IV. Slavery under the Confederation.
- Jefferson's proposal of Restriction -- Nathan Dane's do.
As the public burdens were constantly swelled, and the debts of the several States increased, by the magnitude and duration of our Revolutionary struggle, the sale of yet unsettled lands, especially in the vast and fertile West, began to be regarded as a principal resource for the ultimate discharge of these constantly augmenting liabilities: and it became a matter of just complaint and uneasiness on the part of those States--Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, and South Carolina--which had no chartered claim to such lands much beyond the limits of their then actual settlements, that their partners in the efforts, responsibilities, and sacrifices of the common struggle were likely to reap a peculiar and disproportionate advantage from its success. Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, each claimed, under their several charters, a right of almost infinite extension westward, and, in the event of the establishment of American independence, would naturally  each possess a vast area of unpeopled, ungranted, and ultimately valuable lands. The landless States, with obvious reason and justice, insisted that these lands, won by the common valor and sacrifices of the whole American people, should be regarded as their common property, and to this end should be surrendered or ceded by the States claiming them respectively to the Confederation. The colonial charters, moreover, were glaringly inconsistent with each other; vast tracts being ceded by them to two or more colonies respectively; and it was a puzzling question, even for lawyers, to determine whether the earliest or the latest royal concession, if either, should have the precedence. There was but one beneficent and just solution for all disputes and difficulties in the premises; and this was a quit-claim by the respective States of their several rights and pretensions to lands exterior to their own proper boundaries, in favor of the common Confederacy. This consummation was, for the most part, seasonably and cheerfully agreed to. Connecticut made a moderate reservation of wild lands assured to her by her charter in what is now Northern Ohio. Virginia, beside retaining her partially settled country south of the Ohio, now forming the State of Kentucky, reserved a sufficiency north of the Ohio to provide liberal bounties for her officers and soldiers who fought in the war of the Revolution, conceding all other territory north of the river, and all jurisdiction over this. And it was presumed, at the close of the war, that North Carolina and Georgia would promptly make similar concessions of the then savage regions covered by their respective charters, now known as Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. Though the war was practically concluded by the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, October 19, 1781, and though the treaty of peace was signed at Paris, November 30, 1782, the British did not evacuate New York till November 25, 1783; and the Ninth Continental Congress, which convened at Philadelphia on the 3d of that month, adjourned next day to Annapolis. A bare quorum of members responded to their names, but one and another soon dropped off; so that the journal of most days records no quorum present, and no business done, until about the 1st day of March, 1784. On that day, Mr. Jefferson, on behalf of tie delegates from his State, presented the deed of cession to the Confederation, by Virginia, of all her claims to jurisdiction over territory northwest of the Ohio, and to the soil also of that territory, subject to the reservation in behalf of her soldiers already noted. This deed being formally accepted, Mr. Jefferson moved the appointment of a select committee to report a plan of government for the western territory; and Messrs. Jefferson, Chase of Maryland, and Howell of Rhode Island, were appointed such committee. From this committee, Mr. Jefferson, in due time, reported an Ordinance for the government of “the territory, ceded already, or to be ceded, by individual States to the United States,” specifying that such territory extends from the 31st to the 47th degree of north latitude, so as to include what now constitutes the States of Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, but which was then, and  remained for some years thereafter, unceded to the Union by North Carolina and Georgia. This entire territory, ceded and to be ceded, was divided prospectively by the Ordinance into embryo States, to which names were given; each of them to receive, in due time, a temporary or territorial government, and ultimately to be admitted into the Confederation of States upon the express assent of two-thirds of the preceding States; but both their temporary and their permanent governments were to be established on these fundamental conditions:
1. That they shall forever remain a part of the United States of America. 2. That, in their persons, property, and territory, they shall be subject to the government of the United States, in Congress assembled, and to the Articles of Confederation, in all those cases in which the original States shall be so subject. 3. That they shall be subject to pay a part of the Federal debts, contracted or to be contracted; to be apportioned on them by Congress, according to the same common rule and measure by which apportionments thereof shall be made on the other States. 4. That their respective governments shall be in republican forms, and shall admit no person to be a citizen who holds an hereditary title. 5. That after the year 1800 of the Christian era, there shall be neither Slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said States, otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted to have been personally guilty.The Ordinance concluded as follows:
That all the preceding articles shall be formed into a charter of compact; shall be duly executed by the President of the United States, in Congress assembled, under his hand and the seal of the United States; shall be promulgated, and shall stand as fundamental conditions between the thirteen original States and those newly described, unalterable but by the joint consent of the United States, in Congress assembled, and of the particular State within which such alteration is proposed to be made.On the 19th of April, Congress took up this plan for consideration and action, and Mr. Spaight of N. C. moved that the fifth proposition above quoted, prohibiting Slavery after the year 1800, be stricken out of the Ordinance; and Mr. Read of S. C. seconded the motion. The question was put in this form: “Shall the words moved to be stricken out stand?” and on this question the Ays and Noes were required and taken, with the following result:
|N. Hamp||Mr. Foster||ay,||Ay.|
|R. Island||Mr. Ellery||ay,||Ay.|
|New York||Mr. De Witt||ay,||Ay.|
|N. Jersey||Mr. Dick||ay,||No vote.1|
|N. Carolina||Mr. Williamson||ay,||Divided.|
|S. Carolina||Mr. Read||no,||No.|
There shall be neither Slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said Territory, otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the parties shall be duly convicted.To this was added, prior to its passage, the stipulation for the rendition of fugitives from labor or service, which either had just been, or was just about to be, embodied in the Federal Constitution, then being framed; and in this shape the entire Ordinance was adopted, July 13, by the unanimous vote of the States then represented in Congress, including Georgia and the Carolinas; no effort having been made to strike out the inhibition of Slavery. Mr. Robert Yates, of New York, voted alone in the negative on the passage of the Ordinance, but was overborne by the vote of his two colleagues, then present.2