John A. (John Adams) Dix.

Speeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) online

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lectual and moral. Her population is scattered over a vast
surface ; her improvements are not such as to give stability
to her political organization ; she has no commerce ; she
has hardly emerged from the pastoral state and risen to the
grade of an agricultural community. She has not the
strength to uphold an independent sovereignty. The recent
discoveries of gold have made a bad condition worse ; they
have dissolved, for the time being, the very bonds of society.
It will require months, if not years, to restore order, to
bring back her people to the sober pursuits of industry, and
to qualify them for any deliberative purpose. I believe there
never was a community less fitted than California is at this
moment, and under existing circumstances, to organize a
government and put it in operation. All the influences
which are at work with the minds and passions of men are
to the last degree unfavorable to the high duty the bill im-
poses on them. When all the obligations which bind men
to the performance of their duty appear to have lost their
force ; when ships are abandoned by their crews ; when
soldiers desert by platoons and companies ; when villages
and towns are depopulated ; and when the whole community
is possessed by the frenzy of gold-digging, and lose- sight
of all other objects ; we call upon them to meet in solemn


conclave and perform the highest and most responsible of all
deliberative acts — that of framino; a constitution for their
own oovernment, — a work of deliberation and soberness
and calm reflection. I have been, from the beginning, op-
posed to this whole scheme. I believe, if ever there was an
occasion, since the foundations of this Republic were laid,
when it was incumbent upon Congress to establish a tempo-
rary government for a territory, to provide for its wants, to
give direction to its action, and to sustain it by the collective
wisdom and strength of the whole community, until it shall
liave passed through the period of probation to which all our
territories have been subjected, — a period rendered doubly
perilous there by the prevailing disorganization, — that occa-
sion is presented in the condition of California.

I am in favor, then, of a territorial government, endowed
with the energy to control and remedy existing embarrass-
ments and evils. I believe the course proper in all similar
cases is preeminently proper in this. I shall concur in no
other, unless it be for a mere temporary purpose. And it
was with great regret that I heard honorable Senators say
there was no hope of giving California a territorial gov-
ernment. I do not concur in opinion with them. I will
not relinquish hope until the last moment. The most cer-
tain mode of giving effect to a feeling of hopelessness is to
despair of the battle before it is fought, and resort to other
devices to supply our own want of constancy and courage.

The objections I have stated to this bill are insuperable ;
they are fundamental, and therefore not to be obviated.
There are objections of detail, which might be remedied ;
but I will merely state, without enlarging upon them, — as
no variation in the details can reconcile me to the general
purpose of the bill, — the immediate admission of California
into the Union as a State.

Of these olijections I consider the dismemberment of Cal-
ifornia one of the most serious. I would keep that territory
as it is until the spread of population and the growth of


improvement shall indicate where the division line can be
drawn with least prejudice to the parties concerned. The
bill proposes a chain of mountains as the eastern boundary.
Sir, physical obstacles are not always the most appropriate
or convenient for statistical divisions. Moral obstacles are
more powerful to repel, and moral affinities more powerful
to attract, than physical. Identity or diversity of race, asso-
ciation, or condition often does more than rivers, and moun-
tains, and plains to bind men together or force them asunder.
What is there, for instance, in the class of natural obstacles
more appropriate for a statistical demarcation than the Alle-
ghany mountains ? And yet they have not sufficed to divide
Virginia into two distinct communities. Nor have they
sufficed to divide Pennsylvania into two States. What is
there more suitable for such a purpose than the Chesapeake
bay '? And yet Maryland lies on both sides of it. If we
were to look to physical obstacles as constituting the most
appropriate boundary for California on the east, we ought to
stop at the Sierra Nevada, which is more elevated than the
boundary of the committee, " the dividing ridge separating
the waters flowing into the Colorado from those flowing
into the Great Basin," or we ought to go on to the Sierra
Madre, and leave the territory with its present limits. We
need not consider geographical extent as an objection to the
organization of a territorial government. When Louisiana
was acquired, we placed all that part of it north of the
thirty-third parallel of latitude under the direction of the
governor and the judges of the Indiana territory, for the
purposes of government and the administration of j.istice ;
and it had a more extended area than California.

Let us leave statistical divisions to be fixed by events.
The movement of population, physical development, social
progress, and their incidents, — these are the great causes
which mark out permanent boundaries between separate
states. Let us leave California to be filled up, and the races
which occupy it can better determine than we who shall
live apart and who together.


The disposition the bill makes of New Mexico, I con-
sider, if possible, still more objectionable. She was known
long before the era of Von Humboldt as having- a distinct
organization. In connection with Durango and (Chihuahua,
she .constituted an independent member of the Mexican
confederation, under the constitutive act of 182^, and a
separate territory under the constitution of that year. The
consolidation of the confederated states into a central repub-
lic, under the constitution of 1836, made her a separate
department, with an independent organization for the man-
agement of her local concerns. We have held commercial
intercourse with her under laws applying only to herself
and another member of the Mexican republic. She has
had an individual name, existence, and organization. So
far as I am concerned, they shall be respected. I will nei-
ther consent that she shall be dismembered nor merged in
a more extended organization. Subjection by conquest is
the greatest humiliation that can befall a community. The
magnanimity of the conquerors should spare the subjugated
state the further humiliation of dismemberment, or the oblit-
eration of its identity in a useless extension. I will neither
consent to play towards New Mexico the part of Austria,
Russia, and Prussia towards Poland, nor the part of the
Holy Alliance towards Genoa. I will neither agree that
she shall be divided nor swallowed up. She has petitioned
to us to save her from dismemberment. I am for exercis-
ing our power over her with humanity as well as forbear-
ance, — for conforming, as far as we can, to the wishes of
the vanquished. I believe she is now, considering all cir-
cumstances, as well fitted to come into the Union as Califor-
nia. I will not consent to dilute what fitness for self-gov-
ernment she possesses by a territorial expansion of \\hich I
can neither comprehend the object nor foresee the result.

But it is not quite clear, from the language of this bill,
what is to be the fate of New Mexico, — whether she is to
be merged wholly or in part in Texas, or merely drawn out


to the Pacific. If the latter, — and I suppose this to be the
intention of the committee, — she will be stretched out some
two or three hundred miles westward on the north, and
eight or nine hundred on the south. But the New Mexico
created by the bill is to be bounded on the east by the sum-
mit of the Rocky Mountains and the State of Texas. The
Rocky Mountains, or the Sierra Madre, a continuation of
them, are now the western boundary of New Mexico. I
am not sure whether they would not under this bill become
the western boundary of Texas. I am not sure that New
Mexico would not be merged in Texas by the mere designa-
tion of a boundary line. The bill seems to me, by a literal
construction of its terms, to accomplish these three objects,
alike objectionable in my mind: 1. The annexation of New
Mexico to Texas. 2. The dismemberment of California.
And, 3. The creation of a new State of New Mexico,
wholly within the limits of California, and wholly without
the limits of the present New Mexico.

Nor is this all. While the bill introduces California into
the Union, it leaves New Mexico out of it. We consent
that it shall become a State of this Union, with the name
and style of the State of New Mexico, as soon as it
shall have the proper number of inhabitants. What is
the proper number of inhabitants 1 Louisiana was admitted
into the Union with about eighty thousand ; (I speak in
round numbers;) Ohio, with about sixty thousand; Illinois,
with forty thousand ; Michigan, with one hundred and fifty
thousand ; and Florida, with perhaps thirty thousand white
persons. Where is the criterion of proper numbers to be
sought for 1 Is it in the ratio of representation in Congress 1
Why not say so, if it be intended ^ The greater portion
of the territory is nearly unpopulated. It is not likely,
either from its position or physical character, to be populated
rapidly. What is to be its political condition until it has
the proper number of inhabitants'? It cannot be admitted
into the Union until then. What is to become of it in the


mean time 1 To wlmt political category is it to belong '?
It is not to be a territory. Tlie bill makes no provision for
it as such. We merely cut it oft' from California, and leave
it to the uncertain progress of events, and the still more un-
certain phraseology of our own statute. We cast it away,
to use a barbarous law-phrase, " a fiotsam " on the ocean
of politics, — '-'•incertimi quo fata fer ant ^^ — to reclaim it
ourselves at some future day, if we can find it first, and
agree afterwards on the meaning of our own enactment.

I am opposed to this whole scheme ; it seems to me to
have been dictated by a desire to avoid embarrassing ques-
tions. I trust I appreciate rightly the motives of honorable
Senators. But I hold that there is always more embarrass-
ment in postponing or evading troublesome questions than in
meeting them boldly, and disposing of them promptly when
they present themselves. I propose to myself but two inqui-
ries in reference to the course we ought to adopt. 1. What
does the interest of the country, and, !2. What does the in-
terest of California and New Mexico require \ The answer
seems to me to be too clear to be mistaken. I have already
given it. Both considerations point to a territorial govern-
ment, framed on proper principles.

What shall these principles be \ This is the only question
which remains to be considered. Recognizing, as I do, to
the fullest extent, the democratic doctrine of instructions, I
am not altogether a free agent in this matter. During the
last three years, resolutions have been as many times passed
by the legislature of New York, and presented here by
myself, declaring that in any territories acquired from Mex-
ico slavery ought to be prohibited, I have endeavored to
carry out the instructions by which those resolutions were
accompanied. I have done so with the more cheerfulness,
because, apart from all obligations of obedience, I believe
them just.

I hold, then, that territorial governments ought to be or-
ganized for California and New Mexico, and that the act


establishing them should contain a prohibition of slavery.
I believe there never was an occasion in which such a pro-
hibition was demanded by higher obligations than the pres-
ent. I shall endeavor to make it apparent to the judgment
of the Senate, and for this reason I shall be under the ne-
cessity of entering into a brief review of the origin and
progress of slavery in the United States ; and I shall begin
with the condition of the American colonies before the es-
tablishment of their independence.

Slavery, I believe, was never originally established by
law in any State in this Union, nor was it so established in
the British colonies in America. The relation of master
and slave, in modern times and in civilized states, usually
springs up in the transactions of commerce, without posi-
tive authority, and the law afterward comes in to regulate
it. It was so in the American colonies. It is a curious
fact, that the same year(16!20) which witnessed the landing
of the Pilgrims on the Rock of Plymouth saw the first
ship enter the waters of the Chesapeake bay and the
James river with Africans to be sold into slavery. It is
still more curious that the ship freighted with freemen and
the ship freighted with slaves commenced their voyages
from the same country — Holland. In the same year the
monopoly of the London company was overturned, and the
commerce of the colony of Virginia was thrown open to
free competition.

The introduction of slaves into that colony was one of
the first fruits of this commercial freedom, — not necessarily,
but as one of those incidents which the chances of life bring
iwith them to illustrate its uncertainties and its contradic-
tions. There was no law in Virginia at that time authoriz-
ing the existence of slavery ; nor was there any such law
in England. It gained a foothold without law. Indeed,
the early enactments of the colony of Virginia had for their
objects to restrain the introduction of slaves, and to limit
the control of their masters over them. Before the Revo-


lution, she petitioned the British king to sanction the meas-
ures she had adopted for the suppression of the slave-trade.
The appeal was vain. It was the interest of British trad-
ers, who derived a mercenary profit from this detestable
traffic, tliat it should continue ; and, down to the j)eriod of
the Revolution, every effort on the part of Virginia and the
other colonies to put a stop to it was fruitless. Slavery was
thus forced upon us by Great Britain ; we are not responsi-
ble for its origin. In the North it has been abolished ; in
the South, peculiar circumstances have continued it in exist-
ence. I make no inquiry into those circumstances, or their
necessary influence upon the result. The resj)onsibIlity
which rests upon us is to see that it is not further extended,
that it shall not, as far as depends on us, be planted where
it has never existed, or where it has been abolished.

After the termination of the war with Great Britain,
when the American colonies, to use the language of the
Declaration of Independence, had " assumed among the Pow-
ers of the earth the equal and separate station to which the
laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitled them," the at-
tention of the great men of the country was turned to the
subject of slavery, not only with a view to its exclusion
from the unoccupied portions of the Union, but with a view
to its extinction in the States where it existed. The defini-
tive treaty of peace with Great Britain, acknowledging our
independence, was signed in September, 1783. In March,
1784^, Mr. Jefferson introduced into the Congress of the
Confederation a plan of a temporary government for the
territory northwest of the Ohio river, containing a provision
abolishing slavery after the year 1800 in that territory, now
comprising the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan,
and Wisconsin.

The anti-slavery clause received the votes of six States
out of the ten present in Congress. Under the Articles of
Confederation the delegates voted by States; and by the
same Articles a majority of the thirteen States was requisite


to carry any proposition. Mr. Jefferson's proposition, hav-
ing received only six votes, was not adopted.

T hold in my hand, Mr. President, a copy of his plan for
a temporary government for the Northwest territory, made
from the original, which I found a few weeks ago, among
the archives of the Confederation, in the State Department,
where they are deposited.^ The original is in the clear,
careful handwriting of Mr. Jefferson ; and it settles the ques-
tion of authorship. It divides the territory into ten States
instead of five, as was finally determined ; and it contains
the anti-slavery clause to which I have referred, and which
has heretofore been attributed to him. I will read it for
the information of the Senate. Like some other proposi-
tions of a kindred character, and of later date, it is in the
form of a proviso : —

"After the yeai' 1800 of the Christian era, there shall be neither
slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said States otherwise
than in ])iniishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly
convicted." ^

I am happy to have had it in my power to refer this
declaration to the author of an earlier declaration in favor
of human freedom, — I mean that of our independence, —
and to have found it in his own handwriting. Without
this testimony, no one could doubt, on reading the whole
paper, that it was written by him. It contains internal
evidences of authorship which, to any one familiar with his
style of composition and his peculiarity of thought, must
be conclusive. Let it be known henceforth as the Jeffer-
son proviso. As such, it will at least escape the imputa-
tion of selfish motives, from which, in the prevailing heat of
party contention, no follower in the same field can hope to
be exempt, however unjustly they may be attributed to him.
I have already said that this proposition failed for the want
of a single vote. It was renewed in 1785 by Rufus King,
then representing the State of Massachusetts, and it was

1 Appendix, No. 1. ^ Appendix, No. 2.


referred to a committee, though it was not finally acted upon
at that time. The reference was made by the votes of eight
States out of eleven present, one State being absent, and
another represented by a single delegate, and therefore not
entitled, according to the Articles of Confederation, to vote.^

Til us things remained until IT^T? when the ordinance
of that year was passed, establishing a government for the
Northwestern territory, and prohibiting slavery within it
forever, except for crimes. This ordinance was reported by
a committee of which Mr. Edward Carrington, of Virginia,
was chairman, and Mr. Nathan Dane, of Massachusetts, a
leading member. It received the votes of all the States pres-
ent. It was a unanimous vote as to States, and unanimous,
with a single exception, as to delegates. There were only
eight States present, viz : Massachusetts, New York, New
Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,
and Georgia. The five absent States were New Hampshire,
Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
The first four — New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island,
and Pennsylvania — voted for Mr. Jefferson's proviso in
1784<, and Maryland voted to refer Mr. King's proposition
in 1785.2

Thus, I think, it may be fairly asserted that if all the
States had been represented in Congress, the vote would have
been equally unanimous. The ordinance would have been
adopted by the votes of the thirteen States.

The South united with the North in excluding slavery
from this territory. It was a unanimous verdict of the whole
country against the extension of slavery. It was the first
great movement of our revolutionary fathers to rid them-
selves of the responsibility and the country of the evil of sla-
very. And I take great pleasure in awarding to a South-
ern man, to Thomas Jefferson, the conception of this great
measure of justice and humanity.

While the Congress of the Confederation, sitting in New

1 Appendix, No. 3. ^ Appendix, No. 4.



York, was framing the ordinance of 1787? the Federal con-
vention, sitting in Philadelphia, was framing the Constitution
of the United States. While the former body was devis-
ing measures for the exclusion of slavery from the North-
western territory, the latter was engaged in providing for
the suppression of the African slave-trade. Thus, the repre-
sentatives of the new-born Republic, legislating for the old
government, and framing a new system for the better ad-
ministration of their common concerns, — sitting in different
places, and acting in separate capacities, — were jointly en-
gaged in eradicating what they considered a great public evil
and reproach. AVhile the former declared that slavery should
thenceforth be forever prohibited in the Northwestern ter-
ritory, the latter virtually declared (though in the form of
a restriction on the exercise of a power) the American slave-
trade should cease after the year I8O7. It would have
been abolished at once but for the opposition of South Car-
olina and Georgia, the only States which were at that time
desirous of continuing it.

In the Federal convention, Virginia was among the fore-
most in her opposition to the slave-trade. Madison, and
Mason, and Randolph were distinguished for the ability and
zeal with which they advocated its immediate suppression.
They were unwilling to wait twenty years for its abolition.
But their efforts were unavailing ; and, for fear South Car-
olina and Georgia would not come into the Union, a com-
promise was agreed on, and the traffic was tolerated until
1808. On the first day of January of that year, the very
first day Congress had power to make its prohibition effec-
tive, the slave-trade was abolished forever by an act passed
ten months before.

I have stated these historical details, Mr. President, for
the purpose of showing two facts : 1. That the policy of
the founders of the Republic was to get rid of slavery, by
preventing its extension, and by suppressing the African
slave-trade ; and 2. That some of the Southern States were


among the foremost in advocating both measures, with a
view to the accomphshment of the ultimate object. One
of the avowed objects of the abohtion of the slave-trade
was to prevent the extension of slavery into the territories.
The same policy prevailed for many years. The inhabitants
of the Northwest territory, or a portion of it, (that portion, I
believe, which now constitutes the States of Indiana and Illi-
nois,) petitioned Congress for the privilege of importing
slaves from the States ; and they had sufficient influence to
obtain two reports in favor of a temporary suspension of
the sixth article of the ordinance of 1787- But their
prayer was not granted. The inhabitants of Louisiana,
before the abolition of the slave-trade, petitioned for the
privilege of importing slaves. Their prayer was denied.
Wherever Congress had the power, it was exercised to
prevent the extension of slavery beyond the States and
territories in which it existed.

I have always been opposed to interference with slavery
where it exists. The Federal government has no control
over it, directly or indirectly, within the limits of the
States. It is a civil relation over which they have exclusive
jurisdiction. It must ever rest with them to determine
whether it shall be continued or abohshed within their limits.
But it is not so with the territories. Congress has always
exercised the power of regulating their civil as well as their
political relations. The territorial governments are the crea-
tures of Federal legislation; they have no powers except
such as are conferred on them by Congress. Congress
stands to the inhabitants of the territories in the relation in
which the State legislatures stand to the people of the States.
The power of regulating the internal concerns of the inhab-
itants of the territories has been exercised under every ad-
ministration since the adoption of the Constitution.

Sir, I hold the exercise of this power for the exclusion
of slavery from California and New Mexico to be even of
higher obligation than it was in respect to the Northwestern


territory. Slavery existed in that territory at the time the

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 38 of 40)