John Upfold Pettit.

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

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Carolina,— names familiar to us as household
words. It was reported in the language of the
former act of Jefterson. It was passed by the
vote of all the States, and of all the delegates
from all the States but one from New York. It
again prohibited slavery forever from what was
then the whole national domain — and not only
while the Northwest remained a Territory , but
after it should be organized into States. It did
more. The prohibition entered into territory
where slavery was then lawful, and where it in
fact existed , and expelled it violently from the ter-
ritory. It disdained the existing property in hu-
man suffering and human life. It was ignorant
of that new equality of the States, by which a
small class of patriarchs, whether from Utah or
South Carolina, shall occupy the public lands,
filled with natural gifts fit for freemen, to the in-
convenience and expulsion of everybody else,
I This kind of republicanism was then national.
Every State was for it. Can the gentleman from
Georgia tell the time when it became sectional,
or ho°w it became so, or who made it so? This
first child of freedom was borrt just as it was,
wholly free from the common will of the whole

But it will be answered, that this ordinance
was passrd by the Congress of the Confederation,
and before the Constitution. Grant it. This
makes the case much stronger. The Congress
of the Confederation, like the present Congress
under the Constitution, could only use powers
expressly granted. This Congress can do nothing
not permitted by the Constitution. That Con-
gress could do nothing not permitted by the
Articles of Confederation. But, by the Articles
of Confederation, no power of any-kind, in ex-
press words, was granted to acquire or to gov-
ern territory. It was attempted to derive it in the


power to collect revenue, and in the power to
regulate intercourse with the Indian tribes. But
this was abandoned, and the right was rested,
where the Supreme Court of the United States
now rests it, under the Constitution, on the better
principle, that the ownerof the territory, of course,
has the right to govern it for all purposes.

If, therefore, the Congress of the Confedera-
tion, when the power to govern the Territories
was, in terms, so doubtful, could, under that in-
strument, enter that Territory, expel slavery and
substitute freedom, much more can it be done
under the Constitution of the United States, which
conveys express power to Congress to make all
needful rules and regulations for the Territories
and other property of the United States.

It deserves, too, to be remembered, that the
Congress that passed this ordinance, and the con-
vention that framed the Constitution, sat at the
same time, and that many of the members be-
longed to both, and knew very well, nobody
better, what powers the Articles of Confederation
lacked, and what powers it was necessary that
the Constitution should have.

But this doubt was very soon put to rest. The
first Congress under the Constitution, composed
in part of the men who had framed that instru-
ment, met, and, on the 7th of August, 1789,
reenacted the ordinance of 1787, without a divis-
ion-. Washington, who had been the president
of the convention that framed the Constitution,
approved the act. Who knew better the signifi-
cancy of that instrument than those who made
it? than he — I express itall when I speak the name
of Washington— who, in presiding at the work
of its creation, gave the Union hopes of a duration
more lasting than brass or marble ? Washington,
by this act, gave the consent of his judgment
that it was constitutional and right, and consistent
with the genius of American government, to
expel the political wanton, slavery, from the
national territory.

The preamble of that act is worthy of notice:

•'' Whereas, in order that tin' ordinance of the United
States, hi Congress assembled, for the government of the
territory northwest of the river Ohio, may continue to have
full effect, it is requisite that certain provisions should be
made, so as to adapt the same to the present Constitution
of the United States. Be it enacted," &c.

The act then provides that the Governor of
the Northwest Territory shall communicate to
the Congress of the United States the information
required under the ordinance of 1787, and that
then the President shall appoint officers, &c.
Mr. Pierce, in his late message, says that this
ordinance was repealed on the adoption of the
Constitution. This is worthy of the President's
ability at constitutional construction. If the ord-
inance was repealed, and the government dis-
solved, what Governor was there to report any-
thing? What was he Governor of? If the ord-
inance was repealed, and this law did not reenact
it, by what law was the Northwest Territory
governed, until the establishment of Ohio as a
State on the 30th of April, 1302, for there was
no other law? This modern executive opinion is
too weak for controversy. The very preamble
of this law states the ordinance to be continuing

to have effect; and the object of the law was
that it might continue to have full effect. Sir,
Washington and the first Congress of the Con-
stitution believed that it was a constitutional right
and duty to expel slavery from the Territories,
and maintain it so forever. This is what repub-
licanism claims. Washington baptized our creed,
and made it national. The gentleman from
Georgia can see something practical in this,
and will not attempt to wrestle with this high

Ohio being about to be admitted into the Union,
Congress, on the 7th of May, 1800, erected Indi-
ana Territory. It provided for it "a territorial
government, 'mail respects similar to that provided
by the ordinance of Congress, passed on the 13th
of July, 1787, for the government of the terri-
tory of the United States northwest of the river
Ohio." Thus Congress again asserted its power
to legislate to every extent on this vexed question
for her Territories. President Adams approved
the act, and Jefferson executed it.

It was in April, 1802, that Congress passed an
act authorizing the people of Ohio to form a State
constitution. The convention met at Chillicothe
in November. Governor St. Clair addressed it.
Here squatter sovereignty began, and first lifted
up its head. What became of the head will^be
seen in the sequel. Mr. Douglas and Mr. Dick-
inson may end their rivalry for this patent. Gov-
ernor St. Clair was the inventor and discoverer,
and the time for it to be of profit to any one is
run out. He then said:

" The people of the Territory require no act of Congress
to authorize them to call a convention and form a constitu-
tion, and the act of Congress is "a nullity. For all internal
affairs we have a complete Legislature of our own, and in
them we are no more bound by an act of Congress than we
would be bound by an edict of the First Consul of France.
The five thousand persons that were let off to the Indiana
Territory have been divested of their rights. We have the
means in our hands to bring Congress to reason, if we should
be forced to use them."

In consequence of being ignorant of what is
known to Mr. Pierce, and every one who takes
political communion with him, to be the sove-
reign rights of the people of the Territories, Mr.
Jefferson simply crossed his legs, as he was in
the habit of doing when he took a decided reso-
lution, and directed Mr. Madison, his Secretary
of State, to write the following letter:

" Sir : The President, observing in an address lately de-
livered by you to the convention held at Chillicothe, an in-
temperance and indecorum of language towards the Legis-
lature of the United States, and a disorganizing spirit and
tendency of very evil example, and grossly violating the
rules of conduct enjoined by your public station, determines
that your commission of Governor of the Northwestern
Territory shall cease on the receipt of this letter.

" I am, &e., JAMES MADISON.

" Arthur St. Clair, Esq., Clrillicothc."

The putting the Federal head of Arthur St.
Clair in a charger — the Federal head out of which
squatter sovereignty was born, and where it died
— was a piece of somewhat practical conduct in
Madison and Jefferson.

Illinois Territory was created by act of Con-
gress, February 3, 1809. The fourth section
applied to it the ordinance of 1787. This was
approved by Madison. The same had been done


for Michigan by the act of January 11, 1805,
approved by Jefferson. The same was after-
wards done for Wisconsin by the twelfth section |
of the act of April 20, 1836, approved by Jack-

But Jefferson and Madison at that time carried
the doctrine of the power of the Constitution over ;
the subject of slavery in the new States that had
been formed out of the public domain, to a
greater extent than is now generally maintained.
Jefferson approved the act of Congress author-
izing Ohio to form a State constitution; Madison
the act of April 19, 1816, conferring the same
power on the people of Indiana; but both these
acts forbade them from adopting constitutions
repugnant to the ordinance of 1787. They were
forbidden from incorporating slavery, even when
clothed with the full dignity and authority of

I have here passed by an extraordinary example
of the assertion of this power by Congress, and
now return to take it up. The first population of
Indiana Territory was drawn to it by the Ohio
river, and principally from the neighboring States
of Virginia and Kentucky. Their characteristic
institution was excluded by the ordinance of 1787,
and having then, in the infancy of constitutional
construction, no notion of their absolute rights
to do what they pleased, and especially on that
subject, applied to Congress for its suspension.
A territorial convention of elected delegates as-
sembled at Vincennes, and v/as presided over by
General Harrison, the Father of the Northwest.
It will be seen that it differs from the opinion of
President Pierce, as to the ordinance of 1787
being then repealed. The petition to Congress then
agreed upon, now time-worn and dilapidated, I
have obtained from its slumbers in the Archives
in this Capitol, and, though somewhat lengthy,
incorporate here:

The memorial and petition of the inhabitants of the In-
diana Territory respectfully sheweth :

That nine tenths of your memorialists, being of opinion
that the sixth article of compact contained in the, ordinance
for the government of the Territory, has been extremely
prejudicial to their interest and welfare, requested the Gov-
ernor, by petitions from each of the several counties, to
call a general convention of the Territory, for the purpose
of taking the sense of the whole people, by their Repre-
sentatives, on a subject to them so interesting, and of
afterwards taking such measures as to them might seem
meet, by petition to your honorable bodies, not only for
obtaining the repeal or suspension of the said article of
compact, hut also for that of representing and petitioning
for the passage of such other laws as would, in the opinion
of the convention, he conducive to the general welfare,
population, and happiness of this distant and unrepresented
portion of the United States.

This convention is now sitting at Vincennes, .and have
agreed to males the following representation to the Con
pre.-., of the United States, not in the le:i>t doubtingbut
that everything they can desire, (not prejudicial to the Con-
stitution or the interest of the General Government,) will
readily be granted them.

The sixth article of compact betw ien the United States
and the people of the Territory, which declares there shall
in: neithi i slavery nor involuntary servitude in it. has pre
vented the country from populating, and been the reason of
driving manj valuable citizens, posses ing -laves, to the
Spanish aid of the Mississippi, most ofwhom, but for the

prohibitioi mined in tie ordinance, would have; settled

in thi and the consequences of keeping that

prohibition in force will he that of obliging the numerous

of citizens dil posed to emigrate to see!; an asylum m

that country where they can be permitted to enjoy toeii

Four memorialists, however, and the people they repre-
sent, do not wish for a repeal of this article entirely, but
that it may he suspended for the term of ten years, and
then to be again in force ; but that the slaves brought into
the Territory during the continuance of this supension, arid
their progeny, may be considered and continued in the
same state of servitude as if they had remained in those
parts of the United States where slavery is permitted, and
from whence they may have been removed.

Several persons (as your memorialists are informed)
having settled on the public lands in this Territory, with
the intention of purchasing the same when offered for sale
by the United States, are fearful that advantage may be
taken of their improvements to enhance the price: your
petitioners therefore pray that a law maybe passed for their
relief, giving the right of preemption to all those who may
have so settled on the puldie lands; and also, as one of the
more sure means as well of populating the country as of
enhancing the value of the United States lands remaining
undisposed of in the Territory, they further pray that pro-
visions may be made in the said law for securing a certain
part of every section of such public land to those who will
actually settle on and cultivate the same.

The "United States having pledged themselves, in the
ordinance, that schools and the means of education should
be forever encouraged, and having, in all the sales of land
heretofore made, reserved considerable portions thereof for
that purpose, your memorialists therefore humbly pray that
a law may be passed making a grant of lauds for the sup-
port of schools ami seminaries of learning to the several
settlements of the Territory, to wit : the two settlements on
the Illinois, the settlement of Vincennes, and that of
Clark : s grant, near the rapids of the Ohio.

Your memorialists further show, that they view that part
of the ordinance for the government of the Territory which
requires a freehold qualification in fifty acres of laud, a~
elector for members to the General Assembly, as subver-
sive of the liberties of the citizens, and tending to throw-
too great weight in the scale of wealth. They, therefore,
pray that the right of suffrage (in voting for representatives
to the General Assembly) may be extended to the fret
male inhabitants of the Territory, of the age of twenty-
one years and upwards, but under su<-ii regulations and
restrictions as to you, in your wisdom, may seem proper.

Since the erection of "the Territory into a separate gov-
ernment, the attorney peneral thereof has prosecuted not
only for offenses committed against the municipal laws of
the Territory, but also against the laws of the United States,
and has been obliged at three different time- to travel one
hundred aiel sixtj miles from his home, the seat of the
territorial government, to prosecute offenders against those
laws, and vet he has received no compensation for his ser-
vices, either from the United States or the Territory, nor
is it probable that the Territory can afford to allow him any
salary for any of his future services.

Yo'ur memorialists, therefore, pray that a law may be
passed allowing a salary to the attorney general of the Ter-
ritory, adequate to the important services which are ren-
dered by that officer to the United States as well as to the

Four memorialists are well aware that the consideration
of the numerous objects contemplated by this memorial
will require more time than can well be spared from the
important and general concerns of the Union, but when
they reflect upon theii neglected and orphan like situation,
they are emboldened to hope that their wants and wishes
will meet with all the indulgence and attention ni cessary
to secure to them the relief which is so essential to their
welfare and happiness.

Done at Vineennes, in the Indiana Territory, the 28tl
day of Pecember, in the year of our Lord J^0\>, and of the
Independence of the United States, the twenty-seventh.

By order of the convention :

President, and Delegate from the county of Knox.
Test: John Kice Jones, Secretary.

What a picture <>f the past so recenl as to be
in the memory of living in. in! A citizi <i of that
State may well feel emotions of jusl pride at its
benevolence and wisdom, hi- bythe

firm and honest hand of President Harrison. I:


is dated in the twenty-seventh year of indepen-
dence, of which, even on the frontier, its people
had a share. It acknowledged its dependence on
the authority of Congress. It foreshadows the
beneficial law of preemption. It foreshadows to
the settler the homestead bill, and his own inalien-
able home on the public lands. It testifies of the
value of knowledge and virtue, and of schools
and seminaries for their diffusion. But all that
broad domain, now occupied by six millions of
people, filled with cities, villages, and fair fields,
fruitfulas Egypt, abounding in virtue, patriotism,
and knowledge, bound together to each other and
to the other States by bands of iron, and moving
annually a commerce of seven hundred millions
of dollars, and yet pursuing its career, foremost
in the race, was then too poor to pay a lawyer.

Congress listened to this respectful language of
petition, and created a committee of singular merit
to consider it. The report of the committee, con-
curred in by Congress, was made by John Ran-
dolph, Jr., of Virginia. .

"That the rapid population of the State of Ohio sufficiently
evince?, in the opinion of your committee, that the labor of
slave? is not necessary to promote the growth and settle-
ment of colonies in that region. That this labor, demon-
strably the dearest of any, can only be employed to advan-
tage in the cultivation of products more valuable than any
known to that quarter of tbe United States. That the com-
mittee deem it highly dangerous and inexpedient to impair
a provision wisely calculated to promote the happiness and
prosperity of the- north-western country, and to give strength
and security to that extensive frontier. In the salutary
operation of this sagacious' and benevolent restraint, it is
believed that the inhabitants of Indiana will, at no very dis-
tant day, rind ample remuneration for a temporary privation
of labor and emigration."

Thus, in the language of the gentleman from
Georgia, the fathers of the Republic did exercise
" the power of excluding the migration of slaves
from the States to the common Territory."

It has often been said, that the grant from Vir-
ginia required the exclusion of slavery in that
Territory. This is an error. The grant was
unreservedly of " all right, title and claim, as well
of soil as jurisdiction?'' and was wholly unfettered
by any condition on the subject.

Indiana Territory then comprised all of the
present states of Indiana* Illinois, Michigan, and
Wisconsin. Illinois and Wisconsin then formed
two counties of the Territory, St. Clair and Ran-
dolph, with an official population in 1801 of four
thousand three hundred and eleven, principally
at Prairie du Chien, also, on the Illinois, and
at Cahokia and Kaskaskia, descendants of the ;
French explorers of the valley of the Mississippi,
commencing with La Salle.

The infant people of Illinois then met in dele-
gated convention. The convention occurred on
the 25th of November, 1805. It was presided
over by the venerable John Edgar. In the peti-
tion then adopted, which is now moldering in
your archives, they describe themselves " as the
people of the Illinois," they ask for "the erec-
tion ofacolonial government on the Mississippi;"
they allude to the struggle by which they them-
selves conquered the northwest territory into the
Union; they say that the expense of such agov-
ernment is trifling to so great a nation as this,
and that by its weight it would " control and

dissipate those hordes of restless adventurers,
who, by penetrating into the illimitable regions of
the West, might defy the national arm and com-
mit the national peace." Among other things,
they adopted the following resolution, making
their own italies. Even they had not discovered
that the ordinance of 1787 was repealed:

" And whereas the ordinance of 1787, for the government
of this Territory, is respected by the people as the Censtitu-
tion of their country, this committee entertain a hope that
the General Government, after guarantying to the public
the privileges in that ordinance contained, will not pass
unnoticed the violation thereof, by tbe late act of the Legis-
lature of this Territory, authorizing the importation of slaves,
and involuntary servitude for a long term of years.

" And although this committee entertain no doubt but
that the act in question will render service by adding a
spring to the growth of this country, they express the dis-
approbation of a people who never will consent to a viola-
tion of that ordinance for this privilege of slavery. When
Congress shall deem a change of the ordinance expedient,
they will cheerfully agree to the measure."

Such was squatter sovereignty in Illinois before
the cradle of Senator Douglas was rocked.

For the vindication of the honored history of
Indiana and Illinois, I turn again with regret to
the present Executive of Virginia, and the extrav-
agant language of a special message of January
•3\>d last, in which he refers to Virginia and her
former sovereignty of the Northwest:

" She was then sovereign of an eminent domain, ample
enough to pay officers and man to fight the armies of kings.
To cement the union of the States— to harmonize and
strengthen their confederacy — she afterwards ceded, with
more than generous devotion, the whole of her northwest
territory to the General Government, reserving only what
was called the Virginia military land district, between the
Miami and Sciota rivers, in the State of Ohio. The last
power on earth to question the substanc i or form of her
pledges is the General Government, to which she has been
so generous."

Without any motive to disparage the honor and
patriotism of that illustrious old Commonwealth,
I hold that Virginia had no property or right
there, except in the reserve alluded to , and another,
(Clark's grant,) omitted inadvertently, and this
only by the permission and silence of Congress.

The facts are few. In 1609 King James created
the Virginia company, with license to settle a
colony in America between 34° and 45° of north
latitude, extended west to the ocean. He after-
wards gave two or three other charters, extending
the privileges of the same company. In 1624 the
validity of these charters was brought into law,
and judicially denied. The Virginia company
was dissolved. In 1625, after the invalidity of
the previous charters had been decreed, Charles
I. made proclamation of the fact, and declared
Virginia to depend on himself for government.
It was afterwards governed by royal commission.
The lands were disposed of by the Crown.
Maryland, North and South Carolina, and Geor-
gia, were, by the same kingly authority, erected
out of its limits. Conflicting grants within the
same parallels of latitude were made to New
York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. The
western boundary of Virginia was fixed by the
King in council at the Alleghanies.

For one hundred and fifty years Virginia was
silent. But, in 1776, it claimed the rights of the
charter of 1609. Maryland resisted this extraor-


dinary assumption ; North Carolina also resisted.
Other States claimed the same territory, and for
better reasons. Virginia carried it with a high
hand, and opened aland office. Congress remon-
strated. Settlers, under the authority of Virginia,
went across the Ohio. Congress had them ar-
rested and expelled. Virginia remonstrated. But
Congress, l>y resolution, April 17, 1780, ordered
that their officers should be supported in the act.

The question of title to the Northwest was
then referred to a committee of Congress. It
reported November 3, 1781, and decided, that
by the public acts of the other States, the title
was in New York. Virginia then wanted a Fed-
eral guarantee to the territory southeast of the
Ohio. The committee refused it on the ground
" that large tracts west of the mountains had

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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 3 of 6)