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Vii. The Missouri struggle.

when the State of Louisiana, previously known as the Territory of Orleans, was admitted into the Union,1 the remainder of the Louisiana purchase, which had formerly borne the designation of Louisiana Territory, was renamed the Territory of Missouri. The people of a portion of this Territory, stretching westward from the Mississippi on both sides of the river Missouri, petitioned Congress for admission into the Union as the State of Missouri; and their memorials2 were referred by the House to a Select Committee, whereof Mr. Scott, their delegate, was chairman. This Committee reported3 a bill in accordance with their prayer, which was read twice and committed; but no further action was taken thereon during that session.

The same Congress reconvened for its second session on the 16th of the following November, and the House resolved itself into a Committee of the whole,4 and in due time took up the Missouri bill aforesaid, which was considered throughout that sitting and that of the next day but one, during which several amendments were adopted, the most important of which, moved by General James Tallmadge, of Dutchess County, New York, was as follows:

And provided, That the introduction of Slavery, or involuntary servitude, be prohibited, except for the punishment of crimes, whereof the party has been duly convicted; and that all children born within the said State, after the admission thereof into the Union, shall be declared free at the age of twenty-five years.

On the rising of the Committee, the Yeas and Nays were demanded in the House on the question of agreeing to this amendment; when a division was called, and so much of it as precedes and includes the word “convicted” was adopted by 87 Yeas — all from the substantially Free States5 except one of the two members from Delaware--to 76 Nays, whereof ten were from Free States--Massachusetts (then including Maine) supplying three of them, New York three, with one each from New Jersey, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Illinois. The residue of the amendment was likewise sustained, by the close vote of 82 Yeas to 78 Nays. The bill thus amended was ordered to a third reading by 98 Yeas to 56 Nays, and the next day was passed and sent to the Senate, where the restriction aforesaid was stricken out by a vote of 22 to 16, and the bill thus amended passed without a division, on the last day but one of the session. Being now returned to the House, General Tallmadge [75] moved its indefinite postponement, which was defeated — Yeas 69, Nays 74. But the question next presented, of concurrence in the Senate's amendment aforesaid, was decided in the negative — Yeas 76, Nays 78; and the bill returned to the Senate accordingly. The Senate insisted on its amendment without a division; and, on the return of the bill to the House, Mr. John W. Taylor,6 of New York, moved that the House adhere to its disagreement; which prevailed — Yeas 78, Nays 66. And so the bill failed for that session.

A bill, organizing so much of the Territory of Missouri as was not included within the borders of the proposed State of that name, to be known as the Territory of Arkansas, was considered at this session, and Mr. Taylor, of New York, moved the application thereto of the restriction aforesaid. So much of it as required that all slaves born within the Territory after the passage of this act should be free at twenty-five years of age, was carried,7 by 75 Yeas to 72 Nays, and the residue defeated by 70 Yeas to 71 Nays. Next day, however, the adopted clause was reconsidered and stricken out, and the bill ultimately passed without any reference to Slavery. Arkansas became in consequence a Slave Territory, and ultimately a Slave State.

A new Congress convened December 6, 1819; and Mr. Scott8 moved a reference to a Select Committee of the memorials from Missouri, including that of her Territorial Legislature, asking admission into the Union. This motion prevailed, and Mr. Speaker Clay appointed as such Committee three members from Slave States, beside Mr. Scott, who was chairman, with but one from a Free State. In the Senate, the legislative memorial aforesaid was referred to the Judiciary Committee, consisting of three members from Slave States with but two from Free States.

Upon the conflict which ensued, the Slave Power entered with very great incidental advantages. The President, Mr. Monroe, though he took no conspicuous part in the strife, was well known to favor that side, as did a majority of his Cabinet, so that the patronage of the Government and the hopes of aspirants to its favor were powerful make-weights against the policy of Restriction. The two ex-Presidents of the dominant party, Messrs. Jefferson and Madison, still survived, and gave their powerful influence openly in accordance with their Southern sympathies rather than their Anti-Slavery convictions. Mr. Clay, the popular and potent Speaker of the House, though likewise Anti-Slavery in principle, was a zealous and most efficient adversary of Restriction. The natural fears of a destruction, or at least a temporary prostration, of the Republican ascendency, through the reformation of parties on what were called geographical lines, also tended strongly to defeat the proposed inhibition of Slavery. The North, it had by this time come to be understood, if beaten in such a struggle, would quietly submit; while the South, it was very clearly intimated and generally believed, would shiver all party bands, and perhaps even the Union itself, rather than submit to a defeat on this issue. [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,9 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. Barbour10 of Virginia. But this admission, however generally made, [77] did not gain a single Southern vote for the policy of Restriction when the bill to organize Arkansas Territory was under consideration; where — on Mr. Walker, of North Carolina, in opposing that policy, gravely, and without the least suspicion of irony, observed: “Let it not be forgotten that we are legislating in a free country, and for a free people.” But the champions of Restriction, though less agile and skillful of fence than their opponents, were by no means worsted in the argument. Here is a specimen of their logic, from the speech of John W. Taylor:11

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 [78] adopted by the Legislature of the Slave State of Delaware. A frank and forcible memorial from inhabitants of Boston and its vicinity, drafted by Daniel Webster,12 and signed by the principal citizens of all parties, asserted the complete authority of Congress over the subject, and demanded Restriction on those grounds of expediency, morality, and justice, with which thoughtful readers are by this time abundantly familiar. The following extract from this memorial is eminently worthy of its author:

Your memorialists were not without the hope that the time had at length arrived when the inconvenience and danger of this description of population had become apparent in all parts of this country and in all parts of the civilized world. It might have been hoped that the new States themselves would have had such a view of their own permanent interests and prosperity as would have led them to prohibit its extension and increase. The wonderful growth and prosperity of the States north of the Ohio are unquestionably to be ascribed, in a great measure, to the consequences of the Ordinance of 1787; and few, indeed, are tie occasions in the history of nations, in which so much can be done, by a single act, for the benefit of future generations, as was done by that Ordinance, and as may now be done by the Congress of the United States. We appeal to the justice and to the wisdom of the National Councils to prevent the further progress of a great and serious evil. We appeal to those who look forward to the remote consequences of their measures, and who cannot balance a temporary or trifling inconvenience, if there were such, against a permanent, growing, and desolating evil. We cannot forbear to remind the two Houses of Congress that the early and decisive measures adopted by the American Government for the abolition of the Slave-Trade, are among the proudest memorials of our nation's glory. That Slavery was ever tolerated in the Republic is, as yet, to be attributed to the policy of another Government. No imputation, thus far, rests on any portion of the American Confederacy. The Missouri Territory is a new country. If its extensive and fertile fields shall be opened as a market for slaves, the Government will seem to become a party to a traffic which, in so many acts, through so many years, it has denounced as impolitic, unchristian, inhuman. To enact laws to punish the traffic, and at the same time to tempt cupidity and avarice by the allurements of an insatiable market, is inconsistent and irreconcilable. Government, by such a course, would only defeat its own purposes, and render nugatory its own measures. Nor can the laws derive support from the manners of the people, if the power of moral sentiment be weakened by enjoying, under the permission of Government, great facilities to commit offenses. The laws of the United States have denounced heavy penalties against the traffic in slaves, because such traffic is deemed unjust and inhuman. We appeal to the spirit of these laws. We appeal to this justice and humanity. We ask whether they ought not to operate, on the present occasion, with all their force? We have a strong feeling of the injustice of any toleration of Slavery. Circumstances have entailed it on a portion of our community, which cannot be immediately relieved of it without consequences more injurious than the suffering of the evil. But to permit it in a new country, where, as yet, no habits are formed which render it indispensable, what is it, but to encourage that rapacity, and fraud, and violence, against which we have so long pointed the denunciations of our penal code? What is it, but to tarnish the proud fame of the country? What is it, but to throw suspicion on its good faith, and to render questionable all its professions of regard for the rights of Humanity and the liberties of mankind?

As inhabitants of a free country — as citizens of a great and rising Republic — as members of a Christian community — as living in a liberal and enlightened age, and as feeling ourselves called upon, by the dictates of religion and humanity, we have presumed to offer our sentiments to Congress on this question, with a solicitude for the event far beyond what a common occasion could inspire.

The House Committee, of course, reported the bill without restriction, and it came up as a special order.13 Mr. Taylor moved its postponement for a week, which was voted down — Yeas 87; Nays 88. It was considered in Committee the next day,14 as also on the 28th, and 30th, and thence [79] debated daily, until the 19th of February, when a bill came down from the Senate “to admit the State of Maine into the Union,” with a rider, authorizing the people of Missouri to form a State Constitution, etc.--the connection being intended to force the Missouri measure through the House upon the strength of the other proposition.

The Maine bill had passed the House weeks before, without serious opposition. Reaching the Senate, it was sent to its Judiciary Committee, which appended to it the provision for organizing Missouri. An attempt to shake this off was defeated by 25 Nays to 18 Yeas, and the bill returned to the House accordingly. The House refused to concur by the decisive vote of 93 to 72--only four members from the Free States voting in the minority. The House further disagreed, by the strong vote of 102 to 68, to the Senate's amendment striking the Restriction out of the Missouri bill. Hereupon, what is known in history as the Missouri Compromise was concocted. It was the work, not of the advocates, but of the opponents, of Slavery Restriction, intended solely to win votes enough from the majority in the House to secure the admission of Missouri as a Slave State. It was first proposed in the Senate by Mr. Thomas, of Illinois--a uniform opponent of Restriction on Missouri--and introduced by him15 in this shape:

And be it further enacted, That in all that Territory ceded by France to the United States, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude, excepting only such part thereof as is included within the limits of the State contemplated by this act, Slavery and involuntary servitude, otherwise than in the punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall be and is hereby forever prohibited. Provided always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any State or Territory of the United States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid.

The Senate adopted this proposition by 34 Yeas to 10 Nays, and passed the Missouri bill, thus amended, by 24 Yeas to 20 Nays — the minority embracing both advocates and opponents of Restriction. The House at first rejected Mr. Thomas's amendment by the overwhelming vote of 159 Yeas to 18 Nays. The Senate refused to recede from its amendments, and the House decisively insisted on its disagreement to them; whereupon the Senate asked a conference, and the House granted it without a division. The Committee of Conference was framed so as to give the anti-Restrictionists a decided preponderance; and John Holmes, of Massachusetts, reported16 from said Committee, that the Senate should give up its combination of Missouri with Maine; that the House should abandon its attempt to restrict Slavery in Missouri; and that both Houses should concur in passing the bill to admit Missouri as a State, with Mr. Thomas's restriction or proviso, excluding Slavery from all Territory North and West of the new State. Fourteen members, in all, from the Free States17 voted to adopt this Compromise, with 76 from the Slave States, making 90 in all; while 87 members from the Free States, and none from the Slave States, voted [80] against the Compromise. So the bill passed both Houses, as did that for the admission of Maine on the same day.

This virtually ended the Missouri struggle;18 though, at the next Session, when Missouri presented herself for admission as a State, with a Constitution denying to her Legislature any power to emancipate slaves or to prevent their immigration, and requiring said Legislature to pass laws to prevent the immigration of free negroes or mulattoes at any time or under any circumstances, the Northern members for the moment revolted. They keenly felt that this was not the “liberty” and “equality” which had been so stoutly demanded and eulogized by the opponents of Slavery Restriction; and they further objected that this arbitrary and irrevocable prohibition of free colored immigration was in palpable violation of that clause of the Federal Constitution which guarantees to the citizens of each State the rights of citizens in every State. Her admission was at first voted down in the House by 93 Nays to 79 Yeas; but, finally, a fresh Compromise, concocted by a select Joint Committee, whereof Mr. Clay19 was chairman, was adopted. By this Compromise, Missouri was required to pledge herself that no act should be passed by her Legislature, “by which any of the citizens of either of the States should be excluded from the enjoyment of the privileges and immunities to which they are entitled under the Constitution of the United States.” With this added as a proviso, the joint resolve admitting Missouri finally passed the House by 86 Yeas to 82 Nays; and the Senate concurred20 by 26 Yeas to 15 Nays. Missouri, through her legislature, complied with the condition, and thereby became an admitted State. And thus closed the memorable Missouri controversy, which had for two years disturbed the harmony, and threatened the peace of the Union.21

1 April 8, 1812.

2 On the 16th of March, 1818.

3 April 3d.

4 February 13, 1819.

5 New York and New Jersey still held a few slaves, but the former had decreed their manumission.

6 Some years afterward, Speaker of the House.

7 February 17th.

8 December 8th.

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

10 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.

11 February 15, 1819.

12 Then a recent emigrant to Massachusetts from the neighboring State of New Hampshire.

13 January 24, 1820.

14 Missouri impatiently awaited admission.

15 February 17, 1820.

16 March 2, 1820.

17 The names of the fourteen members from the Free States, thus voting with the Anti-Restrictionists, are as follows:

Massachusetts.--Mark Langdon Hill, John Holmes, Jonathan Mason, Henry Shaw--4.

Rhode Island.--Samuel Eddy--1.

Connecticut.--Samuel A. Foot, James Stephens--2.

New York.--Henry Meigs, Henry R. Storrs 2.

New Jersey.--Joseph Bloomfield, Charles Kinsey, Bernard Smith--3.

Pennsylvania.--Henry Baldwin, David Fullerton--2.

18 Some idea of the state of feeling in Missouri, as well as of that in some of the original States, at this period of the Missouri struggle, may be gathered from the following extract:

Imprudence — or worse.--The St. Louis Enquirer, intimating that the Restrictionists intend to renew their designs at the next session of Congress, says--Missouri will then appear ‘as a sovereign State, according to the law of Congress, and not as a Territorial orphan;’ that her people will, in that case, ‘give fresh proof to the world that they know their rights, and are able to defend them.’ What signifies such language as this? All things considered, we wish that the Missouri question may be suffered to rest where it is, as the lesser evil; but, if Congress pleases to take it up again, and refuses to admit the Territory under the Constitution which its Convention has formed, and is without power to enforce its determination, it is high time, indeed, that a new organization of affairs should take place. --Niles' Register, August 26, 1820, vol. XVIII., p. 451.

19 Colonel William H. Russell, of Missouri, a distant relative and life-long friend of Mr. Clay, in a letter (1862) to Hon. James S. Rollins, M. C., from his State, says that Mr. Scott, the Delegate from Missouri at the time of her admission, told him that Mr. Clay, at the close of the struggle, said to him: “Now, go home, and prepare your State for gradual Emancipation.”

20 February 27, 1821.

21 Even John Adams's faith in the Union was somewhat shaken in this stormy passage of its history. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, December 18, 1819, he said:

The Missouri question, I hope, will follow the other waves under the ship, and do no harm. I know it is high treason to express a doubt of the perpetual duration of our vast American empire, and our free institutions; and I say as devoutly as father Paul, esto perpetua: and I am sometimes Cassandra enough to dream that another Hamilton, another Burr, may rend this mighty fabric in twain, or perhaps into a leash, and a few more choice spirits of the same stamp might produce as many nations in North America as there are in Europe. --Adams's Works, vol. x., p. 386.

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