Mr. Speaker: In this hour of inexpressible import to the fate of unborn millions, I would that I could clear from my eyes the film of all human passions, to see the truth and the right in their naked, living reality, and with their aid to rise to the grandeur of the opportunity to do good to my fellow-men. There have been occasions when the fitting words, uttered in the true place, have helped to right the scale when wavering towards the ruin of a nation. At no time have they been more necessary than now. At no place more requisite than here. The most magnificent example of self-government known to history is in imminent danger of suffering an abrupt mutilation by reason of the precipitate violence of a few desperate men. I purpose to discuss briefly, and I trust with proper calmness, the cause and the effect of this proceeding, as well as the duty that it entails upon us.
On the 6th of November the people of the United States were called, for the nineteenth time, to give in their votes for the election of the highest officers known to the Constitution. Nothing marked the proceeding with any unusual features. No reluctance had been manifested in any quarter to fulfill the duty, the proof of which is that no more full expression of opinion was ever made. No complaint of unfairness or fraud was heard. No contested question sprang up. With the single exception of the State of Virginia, not a doubt was entertained of the true reflection of the popular sense in designating the electors whose province it is to complete the process. Not a soul has been bold enough to deny the fact, that, from the origin of the Government, not a single election which had been disputed at all, was ever more fairly conducted or more unequivocally determined. The sublime spectacle, viewed thus far by foreign nations with a degree of amazement, proportioned to the ever-expanding nature of the operation, of so many millions of people spread over so many thousands of miles of a continent stretching from sea to sea, peacefully, in a single day, selecting their chief rulers for the next four years, was once more presented, to all outward appearance, as successfully executed as in any preceding and more contracted stage of the Republic.
Yet, no sooner was the result positively ascertained, than the people of one of the States, even whilst engaged in performing the common duty as faithfully as all the rest, and without the intervention of a single new disturbing cause, suddenly broke out into violent remonstrance, and dashed into immediate efforts to annul all their obligations to the Constitution. Such a step had never before been taken in any quarter. The same spirit directly manifested itself in the region round about, and it has continued ever since to spread, until it has more or less affected the loyalty of ten or twelve of the States, At the precise period of this occurrence no new provocation had been given, unless it were to be found in the single fact, that the successful candidates were persons for whom those States had not voted. A similar instance had never occurred. There have been several cases of popular resistance to Federal laws. South Carolina had herself furnished a memorable one. But here was an example of resistance to a constitutional election of men. The former may be conducted without necessarily shaking the very foundations of the social system. But the latter at once denies the validity of the only process by which the organic law can be executed at all. To refuse to acknowledge the constituted authorities of a nation, when successfully carried out, is revolution; and it is called rebellion, when it fails, under every code of laws known over the globe. It is an appeal to physical force, which depends for its justification before God and man only upon the clear establishment of proof of intolerable tyranny and oppression. It is sometimes the last resource of patriots, who feel themselves impelled to overthrow a despotism, but oftener the contrivance of desperate adventurers, who seek for their own private ends to establish one.
Had the present outbreak seemed to me the consequence of mature deliberation and deep settled convictions among the people, I should at once have despaired of the Republic. But, apart from the merely outward indications of haste and of passion that attended it, I had other reasons for believing differently. During tho previous summer, the representative candidate of the most extreme party in the slaveholding States, had labored more than once to declare himself a devoted friend of the Union. Whilst, on the other hand, the distrust in him, inspired by the character of his principal advocates, had had the effect of alienating from him numbers even in his own State, who preferred the security offered to them by the friends of another candidate, brought forward exclusively as "the upholder of the Union, the Constitution, and the enforcement of the laws." The slaveholding States were thus divided between these two influences, neither of them venturing before the people to whisper the theory of disunion. A very large minority of the aggregated voters sustained the most thoroughly pledged candidate, whilst Tennessee and Kentucky gave him their electoral votes, and even the Old Dominion, never known before to waver in the course marked out by her acknowledged and ancient leaders, was seen to transfer her votes to the more loyal side. All these events were not the natural forerunners of premeditated disaffection to the Constitutional Government. They can only be accounted for by presuming a fund of honest attachment to it at bottom. And the inference which I draw is, that the feelings of a majority of well-disposed persons, have been suddenly carried away by sympathy with their warmer and more violent friends in South Carolina, so that they have not stopped calmly to weigh the probable consequences of their own precipitation.
If I were to need more evidence to prove to me the absence of deliberate intent, outside of South Carolina, to set aside an election regularly made, I think I could find it in the earnestness with which other causes have been set up in justification of resistance. It has been alleged that various grievances have been suffered, much oppression has been endured, and certain outrages have been committed upon the people of the slaveholding States, which render their longer stay in the Union impossible, unless confidence can be inspired that some remedies may be applied to stop the evils for the future. They aver that their rights are no longer secure in remaining with us, and that the alternative left is to withdraw themselves, before acquiescence shall have prepared them for ultimate subjugation. They come to us, and demand that these complaints shall be listened to, and these apprehensions allayed, before they can consent to farther abide under the authority of a common head.
And here some of my friends on the right reply, with equal warmth and not less reason, that they are unconscious of having done wrong in electing a President, according to the Constitution; that they are not aware of any real grievances that demand redress; and that they feel disinclined to enter upon any experiment to quiet apprehensions which are in their opinion either artificial or imaginary; that they appeal to the Constitution as it is — and if obedience to its requisitions be not voluntarily rendered in any quarter, the only proper remedy is coercion.
I should perhaps be disposed to concur in this view, were this a case of deliberate and willful conspiracy to subvert the Government. I am not sure that I would not apply the doctrine to the people of South Carolina, who have long been known to be generally disaffected. They neither demand nor expect any redress, or even a consideration of their grievances. They declare themselves only to be executing a treasonable project that they have been meditating for twenty years. They have therefore put themselves without the pale of negotiation. There is not even a minority of the citizens who remonstrate. The case is otherwise with the other States. There is evident hesitation and reluctance in adopting the irrevocable policy of disunion. There is a lingering desire to receive assurances that this step is not absolutely needed. Now, I, for one, am not ready yet to take the responsibility of absolutely closing the door to reconciliation. I cannot permit myself to forget the warnings that have descended to us from many of the wisest and best statesmen and patriots of all time, against this rigid and haughty mode of treating great discontents. I cannot overlook the fact that in the days of our fathers the imperious spirit of Chatham did not feel itself as sacrificing any of his proud dignity by proposing to listen to their grievances, and even to concede to every reasonable demand, long after they had placed themselves in armed resistance to all the power of Great Britain. Had George the Third listened to his words of wisdom, he might have saved the brightest jewel of his crown. He took the opposite course. He denied the existence of grievances. He rejected the olive branch. He insisted upon coercion. And what was the result? History records its verdict in favor of Chatham and against his King. And who is there in the mother country at this day who does not regret the blunder, if he does not condemn the motive of the monarch? When the great grandson of that same King, on his late visit to this capital, so handsomely made his pilgrimage to the tomb of the arch rebel of that time, do you imagine that his countrymen and future subjects would have applauded the act, if they still believed that the stiff-backed old King had been right in shutting the door of reconciliation?
For my part, Mr. Speaker, I am more inclined to accord with that philosophical statesman, Edmund Burke, who, during the same struggle, was not afraid to bring forward his plan of conciliation with America. And in the elaborate speech which he made in its defence he used the following language — not entirely inappropriate to these times:
"Now, in such unfortunate quarrels among the component parts of a great political union of communities, I can scarcely conceive anything more completely improvident than for the head of the empire to insist that, if any privilege is pleaded against his will or his acts, his whole authority is denied, instantly to proclaim rebellion, to beat to arms, and to put the offending provinces under the ban. Will not this, sir, very soon teach the provinces to make no distinctions on their part? Will it not teach them that the Government, against which a claim of liberty is tantamount to high treason, is a Government in which submission is equivalent to slavery?"
Mr. Speaker, it is not my custom to lean much upon authority. As a general thing, it appears to me to pass for more than it is worth. But there are persons who are always, more or less, influenced by the source from which anything comes, and who are better disposed to believe in the testimony of a witness two centuries old, than if the same reasoning were issued from the lips of the best of living contemporaries. To such I will commend a passage, drawn from the most profound of British statesmen and philosophers, Francis Bacon:
"Concerning the materials of seditions, it is a thing well to be considered; for the surest way to prevent seditions (if the times do bear it) is to take away the matter of them; for, if there be fuel prepared, it is hard to tell whence the spark shall come that shall set it on fire. * * * As for discontentments, they are in the politic body, like to humors in the natural, which are apt to gather a preternatural heat, and to inflame; and let no Prince measure the danger of them by this, whether they be just or unjust; for that were to imagine people to be too reasonable, who do often spurn at their own good; nor yet by this, whether the griefs whereupon they rise be, in fact, great or small; for they are the most dangerous discontentments where the fear is greater than the feeling. Dolendi modus, timendi non item; besides, in great oppressions, the same things that provoke the patience, do withal mete the courage; but, in fears, it is not so. Neither let any Prince or State be secure concerning discontentments, because they have been often, or have been long, and yet no peril hath ensued; for, as it is true, that every Vapor or fume doth not turn into a storm, so it is nevertheless true, that storms, though they blow over divers times, yet may fall at last; and, as the Spanish proverb noteth well, 'The cord breaketh at last by the weakest pull.'"
Such deep sagacity as this convinces me, if I ever doubted, that the way to peace, in times of disorder, is not always found by refusing to listen to complaints. I differ, then, with some of my rigid friends, on this point. I prefer to consider grievances, were it but to be sure that they have no just foundation; much more if they prove to merit attention for their reasonableness. My notion of the duty of a public man is, to watch the growth of offences, and not to neglect, still less to despise them. I have, therefore, faithfully labored in my humble way to comprehend the nature of the discontents actually prevailing, and to judge of the extent to which they justify the resort to so violent a mode of relief as the overthrow of a Government. After a full hearing of all that has been said in committee, and elsewhere, [easily embrace the topics of complaint under three heads, to wit:
1. The passage of laws, in some of the free States, operating to discourage the recovery of fugitive slaves.
2. The denial of equal rights in the Territories.
3. The apprehension of such an increase of political power in the free States as to tempt an invasion, under new forms of the Constitution, of the right of the slave States to manage their domestic affairs.
After a full and calm examination of the grounds furnished to sustain these complaints, I am ready to declare, that if these are all that endanger the continuance of the present common bond of association between the States, in my opinion, no similar sacrifice to mere abstractions was ever before made among reasoning men. Let me proceed briefly to analyze them, one by one.
And, first, of the personal liberty laws.
Their origin is well known to have been in the enactment of the last fugitive slave law. Their true purpose, to protect innocent freemen from being dragged under its stringent provisions, without trial and without defence, into irredeemable bondage. If in attempting to secure this object, some of them should have overstepped the line so far as to appear to obstruct the reclamation of fugitive slaves, surely a little may be pardoned to the spirit of liberty, justly wounded by the harsh and revolting features of the law. So far from being constructed with any view to effect its object, that measure has always seemed to me to have the appearance of being made purposely offensive, in order to insure its non-execution, so that complaint against the free States might grow out of it. Mr. Speaker, if there be one error into which the people of the United States most often fall, it is that of legislating overmuch. In our eagerness to remedy all sorts of difficulties, we are apt to forget, that under every form of Government, the habits, manners, modes of belief, and forms of education establish social barriers against which the best constructed statutes are directed in vain. Sometimes this happens be-cause they want vigor; sometimes, because they have too much. A collision with a popular prejudice, however ill-founded, will annul the most beneficent law. Dean Swift once roused the passions of the Irish people to such a degree as to banish from circulation a new copper currency, against which time has shown there was not a single solid objection. Thus it happens, that the codes of all countries abound in obsolete laws. Such were the sumptuary laws of antiquity — the often-repeated attempts to regulate the price of labor and commodities — the stern severity of the penalties for trifling offences; the constant efforts to fix the rate oi interest for the use of money; the well-meant endeavors to prohibit the sale of spirituous liquor. Such was, in fact, the fugitive slave law of 1850; and, for different reasons, such are likewise the personal liberty laws. In a very large section of the free States the former is inoperative, and always will be; and the reason is, that its harshness against innocent men runs counter to the sympathies of the people. It is no matter how many laws you make about it, the more cruel they are, the less will you be likely to find them efficient. This is a law of human feeling, which every man made with a heart can readily comprehend. It is this which makes personal liberty laws of no use also. The fugitive is never recovered, because people, who think it cruel to return him, send him forward, and not because he has any imagined protection in the statute book. If, then, you hope to counteract this tendency, the right way to do it, is not to increase, but to soften the severity of your law. Neither will it avail much to claim the repeal of personal liberty laws which have never been of practical use to anybody, bond or free. This would only leave you just where you were. The difficulty is in the nature of the reclamation. If you are proposing to dissolve the Union because that difficulty cannot be removed, the natural question will spring up, whether the right of reclamation in some shape or other, specifically guarantied to you in the organic act of Government, is not worth keeping at all. Of course you will let it go, if you succeed in separation. If you do, in my humble opinion, you will never get anything like such security again. Your mistake seems to me to have been the desire to use it too fiercely. The measure now proposed by the committee is based on a principle of justice, the recognition of which is calculated to soften the repugnance to the law in the free States, and to a corresponding extent to facilitate the recovery of fugitives. But I frankly confess, Mr. Speaker, my unwillingness to participate in the responsibility for this kind of legislation. I am willing to leave the question of modification or otherwise to the Representatives of the border States, who are most interested in it as a practical regulation. With us in Massachusetts, I am free to say, that I think both the fugitive slave law of 1850 and the personal liberty law consequent upon it, are obsolete on the statute books. If we are quarreling about either or both, we make a ground of dispute out of a mere abstraction. I ask the slaveholders, if you are going to dissolve the Union about it on the one side, how are you likely to improve your chances of recovery by that on the other? I ask my own friends, if you are willing to stake the Union upon adherence to your counter legislation, are you not risking substance for an abstraction? Sacrificing a beneficent system to uphold a statute which has never prevented the recovery of a single slave, nor secured the liberty of a single free man?
And now I come to the second, which has been called the most serious cause of dispute of all, but which seems to me more of an abstraction than either. I mean the complaint of exclusion from the Territories. And first, as to the matter of fact. Who excludes the slaveholders with their slaves? Have they not obtained an opinion from the Supreme Court, which will in effect override any and every effort of Congress against them? They can, if they choose, now go wherever they like on the public domain. There is no majority in Congress itself to prevent their going, even if it had the power. Why do they not use that right? The reason is plain. It is not for their interest to go so far north. They will not leave the rich bottom lands, still open for the profitable cultivation of the cotton plant, in the South, to go to a comparatively arid region further off. The slaveholder follows his own interest in applying his labor in that way that will yield the best result. If he were compelled by law to remove to any part of the Territory from which he now complains that he is excluded, he would be apt to regard the decree as a greater outrage than any he now enumerates. The law of political economy regulates this matter much better than any specific statute. It guides this species of labor to the most suitable place, and that place is not the territory of the United States. I understand the validity of this reasoning to be so far conceded that the aggrieved parties are willing to surrender all of it that lies north of the old compromise line, to a perpetual prohibition of slavery therefrom. This limits their complaint of exclusion to the remaining region south of that line. If we exclude the Indian reservations, which are covered by solemn treaties, this leaves nothing but the tract of land which goes under the names of New Mexico and Arizona. It is from this tract that they complain of exclusion. It is for this tract that they demand a constitutional guaranty of protection to slavery, and in case of refusal they are ready to dissolve the Union.
Now, I would ask, how stands the fact? This Territory has been organized more than ten years. It has been freely open to slaveholders with their slaves during all that period. Slavery has enjoyed all the protection that a Government favorable to it in all its branches has been able to extend over it. The Territorial organization has nursed the bantling by every artificial process, even to the concoction of a terrible slave code, which has but one obstacle to its exercise, and that is, the absence of all desire to execute it, as well as the want of slaves to whom to apply it. So it has been stretched over upon white people. What more could have been done for protection, if your constitutional amendment had been in operation? What more could be done if it were adopted now? New Mexico is under the shield of the Supreme Court. Congress cannot prohibit slavery there in the face of that tribunal. New Mexico has now twenty-two slaves on the surface of over two hundred thousand square miles of her extent; and of these, only twelve are domiciled, the remainder are but transient residents. New Mexico shows then, at this moment, all that ten years of protection of slavery has made her. She has a slave code, and twelve slaves. And yet you want more protection, and you threaten a dissolution of the Union if you do not get it; forgetting, I apprehend, that if you execute your threat, instead of getting more, you may lose all that you have already obtained. If New Mexico has gained only one slave a year, during all the time you have had to put them there, it is scarcely likely that the number will increase after your protecting care shall have been totally withdrawn. I think it needs no farther argument to show that the question, whether this shall or shall not be slave territory, is like that alluded to by the Roman poet, de lanâ caprina, or in other words, of getting wool out of a goat.
I say then, in answer to the demand of a constitutional guarantee of protection to slavery in New Mexico, that you are asking for what in substance you enjoy already, and what is good for nothing to you if you get it. You will not go with your slaves to New Mexico, for the excellent reason that you are doing better with them nearer home. Yet still, as this is all the territory left, about which there is any contention between us, the committee come forward with an intermediate proposal to settle it once for all, by making it a State. This puts an end to farther strife about prohibition or protection. The people of the Territory have already the right granted to them on the statute book or determining the question for themselves. You have on your side possession, which they say makes nine points in the law. We have on ours, the aridity of the surface unfavorable to all forms of agricultural labor, and therefore unpropitious to slavery. Let us abide by that result now, which is sure to come sooner or later. I for one am free to say I do not fear it. And here let me quote a remark made to me personally on the subject, by one of the gentlemen on the opposite side of the committee. He objected to this proposition because he said it put us both in false positions. I shall be censured at home for voting to admit a slave State, whilst he should meet with similar treatment for consenting to admit another free State. Now, it seemed to me, on the contrary, that the very nature of this chance was exactly that which would justify both of us in our respective action. Yet I confess, I should be very unwilling to enter into the proposition, unless we can all agree to regard it as putting to rest forever a troublesome cause of dissension. I have no desire to vote for it, if it be not acceptable to the other side. But even if they should reject it, I think the offer ought at least to extinguish every future complaint about the exclusion of slaveholders from the Territories, and every pretence that the refusal to grant protection, is good cause for their present violent course.
The dissolution of the Union would scarcely tend to make more slaves in the Territories of the United States. I very much doubt whether it will enlarge the number anywhere. Be that as it may, if it be thought better to let New Mexico remain in its present condition, even though it be a slaveholding Territory beyond all present power of change by Congress, I am content. On all other accounts, except as a settlement of strife, I should regard this as the most advisable course. But in either event I see no objection to expunging from its statute book, under the authority expressly reserved to Congress, that portion of it so well described by my friend from Ohio. I cannot imagine that any calm, right-minded man, of either party, could object to it. In permitting its continuance for a moment, we only condemn ourselves.
But now comes a farther claim in this connection. We are called, not only to guaranty slavery within our own Territories, but we must provide for it in those of our neighbors, before we get them. When in committee, I recollect that two distinguished gentlemen declined to consult with us anymore, from the moment we refused to enter into this matter. I believe that this fact was entered by them upon the journal. I confess it appeared to me somewhat singular, that the attempts at conciliation should cease just at this point. And that we should be driven to a final separation of the States, because we did not like to declare in the Constitution that we meditated at any and all times an encroachment upon foreign States. And that, to that end, we were making a preliminary rule of arrangements about their institutions, without the smallest regard to the disposition or convenience of those who may be citizens at the time. In my simplicity, I had imagined it was a fundamental principle of all negotiation to let the people of other countries speak for themselves in regard to their own affairs. I had supposed they might have a word to say about so material a question as the introduction of slavery. All these considerations appear to have been overlooked.
And we are told that the Union must be dissolved if we refuse to put in the Constitution a pledge that we will protect slavery in the States of Sonora, or Coahuila, or Chihuahua, or New Leon, when we get them. In order to comprehend how this proceeding will look to strangers, let me suppose that the British Parliament were to entertain the question what sort of organic law they should enact respecting the labor to be employed in the gold region of America south of the 49th parallel, hereafter to be acquired. Should not we regard it as a pretty comical sort of presumption? But if we should be farther informed that Scotland had become fixed in its determination to break up the union because Great Britain declined to consider this subject, what would then be our amazement! Yet I see little difference between this picture and that which we present ourselves, when we fall to quarreling how we shall dispose of our neighbor's property, at a time when there is no particular prospect of our getting it at all. Have not we got difficult problems enough to solve within our present enormous geographical limits, to save us the necessity of puzzling our brains with others that are without? I can scarce suppress a smile at this idea of territory hereafter to he acquired, even amidst all the painful realities of the immediate struggle. Is it not, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, an abstraction, more extraordinary than ail the rest?
The third and last of the causes of grievance is perhaps the most singular of all. It attaches itself to no act of commission or omission whatever, but is a mere apprehension of what may be done hereafter. It is said that the party which has now succeeded in the popular election has increased in numbers with so great rapidity, and that it shows itself so animated by a hostility to slavery, as to render all reliance upon its present professions of moderation utterly illusory. The case then stands thus. We are to dissolve the Union, not about a reality, but from a fear. What! Can this be so? The chivalrous State of South Carolina frightened! The brave and Ancient Dominion stricken with panic! The vigorous State of Georgia in dismay! And all for what? Not on account of the Chicago platform, the only authorized exposition of the policy of the successful party. No! That is not complained of as dangerous. The terror corner from the alarming language of particular individuals. Mr. such a one had said so and so in a speech; another gentleman, an editor, had written so and so in his newspaper. Mr. Senator Seward had spoken somewhere of an "irrepressible conflict," and of "invasion" designed at some time or other upon slavery; so, by way of proving him a false prophet, and themselves wise remonstrants, I suppose, the aggrieved parties propose no longer to attempt to repress the conflict, but rather to invite invasion in good earnest, by beginning it themselves. So Mr. Lincoln, our President elect, is charged with having said in Illinois, some time ago, that "a crisis would be reached and passed," and he had been so bold as to quote the words of an authority before whose name all Christian nations bow, "A house divided against itself cannot stand," whereupon the complainants proceed to disprove the propositions by immediately bringing on a crisis; and, instead of waiting for the house to fall, by setting vigorously to work to pull it down about our ears. And all from fear lest these predictions should be verified hereafter!
It has been farther alleged as a grievance that, by the admission of new free States, the time will come when their number will exceed three quarters of the whole. Then they will have it in their power to adopt amendments to the Constitution at pleasure. Then there is reason to fear that they will invade the domestic institutions of the States. Of course, the Republicans will at once initiate a plan of emancipation. And it is in full view of this impending danger, that the slaveholding States prefer to avoid it by dissolving the Union.
It is difficult at all times to reason about imaginary dangers. I think it is Mr. Jefferson who remarked that much of the life of every man is troubled with the apprehension of things that never come to pass. But, surely, we have no rational cause to anticipate the admission of twenty-seven more States within any moderate calculation of time. Yet it will require no less to furnish the necessary proportion, outside of the slave States, to incorporate amendments into the Constitution. It is, moreover, somewhat surprising to find that even the suggestion of the possibility of the proposal of such amendments in any case should have been made in such a quarter. Surely there are some things which, for its own security, if for no other reason, it may fairly be presumed that not one of the States would ever originate. And one of the most essential would be any idea of direct interference with the internal economy of a sister State. I confess, Mr. Speaker, that I should be very jealous, as a citizen of Massachusetts, of any attempt on the part of Virginia, for example, to propose an amendment of the Constitution designed to rescind or abolish the bill of rights prefixed to our own form of Government. Yet I cannot see why such a proposition would be more unjustifiable than any counter proposition to abolish slavery in Virginia, as coming from Massachusetts. If I have in any way succeeded in mastering the primary elements of our forms of Government, the first and fundamental idea is, the reservation to the people of the respective States of every power of regulating their own affairs not specifically surrendered in the Constitution. The security of the State Governments depends upon the fidelity with which this principle is observed. Even the intimation of any such interference as I have mentioned by way of example could not be made in earnest without at once shaking the entire foundation of the whole confederated Union. No man shall exceed me in jealousy of affection for the State rights of Massachusetts. So far as I remember, nothing of this kind was ever thought of heretofore; and I see no reason to apprehend that what has not happened thus far will be more likely to happen hereafter. But if the time ever come when it does occur, I shall believe the dissolution of the system to be much more certain than I do at this moment.
For these reasons, I cannot imagine that there is the smallest foundation for uneasiness about the intentions of any considerable number of men in the free States to interfere in any manner whatever with slavery in the States, much less by the hopeless mode of amending the Constitution. To me it looks like panic, pure panic. How, then, is it to be treated? Is it to be neglected or ridiculed? Not at all. If a child in the nursery be frightened by the idea of a spectre, common humanity would prompt an effort by kindness to assuage the alarm. But in cases where the same feeling pervades the bosoms of multitudes of men, this imaginary evil grows up at once into a gigantic reality, and must be dealt with as such. It is at all times difficult to legislate against a possibility. The committee have reported a proposition intended to meet this case. It is a form of amendment of the Constitution which, in substance, takes away no rights whatever which the free States ever should attempt to use, whilst it vests exclusively in the slave Stales the right to use them or not, as they shall think proper, the whole treatment of the subject to which they relate being conceded to be a matter of common interest to them, exclusively within their jurisdiction, and subject to their control. A time may arrive in the course of years when they will themselves desire some act of interference in a friendly and beneficent spirit. If so, they have the power reserved to them of initiating the very form in which it would be most welcome. If not, they have a security, so long as this Government shall endure, that no sister State shall dictate any change against their will.
I have now considered all the alleged grievances which have thus far been brought to our attention. 1st. The personal liberty laws, which never freed a slave. 2d. Exclusion from a Territory which slaveholders will never desire to occupy. 3d. Apprehension of an event which will never take place. For the sake of these three causes of complaint, all of them utterly without practical result, the slaveholding States, unquestionably the weakest section of this great Confederacy, are voluntarily and precipitately surrendering the realities of solid power woven into the very texture of a Government that now keeps nineteen millions of freemen willing to tolerate, and, in one sense, to shelter, institutions which, but for that, would meet with no more sympathy among them than they now do in the remainder of the civilized world!
For my own part, I must declare that, even supposing these alleged grievances to be more real than I represent them, I think the measures of the committee dispose of them effectually and forever. They contribute directly all that can be legitimately done by Congress, and they recommend it to the Legislatures of the States to accomplish the remainder. Why, then, is it that harmony is not restored? The answer is, that you are not satisfied with this settlement, however complete. You must have more guarantees in the Constitution. You must make the protection and extension of slavery in the Territories now existing, and hereafter to be acquired, a cardinal doctrine of our great charter. Without that, you are determined to dissolve the Union. How stands the case then? We offer to settle the question finally in all of the present territory that you claim, by giving you every chance of establishing slavery that you have any right to require of us. You decline to take the offer, because you fear it will do you no good. Slavery will not go there. But, if that be true, what is the use of asking for the protection anyhow, much less in the Constitution? Why require protection where you will have nothing to protect? All you appear to desire it for is New Mexico. Nothing else is left. Yet you will not accept New Mexico at once, because ten years of experience has proved to you that protection has been of no use thus far. But, if so, how can you expect that it will be of so much more use hereafter as to make it worth dissolving the Union about?
But, if we pass to the other condition, is it any more reasonable? Are we going to fight because we cannot agree upon the mode of disposing of our neighbor's lands? Are we to break up the Union of these States, cemented by so many years of common sufferings, and resplendent with so many years of common glory, because it is insisted that we should incorporate into what we regard as the charter of our freedom a proclamation to the civilized world that we intend to grasp the territory of other nations whenever we can do it, for the purpose of putting into it certain institutions which some of us disapprove, and that, too, whether the people inhabiting that territory themselves approve of it or not?
I am almost inclined to believe that they who first contrived this demand must have done so for the sake of presenting a condition which they knew beforehand must be rejected, or which, if accepted, must humiliate us in the dust forever. In point of fact, this proposal covers no question of immediate moment which may not be settled by another and less obnoxious one. Why is it, then, persevered in, and the other rejected? The answer is obvious. You want the Union dissolved. You want to make it impossible for honorable men to become reconciled. If it be, indeed, so, then on you and you alone shall rest the responsibility of what may follow. If the Union be broken up, the reason why it happened shall remain on record forever. It was because you rejected one form of settling a question which might be offered and accepted with honor, in order to insist upon another which you knew we could not accept without' disgrace. I answer for myself only, when I say that, if the alternative to the salvation of the Union be only that the people of the United States shall, before the Christian nations of the earth, print in broad letters upon the front of their charter of republican government the dogma of slave propagandism over the remainder of the countries of the world, I will not consent to brand myself with what I deem such disgrace, let the consequences be what they may.
But it is said that this answer closes the door of reconciliation. The slaveholding States will secede, and what then?
This brings me to the last point which I desire to touch today, the proper course for the Government to pursue in the face of these difficulties. Some of the friends with whom I act, have not hesitated to express themselves in favor of coercion, and they have drawn very gloomy pictures of the fatal consequences to the prosperity and security of the whole Union that must ensue. For my own sake, I am glad that I do not partake so largely in these fears. I see no obstacle to the regular continuance of the Government, in not less than twenty States, and perhaps more, the inhabitants of which have not in a moment been deprived of that peculiar practical wisdom in the management of their affairs, which is the secret of their past success. Several new States will before long be ready to take their places with us, and make good, in part, the loss of the old ones. The mission of furnishing a great example of free government to the nations of the earth, will still be in our hands, impaired, I admit, but not destroyed; and I doubt not our power to accomplish it yet, in spite of the temporary drawback. Even the problem of coercion will go on to solve itself without our aid. For if the sentiment of disunion become so far universal and permanent in the dissatisfied States as to show no prospect of good from resistance, and there no no acts of aggression attempted on their part, I will not say that I may not favor the idea of some arrangement of a peaceful character, though I do not now see the authority under which it can be originated. The new Confederacy can scarcely be other than a secondary Power. It can never be a maritime State. It will begin with the necessity of keeping eight millions of its population to watch four millions, and with the duty of guarding, against the egress of the latter, several thousand miles of an exposed border, beyond which there will be no right of reclamation. Of the ultimate result of a similar experiment, I cannot, in my own mind, have a moment's doubt. At the last session I ventured to place on record, in this House, a prediction by which I must abide, let the effect of the future on my sagacity be what it may. I have not yet seen any reason to doubt its accuracy. I now repeat it. The experiment will ignominiously fail.
But there are exceptions to the adoption of this peaceful policy which it will not be wise to overlook. If there be violent and wanton attacks upon the persons or the property of the citizens of the United States, or of their Government, I see not how demands for immediate redress can be avoided. If any interruptions should be attempted of the regular channels of trade on the great water-courses or on the ocean, they cannot long be permitted. And if any considerable minorities of citizens should be persecuted or proscribed on account of their attachment to the Union, and should call for protection, I cannot deny the obligation of this Government to afford it. There are persons in many of the States whose patriotic declarations and honorable pledges of support of the Union may bring down upon them more than the ill will of their infatuated fellow citizens. It would be impossible for the people of the United States to look upon any proscription of them with indifference. These are times which should bring together all men, by whatever party name they may have been heretofore distinguished, upon common ground. When I heard the gentlemen from Virginia the other day so bravely and so forcibly urging their manly arguments in support of the Union, the Constitution, and the enforcement of the Laws, my heart involuntarily bounded towards them as brethren sacredly engaged in a common cause. Let them, said I to myself, accept the offered settlement of the differences that remain between us, on some fair basis like that proposed by the committee, and then, what is to prevent us all, who yet believe that the Union must be preserved, from joining heart and hand our common forces to effect it? When the cry goes out that the ship is in danger of sinking, the first duty of every man on board, no matter what his particular vocation, is to lend all the strength he has to the work of keeping her afloat. What! shall it be said that we waver in the view of those who begin by trying to expunge the sacred memory of the 4th of July? Shall we help them to obliterate the associations that cluster around the glorious struggle for independence, or stultify the labors of the patriots who erected this magnificent political edifice upon the adamantine base of human liberty? Shall we surrender the fame of Washington and Laurens, of Gadsden and the Lees, of Jefferson and Madison, and of the myriads of heroes whose names are imperishably connected with the memory of a united people? Never. Never.
For myself I can only interpose against what seems to me like the madness of the moon, the barrier of a single feeble remonstrance. But in any event it shall never be said of my share in the action of this hour of danger, that it has been guided by vindictive passions, or narrow considerations of personal or party advantage. I well know what I hazard among many whose good opinion has ever been part of the sunlight of my existence, in following what I hold to be a higher duty. Whilst at any and at all times I shall labor to uphold the great principles of liberty, without which this grand system of our fathers would seem to be a mockery and a show, I shall equally strive to give no just ground to enemies and traitors to expand the circle of mischief they may do. Although not very frequently indulging in the profession of a devotion to the Union, which has heretofore been too often associated with a public policy I deemed most dangerous to its safety, I will venture to add, that no man over the boundless extent of our dominion has more reasons for inextinguishable attachment to it than myself. It is inwoven in my affections with the faithful labors in its support of two generations of my race. It is blended with a not inconsiderable personal stake in its continuity. It is mingled with my earnest prayers for the welfare of those who are treading after me. And, more than all these, it colors all my visions of the beneficent spread of Republican institutions as well in America as over the rest of the civilized world.
If, then, so great a calamity as a division be about to befall us, it shall be hastened by no act of mine. It shall come from the wilful passions of infatuated men, who demand it of us to destroy the great principles for which our fathers struggled in life and in death, to stain our standard with the symbol of human oppression, and to degrade us, in the very hour of our victory, before our countrymen, before all the nations of the civilized world, and before God. Rather than this, let the Heavens fall. My duty is performed.