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Chapter 32: Missouri Compromise.

In 1819-20, the question of admitting Missouri into the Union gave rise to heated discussions as to the right to impose restrictions upon slavery in any of the Territories, the common property of the whole United States. The Northern States desired to deny Missouri admission as a State and hold her in a territorial condition, unless a restriction could be imposed upon the holding of slaves within her borders. The Southern States felt this an unjust discrimination against their property rights, and the excitement grew warm and eager. Mr. Benton said, “This agitation came from the North and under federal lead, and soon swept both parties into its vortex.”

Finally Missouri was admitted without any restriction against slavery, but it was imposed upon the remainder of the territory of Louisiana north and west of Missouri, and throughout the whole territory along the southern boundary line of Virginia and Kentucky: the latitude of 36° 30‘. The same author [450] says, “This was called ‘compromise,’ and was all clear gain to the anti-slavery side of the question, done under the United Slave State vote in the Senate,1 the majority of that vote in the House of Representatives, and the undivided sanction of a Southern administration. It was a Southern measure, and divided free and slave soil far more favorably to the North than the ordinance of 1787. That divided about equally; this of 1820 gave about all to the North.” + He goes on to say it abolished slavery over an immense area and opened no new territory to its existence, and for thirty years this was a subject of angry debate and sustained struggle. Mr. Clay, of Kentucky, when he saw the intense excitement over the Sectional Question, moved a joint committee of both houses, with the proviso that he was to appoint the persons to compose it. He sounded the members from each house and secured a caucus vote on the question, and having personally nominated the members for each committee, passed the bill to admit Missouri, and was for this reason called the author of the “Missouri Compromise.” “This joint committee was the Pandora's [451] box from which came the bitter apple of discord to which we owe the most of our disasters.”

Mr. Davis wrote to Colonel John A. Parker, a gentleman of distinction in Virginia and in the South, who interrogated him on this subject:

Mr. Clay is credited with the paternity of the so-called Missouri Compromise of 1820.

In 1850, when I was contending for the extension of the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean, and claimed of Mr. Clay that consistency required of him to vote with me on that question, a colloquy ensued in which he emphatically denied the paternity of the ‘ Missouri Compromise,’ all of which will be found in the ‘ Congressional Globe.’

The strong men of each party were arrayed in sectional divisions, when Mr. Davis entered the Senate in 1850.

The “Wilmot Proviso” which had been introduced into the House, provided that none of the New Territory incorporated into the Union should be open to the introduction of slavery. This included California and New Mexico, at the gates of Texas and Louisiana. While the Congressmen from the Slave States protested against this “proviso” as a violation of their equal rights, under the Articles of Confederation and of [452] the Constitution, they were not averse to seeing the “proviso” passed by Northern votes, as that act would put beyond all question the hostile character of the legislation of the North upon the interests and constitutional rights of the South.

From time to time such hostile memorials had been presented by the House and Senate from the Abolition element at the North, that they had become a source of insult and irritation to the South. So much so, that the Southern senators and representatives called a meeting to consider whether it would not be advisable, in order to force the definite settlement of the question, to retire from both houses, and what means should be devised to put an end to these daily outrages. Mr. Davis believed that as the power of the North and South was very nearly, if not quite equal, then was the proper time to settle the contention, not by concessions of rights, but by defining them, so that in future further aggressions on the part of either party would be impossible. Unhappily, however, the Southern men were not united in their policy. Mr. Clay's influence carried off a part of them, under the idea that a compromise of some kind could be made which would give peace to the country, he hoped, during his life. [453]

Mr. Webster's arguments convinced a portion of them that the Constitution had no force over any Territory other than that incorporated into States; that Territories had no rights, but were the absolute property of the States; that it required the specific legislation of Congress to give the Territories any rights, and those were not derived, and could not be, from the Constitution.

Mr. Clay was violently opposed to the extension of slavery, and he had his advocates among the Southern Congressmen. So, the defection from our ranks left the really serious men who, loving the Union, desired to protect it from the dangers they saw threatened its existence, in the attitude of agitators.

In the midst of this excited feeling throughout both sections, Mr. Clay conceived the idea of getting a joint committee of Senate and House to make a compromise of all the matters in dispute.

He incorporated the admission of California as a State, “Territorial Governments for Utah and New Mexico, the settlement of the Texas Boundary, Slavery in the District of Columbia, and the Fugitive Slave law all into one bill,” called the Compromise Bill, in parliamentary phrase, and always spoken of as the “Omnibus bill” by members of either house. [454]

Mr. Clay's resolution set forth:

That, as slavery does not exist by law, and is not likely to be introduced into any of the territory acquired by the Northern States from the Republic of Mexico, it is inexpedient for Congress to provide by law either for its introduction into, or exclusion from, any part of said territory.

In a speech on this resolution, Mr. Davis said:

But, sir, we are all called on to receive this as a measure of compromise. I look upon it as but a modest mode of taking that, the claim to which has been more boldly asserted by others: and that I may be understood upon this question, and that my position may go forth to the country in the same columns that convey the sentiment of the Senator from Kentucky, I here assert that never will I take less than the ‘ Missouri Compromise’ line extended to the Pacific Ocean, with specific recognition of the right to hold slaves in the Territory below that line; and that before such Territories are admitted into the Union as States, slaves may be taken there from any of the United States, at the option of their owners.

This was the position generally taken by the Southern men true to their own people, and not looking forward to what, even at [455] that early day, made a politician too cosmopolitan to serve his own State faithfully, “a national reputation;” otherwise, a candidate for the Presidency.

Notwithstanding the great effort made by the free State party, the South was still, with all the defections from their ranks, strong enough to defeat Mr. Seward's revival of the “Wilmot Proviso resolution.” “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude otherwise than by conviction for crime, shall ever be allowed in either of said Territories of Utah and New Mexico.” This was defeated by an almost strictly Southern vote; five only being from the West and North. Yeas, 23; Nays, 33.

In the light that forty years have shed upon this struggle, it is interesting to recall a portion of an address presented to the Southern people by an organized meeting of their leading men, of whom Mr. Davis was one.

But the reverse would be the case between the “blacks” of the South and the people of the North. Owing their emancipation to them, they would regard them as friends, guardians, and patrons, and centre, accordingly, all their sympathy in them. The people of the North would not fail to reciprocate and to favor them, instead of the “whites.” Under the influence of such feelings [456] they would not stop at emancipation. Another step would be taken; to raise them to social and political equality with their former owners, by giving them the right of voting and holding public offices under the Federal Government. But when once raised to an equality, they would become the fast political associates of the North, acting and voting with them on all questions, and by this political union between them, holding the white race at the South in complete subjection. The “blacks” and the profligate “whites ” that might unite with them, would become the principal recipients of Federal office and patronage.

Mr. Benton, in remarking upon this address, said:

Far from passing any law to emancipate slaves in the States, no Congress has ever existed that has seen a man that would make such a motion in the House; or, if made, would not be as unanimously rejected by one side of the House as the other — as if the unanimity would not be the same whether the whole North went out and let the South vote alone, or the whole South went out and let the North alone vote.

These two sharply contrasted views need no commentary now.

The manifesto of the South was signed by [457] Mr. Davis and thirty-nine other members of the House and Senate.

On March 4, 1850, Mr. Calhoun, being too weak to deliver his speech which he had arisen from his dying bed to present, asked Mr. James M. Mason to read it — which he did most admirably.

Mr. Calhoun,

Like some bold seer in a trance
Seeing all his own mischance;
knowing beyond a peradventure that his last hours had come, sought to make his final appeal to the magnanimity and fraternity of the two sections, in the hope of impressing them with their imminent danger now that the balance of power had been lost between the North and South, by the admission of California. He was not able to be present during the reading of the speech, but the next day some attacks, which he considered unfair, having been made upon it, he came over from the old Capitol, where he was boarding, with what strength he might, to make a dying sally for the right. Mr. Dallas, the Vice-President, kindly sent for me and gave me permission to sit between two of the Senators' seats, on a stool. I was quite near Mr. Calhoun and saw him come in, supported on each side by a senator, breathing in short [458] gasps, emaciated to the last degree, his eyes shining with fever; but his eagle glance swept the Senate in the old lordly way. Seeing me, he gave me one burning hand as he passed, and whispering “My child, I am too weak to stop,” he passed on and dropped into his seat. Mr. Benton looked on him with a tender glance and said, sotto voce, “I have nothing to say ;” but Mr. Foote, of Mississippi, got up to answer the speech, and baited him for over an hour. Mr. Calhoun, rising with difficulty from time to time, answered in a weak voice, but to the point, partly bending his tall form from over the desk as he found his strength failing. During Mr. Foote's remarks, Mr. Benton kept up an aside. “No brave man could do this infamy. Shame, shame!”

Mr. Davis and several other senators tried to save Mr. Calhoun the fatigue of responding, but could not.

By this time it became clear that Mr. Calhoun would die in our presence2 with a little more. And at last his friends, supporting him on either side, bore him from the Senate chamber, followed by the loving sympathy of many and the anxious looks of the majority who revered him. [459]

The next day Mr. Webster made his great compromise speech, and the Senate, before the morning hour, was again crowded from the gallery to the floor; outside of the railing was a parterre of brilliant palpitating color, a solid phalanx of ladies; on the steps of the Vice-President's seat every available inch was occupied, and even between the senators, seated on the floor, the rosy faces and waving plumes of ladies made points of color against the senators' black garments. The ladies kept still as mice, feeling themselves present there on sufferance; and, besides, their interest was intense.

Mr. Webster commenced the long-expected speech thus:

Mr. President, I wish to speak to-day not as a Northern man, but as an American, a member of the Senate of the United States. It is fortunate that there is Senate of the United States; a body not yet moved from its propriety, not yet lost to the just sense of its own dignity and its own high responsibilities; and a body to which the country looks with confidence for wise, moderate, patriotic, and healing counsels. It is not to be denied that we live in the midst of strong agitations, and are surrounded by very considerable dangers to our institutions and Government. The imprisoned winds are let loose. The East, the [460] West, the North, and the stormy South, all combine to throw the whole ocean into commotion, to toss its billows to the skies, and to disclose its profound depths. I do not affect to regard myself, Mr. President, as holding, or as fit to hold, the helm in this combat of the social elements; but I have a duty to perform, and I mean to perform it with fidelity — not without a sense of surrounding dangers, but not without hope. I have a part to act, not for my own security or safety, for I am looking out for no fragment upon which to float away from the wreck, if wreck there must be; but for the good of the whole, and the preservation of the whole; and there is that which will keep me to my duty during this struggle, whether the sun and the stars shall appear or not appear, for many days. I speak to-day for the preservation of the Union. ‘Hear me for my cause.’ . . .

While Mr. Webster was speaking and had turned toward the Whig side of the Senate, Mr. Calhoun was again brought in and took his seat. Mr. Webster continued: “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 he is; may he long be in health and the enjoyment [461] of it to serve his country . . . The Secretary had the boldness and candor to avow in that correspondence that the great object sought by the annexation of Texas was to strengthen the slave interest of the South.

Mr. Calhoun:
The ground I put it on was, that it would make an exposed frontier, and if Great Britain succeeded in her object, it would be impossible that the frontier could be secured against the aggression of the abolitionists, and that the Government was bound, under the guarantees of the Constitution, to protect us under such a state.

Mr. Webster:
It was that Texas must be obtained for the security of the slave interest of the South.

Mr. Calhoun:
Another view is distinctly given.

Mr. Webster:
But, sir, the honorable member did avow the object himself, openly, boldly, and manfully; he did not disguise his conduct or his motives.

Mr. Calhoun:
Never, sir, never.

Upon Mr. Calhoun's endeavoring to answer Mr. Webster further, he found himself falling and sat down; then Mr. Webster, with a truly grand gesture, stretched out both his arms to Mr. Calhoun with a voice filled with tears, and said: [462]

“ What he means he is very apt to say.” Mr. Calhoun gasped out, “Always, always.”

There were few dry eyes, as this dying gladiator threw his last breath into the balance for his own people. In a few moments the fitful struggle which had so far sustained him waned, and the whole Senate standing, he was led and partially carried to a carriage and taken to his bed, from which he never rose; and since that direful day there has been none taken from us, more noble, more honorable, or more eloquent than the perfect patriot, incorruptible citizen, blameless husband, devoted father, humane master, and faithful friend, John C. Calhoun.

His funeral was conducted with the utmost ceremony and pomp that was then observed on the death of a great man of that day. The remains were followed by thousands to the boat, which was to carry them back to his grief-stricken State. The horses (twelve in number) were each led by negro mutes, and martial music and tolling bells made the whole ceremony infinitely sad.

Mr. Davis was one of the committee who went as an escort of honor; the body lay in state, in Charleston, and he told me that the flowers were so numerous that they hid the bier. The “Cloth of gold” roses were in full bloom and covered every available space [463] near the departed leader. A continuous stream passed through the hall where he lay, for three days, and until late in the night, to look upon his beloved face once more. When the committee returned home, the usual eulogies were pronounced, and my husband, with faltering voice, delivered an eloquent one. Mr. Webster was much pleased, and came up to congratulate him. The great Senator was fond of poetry, but had no rhythm in his head and no verbal memory, for the same reason; so he shook Mr. Davis warmly by the hand, and said: “That was a fine speech you made, especially that comparison, ‘Like a summer-dried fountain when our need was the sorest.’” Mr. Davis laughed and told him “That was the only part of it that was not mine, that was Walter Scott's.”

Mr. Webster once quoted from Moore (or meant to do so) : “As the sun-flower turned to her God when he sets, the same look which he gave when she rose,” and was all unconscious, until the people smiled, that he was wrong.

The so-called compromise after being the cause of the most intense feeling on both sides, became an occasion of dissension throughout the Southern States. The “peace at any price” wing of the Democratic party held meetings, and the Whigs supplemented [464] them by others among themselves; and all talked about nullification, disunion, and everything that had been imagined or launched at Mr. Calhoun's devoted head in the twenty-five years of his unavailing struggle against the encroachment of pseudo-philanthropists, who deprecated our enjoyment of the property, which they would certainly not have sacrificed, had it been in their possession. The State Rights Democrats made “canvasses” everywhere, meeting the malcontents in debate to explain that neither disunion nor nullification was their object, but the concerted insistance upon our rights in the common property of the States; that our slaves had been recognized as property by the United States and as such they could not, without sacrificing the pride of equality and manhood, allow them to be proscribed where others enjoyed the privilege of taking all species of possessions into the new States or Territories.

The State Rights men saw at a glance that, when these Territories should have been erected into free States, our hopeless minority would appeal in vain to reason and a sense of justice for redress. Majorities are never magnanimous; their conclusions are seldom just; and their methods always arbitrary. Our poor Esau, however, did not attain to the [465] sense of all he was losing until Jacob had secured the inheritance, without even the exchange of a mess of pottage.

In a debate in the Senate, Mr. Davis saidin answer to Mr. Foote's announcement that the people of Mississippi did not agree with him — that he would not remain an hour if he did not believe that he truly represented Mississippi; and though no specific pledge was given, it was an understood thing that the two Mississippi senators were to meet and discuss before the people their different views.

As soon as Congress adjourned, we left Washington, and went down to Jackson, Miss. There we remained a week for Mr. Davis to make preliminary arrangements for the proposed series of debates with Mr. Foote.

General Quitman was one of the nullification-school of which Mr. Calhoun is generally considered the founder, and with which Mr. Davis never in any degree affiliated. In a message to the Legislature of Mississippi, General Quitman had expressed these views, and the people did not feel able to adopt them, but there were peculiar circumstances at the time that rendered the friends of General Quitman, and they were nearly as numerous as the people of Mississippi, unwilling to disappoint [466] him. He had been arrested by the United States authorities on the plea of having been engaged with the Cuban Liberators. It was believed that, had he been sectionally less obnoxious, he would not have been disturbed as the chief magistrate of the State.

The recent election of Mr. Davis to the United States Senate had conferred upon him for six years longer the office which he preferred to all others. He could not, therefore, in engaging in a political campaign in his State, be suspected of desiring a nomination for any other office from the Democratic Convention, the meeting of which was then drawing near.

His devotion to the Union of our fathers had been so often and so publicly declared; he had, on the floor of the Senate, so defiantly challenged any question of his fidelity to it; and his services, civil and military, had now extended through so long a period, and were so generally known, that he felt assured that no whisperings of envy or ill — will could lead the people of Mississippi to believe that he had dishonored their trust, by using the power they had conferred on him to destroy the Government to which he was accredited.

The charges against General Quitman had not been sustained. Many of the Democratic party of Mississippi recognized a consequent [467] obligation to renominate him for the office of which he had been deprived.

Among these was Mr. Davis, who, in reviewing the exciting contest which followed, subsequently wrote:

When the delegates met in party convention, the committee appointed to select candidates, on comparison of opinions, concluded that, in view of the effort to fix upon the party the imputation of a purpose of disunion, some of the antecedents of General Quitman might endanger success. A proposition was therefore made, in the committee on nominations, that I should be invited to become a candidate; and that, if General Quitman would withdraw, my acceptance of the nomination and the resignation of my place in the United States Senate, which it was known would result, was to be followed by the appointment by the Governor of General Quitman to the vacated place in the Senate. I offered no objection to this arrangement, but left it to General Quitman to decide. He claimed the nomination for the governorship, or nothing, and was so nominated.

To promote the success of the Democratic nominees, I engaged actively in the canvass, and continued in the field until stricken down by disease. This occurred just before the election of delegates to a State [468] Convention, for which provision had been made by the Legislature, and the canvass for which, conducted in the main upon party lines, was in progress simultaneously with that for the ordinary State officers. The Democratic majority in the State when the canvass began was estimated at eight thousand. At this election, in September, for delegates to the State Convention, we were beaten by about seven thousand five hundred votes. Seeing in this result the foreshadowing of almost inevitable defeat, General Quitman withdrew from the canvass as a candidate, and the Executive Committee of the party (empowered to fill vacancies) called on me to take his place. My health did not permit me to leave home at that time, and only about six weeks remained before the election was to take place; but, being assured that I was not expected to take any active part, and that the party asked only the use of my name, I consented to be announced, and immediately resigned from the United States Senate. Nevertheless, I soon afterward took the field in person, and worked earnestly until the day of election. I was defeated; but the majority of more than seven thousand votes, that had been cast a short time before against the party with which I was associated, was reduced to less than one thousand.


The exposure to the sun had its usual effect upon Mr. Davis, and he was stricken down with fever which brought on acute inflammation of his left eye and threatened ulceration of the cornea. Fortune favored him in his being taken ill at the house of kind and self-abnegatory friends, who nursed him with care and skill until he was well enough to reach by easy stages the nearest landing on the river. From thence he came home, a shadow of his former self, and not able to bear a ray of light upon either eye. For three weeks he slept all day, arose after sundown, and walked through the house all night. During this time I found out with how many compensating powers nature has endowed us. In light that was not sufficient to show the position of the furniture, I could write, and even read large print. As Mr. Davis could not see at all, the committee who were charged with the conduct of the canvass had a draft of an address made and sent to him for signature. At first he listened and corrected a phrase or two, but when a turgid appeal to the voters was read he put forth his hand, holding my pen, and said, “Oh, let me get at that,” and drew the pen through the offending words. He discarded the whole paper, and, to his dictation, I wrote another. When the address reached Jackson his friends were in a state of [470] great triumph over the idea of his recovery, and large bets were made that the paper had been transcribed by his own hand. However it was three weeks afterward before the sufferer could bear the light.

During this period General Quitman came to visit us, and I was most agreeably impressed with his remarks on his defeat. There was no bitterness, but rather an intense desire, if he could not be elected, that another not holding his peculiar dogmas might meet with entire success. He remarked, “I carry my State rights views to the citadel; you stop at the outworks.” Still weak, with the eye most affected tied up, and wearing goggle-glasses, Mr. Davis left home to begin his canvass three weeks before the election. In the eastern counties of the State his opponents had caused a notice of his death to be published, and in many precincts his friends did not go to the polls in consequence of the rumor; yet the result stated by Mr. Davis was attained.

The following letter, kindly furnished to me by Mr. James A. Pearce, of Kent County, Md., will explain Mr. Davis's views after he resigned his position in the Senate, which was nearly a full term of six years.

Copy of letter from Mr. Davis to James Alfred Pearce, M. D., in which he refers to his position in the session of 1850: [471]

P. O., Palmyra, Miss., August 22, 1852.
My Dear Sir:
Among the most pleasing reminiscences of my connection with the Senate I place my association with you, and first among the consolations for the train of events which led to my separation from that body, I remember your very kind letter.

When it was received, I was unable, on account of ophthalmic disease, to write, and delayed answering until I could dispense with an amanuensis; why I delayed longer I cannot satisfactorily say, but with entire certainty can say it was not because I did not feel the friendship, the delicacy, and the generosity which dictated your letter; it was not because I did not desire to hear from you often, and be kindly remembered by you. If I know myself, you do me justice in supposing my efforts in the session of 1850 were directed to the maintenance of our constitutional rights as members of the Union, and that I did not sympathize with those who desired the dissolution of the Union. After my return to Mississippi in 185 I, I took ground against the policy of secession, and drew the resolution, adopted by the democratic State Rights convention of June, 1851, which declared that secession was the last alternative, the final remedy, and should not be resorted to under [472] existing circumstances. I thought the State should solemnly set the seal of her disapprobation on some of the measures of the ‘Compromise.’

When a member of the U. S. Senate, I opposed them because I thought them wrong and of dangerous tendency, and also because the people in every form, and the legislature by resolutions of instructions, required me to oppose them. But indiscreet men went too fast and too far; the public became alarmed; and the reaction corresponded with the action, extreme in both instances. The most curious and suggestive feature in the case is the fact that those who were originally foremost in the movement were the beneficiaries of the reaction.

Having, by their extreme course, created apprehension, they cried most lustily that the Union was in danger, and saved by their exertion the officers of the State and some of the Federal Government.

I thank you for the hope you express of my speedy return to the Senate; I believe that the people of the State, if another election occurs before a choice of a senator, will so decree; but the present legislature has been called to meet in extraordinary session, and the members having been elected under extraordinary circumstances, no calculation as to [473] their course on this subject can be made by ordinary rules.

I believe that Emory3 will lose no reputation by his triumph over the favoritism of the Top. Eng. Bureau, but the Government cannot now gain all which his knowledge of the particular subject would have secured to us, if he had been continued to the position of Astronomer.

I am as ever truly your friend, Jefferson Davis. James Alfred Pearce, U. S. Senator, D. C.

1 Mr. Benton's statement seems to be at variance with the final vote as given in Benton's Abridgement, chapter VII., pp. 55 to 453. t The vote 95 out of 100 Northern, 39 out of 76 Southern men.

2 See Appendix to Congressional Globe, pp. 269 et seq. 31st Congress, 1st session.

3 Afterward General W. II. Emory, of the United States Army.

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