HotFreeBooks.com
The Relations of the Federal Government to Slavery - Delivered at Fort Wayne, Ind., October 30th 1860
by Joseph Ketchum Edgerton
Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse

What better authority can we have on this point than that of Henry Clay, whose influence perhaps as much as that of any other man, helped to carry the compromise of 1850? Did he mean in voting for that compromise, by which the principle of non-intervention was adopted as to territory both North and South of the Missouri compromise line of 36 deg. 30 min., to extend slavery into such territory? Hear what he said on the question in the Senate of the United States. He said in answer to a demand of Jefferson Davis for a positive provision for the admission of slavery south of the Missouri compromise line:—"Coming 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." In the same paragraph, Mr. Clay further says, "I believe that slavery no where exists within any portion of the territory acquired by us from Mexico." So much for the testimony of Henry Clay! Now, who shall say that the compromise of 1850 was a law to extend slavery over the free territory covered by it? and if not, then for the same reason, the Kansas and Nebraska act was not a law for extending slavery over the free territory north of the Missouri line. What the law of 1850 did for the territory acquired from Mexico, the same did the law of 1854 do for the Louisiana territory acquired from France. No man can show a substantial difference, except that the Kansas and Nebraska law more clearly recognizes the right of the people to decide the question of slavery. Again, I would ask of the men who make this cry of the extension of slavery, to answer in candor: If the Missouri line was a landmark for freedom, was it not also a landmark for slavery? Was not the country south of 36 deg. 30 min., under the law of March 6th 1820, as impliedly devoted to slavery as the country north of it was to freedom? Up to 1848, when California, to which northern men had been led, not more by the love of freedom than by the lust of gold, had declared herself a Free State, had a Free State ever been made south of the Missouri line? Was it not the almost sure result of that line to prevent men who favor Free States from going south of it to demonstrate by experience that Free States could grow and prosper even in a southern clime? Had free labor a fair chance to raise its standard in the south, and try its strength beneath a burning sun, so long as Congress had virtually doomed the land of the south to slave labor, by declaring that the region of free land and free labor was north of the Missouri line? Is it not slavery rather than freedom that needs the protection of positive law? Does the north, guarded as it is by nature's irrepealable law, and by the self-poised and self-reliant strength of its freeborn sons, need the Federal power to guard its soil from the feet of slaves? Is slavery more progressive and expansive than freedom? and are the men who form Free States afraid to meet the men who form Slave States on common ground and take an even chance for control? In a word, do the men who build up free institutions need any thing more from the Federal government than that it should place in their hands the ax and the sword of democracy, and let them alone?

It is astonishing to me that men who profess the sentiments expressed by conservative men of the Republican party, if they are sincere in their desire that slavery should die out, should fail to see that the compromise of 1850 and the Kansas and Nebraska law are alike based upon the only principle by which the ultimate extinction of slavery on this continent must take place. All that freedom needed, and all that it could constitutionally claim, was the withdrawal of the national intervention in favor of slavery, which intervention existed so long as a geographical line marked out by Congress existed over the national domain to separate Free and Slave States; and the leaving of the question of slavery to the local legislatures; by them only had it been or could it be created, and by them only had it been or could it be abolished. When the national territory was made free by the law of non-intervention, slavery was left entirely to the local law, and as freedom is the rule and slavery the exception, the chances were three to one in favor of free institutions in every new State.

And yet it is for bringing the slavery agitation to this result—a result of which the men of the South upon their own principles cannot complain, and of which their best men do not complain, and of which the North has no reason to complain, but rather to rejoice, that Stephen A. Douglas, the ablest statesman of whom this nation can boast since the mighty intellect of Webster ceased to speak in words of power, has been covered all over with the vilest and bitterest denunciation—denunciation that would seem to be more the outpouring of personal malignity than the voice of mere partisan hostility. It is for this result that Douglas has been outlawed by a professedly Democratic administration, and the Democratic party itself broken up by Southern disunionists, aided by that same administration. BUT A NATION'S RETURNING JUSTICE WILL YET LIFT ALOFT HER SCALE, AND STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS CAN AFFORD TO ABIDE HIS TIME.

I have thus, I fear tediously to you, brought you to the last act of the great national drama of slavery agitation.

Let us now briefly review the ground, sum up the points, and see how we stand for the final struggle near at hand.

These are the propositions I have aimed to establish:

1. Slavery existed in all the States of the Union when it was formed, and no power was conceded to Congress, under the Confederation to interfere with it.

2. The Jefferson ordinance of 1784, the first act of Congress relating to the territory of the United States, conceded to the people of the territories as inchoate States, full power of internal legislation, and did not prohibit slavery.

3. The Dane ordinance of 1787, applied only to territory not adapted to negro slave labor; it was adopted under an implied power, if any, in the Congress of the Confederation. Viewed on strict constitutional grounds, it was a usurpation, like many other powers exercised by the old Congress, but it was in terms a compact more than a legislative act, and as such by consent of all the States concerned, became binding on the government and the States under the Constitution. It is, therefore, no precedent for mere legislative acts of Congress, prohibiting or permitting slavery in any territory.

4. The Constitution, like the Union itself, is the result, as declared by its framers, of "a spirit of amity and of mutual deference and concession." It recognizes slavery as a lawful institution under local law, in the basis of representation and taxation—in the right to continue the African slave trade until 1808, and in the right to reclaim fugitive slaves; but it concedes to Congress no express power to establish, or to prohibit, or abolish slavery in the States.

5. The territory acquired by the Federal government, has been acquired under the power to admit new States. The end of acquisition was to make new States, not colonies nor provinces. Hence, whether the power in Congress to govern such territory is derived from the power to make needful rules and regulations concerning the territory or other property of the United States, or the power to admit new States, or any other express power, the power must be exercised with reference to its only legitimate end, the formation and admission of new States, in all respects of internal sovereignty equal to the original States; and the Constitution rightfully interpreted therefore, requires Congress to do no more as to legislation for the territories than to provide for territorial governments, through which the people may form and regulate their own internal affairs, subject only to the Constitution of the United States, and to admit them as States whenever ripe for that event. The object of providing territorial governments is to enable the territorial people to exercise self-government, and if fit for it as to one class of domestic institutions, they are fit for it as to another; if fit to define the relations and rights of husband and wife, of parent and child, of guardian and ward, they are equally fit to define them as to master and servant.

6. If there be precedents in the action of Congress for prohibiting slavery, there are equal precedents for permitting it or extending it. Slavery was extended by acquiring Louisiana and Florida; it was extended by admitting Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Florida and Texas as Slave States; and the history of the Federal government in regard to slavery shows that the power of Congress to prohibit slavery has been exercised as to territory not adapted to slave labor, and the power to permit it has been exercised as to territory adapted to negro slave labor, and the criterion by which the question of prohibition or permission has been determined, has been the wants and consequent wishes of the white people of the territories. The whole question, therefore, resolves itself into the consent or non-consent of the local authority; and herein lies the absurdity of both extreme sectional dogmas of Congressional power to prohibit and Congressional power to permit, both conceding ultimate power in the State legislatures to establish or prohibit slavery, and denying it to the territorial legislatures, in the face of the admitted fact that it is not the Congress, but the local authority that must ultimately decide.

7. Assuming that there is in Congress a discretionary or sovereign power to govern the territories, sound policy requires such government to be administered in that "spirit of amity and mutual deference and concession," in which the Constitution itself was conceived and adopted; and the absolute prohibition of slavery in all the national territory in which Free States and Slave States have a common right and common interest, is in direct conflict with the spirit of the Constitution.

Lastly—Compromise is demonstrated to be the principle of the Constitution and the policy of the Federal government in regard to slavery. A Congressional geographical line is not the true mode of compromise, as such a line implies the right of slavery to exclusive possession on one side of the geographical line, and is therefore in favor of slavery and against freedom. The question as a constitutional one, is not a question between freedom and slavery, but a question of constitutional authority, growing out of the clear and fundamental distinction in the Constitution, between the powers of legislation for local or domestic purposes and the like powers for national or Federal purposes. The true principle of compromise on the part of the Federal government is neutrality, non-interference, non-intervention, or the leaving of the question to be fairly determined in the local jurisdiction where it arises. A geographical line is arbitrary and not adapted to varying circumstances or events; the principle of local sovereignty involved in that of national non-intervention, is self-adjusting and of universal application; it applies to all cases and all times, and is in itself, the only principle consistent with the theory of the government, which is that the people of each State and community have the right and capacity to regulate their own internal affairs, subject only to their respective fundamental laws or Constitutions of government and to the nation's organic law. This principle was the basis of the compromise laws of 1850, and of the erasure of the Missouri line in 1854, and has been endorsed by large majorities of the people both North and South.

Now, how do the parties and candidates seeking from the people the power to control the Federal government, stand on this great subject that divides the nation?

I shall not presume to weary your patience by dwelling on this question. Men who read and think with calm unbiased minds, cannot fail to see how they stand.

I have now only to say:

1. Looking to the men who formed it, and who lead it, the platform on which it stands, and the end which it contemplates, I regard the organization headed by Breckinridge and Lane as essentially a sectional slavery extension party, bound through the Federal judiciary, backed by the Federal government, to extend slavery into all the territories of the United States, with or without the assent of the people, and if need be to accomplish this end, bound to legalize slavery under the Federal Constitution in every State of the Union, and to open the floodgates of the African slave trade under the protection of the national banner. This is the logical end of the Breckinridge and Lane platform. Its practical end will be the destruction of the American Union, for no man in his senses can believe that the Federal government, either through its President, or its Congress, or its Supreme Court, can ever make negro slavery lawful for one hour, where the free white people of any State will that it shall not be. If slaveholders are ever to reach the throne of national power on this continent, which the Breckinridge party are aiming to erect for them, they will wade to that throne through battle fields flowing with human blood.

This Breckinridge and Lane party holds within its bosom the rankest disunionists and most ultra advocates of the African slave trade. Its true watch cry, whatever it may pretend in the North, is "National Slavery or Disunion."

With this view of the Breckinridge party, I cannot therefore say that I admired the good taste or consistency of my Republican friends, when in this city a few nights ago, they encouraged by loud applause, the virulent harangue of Jesse D. Bright, the Indiana leader of the Breckinridge faction, not I presume because they approved his sentiments, but because he abused Stephen A. Douglas.

2. Looking to the men who formed it, and who now represent it as its leading oracles, Seward, Hale, Sumner, Wilson, Chase, Giddings, Wade, Lovejoy, not forgetting John A. Andrews of Massachusetts, with his negro guard of wide-awakes, nor excepting John Brown, the martyr, nor excepting the comparatively unknown Abraham Lincoln, whom the crisis of the divided house has made famous—and looking also to the Philadelphia and Chicago platforms on which the party stands, with their logical inconsistencies, and the end which those platforms, as well as the public addresses and working machinery of their advocates contemplate—I regard the so-called Republican party, whose candidates are Lincoln and Hamlin, as essentially a sectional, slavery prohibition and slavery abolition party, bound by political action, through the power of the Federal government; first, to prohibit slavery in all the territories of the United States; second, to admit no more Slave States, and ultimately by State action and Federal action too, when the Free States have become three-fourths of the whole, and sufficiently powerful to make the Federal Constitution what they please, to abolish slavery in all the States, so that, to use the language of William H. Seward at Chicago, on 2d October instant, "Civilization may be maintained and carried on, on this continent by Federal States, based on the principles of free soil, free labor, free speech, equal rights and universal suffrage." This is the creed of the Republican party as declared by Mr. Seward, and he affirms that it is a positive party that will take no more compromises in geographical lines or squatter sovereignties.

This is the logical end of the platforms of the Republican party; the practical end, following the attempt to realize the other, will be disunion, with all the dire results portrayed by Daniel Webster, when in that great effort of his majestic intellect, his defence of the American Union, he prayed that when "his eyes should be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, he might not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood!"

I am conscious that many Republicans, whom I esteem and respect, may object to this opinion of their party and platforms. Be that as it may, the opinion is a sincere one, and I believe can be sustained by a fair analysis of the records of Republican leaders and of the proceedings of the party.

It is vain to deny that with the masses of that party, Seward is their representative man, and that without the abolition strength, which he and Sumner, Hale, Greeley, Wade, Lovejoy, Giddings, and all that class of politicians bring to the Republican ranks, they would not have a hope of success in the North. The cohorts of abolition are the Zouaves of the Republican camp. It is their enthusiasm, their fiery zeal, and intolerant hate of all southern institutions, that give the Republican party no small amount of its power. The nomination of Lincoln over Seward was a trick of expediency, like the nomination of Fremont. The real leaders of the Republican organization have points too sharply defined to be trusted as candidates before the nation. Obscure men are sought, who from their very want of being known, fail to concentrate the deadly fire that would pour upon the real leaders if shown in the open field. The Republicans are shrewd enough to know that candidates sometimes win where principles would fail; hence if you would know their principles and real leaders, look behind, not on their candidates.

3. Looking to the men who formed it, and who lead it, and to the platform on which it stands, I regard the Bell and Everett or Union party as it is called, as a very respectable and honorable party, mostly composed of men of the old Whig faith, who truly love the Union and the Constitution, and will do all they can to preserve both, and who would manage the ship of state admirably well, so long as the sky was bright, the sea was calm, and nought but fair and gentle breezes filled the flowing sails; but who would be scarcely competent to guide that noble and richly laden ship in unknown seas, amid tropic or arctic storms, or when surrounded by the pirate crafts of the African slave trade, or the wildly drifting fire ships of political abolition. In such seas, amid such storms, and surrounded by such assailants, the ship of state wants men upon the quarter deck of far reaching thought, of iron wills, of hearts that know not fear; men whom storms cannot frighten and foes cannot conquer—such men as will nail "the Union" to the mast and die ere it comes down.

Lastly, my friends—Looking to the men who now compose and sustain it, and to the platform on which it stands, I regard the National Democratic party, lead by Stephen A. Douglas—I mean the party of the people, not of the politicians—as the truly democratic and national—not sectional—party of this country; a party that in the august presence of the nation and its Federal Constitution, knows no North and no South, but the Union, the whole Union and nothing but the Union, and whose motto is not "Liberty first and Union afterwards," but that glorious motto, "LIBERTY AND UNION, NOW AND FOREVER, ONE AND INSEPARABLE."

Firmly convinced of the correctness of my opinions on the question dividing the nation, I appeal in all kindness to the Whigs and Democrats, now ranging under Republican banners, and perhaps under the uniform of Republican wide-awakes, and I ask them, Whigs and Democrats, who alike in 1852 and in 1856 sustained the compromise principle of Congressional non-intervention with slavery: why have they changed their ground? Why do they now support a party whose real motto is "No more slave territory—no more Slave States," and whose candidates are northern sectional men only? Is that the motto, or are these the candidates for a Union in which there are North States and South States, Free States and Slave States, all equal in the house of the nation, and in the nation's fundamental law?

A fearful responsibility rests on every citizen who, by his vote or his acts, aids in the first triumph of a party whose creed and whose men are sectional. On that rock will the Union, if ever, be wrecked, and towards that rock it is rapidly drifting now.

I ask again, where does the real National Democratic party of the people, headed by Douglas, now stand on the question of slavery? I answer, and no man can truthfully gainsay it, it stands where it stood in 1840-44-48, and 1852-56. It stands where it stood in 1850, when it aided to pass the great national compromise. It stands where it stood in 1854, when to carry out that compromise to its logical results, it erased the Missouri compromise line of 1820, because that was not a constitutional line of national brotherhood and peace, but a legislative line of division and sectional strife. It stands where it stood in 1856, when the sectional platform and the feeble candidate of the Philadelphia Convention fell before it. It stands where it will stand, with its banner of Union and national peace waving over it, until patriotic Whigs and patriotic Democrats, North and South, who in 1852 made up the 2,987,000 votes that endorsed the compromise of 1850, awaking from the delusion and misunderstanding which have gathered over that great measure of national peace, shall affirm it again as a permanent and enduring law that shall bind together the now divided house of the American Union. Then, indeed, will "the crisis" of Abraham Lincoln and "the irrepressible conflict" of William H. Seward be passed in safety, and the Union again arise and shine in the full sunlight of permanent peace.



APPENDIX:

The following article from the Fort Wayne Daily Sentinel of September, 1861, is now reprinted on account of its relation to the subject discussed in the preceding pages, and as a further exposition of the views of the writer upon the position of parties in the last presidential election. The defeat of the Breckinridge party, on the one hand, has led to its attempt in the South, by armed rebellion to disintegrate the Republic, because its Federal power could not be used to nationalize slavery; the success of the Republican party, on the other hand, has led to what the preceding and following arguments foreshadowed as its result, the consolidation of a power in the Federal government that is rapidly undermining the glorious constitutional fabric erected by our fathers, and paving the way for a central government, sustained not so much by the free, unbought love of the people, as by the strength of its military power to crush out resistance to its authority. The times demand of every true lover of his country TO READ AND THINK. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." Let not the people be deceived! When the Federal government assumes the power by military or other force to blot out the sovereignty of Federal States, (a proposition already before the Federal Congress), it strikes a blow at the life of American democracy, which exists in the constitutional sovereignty of the States. When that is slain, which God forbid! over its dead body, surrounded by fields of carnage, after a perhaps brief reign of ANARCHY, will rise an IMPERIAL MONARCHIAL POWER, of whose dealings with the people we have no better instructor than the great teacher, "History," which is "philosophy teaching by examples." Let us take heed!

THE QUESTION TRULY STATED.

Democracy and Anti-Democracy or, the Nation vs. the States and the People.

* * * * *

There are three distinct antagonistic parties now struggling for the control of the national government:

1st. A slavery extension party, ostensibly headed by Breckinridge.

2d. An abolition of slavery party, ostensibly headed by Lincoln, but more truly represented by Seward.

3d. A non-intervention with slavery party, headed by Douglas.

So far as relates to any possible political action in regard to slavery, in these three grand divisions are really merged all shades of opinion from the anti-slavery fanaticism of Garrison and Gerritt Smith, to the pro-slavery fanaticism of Yancey, Garlden and Keitt.

The organization headed by Bell and Everett seems to have no distinctive principle, except fidelity to the Union. It is a party of vague outlines, and without tangible substance.

Each of the three distinct parties (as do also the Bell and Everett party) assume to stand upon the common ground of the constitution and to justify their principles and measures by that sacred instrument, "the palladium of American liberty."

1st. The Breckinridge or Southern sectional theory, claiming the Dred Scott decision as its justification, is, that slavery is a benign national institution, to be fostered and protected by the Federal government "wherever its constitutional authority extends;" and the logical sequence from the Dred Scott decision, as construed in the South, is, that this national institution involves an inviolable right of property, and is carried by force of the constitution into all the States and Territories, and is there to be protected by the Federal government, and this idea is entirely consistent with the Breckinridge platform adopted at Baltimore on the 28th June last. A necessary result of the establishment of this theory will be the reopening of the African slave trade.

2d. The Lincoln and Seward or Northern sectional theory, is, that slavery is a relic of barbarism, antagonistic to the principles and policy of the nation, and is to be annoyed, assailed, and ultimately annihilated by the Federal government wherever its constitutional authority extends.

To sum up the two theories in a few words:

Slavery, according to Breckinridge and his school, is a national good, to be encouraged and protected by the national strong arm.

Slavery, according to Lincoln and Seward, is a national evil, gigantic and portentous, to be combatted and slain by the same strong arm.

That the South will permit slavery to be abolished in all the States by violence or starvation; or that the North will permit slavery to be established in all the States by judicial decision or otherwise, no man in his senses believes—hence looking to the legitimate results of their doctrines, both the Breckinridge and Lincoln parties are essentially disunion parties. Constant conflict and ultimate disunion are the natural sequents of their antagonism. As neither can hope to conquer the other, the Union, the common bond and roof tree of both, must be divided and fall.

3d. The Douglas or truly conservative theory, resting upon the limited powers of the Federal constitution, as a compact of confederation, among sovereign and independent States, assumes that so far as the United States, as a Nation, are concerned, domestic slavery is neither a national good to be protected, nor a national evil to be crushed out; it is a local domestic institution, existing at the formation of the confederacy, in all the States, "under the laws thereof," and its good or evil, concerns only the local sovereignties or people with whom it exists or may exist. The Federal government not having been ordained or established to form or control the domestic institutions of the people of the confederated States, is equally powerless to destroy or to extend slavery. Its destruction or extension must be the work of local law, not of the Federal constitution, nor of Federal law made under it.

Let us re-state the points:

The Breckinridge or slavery extension party would nationalize slavery, by making its existence commensurate with the obligations of the Federal constitution.

The Lincoln or abolition party would denationalize it, by destroying it by prohibition where it is not, and by starvation where it is.

The Douglas or non-intervention party would denationalize it, by leaving the people in the respective localities, be they States or territories, to deal with it as they see fit.

Therefore, Breckinridge would use the national government to force slavery on an unwilling people.

Lincoln and Seward would use the same power to prevent a people who may desire domestic slavery from having it.

Douglas would not use the same power, either to permit or destroy, but recognizing the right and capacity of the people to govern themselves, would leave them to decide for themselves as to what domestic institutions they would or would not have.

There can be no mistaking as to which of the three parties occupies the true democratic ground on this subject. To rightly decide that question, we have only to reach the central and fundamental idea of the nature of the Federal Constitution, upon which each party bases itself.

The political history of the United States, since the Confederation, shows that as well in the formation, as in the interpretation and administration of the Federal Constitution, two parties have existed, representing two different political ideas—the one, State Sovereignty—the other, National Sovereignty, or, Confederation against Consolidation; or, democratic government in the States against an Imperial government in the Nation.

The advocates of a consolidated National government, the leading mind among whom was Alexander Hamilton, were, until after the publication of the Federalist, known as the National party. After that publication, and about 1790, they took the name of Federalists. Their opponents, who favored a Federal Union of limited and clearly defined powers, in preference to a strong National Government, were at first called Federalists, but afterwards took the name of Republicans, or, Democrats. The master spirit of this party was Thomas Jefferson. Principles adverse to those of Hamilton prevailed in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Hamilton's plan of government was not adopted, and by express vote of the Convention the term, "United States Government," was adopted in lieu of "National Government," as originally proposed, to distinguish the system to be formed.

The men of the Convention were men of great intellectual power and lofty patriotism, but also men of concession and compromise, and it is not therefore surprising that their different views should be so far reflected in the Constitution, their common work, as to lead to occasional difficulty in its interpretation. The Constitution is not so clearly expressed, that he who runs may read its meaning. The wisest and best men of the nation have differed as to its true construction, and their differing interpretations are mainly the result of adherence to one or the other of the adverse principles already stated—the one aiming to amplify the jurisdiction of the Federal government by liberal or latitudinarian construction—the other aiming to limit it by strict construction.

The National, or Hamilton, school of politicians hold that the Constitution is not a compact between the States, but a system of National Government ordained and established by the People of the United States—and Mr. H. asserted "that it belongs to the discretion of the national legislature to pronounce upon the subjects which concern the GENERAL WELFARE." John Adams, an ultra Federalist, in his letters to Roger Sherman in 1789, attempted to show that the Federal government is "a monarchial republic," or, "limited monarchy," and contended that the President should have been an integral part of the national legislature by being invested with an absolute veto power.

The Democratic, or Jefferson school of politicians, on the contrary, hold that the Constitution is a compact between sovereign and independent States, and the government formed by it one of strictly limited and defined powers, delegated by the States.

Among the eminent men who have adopted the national theory of the constitution, were Mr. Hamilton, Chief Justice Marshall, Justice Story and Mr. Webster, and to their great abilities and powers of argument, may in part be attributed the fact that the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States on constitutional questions of a political character, have favored the national or anti democratic theory of interpretation. These great men were federalists, and no one can doubt that their general political views have given shape and color to their legal arguments and opinions.

The people, to whose welfare democratic principles are vital, have not always yielded to the opinions and reasoning of the Supreme Court, or of the Federal school of statesmen and jurists; but have gradually from time to time by their clearly expressed will in the popular elections, imposed just restraints upon the action of the Federal government. They have thus repeatedly voted down a National Bank, a high protective tariff, a national system of internal improvements, and other kindred measures, based, like the attempt to abolish slavery, upon the same constitutional theory, that the Federal government is one of general or discretionary powers; or as Mr. Hamilton expressed it, "that it belongs to the discretion of the national Legislature to pronounce upon the subjects which concern the general welfare."

The Democratic principle of limited and specific power in the Union, for Federal purposes, and general sovereignty in the people of the States, for all local and domestic purposes, has taken deep root in the minds of the people, and has received their frequent endorsement.

The Democratic party have recognized this principle in their platforms, and in the platform of 1852 at Baltimore, and in that of 1856 at Cincinnati, and in that of 1860 at Charleston, they incorporated as one of the main foundations of their political creed, the constitutional doctrines of Jefferson and Madison as expressed in the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions of 1797 and 1798 and Mr. Madison's report of 1799-1800, which are expressly opposed to the Hamilton theory of a consolidation of the States into one sovereignty, "the obvious tendency and inevitable result of which would be," as Mr. Madison says, "to transform the republican system of the United States into a monarchy."

It is beyond doubt, this democratic doctrine of the sovereignty of the people of the States which has, more than any other, given to the Democratic party its strength with the people, and enabled the States themselves to grow and prosper, while the nation, as the symbol of their united sovereignty, has made the name of "The United States," known, and honored, and feared in every land.

Accordingly, then, as theories or principles of national politics favor or oppose the consolidation of power in the Federal government, upon matters of domestic concern or internal policy, to the denial or exclusion of the power of the people of the States or territories over the same matters, so are those theories or principles, and the measures based upon them, practically favorable or opposed to true democratic principles of government.

Apply, then, this test to the Breckinridge and Lincoln doctrines, and we need not be at a loss to determine to what class of political theories they belong.

The Breckinridge and Lincoln platforms both rest upon the same idea, viz: That there is a power in the Federal government or constitution, derived from implication, not from express language, in reference to the subject matter of domestic slavery, above the power of the people of the States or territories to control—or, to state the point a little differently: On this one subject of purely domestic concern the Federal government is stronger than the people.

The Federal government, virtually say the Breckinridge party, must every where protect, but can no where prohibit slavery: The same government, in effect say the Lincoln party, must prohibit slavery, but can no where establish or legalize it:

True it is, that the Breckinridge party in the 3d article of their platform say: "That when the settlers of a territory having an adequate population, form a State constitution," the State "ought to be admitted into the Federal Union, whether its constitution prohibits or recognizes the institution of slavery;" but at the same time they so construe the Dred Scott decision as to affirm that the right of property in slaves is guaranteed by the Federal constitution, and therefore protected every where, where that constitution is the supreme law. If so, of what avail is it for a State constitution or State law to prohibit slavery? The prohibition would be a nullity under the Federal constitution.

True it is also, that the Lincoln party affirm in the 4th article of the Chicago platform, the necessity of maintaining "the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions, according to its own judgment exclusively;" but in the 8th article of the same platform, they affirm the right and duty of Congress, by legislation, to maintain the territories in their normal condition of freedom, and they deny "the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individual, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States."

The pretense then of conceding sovereignty to the people of the States "to order and control" the domestic institution of slavery, when that sovereignty is denied to the same people while in a territory, is a piece of transparent hypocrisy. Does not any sensible man know that prohibition of domestic slavery in a territory, is essentially prohibition of it in a State to be formed of that territory? As the twig is bent by Congress in the territory, so will the tree be inclined in the State. If slavery does not exist in a State at its organization, it will never exist there, unless forced there by the Federal government under the Breckinridge construction of the constitution.

But again: If Congress, as the Chicago platform affirms, because of the provision of the Federal constitution (5th amendment) that "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," cannot legalize slavery in a territory, where as the Republican platform of 1856 asserts, Congress has "sovereign power," how can a State legislature, in the face of the same constitutional prohibition or principle, (as old as magna charta) legalize slavery in any State where such legislature has equally sovereign power? It may be answered to this question, that the Supreme Court of the United States have decided that the amendment to the constitution containing the clause above quoted, does not apply to the State governments; but this answer does not cover the whole ground, for we may ask again: how can Congress, if it has no power to legalize slavery in a territory, constitutionally admit to the Union a new State formed from such Territory with a constitution legalizing slavery? Suppose, for example, such a constitution provides. "The right of the people to hold slaves is hereby declared, and such right shall never be defeated or impaired." The State constitution has no vitality, as such, until the State is admitted to the Union—the act of admission makes the constitution a law, and a law for slavery. Congress therefore in accepting such a constitution from a new State, where slavery had not before existed, as effectually legislates slavery into such State as if a special Congressional act were passed for that purpose. Consistency then, with the Chicago platform would seem to require, that Congress should refuse, for want of constitutional power, to admit any State with a slavery constitution. I here incidentally ask another question: if the constitution, as is asserted, gives Congress sovereign power over the territories, where is the obligation on Congress ever to permit a territory to rise above its territorial condition, and become a State, except on such terms as Congress may impose? What is constitutionally to prevent Congress from erecting and continuing territorial governments until the territories under the sovereign power of Congress, outnumber and overshadow the States, and the national government becomes an Imperial power, like the Roman or British Empires, with hundreds of tributary States or provinces?

I ask again: If the normal condition of all the territories of the United States is that of freedom, and if Congress cannot legalize slavery in any territory, can the Federal government bring slaves under the power of Congress by acquiring territory governed by foreign slave laws, as were the territories of Florida and Louisiana? Does the foreign slave code continue to exist proprio vigore in the absence of express recognition by the Federal government; or does the force of the constitution itself annul upon the acquisition of the territory, the local law of slavery, and abrogate all treaty or legislative provisions, if any, for its continuance? In other words can the Federal government, by simple act of acquisition, or expressly by treaty, legislative act, or judicial decision, enact or continue in force a foreign slave code over territory acquired by the United States, "the normal condition of which is that of freedom?" I would be glad to know what the Chicago platform means by that expression. Does it mean that slavery cannot exist in any territory of the United States over which the constitution extends? or if it does exist there by virtue of a foreign local law at the time of acquisition, does it mean that Congress can abrogate the right of property under that law and make the territory free?

If the Republican platform really means that the Federal government cannot legalize slavery by acquiring slave territory; and cannot legalize slavery in any territory already acquired; and cannot admit a State with a slavery constitution, does not the same platform drive the Republican party to the doctrine that domestic slavery has not, and cannot have any legal existence in any State or territory where it did not exist by local law when the Federal constitution became operative? What then becomes of the asserted "right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively?"

I put all these questions by way of suggestions, not assertions, and leave the respective advocates of the Lincoln and Breckinridge platforms to answer them consistently with the Union and the Constitution.

Examine them in any light to which they may be presented, the Breckinridge and Lincoln doctrines equally lead to the same anti-Democratic result:—Sovereign power in the Federal constitution and government, superior to the power of the people of the States and territories, over the domestic institution of slavery. Directly opposed to this position is the one held by Mr. Douglas; absence of power in Congress, and full power in the people of the States and territories to deal with all their domestic institutions and local affairs. Which is the Democratic position?

J. K. E.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse