Gambar halaman

opinions of the individual members merely, I cannot regard them with indifference, selected, as they undoubtedly should be, from their fellow-citizens, as distinguished for some portion both of virtue and intelligence.

I am free to admit, that, in subjects of general policy merely, the will of the people, when fully and fairly ascertained, is always entitled to great weight; and, upon an occasion like the present, if I were influenced by motives of expediency only, I should be much disposed to yield my impressions to that will. But, in constitutional questions, the representative is, or ought to be, governed by higher considerations; and he would be unworthy of his trust who could be regardless of them. He is sworn to support the constitution, and he takes his seat in this House, to legislate for the nation, under the provisions of that instrument. His own integrity, and the safety of our common institutions, depend upon his strict personal accountability: his own opinions, formed by the best lights of his own impartial judgment, must be his guide, and he cannot adopt those of others, when conflicting with his own, without a surrender of his conscience. In such cases, popular feeling and legislative recommendation can have no greater influence than to weaken one's confidence in his own impressions, and to dictate a reinvestigation of the subject, to see if conclusions may not have been drawn from false premises, or views overlooked, which, if they had been adverted to, would have led to a different result. I have allowed the recommendation of the legislature of Delaware to have such an effect in this instance. I have deliberately reviewed and reconsidered this important subject, divested, I am sure, of any improper feeling, and prompted by every allurement of popular favor, to reach a conclusion in conformity with their views; but, I am bound to say, after this re-investigation, pursued with great labor, and a full sense of my responsibility, that I believe, in my conscience, that Congress does not possess the power to impose the contemplated re.

striction. In this belief, then, Mr. Chairman, and resting upon the principles of the constitution, and my duty to a power higher than any legislature, I must regret the difference of opinion, and be contented with an upright discharge of my public trust. I will take leave to say, sir, in the language of an illustrious man, on another occasion, whom I could desire to imitate in many other respects, “I honor the people and respect the legislature; but there are many things in the favor of either, which are objects, in my account, not worth ambition. I wish popularity, but it is that popularity which follows, not that which is run after. It is that popularity which, sooner or later, never fails to do justice to the pursuit of noble ends, by noble means. I shall not, therefore, on this occasion, do what my conscience tells me is wrong, to court the applause of thousands; nor shall I avoid doing what I deem to be right, to avert the artillery of the press.".

I shall not, in this place, sir, imitate the example of other gentlemen, by making professions of my love of liberty, and abhorrence of slavery; not because I do not entertain them, but because I consider that the great principles of neither are involved in this amendment. It is a coloring, to be sure, of which the subject is susceptible, and which has been used in great profusion, but it serves much more to inflame feelings and prejudices unfriendly to a dispassionate deliberation, than to aid the free exercise of an unbiassed judgment.

This amendment does not propose, nor has it for its object, to inhibit the introduction of slaves from parts beyond the United States : in such a scheme there is no intelligent man in the union who would not cordially concur. Neither does it propose to promote the emancipation of the slaves now in the country; this is admitted to be impracticable; the wildness of enthusiasm itself acknowledges its incompetency for such an undertaking. The truth is, sir, that this species of unhappy beings are now among us; brought here, in part, by events beyond our control, and, in

part, under the authority of our own constitution; and it behoves us, by a wise and prudent administration of our powers, to meliorate their condition, and accommodate the evil, as far as it may be practicable, to the peace and happiness of our white population, and the stability of our institutions. It is not pretended even that the condition of the unhappy slave himself would be improved by the success of this amendment: on the contrary, it has been insinuated, as boldly as the sentiment would justify, that his confinement to a narrower compass might lead to his extirpation, by the gradual, but sure process of harder labor, and scarcity of subsistence. I am free to say, that the condition of the slave himself would be meliorated by his dispersion; nor do I attach the same importance, as some gentlemen appear to do, to the danger of encouraging an illicit importation from abroad, by permitting a market west of the Mississippi. It is an argument founded on the futility of legal restraint, the worst possible species of argument by which a legislature could be influenced. It would prove the inutility of every act of legislation, or might be used to justify every species of usurpation. It would equally demonstrate the futility of the proposed amendment itself; for, if gentlemen cannot hope to exterminate the foreign slave trade, by all the precautions legitimately in their power, founded in a unanimity of legislation, strengthened by the powerful force of public sentiment, and the abominable nature of the traffic itself, what greater reliance can they place upon this restriction, foisted into the constitution of a free people, against their consent, on which account, alone, it would be an object of hatred and contempt, and the violation be winked at by a great portion of the people, if not by their public authorities?

Sir, this amendment does not even propose to prevent the introduction of slavery into Missouri for the first time; it has already taken root there; we found it there when we acquired the territory, and it has grown and extended under the sanction of our own

laws; but the whole force and effect of the amendment is, to take from the people of Missouri the right to decide, for themselves, whether they will permit persons removing thither, from other states in which slavery is tolerated, to take their slaves with them. This object would not be undesirable, if it could be accomplished by the legitimate powers of Congress; but we have no right to do it by an assumption of power in ourselves, or by an unauthorized use of the power of others.

Mr. Chairman, the great question involved in this amendment, is neither more nor less than this: whether Congress can interfere with the people of Missouri in the formation of their constitution, to compel them to introduce into it any provision, touching their municipal rights, against their consent, and to give up their right to change it, whatever may be their future condition, or that of their posterity ? Every thing beyond this is merely the imposing garb in which the power comes recommended to us. It is certainly true, that an attempt to take from this people the right of deciding whether they will, or will not tolerate slavery among them, is less objectionable, because of its end, than it would be if it interfered with some other local relation, or right of property; but the power to do this implies a power of much greater expansion. Congress has no greater power over slavery, or the rights of the owner, in any particular state, than it has over any other local relation, or domestic right; and, therefore, a power to interfere with one, must be derived from a power to interfere with all. Sir, it is manifest, from the avowal of the honorable mover, that he contemplates a wider scope of power, and the attainment of important ends, other than those which lie upon the surface of this amendment. The gentleman seemed not to limit his view to the municipal effect of this power; in his eye it was to have an indirect operation upon the federal powers of the general government; since his chief objection appeared to be to the enumeration of slaves in the ratio of congressional

representation. Sir, I think it will be in my power to show that the gentleman's fears, on this score, are groundless; but they serve to prove, nevertheless, that this is neither, wholly, a question of slavery, nor a power limited to this single object, but that it is only one, selected from an immense mass of power, authorizing Congress to control the rights of a free people, in the formation of their state constitution; and, in this way, to enlarge the operation, if not the nature, of the political power of the general government.

Having thus attempted to place the real question before the committee, upon what I conceive to be its true grounds, I beg leave to invite their attention to a closer examination of this subject.

By the constitution of the United States, it is provided, that “ new states may be admitted, by the Congress, into this union.” This is a power to “ admit” a * state”-it is no power to form, or create, a state; it presupposes the right to form a state to reside elsewhere, and, as I shall attempt to show more particularly hereafter, that right resides in the people, and this clause invests Congress with no power to interfere with the exercise of it. It is, also, a power to “ admit" a "state"—it is not to admit a territory, or any thing less than a state; and it is a power to “admit” a * state into this union.” This union, as I shall presently show, is nothing more than a compact between the states who compose it, and the general government; and if any member of it is admitted upon the principles of a different compact, or with fewer or greater privileges, the union, in that respect, would be changed.

Such a limitation is no disparagement upon the powers of Congress : and, in ordinary cases, would be sufficient for every useful purpose. The power, in itself, is, ordinarily, discretionary, and in the exercise of this discretion, where it existed, the power would be competent to attain all ends consistent with the principles of a republican government. In every case, where the discretion existed, the people, composing the state or community applying for admission, would form

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »