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- We stand here now—at least I do, for one-to say, that considering that there have been already five new slaveholding States formed out of newly-acquired territory, and one only, at most, non-slaveholding State, I do not feel that I am called on to go farther ; I do not feel the obligation to yield more.
But our friends of the South say, “You deprive us of all our rights; we have fought for this territory, and you deny us participation in it. Let us consider this question as it really is ; and since the honorable gentleman from Georgia proposes to leave the case to the enlightened and impartial judgment of mankind, and as I agree with him that it is a case proper to be considered by the enlightened part of mankind, let us consider how the matter in truth stands. What is the consequence ?
? Gentlemen who advocate the case which my honorable friend from Georgia, with so much ability, sustains, declare that we invade their rightsthat we deprive them of a participation in the enjoyment of territories acquired by the common services and common exertions of all. Is this true ? How deprived ? Of what do we deprive them? Why, they say that we deprive them of the privilege of carrying their slaves, as slaves, into the new territories. Well, sir, what is the amount of that? They say that in this way we deprive them of the opportunity of going into this acquired territory with their property. Their 'property !'—what do they mean by that? We certainly do not deprive them of the privilege of going into these newly-acquired territories with all that, in the general estimate of human society, in the general, and common, and universal understanding of mankind, is esteemed property. Not at all. The truth is just this : they have in their own States peculiar laws, which create property in persons. They have a system of local legislation, on which slavery rests, while everybody agrees that it is against natural law, or at least against the common understanding which pre
vails as to what is natural law. I am not going into metaphysics, for therein I should encounter the honorable member from South Carolina, and we should wander, in endless mazes lost, until after the time for the adjournment of Congress. The Southern States have peculiar laws, and by those laws there is property in slaves. This is purely local. The real meaning, then, of Southern gentlemen, in making this complaint, is, that they cannot go into the territories of the United States, carrying with them their own peculiar local law—a law which creates property in persons. This, according to their own statement, is all the ground of complaint they have. Now, here, I think, gentlemen are unjust toward us. just they are, others will judge-generations that will come after us will judge.
6 It will not be contended that this sort of personal slavery exists by general law. It exists only by local law. I do not mean to deny the validity of that local law where it is established; but I say it is, after all, nothing but local law. It is nothing more.
And wherever that local law does not extend, property in persons does not exist. Well, sir, what is now the demand on the part of our Southern friends? They say,
We will carry our local laws with us wherever
We insist that Congress does us injustice unless it establishes in the territory into which we wish to go, our own local law. This demand I, for one, resist, and shall resist.
"Let me conclude, therefore, by remarking, that while I am willing to present this as presenting my own judgment and position, in regard to this case and I beg it to be understood that I am speaking for no other than myself—and while I am willing to present this to the whole world as my own justification, I rest on these propositions : 1st. That when this Constitution was adopted, nobody looked for any new acquisition of territory to be formed into slaveholding States.
2d. That the principles of the Constitution prohibited, and were intended to prohibit, and should be construed to prohibit, all interference of the general government with slavery as it existed and still exists in the States. And then, that, looking to the effect of these new acquisitions which have in this great degree inured to strengthen that interest in the South by the addition of these five States, there is nothing unjust, nothing of which an honest man can complain, if he is intelligent and I feel there is nothing which the civilized world, if they take notice of so humble a person as myself, will reproach me with, when I say, as I said the other day, that I had made up my mind, for one, that, under no circumstances, would I consent to the further extension of the area of slavery in the United States, or to the further increase of slave representation in the House of Representatives.”
Mr. Corwin, too, arguing in the Senate against this bill, said :
“Now, if we can make any law whatever, not contrary to the express prohibitions of the Constitution, we can enact that a man with $60,000 worth of bank notes of Maryland shall forfeit the whole amount if he attempts to pass one of them in the territory of California. We may say, if a man carry a menagerie of wild beasts there, worth $500,000, and undertakes to exhibit them there, he shall forfeit them. The man comes back with his menagerie, and says that the law forbade him to exhibit his animals there; it was thought that, as an economical arrangement, such things should not be tolerated there. That you may do. He of the lions and tigers goes back, having lost his whole concern. But now you take a slave to California, and instantly your power fails; all the power of the sovereignty of this country is impotent to stop him. That is a strange sort of argument to me. It has always been considered that when a State forms its constitution it can exclude slavery. Why so ? Becauses it chances to consider it an evil. If it be a proper subject of legislation in a State, and we have absolute legislative power, transferred to us by virtue of this bloody power of conquest, as some say, or by purchase, as others maintain, I ask-Why may we not act ? Againconsidering this an abstract question—are there not duties devolving upon us, for the performance of which we may not be responsible to any earthly tribunal, but for which God, who has created us all, will hold us accountable ? What is your duty, above all others, to a conquered people ? You say it is your duty to give them a government—may you not, then, do everything for them which you are not forbidden to do by some fundamental axiomatic truth at the foundation of your constitution ? Show me, then, how your action is precluded, and I submit. Though I believe it ought to be otherwise, yet, if the constitution of my country forbids me, I yield. The constitutions of many States declare slavery to be an evil. Southern gentlemen have said, that they would have done away with it if possible, and they have apologized to the world and to themselves for the existence of it in their States. These honest old men of another day never could have failed to strike off the chains from every negro in the colonies, if it had been possible for them to do so without upturning the foundations of society.
My objection is a radical one to the institution everywhere. I do believe, if there is any place upon the globe which we inhabit, where a white man cannot work, he has no business there. If that place is fit only for black men to work, let black men alone work there. I do not know any better law for man's good than that old one, which was announced to man after the first transgression, that by the sweat of his brow he should earn his bread. I don't know what business men have in the world, un
less it is to work. If any man has no work of head or hand to do in this world, let him get out of it soon. The hog is the only gentleman who has nothing to do but eat and sleep. Him we dispose of as soon as he is fat. Difficult as the settlement of this question seems to some, it is, in my judgment, only so because we will not look at it and treat it as an original proposition, to be decided by the influence its determination may have on the territories themselves.
We are ever running away from this, and inquiring how it will affect the "slave States," or the “ free States.” The only question mainly to be considered is, How will this policy affect the territories for which this law is intended ? Is slavery a good thing, or is it a bad thing, for them? With my views of the subject, I must consider it bad policy to plant slavery in any soil where I do not find it already growing. I look upon it as an exotic, that blights with its shade the soil in which you plant it; therefore, as I am satisfied of our constitutional power to prohibit it, so I am equally certain it is our duty to do so.”
For these reasons, so admirably expressed by Webster and Corwin, standing by them, and agreeing with them, Mr. Lincoln voted to lay the territorial bills upon the table, when they came up there for consideration. This was on the 28th of July, and after a scene of great confusion and excitement. The motion to lay on the table was agreed to—ayes, 114; nays, 96. Among the ayes was Stephens, of Georgia, who made the motion. Afterward, on the 2d day of August, when the House bill for the organization of the Territory of Oregon was before the House, a motion was made to strike out that part of the bill which extended the ordinance of 1787 over Oregon Territory, and Mr. Lincoln voted, with 113 others, to retain the ordinance.