William D. (William Darrah) Kelley.

Remarks of Hon. William D. Kelley, of Pennsylvania : in opposition to the employment of slaves in navy-yards, arsenals, dock-yards, etc online

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Online LibraryWilliam D. (William Darrah) KelleyRemarks of Hon. William D. Kelley, of Pennsylvania : in opposition to the employment of slaves in navy-yards, arsenals, dock-yards, etc → online text (page 1 of 1)
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The bill to secure freedom to all persons
■witliia the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal
Government being under consideration in the
House, May 9th —

Mr. KELLEY said:

Mr. Speaker : The gentleman from Maryland,
[Mr. Crisfield,] who has just taken his seat,
asks whether we believe the people of fifteen
States will stand such legislation. Sir, if the
Union is to stand, if the Constitution is to be the
supreme law of the land, the people of fifteen
States, and of thirty-four States, will stand such
and all other legislation until it can be tested be-
fore the Supreme Court of the United States ; and
if sustained as constitutional law by that court,
the people of all the States will be made to stand
it by the power that is now crushing out the
great rebellion that was to have overthrown the
Constitution and put the advancing civilization
of the age on the countermarch towards barbar-

The time of settling what legislation the peo-
ple will stand by trial of arms is about drawing
to a close, and that line of argument which
has been used here for the last thirty years
to frighten doughfaces should, in my judgment,
disappear from this Hall. I voted against laying
this bill upon the table; also against the demand
for the previous question. I neither wished to
avoid the issue it tenders nor force the bill
through with undue haste. It is an important
bill, and contains provisions of great importance
to the country, and of special import to the peo-
ple of the States to which it more peculiarly ap-
plies. I felt, therefore, that it should be dis-
cussed deliberately and thoroughly, that gentle-
men might vote on it under conscientious and
enlightened conv iction, but do not think it should

be disposed of under the influence of threats that
certain people will not atand it.

Sir, the Constitution of the United States, as I
understand it, does not involve the power to create
slavery anywhere, nor to abolish it in any State;
the doctrine taught me by the founders of the
Republic — they who framed our institutions and
gave us our early laws, and who administered
them so wisely as to furnish precedents for which
all good and just men are grateful — is that
slavery is a local institution, belonging to the
State and under the supreme control of the peo-
ple of the State; but that as to territory it is
otherwise. Article four of the Constitution gives
express power to Congress —

" To dispose of and make ail needful rules and regulations

respecting the Territories and otlier property belonging to
the United States."

The precedents and precepts of the fathers are
uniform to the point that if we acquire territory
of which freedom is the law at the time of the
acquisition, Congress cannot, nor can the people
of the Territory while it continues in a territo-
rial condition, establish slavery therein. To this
doctrine there is no single exceptional precedent.

But to the converse of the rule there are ex-
ceptions. They, perhaps, serve only to illustrate
the general rule. The case I now remember is
that of the Territory of Orleans, to be found in
the Statutes at Large for 1803-4, if my memory
is accurate. But, as I was saying, the rule is
that where slavery is the law of territory when
•we acquire it. Congress may not abolish it ; but
it shall be left to the people of the Territory, not
as citizens of the Territory, but when they come
to frame a State government, to decide for them-
selves whether slavery shall be continued in such
State, or abolished. Such I understand to have
been the unquestioned law of the land till 1847,

or thereabouts ; and under the administration of
that law our country enjoyed peace and a meas-
ure of prosperity unexampled in the history of
nations. And, sir, the disturbance which has
been the bane of the country for tlie last fifteen
years, and has at length culminated in rebellion,
had its origin, not in anti-slavery agitation, but
in a system of unholy agitation for the overthrow
of these well-settled and beneficent principles of
constitutional law.

I adhere to-day to these doctrines. To defend
them I abandoned the quiet and dignified duties
in which I was engaged. My love of them
brought me into the excitement of political
life, and they will guide me safely through. Mr.
Speaker, a new question, on which my judgment
is not yet well settled, has been forced upon our
consideration by the people of the South. It is,
whether State rebellion is not State suicide. It
is not clear to my mind that when the sovereign
people of a State have, in convention assembled,
solemnly proclaimed not only their want of fidel-
ity, but their actual hostility to the Constitution ;
suppressed the courts of the United States, closed
its custom-houses and post offices, and seized its
forts, arsenals, navy-yards, &c.; established a
system of laws independent of, and unknown to,
our Government, and by force of arms removed
from their territory every insignia of its power ;
■whether, I repeat, under these circumstances, the
State government has not been so completely de-
stroyed that we should look upon the land it em-
braced as territory over which the power of the
United States extends, I am not prepared to say.
and until I come to a more definite conclusion on
this question, I am willing to act upon the prin-
ciple that we cannot interfere with slavery in the
several States as we have known them.

But does that prevent us from legislating over
land ceded to us by any one of those States, and
over which, by the express terms of the Consti-
tution of the United States, Congress has exclu-
sive jurisdiction? I do not see that the two
questions are at all connected. And I under-
stand that this bill addresses itself only to those
portions of the States over which the United
States is given exclusive legislative power by
section eight of article one of the Constitution:

" Congress shall have power to exercise exclusive legis-
lation, in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not ex-
ceeding ten miles squaro) as may by cession of particular
States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of
Government of the United States, and to exercise like au-
tUority over all places purchased by the consent of the Le-
gislature of tUe Stale in which the same shall be, lor the
erection of forts , magaziues, arsenals, dock-yards , and other
needful buildings."

Mr. CRADLED AUG H. I rise to a quesUou of

order. Yesterdaj' and to-day were set apart for
the consideration of territorial business. The
l)eoplc of the Territory which I have the honor
to represent are interested in several of the bills
which have been reported. They are and have
been suil'ering for the want of necessary legisla-
tion on tiie part of this Ilouse. I have been
waiting patiently for these bills to be taken up
and acted on, but I find that until this very mo-
ment they are kept out of the way by discussions
of propositions in reference to the " irrepressible

The SPEAKER. The gentleman is himself out
of order, lie will state his point of order.

Mr. CRADLEBAUGII. My point of order is,
that these discussions in reference to slavery are
not in order on this da\', which is set apart for
the consideration of territorial business. This
discussion of the nigger has nothing to do with
the Territories. Certainly it ought not to be
permitted to the prejudice of the people of my

The SPEAKER. The Chair overrules the
point of order.

Mr. WICKLIFFE. With tlic permission of the
gentleman from Pennsylvania, I will make a brief
statement. Since I made a remark some time
ago, I have received a communication from a
gentleman who is well informed on the subject.
I will read what he says :

" Dbak Sir : You are riglit in regard to the repeal by
military authority of the fugitive slave law in the District of
Columbia. Tliore are eight hundred slaves from Maryland
now. MiliUiry authority arrests and detains those who at-
tempt to recover them. Wise and Kimball, two police offi-
cers so attempting, wore arrested, and after being detained
three weeks, were released without explanation."

This is what wc get from the military author-
ity here.

Mr. KELLEY. The gentleman's remarks and
the communication he has thrust upon the Ilouse
are alike irrelevant to my subject and the argu-
ment by which I am endeavoring to illustrate it.
But, wanting as they are in pertinence, I will be
glad, when I shall have finished, to hear the name
of the author of the anonymous communication.
The announcement will hardly add much to its
value, if, indeed, it have any.

Now, Mr. Speaker, the question is whether,
having exclusive legislative power over the places
enumerated in the bill, we shall prohibit slavery
therein. To do so is, as I have shown, clearly
within our constitutional power, and I believe it
to be required by the best interests of the country.
I believe that the immediate passage of this law
will secure future peace by excluding discussions
of this subject from Congress when our hag shall

again float over every inch of oiu' territory, and
the subdued and chastened, if not subjugated
people of the rebellious States shall have Repre-
sentatives upon this floor.

What is this institution of slaveiy that it
should claim our special regard and care ? How
has it blessed us, and what measure of gratitude
do we owe it? Sir, it is saturating every acre
of Southern land with the best blood of the
Korth. It is filling our villages and towns with
widows and orphans. The names of the marshes
and barren fields of the slave States are sanctified
to tens of thousands of northern mothers and
wives as the places of the rude burial of the torn
and mangled remains of their loved ones. Tens
of thousands of those who, approaching man-
hood, were warmed by generous hope and just
ambition, and upon whom widowed mothers or
aged fathers hoped to lean in their declining-
years, will move through our streets the mutila-
ted victims of the system of slavery. The scars
and wounds of these brave youth will bear hon-
orable testimony to their devotion to constitu-
tional law, and proclaim to the coming genera-
tion the character and the cause of the war in
which they were received. The rebellion is the
result of slavery, and follows naturally enough
a defeated attempt to overthrow by enigmatical
legislation and judicial chicaner}' the well and
long-settled laws, principles, and habits of the

The gentleman from Illinois [Mr. Arnold]
spoke of the barbarities which the actors in the
rebellion ha ve perpetrated — how they have turned
the skulls of our dead soldiers into drinking cups
and their bones into drum-sticks and trinkets for
ladies' girdles. Sir, such barbarities are legiti-
mate consequences of the system of human sla-
very. Nature is ever true to her own types and
processes; she never departs from them. The
same circumstances given, she will from a cause
produce the same effect in every age and country.
These barbarities are, I repeat, but the legitimate
fruit of an institution which makes man the
owner of man, and regards the spirit of God in-
carnated in His earthly image as a chattel for the
market. The scenes of violence of to-day are
only novel in their grandeur and not in their
character. We have become used to hearing of
men hung or shot or otherwise murdered ; of men
barreled alive, and put afloat upon the swollen
and swift-rolling river ; of men scourged and
driven from their homes and the land they
had inherited from their fathers, because they
did not approve of slavery, and have blushed to

think these acts peculiar to our countrymen; but
they are not peculiar to this countrv or this

Look at the history of slavery in the British
West Indies. Freedom of opinion was suppressd
there by similar acts of barbarism. Discussion
was only conducted with safety in the mother
country, and it required the power of the imperial
Government to make it always safe, even in Eng-
land. On the islands, England's power could
not give safety to him who doubted the divinity
of slavery and dared utter his doubt in prayer
to God or exhortation to man.

I have been reminded of all this while glancing
over the pages ofa recent book — Steven's History
of Methodism — a book of rare interest and
power, containing vivid, rapid, condensed
sketches of men and incidents not often excelled
in the English language. Its pages contain ex-
tracts from the journals of Wesley and his early
co-laborers, so like the statements which fugi-
tives from the South of to-day and the few last
years have given, that we feel doubtful as to the
correctness of their date. It is not peculiarities
of themen of to-day, but the unhappy and unvary-
ing influence of an unholy and barbarous institu-
tion from which we suffer.

I remember, sir,one who slavery murdered more
than twenty years ago, for inviting the people to
consider the very question involved in this bill.
He was a dear friend of my early manhood, a
child of genius — Melzar Gardner — a native of
Massachusetts, a printer, who had started a little
newspaper called the Sunbeam, in the interest of
the free working men of the country. He was
invited by a number of mechanics to Norfolk or
Portsmouth to establish a paper there in their in-
terest, and he moved his little all, the result of
years of labor, the contents of his printing office,
to one or the other of these towns. He was a
mild, gentle enthusiast, a lover of his kind and of
freedom, and though inured from early childhood
to dailj- toil, he yet ranked in thought and culture
with the men of learning and genius of the land
On his way to his new field of labor, in the spring
of 1840, he was my guest. He issued his paper, and
had published two numbers of it, when the news
came that, because he had opposed the employ-
ment of slave labor in the Norfolk navy-yard to
the exclusion of free laborers and mechanics, he
had been barbarously murdered at the doors of
that 3'ard. The deed was said to have been
done by a man of wealth and respectability; and
to this day a coroner's inquest has not been
called to ascertain how, when, or wliy that beau-

tiful and gentle spirit was so wickedly hurried
to its final account.

Sir, to maintain f^l ivery in these navy -yards
and arsenals, and for the Government to give
the owners of human chatties wages for their
labor, is to patronize and sustain the institution
— to patronize and sn^^tain it at the cost and by
the degradation of the free mechanics and labor-
ing men of tlie country. All just men will agree
that every laborer for *he Government should re-
ceive, in his own right, a fair day's wages for every
fair day's work. No one will say that southern
slaves, whom it is a violation of law to teach to
read, are superior m. 'lanics to educated white
men, or that the wliite mechanic should be forced
to work and associate with the brutalized negro
slave. No one will say that slaves have greater
power of endurance, or that there is any reason
whj' they should be employed to the exclusion,
from navy-yards, dock-yards, arsenals, mints,
&c., of white laboring men, or even of free black
men, who, having earned and received wages,

would spend them for the support and education
of their families. I say, therefore, that, in the
interest of future peace, and in the interest of
freedom and justice, we are called upon to pasb
this bill.

Sir, let me say here that while I am nnwilling
to cast a vote that shall impair the sanctity of
the Constitution of the country, I am no less
unwilling to cast one that shall favor slavery in
any degree or direction. The ConstitiTtion does
not create it ; tlie Constitution dofs not in terms
recogni.^e it ; it only tolerates it, and this law does
not propose to interfere with that toleration. It
does not propose to abolish slavery anywhere.
It only proposes to say to the slave owner,
" keej) your slaves out of these places as em-
ployes ; do not interfere with the system of free
labor and attempt to force the free mechanic into
companionship with your ignorant and degraded
slaves, or we will protect his dignity and inter-
ests by making freemen of your instruments."





Online LibraryWilliam D. (William Darrah) KelleyRemarks of Hon. William D. Kelley, of Pennsylvania : in opposition to the employment of slaves in navy-yards, arsenals, dock-yards, etc → online text (page 1 of 1)