United States. Congress.

Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856 : from Gales and Seaton's Annals of Congress, from their Register of debates, and from the official reported debates by John C. Rives online

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Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856 : from Gales and Seaton's Annals of Congress, from their Register of debates, and from the official reported debates by John C. Rives → online text (page 99 of 186)
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Sir, the magnitude of this subject, the impor-
tance which I conceive is attached to it, and the
vital principle which will be affected in its final
decision, are the only apology which I offer, for
viewing it in the several points of light in which
it presents itself to my understanding. In' the
first place, to clear the most formidable obstacle
out of the way, I shall endeavor to demonstrate,
that Congress have a ri^ht and power to pro-
hibit slaverv in every territory within their do-
minion, and in every State, formed of territory
acquired without the liniits of the original

This right and power are derived from the
constitution, article 1, section 9 : ^^ The migra- \
tion or importation of such persons as any of
the States now existing shall think proper to ad- I
mit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress/
prior to the year 1808."

Here is a grant of power suspended for a cer-
tain period. It amounts to this : Congress may,
after the year 1808, pass laws to prohibit the
migration and importation of slaves. I under-
stand the sense and meaning of this clause to be,
that the power of the Congress, although com-
petent to prohibit such migration and importa-
tion, was not to be exercised with respect to
the then existing States, (and them only,) until
the year 1808 ; but that the Congress were at
liberty to make such prohibition as to any new
State which might, in the mean time, be estab-
lished. ' And further, that, from and lifter
that neriod, they were authorized to make such
prohibition as to all the States, whether new or

It will, I presume, be admitted, that slaves
were the persona intended. The word slaves
was avoided, probably on account of the exist-
ing toleration of slavery, and its discordancy

Digitized by





Maine tmd Muaouin — BatrictUm on Missouru

[JAinzABT, 182a

with the principles of the Revolutioii; and
from a consciousness of its being repugnant to
the following positions in the Declaration of In-
dependence : " We hold these truths to be self-
evident ; that all men are created equal ; that
they are endowed by their Creator with certain
inalienable rights; that among these are life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

That this exposition is correct, I infer from
the common acceptation of words, and the fact
that Congress did, in March 180T, pass a law to
take effect on the first day of January, 1808,
prohibiting the further importation of slaves.
No objection has been made to the constitu-
tionality, expediency, or policy of this law. The
whole nation viewed it as one step towards ac-
complishing the object the framers of the con-
stitution evidentiy had in view. It may be of
use to us to inquire, what was the understand-
ing, and what was their design, in introducing
this paragraph into that instrument ? If you
examine the Journals of the Federal Conven-
tion, sir, you will find it was not hastily or in-
cautiously adopted, without deliberation, but
after critical analysis and profound investigation.

Mr. President, it is a sound principle in ex-
pounding a law, to give to every word a mean-
mg and an operation, and to be governed by the
evident design of the legislators ; so, in explain-
ing the constitution, we are surely on safe
ground, to pursue the object its authors evi-
dently had in view, by giving to every word
some meaning and operation. Does it not ap-
pear, from the words of that instrument, it was
their intention to arrest the progress and pre-
vent the further extension of involuntary ser-
vitude ? Let common sense put a purport upon
our Declaration of Independence, the letter of
our constitution, and the spirit or our Govern-
ment, and this must be the result.

It is well understood, that this question tried
the feelings and excited the interest of that
body perluips more than any question they dis-
cussed. But to obtain a constitution they
came to a compromise ; and in this compro-
mise there were mutual sacrifices. The large
States agreed that each should have two mem-
bers in the Senate, and the non-slaveholding
States consented that the black population
should come into the calculation in the appor-
tionment of members in the House of Bepresent-
atives, and the payment of direct taxes. It was
the opinion of some, that involuntary servitude
ought to be totally excluded ; and of others, that
it could not be, but might be meliorated and re-
strained. This produced the compromise, ^' the
States now existing,'' which have admitted
slavery, may continue to do so, on this condi-
tion : "• Congress may, after the year 1808,"
pass laws to prevent the *' migration " and far-
ther " importation " of slaves. To this prop-
osition they agreed. This confirmed the com-
pact. It is now binding on the whole. And
this Congress are to be controlled by its prin-
ciples. We wish neither to disturb the com-
pact, nor violate our plighted faith. We lament

the degraded situation of the slaves, and the
misfortune of those who hold them ; bat we
mean to attach no blame to them ; it is an evil
produced by a cause which was never within
the reach of the present generation.

What is this tract of country ? Is it a State
or a Territory ? If a State, then she may legis-
late for herself; if a Territory, then Congress
have power to regulate. It is not a State till
admitted into the Union by an act of Congress.
This is clear, because should Congress pass a
law to admit Missouri into the Union on con-
ditions, and those be r^ected, she remains still
a Territory. Then every legislative act, pre-
vious to that of admission, is a "regulation re-
specting a Territory." And, under this provi-
sion of the constitution, in connection with the
immutable principles of rational government,
conditions have uniformly been incorporated in
the acts admitting new States into tiie Union,
as well as those which related to territorial

If Congress have a constitutional right to
^^make ^ needful rules and regulations re-
specting the territories," then it follows, ex w
termini^ that they have equal right to exercise
their discretion in deciding what "rules and
regulations are needful." The power to make
rules, and not a right to exercise discretion in
adjusting them, would be a complete nullity.
Previous to the year 1808, Congress did sup-
pose, without the aid of this clause in the con-
stitution, they possessed sovereign power and
control over their territories. Under this very
just impression, a law was passed in April,
1798, prohibiting the importation of slaves into
the Mississippi Territory — ^Vol. 1, page 40, sec. 7:

*^And he it further enacted. That from and after
the establiafament of the aforesaid govemment, it
shall not be lawful for any person or persons to im-
port or bring into the said Mississippi Territoiy, from
any port or place within the limits of the United
States, or to canse or procore to be so imported or
brought, or aid in biinging, any slave ; and being
conricted, &c, shall forfeit and pay three hundred dol-
laiSy &0., and the slave be entitled to freedom."

This distinctly shows, that Congress supposed
their power over the Territories more exten-
sive than tiiat over the States; because over
them they could not pass a prohibitory statute
till 1808. The same fSeu^t appears from the act
of Congress of Mardi, 1804, "erecting Louis-
iana into two Territories*" Sec. 10 — " It shall
not be lawful for any person or persons to im-
port or bring into the said Territory, fi^)m any
port or place without the limits of the United
States, &c., any slave or slaves ; and every per-
son so offending, &c., shall forfeit three hundred
dollars, and the slave shall receive his or her
fi-eedom," " It shall not be lawful for any per-
son or persons to import or bring into the said
Territoiy, from any port or place within the
limits of the United States, any slave or slaves
which shall have been imported sioce the first
day of May, 1798, or which may hereafter be
imported ; such person shall forfeit, &c., jthree

Digitized by




Jahuabt, 1820.]

Settriction qfSlatfery — Maine and AfistourL


hundred dollars; and no slave or slaves shall,
directly or indirectly, be introduced into said
Territory, except by a citizen of the United
States, removing into said Territory for actual
settlement, and being at the time of such re-
moval bona fide owner of such slave or slaves ;
and every slave brought into said Territory,
contrary to the provisions of this act, shall re-
ceive his or her n'eedom."

From these facts it very obviously appears
that Oongress had, and did exercise, the power
of inhibiting the importation, and even the
migration of slaves, into its territories, directly
or indirectly, otherwise than by a citizen of the
United States removing thither for actual set-
tlement, and being at the time bona fide owner
of the slave. And this previous to the time
that the ninth section in tne first article of the
constitution took effect ; of course the power
must be derived from some other clause in the
constitution — ^perhaps that which authorizes
Oongress to regulate commerce, or from the
immutable principle that all legitimate Govern-
ments have an inherent right to exercise sov-
ereign control over its territories.

TuESDAT, January 18.
Begtriction of Slavery in the Territory North
cmd West qf Miuowri.
Agreeably to notice given, Mr. Thomas asked
and obtained leave to bring in the following
bill, which was read and passed to the second
reading :

A Bill to prohibit the introdnction of slavenr into
the territories of the United States North and West
of the contemplated State of Missouri.
Be it enacted bff the Senate and ffotue qf Represeni-
aihes of the UhUed States qf America^ m Cmgrese
assembled, That the sixth article of the ordinance of
Congress, passed on the thirteenth day of Jnly, one
thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven, for the
government of the territory of the United States
Northwest of the river Ohio, shall, to all intents and
purposes, be deemed and held applicable to, and shall
have full force and effect in and over all the territory
belonging to the United States, which lies West and
^orth of a line beginning at a point on the parallel
o^orth latitude thirty degrees and thirty minutes,
where the said parallel crosses the Western boundary
lino of the Unitea States : thence, running East, along
that parallel of latitude, to a point where the said
parallel is intersected by a meridian line passing
through the middle of the mouth of the Kansas River,
where the same empties into the Missouri lUyer;
thence, from the point aforesaid, North, along the
said meridian line, to the intersection of the parallel
of latitude which passes through the rapids of the
River Des Moines, making the said line to corre-
spond with the Indian boundary line ; thenoe, East,
£rom the point of intersection last aforesaid, along the
said parallel of latitude, to the middle of the channel
of the main fork of the said river Des Moines ; thence,
down and along the middle of the main channel of
the said river Des Moines, to the mouth of the same,
where it empties into the Mississippi River ; thence,
due East, to the middle of the main channel of the
Mississippi River; thence, up and following the

course of the Mississippi River, in the middle of the
main channel thereof, to its source; and thence, due
North, to the Northern boundary of the United


Wbdnesdat, January 19.
Maine and Mieeouri.
The Senate resumed, as in Committee of the
Whole, the consideration of the bill, entitled
^' An act for the admission of the State of Maine
into the Union," together with the amendments
reported thereto by the Committee on the
Judiciary, and the amendment proposed by


Mr. Walkkb, of Geor^a, said, the subject
under consideration had been already so much
discussed, that he had not the vanity to believe
that he could offer any thing new to the con-
sideration of the Senate. But representing, as
he did, a State in which slavery is tolerated, it
might possibly be construed a dereliction of
duty, and an abandonment of the sacred inter-
ests of those he represented, were he to remain
silent on the present occasion. Nothing, how-
ever, said he, but an imperious, an irresistible
sense of duty could have induced me to depart
from the resolution I had at first taken, not to
trespass upon the time of the Senate by any
observations of mine upon the bill now in pro-
gression. And really, sir, it is with a degree
of unfeigned reluctance I have risen to oppose
my opinions to those of gentlemen of so much
more experience than myself, and for whose
opinions I cannot but entertain the most pro-
found respect.

We have already heard, sir, as well from the
honorable gentleman from Pennsylvania, who
first addressed yon, as from the honorable gen-
tleman from New Hampshire, who closed his
remarks last evening, that the subject under
consideration is an important one. In this
sentiment I perfectly accord.

Perhaps, sir, no subject which has agitated
the councils of the United States of America,
from the formation of our Grovernment down
to the present period, has been pregnant with
more important consequences than the one now
xmder discussion. It is a subject, su\ which has
excited not only the deep interest of those who
are to decide upon it, but one whidi is agitat-
ing this continent from one extreme to tlie
other. And whether we turn our eyes to the
East or to the "West, to the North or to the
South, we behold anxiety depicted in every
countenance, as if^ upon the decision of this
question, depended the peace and harmony of
this Union.

Sir, the resolutions and instructions* of differ-
ent State Legislatures — ^the petitions of very
many assemblages of citizens in various parts
of the Union, with which your table is crowded
— ^proclaim, in language not to be misunder-
stood, the deep-toned fueling to which the dis-
cussion of this question has given rise. •

Mr. President, I have heard, with much re-
gret, the sentiments which have been expressed
in t^is debate. They evince a degree of sec-

Digitized by




McAu amd Mtstonri,

[Jahdart, 1820.

tional feeling wfaioh I had not expected to find
within these walls. I had indulged the hope,
sir, that, with the dose of the late war, all

Eartj animosity had sahsided, and that our po-
tical bark, having ridden ont the tempest of
fSaction, had been safel j anchored in the haven
of peace. Bat a state of tranquillity, I appre-
hend, is incompatible with the nature of man.
Scarcely had the storm snbsded — scarcely had
we shc&en hands as brothers — when a new
source of discontent has been discovered ; and
another, and much more important distinction
of party than any which has preceded it, is
about to be established.

The feelings of hnmauity and benevolence
have taken such complete possession of certain
sections of our country, that every other con-
sideration is made to bend to the irresistible
inclination to ameliorate the condition of slaves.
A spirit of opposition — a line of demarcation —
is sought to be established between Uxe slave-
holding and non-slaveholding States. And
*^ slavery or not," seems destined to be the
watch- word of party.

I, fat one, Mr. President, deprecate this state
of things. I am not among those who believe
that party dissensions are essential to the health
of the body politic. I delight, sir, to inhale the
breeze which brings with it harmony and peace ;
but when other sentiments prevail, it is not my
nature to yield to their influence with calm in-
difference. Contest is preferable to submission.
I feel it my duty, therefore, to meet this ques-
tion at the threshold; I fear there is too much
reason to consider it the inception of a policy
whose tendency may be to dismember tins
Union. And the alarming doctrines we yester-
day heard, have certainly not tended to allay
my apprehensions.

It mQ not be expected, I trust, that I should
fbllow the honorable gentiemen who advocate
the amendment, over all the ground they have
occupied in debate ; for this I have neither in-
clination nor ability, and were they both in my
possession, still, the effort might, perh^s, by
eomcs be thought unnecessary.

With the historical sketches which have been
given us, of the early settiements of this coun-
try, and of the dangers and difficulties which
were encountered hj our forefathers in this
perilous enterprise, 1 have been amused and
mstructed — I nad almost said, I have been
charmed by their novelty ; but I must be par-
doned for saying, I cannot perceive their re-
levancy to the subject under discussion.

The honorable gentieman from New Hamp-
shire, whose arguments I cannot hope to reach,
much less to answer, has employed a consider-
able portion of a very long and a very able
speech, in inventing anatiiemas against slavery,
and has been pleased to draw a parallel be-
tween the inhabitants of the different sections
of this country, (but with what degree of ac-
curacy others must judge,) in which he has not
failed to give a very decided preference to those
who inhabit States in which slavery is not tol-

erated ; and in the plenitude of his charity and
benevolence, has ascribed this vast and essen-
tial difference to the influence of slavery. To
the same influence is ascribed a destitution of
talents, of courage, of morality, and of religion ;
and, from the observations of the honorable
gentieman, one would be led to believe that aS
me cardinal virtues wither at the approach of
tins accursed monster slavery. In what a de-
plorable condition would be the inhabitants of
the slaveholding States if the honorable gentle-
man's speculations were history I Fortunately,
however, they have their existence only in a
fervid imagination.

But, dreading lest he should not be able to
carry conviction to our undei'Standings, which
he must of course have considered extremely
blunt and impenetrable, the honorable gentie-
man endeavors to make an attack upon our
fears, in which he considers us perhaps much
qiore assailable; and with all the Christian
meekness and charity imaginable, we are cau-
tioned to beware how we encourage slavery,
for that the vengeance of an angry God wDl
not sleep for ever.

The honorable gentieman's zeal seems to have
transported him beyond the bounds of just cal-
culation. Our apprehensions are not so easily
excited. For, wmlst we bow with great hu-
mility and reverence l>efore the nuyesty of
Heaven, and, on our bended knees, would de-
precate the wrath of Grod, we are not prepared
to consider the honorable gentieman as one of
Ms vicegerents.

Mr. Fl-esident, it is flir from my intention to
recriminate : I came not here to offend or be
offended. If it will be a gratification to the
honorable gentieman's feelings, I am willing to
admit, that the inhabitants of that section of
the country from whence he comes, are all
high-minded and honorable men ; that they are
intelligent, brave, virtuous, moral, religious,
and patriotic. But I must take the liberty of
reminding the honorable gentieman, that ^ese
are not sectional qualities; and that if he will
ffive himself the trouble to consult the page of
history, he will learn that those virtues are
alike tiie growth of every part of this extensive,
prosperous, and happy country; and I trust }
shall not give offence by declaring it as my firm
conviction, that the inhabitants of the shve-
holding States will not suffer by a fust com-
parison with those of any other section of the

In apmroaching the constitution of my coun-
try, sir, I proceed with a kind of deferential
awe : it is a hallowed instrument, with which
I am almost afraid to trust myself.

The grant of powers to Gongress by the con-
stitution, are embraced in the 8th section of the
1st article ; by which Congress shall have power
to lay and collect taxes, to borrow money, to
regulate conounerce, to establish a uniform nile
of naturalization, to coin money, to promote
the progress of science and useftu arts, to con-
stitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court,

Digitized by



jAsmASfT, 1820.]

Mmme and MisaottrL


to declare war, dco. Among the powers enn-
merated in thia section, the one contended for
will not be found. Bnt the gentlemen inform
US that the power is derived from the 9th sec-
tion of the same article, or from the third sec-
tion of the 4th artide ; but from which of these
sections the advocates of this measure have not
exactly agreed among themselves. That it
cannot be derived from both, I presume, must
be admitted ; for it would be doing iigustice to
the profound inteUigenoe of the immortal fram-
ers of the constitution, to suppose that they
would have employed two distinct sections in
different articles of that instrument, to convey
the same power. And this diversity of opinion
among such able expositors of the constitution,
renders it at least doubtful whether it is de-
rivable from either section.

But let us examine the sections referred to.
The 9th section of the 1st artide Ib as follows :

" The migration or importation of suoh penons as
any of the States now eziBting ahall think proper to
admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior
to the year 1608 ; but a tax or dntymay be imposed
on sodi importatioD, not exceeding ten doUaii for
eadi person.'*

It is much to be regretted that any section of
this inimitable instrument should have been so
constructed as to admit even of doubtful inter-
pretation. It is, however, a proof that perfec-
tion bdongs not to man, but is an attribute of
the Deity. The instrument under consideration
is, perhaps, as perfect as man could make it.

The gentlemen who rely upon this section
contend that the power im|Miedly acknowledged
to reside in Congress, by the phraseology of
this section, to prohibit the migration of slaves,
is sufficiently extensive to authorize the inter-
diction of carmng slaves from one State to an-
other of tMs Union, or from the States to the
Territories bdon^g to the United States ; and
that Oongreas may well regulate the inter-
course between the States and Territories, in
this regard, and totally prohibit the ^^migra-
tion" of slaves.

On first turning my attention to this subject,
with a view to the formation of an opinion
upon the section under consideration, I was im-
pressed with the belief that the words ^ migra-
tion and importation" were used as convert-
ible; that they were intended to have the
same interpretation ; and both to have refer-
ence to the introduction of slaves from abroad :
for, altho^h the word "persons" was used, I
had no difficulty in believing slaves were meant
This construction I believed to be strengthened
by the &ot that the word "migration" is en-
tirely dropped in the latter part of the section,
and the word " such " is made to refer to tiie
persons so to be introduced; Oongress being
authorized to impose a tax on such importation
not exceeding ten dollars for each ]^rson. But,
on more mature reflection, my mmd came to
the conclusion that the woras were entitled to
be considered separately; that they were in-
tended to have distinct meanings, and each to

be employed in the performance of a particular
office. I was the more easily led to this con-
clusion from tiie belief tiiat the great and ex-
cellent men who formed our constitution, would
not have employed an unnecessary phraseology,
or have used words which they did not intend
should have their appropriate signification.

The construction, therefore, which I am dis-
posed to give to this section is — that the word
" importation," as its appropriate meaning would
indicate, looks abroad and was intended to em-
brace slaves brought into this country from
Africa and elsewhere by water. The word
*' migration " was intended to embrace such as
should be brought into the United States by
land, from the contiguous territory belonging
to foreign powers. For it would have been
idle and vain to have prohibited the "im-
portation" or the bringing of slaves directiy
into our ports— whilst there should be no inter-
diction of ^ migration" from the territory of for-
eign powers inunediately acU oining the terri-
tory of the United States and it must be recol-
lected, that at the time oi the adoption of the

Online LibraryUnited States. CongressAbridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856 : from Gales and Seaton's Annals of Congress, from their Register of debates, and from the official reported debates by John C. Rives → online text (page 99 of 186)