Gentlemen have said the amendment is in violation of the treaty, because it impairs the property of a master in his slave. Is it then pretended that, notwithstanding the declaration in our bill of rights “that all men are created equal,” one individual can have a vested property, not only in the flesh and blood of his fellow-man, but also in generations not yet called into existence? Can it be believed that the supreme legislature has no power to provide rules and regulations for meliorating the condition of future ages? And this, too, when the Constitution itself has vested in Congress full sovereignty, by authorizing the enactment of whatever law it may deem conducive to the welfare of the country? The sovereignty of Congress in relation to the States is limited by specific grants, but in regard to the Territories it is unlimited. Missouri was purchased with our money; and, until incorporated into the family of States, it may be sold for money. Can it, then, be maintained that, though we have the power to dispose of the whole Territory, we have no right to provide against the further increase of Slavery within its limits? That, although we may change the political relations of its free citizens by transferring their country to a foreign power, we cannot provide for the gradual abolition of Slavery within its limits, nor establish those civil regulations which naturally flow from self-evident truth? No, Sir; it cannot: the practice of nations, and the common sense of mankind have long since decided these questions. Having proved, as I apprehend, our right to legislate in the manner proposed, I proceed to illustrate the propriety of exercising it. And here I might rest satisfied with reminding my opponents of their own declarations on the subject of Slavery. How often and how eloquently have they deplored its existence among them! What willingness, nay, what solicitude, have they not manifested to be relieved from this burden! How have they wept over the unfortunate policy which first introduced slaves into this country! How have they disclaimed the guilt and shame of that original sin, and thrown it back upon their ancestors! I have with pleasure heard these avowals of regret, and confided in their sincerity; I have hoped to see its effects in the advancement of the cause of Humanity. Gentlemen have now an opportunity of putting their principles into practice. If they have tried Slavery and found it a curse — if they desire to dissipate the gloom with which it covers their land — I call upon them to exclude it from the Territory in question; plant not its seeds in this uncorrupt soil; let not our children, looking back to the proceedings of this day, say of them, as they have been constrained to speak of their fathers, “We wish their decision had been different; we regret the existence of this unfortunate population among us; but we found them here ; we know not what to do with them; it is our misfortune; we must bear it with patience.” History will record the decision of this day as exerting its influence for centuries to come over the population of half our continent. If we reject the amendment, and suffer this evil, now easily eradicated, to strike its roots so deep into the soil that it can never be removed, shall we not furnish some apology for doubting our sincerity when we deplore its existence? Shall we not expose ourselves to the same kind of censure which was pronounced by the Saviour of mankind on the Scribes and Pharisees, who builded the tombs of tile prophets, and garnished the sepulchred of the righteous, and said, if they had lived in the days of their fathers, they would not have been partakers with then in the blood of the prophets, while they manifested a spirit which clearly proved them the legitimate descendants of those who killed the prophets, and thus filled up the measure of their fathers' iniquities?The Legislatures of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania unanimously adopted and transmitted resolves in favor of the proposed Restriction; and like resolves were
This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
1 February 15, 1819.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.