More than a year thereafter, with a Baltimore Convention and a Presidential election in immediate prospect.
was interrogated by Mr. A. O. P. Nicholson
, of Tennessee
, with regard to his opinion of the Wilmot Proviso
In his reply,1 Gen.
The Wilmot Proviso has been before the country for some time.
It has been repeatedly discussed in Congress and by the public press.
I am strongly impressed with the opinion that a great change has been going on in the public mind upon this subject, in my own as well as others, and that doubts are resolving themselves into convictions, that the principle it involves should be kept out of the National Legislature, and left to the people of the confederacy in their respective local governments.
This letter is notable as the first clear enunciation of the doctrine termed Popular
(otherwise squatter) Sovereignty
--that is, of the lack of legitimate power in the Federal Government
to exclude Slavery from its territories.
's position was thoroughly canvassed, six months after it was taken, in a letter2
from Martin Van Buren
to N. J. Waterbury
and other Free Soil Democrats of his State, wherein he said:
The power, the existence of which is at this late day denied, is, in my opinion, fully granted to Congress by the Constitution.
Its language, the circumstances under which it was adopted, the recorded explanations which accompanied its formation — the construction it has received from our highest judicial tribunals, and the very solemn and repeated confirmations it has derived from the measures of the Government — leave not the shadow of a doubt in my mind in regard to the authority of Congress to exercise the power in question.
This is not a new opinion on my part, nor the first occasion on which it has been avowed.
While the candidate of my friends for the Presidency, I distinctly announced my opinion in favor of the power of Congress to abolish Slavery in the District of Columbia, although I was, for reasons which were then, and are still, satisfactory to my mind, very decidedly opposed to its exercise there.
The question of power is certainly as clear in respect to the Territories as it is in regard to the District; and, as to the Territories, my opinion was also made known in a still more solemn form, by giving the Executive approval required by the Constitution to the bill for the organization of the Territorial Government of Iowa, which prohibited the introduction of Slavery into that Territory.
The XXXth Congress assembled December 6th, 1847, when Robert C. Winthrop
(Whig), of Massachusetts
, was chosen Speaker of the House
by a majority of one
; and, on the 28th of February ensuing, Mr. Harvey Putnam
, of New York, having moved an independent resolve embodying the substance of the Wilmot Proviso
, Mr. Richard Brodhead
, of Pennsylvania
, moved that the same do lie on the table, which prevailed — Yeas 105, Nays 93--twenty-five Democrats and one “ Native” (L. C. Levin
) from the Free States
voting with the entire South
to lay on the table; all the Whigs
and a large majority of the Democrats from Free States against it.
Peace with Mexico
having been made,3
Government for Oregon
being before Congress at this session, and referred in the Senate to a Select Committee, Mr. John M. Clayton
, of Delaware
, from that Committee, reported it with amendments establishing Territorial Governments also for New Mexico
An original feature of this bill was a proposition embodied therein that all questions concerning Slavery in those Territories be referred directly to the arbitration of the Supreme Court of the United States