John Upfold Pettit.

Speech of Hon. John U. Pettit, of Indiana, on the restoration of the Missouri compromise online

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The House being in the Committee of the Whole on the
state of the Union-
Mr. PETTIT said:

Mr. Chairman: I propose referring — and for
the reason, only, that it has a direct and immedi-
ate connection with the most pressing exigency
of legislation — to the means and motives that
moved the passage of the Nebraska-Kansas bill;
to the mischievous consequences, without a single
benefit to any one, that have flowed from it,
without intermission and with steady augmenta-
tion; and to express, with much respect to the
differing opinions of others, my own opinion in
favor of repealing so much of it as shall restore
the Missouri compromise, as the sure means of
bringing back the national peace and happiness.

In speaking of the Nebraska-Kansas bill, and
in my present condemnation of it, I do not mean
to embrace the provisions of it that are confined,
though with many details, to establishing terri-
torial governments for Kansas and Nebraska,
creating functions and officers of government, and
clothing their inhabitants with certain limited
privileges of making and administering their own
laws. In all these things the provisions of the
law are well enough, or only of questionable ex-
pediency. All persons alike, whether friendly to
the repeal of the Missouri compromise or not,
accede, in the main, to the propriety of this legis-
lation. We have all long felt an honest national
pride at seeing our civilization, rejoicing in con-
scious freedom and strength, goingsteadily West,
and at length beginning to occupy the unpeopled
and almost illimitable plains that stretch away
beyond the Missouri. The time was ripe for es-
tablishing territorial governments there. All
were agreed in this; and it has been no matter of
objection to that law that it ordained governments
for Kansas and Nebraska. Nor has it been an
objection that, during the territorial condition,
which is only the infancy of a State, and when,
according to Burke's nervous expression, the
State has not yet hardened into the bone and
gristle of manhood, two of the departments of the

Government, the executive and the judicial, were
wholly lodged in the appointment of the Presi-
dent of the United States, without any consent of
the people of the Territories; for, by maintaining
so much of sovereignty over the Territories, after
their being erected into governments, the Federal
authority has been able to repress such anomalies
of condition, as that gross and barbarian one in
Utah that now shocks the national sense so much,
and to cultivate their assimilation to the States
preparatory to admission. And, especially, it
has been no objection to the law from the people
of the free States, where the sovereignty of the
people is so much a principle and a fact, that it
delegated limited powers of government to the
people of the Territories, who are best acquainted
with their own conveniences and wants. If, in
organizing the territorial governments, it had any
fault, it was that it gave the people too little power.
In all these respects, just such territorial govern-
ments had been established, and just such powers
of legislation had been conveyed to the inhabit-
ants of the Territories, by every law creating a
territorial government since the Constitution.
There was no novelty in this — nothing that incul-
cated any new prinoiple or adopted any new prac-
tice. The Nebraska-Kansas bill, in the frame-
work of territorial government it established — in
its functions and offices — in its executive, judi-
ciary, and Legislature — did for Kansas and Ne-
braska what the ordinance of July 13, 1787,
reaffirmed, in all its parts, by the first Congress
under the Constitution, did for the Northwest
Territory — what the act of June 12, 1838, estab-
lishing the Territory of Iowa, did for that Terri-
tory — what the act of August 14, 1848, establishing
Oregon Territory, did for that Territory. Indeed,
in these respects, the Kansas bill is, in words, the
very same, principally, and where it is not in the
very words, is without any fundamental or sub-
stantial difference from the laws organizing the
Territories of Iowa and Oregon. In the quantity
of words, nine tenths of that statute might be
permitted to stand, without grave objection from
any quarter. It deserves, therefore, to be under-

stood, that the general animadversion of that law
does not extend to so much of it as only incor-
porates in it what has been incorporated in every
other territorial bill, has now grown into ancient
use, and has been heartily appr6ved by the suc-
cessful experience of three quarters of a century.

When, therefore, I now speak of this law, I do
it with reference to none of these, but with refer-
ence to its popular sense, and to that great fact,
the repeal of the Missouri compromise, that
characterizes it and makes it badly eminent. I
allude to it, with reference to this, its paramount
object and accomplishment. I confine myself to
that handful of words in the fourteenth and thir-
ty-second sections of the act by which this great
wrong was done — words pregnant with more
pernicious meaning and consequences than were
ever housed in the same compass in any statute.

Within this definition, the Nebraska-Kansas
bill deserves to stand accused of the public dis-
orders that now afflict us and endanger our safety.
The union and harmony of such a people as ours,
wide-spread, and with different and sometimes
conflicting interests, depends on generous con-
cessions and compromises, and the observance
of good faith. This law entered like a thief in
the night, and struck down a compromise, older
than many of us, entered into at a moment of
public dissension like this, and written on the
statute-book by the purest and wisest men of the
best age of the Republic, to be read and known
of all men as a perpetual gage of future peace,
and taught us that public faith was only the pol-
itician's toy. The land jyas at peace. It has
destroyed that peace, and spread the face of the
sky with storms. It has made a war of sections.
It has made a war of interests. Ithas impaired and
narrowed the privilege of American citizenship,
not pent up in State lines, but extended by the
Constitution to the uttermost inch of the whole
length and breadth of the national dominion. It
has obstructed the great highways of emigration
and commerce, and prostituted State sovereignty
into the oppression of the citizen. It has robbed
him of the immunity and protection of the law.
It has exposed him to insult, and covered his

Iierson with indignities. It has fettered his speech.
[t has explored his thoughts, and made his free
instincts a crime. It has bound him in bonds,
and shut him up in prison. It has made even
his prison a sanctuary from the fury of its own
engendered banditti, lawlessly exalted into un-
questioned sovereignty. It has butchered him in
his house, in his field, and on the highway, with
all the atrocious and unprovoked circumstances
of murder. It has spent the anger of its hire-
lings and sectaries on the dumb, insensate press.
Fearful of its truth and knowledge, it has extin-
guished its light, and turned mankind back to
paganism. It has taken from the citizen's house
the common-law quality of sanctuary. It has
razed and burned his villages, burned and robbed
his dwellings, and desolated his fair fields. It
bus Btopped at no enormity, unless, having ex-
hausted its ability of wrong, it has waited to
invent another. Over a large Territory, disorder
and riot are supreme, and the law is without

But the gentleman from Georgia, [Mr. Ste-
phens,] learned, acute, persuasive — it can offend
no one invidiously to say, that in these quali-
ties, no one in this House excels him — said last
week, that these troubles have not resulted from
the Kansas law. The Senator from Illinois, [Mr.
Douglas,] who is so much the author of this
measure, as to have conducted it through the
Senate, said the same thing in a report made a
few days ago to the Senate. This last opinion
is to be excused, as being within that parental
infirmity and instinct that follow the poor off-
spring, no matter how ungracious, crooked, weak,
wicked, or criminal.

This is my answer. The present troubles in
Kansas originated in the purpose to establish
slavery there. There is no doubt of this being at
the root of all its present difficulties, however we
may differ about the merit of the passion of the
respective sides. The invasion of November,
1854, had this object. This was the object of the
armed invasion of March, 1855. This was the
achievement, if its acts have any validity, (which I
utterly deny,) of the so-called Legislature of Kan-
sas. The newspapers of the conquerors glare
with the short creed of " The South, and her in-
stitutions." This is the avowed passion of all
the mobs of Kansas. The blood-red flag of South
Carolina, planted on the smoldering walls of
Lawrence, was inscribed "Southern Rights."
All the inhabitants of Kansas, by official lan-
guage set down in documents laid on our tables,
are classified into free-State men and pro-slavery

Now, if the Missouri compromise, passed
March 6, 1820, which excluded slavery from that
Territory, had been permitted to remain in force,
and had not been repealed, the question of sla-
very there would have been prejudged and set-
tled. The seditious malcontents from the North,
of whom the gentleman from Georgia furnished
an amiable sketch, would have had nothing left
to ask, and the friends of slavery would have
had nothing left to hope. The repeal of the
Missouri compromise is, therefore, the cause of
these disorders, because, in the absence of this
repeal, none of these disorders could have oc-
curred. This is my first answer. But I have

For the first time, in more than two centuries
of North American colonization, its progress has
now ceased to be peaceful. During all this time,
beginning at the sea-board, it has proceeded
steadily, at first slowly, then faster, till now it
is settling its hives of industry, and nursing the
pursuits of Christian and civilized man, beyond
the Missouri, and over the plains beyond, where
the Rocky Mountains cast their shadows at

The subjugation of so large a wilderness has
been a slow and painful achievement. At first
the settlers were clustered in nests along the
coasts a) long intervals. Settlements receded from
the sea timidly. Every inch of progress was
disputed by the wild beast and the savage. But
every year sonTe new encroachment was made
on the wilderness. At length settlements began
to move away from the sea on system. The

Alleghanies, through more than a dozen degrees
of latitude, are the American Appcnines, parallel
with the coast from Georgia to Maine, never but
a few leagues from it, and the ocean washing
their feet. But so slow was the progress of colo-
nization at first, and so many and so embarrass-
ing its obstacles, that it was more than one hun-
dred and fifty years after Jamestown and Ply-
mouth Rock became historical, before the rough
escarpments of the Alleghanies were crossed,
and population began to flow down into the val-
ley of the Mississippi.

Just so much, or rather just so little, was ac-
complished up to the time of the treaty of peace
which acknowledged independence, not as a dec-
laration, but as a fact. This difficult conquest
of the forest, and the savage, and the beast — of
untamed nature, dead and living — through so
many weary years, had the prompting of a pas-
sion for free thought, free speech, and free con-
science only. If this was then a sufficient reason
for abandoning home and country, and crossing
the stormy ocean, and facing the hardships and
perils of a strange and heathen land, free thought
and free conscience are now no less precious,
when the world ought to be grown much wiser.

Since the Revolution, the settlement of the
public lands has gone on much more rapidly.
The fact of independence gave it new vigor. Be-
fore the Revolution, it was prevented by the lan-
guage of royal charters, or fettered by severe
conditions. The energies of the colonies were
required to assist kings, or to resist them. But
now, elated with conscious freedom, and pene-
trated with the enterprise of its English ancestry,
population began to go down the western slopes
of the Alleghanies, and follow the rivers toward
the sea. All the rest is a familiar story. Like
an advancing army, with its flanks on the lakes
in the North, and the gulf in the South, settle-
ment has gone westward with even pace, almost
without stages or resting places. We are our-
selves its witnesses. We, who stopped at man-
hood at what was then the frontier of the known
West, have not reached the noon of life till the
footsteps of the receding conquerors of the forest
and prairie are lost, and our places are the half-
way station between the East and West.

This settlement of the public lands has been
most rapid in the last fifty years. Fifty years
ago, population was just entering the valley of the
Mississippi. Now, having crossed its whole
broad basin, it is ascending the eastern slope of
the Stony Mountains. In the same ratio, this
ceaseless and impetuous progress will find its fixed
limit before the end of the present generation at
the shore of the Western Ocean.

I have taken this brief view of our colonization ,
partly because I shall hereafter have occasion to
recur to the increased ratio in which our settle-
ments are now made, but more particularly at this
point to draw attention to the fact, that this weary
but gigantic achievement of American coloniza-
tion, spanning more than two centuries of time,
and reaching over more than one half our terri-
torial dominion, has been one of internal peace.
It has been a great victory of peace, wrought
by arts and not by arms. Passing through the

elementary condition whereby Territories become
States, and on the remote frontier, where the re-
straints of law are worn lightly, good order has
everywhere endured, and the public happiness
has never been disturbed by intestine strife.
Thirty-one States have now grown into Union,
without a single example of civil feud or blood-

And why has peaceful and prosperous settle-
ment obtained so universally as the rule ? Be-
cause the law has gone into the Territory before
the pioneer, and fixed the conditions which have
prevented opposing opinions and opposing inter-
ests from entering the settlements and carrying on
a bloody strife for the mastery. There has, then,
been no motive to disorder, because passions have
not been permitted to run loose and unbridled,
and to work out their ordinary results. A re-
straint of jarring interests, it is obvious, is a first
and paramount necessity to a peaceful settlement
of the public lands.

Kansas presents the first exception — the novel
and extraordinary spectacle — the first spectacle
of an American Territory passing through a his-
tory of civil dissension and civil war.

In contemplating the extension of slavery into
that Territory as the immediate motive to the
present disorders, no one is at a loss to know that
the repeal of the Missouri compromise lies back
of it all, and first gave hope to the friends of the
extension of slavery. That measure was con-
ceived, not more to restore the public peace then,
than to prevent such a calamity as this now. It
was in foresight of the jealousies of differing
opinions and interests, and of the danger of sec-
tional divisions against which the parting advice
of the Father of his Country admonishes us as
tending to disunion, that this sagacious enact-
ment, at first difficult of obtaining public favor,
but at length heartily acquiesced in, was passed,
and established in public regard as only second
in sacredness to the Constitution. , In speaking
on the subject of admitting Florida into the Union,
Mr. Clay made use, in the Senate, of the follow-
ing language:

" By the compromise which took place on the passage of
the act for the admission of Missouri into the Union, in the
year 1820, it was agreed and understood that the line of 36"
30' nortli latitude should mark the boundary between the
free States and the slave States to be erected in the terri-
tory of the United States ceded by the treaty of Louisiana."
* * * " Nothing could be more to be deprecated than to
open anew the bleeding wounds that were bound up and
healed by that compromise."

The repeal of that compromise has verified the
prophecy, and is leading along its train of calam-
ities. But disorders are contagious. These are
not now confined to the Territories, but have
reached into the surrounding States. They have
reached further, and have armed the Union into
opposing sections. Where shall the end be?
And are we standing now at the gulf of disunion ?

And this is my second answer. If the Mis-
souri compromise, which in advance prohibited
slavery in Kansas, would, if unrepealed, have
prevented all the agitation of it there, and left
its settlement to be made in peace, with the
same certainty, the repeal of that measure, re-
moving every restraint, has marked that Terri-


tory as the battle-ground of hostile opinions,
and fanned angry passions into civil war. It has
invoked these passions to a bloody and violent
struggle for supremacy, because it has not pre-
vented them.

Nor is the struggle that this mischievous re-t
peal opens, a short one, or limited in its scope to I
the Territories df Nebraska and Kansas. If this
novel and pernicious principle of leaving the Ter-
ritories unguarded by law, and sectional interests to
rage without restraint for mastery, is to be persist-
ed in, the present dissensions in Kansas are to be
perpetuated over the whole national domain, until
organized into States. It is a common error, that
the effect of the repeal of the Missouri restriction
is limited to Kansas and Nebraska. Its extent is
far greater. It operates, at the same time, to break
down the prohibition of slavery in Minnesota. ;
It breaks down the prohibition of slavery in Ore-
gon and Washington. It overrides the Mexican
laws, which, until then, forbade slavery in New
Mexico. It admits the patriarchal institution of
slavery into Utah, and makes it the political twin
of that other patriarchal institution, Governor
Young's multiplicity of wives. It brings together
there, for the first time in Christian lands, the
Turkish slave bazaar, and the Turkish harem,
and bids them live in love together under the
sanction of our laws; for, if the Missouri com-
promise, which prohibited slavery in Kansas and
Nebraska, became inoperative and void, because,
in the language of the Kansas act, " it was in-
consistent with the principle of non-intervention
by Congress with slavery in the States and Ter-
ritories, as recognized by the legislation of 1850,
commonly called the compromise measures," for
the like reason, and to the same extent, and by the
vigor of the same Kansas act, all these prohibi-
tions in Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Utah
and New Mexico, became inoperative and void.
Over all these, if unrestrained, the war for sec-
tional supremacy is to go on. Such is the fair
field for concpiest, larger in area than all the or-
ganized States, to which slavery now turns, lured
on to attempt it by avarice, which is always the
energetic force of slavery, and impelled from
behind, according to the assurances of another
gentleman from Georgia, [Mr. Warner,] by the
necessity of its condition, which only leaves
slavery prosperous where it has room. Each
new Territory, as it fills with population, is only
the battle-field changed, and without the acquisi-
tion of another foot of territory, here is ample
room and verge enough, if the doctrine of the
Kansas bill is to be maintained, for a half century
of civil war.

And no small weight of interest and passion
will lie thrown into this struggle. In pursuing
its steady purpose of aggrandizement, slavery
is vigilant, undivided, untiring, unscrupulous,
slow to be satisfied, abundant in resources; for
slavery extension is, in its most odious form, the
war of capital on labor, tin' oppression of In-''
labor and honest opinion by the influence of
wealth; a war as old as society, and as inexora-
ble as the lust of money and power; most odious,
oise it begins by trampling under foot the
humanities of life. Slaves are the masters' capi-

tal, and increase in value as new fields of employ-
ment are opened. Demand for them is stimulated
— prices get up. To make the rich richer — to
swell the coffers of the rich, — these are the only
motives to slavery extension, but at the terrible
expense of the miseries of the life of slavery, of
the ignorance and degradation of those who are
not slaveholders, the paralysis of industry, the
fast impoverishment of the soil, and the ultimate
but speedy decrepitude of the State. Governor
Wise, of Virginia, well known as a performer of
political gymnastics, in a late political epistle,
commending Mr. Buchanan for voting to extend
the Missouri compromise line to the Pacific
ocean, which he says, notwithstanding, was a
very unconstitutional thing in him, states the
matter persuasively to Virginians as follows:

' ; The cost of not running that line to the Pacific may be
valued thus to Virginia : We now get a thousand dollars
for a sound slave ; we would then have gotten from three
to five thousand dollars for an operative in the gold mines
of California; four hundred thousand multiplied by five
thousand, or even three thousand, will show our immense
lo-s. One billion of dollars would not compensate Vi(ginia
for her loss."

To whom is this argument and eloquence of
avarice addressed? Who is to be benefited by
the extension of slavery into virgin fields? The
slave? No. Slavery extension predestinates
him to banishment, and to perish in the bondage
of a foreign master, away from his place of birth
and the love of kindred — instincts superior even
to the base condition of servitude, and which is
all that slavery leaves him but the love of heaven.
The millions in the slave States who are not
slaveholders? No. Too poor to own slaves,
their labor degraded, abridged, and oppressed,
by the competition of slave labor, which is un-
paid labor, and, therefore, cheaper labor, and so
far subject to its dominion, they are classed down
to a thud estate, and left without the dignity and
consideration of a middle class. The bouth
witnesses a continual exodus of her best children
into the free States to escape its blight. This is
the prompt Nemesis that avenges the cruelties of
slavery, and these, in turn, fill the firm ranks
against its further aggression. They are the
exiles of slavery remonstrating against slavery.
These are no gainers by it. Is it the free millions
of the industrious North? They could gain no
more than they already had. By your fathers'
compact and ours, the whole land was made the
patrimony of freedom, and the Missouri compro-
mise is the deed of title.

And so, slavery is to be extended, not for the
cause of morals, or freedom, or knowledge', but
to add billions of dollars to the treasury of the
slave proprietors of.Virginia and the South. The
dollar has become better and greater than the
man. The day of boundless riches tor Virginia
sets in. Her people — such as are slaveholders,
1 mean — are now to grow rich by no such vulgar
and ordinary means as labor — by industry or the
arts — by the farm, or the factory, or the shop, or
the ship; but, obviating all such common usages,
they are to grow rich by statute. The ( low mor's
message will make annual acknowledgment, as a
grateful Grovi rnor should, for the bounty of the
season, and the successful husbandry of the

human crop; for if to extend slavery to the
Pacific, south of 36° 30', would add billions of
dollars to this hearty old Commonwealth, the
Governor of Virginia — God bless the Old Domin-

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Online LibraryJohn Upfold PettitSpeech of Hon. John U. Pettit, of Indiana, on the restoration of the Missouri compromise → online text (page 1 of 6)