John Upfold Pettit.

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

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ence in politics, threatened to jostle hostile inter-
ests against each other, and sow dragon's teeth, to
spring up full-armed passions; over a virgin ter-
ritory, hardly less in measure than the Roman
Empire when it was swayed by the first Cmsars.

To make it palatable, the words, pleasant then,
but bitter now, "popular sovereignty," were
used. But it was necessary further to use ambig-
uous words, instead of plain ones, to make it
bear favorable, though different constructions, at
both ends of the Union. Then the Kansas bill
spoke with a tongue forked like a serpent's. It
paltered to the public in a double sense. It said
to the North, "This is your victory, for by your
superiority of numbers and energy of colonization
you can now make your places of observation,
and build your fortresses of freedom around the
whole South, and wall it in, and keep it in a state
of siege till slavery dies." It said to the South,
" By the equality of the States, slavery now lives
again, and may overstep the boundary of the
States and enter the Territories, and fence in the
North, and stop its thrift." The very opposite
hopes it encouraged, created sections, and kin-
dled the passions that have stained Kansas with

That is the eminent merit of the Cincinnati
platform, now. It reads two ways — to the South,
that slavery may enter all the public Territories
unopposed; to the North, that the people in the
Territory may exclude it, but dares not say either
of these things in a straightforward way, and is
silent on the subject the people are most concerned
to know.

In the midst of blunders of history, constitu-
tional criticism, and much wounded vanity ill-
concealed, the President, in his late messages,
embraces one truth — that the land is agitated with
this subject. He had said the peace with which
his reign began should endure — to gain it credit,
he said it three times, in accepting the nomination
in 1852, in his inaugural message, and in his first
message, and then acted so as to show that none
of his promises, thrice told, were worth anything.
Sir, the President and the authors of the Ne-
braska bill are the agitators. I know no other
agitators. The cart -tail speech of Mr. Atchison
in Missouri, showing the coercion by which he
obtained the passage of that measure for the sake
of slavery, is full of verity. The President hesi-
tated at first. He stood shivering and fainting
at the brink, and did not plunge in, but allowed
himself to be drawn in — to be shoved in. Others
were pushed in, and then others, too poor to have
opinions of their own, or calculating the value of
the Nebraska bill in its advantage to themselves,
followed obsequiously after.

The invasions of Kansas were only overt and
violent acts of the conspiracy, but were not the
beginning. It began in the attempt to repeal the
> Missouri compromise. It began here. Like the
conspiracy of Catiline, it was hatched in sight of
the Cap it i.!.

The President, on the passage of the bill, was
already pledged to the work. Slavery had then
an ally with extraordinary powers of mischief.
He appointed the Governor, who was only the
President's machine, and held his office by the
tenure of complete obedience. The judges were
appointed, and amenable in the same manner.
They were even worse, for, unlike the Governor,
they had determined not to give up their con-
sciences. The marshal of the Territory was the
President's marshal. You called this popular sov-
ereignty. Here the President held in his hand
two of the most important branches of the terri-
torial government. There was but one more, the
Legislature, to master.

Mr. Atchison, by accident of position the Vice
President, relinquished his place in the Senate
Chamber, and hastened back to Missouri to pro-
vide for getting control of the Legislature. The
Blue Lodsre grew up under his ingenious and cun-
ning handiwork. It was a secret society, rami-
fied, according to the proof before the investigat-
ing committee, through all the southern States,
oath-bound , and devoted to the spread of slavery,
and especially into Kansas. It pledged its mem-
bers to go there, when commanded, for the pur-
pose of voting at elections, and levied contributions
to provide means for subverting, by organized
force, the Federal laws, and destroying all civil
rights in Kansas. So this force was gathered
together, combined under pledges of mutual sup-
port, secretly inducted and initiated, that the
criminal purpose might be hid, to impose, by
violent and criminal means, a government and
institutions to which they were averse, on the
people of a neighboring Territory. The one
thousand seven hundred and twenty-nine that
marched out of Missouri into Kansas in Novem-
ber, 1854, and the four thousand nine hundred
and eight that, in array, and with the accom-
paniments of active war, again entered Kansas
in March, 1855, and on these two occasions gave
so many illegal votes, and excluded the citizens
of Kansas from the privilege of election, which
was the only power of government given them
by the organic act — all this organized militia of
slavery is within the criminal punishment of the
laws he has sworn to maintain, and yet the Pres-
ident has been silent.

The spirit of this aggression need not be told.
Warned before the second election of the coming
invasion, of which he in turn apprised the Pres-
ident, and with a manly purpose of protecting
his people, Governor Reeder had a thought of
interposing force against this outrage. But the
Squatter Sovereign in turn warned him of the dan-
ger of maintaining the faithful execution of the

"A military force to protect the ballot box! Let Pres-
ident Pierce, or Governor Reeder, <>r any other power,
attempt such a coarse in this, or any other portion of the
Union, ami that day will never be forgotten."

On the night before the invasion, and while the
enemies of Kansas were accumulated in Mis-
souri, on its frontier, ready to advance on its bal-
lot-boxes, t reneral Stringfellow, whose word was
oracular, met them, and gave them, in this lan-
guage, his counsel and benediction:


"To those who have qualms of conscience as to violat-
ing laws, State or National, the time has come when such
impositions must be disregarded, as your rights and prop-
erty are in danger ; and I advise you, one and all, to enter
every election district in Kansas, in defiance of Reeder and
his vile myrmidons, and vote at the point of the bowie-
knife and revolver. Neither give nor take quarter, as our
case demands it. It is enough that the slaveholding inter-
est wills it, from which there is no appeal. What right has
Governor Reeder to rule Missourians in Kansas? His
proclamation and prescribed oath must be repudiated. It
is your interest to'do so. Mind that slavery is established
where it is not prohibited."

I avoid alluding to the details of that day of
guilt, read with shame and indignation over the
whole land, and to endure in sight of the whole
earth as an ineradicable blot on the national
honor. The invaders went back to Missouri on
the next day, and there published in the Squatter
Sovereign, a newspaper patronized by the Admin-
istration, their bulletin of victory, dated Inde-
pendence, Missouri, March 31, 1855. It says:

•' Several hundred emigrants from Kansas have just en-
tered our city. They were preceded by the Westport and
Independence brass bands. They came in at the west side
of the public square, and proceeded entirely around it, the
bands cheering us with fine music, and the emigrants with
good news. Immediately following the bands were about
two hundred horsemen in regular order; following these
were one hundred and fifty wagons, carriages, &c. They
gave repeated cheers for Kansas and Missouri. They report
that not an anti-slavery man will be in the Legislature of
Kansas. We have made a clean sweep."

Westport and Independence are in ecstacy !
We of Missouri have made a clean sweep of the
Legislature of Kansas ! Is this the entertainment
to which the people of the Territories were in-
vited ?

Lecompte encouraged. Jones, then the Presi-
dent's postmaster at Weston, now sheriff of
Douglas county, was holding a pistol at the breast
of an officer of the law of the United States, com-
pelling him to relinquish his office in five minutes
or die. The President has dishonored the proud
soldiery of the Republic, by compelling them, as
a posse, into obedience to such a ruffian. Atchi-
son was tempted away from Missouri to witness
this violation of the law he assisted to make, and
announces the result in his cart-tail speech, with
the swagger of a Gascon, and the vulgar ferocity
of a pirate. He had advised the first inroad in
November, 1854:

" T saw it with my own eyes. These men came with
the avowed purpose of driving or expelling you from the
Territory. What did I advise you to do ? Why, meet them
at their own game. When the first election came off, [
told you to go over and vote. You did so, and l>eat them.
We, our party in Kansas, nominated General Whitfield.

" Well, what next? Why, an election for members of
the Legislature, to organize the Territory, must be held.
What did 1 advise you to do then? Why, meet them on
their own ground, and beat them at their own game again ;
and, cold and inclement as the weather was, I went over
with a company of men.

" My object in going was not to vote, but to settle a diffi-
culty between two of our candidates; and Abolitionists of
the North said, and published it abroad, that Atchison was
there with howie -knife and revolver, and by God 'twas
true. I never did go into that Territory — I never intend to
go into that Territory — without being prepared for all such
kind of cattle. Well, we beat them ; and Governor Reeder

?ave certificates to a majority of all the members of both
louses ; and then, after they were organized, as everybody
will admit, they were the only competent persons to say
who were and who were not members of the same."

In a circular to the South, last autumn, Mr.
Atchison adds that Missouri alone had spent
$100,000 in carrying on the strife. And yet while
the judge of his own creation, and whose official
existence depended on him, the postmaster of
another State, and the late Vice President, were
trampling on the laws, and with arms in their
hands were treasonably defying the national
authority in Kansas, the President's authority
and influence slept soundly as a dog in a kennel.
The Executive, who threw wide open the doors
of the Treasury, and sent the armed force of the
sea and land to take back a fugitive from slavery
— exhausted himself in that spasmodic energy,
and had no power to exert to save a whole land
of freemen. Was the President in darkness ?
This terrible knowledge filled the whole land.
But, perhaps, he was not officially informed.
The executive minutes of Kansas were regularly
and officially laid before him, setting forth the full
enormity of this public crime. It was, also, re-
peatedly communicated to him in official letters.
He was resting on that bed of glory he had spread
for himself at Grey town. Governor Reeder
pressed on his consideration the irregularities arid
disorders of Kansas, and implored his help, and
he was slightly moved — but it was only in his
Cabinet. He heartily approved his conduct, but
required his resignation of office, because "Gen-
eral Atchison pressed it in the most excited man-
ner, and would listen to no reasoning at all."
He then proposed giving him a better office, then
tempted his integrity by hinting at an improve-
ment of his private affairs, then turned him out
of office, and volunteered as his calumniator.
The President is not safe from opinion, but he is
now safe from public justice. In the Cincinnati
convention he had helped to compose, only three
and a half were finally found who had not made
up an opinion against him — not enough to make

These significant illustrations of popular sov-
ereignty and the equality of the States, together
with the unparalleled series of disorders that fol-
lowed, not tolerated merely, but promoted and
aided by the agents of the Executive, are now
referred to to freshen recollection of the infirm
and cowardly conduct lately mapped out at Cin-
cinnati for future policy, but principally to show
that, in its accepted and proper sense of collecting
and expressing the honest will of the people of
the Territory, no election has been held in Kan-
sas. The organic act limited the elective franchise
to " inhabitants who were actual residents." An
election implies a reflection of the popular will,
like a form exactly reflected from a mirror. No
such act of sovereignty has been exercised, be-
cause it has been prevented by armed conquests,
and all pretended elections and legislative action
are simply nullities. This replies at once to the
imputation of treason and revolutionary conduct,
modestly hinted in what Mr. Ronton calls the
ipecac platform, and now affirmed by the gentle-
man from Georgia, [Mr. Stephens,] because
treason and revolution can only occur where
there are existing laws to be opposed. The con-
spirators against the liberties of Kansas only are
revolutionary; while those who seek to maintain


the narrow privileges conveyed by the organic
act are alone faithful to the supremacy of thelaw.
The gentleman from Georgia glides by the
crime by saying that certificates of election were
given by Governor Reeder. Grant it. But his
act in giving certificates was clerical, and not ju-
dicial, and could give no legal quality to an act
that had none without it. It gave the persons
who held them no greater strength of right. This
is maintained by President Pierce in his message
of January 24th last, in speaking of the election
of Whitfield as a Delegate in November, 1854,
who also had a certificate of election from Reeder:

"Any question," the President says, "appertaining to the
qualification of the persons voting as people of the Territory,
would have passed, necessarily and at once, under the
supervision of Congress, as the judge of the validity of the
returns of the Delegate."

Entering on the duties of legislators gave no
strength to the title of the Legislature. It could
only have root, and derive validity, from an elec-
tion held in strict compliance with the organic act.
What follows the popular act of election at the
ballot-box, the return, the Governor's certificate,
&c\, is only an official form, authenticating the
act of election, but not enlarging it, or altering its
quality. The true question, in inquiring into the
verity of an election, is, is its result a fair expo-
nent of the will of the people entitled to use the
franchise ? If it is not, the election is a nullity.
A legitimacy of title in that manner, and from the
people of the Territory, it never had.

But Atchison argued at the cart-tail, that Reeder
having given the certificates, after the persons
chosen by the invaders were organized into a
mock Legislature, " everybody would admit they
were the only competent persons to say who
were, and who were not, members." If, as he
says, it was competent for the Legislature to
decide it, it was not competent for Reeder. But
the proposition of General Atchison is not gen-
erally admitted, but denied. The Legislature
could decide nothing without first having a legal
title to sit, which is the point in dispute.

But no cobwebs of forms shall surround and
sanctify this outrage. Whatever might be the
condition of a State in such a case of contested
sovereignty, there is none here. Congress is the
paramount sovereign of the public. Territories;
and may not only utterly vacate this irregular
government, but destroy — if it were absurd enough
to do so— all functions of government whatever
throughout all the Territories. If it was com-
petent for Congress to prescribe elections, it is
competent to set them aside. To declare, what
is the fact, the invalidity of the territorial legis-
lation of Kansas, and reassert and reclaim its
delegated sovereignty/will at once put a pen, id
to the outrage and crime now maintained, for
slavery's sake, at the very heart of our Empire.
All of that legislation should perish. Nol the
leas! in, ne rial should remain to remind its people
hereafter of a foreign servitude.

In pursuing this argument, the gentleman from

Georgia ingeniously compared the waste of hu-

• man ufe in Kansas with thai sometimes produced

by popular violence in mobs and riots, and made

a satisfactory set-off. I'm he will here observe

the difference. Without apology, as all acts of
popular violence are, these emeutes do not com-
promise the honor of the State, because it has no
present force equal to subdue the violence. But
in Kansas, disorders have occurred on system,
beginning in November, 1854, furnishing para-
graphs for almost every newspaper since, com-
prising the armed police on the Missouri river,
armed invasions, the ballot-box defiled, speech
silenced , the press destroyed , imprisoning, trying,
plundering, robbing, expelling, burning, murder-
ing — and throughout all, the Executive and his
officials have silently or actively lent themselves
to the work. In the one case, the violence is too
sudden and violent for the law to prevent it. Here,
where, by a refinement of malice, the outrage is
slowly distilled and measured, the law is power-
ful, but the Executive is weak. Here iese dis-
orders have continued, because the President has
not wished, because the President had already
determined not, to prevent them. Here he ac-
quires his eminence of infamy.

If this be popular sovereignty, according to the
principles of the Nebraska-Kansas bill — if, in this
mode only, the people of the public domain are
to regulate their domestic institutions in their own
way, for the national honor we cherish and of
human nature itself, outraged in this unexampled
calendar of wrong, let it be ended. If this be not
popular sovereignty now, when will its fruition
come ?

The firm purpose is set. It has been revolved
in the public mind, and is fixed in the public
heart, that the large territory sealed to freedom
by the act for the admission of Missouri in 1820,
shall remain so forever. This is the nomination
of our fathers' bond, and the Nebraska act was an
unfilial judgment on their memories. But recov-
ered or not, the resolution is not less inflexible.
This is not aggression, for it pauses at a limita-
tion the South enforced and the North has ac-
quiesced in, for more than a third of a century.
It is only an act of resistance to aggression on
the covenanted rights of the North.

A party does not have its nationality in the dif-
fusion of its members, but in its faith. Mr. Mad-
ison, the father of the Constitution, obtained the
exclusion of the word slave from that instrument
on the ground that when slavery had perished
out of its existing limits, we should not wish to
remember that it had ever existed. The whole
convention agreed to it. Cotemporaneous and
subsequent history attest that the speedy extinc-
tion of slavery was then supposed. Getting back
to that point of departure, we are at the spot of
true nationality. The "proper Democracy,"
described by Jackson, as distinguished from the
spurious Democracy that attempted to ingraft on
our old and honored creed the slavn-y propagand-
ised of Calhoun, maintained it. For the honor
of the Democratic party of Indiana, that boasted
such a chief as Howard, and that perished in de-
bauch and profligacy at the repeal of the Mis-
souri compromise, leaving only a name to be
won, by those who hod abandoned its principles,
it deserves to be remembered, and my colleague,
[Mr. English,] and the president of the Senate
[Mr. Bright,] are the witnesses, that it main-


tained till 1848 — and then, after a short interreg-
num of doubt, until 1852 — the doctrine of slavery-
restriction and freedom to all the Territories.
That was national then, and, helped by others,
when they abandon us, we now carry on the

It is the spirit and quality of public liberty to
be aggressive on everything that is wrong. It
yields no wrong conditions, asks no auxiliaries,
but only a fair and open field. " Let truth and
falsehood grapple," said Milton, full of faith,
when defending the liberty of the press. " Who
ever knew truth put to the worse in free and
open encounter? For who knows not that truth
is strong, next to the Almighty?" But yet,
though opposing what the gentleman from Geor-
gia [Mr. Stephens] has denominated "the prin-
ciple of a division of the territory," which he
makes a reason for the repeal of the Missouri
compromise; to silence this cavil, let us compare
the territorial gain to the two sections since the
adoption of the Constitution. The Northwest
Territory is excluded, because its political condi-
tion was fixed under the Confederation. So, too,
for the same reason, Kentucky, Tennessee, and
the north part of Alabama and Mississippi, are
excluded. The North has then gained:

Iowa 50,914 square miles.

California 155,980 " «

Total 206,894

Louisiana, acquired from France, extended on
the east to the Perdido river, the west boundary
of Florida. The South has, then, gained and
organized into States :

South part of Alabama and Mississippi.... 48,939 sq. miles.

Louisiana 41,525 "

Arkansas 52,198 "

Missouri 67,380 "

Texas 318,000 "

Florida 59,268 "

Total 579,040 "

The South has acquired twelve Senators while
the free States have acquired only four. The
South has acquired twenty-three members in
the House of Representatives on the basis of
slaves, for which the North has no equivalent,
except in good conscience. With less than one
half of the white population of the North, the
South has acquired and enjoys twice as much
territory, and been permitted to muster the con-
trolling influence of legislation in both branches
of Congress. But this disparity becomes enor-
mous, if the Cincinnati dogma, that the Consti-
tution, by its own vigor, transports slavery into
the common domain, is to be maintained; for then,
subject to the struggle for the mastery, one million
four hundred and seventytwo-thousand and sixty-
one square miles are to be added to the territorial
gains of the South, a realm as large as European
Russia, set apart, under free and equal laws, to
the perpetuation of human bondage.

Three fourths of the national revenue, derived
from customs, is paid by the North. More than
a moiety of it has been, immemorially, expend-
ed in the South. Staples of southern produc-
tion are protected, so as to add millions yearly

to the riches of her planters. The North pays
#4,391,860 80 postage; $2,381,607 16 is expended
in it. The South pays $1,486,984 06 postage.
The service consumes not this only, but also
$600,266 05 more derived from the North. This
is not said in complaint, but to evince how ground-
less is the clamor of the injustice of the North.

But the gentleman from South Carolina [Mr.
Orr] admits, in a letter to the Hon. W. C. Dud-
ley, the kindness of the North, but says it is
wholly due to northern Democrats:

" The northern Democrats aided us to bring into the
Union Texas, a magnificent slaveholding Territory— large
enough to make four slave States— and strengthened us
more in that peculiar interest than was ever before done by
any single act of the Federal Government. Since then,
they have amended a very imperfect fugitive slave law,
passed in 1793, and have given us now a law for the recov-
ery of fugitive slaves, as stringent as the ingenuity of man
could devise. Since, they have aided us by their votes in
establishing the doctrine of non-intervention with slavery,
by Congress, in the Territories. Since then they have actu-
ally repealed the Missouri restriction, opened the Territo-
ries to settlement, and enabled us, if the South will be true
to herself, and aid in peopling Kansas, to form another slave
State. In 1843 a man would have been pronounced insane,
had he predicted that slavery would be introduced there by the
removal of congressional restrictioris."

To this lame and impotent conclusion to the
degradation of being only a hireling for the prop-
agation of slavery on the national domain, they
tell us that the Democracy of Jefferson and
Jackson have gone down! In all its forms sla-
very is an evil. Theologians may maintain its
divine right and pedigree, and deduce, as they
do, white and black slavery together, out of its

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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 5 of 6)