« ZurückWeiter »
Extend this comparison to the events which occurred from 1861 to 1865. Every square mile of territory that was covered by the Ordinance of 1787 was patriotic, and gave its men and its means for the support of the Union. South and southwest of that boundary-line were treachery and rebellion under the plausible semblance of neutrality. Kentucky and Missouri probably furnished more men who fought against the United States flag than fought under it. The Northwestern States put more than a million soldiers into the Union armies; and they were the men who fought at Forts Henry and Donelson, Pittsburg Landing, Stone River, Jackson, and Vicksburg, and achieved the only Union victories gained during the first two years of the war. If, instead of the principles of the Ordinance of 1787, the institutions of Kentucky and Missouri had been allowed to gain a foothold in these States, can any one doubt what would have been the result of the war and the fate of this Union ?
If Mr. Webster were living to-day, would he not see new reasons for that splendid encomium which in 1830, in his speech in answer to Hayne, he pronounced on the Ordinance of 1787 ? “We are accustomed,” he said, “ to praise the lawgivers of antiquity ; we help to perpetuate the fame of Solon and Lycurgus; but I doubt whether one single law of any lawgiver, ancient or modern, has produced effects of more distinct, marked, and lasting character than the Ordinance of 1787. We see its consequences at this moment, and we shall never cease to see them, perhaps, while the Ohio shall flow."
Judge Timothy Walker of Ohio, in an address delivered at Cincinnati in 1837, said: “Upon the surpassing excellence of this Ordinance no language of panegyric would be extravagant. It approaches as nearly to absolute perfection as anything to be found in the legislation of mankind; for after the experience of fifty years, it would perhaps be impossible to alter without marring it. In short, it is one of those matchless specimens of sagacious forecast which even the reckless spirit of innovation would not venture to assail. The emigrant knew beforehand that this was a land of the highest political as well as national promise, and under the auspices of another Moses, he journeyed with confidence towards his new Canaan.”
Mr. Chase, late Chief Justice of the United States, in the introduction to his “Statutes of Ohio,” said: “Never, probably, in the history of the world, did a measure of legislation so accurately fulfil, and yet so mightily exceed, the anticipations of the legislators. The Ordinance has well been described as having been a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night in the settlement and government of the Northwestern States."
It may seem strange that, after the lapse of nearly a century, the origin and history of so important a document should still be matters of doubt, and hence of discussion. The statement is ventured with some confidence that in the whole range of topics in our national history there is none which has been more obscure, or the subject of more conflicting and erroneous statements than the one just named. No one of the general histories of the United States or of the special histories of the Western States gives any information on the subject. Mr. G. T. Curtis in his elaborate “ History of the Constitution of the United States," knowing it to be the source of some of the provisions of the Constitution, has omitted to give any historical account of the Ordinance.*
Mr. Webster, in the speech which has been quoted, ascribed the authorship of the Ordinance solely to Nathan Dane of Massachusetts, and this has been the commonly received opinion on the subject since that time. Mr. Benton of Missouri, and Mr. Hayne, promptly challenged the accuracy of the statement upon the spot. “Before I proceed," said Mr. Benton," to the main object of this reply, I must be permitted to clear away some ornamental work, and to remove some rubbish which the Senator from Massachusetts (Mr. Webster] has
* In his second volume, p. 344, is a note referring the reader, for an account of the Ordinance, to the appendix; but nothing on the subject appears in the appendix. His'publishers subsequently issued a printed slip, containing a note from Mr. Curtis, dated March 20, 1858, which will be found inserted in some copies, stating the reason why this matter was omitted. After the foot-note on p. 344 had been printed, the author's attention was called to a letter written by Mr. Dane to Rufus King, which he regarded as settling the question of authorship, and hence he had cancelled the matter he had prepared. A brief extract from this letter is given, but without an intimation as to where the entire letter can be found. Mr. Dane's letter was printed by Charles King, the son of Rufus King, in the “ New York Daily Tribbune" of February 28, 1855, page 6. It is an important letter, and will be quoted and considered in the progress of this discussion.
placed in the way, either to decorate his own march or to embarrass mine. He has brought before us a certain Nathan Dane, of Beverly, Massachusetts, and loaded him with such an exuberance of blushing honors as no modern name has been known to merit or to claim. So much glory was caused by a single act, and that act the supposed authorship of the Ordinance of 1787, and especially the clause in it which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude. So much encomium and such grateful consequences it seems a pity to spoil, but spoilt it must be ; for Mr. Dane was no more the author of that Ordinance, sir, than you or I, who about that time were mewling and puking in our nurses' arms. That Ordinance, and especially the non-slavery clause, was not the work of Nathan Dane of Massachusetts, but of Thomas Jefferson of Virginia."
Later in the same debate Mr. Benton said: “I have already given the proof of the fact that the South is entitled to the honor of originating the clause against slavery in the Northwestern Territory. The state of the votes also upon the adoption shows that she is entitled to the honor of passing it."
Mr. Hayne commented on the subject in a similar strain. Mr. Charles King of New York, President of Columbia College, in 1855, published a paper on the Northwestern Territory, in which he claimed for his father, Rufus King, the credit of being the author of the antislavery clause in the Ordinance. Mr. Rufus King did, two years before the Ordinance was passed, propose such a clause as a supplementary provision to another ordinance; but, as we shall presently see, nothing ever came of it. He moved its committal, and never called it up for consideration. Mr. King was not a member of the Congress which passed the Ordinance of 1787, but was a member of the Convention for the formation of the Constitution in session at the same time at Philadelphia.
Hon. Edward Coles, Governor of Illinois from 1822 to 1826, read a paper before the Pennsylvania Historical Society in June, 1856, and printed by the Society, entitled “ History of the Ordinance of 1787.” His object was chiefly to controvert Mr. Webster's statement as to its authorship, and to claim the honor for Mr. Jefferson.
The obscurity which has hung over the subject has arisen chiefly from the fact that in the old Continental Congress the proceedings were held in secret session, and no report of its debates was preserved. Its secret journal was printed some years later; but it was kept in so meagre and careless a manner that it is impossible from it to follow the business of the sessions. It was, moreover, regarded as a breach of confidence to speak of outside, or to write about, the business of Congress. Mr. Webster, relying on the secret journal, fell into many errors. If he had information from other sources, that, in many instances, was also erroneous. It was impossible to find in print at that time the facts on which an accurate statement of the matter could be made. Mr. Dane was then living in his seventyeighth year, and died five years later. His pastor and biographer, the Rev. Christopher T. Thayer, has given in the sketch of his life, in Stone's History of Beverly, no further information on the subject than is contained in Mr. Webster's statement. Mr. Thayer, two years ago, informed the writer that he never heard Mr. Dane speak of the Ordinance, and was not aware that he had written upon it. Since that time three letters of Mr. Dane, treating the subject of the Ordinance, have come to the writer's notice: 1. The letter to Rufus King, dated July 16, 1787, already noticed. 2. A letter to Daniel Webster, dated March 26, 1830 (after Mr. Webster had made his second speech in reply to Hayne), which is printed in the Massachusetts Historical Society's Proceedings, 1867 – 69, p. 475. 3. A letter to J. H. Farnham, Secretary of the Indiana Historical Society, dated May 12, 1831, and printed in the “ New York Tribune of June 18, 1875. In all these letters Mr. Dane claims to be the author of the Ordinance, the same claim he makes in his “ Abridgment and Digest of American Law,” Vol. VII. p. 389. That he was the member of the committee who wrote the draft of the Ordinance which was submitted to and passed by Congress, there can be no question. A clerk of the committee, under instructions, might have performed this duty. Whether he was the author of the instrument, in the higher sense of furnishing its fundamental ideas, the occasion, the personal influence, the political motives, and the strategy which were needed to carry the measure through, and what services were
rendered by other persons, are legitimate subjects of historical investigation, to which we will direct our inquiries.
Several ordinances for the government of the Northwestern Territory were before Congress from 1784 to 1787, and the first authentic information concerning them appeared in a paper prepared by Mr. Peter Force of Washington, and printed in the “ National Intelligencer” of August 26, 1847. Mr. Force, when searching for materials for his “ American Archives," found a parcel of manuscripts containing the original reports relating to these several ordinances, with the changes and amendments attached, their precise condition at different dates, and memoranda of the disposition made of them. His paper embodied a statement of these facts. Governor Coles, writing nine years later, was not even aware of the existence of Mr. Force's paper, and hence his statements and his conclusions were strangely inaccurate. Mr. Force's statement, valuable as it is, falls far short of being a complete account of the Ordinance. It, however, developed the fact, for the first time, that, instead of being under consideration for three years and six months, as Governor Coles and some other writers have asserted, it was, in the brief space of four successive days, drafted de novo, reported to Congress, took its first, second, and third reading, and was enacted by the unanimous vote of all the States present. Mr. Force was amazed at this sudden action, and confesses his inability to explain it. It is the good fortune of the writer to have in his possession original and contemporary manuscripts, and other authentic evidence, which will show how this sudden action was brought about, and who was the person that inspired and controlled this action.
It will be necessary, as a preparation for the new evidence to be presented, that a brief sketch be given of the several plans or ordinances for the government of the Northwestern Territory which were brought forward and considered by Congress prior to the real Ordinance, which was passed July 13, 1787.
On the 1st of March, 1784, a committee consisting of Mr. Jefferson of Virginia, Mr. Chase of Maryland, and Mr. Howell of Rhode Island, reported an ordinance for the temporary government of the territory, which should continue in force only until any of the ten States, whose boundaries were described,