Open main menu

Page:Register of debates in congress, v6.djvu/70

This page needs to be proofread.


me to change my opinions, or my political conduct. I hope I am above violating my principles, even under the smart of injury and false imputations. Unjust suspicions and undeserved reproach, whatever pain I may experience from them, will not induce me, I trust, nevertheless, to over-step the limits of constitutional duty, or to encroach on the rights of others. The domestic slavery of the South I leave where I find it—in the hands of their own Governments. It is their affair, not mine. Nor do I complain of the peculiar effect which the magnitude of that population has had in the distribution of power under this Federal Government. We know, sir, that the representation of the States in the other House is not equal. We know that great advantage, in that respect, is enjoyed by the slave-holding States; and we know, too, that the intended equivalent for that advantage, that is to say, the imposition of direct taxes in the same ratio, has become merely nominal; the habit of the Government being almost invariably to collect its revenues from other sources, and in other modes. Nevertheless, I do not complain: nor would I countenance any movement to alter this arrangement of representation. It is the original bargain—the compact—let it stand: let the advantage of it be fully enjoyed. The Union itself is too full of benefit to be hazarded in propositions for changing its original basis. I go for the Constitution as it is, and for the Union as it is. But I am resolved not to submit, in silence, to accusations, either against myself individually, or against the North, wholly unfounded and unjust—accusations which impute to us a disposition to evade the constitutional compact, and to extend the power of the Government over the internal laws and domestic condition of the States. All such accusations, wherever and whenever made—all insinuations of the existence of any such purposes, I know, and feel, to be groundless and injurious. And we must confide in Southern gentlemen themselves; we must trust to those whose integrity of heart and magnanimity of feeling will lead them to a desire to maintain and disseminate truth, and who possess the means of its diffusion with the Southern public; we must leave it to them to disabuse that public of its prejudices. But, in the mean time, for my own part, I shall continue to act justly, whether those towards whom justice is exercised receive it with candor or with contumely.

Having had occasion to recur to the ordinance of 1787, in order to defend myself against the inferences which the honorable member has chosen to draw from my former observations on that subject, I am not willing now entirely to take leave of it without another remark. It need hardly be said, that that paper expresses just sentiments on the great subject of civil and religious liberty. Such sentiments were common, and abound in all our state papers of that day. But this ordinance did that which was not so common, and which is not, even now, universal; that is, it set forth and declared, as a high and binding duty of Government itself, to encourage schools, and advance the means of education; on the plain reason, that religion, morality, and knowledge, are necessary to good government, and to the happiness of mankind. One observation further. The important provision incorporated into the Constitution of the U. States, and several of those of the States, and recently, as we have seen, adopted into the reformed Constitution of Virginia, restraining legislative power, in questions of private right, and from impairing the obligation of contracts, is first introduced and established, as far as I am informed, as matter of express written constitutional law, in this ordinance of 1787. And I must add, also, in regard to the author of the ordinance, who has not had the happiness to attract the gentleman’s notice, heretofore, nor to avoid his sarcasm now, that he was Chairman of that Select Committee of the old Congress, whose report first expressed the strong sense of that body, that the old Confederation was not adequate to the exigencies of the country, and recommending to the States to send Delegates to the Convention which formed the present Constitution.— Note 1.

An attempt has been made to transfer, from the North to the South, the honor of this exclusion of slavery from the Northwestern territory. The journal, without argument or comment, refutes such attempt. The cession by Virginia was made, March, 1784. On the 19th of April following, a committee, consisting of Messrs. Jefferson, Chase, and Howell, reported a plan for a temporary government of the territory, in which was this article: “that, after the year 1800, there shall be neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude in any of the said States, otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been convicted.” Mr. Spaight, of North Carolina, moved to strike out this paragraph. The question was put, according to the form then practised: “shall these words stand, as part of the plan,” &c. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania—seven States, voted in the affirmative. Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina, in the negative. North Carolina was divided. As the consent of nine States was necessary, the words could not stand, and were struck out accordingly. Mr. Jefferson voted for the clause, but was overruled by his colleagues.

In March of the next year, (1785 ,) Mr. King, of Massachusetts, seconded by Mr. Ellery, of Rhode Island, proposed the formerly rejected article, with this addition— “And that this regulation shall be an article ofcompact, and remain a fundamental principle of the Constitutions between the thirteen original States, and each of the States described in the Resolve,” &c. On this clause, which provided the adequate and thorough security, the eight Northern States at that time voted affirmatively, and the four Southern States negatively. The votes of nine States were not yet obtained, and thus, the provision was again rejected by the Southern States. The perseverance of the North held out, and two years afterwards the object was attained. It is no derogation from the credit, whatever that may be, of drawing the ordinance, that its principles had before been prepared and discussed, in the form of Resolutions. If one should reason in that way, what would become of the distinguished honor of the Author of the Declaration of Independence? There is not a sentiment in that paper which had not been voted and resolved in the assemblies, and other popular bodies in the country, over and over again.

But the honorable member has now found out that this gentleman (Mr. Dane) was a member of the Hartford Convention. However uninformed the honorable member may be of characters and occurrences at the North, it would seem that he has at his elbow on this occasion some high-minded and lofty spirit, some magnanimous and true-hearted monitor, possessing the means of local knowledge, and ready to supply the honorable member with every thing, down even to forgotten and moth-eaten two-penny pamphlets, which may be used to the disadvantage of his own country. But, as to the Hartford Convention, sir, allow me to say, that the proceedings of that body seem now to be less read and studied in New England than farther South. They appear to be looked to, not in New England, but elsewhere, for the purpose of seeing how far they may serve as a precedent. But they will not answer the purpose—they are quite too tame. The latitude in which they originated was too cold. Other conventions, of more recent existence, have gone a whole bar’s length beyond it. The learned doctors of Colleton and Abbeville have pushed their commentaries on the Hartford collect so far that the original text-writers are thrown entirely into the shade. I have nothing to do, sir, with the Hartford Convention. Its Journal, which the gentleman has quoted, I never read. So far as the honorable member may discover in its proceedings a spirit, in