« ZurückWeiter »
made in submission to difference of opinion, or in deference of other men's judgment. If their perspicacious vision enables them to detect a spot on the face of the sun, they think that a good reason why the sun should be struck down from heaven. They prefer the chance of running into utter darkness to living in heavenly light, if that heavenly light be not absolutely without any imperfection. There are impatient men — too impatient always to give heed to the admonition of St. Paul, “that we are not to do evil that good may come” — too impatient to wait for the slow progress of moral causes in the improvement of mankind. They do not remember that the doctrines and the miracles of Jesus Christ have, in eighteen hundred years, converted only a small portion of the human race; and among the nations that are converted to Christianity they forget how many vices and crimes, public and private, still prevail, and that many of them, public crimes especially, which are offences against the Christian religion, pass without exciting particular regret, or indignation. Thus wars are waged, and unjust wars. I do not deny that there may be just wars. There certainly are, but it was the remark of an eminent person, not many years ago, on the other side of the Atlantic, that it was one of the greatest reproaches to human nature that wars were sometimes necessary. The defence of nations sometimes causes a war against the injustice of other nations. Now, sir, in this state of sentiment upon the general nature of slavery lies the cause of a great portion of those unhappy divisions, exasperations, and reproaches which find vent and support in different parts of the Union. Slavery does exist in the United States. It did exist in the States before the adoption of this constitution, and at that time. And now let us consider, sir, for a moment, what was the state of sentiment North and South in regard to slavery at the time this constitution was adopted. A remarkable change has taken place since, but what did the wise and great men of all parts of the country think of slavery 2— in what estimation did they hold it then, when this constitution was adopted ? Now, it will be found, sir, if we will carry ourselves by historical research back to that day, and ascertain men's opinions by authentic records still existing among us, that there was no great diversity of opinion between the North and the South upon the subject of slavery, and it will be found that both parts of the country held it equally an evil—a moral and political evil. It will not be found that either at the North or at the South, there was much, though there was some, invective against slavery, as inhuman and cruel. The great ground of objection to it was political; that it weakened the social fabric; that, taking the place of free labor, society was less strong and labor was less productive; and therefore we find from all the eminent men of the time the clearest expression of their opinion that slavery was an evil. And they ascribed its existence here, not without truth, and not without some acerbity of temper and force of language, to the injurious policy of the country, who, to favor the navigator, had entailed these evils upon the colonies. I need hardly refer, sir, to the publications of the day. They are matters of history on the record. The eminent men, the most eminent men and nearly all the conspicuous politicians of the South, held the same sentiments, that slavery was an evil, a blight, a blast, a mildew, a scourge, and a curse. There are no terms of reprobation of slavery so vehement in the North of that day as in the South. The North was not so much excited against it as the South, and the reason is, I suppose, because there was much less at the North, and the people did not see, or think they saw, the evils so prominently as they were seen, or thought to be seen, at the South.
Then, sir, when this constitution was framed, this was the light in which the Convention viewed it. The Convention reflected the judgment and sentiments of the great men of the South. A member of the other House, whom I have not the honor to know, in a recent speech has collected extracts from these public documents. They prove the truth of what I am saying, and the question then was, how to deal with it, and how to deal with it as an evil? Well, they came to this general result. They thought that slavery could not be continued in the country if the importation of slaves were made to cease, and therefore they provided that after a certain period the importation might be prevented by the act of the new Government. Twenty years was proposed by some gentleman, a Northern gentleman, I think, and many of the Southern gentlemen opposed it as being too long. Mr. Madison, especially, was something warm against it. He said it would bring too much of this mischief into the country to allow the importation of slaves, for such a period. Because we must take along with us, in the whole of this discussion, when we are considering the sentiments and opinions in which this constitutional provision originated, that the conviction of all men was that if the importation of slaves ceased, the white race would multiply faster than the black race, and that slavery would therefore gradually wear out and expire. It may not be improper here to allude to that, I had almost said celebrated, opinion of Mr. Madison. You observe, sir, that the term slave or slavery is not used in the constitution. The constitution does not require that “fugitive slaves” shall be delivered up. It requires that “persons bound to service in one state, and escaping into another, shall be delivered up.” Mr. Madison opposed the introduction of the term slave or slavery into the constitution; for he said that he did not wish to see it recognized by the constitution of the United States of America that there could be property in men. Now, sir, all this took place at the Convention in 1787; but connected with this — concurrent and contemporaneous—is another important transaction not sufficiently attended to. The Convention for framing this constitution assembled in Philadelphia, in May, and sat until September, 1787. During all that time, the Congress of the United States was in session at New York. It was a matter of design, as we know, that the Convention should not assemble in the same city where Congress was holding its sessions. Almost all the public men of the country, therefore, of distinction and eminence, were in one or the other of these two assemblies; and I think it happened, in some instances, that the same gentlemen were members of both. If I mistake not, such was the case of Mr. Rufus King, then a member of Congress from Massachusetts, and, at the same time, a member of the Convention to frame the Constitution, from that State. Now, it was in the summer of 1787, the very time when the Convention in Philadelphia was framing this constitution, that the Congress in New York was framing the ordinance of 1787. They passed that ordinance on the 13th July, 1787, at New York, the very month, perhaps the very day, on which these questions about the importation of slaves and the character of slavery were debated in the Convention at Philadelphia. And, so far as we can now learn, there was a perfect concurrence of opinion between these respective bodies; and it resulted in this ordinance of 1787, excluding slavery as applied to all the territory over which the Congress of the United States had jurisdiction, and that was all the territory northwest of the Ohio. Three years before, Virginia and other States had made a cession of that great territory to the United States. And a most magnificent act it was. I never reflect upon it without a disposition to do honor and justice— and justice would be the highest honor—to Virginia, for that act of cession of her northwestern territory. I will say, sir, that it is one of her fairest claims to the respect and gratitude of the United States, and that perhaps it is only second to that other claim which attaches to her: that from her counsels, and from the intelligence and patriotism of her leading statesmen, proceeded the first idea put into practice for the formation of a general constitution of the United States. Now, sir, the ordinance of 1787 applied thus to the whole territory over which the Congress of the United States had jurisdiction. It was adopted nearly three years before the Constitution of the United States went into operation; because the ordinance took effect immediately on its passage, while the Constitution of the United States, having been framed, was to be sent to the States to be adopted by their Conventions ; and then a Government had to be organized under it. This ordinance,
then, was in operation and force when the constitution was adopted and this Government put in motion, in April, 1789. Mr. President, three things are quite clear as historical truths. One is, that there was an expectation that on the ceasing of the importation of slaves from Africa, slavery would begin to run out. That was hoped and expected. Another is, that as far as there was any power in Congress to prevent the spread of slavery in the United States, that power was executed in the most absolute manner and to the fullest extent. An honorable member, whose health does not allow him to be here to-day A SENATor. He is here. (Referring to Mr. CALHoun.) Mr. Webster. I am very happy to hear that he is—may he long be in health and the enjoyment of it to serve his country—said the other day that he considered this as the first in the series of measures calculated to enfeeble the South and deprive them of their just participation in the benefits and privileges of this Government. He says very properly that it was done under the old confederation, and before this constitution went into effect; but, my present purpose is only to say, Mr. President, that it was done with the entire and unanimous concurrence of the whole South. Why there it stands ! The vote of every State in the Union was unanimous in favor of the ordinance, with the exception of a single individual vote, and that individual was a Northern man. But, sir, the ordinance abolishing, or rather prohibiting slavery northwest of the Ohio, has the hand and seal of every Southern member in Congress. The other and third clear historical truth is, that the Convention meant to leave slavery in the States as they found it, entirely under the authority and control of the States. This was the state of things, sir, and this the state of opinion under which those very important matters were arranged, and those two important things done; that is, the establishment of the constitution with a recognition of slavery as it existed in the States, and the establishment of the ordinance prohibiting, to the full extent of all territory owned by the United States, the introduction of slavery into those territories, and the leaving to the States all power over slavery in their own limits. And here, sir, we may pause. We may reflect for a moment upon the entire coincidence and concurrence of sentiment between the North and the South upon these questions at the period of the adoption of the constitution. But opinions, sir, have changed—greatly changed —changed North, and changed South. Slavery is not regarded in the South now as it was then. I see an honorable member of this body paying me the honor of listening to my remarks; he brings to me, sir, freshly and vividly the sentiments of his great ancestor, so much distinguished in his day and generation, so worthy to be succeeded by so worthy a grandson, with all the sentiments he expressed in the Convention in Philadelphia.
Here we may pause. There was, if not an entire unanimity, a general concurrence of sentiment, running through the whole community, and especially entertained by the eminent men of all portions of the country. But soon a change began at the North and the South, and a severance of of opinion showed itself—the North growing much more warm and strong against slavery, and the South growing much more warm and strong in its support. Sir, there is no generation of mankind whose opinions are not subject to be influenced by what appears to them to be their present emergent and exigent interest. I impute to the South no particularly selfish view in the change which has come over her. I impute to her certainly no dishonest view. All that has happened has been natural. It has followed those causes which always influence the human mind and operate upon it. What, then, have been the causes which have created so new a feeling in favor of slavery in the South — which have changed the whole momenclature of the South on the subject—and from being thought of and described in the terms I have mentioned and will not repeat, it has now become an institution, a cherished institution in that quarter; no evil, no scourge, but a great religious, social and moral blessing, as I think I have heard it latterly described ? I suppose this, sir, is owing to the sudden uprising and rapid growth of the cotton plantations of the South. So far as any motive of honor, justice, and general judgment could act, it was the cotton interest that gave a new desire to promote slavery, to spread it and to use its labor. I again say that that was produced by the causes which we must always expect to produce like effects — their whole interests became connected with it.
If we look back to the history of the commerce of this country, at the early years of this Government, what were our exports 3 Cotton was hardly, or but to a very limited extent, known. The tables will show that the exports of cotton for the year 1790 and '91 were not more than forty or fifty thousand dollars a year. It has gone on inincreasing rapidly until it may now, perhaps, in a season of great product and high prices, amount to a hundred millions of dollars. In the years I have mentioned, there was more of wax, more of indigo, more of rice, more of almost every article of export from the South, than of cotton. I think I have heard it said, when Mr. Jefferson negotiated the treaty of 1794 with England, he did not know that cotton was exported at all from the United States; and I have heard it said that, after the treaty which gave to the United States the right to carry their own commodities to England in their own ships, the customhouse in London refused to admit cotton, upon an allegation that it could not be an American production, there being, as they supposed, no cotton raised in America. They would hardly think so now !
Well, sir, we know what followed. The age of cotton became a
golden age for our Southern brethren. It gratified their desire for