimed. And, sir, if the President elect, on taking
into his hands the reins of government, should find himself, in
respect to the States, a less absolute ruler than he was at the
head of his army, he will, in respect to these territories, be amply
indemnified for any diminution of authority he may have sus-
tained by exchanging a military for a civil station. He will find
himself in the possession of larger powers than he ever before
possessed. I repeat, my objection is not founded on any
distrust of the individual by whom these powers are to be
exercised. I believe him to possess honesty and truth, — the
highest ornaments of exalted station. But I will not consent
to delegate to any individual, whatever confidence I may have
in him, the powers this amendment proposes to confer, —
" mighty powers," as the mover himself pronounced them.
I forbore, Mr. President, to take any part in the debate
while the Senate was in Committee of the Whole, except to
urge that all such amendments might be withdrawn. I for-
bore to make any proposition, by way of amendment, to that
offered by the Senator from Wisconsin, because 1 believed all
such propositions to be out of place. But when this amend-
ment had been adopted by a deliberate vote of the Senate, I
prepared a bill — a full territorial bill — with a view to es-
tablish a government in California, on the basis of law, with
powers clearly defined for the governing, and rights clearly
defined for the governed. When the territorial bill was re-
ceived yesterday from the House, I resolved not to offer mine
as an amendment to the bill before us, extremely averse as I


am to all of these propositions, in the manner in which they
are presented. But I hold a territorial government the only-
proper one to be created for these territories, under a system
like ours, excepting for the merest temporary purposes.
The object of the amendment of the Senator from Wiscon-
sin is more than temporary, whatever its language may
import. It has no limitation in point of time. The powers
it confers are equally unlimited in scope and duration.
And, Mr. President, I am constrained to say, with all def-
erence to the majority of the Senate, that I consider it the
most objectionable proposition I have been required to vote
upon since I hav^e been a member of this body.

Precedents have been cited to sustain this amendment : one
in the case of Florida, and tlie otlier in that of Louisiana.
Now, sir, let me refer to dates to see how far the precedents
are applicable to it. Tlie treaty with Spain for the cession of
Florida was ratified here on the ''22d of February, 1819, and
it was to be ratified in six months, or sooner if possible, by
the King of Spain. This was the short session of Congress ;
and the six months would have brought us to the 22d Au-
gust, 18 19, when Congress was not in session. The act of
the 3d March of that year was therefore passed, authorizing
the President to take possession of the territory. It was to
expire at the end of the next session of Congress. But the
treaty was not ratified by the King of Spain until the 2Mh of
October, 1820, and I believe Florida was not taken posses-
sion of under this act at all. The treaty as ratified by Spain
was sent to the Senate on the 1 1th February, 1821, as the
ratification was not within the time limited. It Avas ratified
by the Senate on the 19th February of that year. The act of
the Sd March, 1821, was then passed, reenacting substantially
the act of 3d March, 1819. This was also to expire at the
close of the next session of Congress. The Senator from
New Jersey stated that Florida was governed about three
years under the act of 1819- Am I mistaken'?

Mr. Dayton, Two years.


The territorial govei-nment of Florida, as I have stated,
was estabhshed on the SOtli March, 1822, — one year and
twenty-seven days after the passage of the last act authoriz-
ing the President to take possession of the territory.

The Louisiana treaty was ratified by tlie Senate on tlie
20th October, 1803. An act was passed on the 31st of the
same month, eleven days afterwards, authorizing the Presi-
dent to take possession of the territory ; and this act was to
expire at the close of the same session of Congress. On the
26tli March, 1804<, a territorial government was established,
to take effect the 1st October, 1804*. The power was exer-
cised in this case eleven months. In both cases, the dura-
tion of the act was limited to the close of the same or the
ensuing session of Congress. The powers conferred were
to expire at a certain period. The want of such a provision
in this amendment constitutes one of the strongest objections
to it. But even this omission sinks into insignificance when
compared with the magnitude of the powers which the
amendment confers.

I cannot believe this amendment can receive all the consti-
tutional sanctions necessary to give it the validity of law.
I shall, therefore, proceed to examine the other propositions
before the Senate, as we may be called upon to act on them
when it is too late for discussion. I wish to avail myself, for
a very short time, of the privilege which has been taken by
other Senators, of speaking upon the different propositions
before us.

The l^th May, 1787) ^vas the day fixed for the meeting
of the Federal convention by which the Constitution of the
United States was framed. A majority of the States was
not convened until the 25th of the same month ; and noth-
ing was done, with the exception of organizing and adopting
rules for the orderly transaction of business, until the 29th,
when Governor Randolph, of Virginia, to use the language
of the Journal, "opened the main business of the session"; or,
as he expressed himself, "the great subject of their mission."



He spoke of the difficulty of the crisis, the necessity of revis-
ing the Federal system, the properties such a government
ought to possess, the defects of the Confederation, the dan-
gerous situation of the States, and the remedy. His propo-
sitions for the correction and enlargement of tlie Articles of
Confederation, so as to accomplish the ohjects of their insti-
tution, were stated in a series of resolutions, one of which
declared that provision ought to be made for the admission
of States, lawfully arising within the limits of the United
States, whether from a voluntary junction of government
and territory, or otherwise. He was immediately followed
by Mr. Charles Pinckney, of South Carolina, w^ho presented
a plan of a Federal Constitution, in which it was provided
that the Legislature should have power to admit new States
into the Union on the same terms with the original States,
provided two thirds of the members present in both Houses
agree. We all know in what manner these propositions
were modified in the subsequent proceedings of the conven-
tion, and the limitations by which the exercise of the power
was guarded by the framers of the Constitution. How far
the extension of our political jurisdiction beyond the existing
boundaries of the States and their territories was in contem-
plation at that time, I do not stop to inquire. We have
given a practical construction to this provision of the Con-
stitution. We have admitted into the Union six States be-
yond the limits of the thirteen original States and their terri-
tories, — one an independent nation, and the others colonial
dependencies at the time of their acquisition.

The debates in the Federal convention, which seem to
have had an exclusive reference to the admission of new
States from territory we then possessed, show that, even in
these cases, the extension of the proposed system, so as to
include new members, was deemed a matter of the utmost
delicacy and importance, not only as affecting the proper bal-
ance of its parts, but in respect to the moral influence of
such extension upon the character of the whole. This dispo-


sition in the original States to surround the system with all
the safeguards necessary to insure its stability, and to per-
petuate the principles in which its foundations were laid, had
even an earlier date than the era of the Federal Constitu-
tion. It is shown in the ordinance of the Congress of the
Confederation, providing for the territory northwest of th •
Ohio river. The ordinance prescribed rules for the govern-
ment of that territory, in its moral as well as its political re-
lations ; and it imposed upon the admission of the States to
be formed out of it, in respect to representation, conditions
more onerous than those which were annexed by the Federal
convention to the representation of the thirteen original
States. These exactions and conditions all had for their
object to maintain the purity of the system, the homogeneous-
ness of its parts, and the harmony of its movements. They
looked to training and discipline in the school of representa-
tive government before the communities which were to be
incorporated into the Union were raised to the dignity and
equality of sovereign States.

Sir, I hold to this prudence and caution in the founders
of the Republic. I believe it to be due to ourselves, to the
institutions they framed, and to the future millions whose
destiny for good or for evil is in some degree to be wrought
out in our political action.

I deduce, then, from the organization of the government,
this practical principle, which I hold to be fundamental :
that no State ought to be admitted into the Union which has
not been prepared by a familiar knowledge of the theory
and practice of our political system, and by such a training in
the discipline of free institutions as to render its participation
in the administration of the general concerns an aid and an
advantage, not an embarrassment and an obstacle, to the
steady action of the system.

This requirement, which I consider absolute, is not ful-
filled by the condition of California. The bill reported by
the select committee admits that territory into the Union


at once as a sovereign State. That, too, was the purport
of the amendment of the Senator from Tennessee, though it
embraced New Mexico also. This proposition is directly
opposed to all the practical rules and usages of the Republic,
from its foundation to the present day. It is in palpable
violation of the principle I have stated as inherent in the
organization of the Federal government. It discards all the
prudential considerations which entered into the reasonings
of the framers of the Constitution concerning the extension
of our political system.

Let me state some of the leading objections to it, as they
relate to the condition of California. 1. Its present inhab-
itants are, to a considerable extent, Indians or Mexicans of
mixed blood. 2. They are, for the most part, uneducated.
3. They are not sufficiently familiar with the business of
self-government. 4. They do not even speak our language.
5. They would not come into the Union \yith an enlightened
understanding of the principles of our political system, or
with the general cultivation and intelligence essential to such
a fulfilment of the duties and responsibilities of the Amer-
ican citizen as to render them safe participants in the admin-
istration of the government. I need not enlarge upon these
propositions. Those who are familiar with the condition
of California and the character of the people will assent to
their truth. I hold these objections to the immediate ad-
mission of California into the Union as a State — objections
drawn from the character and condition of the people —
to be insuperable. I know very well that territory is rapidly
filling up, and that it is receiving from us thousands of
citizens, active, enterprising, and of unexceptionable charac-
ter. But we know also that it is receiving multitudes of
adventurers from almost every quarter of the globe, — from
both hemispheres, from Oceanica, from the European conti-
nent and islands, — some for a permanent abode, but more
for mere temporary purposes. I wish to see this heteroge-
neous mass pass through the process of fermentation, to which


it is destined, and settle down into something like consist-
ence, before we undertake to endow it with all the attributes
of self-oovernment.

This view of the subject is sustained by the uniform prac-
tice of the gov^ernment. 1. Our alien laws have always
prescribed a period of probation for individuals who come
among us for a permanent abode, and to unite their fortunes
to ours. This period has always been of several years in
duration. The most liberal (and of these I have always
claimed to be one) have never proposed to dispense alto-
gether with this probationary term. The only question is
as to its proper extent. It proceeds upon the principle,
admitted by all, that no man shall become a member of our
political association until he has been taught by experience
to appreciate its advantages, and to take part in its deliber-
ations with some know^ledge of its requirements. 2. The
same principle which has governed in cases of individual
immigration has been applied to territories acquired by
treaty and to large masses of persons. When Louisiana
was ceded to us by France, we stipulated that the inhabitants
should be incorporated into the Union, and admitted as soon
as possible, according to the principles of the Federal Con-
stitution, to the enjoyments of the rights, advantages, and
immunities of citizens of the United States ; and in the
mean time that they should be maintained and protected in
the enjoyment of their liberty, their property, and in the
exercise of the religion they professed.

Louisiana was acquired in 1803. The inhabitants made
repeated applications for admission into the Union ; they
protested against the tardy action of Congress; they ap-
pealed to the treaty in vindication of their right to such
admission. Yet Congress refused to admit Louisiana into
the Union as a State until 1812. Nine years were deemed
necessary to prepaie the inhabitants for the exercise of the
highest political rights, though there was a strong infusion
of our own citizens among them.


Florida was acquired in 18i20, and in the treaty with
Spain there was a stipulation nearly identical in language
with that which was contained in the treaty with France for
the cession of Louisiana, in respect to the admission of the
inhahitants into the Union. Yet Florida was not admitted
as a State until 184*5, — a quarter of a century after its
acquisition. I know that numbers had something to do
with this delay ; but other considerations doubtless had their
influence also. These territories were both foreign ; and,
when acquired, their inhabitants were presumed to have but
little knowledge of the theory or practice of our political

But even with our own territories and our om'u people
we have dealt with the same caution and the same prudent
regard to the privileges which an admission into the
Union confers. Instead of curtailing the period of proba-
tion, where Congress had a discretion, we have rather been
disposed to insist on a rigid fulfilment of the prescribed con-
ditions, both in respect to numbers and time.

The ordinance of 1787? hy which the division of the
territory northwest of the Ohio river into States, and the
ultimate incorporation of those States into the Union, were
provided for, fixed on sixty thousand free inhabitants as the
number necessary to their admission ; but it was provided
also that, so far as it should consist with the general inter-
est of the Confederacy, such admission might be allowed at
an earlier period, and with a less number of inhabitants.
Yet Ohio was not adn)itted into the Union until 1 SOi^. It
must have had sixty thousand inhabitants ; and it was admit-
ted with a single member of Congress. At the same time
the ratio of representation in Congress was one member for
thirty-three thousand inhabitants.

Indiana was admitted in 1816, IlHnois in 1818, Mich-
igan in 1837, and Wisconsin a year ago. These territories
were settled chiefly by our own people. The settlers came
from the old States. They were nurtured in the love of


liberty, and trained to the exercise of political rights. All
their associations were of a character to render them safe
depositaries of the priceless treasure of freedom. Yet they
were subjected to a protracted probation. They were held
in political subjection, not only in respect to the appointment
of their chief executive officers, but in the more delicate re-
lation of supervising and overruling them in the exercise of
the power of legislation.

Such, Mr. President, has been our practice, not only in
respect to territories acquired by treaties with foreign pow-
ers, but in respect to our own people occupying territories
held by a tenure coeval with our political independence. The
bill reported by the select committee proposes to overthrow
and reverse the uniform practice of the country in this essen-
tial particular. This practice assumes that some familiarity
with the duties and privileges of citizenship is necessary
for the inhabitants of a territory as a preparation for the
independent management of their public affairs. It supposes
that a territorial government, founded upon principles and
administered according to laws analogous to those which
govern the State administrations, should precede the admis-
sion of a territory into the Union. It holds the privileges,
the responsibilities, the rights incident to an independent
membership of the political association, into which the States
have entered, to be of too great a value to be communicated
to other communities without a just regard to their capacity
for assuming and exercising them with advantage to others
as well as to themselves.

The bill discards all these considerations. California has
not yet been acquired a single year; nine months ago it
was foreign territory. Its population is foreign ; its inter-
ests, associations, usages, laws, and institutions are, in some
degree, alien to our own. The people do not even speak
our lano-uao-e; they cannot read our Constitution or laws
without translating them into a foreign tongue. Yet the
committee propose to admit it into the Union on the footing


of the original States, and to give it a weight in this body
equal to that of Virginia, or Pennsylvania, or New York.
With a pojDulation, perhaps, of twenty thousand souls, it is
to wield here an influence equal to that of New York, with
three millions.

I cannot consent to cheapen, in this manner, an indepen-
dent membership in the union of the States. I believe it to
be unjust to the present members of the Union, hazardous
to the stability of the government, a departure from a wise
and well-considered policy, and unjust, as I shall endeavor
to show, to California herself.

Her ])hysical and social condition is as unsuited to the
independent management of her own concerns as her intel-

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 37 of 40)