John Upfold Pettit.

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

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ion for the mother she has been, though long
since past child-bearing — may be excused for"
some extravagance, when, after the whole bound-
less continent is hers, figures are unable to tell all
the money she has made by statute and her ancient
trade of constitutional construction.*

Now, this is the modesty of the thing. There
is but one slaveholder to every sixty-seven of
the whole American population. Is the whole
commonwealth of the public lands, the common
riches of the people of all the States, to be in-
accessible to the sixty-six, and shall they look
on .mute, and are they bound to a contented
state of mind, while their sixty-seventh neighbor
takes all of it to himself? Is this the equality
of the States ? Is this the equality of the citizen ?
Is this the cathedral definition of the late political
council of Cincinnati, of what is the just and
equal privilege of American citizenship? For
these are questions to be asked, when the vocabu-
lary of the language has been turned upside down,
and words have lost their ordinary meaning, and
piracy, by the Ostend manifesto, has been exalted
among public virtues, and the sovereignty of the
people is the cruel and sanguinary conquest of a
mob, and free speech is opinion silenced by the
terror of the butcher-knife and revolver, and free
opinions are crimes.

And here is some more of the modest expect-
ations of the extensionists. The fourteen mil-
lions of the free States are now limited to 612,597
square 'miles. According to the opinion of the
late Mr. Pierce, who would again say so if he
were now alive, this is the uttermost limit of the
free territory. He said as much in his late mes-
sages, except as freedom fought for it, and con-
quered it. This, then, is a boundary as well fixed
as the shore of an ocean. All the rest is the con-
stitutional prerogative of slavery. But the slave-
holding States have already a larger area than the
free States. They already engross 851 ,508 square
miles; and, not content with this, slavery now
arrogates to itself the exclusive ownership of the
remaining 1,472,061 square miles of the public
lands now unorganized into States. The nine and
a half millions of the slave States now claim, for
the profit of that institution, three times as much
territory as is enjoyed by the whole fourteen mil-
lions of the free States.

But we do wrong in speaking of nine and a
half millions in the South, interested in the ex-
tension of slavery. From this number, at least
the three and a half millions of slaves are to be
excluded; for they have no hopes, interests, nor
happiness of which the human law takes notice.
The slave is never a substantive — is always an
adjective, a legal fixture of his master.

But even the remaining six millions of the slave

* Mr. J. C. Underwood, of Virginia, at the New York
Tabernacle, lately stated the annual export of this staple
from that State to be twenty thousand of the commercial
value of twenty or twenty-five millions of dollars.

States are not interested, not to say in the exten-
sion only, but in the existence of slavery. For
even there the non-slaveholders gain nothing and
lose much by it — in the value of their lands —
much in the wages, and everything in the dignity
of their labor, in social importance, in political
importance, in the means of education, in every
thing pertaining to moral and material prosperity.
None of these are to be counted among its bene-

Who, then, are the gainers ? Of our whole pop-
ulation of twenty-three millions, who are inter-
ested in maintaining and extending it? The three
hundred and fifty thousand slave proprietors, and
their necessary retinue of slave merchants and
the artisans of that novel branch of republican
industry, the manufacture of whips, chains, and
coffles. The shareholders of this pretentious in-
terest have the compass and selectness of a tea
farty. And what is the character of this gain ?
s ignorance instructed, knowledge fostered, vice
restrained, suffering soothed, labor dignified and
rewarded? Is it a gain in that riches that has no
expression in numbers — the moral, material, and
intellectual happiness and prosperity of a people?
Does it augment the national strength, and exalt
the national character? Nothing of all this. Gov-
ernor Wise has imprudently tattled in a public
letter of the true and only reason for extending
slavery — that there is money in it. The single
gain of giving exclusively to three hundred and
fifty thousand proprietors of an extraordinary
property two and a quarter millions of square
miles of the public domain, while the fourteen
millions of the North, and the non-slaveholders
of the South, are limited to one fourth of this
quantity, is all told in dollars and cents — in the
decimal currency, as it ought to be.

This is the short logic of the counting-room;
but it presents without abridgment or diminution
the whole argument in favor of the patriarchal
institution. But the arithmetic of the executive
of Virginia is worth pursuing, and especially in
connection with my present object, to present the
comparative forces and resources of the two par-
ties that are now invited to struggle for the con-
trol of the public domain — of free industry,
backed by civilization and humanity on the one
side, and a mere barbaric riches in slaves on the
other. There are now four millions of slaves.
Grant — much less than his excellency claims,
but what is much nearer the truth, and certainly
no extravagance of it — that, for the reasons given,
the average commercial value of the slave has in-
creased three hundred dollars, and more than a
thousand millions of dollars are added by acts of
national legislation to the riches of the South;
and not to the whole South, for a benefit, though
sectional, if equally conferred, would be more
tolerable, but to a self-appointed, inconsiderable
section of a section, already so powerful and oli-
garchic as to exclude almost all others from pub-
lic emoluments and appointments. This large
influence of money, and these resources, ample
as a kingly treasury, are bent to the propagand-
ism of servitude, and the extirpation of freedom
from the public domain. That measure of public
justice and humanity, the homestead bill, per-


ished in the Senate Chamber, because the slave
interest demanded that it should die.

I have thus attempted to attract attention to
the Missouri compromise, as a sagacious meas-
ure long ago deliberated and ordained, and main-
tained since, as a sure means of preventing the
agitation of this vexed and irritant subject of
slavery in Kansas. I have alluded to the oppos-
ing interests and passions likely, in the absence
of such a legal prohibition, to be drawn into con-
flict with each other — to the breaking down of
that barrier, as conducing inevitably to the civil
disorders prevailing in that unhappy Territory,
unequaled in enormity by any mpdern example
of public crime — to the almost illimitable public
domain, of which Kansas and Nebraska are only
a fraction, exposed by it to the introduction of
slavery and the exhibition of this reign of riot and
civil war — to the protracted and desperate struggle
it promises, as the field of strife shifts with the
progress of our colonization, and now, at length,
to the large and aristocratic influence of riches in
slaves, that seeks to enter as the controlling ele-
ment in the contest. Such is this modern war,
to give it its true name, of the few against the
many — of privilege and caste against poor, but
honest industry and numbers.

The present is imminent — the future is full of
evil portents. No one now attempts, as was done
a few months ago, to hide or deny the deplorable
disorders in Kansas. Senator Mason calls it
" anunfortunate state of things. " Senator Doug-
las talks of " civil war in Kansas," and of
"restoring peace." Few attempt their pallia-
tion. They stand confessed, and, behind them,
is the mischievous cause, the repeal of the Mis-
souri restriction. A whole people rouses itself
indignantly at this wrong to liberty, justice, and
public faith. The conspirators against the liber-
ties of Kansas turn pale in the presence of an
incensed nation, and at the energy of the passions
they have roused and invoked, but which they
are too infirm to master. Like the audacious
fisherman of the Arabic story, they have raised
a spirit gigantic, menacing, cruel, and that threat-
ens to destroy them, and which they can neither
soothe nor subdue.

What is the remedy for the evils of misgov-
crnment and crime in Kansas? This is the prac-
tical question. It is, in other words, the alarmed
and pointed interrogation of the gentleman from
Tennessee, [Mr. Smith.] " I believe," he says,
" citizens of both sections have acted imprudently
in reference to the difficulties which now exist in
the Territory of Kansas. This is not the time
to discuss the causes of these unfortunate difficul-
ties, which are fast bringing into disrepute the
fair fame of our Republic. They must be stepped,
and the question is, how is it to be done?" I an-
swer, restore the Missouri compromise. Ey this
easy means make slavery agitation impossible.
Bring back that healing measure, and you bring
back the public peace, and strengthen the bonds
of union, and reestablish our family love. The
old Latins, a sensible set of antique gentlemen,
used to speak of the public welfare as the public
health. We were hearty, cheerful, happy, at
the peaceful sundown of Mr. Fillmore's adminis-

tration. The medicine to the State diseased that
is now needful is, to restore us to that condition,
and the public health will be restored with it. In
his message, dated August 14, 1848, approving
the bill erecting the Territory of Oregon, Mr.
Polk used the following language:

" In December, 1819, application was made to Congress,
by the people of Missouri Territory, for admission into the
Union as a State. The discussion upon the subject in Con-
gress involved the question of slavery, and was prosecuted
with such violence as to produce excitements alarming to
every patriot in the Union. But the good genius of concil-
iation, which presided at the birth of our institutions, finally
prevailed, and the Missouri compromise was adopted. The
eighth section of the act of Congress of the 6th of March.
1820, ' to authorize the people of the Territory of Missouri
to form a constitution and State government,' &c, pro-
vides :

" ' That in all that territory ceded by France to the Ufiited
States, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of
36° 30', north latitude, not included within the limits of the
State contemplated by this act, slavery and involuntary
servitude, otherwise than in the punishment of crime,
whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall be.
and is hereby, forever prohibited : Provided, always, That
any person escaping into the same from whom labor or
service is lawfully claimed in any State or Territory of the
United States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed, and
conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service
as aforesaid.'

" This compromise had the effect of calming the troubled
waves, and restoring peace and good will throughout the
States of the Union. The Missouri question had excited
intense agitation of the public mind, and threatened to
divide the country into geographical parties, alienating the
feelings of attachment which each portion of the Union
should bear to every other. The compromise allayed the
excitement, tranquillized the popular mind, and restored
confidence and fraternal feelings. Its authors were hailed
as public benefactors."

" Ought we now to disturb the Texas and Missouri com-
promises? Ought we, at this late day, in attempting to
annul what has been so longestablished and acquiesced in,
to excite sectional jealousies and divisions, to alienate the
people of different portions of the Union from each other,
and to endanger the existence of the Union itself r"

Is not the public mind again disturbed, in con-
sequence of the repeal of the measure that then
induced this haughty executive panegyric from
your and my late political friend and patron ? Are
not our attachments curdling into estrangements,
and affections and alienations shaping themselves
to geographical boundaries? Then, this is the
appointed time for that generous measure of sec-
tional compromise and sacrifice to reexist and do
its pacific office. Inert and silent, though preg-
nant with power, it endured more than a third of
a century, a pledge of public peace. Banished at
an evil time, but restored and exalted, by com-
mon consent, at this season of disquietude and
alarm, to its former place of just dignity among
our statutes, it is now capable of being not only
the gage, but the agent and executive of peace.

The South is rescued from the shame of the in-
ception of that measure. But it is obnoxious to
the fault of having permitted it, when the whole
North stirred in opposition to it, and it was
known that some of its representatives wen
likely to be false to their own engagements, and
the wishes of the North. That repeal could only
be useful to the South, if quietly acquiesced in.
Now that the struggle for supremacy has com-
menced, is it certain that the object of making
Kansas a slave State will not fail, when firmly'
opposed by equal energy, and endurance, and


superiority of numbers? And, if the plan suc-
ceed, what then? It is something that the South
will have lost much of the moral support of its
northern sisters. But it is much more, that it
shall have first given this flagrant lesson of the
vanity of public faith; for, it need not be dis-
guised, it will be met in that spirit. It will be
left without assurance of that part of the Louisi-
ana purchase yet unorganized, south of 36° 30'.
The third clause of the joint resolution of March
2, 1845, for the annexation of Texas, prohibited
slavery north qf the same line in Texas, and pro-
vided, in the same section, fo? the admission of
four new States by her consent and the consent
of Congress. The first part of the section is cer-
tainly repealed by the Nebraska bill, and the
North will demand in justice, that if one half of
the bargain is disclaimed and annulled, the other
half shall go down with it. Such is the construc-
tion that will be put upon it. There will, then,
be no subdivision of Texas. Will the South be
content with this ?

But this measure is more distasteful to the North .
Guarded by this compromise, Kansas and Ne-
braska were long looked to as the appointed field
and direction of its expansion. In the spirit of
the letter of Charles Pinckney, written on the
night of its passage, dated " Congress Hall, three
o'clock at night," in which he said theslavehold-
ing States had gained a great triumph, had added
six or eight members to the Senate, and that the
North would gain nothing " for a great length of
time," the North has bided its time and its ad-
vantages long'postponed, and rested in security
on this act of national faith. This public infi-
delity now has disturbed its dream, and drawn its
people from the places of peace and industry they
love; like a guard called at midnight to stand on
their defense, and prevent encroachments for the

But the South answers, while availing itself of
this breach of faith, and attempting to obtrude
slavery on Kansas, that its restoration is useless,
because its moral power is gone. Is this so? Is
the compromise of 1820 remembered with common
scorn, as a thing of no obligation, and of ques-
tionable wisdom and patriotism? On the other
hand, does not the whole Union pay homage to
the benefactors who ordained it, and mourn the
age of peace that expired with it? And if the act
deserves shame and obloquy, do these extend to
its authors? Are Calhoun, and Pinckney, and
Clay, and Monroe, to be lost from the patrimony
of national honor, and perish from the public love,
or live only to be the ribald and familiar jests of
fresh placemen, complaisant with consequence,
who try to strut in extraordinary stature in their
places ? And the fathers of the Republic, who
were present, and helped to lay its deep founda-
tions, and often laid down, byline and plummet,
the constitutional power and duty to exclude
slavery from the Territories, — are they, too, to be
comprehended in the catholic scorn this school of
charlatans is visiting on the whole past?

The Missouri compromise is without legal effi-
cacy, but is shorn of none of its moral power. It
• has its place in history and its hold on the public
heart. It is felt not to be lost, but only banished.

It will be regarded the more because it has seemed
to be in hazard. Its restoration will be hailed a*
the augury of permanent peace. It will kindle
illuminations, and fill the land with gladness, and
the whole nation will go forth to greet it, as old
Athens at the crisis of her fate, when the barbaric
host cast its shadow over all her seas and plains,
poured out from all her gates to bring home the
banished Aristides.

This is needful for two reasons — in justice to
the injured North, to rebuke her betrayers, who,
false to representative duty, and for purposes of
personal aggrandizement, made commerce of the
national honor and happiness; but, for the greater
reason of reassuring good faith and generous
compromise, as the only means of lasting har-

Such is republicanism to-day. It hath this
extent. It has no purpose to offend or assail the
South, for it would then be sectional. It does
not espouse any local or limited interest of the
South, for that, too, would be sectional. But
it has a national regard for the Union and the
interest of all the States alike. It holds them
by the exact limits established a third of a cen-
tury ago by national men, and asks no more,
and will take no less. It accedes to the very
terms that the South, jealous of honor, made
for itself. So determined, it will plead its cause
at the forum of the people for its faith and jus-
tice, and allow excellence, in no quarter, for su-
perior devotion to the Union.

If it was right and constitutional to pass this
act in 1820, it is right and constitutional now. A
modern philosopher, given to puzzling himself
on all sorts of abstractions, finally reasoned him-
self into universal skepticism, and grew into the
belief that nothing whatever existed, mind or mat-
ter, and wrote a book on the subject. Our con-
stitutional expounders, in this age of searching
analysis, have made almost as much progress,
and reasoned away most of the constitutional
powers, as well as the solid bottoms they were
supposed to stand on. Among other things, they
have explored the powers of Congress to govern
its own territory, and especially on the subject of
slavery there, and find it all unconstitutional.
Mr. Jefferson thought the Constitution gave no
power to acquire territory. They have no diffi-
culty in finding in the Constitution abundant
power to acquire territory, and understand the
whole subject much better than Mr. Jefferson.
Jackson, Webster, Calhoun, Polk, Clay, were in
favor of the principle of the Missouri compromise;
believed that Congress had the power, after ac-
quiring territory, to govern it, as a farmer has a
right to use his farm as he pleases; exclude slavery
or not; and acted on it. These expounders know
better, and only pity them for living and dying
in the delusion. I have nothing to say to these
constitutional schoolmasters. I am content to
stand by the faith and practice of the fathers and
of the pure age of the Republic.

But there is a class which goes further, and
challenges our public history as against the
power. The gentleman from Georgia [Mr. Ste-
phens] lately made the following statement:

" I say that the fathers who made this Republic, irom the


beginning of it— from the date of the Constitution and up to
1820, never, in a single instance, exercised the power of
excluding the emigration of slaves from any of the States
of this Union to the common territory."

I venture to confront it, and, in no offensive
manner, to contradict its historical accuracy. I
deny it altogether. I aver, on the other hand,
that in theory.and practice, by reason, usage, and
precedent, under the Confederation and under the
Constitution, from the beginning of the Govern-
ment to the passage of the Nebraska act, the
power of Congress to legislate for the Territories
on all subjects, including the particular subject
above named, has been asserted and maintained.
This is a broad proposition, but its truth is im-
pregnable. And when government has been
maintained through the Territorial Legislatures,
or through officers of territorial creation, it has
been by the express authority of Congress, and
by the use of its own delegated power, which it
could take away at pleasure. Congress has
always used this power directly or by indirection.
It is evinced in our legislation, where its instances
are strewn all over its pages — it has been main-
tained in judicial decisions of all our courts, State
and Federal, from the highest to the lowest. It
has been maintained in the executive administra-
tion of our laws. It is the salient fact of the his-
tory of our Territories, standing out distinguished,
like a promontory. And I challenge the proof of
the gentleman's proposition by examples. At
least, let history be sp; red from wrong for mere
party objects.

I do not mean to go over the large range of
proofs that have been so often told and illustrated,
but to allude only to the less familiar history of
my own State.

Sir, that original Abolitionist, Thomas Jeffer-
son, who, not content with stirring up rebellion
against King George, and setting the country in
a blaze, went abroad publishing what are now
considered fanatical sentiments of human free-
dom and progress, for which, if he were in Kan-
sas to-day, he might enjoy a prison, with an iron
ball and chain fastened to him, and a Bible to
improve his morals by, according to the second
and fifth sections of chapter twenty-two of, that
amiable code of laws — Thomas Jefferson inau-
gurated legislation to exclude slavery from the
public lands. Restriction and intervention began
with him. The gentleman from Georgia, while
reading the Holmes letter, which I shall hereafter
refer to, said he wanted from Jefferson no ab-
straction, but something practical. Here it is.
On the 1st of March, 1784, Jefferson, as chairman
of a committee to devise a scheme of government,
in the language of the Journal, for " the trans-
montane half'of the American Republic," com-
prehending the region beyond the mountains,
from the north boundary of Florida to the lakes
and the Mississippi, reported a bill to the Con-
gress of the Confederation, subdividing it into
seventeen States, and containing the following

" Eighth. That after the year 1800 of the Christian era

there snail in' neither elavery nor involuntary servitude in

. nv of the .-aid States, otherwise than in the punishment

Of'crnn.'- of Which tin' party shall have been duly con-

d to have been personally guilty. : '

That is practical. It applied to every inch of
the public lands from the lakes to Florida. It
did not stand, in the language of the gentleman
from Georgia, " on the principle of a division of
the Territory." It gave all to freedom, for that
was the impulse and the end— the beginning and
the final cause of the revolutionary struggle. It
went further, and organized them as States, and
said slavery should not exist there, when organ-
ized into States. •

This section failed, from the accidental absence
of one New Jersey member, seven States being
necessary to pass it. On what trifles great events
depend ! If it had 'passed , the Alleghanies would
have been the western wall of slavery.

The government of Territories was then a new
business; and the ordinance of 1784, passed on
the very day of the Virginia grant, and when it
was supposed it would include Kentucky, was
too clumsy to work well. This led afterwards
to the celebrated ordinance of July 13, 1787, the
corner-stone of the prosperity and happiness of
the Northwest. It differed from the former, in
making the expulsion of slavery immediate, and
in being limited to the country between the Ohio
and Mississippi. It was reported by a com-
mittee, consisting of Carrington and Richard H.
Lee of Virginia; Nathan Dane of Massachu-
setts; Smith" of New York; and Keen of South

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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 2 of 6)