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Xv. The Compromise of 1850.

Gen. Zachary Taylor was inaugurated as President on the 4th of March, 1849. He had received, as we have seen, both an electoral majority and a popular plurality, alike in the Free and in the Slave States, mainly by reason of his persistent and obstinate silence and reserve on the vexed question of Slavery in the Territories. He had written letters — not always wise nor judicious — during the canvass, mainly in its early stages; but they were not calculated, decisively, to alienate either the champions or the opponents of Slavery Restriction. It is among the traditions of the canvass that he, some time in 1848, received a letter from a planter running thus: “Sir: I have worked hard and been frugal all my life, and the results of my industry have mainly taken the form of slaves, of whom I own about a hundred. Before I vote for President, I want to be sure that the candidate I support will not so act as to divest me of my property.” To which the General, with a dexterity that would have done credit to a diplomatist, and would have proved [199] exceedingly useful to Mr. Clay, responded: “Sir: I have the honor to inform you that I, too, have been all my life industrious and frugal, and that the fruits thereof are mainly invested in slaves, of whom I own three hundred. Yours,” etc. South Carolina did not see fit to repose her faith in him; no more did Texas: his own son-in-law, Jefferson Davis, went against him: so did the great body of Slavery Propagandists; yet it is, nevertheless, true that he received many more votes at the South than would have been given for Mr. Webster, or even Mr. Clay.

In the Free States, very many Northern Whigs1 had refused to support him, and given their votes to Van Buren as an open, unequivocal champion of Slavery Restriction; and it was by the votes thus diverted from Gen. Taylor that Ohio, with perhaps Indiana and Wisconsin also, were given to Gen. Cass. The great body of the Northern Whigs, however, had supported the nominees of their party, not fully satisfied with Gen. Taylor's position on the Slavery question, but trusting that the influence necessarily exerted over his Administration by the desires and convictions of the far greater number of its supporters, whether in or out of Congress, led by such determined Slavery Restrictionists as Mr. Webster and Gov. Seward, would insure his political adhesion to the right side. Many acted or voted in accordance with this view who were not exactly satisfied with it; and the Whig canvassers were doubtless more decided and thorough in their “Free soil” inculcations than they would have been had their Presidential candidate been one of themselves. Mr. Webster2 claimed “Free soil” as a distinctive Whig doctrine, and declared that, were the Whigs to join the peculiar “Free soil” organization, they would only make that the Whig party with Martin Van Buren at its head. Gov. Seward3 declared the Slavery question the great, living, and predominant [200] dominant issue between the two National parties, and urged the duty of abolishing Slavery as a reason for supporting Gen. Taylor. Mr. Washington Hunt4 wrote an elaborate letter to Ohio, urging the duty of standing by Whig principles by electing Gen. Taylor, and by choosing at the same time members of Congress who would inflexibly resist, and legislate to prohibit, the Extension of Slavery. At no time previously,5 had Whig inculcations throughout the Free States been so decidedly and strongly hostile to the Extension of Slavery, and so determined in requiring its inhibition by Congress, as during the canvass of 1848.

Among the results of that canvass was — as we have seen — a temporary alienation of many Northern Democrats from their former devotion to Southern ideas and docility to Southern leadership. This alienation was further evinced in the coalitions formed the next summer between the Democratic and Free Soil parties of Vermont and Massachusetts, which in Vermont proved too weak to overcome the Whig ascendency, but in Massachusetts ultimately triumphed in the election of George S. Boutwell (Democrat), as Governor, and Charles Sumner (Free Soil), as Senator. In New York, a fusion was with difficulty effected (in 1849) of the parties which had in 1848 supported Van Buren and Cass respectively — the nominal basis of agreement being a resolve6 of mutual hostility to the [201] Extension of Slavery. There were local exceptions; but in the main the Democratic party was materially strengthened by the rapid and general disintegration of the Free Soil party, and by the apparent falling away of the Whigs of the Free States from a decided, open, inflexible maintenance of the principle of Slavery Restriction. Gen. Taylor's election had exhausted the personal popularity based on his achievements as a soldier; his attitude as a slaveholder, and his tacit negation of the principle aforesaid, were awkward facts; and, though the President himself could not be justly accused of doing or saying any thing clearly objectionable, yet each successive State election of 1849 indicated a diminished and declining popularity on the part of the new Administration.

Neither Mr. Webster nor Gov. Seward had a seat in Gen. Taylor's Cabinet, though either, doubtless, might have had, had he desired it. Mr. Webster remained in the Senate, where Messrs. Clay and Calhoun still lingered, and Gov. Seward first took his seat in that body on the day of Gen. Taylor's inauguration.

The proper organization of the spacious territories recently acquired from Mexico necessarily attracted the early and earnest attention of the new President and his official counselors. It could not be justifiably postponed; for the military rule that had thus far been endured by those territories, exceptional at best, had been rendered anomalous and indefensible by the lapse of a year since the complete restoration of peace. Meantime, the discovery of gold in California was already attracting swarms of adventurers to that country and rendering its speedy and extensive colonization inevitable. That it should soon receive a suitable and legitimate civil government was imperative. New Mexico, likewise, having a population of sixty thousand, mainly native-born, and divested by our conquest of a civil government substantially of her own choice, had a right to expect an early and complete deliverance from military rule.

The new Administration appears to have promptly resolved on its course. It decided to invite and favor an early organization of both California and New Mexico (including all the vast area recently ceded by Mexico, apart from Texas proper) as incipient States, and to urge their admission, as such, into the Union at the earliest practicable day. Of course, it was understood that, being thus organized, in the absence of both slaveholders and slaves, they would almost necessarily become Free States.

According to this programme, Mr. Thomas Butler King7 was dispatched to California on the 3d of April, 1849, as a special agent from the Executive, with instructions to favor the early formation of a State Constitution and Government. The President, in a Special Message to Congress on the 21st of January, 1850, replying to a resolution of inquiry from the [202] House, stated that he had sent Mr. King “as bearer of dispatches,” and added:

I did not hesitate to express to the people of those territories my desire that each territory should, if prepared to comply with the requisitions of the Constitution of the United States, form a plan of a State constitution, and submit the same to Congress, with a prayer for admission into the Union as a State; but I did not anticipate, suggest, nor authorize, the establishment of any such government without the assent of Congress; nor did I authorize any government agent or officer to interfere with, or exercise any influence or control over, the election of delegates, or over any convention, in making or modifying their domestic institutions, or any of the provisions of their proposed constitution. On the contrary, the instructions given by my orders were, that all measures of domestic policy adopted by the people of California must originate solely with themselves; and, while the Executive of the United States was desirous to protect them in the formation of any government, republican in its character, to be, at the proper time, submitted to Congress, yet it was to be distinctly understood that the plan of such government must, at the same time, be the result of their own deliberate choice, and originate with themselves, without the interference of the Executive.

In his Annual Message, transmitted some weeks previously, the President had said:

No civil government having been provided by Congress for California, the people of that territory, impelled by the necessities of their political condition, recently met in convention, for the purpose of forming a constitution and State government, which, the latest advices give me reason to suppose, has been accomplished; and it is believed that they will shortly apply for the admission of California into the Union as a sovereign State. Should such be the case, and should their constitution be conformable to the requisitions of the Constitution of the United States, I recommend their application to the favorable consideration of Congress.

The people of New Mexico will also, it is believed, at no very distant period, present themselves for admission into the Union. Preparatory to the admission of California and New Mexico, the people of each will have instituted for themselves a republican form of government, “laying its foundations in such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

By awaiting their action, all causes of uneasiness may be avoided, and confidence and kind feeling preserved. With a view of maintaining the harmony and tranquillity so dear to all, we should abstain from the introduction of those exciting topics of a sectional character which have hitherto produced painful apprehensions in the public mind; and I repeat the solemn warning of the first and most illustrious of my predecessors against furnishing “any ground for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations.”

It would seem that this programme might have secured the support of a majority in Congress and commanded the assent of the country. It insured, almost inevitably, to the champions of Free Labor a practical triumph in the organization and future character of the vast territories recently acquired, while according full scope to that “Popular Sovereignty” whereof Gen. Cass, Mr. Douglas, and other Democratic chiefs, were such resolute champions.

But Congress was not disposed to regard with favor any policy recommended by the Administration; while the Slave Power was fully determined, maugre any theory or profession, to exact a partition of the newly acquired territories, or a consideration for surrendering the alleged right to plant Slavery therein. There was an Opposition majority in the Senate; and the House, after a tedious contest, wherein the especial “Free soil” or Buffalo Platform members refused to support either Mr. Winthrop (Whig), or Mr. Cobb (Democrat), for the speakership, was finally organized under the Plurality rule, whereby, after taking three more ballots, the highest number of votes was to elect. This rule was adopted,8 by 113 Yeas to 106 Nays. [203] after nearly three weeks fruitless balloting, and under it Howell Cobb, of Georgia, was chosen Speaker on the 63d ballot, receiving 102 votes to 99 for Winthrop, and 20 scattering (mainly on the Buffalo platform). Mr. Cobb9 was one of the most determined Democratic advocates of Slavery Extension, and constituted the Committees of the House accordingly.

Gen. B. Riley, the Military Governor of California, had issued10 a Proclamation calling a Convention of the People of California to frame a State Constitution. Such Convention was accordingly held, and formed a State Constitution whereby Slavery was expressly prohibited. State officers and members of Congress (all Democrats) were in due course elected under it; and Gen. Taylor communicated11 the Constitution to Congress, at whose doors the members elect from the new State stood for many ensuing months patiently awaiting their admission to seats. For, among the various propositions introduced at this session, looking to the same end, Mr. Clay had already submitted12 the following basis of a proposed Compromise of all differences relating to the territories and to Slavery:

1. Resolved, That California, with suitable boundaries, ought, upon her application, to be admitted as one of the States of this Union, without the imposition by Congress of any restriction in respect to the exclusion or introduction of Slavery within those boundaries.

2. Resolved, That, as Slavery does not exist by law, and is not likely to be introduced into any of the territory acquired by the United 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 the said territory; and that appropriate territorial governments ought to be established by Congress in all the said territory not assigned as within the boundaries of the proposed State of California, without the adoption of any restriction or condition on the subject of Slavery.13

5. Resolved, That it is inexpedient to abolish Slavery in the District of Columbia, whilst the institution continues to exist in the State of Maryland, without the consent of that State, without the consent of the people of the District, and without just compensation to the owners of Slaves within the District.

6. But Resolved, That it is expedient to prohibit, within the District, the Slave-Trade in slaves brought into it from States or places beyond the limits of the District, either to be sold therein as merchandise, or to be transported to other markets without the District of Columbia.

7. Resolved, That more effectual provision ought to be made by law, according to the requirement of the Constitution, for the restitution or delivery of persons bound to service or labor in any State, who may escape into any other State or Territory in the Union. And,

8. Resolved, That Congress has no power to prohibit or obstruct the trade in slaves between the slaveholding States, but that the admission or exclusion of slaves brought from one into another of them, depends exclusively upon their own particular laws.

The debate on this proposition of compromise was opened by Southern Democrats, all speaking in disparagement of its leading suggestions, or in scarcely qualified opposition to the whole scheme. Mr. H. S. Foote, of Mississippi, condemned especially the proposition “that it is inexpedient to abolish Slavery in the District of Columbia,” as implying a right in Congress to legislate on that subject, which he utterly denied. He condemned still more emphatically the assertion that “Slavery does not now exist by law in the territories recently acquired from Mexico;” insisting that the mere fact of Annexation carried the Constitution, with all its guaranties, to all the territories obtained [204] by treaty, and secured the privilege to any “Southern slaveholder to enter any part of it, attended by his slave property, and to enjoy the same therein, free from all molestation or hindrance whatsoever.” He also condemned the resolve relating to the boundaries of Texas, contending that “her right to that part of New Mexico, lying east of the Rio Grande, was full, complete, and undeniable.” But he did not object to abolishing the Slave-Trade in the District, “provided it is done in a delicate and judicious manner;” and he would consent to the admission of California, “above the line of 36° 30′,” “provided another new Slave State can be laid off within the present limits of Texas, so as to keep up the present equiponderance between the Slave and Free States of the Union, and provided further, all this is done by way of compromise, and in order to save the Union--as dear to me as any man living.” Mr. J. M. Mason, of Virginia, though anxious to do his utmost for “adjusting these unhappy differences,” still more pointedly dissented from Mr. Clay's scheme. He said:

Sir, so far as I have read these resolutions, there is but one proposition to which I can give a hearty assent, and that is the resolution which proposes to organize territorial governments at once in these territories, without a declaration, one way or the other, as to their domestic institutions. But there is another which I deeply regret to see introduced into this Senate, by a Senator from a Slaveholding State; it is that which assumes that Slavery does not now exist by law in those countries. I understand one of these propositions to declare that, by law, Slavery is now abolished in New Mexico and California. That was the very proposition advanced by the non-slaveholding States at the last Session; combated and disproved, as I thought, by gentlemen from the Slaveholding States, and which the Compromise bill14 was framed to test. So far, I regarded the question of law as disposed of; and it was very clearly and satisfactorily shown to be against the spirit of the resolution of the Senator of Kentucky. If the contrary is true, I presume the Senator from Kentucky would declare that, if a law is now valid in the territories abolishing Slavery, it could not be introduced there, even if a law was passed creating the institution, or repealing the statutes already existing — a doctrine never assented to, so far as I know, until now, by any Senator representing one of the slaveholding States. Sir, I hold the very opposite, and with such confidence, that, in the last Congress, I was willing, and did vote for a bill to test this question in the Supreme Court. Yet this resolution assumes the other doctrine to be true, and our assent is challenged to it as a proposition of law.

Mr. Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, with equal energy, objected to so much of Mr. Clay's propositions as relate to the boundary of Texas, to the Slave-Trade in the Federal District, and to the concession that Slavery does not exist by law in the newly acquired territories. He added:

But, Sir, we are called upon to receive this as a measure of compromise! As a measure in which we of the minority are to receive something. 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 sentiments of the Senator from Kentucky, I here assert, that never will I take less than the Missouri Compromise line extending to the Pacific Ocean, with the 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 the owners. I can never consent to give additional power to a majority to commit further aggressions upon the minority in this Union; and I will never consent to any proposition which will have such a tendency, without a full guarantee [205] or counteracting measure is connected with it.

Mr. Clay, in reply to Mr. Davis, spoke as follows:

I am extremely sorry to hear the Senator from Mississippi say that he requires, first, the extension of the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific; and, also, that he is not satisfied with that, but requires, if I understand him correctly, a positive provision for the admission of Slavery south of that line. And now, Sir, coming from a Slave State, as I do, I owe it to myself, I owe it to truth, I owe it to the subject, to state that no earthly power could induce me to vote for a specific measure for the introduction of Slavery where it had not before existed, either south or north of that line. Coining, as I do, from a Slave State, it is my solemn, deliberate, and well-matured determination that no power — no earthly power — shall compel me to vote for the positive introduction of Slavery, either south or north of that line. Sir, while you reproach, and justly, too, our British ancestors, for the introduction of this institution upon the continent of America, I am, for one, unwilling that the posterity of the present inhabitants of California and New Mexico shall reproach us for doing just what we reproach Great Britain for doing to us. If the citizens of those territories choose to establish Slavery, I am for admitting them with such provisions in their Constitutions; but then it will be their own work, and not ours; and their posterity will have to reproach them, and not us, for forming Constitutions allowing the institution of Slavery to exist among them. These are my views, Sir; and I choose to express them; and I care not how extensively and universally they are known. The honorable Senator from Virginia (Mr. Mason) has expressed his opinion that Slavery exists in these territories; and I have no doubt that opinion is sincerely and honestly entertained by him; and I would say, with equal sincerity and honesty, that I believe that Slavery nowhere exists within any portion of the territory acquired by us from Mexico. He holds a directly contrary opinion to mine, as he has a perfect right to do; and we will not quarrel about that difference of opinion.

Messrs. William R. King, of Alabama, Downs, of Louisiana, and Butler, of South Carolina, swelled the chorus of denunciation. They could see nothing in Mr. Clay's proposition that looked like compromise; nothing but concession and surrender of all the rights of the South in the territories. In their view, it was only a skillful and plausible device for reconciling the South to the sacrifice of its rights, and to a concession of all the new territories to Free Labor. They were, therefore, utterly averse to it.

The most remarkable speech elicited by these resolves was that of Mr. Webster,15 wherein he took ground against the Abolitionists; against the assumed Right of Instruction; against further legislation prohibitory of Slavery in the Territories; against Secession or Disunion; against whatever seemed calculated to produce irritation or alienation between the North and the South; and in favor of liberal grants by Congress in aid of the colonization by Slave States of their free colored population. His reasons for opposing any prohibitive legislation with regard to Slavery in the new territories were set forth as follows:

Now, as to California and New Mexico, I hold Slavery to be excluded from those territories by a law even superior to that which admits and sanctions it in Texas. I mean the law of nature, of physical geography, the law of the formation of the earth. That law settles forever, with a strength beyond all terms of human enactment, that Slavery cannot exist in California or New Mexico. Understand me, Sir; I mean Slavery as we regard it; the Slavery of the colored race as it exists in the Southern States. I shall not discuss the point, but leave it to the learned gentlemen who have undertaken to discuss it; but I suppose there is no Slavery of that description in California now. I understand that peonism, a sort of penal servitude, exists there, or rather a sort of voluntary sale of a man and his offspring for debt — an arrangement of a peculiar nature known to the law of Mexico. [206] But what I mean to say is, that it is as impossible that African Slavery, as we see it among us, should find its way, or be introduced, into California and New Mexico, as any other natural impossibility. California and New Mexico are Asiatic in their formation and scenery. They are composed of vast ridges of mountains, of great hight, with broken ridges and deep valleys. The sides of these mountains are entirely barren; their tops capped by perennial snow. There may be in California, now made free by its constitution, and no doubt there are, some tracts of valuable land. But it is not so in New Mexico. Pray, what is the evidence which every gentleman must have obtained on this subject, from information sought by himself or communicated by others? I have inquired and read all I could find, in order to acquire information on this important subject. What is there in New Mexico that could, by any possibility, induce any body to go there with slaves? There are some narrow strips of tillable land on the borders of the rivers; but the rivers themselves dry up before midsummer is gone. All that the people can do in that region is to raise some little articles, some little wheat for their tortillas, and that by irrigation. And who expects to see a hundred black men cultivating tobacco, corn, cotton, rice, or anything else, on lands in New Mexico made fertile only by irrigation?

I look upon it, therefore, as a fixed fact, to use the current expression of the day, that both California and New Mexico are destined to be free, so far as they are settled at all; which I believe, in regard to New Mexico, will be but partially for a great length of time; free by the arrangement of things ordained by the Power above us. I have, therefore, to say, in this respect also, that this country is fixed for freedom, to as many persons as shall ever live in it, by a less repealable law than that which attaches to the holding of slaves in Texas; and I will say further, that, if a resolution or a bill were now before us to provide a Territorial government for New Mexico, I would not vote to put any prohibition into it whatever. Such a prohibition would be idle, as it respects any effect it would have upon the Territory; and I would not take pains uselessly to reaffirm an ordinance of nature, nor to reenact the will of God. I would put in no Wilmot Proviso for the mere purpose of a taunt or a reproach. I would put into it no evidence of the votes of superior power, exercised for no purpose but to wound the pride, whether a just and rational pride, or an irrational pride, of the citizens of the Southern States. I have no such object, no such purpose. They would think it a taunt, an indignity; they would think it to be an act taking away from them what they regard as a proper equality of privilege. Whether they expect to realize any benefit from it or not, they would think it at least a plain theoretic wrong; that something more or less derogatory to their character and their rights had taken place. I propose to inflict no such wound upon any body, unless something essentially important to the country, and efficient to the preservation of liberty and freedom, is to be effected. I repeat, therefore, Sir, and, as I do not propose to address the Senate often upon this subject, I repeat it because I wish it to be distinctly understood, that, for the reasons stated, if a proposition were now here to establish a government for New Mexico, and if it was moved to insert a provision for the prohibition of Slavery, I would not vote for it.

Sir, if we were now making a government for New Mexico, and any body should propose a Wilmot Proviso, I should treat it exactly as Mr. Polk treated that provision for excluding Slavery from Oregon. Mr. Polk was known to be, in opinion, decidedly averse to the Wilmot Proviso; but he felt the necessity of establishing a government for the territory of Oregon. The Proviso was in the bill; but he knew it would be entirely nugatory, since it took away no right, no describable, no tangible, no appreciable right of the South; he said he would sign the bill for the sake of enacting a law to form a government in that Territory, and let that entirely useless, and, in that connection, entirely senseless, proviso remain. Sir, we hear occasionally of the Annexation of Canada; and, if there be any man, any of the Northern Democracy, or any one of the Free Soil party, who supposes it necessary to insert a Wilmot Proviso in a territorial government for New Mexico, that man would, of course, be of opinion that it is necessary to protect the everlasting snows of Canada from the foot of Slavery by the same overspreading wing of an act of Congress. Sir, wherever there is a substantial good to be done, wherever there is a foot of land to be prevented from becoming slave territory, I am ready to assert the principle of the exclusion of Slavery. I am pledged to it from the year 1837; I have been pledged to it again and again; and I will perform those pledges; but I will not do a thing unnecessarily that wounds the feelings of others, or that does discredit to my own understanding.

It seems not a little remarkable that a man of Mr. Webster's strength should have traversed the whole ground of controversy so thoroughly [207] in a speech inevitably calculated to excite deep dissatisfaction among the great mass of his constituents, without once considering or even touching this question: “What need exists for any Compromise whatever?” Admitting the correctness of his views and general positions with regard to California, New Mexico, Texas, etc., why not permit each subject demanding legislation to be presented in its order, and all questions respecting it to be decided on their intrinsic merits? He, of course, contended throughout that his position was unchanged, that his views were substantially those he had always held; yet the eagerness and satisfaction wherewith his speech was received and reprinted at Richmond, Charleston, New Orleans, and throughout the South, should, it seems, have convinced him, if the disappointment and displeasure of his constituents did not, that either he had undergone a great transformation, or nearly every one else had. His speech, though it contained little or nothing referring directly to the compromise proposed by Mr. Clay, exerted a powerful influence in favor of its ultimate triumph.

Mr. Douglas having reported16 a bill for the admission of California into the Union, as also one to establish territorial governments for Utah and New Mexico, Col. Benton moved17 that the previous orders be postponed, and the California bill taken up. Mr. Clay proposed the laying of this motion on the table, which was carried by 27 Yeas to 24 Nays. The Senate now proceeded, on motion of Mr. Foote, of Mississippi, to constitute a Select Committee of thirteen, to consider the questions raised by Mr. Clay's proposition, and also by resolves submitted a month later by Mr. Bell, of Tennessee; and on the 19th this Committee was elected by ballot and composed as follows:

Mr. Henry Clay, of Kentucky, Chairman.


Dickinson, of N. Y.,

Phelps, of Vt.,

Bell of Tenn.,

Cass, of Mich.,

Webster, of Mass.,

Berrien, of Ga.,

Cooper, of Pa.,

Downs, of La.,

King, of Ala.,

Mangum, of N. C.,

Mason, of Va.,

Bright, of Ind.

Mr. Clay reported18 from said Committee a recommendation, substantially, of his original proposition of compromise, save that he now provided for organizing Utah as a distinct Territory. His report recommended the following bases of a general Compromise:

1. The admission of any new State or States formed out of Texas to be postponed until they shall hereafter present themselves to be received into the Union, when it will be the duty of Congress fairly and faithfully to execute the compact with Texas, by admitting such new State or States.

2. The admission forthwith of California into the Union, with the boundaries which she has proposed.

3. The establishment of Territorial Governments, without the Wilmot Proviso, for New Mexico and Utah, embracing all the territory recently acquired from Mexico, not contained in the boundaries of California.

4. The combination of those two last measures in the same bill.

5. The establishment of the western and northern boundaries of Texas, and the exclusion from her jurisdiction of all New Mexico, with the grant to Texas of a pecuniary equivalent; and the section for that purpose to be incorporated in the bill admitting California, and establishing Territorial Governments for Utah and New Mexico.

6. More effectual enactments of law to secure the prompt delivery of persons bound to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, who escape into another State; and

7. Abstaining from abolishing Slavery, but, under a heavy penalty, prohibiting the Slave-Trade, in the District of Columbia.


And still the debate went on, hardly interrupted by the death (July 10th) of Gen. Taylor, and the accession of Vice-President Fillmore to the Presidency. Repeated efforts to cut off from California all her territory south of 36° 30‘; to send back her constitution to a new convention of her people, etc., etc., were made by Southern ultras, but defeated; and finally19 the bill to admit California passed the Senate by 34 Yeas to 18 Nays — all Southern--and the bill organizing the Territories of New Mexico and Utah, as proposed, likewise passed two days thereafter: Yeas 27; Nays 10. The other measures embraced in the proposition of compromise were in like manner successively carried with little serious opposition.

When these measures reached the House, they encountered a spirited opposition; but the bill organizing the Territory of New Mexico was added as an amendment or “rider” to the bill defining the Northern boundary of Texas, and paying her ten millions for assenting to such demarkation. This was moved by Mr. Linn Boyd (Democrat), of Kentucky, and prevailed by Yeas 107, Nays 99. The bill, as thus amended, was first defeated — Yeas 99; Nays 107; but Mr. Howard, of Texas, who had voted in the negative, now moved a reconsideration, which was carried — Yeas 122; Nays 84; whereupon the Previous Question was seconded — Yeas 115; Nays 97; and the bill passed20 as amended — Yeas 108; Nays 97. The California bill was next21 taken up and passed — Yeas 150; Nays 56--(all Southern); and then the Utah bill was in like manner passed — Yeas 97; Nays 85--(mainly Northern Free Soil). The bills providing more effectually for the recovery of fugitive Slaves, and abolishing the Slave-trade in the District, were likewise passed by decided majorities; and the Senate22 concurred in the House amendment, whereby two of its measures had been welded together — Yeas 31; Nays 10 (Northern Free Soil). So all the measures originally included in Mr. Clay's proposition of compromise became laws of the land.

The propelling force, whereby these acts were pushed through Congress, in defiance of the original convictions of a majority of its members, or at least the lubricating oil where — with the ways were rendered passable, was contained in that article of the bill proposing to the State of Texas the establishment of her Northern boundary, which reads:

Fourth. The United States, in consideration of said establishment of boundaries, cession of claims to territory, and relinquishment of claims, will pay to the State of Texas the sum of ten millions of dollars, in a stock bearing five per cent. interest, and redeemable at the end of fourteen years; the interest payable half-yearly, at the Treasury of the United States.

By this article, the public debt of Texas, previously worth in market but some twenty to thirty per cent. of its face, was suddenly raised nearly or quite to par, to the entire satisfaction of its holders-many of them members of Congress, or their very intimate friends. Corruption, thinly [209] disguised, haunted the purlieus and stalked through the halls of the Capitol; and numbers, hitherto in needy circumstances, suddenly found themselves rich. The great majority, of course, were impervious to such influences; but the controlling and controllable minority were not. This was probably the first instance in which measures of vital consequence to the country were carried or defeated in Congress under the direct spur of pecuniary interest.

Political compromises, though they have been rendered unsavory by abuse, are a necessary incident of mixed or balanced governments — that is, of all but simple, unchecked despotisms. Wherever liberty exists, there diversities of judgment will be developed; and, unless one will dominates over all others, a practical mean between widely differing convictions must sometimes be sought. If, for example, a legislature is composed of two distinct bodies or houses, and they differ, as they occasionally will, with regard to the propriety or the amount of an appropriation required for a certain purpose, and neither is disposed to give way, a partial concession on either hand is often the most feasible mode of practical adjustment. Where the object contemplated is novel, or non-essential to the general efficiency of the public service — such as the construction of a new railroad, canal, or other public work — the repugnance of either house should suffice entirely to defeat, or, at least, to postpone it; for neither branch has a right to exact from the other conformity with its views on a disputed point as the price of its own concurrence in measures essential to the existence of the Government. The attempt, therefore, of the Senate of February--March, 1849, to dictate to the House, “You shall consent to such an organization of the territories as we prescribe, or we will defeat the Civil Appropriation bill, and thus derange, if not arrest, the most vital machinery of the Government,” was utterly unjustifiable. Yet this should not blind us to the fact that differences of opinion are at times developed on questions of decided moment, where the rights of each party are equal, and where an ultimate concurrence in one common line of action is essential. Without some deference to adverse convictions, no confederation of the insurgent colonies was attainable — no Union of the States could have been effected. And where the Executive is, by according him the veto, clothed with a limited power over the making of laws, it is inevitable that some deference to his views, his convictions, should be evinced by those who fashion and mature those laws. Under this aspect, compromise in government is sometimes indispensable and laudable.

But what is known in State legislation as logrolling is quite another matter. A. has a bill, which he is intent on passing, but which has no intrinsic worth that commends it to his fellow-members. But B., C., D., and the residue of the alphabet, have each his “little bill;” not, perhaps, specially obnoxious or objectionable, but such as could not be passed on its naked merits. All alike must fail, unless carried by that reciprocity of support suggested by their common need and peril. An understanding [210] is effected between their several backers, so that A. votes for the bills of B., C., D., etc., as the indispensable means of securing the passage of his own darling; and thus a whole litter of bills become laws, whereof no single one was demanded by the public interest, or could have passed without the aid of others as unworthy as itself. Such is substantially the process whereby our statute-books are loaded with acts which subserve no end but to fill the pockets of the few, at the expense of the rights or the interests of the many.

It was entirely proper that Congress should provide at once for the temporary government of all the territories newly acquired from Mexico; and there was no radical objection to doing this in one bill, if that should seem advisable. As the establishment of a definite boundary between New Mexico and Texas was essential to the tranquillity and security of the Territory, that object might fairly be contemplated in the act providing a civil government therefor. But why Texas should be paid Ten Millions of dollars for relinquishing her pretensions to territory never possessed by, nor belonging to, her — territory which had been first acquired from Mexico by the forces and then bought of her by the money of the Union--is not obvious; and why this payment, if made at all, should be a make-weight in a bargain covering a variety of arrangements with which it had no proper connection, is still less explicable. And when, on the back of this, was piled an act to provide new facilities for slave-catching in the Free States, ostensibly balanced by another which required the slave-traders of Washington to remove their jails and auction-rooms across the Potomac to that dull old dwarf of a city which had recently been retroceded to Virginia, as if on purpose to facilitate this arrangement, the net product was a corrupt monstrosity in legislation and morals which even the great name of Henry Clay should not shield from lasting opprobrium.

1 Among those Whigs who took this course in New York City, the names of Willis Hall, Joseph L. White, Philip W. Engs, and Wilson G. Hunt, are conspicuous.

2 The following are extracts from Mr. Webster's speech at Abingdon, Mass., Oct. 9, 1848:

The gentlemen who have joined this new party, from among the Whigs, pretend that they are greater lovers of Liberty and greater haters of Slavery than those they leave behind them. I do not admit it. I do not admit any such thing. [Applause.] I think we are as good Free Soil men as they are, though we do not set up any such great preeminence over our neighbors. * * * There was an actual outbreak, years ago, between these two parties of the Democracy of New York, and this “Barnburning” party existed long before there was any question of Free Soil among them — long before there was any question of the Wilmot Proviso, or any opposition by that party to the extension of Slavery. And, up to the Annexation of Texas, every man of the party went straightforward for that Annexation, Slavery Extension and all.

But the Whigs, and they alone, raised a strong opposition to the measure. I say the Whigs alone — for nobody else, either in the East, West, South, or North, stirred a finger in the cause — or, at least, made so small an effort that it could not be discerned until the Whigs roused the people to a sentiment of opposition to the further spread of the Slave Power. Then this portion of the New York Loco-Focos, these Barnburners, seized upon this Whig doctrine, and attached to it their policy, merely to give them the predominance over their rivals. * * *

In this Buffalo platform, this Collect of the new school, there is nothing new. * * * Suppose all the Whigs should go over to the Free Soil party: It would only be a change of name; the principles would still be the same. But there would be one change which, I admit, would be monstrous — it would make Mr. Van Buren the head of the Whig party. [Laughter.]

3 In his speech at Cleveland, Ohio, October 26, 1848, Gov. Seward said:

A sixth principle is, that Slavery must be abolished. I think these are the principles of the Whigs of the Western Reserve of Ohio. <*> am not now to say for the first time that they are mine. * * *

There are two antagonistic elements of society in America, Freedom and Slavery. Freedom is in harmony with our system of government, and with the spirit of the age, and is therefore passive and quiescent. Slavery is in conflict with that system, with justice, and with humanity, and is therefore organized, defensive, active, and perpetually aggressive.

Freedom insists on the emancipation and development of labor; Slavery demands a soil moistened with tears and blood — Freedom a soil that exults under the elastic tread of man in his native majesty.

These elements divide and classify the American people into two parties. Each of these parties has its court and its scepter. The throne of one is amid the rocks of the Alleghany Mountains; the throne of the other is reared on the sands of South Carolina. One of these parties, the party of Slavery, regards disunion as among the means of defense, and not always the last to be employed. The other maintains the Union of the States, one and inseparable, now and forever, as the highest duty of the American people to themselves, to posterity, to mankind, etc., etc.

The party of Freedom seeks complete and universal emancipation.

4 Then a Whig member of Congress; since, Governor of New York.

5 Mr. James Brooks, Editor of The New York Express, reported to the New York Whig State Convention of 1847 (October 6th), an Address condemning the objects of the Mexican War then raging, which was unanimously adopted. In the course of it, he said:

Fellow Citizens: Disguise the Mexican War as sophistry may, the great truth cannot be put down, nor lied down, that it exists because of the Annexation of Texas; that from such a cause we predicted such a consequence would follow; and that, but for that cause, no war would have existed at all. Disguise its intents, purposes and consequences, as sophistry may struggle to do, the further great truth cannot be hidden, that its main object is the conquest of a market for slaves, and that the flag our victorious legions rally around, fight under, and fall for, is to be desecrated from its holy character of Liberty and Emancipation into an errand of Bondage and Slavery. * * * We protest, too, in the name of the rights of Man and of Liberty, against the further extension of Slavery in North America. The curse which our mother country inflicted upon us, in spite of our fathers' remonstrances, we demand shall never blight the virgin soil of the North Pacific. * * * * We will not pour out the blood of our countrymen, if we can help it, to turn a Free into a Slave soil; we will not spend from fifty to a hundred millions of dollars per year to make a Slave market for any portion of our countrymen. * * * The Union as it is, the whole Union, and nothing but the Union, we will stand by to the last — but No More Territory is our watchword — unless it be Free.

6 The last Convention of the Cass Democrats, or “Hunkers,” which was held at Syracuse in September, 1849, proposing a conciliatory course toward the “Barnburners,” as an overture towards a neutral basis of runion with them, adopted the following:

Resolved, That we are opposed to the extension of Slavery to the free territories of the United States; but we do not regard the Slavery question, in any form of its agitation, or any opinion in relation thereto, as a test of political faith, or as a rule of party action.”

7 For most of the ten years preceding, a Whig member of Congress from Georgia.

8 December 22, 1849.

9 Since, a Confederate Major-General.

10 June 3, 1849.

11 February 13, 1850.

12 January 29, 1850.

13 3, 4, relate to Texas and her boundary.

14 That of Mr. Clayton--laid on the table of the House, on motion of Mr. Stephens, of Georgia.

15 March 7, 1850.

16 March 25, 1850.

17 April 5th.

18 May 8th.

19 August 13th.

20 September 4th.

21 September 7th.

22 September 9th.

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