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[76]

Moreover, the shape and manner in which the question was presented were exceedingly favorable to the Southern side. Its advocates, in accordance with their general policy of defending and promoting Slavery in the abused name of Liberty, fought their battle under the flag of State Sovereignty, State Equality, etc. The Right of the People to form and modify their institutions in accordance with their own judgment, interest, feelings, or convictions, was the burden of their strain. Said Mr. William Pinkney,1 of Maryland, their most pretentious and ornate, if not their ablest champion:

Slavery, we are told in many a pamphlet, memorial, and speech, with which the press has lately groaned, is a foul blot on our otherwise immaculate reputation. Let this be conceded — yet you are no nearer than before to the conclusion that you possess power which may deal with other objects as effectually as with this. Slavery, we are further told, with some pomp of metaphor, is a canker at the root of all that is excellent in this republican empire, a pestilent disease that is snatching the youthful bloom from its cheek, prostrating its honor and withering its strength. Be it so — yet, if you have power to medicine to it in the way proposed, and in virtue of the diploma which you claim, you also have the power, in the distribution of your political alexipharmics, to present the deadliest drugs to every Territory that would become a State, and bid it drink or remain a colony forever. Slavery, we are also told, is now “rolling onward with a rapid tide toward the boundless regions of the West,” threatening to doom them to sterility and sorrow, unless some potent voice can say to it, Thus far shalt thou go and no farther. Slavery engenders pride and indolence in him who commands, and inflicts intellectual and moral degradation on him who serves. Slavery, in fine, is unchristian and abominable. Sir, I shall not stop to deny that Slavery is all this and more; but I shall not think myself the less authorized to deny that it is for you to stay the course of this dark torrent, by opposing to it a mound raised up by the labors of this portentous discretion on the domain of others; a mound which you cannot erect but through the instrumentality of a trespass of no ordinary kind — not the comparatively innocent trespass that beats down a few blades of grass, which the first kind sun or the next refreshing shower may cause to spring again — but that which levels with the ground the lordliest trees of the forest, and claims immortality for the destruction which it inflicts.

Throughout the discussion, the argument that Missouri, by the adoption of this amendment, would be subject to unprecedented, invidious, and degrading exactions — that she would be brought into the Union not as the equal, but as the subject of her elder sisters — that the power thus exercised involved the assertion of unlimited and utterly irresponsible authority to shape and mold the institutions of every new State--was pressed with eminent subtlety, pertinacity, and vigor. The right to prohibit Slavery in any or all of the Territories, denied by none, was expressly admitted by Mr. Philip P. Barbour2 of Virginia. But this admission, however generally made,

1 Speech in the U. S. Senate, February 15, 1820.

2 In the debate of Monday, Feb. 15, 1819, Mr. P. P. Barbour, of Va., said:

The effect of the proposed amendment is to prohibit the further introduction of slaves into the new State of Missouri, and to emancipate, at the age of twenty-five years, the children of all those slaves who are now within its limits. The first objection, said he, which meets us at the very threshold of the discussion, is this: that we have no constitutional right to enact the proposed provision. Our power, in relation to this subject, is derived from the first clause of the third section of the fourth article of the Constitution, which is in these words: ‘New States may be admittedly the Congress into this Union.’ Now, Sir, although by the next succeeding clause of the same section, ‘Congress has the power to make all needful rules and regulations respecting the Territory of the United States;’ and although, therefore, whilst the proposed State continued a part of our Territory, upon the footing of a Territorial government, it would have been competent for us, under the power expressly given to make needful rules and regulations--to have established the principle now proposed; yet the question assumes a totally different aspect when that principle is intended to apply to a State. --Benton's Abridgment. N. Y., 1858., vol. VI., p. 341.

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