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TERRITORIES ACQUIRED FROM MEXICO.
The speech which follows — the last made by Mr. Dix in the Senate — was delivered on the 28th February, 1849, three days before the adjournment of Congress. The question before the Senate, presented in a variety of forms, was the institution of governments for the territories acquired from Mexico, — a question embarrassed throughout by the determination of the Senators from the slave States to extend slavery to those territories, and by a majority of the Senators from the free States to guard, by an express prohibition, against what they deemed a moral and political evil, and the national dishonor of restoring it where it had been formally abolished.
I Regret to be under the necessity of asking the indulgence of the Senate at this late period of the session; but I feel it my duty to make some remarks upon the amendment offered by the Senator from Wisconsin,1 and the general subject to which it relates. I regret also to be under the necessity of discussing the question of providing a government for California, in the form under which it is presented to us, — in an amendment to an appropriation bill. Independently of this objection, I have considered it from the beginning a measure of too great importance to be disposed of in this incidental manner. The proposition of the Senator from Tennessee,2 also in the form of an amendment to this bill, was almost ruled out of this body, upon the ground that it was incongruous and out of place. It received in the end but four votes. I consider this amendment equally irrelevant and misplaced.
The amendment of the Senator from Tennessee proposed to
admit California and New Mexico into the Union as a State.
The amendment of the Senator from Wisconsin arms the
President with extraordinary powers to govern these terri
1 Mr. Walker. 2 Mr. Bell. tories. On the score of congruity, in respect to the general purposes of the bill upon which they were proposed to be ingrafted, I see no difference between them; and I do not understand how one proposition should be resisted on the ground that it is incongruous, and the other entertained as unobjectionable in this respect. Although I did not concur in the propriety of the proposition of the Senator from Tennessee, and although I considered his argument not very happily adjusted to the conclusion it aimed to enforce, yet I must say that I decidedly prefer his proposition to the one before us. I would rather admit California and New Mexico into the Union as a State, wholly unfit as I think they are, than to arm the President with despotic powers to govern them, — not from any distrust of the individual by whom those powers would be exercised, but because I consider such a delegation of authority to any individual utterly indefensible. The proposition of the Senator from Tennessee is disposed of, and I have therefore not.a word to say in respect to it. But there are three other propositions before this body: first, the bill introduced by the select committee, of which the Senator from Illinois * is chairman; second, the amendment of the Senator from Wisconsin, now under immediate consideration; and, third, the territorial bill which was received from the House yesterday, and referred to the Committee on Territories this morning. The first creates a State out of a portion of California, and admits it into the Union; it also creates the State of New Mexico infuturo, and leaves it out pf the Union. The amendment of the Senator from Wisconsin vests in the President all the power which a state or territorial government ought to possess over both territories. It authorizes him to prescribe and establish all proper and needful rules and regulations, in conformity with the Constitution of the United States, to carry into operation the laws referred to in the first part of the proposition, for the preservation of order and tranquillity, and the establishment of justice therein^—not an executive, but a creative power,— and from time to time to modify or change said rules and regulations, in such a manner as may seem to him desirable and proper. It authorizes him to establish offices, and to appoint and commission officers, for such terms as he may think proper, and to fix their compensation. It is literally arming him with dictatorial powers. It appears to me to delegate to him, nearly in the language of the Constitution, the power under which the authority to establish governments for the territories has been claimed. And, sir, if the President elect, on taking into his hands the reins of government, should find himself, in respect to the States, a less absolute ruler than he was at the head of his army, he will, in respect to these territories, be amply indemnified for any diminution of authority he may have sustained by exchanging a military for a civil station. He will find himself in the possession of larger powers than he ever before possessed. I repeat, my objection is not founded on any distrust of the individual by whom these powers are to be exercised. I believe him to possess honesty and truth,— the highest ornaments of exalted station. But 1 will not consent to delegate to any individual, whatever confidence I may have in him, the powers this amendment proposes to confer,— "mighty powers," as the mover himself pronounced them. I forbore, Mr. President, to take any part in the debate while the Senate was in Committee of the Whole, except to urge that all such amendments might be withdrawn. I forbore to make any proposition, by way of amendment, to that offered by the Senator from Wisconsin, because 1 believed all such propositions to be out of place. But when this amendment had been adopted by a deliberate vote of the Senate, I prepared a bill — a full territorial bill — with a view to establish a government in California, on the basis of law, with powers clearly defined for the governing, and rights clearly defined for the governed. When the territorial bill was received yesterday from the House, I resolved not to offer mine as an amendment to the bill before us, extremely averse as I am to all of these propositions, in the manner in which they are presented. But I hold a territorial government the only proper one to be created for these territories, under a system like ours, excepting for the merest temporary purposes. The object of the amendment of the Senator from Wisconsin is more than temporary, whatever its language may import. It has no limitation in point of time. The powers it confers are equally unlimited in scope and duration. And, Mr. President, I am constrained to say, with all deference to the majority of the Senate, that I consider it the most objectionable proposition I have been required to vote upon since I have been a member of this body.
Precedents have been cited to sustain this amendment: one in the case of Florida, and the other in that of Louisiana. Now, sir, let me refer to dates to see how far the precedents are applicable to it. The treaty with Spain for the cession of Florida was ratified here on the 22d of February, 1819, and it was to be ratified in six months, or sooner if possible, by the King of Spain. This was the short session of Congress; and the six months would have brought us to the 22d August, 1819, when Congress was not in session. The act of the 3d March of that year was therefore passed, authorizing the President to take possession of the territory. It was to expire at the end of the next session of Congress. But the treaty was not ratified by the King of Spain until the 24th of October, 1820, and I believe Florida was not taken possession of under this act at all. The treaty as ratified by Spain was sent to the Senate on the 14th February, 1821, as the ratification was not within the time limited. It was ratified by the Senate on the 19th February of that year. The act of the 3d March, 1821, was then passed, reenacting substantially the act of 3d March, 1819. This was also to expire at the close of the next session of Congress. The Senator from New Jersey stated that Florida was governed about three years under the act of 1819. Am I mistaken?
Mr. Dayton. Two years.
The territorial government of Florida, as I have stated, was established on the 30th March, 1822,— one year and twenty-seven days after the passage of the last act authorizing the President to take possession of the territory.
The Louisiana treaty was ratified by the Senate on the 20th October, 1803. An act was passed on the 31st of the same month, eleven days afterwards, authorizing the President to take possession of the territory; and this act was to expire at the close of the same session of Congress. On the 26th March, 1804, a territorial government was established, to take effect the 1st October, 1804. The power was exercised in this case eleven months. In both cases, the duration of the act was limited to the close of the same or the ensuing session of Congress. The powers conferred were to expire at a certain period. The want of such a provision in this amendment constitutes one of the strongest objections to it. But even this omission sinks into insignificance when compared with the magnitude of the powers which the amendment confers.
I cannot believe this amendment can receive all the constitutional sanctions necessary to give it the validity of law. I shall, therefore, proceed to examine the other propositions before the Senate, as we may be called upon to act on them when it is too late for discussion. I wish to avail myself, for a very short time, of the privilege which has been taken by other Senators, of speaking upon the different propositions before us.
The 14th May, 17^7? vvas the day fixed for the meeting of the Federal convention by which the Constitution of the United States was framed. A majority of the States was not convened until the 25th of the same month; and nothing was done, with the exception of organizing and adopting rules for the orderly transaction of business, until the 29th, when Governor Randolph, of Virginia, to use the language of the Journal, "opened the main business of the session"; or,
as he expressed himself, "the great subject of their mission."