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DISCUSSION ON THE EXTENSION OF SLAVERY.
omotions of a nation swayed in the storm of clashing CHAP opinions.
1848. The annexation of Texas and the consequent war with Mexico, came to be looked upon as designed to further the interests of slavery, and to commit the nation to the policy of extending that system. Those opposed to such measures endeavored to counteract them by means of the Proviso, but that had failed to receive the sanction of Congress. With the exception of Texas proper, it was uncertain whether the newly-acquired territories would admit slavery; the indications were that they would rerect it. And this feature of the controversy gave rise to another question ; how to introduce the system into free territory. Would Congress subvert the law of Mexico, which had long since prohibited human bondage within her limits? That body never at any time had interfered with slavery as existing in the States, neither had it directly legislated it into free territory : the policy had rather been not to interfere with the inhabitants in deciding the question for themselves.
The last Congress, absorbed in the turmoil of the discussion, had dissolved without providing governments for the territories. To remedy this evil, President Taylor instructed the Federal officers in these territories to encourage the people to organize temporary gover for themselves.
President Polk in his last message had recommended that the Missouri Compromise line of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude, be extended to the Pacific, and thus leave the territory south of that line liable to be made slaveholding. Motions to that effect failed in Congress. That line had been adopted for the Louisiana territory alone, which was slave, and it made one side free, but if it was produced to the Pacific it would pass through free territory, and therefore make one side slave
The advocates of the system contended that they had
a right to go into any of the territories and take with them 1849 their property, meaning slaves. That was admitted, but
only under the laws of Congress, which so far protected such property, but it was denied that the slaveholder could carry with him the municipal law of the State from which he emigrated, any more than the emigrant from a free State could take with him its peculiar laws.
The same object was sought by attempting to tend the constitution of the United States to the territories," and this under the form of an amendment attached to the general appropriation bill, providing a temporary government for the ceded territories, and extending to them certain acts of Congress. The proposition elicited a discussion in which Calhoun and Webster each took part. The former argued that the Constitution recognized slavery ; that it was the supreme law of the land ; therefore it was superior to every law in opposition to slavery, not only overriding any territorial law to that effect, but even superior to any law of Congress designed to abolish it ; and that the property of the South, meaning slaves, would thus be protected by the Constitution in the territories into which Calhoun openly avowed his intention to thus carry the institution of slavery. “The Constitution,” said he, "pronounces itself to be the supreme law of the land ;” the States as well as the Territories.
Mr. Webster replied that the Constitution was made for the States and not for the Territories; that Congress governed the latter independently of the Constitution, and often contrary to it, and was constantly doing things in the Territories that it could not do in the States; and that the Constitution could not operate of itself in the Territories. “When new territory has been acquired," said he, “it has always been subject to the laws of Cou
TAL POWERS OF THE CONSTITUTION.
gress, to such laws as Congress thought proper to pass foOHAP. its immediate government and preparatory state in which it was to remain until it was ready to come into the 1849. Union as one of the family of States." He quoted the Constitution itself, which declares that “ it and the laws of Congress passed under it shall be the supreme law the land.” Thus it required a definite law of Congress to establish slavery in the Territories under the Constitution, as shown by the words of that instrument itself.
The amendment failed in both houses; but it became the germ of another doctrine, that the Constitution of the United States, independently of an act of Congress, but in spite of it, not only goes of itself to the territories but carries with it a shield protecting slavery.
During this session of Congress meetings were held at Washington, attended by a majority of the members of Congress from the slave-holding States, to take into consideration the measures best adapted to secure southern rights.
They published an Address to the people of the South. It was drawn up by Calhoun, and by no means was it conciliatory in its tone and sentiments, and for that reason it failed to enlist in its favor all the delegates from the South. In truth it became a party measure. Only forty members, all from the slaveholding States, signed their names to the Address : of these, thirty-eight belonged to the Democratic party.
This manifesto was soon followed by a Southern Convention to dissolve the Union. The Legislatures of two of the States, South Carolina and Mississippi, issued a call for a “ Southern Congress,” to frame a government for a “United States South."
The agitation was not limited to the South ; the North was as busily engaged in canvassing the exciting question, and both parties were summoning their energien for the conflict in the new Congress about to meet.