William Plumer.

Speech of Mr. Plumer, of New-Hampshire, on the Missouri question, delivered in the House of Representatives of the United States, February 21, 1820 online

. (page 1 of 4)
Online LibraryWilliam PlumerSpeech of Mr. Plumer, of New-Hampshire, on the Missouri question, delivered in the House of Representatives of the United States, February 21, 1820 → online text (page 1 of 4)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



Class, "J- Yl-i








STATES, FF.BRlTART 21, 1820.

Mr. Chairman : There are many considerations
-vhich seem to me not only to justify, but to render ne-
cessary the amendment proposed by the gentleman*
from New-York, (Mr. Taylor) to the bill now under
discussion. Some of the most important of these, I
shall endeavor to explain to the committee.

It will, I fear, be hardly thought respectful, at this
late period of the debate, to enquire what it is that
we propose to do, by the bill on your table. Yet, a
correct answer to this enquiry would, in my opinion,
go far to prove, that very many of the objections
made to the amendment proposed by the gentleman
from New-York, have little or no bearing on the real
merits of the present question. This is by no means
an unusual case. It will, I believe, be generallly
found that we err in our opinions, principally because
we do not understand «urs0iu?.s; and that we differ
from othersy principally because we do not under-
stand them. What, then, is the real nature of this
transaction ? The people of Missouri have applied
to Congress for leave to form a constitution, and to be
admitted into the Union as an independent state. By
the bill now under discussion, we are about to inform
them, in answer to their memtyial, what are the terms

\:- (

and conditions on which we are williiag, at this time,
to grant their request. The first of these conditions
is, that the new state shall consist of a certain extent
of territory, different from that proposed in their me-
morial, and different from that embraced within their
present limits, and in both these respects differing
from their request : tli^ second is, that their constitu-
tion shall be rcpublicair: and the third, which is the
object of the present amendment, that they shall
prevent the further introduction of slaves, and that
the offspring of those already there shall be free —
These three conditions are made indispensable to their
becoming, at this time, a member of the federal U-
nion. Other terms are also proposed ; but these
are offered only as the price of certain other stipula-
tions, into which it is desired that Missouri should
enter. They are, by the same act, authorized to call
a convention, to determine whether it is expedient
for them, at this time, and upon these conditions, to
become a member of the union, If so, they are per-
mitted to form- a constitution, and are to be received
without delay into our confederacy.

This act, then, is simply an answer to the request
of Missouri; and, without her consent and acceptance,
it can have no binding force or effect on either party.
If, when met in convention, her delegates should
deem it inexpedient to accept our terms, there is an
end at once of our act, 8c of all the measures growing
out of it. Either party may propose new terms, or both
remain in their present condition. We do not, there-
fore, as has been so often asserted in this debate, un-
dertake to form a constitution for the people of Mis-
souri ; we do not impose upon them terms and con-
ditions, which are to bind them without their con-
sent ; nor do we, by this act, say that Missouri shall
never be admitted, if she does not accept our present
offerS: We merely inform her on what conditions
we are willing, at this time, to receive her into the
Union. If she does not choose to accept them, we
cannot, on our part, complain of her, because she has a
right to reject our offers, &. to remain a territory if she
pleases; nor can she complain of us,because itis univer-
sally conceded that we are under no obligation to ad-

mit her, at the present session at least, however we
maybe under the treaty, (a question which 1 shall
presently examine) at some future period. The first
enquiry, then, is, can Congress propose this condi-
tion, and can Missouri accept it ?

The right of Congress to admit new states is deriv-
ed from ihe third section of the fourth article of the
constitution. " New states may be admitted by the
Congress into this Union,'' The first thing to be re-
marked in this clause is, that it is a delegation of pow-
er merely, and not a duty imposed. It is not said
that Congress s/ifl/^, but that they may admit new
states. The power to admit is granted, but no right
is given by the constitution to any territory to compel
Congress, against their will, to exert this power in
its favor. It is not said, that, when^any of our ter-
ritories shall contain a certain number of inhabitants,
60.000, for example. Congress shall, whether they
deem it expedient or not, admit them into the Union;
but an authority merely is given, which they are to
exert, or not, according to their own sound discre-
tion. It is next to be observed, that the power here
delegated, is expressed in the broadest possible terms;
and, that, so far as this clause is concerned, it is alto-
gether without limitation or control. It follows, from
this view of the subject, that there are three questions
which Congress may discuss, whenever a territory
asks admission into our Union as a state. First, is it
expedient to admit her at all ? If one of the South
American provinces should ask admission, we should
probably reject the application as inexpedient ever to
be granted. If, however, our decision should be to
admit, a second question would arise, as to the time
when this should be done, v/hether now, or at some
future day ? But, in these two powers, which it is
conceded, on all sides, that we possess, is there not
involved a third; that of saying on what terms, not
inconsistent with other parts of the constitution, this
admission shall take place ? It might be expedient to
admit, on certain conditions, a state, which we should
be bound otherwise finally to reject. It might also
be expedient, at the present time, to admit, on certain
terms, a stale, which, without this power, we should

be obliged to suspend, till, by the influence of our
laws, or by other causes, she should become accus-
tomed to our manners, and assimilated to our political
institutions. This interpretation of the Constitution
is, therefore, equally beneficial to the Union, and to
the territories applying for admission.

But let us look again at this clause. *' New states may
be admitted, &;c. ; but no new state shall be formed
or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state,
&c. without the consent of the legislature of the sev-
eral states concerned, as well as of the Congress.**
Here then is a limitation on the powers of Congress.
When a state is to be admitted, formed within the
limits of some other state, as in the case of Kentucky,
or the more recent one of Maine, the consent of
the parent state, as well as of Congress, is to be ob-
tained ; and this consent may be, and in all instances
has been, granted upon conditions. In the first clause
then the power to admit is given,without limitation,and
may therefore be exercised on such terms as the party
choose to accept ; but in the second this power is lim-
ited, by requiring the agreement of a third party,
which, like the two former, may insist on its own con-
ditions. The limitation in the one case, and not in
the other, shows clearly that when the constitution in-
tends to restrain a general delegation of power, it does
so in express words ; and the inference is irresistible,
that where the power is distinctly given, and no limi-
tation is expressed, none was intended. The correct-
ness of this very obvious rule of construction will not
be denied, and it appears to me strictly applicable to
the present case. To show this power, if possible,
still more clearly, we need only refer to the journal oi
the convention that formed the constitution. We
there find that this clause, as originally proposed, (p.
80,) stood thus : " The legislature shall have power
to admit new states into the Union, on the sarm ternw
with the original states.'* These latter words are not
now to be found in the constitution. It was proposed
then to limit the power of Congress on this sjubject.
That proposition was rejected by the Convention, and
the power given in the broadest possible terms. I can

hardly conceive a stronger case, and have heard of
no answer attempted to this important fact.

To Congress, then, is given the power of admission
in its full extent, and with all its incidents. What, Mr.
chairman, are these incidents? Suppose the states had
reserved the right of admitting new members to them-
selves, instead of giving it, as they have done, to Con-
gress; can it be doubted that they might, in that case,
have received into their confederacy new associates,
upon such terms and conditions as the contracting
parties might see fit mutually to adopt ? They surely
might. And why, sir ? Merely because they possess-
ed the power of admission. But, instead of retaining
this power, they have transferred it to Congress. If
we do not possess it, where does it reside ? Not in
the states ; for they have nothing to do in the admis-
sion of new members : nor in the people, as asserted
by the gentleman from S. Carolina, (Mr. Lowndes,}
who last addressed you. He did not speak with his
usual accuracy when he said that the people, and not
Congress, possessed the power to impose conditions
on states about to be admitted into the Union. The
people, sir, have reserved to themselves no such
power, any more than they have reserved the power,
for example, of declaring war. Their power to de-
clare war they have transferred to Congress. Their
power to admit new states they have, in like manner,
transferred to Congress, and we have seen that this
transfer is entire, with all its incidents, subject only to
that general reservation which applies to all delegated
power — that it shall be exerted in a manner not re-
pugnant to other parts of the constitution.

This brings me, sir, to enquire, what are the limi-
tations imposed on Congress by the constitution, in
the exercise of this power ? And, first, « The Unit-
ed States shall guaranty to every state in this Union a
republican form of government." They cannot, there-
fore, if they were so absurd as to wish it, prescribe to
a new state that her form of government should be
anti-republican, or monarchical ; because the state,
when admitted, would have a right to call on Congress
for its gut^ranty of a different form. But this clause is
not, as has been argued, an enlargement of the pow-

fi.rs of Congress, but a limitation upoj* those powers j
a stipulation in favor of the states, and against the
general government. " To guaranty" does not mean
to create, or cause to be created ; but simply to de-
fend that which already exists. Yet Congress, to se-
cure the existence of that which, when established,
they are bound to defend, have in every case made it
a condition, in admitting new states, that their form
of government should be republican. In the same
clause it is also provided, that Congress " shall pro-
tect each of the staies against domestic violence.'* Now^
if their being bound to protect the states in the enjoy-
ment of a republican form of government, authorises
them to make such a form the condition ot their be-
coming states, why may not they, upon the sam.e
ground, under the latter clause, prescribe the exclu*
sion of slavery, as a condition I Slavery is sure ulti-
mately to produce <' domestic violence" wherever it
exists. Foreseeing this, might not Congress say to a
new state, we will not admit you, if you allow slavery
to exist among you ; because we shall be obliged, un-
der this clause, at some future period, to protect you
against " domestic violence,*'arising from the insurrec-
tion and rebellion ofyour slaves? The right to anticipate
and prevent an evil which they are bound, when it
comes, to remove, is, in both cases, precisely the
same; and ot the two evils, " domestic violence" is
certainly much more likely to occur from the tolera-
tion of slavery, than an anti-republican form of gov-
ernment, tor want of an express stipulation to exclude
it. Let me not, however, be understood as deriving
the power claimed in the present instance, from this
clause of the constitution; but to those who think that
ihey derive from this section alone, their right to pre-
scribe a republican form ot government, this view of
the subject cannot surely be without some degree of

There is another obvious limitation on the power
of Congress in admitting new states, which re-
sults from the nature of the compact. New states
must be admitted to the enjoyment of all the rights
and privileges derived by the original states from
the Constitution : otherwise they would not be admits

ted into the sameuiiion with the rest. No conditioc
can therefore be annexed to the admission of a state,
which takes from her any constitutional, or, as it is
more frequently called, any federal right; because
this would be at variance with the admission itself,
and therefore void ; as in any other case of a condi-
tion annexed to a grant, inconsisteat with the grant

This is a limitation on the powers of Congress
in favor of the new states. There is another which
may perhaps be inferred in reference to the old. Con-
gress can propose no condition to a new state, which,
if accepted by her, would transfer to the Union any
power to be exercised over other states, which had
not been granted by the Constitution to the General
Government ; because this would be to effect the
political rights of third parties, without their own
consent. And here permit me to say, that this limi-
tation furnishes, in my view, a conclusive answer to
the gentleman from South Carolina, (Mr. Lowndes,)
who, if I rightly understood him, founded his chief
objection to this measure, on the supposed inability
of Congress to acquire, by compact with new states,
federal powers not conferred by the constitution on
the general government, to be exercised over the
other states ; and thus, in effect, to alter the consti-
tution in a manner not provided for by that instru-
ment. The soundness of this principle it is not ne-
cessary here to controvert, or even to examine; since
it is totally inapplicable, in my view of the subject, to
the present bill. This amendment does not require
the people of Missouri to transfer any portion of their
sovereignty, or to invest the general government with
any new authority, which they did not before possess,
applicable to other members of the confederacy ; but
only that they should renounce the power claimed
for them, ot making slaves of their fellow men. It
is the renunciation of a power merely, and not its
transfer which is asked in this case.

Subject, then, to these just and natural limitations,
I can see nothing dangerous or alarming in the
power claimed by Congress on this occasion. They
can, on the one hand, deprive the new state of no


right or privilege conferred by the constitution on
the original confederates ; and, on the other, can ac-
quire for themselves no new power or authority, to be
exerted over the other states, without their consent.
When to this we add, that the terms proposed must
in all cases be accepted by the new state, before they
have any binding force ; and that the supreme Legis-
lature of the Union acts for, and represents the only
other party in interest, the people of the United
States, I can perceive no weight whatever in the
argument, so earnestly pressed upon us from the oth-
er side, that this is a great and indefinite power, lia-
ble to abuse, and therefore not to be presumed to ex-
ist. Sir, an argument from the abuse of power is to-
tally inapplicable, when the question is, whether we
possess the power or not. What powers are more
liable to abuse, than those, for instance, of making
war and imposing taxes ? Yet no one will deny that,
under the Constitution, we possess both these danger-
ous and indefinite powers. I have endeavored to
show that the right here claimed, is neither danger-
ous nor indefinite; yet if it were both of these, this
would be no proof that it was not conferred upon us
by the Constitution ; though it might have been an
argument with thetramers of that instrument for with-
holding it from us. They did not see fit, however,
so to do, and for leaving this discretion in Congress,
limited, as I have shown it to be, many good reasons
might, I apprehend, be given.

There is nothing, surely, in the nature of a confed-
erated republic which renders it necessary for each
member of the confederacy to possess the same state
or municipal rights, any more than the same extent
of territory, wealth, or population. Nor is it true, in
point of fact, thai they all enjoy the same privileges,
or derive equal advantages, from the Union. Who
does not see that Delaware and Rhode Island, for in-
stance, gain more from their connexion with the U-
nion, compared with what they contribute to its safe-
ty or defence, than Massachusetts or New York ?
But neither the large states, nor the small, have any
just reason to complain, if they enjoy all the rights
and immunities for which they stipulated on their ad-

mission into the Union. It is the same with Missouri.
Acting for herself, by her own free will and choice,
she will either accept or reject the terms we pro-
pose. If she accepts, and thus makes them her own,
she thereby becomes a member of our Union^' she
acquires rights which she did not before possess ; ob-
tains privileges which we are not at this time obliged
to grant ; and if, with good faith and fidelity, the U-
nited States perform towards her all the stipulations
of the contract, of what can she complain ? Whom
has she to condemn ? What right of hers has been
violated ? What privilege withdrawn ? What im-
munity withheld ? It is, then, the utmost perversion
of language to say, as the Honorable Speaker, (Mr.
Clay,) does, that, if she accepts these terms, she will
become a vassal and a slave ; or to argue, as he has,
that this restriction is unjust, because it deprives her
of the rights of self government and internal police.
For where is the state, in this Union, which possesses
these rights in their full extent ? When we are told
that Missouri will not have the rights of self govern-
ment, if she renounces the power claimed for her of
depriving others of their right to freedom — not to ani-
madvert here on the odious nature of the claim — is
it not equally true, that all the other states are also
deprived of the rights of self government ? Is it no^
an attribute of sovereignty, a right of self government,
to declare war, to enter into treaty or alliance with
other states, grant letters of marque and reprisal, coin
money, emit bills of credit, and pass bills of attain-
der ? Yet no state in the Union can do any of these
things. Are they, therefore, degraded to the rank of
vassals and slaves, and deprived of the rights of self
government ? Surely not. And why not, sir ? Be-
cause they voluntarily surrendered these and other
rights to the Union. The original states became
members of the confederacy, after mature delibera-
tion, not because any one of them approved of every
part of the constitution, but because they thought
the advantages to be derived from the Union greater,
on the whole, than the sacrifices, (and no two made
the same,) which that Union required of them. Let
Missouri do the same ; and whether she determines


at this time lo become a state, or remain a territory
for the present, the act will be her own, and perform-
ed with quite as much freedom of choice, as the other
states enjoyed when the same question was put to

Having thus, Mr. Chairman, proved, as I trust,
that Congress has by the constitution a right to pro-
pose terms and conditions to territories applying for
admission, I ask the attention of the committee, while
I pass briefly in review the several states admitted into
the Union, since the present form of government was
adopted, and enquire whether the conclusions which
I have thus drawn from the constitution itself, are
confirmed, or contradicted, by the practice and the de-
clarations of those who have gone before us on this-
subject. Tfcis field has been already explored by o-
thers, but it is still rich in matter, most pertinent to
this occasion. If, from this examination, it should ap-
pear that the new states have uniformly been admit-
ted, upon terms and conditions, many of them effect-
ing the highest attributes of sovereignty, and none of
them applicable to the original states, it will not be
easy to persuade me, that the present Congress has
less power and less authority in this respect, than its

The first state admittcd,was Kentucky. It was origin-
ally a part of Virginia, and was allowed by her to be-
come an independent state upon certain <' terms and
conditions." By the fourth of these conditions, Ken-
lucky was required to stipulate, that she would never
tax the lands of non-residents, higher than those of
residents. By the seventh, she was required to leave
the navigation of the Ohio free to all citizens of the
United Stales. If these, and other terms were accept-
ed by Kentucky, they were *' to become a solemw
compacty mutually binding on the parties, and
unalterable by either without the consent of the other."
These conditions were accepted by Kentucky, and
she was admitted into the Union in 1791, subject to
these restrictions. Such is the history of the first
state formed under the present constitution. But,
how does this agree, sir, with the doctrine maintained
on the other side ? Every new state, says the gentle-


man (Mr. Lowndes,) fi-om South Carolina, must have
the same sta e rights, the same authority.and the same
junsdxcuon mall cases whatever, within its ownHm!
us, as the origmal thirteen. The very word sfafe sav,
the Speaker, (Mr. Clay,) implies a 'political commt
city, possessmg exactly the same rights and powers,
and m all respects resembling the parties to the S

tTe^lf /Si*'' « "f "y '^^ ^'"^"'^ ^'SU-^ont of the gen-
tieman (Mr. Barbour) from Virginia, against this a
mendment rests. But, will this^efinitfon fp'w Tj
Kentucky ? No matter by whom these restrictions

his saEn'.'r''"'''' '^ ^'"■S'"i='' <"• by the Union
U is sufficient for my argument, that Kentucky does
no possess the same state rights which belonJto the
tax TT , '" New-Hampshire, for example, Ve ran
tax the lands of non-residents higher than those of 're"
sidents. In Kentucky, they cannot. Kentucky then
does „ot possess all the attributes of sovereigMy of
self-government and internal police, which bdong °o
m:d SS •, r,- ^ ^'- .^-^-f''-. degr^le'd:
floor, the most disti^g^^ed of^^^.^trfr I", J^

AnA I ' ■ ?" respects, unincumbered and erect
And why, sir, is she not degraded by these .!.^,r"
tions? The answer is obvious; because Ih.. ''

ed to ,bem freely ; because she ^rt:"' 1 n a rTyhh

=r^'^tr:-?^t^L:^ - ^3
stitmi:n tcS :atrfr:r it^^, »- —

annexed by CongreLTheradmSor"'""" ''"'

bate, shouirbfextend d° "t^heTeS tt'^'^'f"
->atmg to slavery. Another wl-s.^thaTtU'l^dTof


non-resident proprietors should not be taxed higher
than those of residents. In 1796, she was admitted
into the Union " on an equal footing tvith the original
states, in all respects whatsoever.'* As this expression
here first occurs, in admitting a new state, it may not
be improper to enquire into its meaning as applied to
this subject. We have ah^eady seen that the United
States acquired this territory on certain ^'express con-
ditions,*' on which alone they could hold it; that one
of these (not to mention others,) deprived the future
state of a right — that of taxing non residents higher
than residents— which belonged clearly to the ori-
ginal thirteen states. This expression could not
then mean that Tennessee should possess all the state
rights enjoyed by any other state in the Union ; for
this would have been to violate the contract with
North Carolina. Nor did'Tennessee so understand it;
for she incorporated the provisions of the deed of ces*
sion into her constitution, and thus in express term*
became a party to the compact. The " equal footing"
here spoken of, is, then, an equality of federal rights
merely; and in no other sense is the expression appli-
cable to any of the new states, except Verment.

The next state admitted was Ohio — the fairest, the

1 3 4

Online LibraryWilliam PlumerSpeech of Mr. Plumer, of New-Hampshire, on the Missouri question, delivered in the House of Representatives of the United States, February 21, 1820 → online text (page 1 of 4)