Secession Era Editorials Project

Senator Douglas' Speech -- The Nebraska Question.

Springfield, Illinois, State Register [Democratic]

(11 February 1854)

We give in our paper of this morning the able and unanswerable speech of Judge Douglas upon the Nebraska Territorial bill, recently introduced by him in the United States senate, and by Col. Richardson in the lower house of congress. We are sure this speech will be read with the utmost care by all who take an interest in the political movements of the day. The signs at this moment are that a faction is organizing to put down the compromise of 1850, and trample in the dust the principles upon which it is based, and which the mass of the people of the United States rely upon as the only source of tranquility and safety. The patriotic portion of our people, without regard to political affinities, united in support of the compromise of 1850, and the election of Pierce was a decided declaration in its favor. This was done because the country had not only become heartily tired of the subject, but believed it to be dangerous to the integrity of the Union. After the compromise was agreed to, the honest patriots of the country made the welkin ring with rejoicings, under the belief that it implied non-intervention in its broadest sense.

Such was the belief of most of the citizens of this state, and it accords with their views, as it is proved by the legislative act on touching the subject, and in public meetings through a long series of years past.

There is one point in this connection upon which we will say something -- that is the effort upon the part of some of the democratic presses of the state, echoing the objections of the whig press, the Senator D. violates the wishes of his constituency in his course on this question. From the whig and abolition press, we expected nothing less, but how any democrat, who sincerely abides by the platform of the national democracy, and who professes to be an exponent of democratic sentiment in Illinois, can find in the principles upon which the Nebraska bill is based, a violation of the creed which has hitherto governed us, we are at a loss to divine. We will not go beyond the period of the adjustment of 1850, but will take the legal record, after the passage of the compromise of 1850, as evidence, not only of Illinois democratic sentiment, but of the understanding which all parties had of the effect and bearing of those great measures.

At the session of the legislature of 1851 several series of resolutions upon the subject were offered in the house, at the opening of the session, all of which were referred to a select committee, who reported a series of seven resolutions, approving of the measures of adjustment of 1850, and repealing the resolution of the previous session instructing our senators to support the Wilmot proviso. Mr. Edwards, of Sangamon, who was one of the committee, offered the following resolution as an amendment to the series reported:

"Resolved, That our liberty and independence are based upon the right of the people to form for themselves such a government as they may choose; that this great privilege, the birthright of freemen, the gift of Heaven, secured to us by the blood of our ancestors, ought to be extended to future generations, and no limitation ought to be applied to this power to the organization of ANY territory of the United States, of either a territorial government or a state constitution, provided the government so established shall be republican and in conformity with the constitution of the United States."

This resolution, with the question being upon the single resolution, passed the house with but four opposing votes -- Messrs. Adams of Kane, Gage, Norton, and Swan -- all free-soil whigs. 61 members voting for it, and 10 absent.

The senate having passed a similar series of resolutions, they were taken up by the house and passed -- 49 to 11 -- superseding the series embracing the above. The non-intervention resolution of the senate series was as follows:

"Resolved, that the institution of slavery was one of the principle subjects of compromise embraced in the constitution, and this general assembly, without committing itself upon the constitutional power of congress to legislate upon the subject of slavery in the territories of the United States, deem the exercise of such powers unnecessary and inexpedient, because the exercise of the same is calculated to impair the happiness of the people, and endanger the perpetuity of our glorious Union."

Now if the compromise of 1850 was not a finality why were these resolutions adopted by the legislature? Why were the instructions to our senators withdrawn? It is plain enough that the legislature considered the compromise of 1850 as an abrogation of the law of 1820, and so in effect declared it. Do not the resolutions above assert the principle of non-intervention in its broadest sense? Do they no refer to the "future" organization of all territories? Do they not assert that "no limitation ought to be applied to the power?" Have not the people of Illinois, by the almost unanimous voice of their representatives, so construed the compromise of 1850, and affirmed the power in question?" What we ask, has occurred since to effect a change of construction? Nothing whatever, and we think that the rescinding of the instructions alluded to amounts to direct instructions to our senators to insist on precisely the same principles as are embodied in the Douglas bill, and that in thus framing the bill the senator has responded to the directions of his constituents, and is deserving of their commendation as a faithful public servant in that regard.

Had Senator Douglas acted upon any other principle he would have merited and received the reproach and condemnation of our people, among whom would have been found many of those who find fault with his present action.

We have given our views in full in former numbers, and will not repeat them to-day, since we have so clear an elucidation of the subject in Judge Douglas' speech. We have always believed that the territories should have the same right as states in the adoption and arrangement of their domestic affairs, and such is the sentiment of nine-tenths of the people of Illinois. This being the case, if our legislature gives any expression at the present session, it should be in accordance with the well-known popular voice. Should an opposite expression be declared, we may regard ourselves as sold to the free-soilers and abolitionists, and hereafter ever despair of regaining our lofty position as the staunch and absolutely invincible banner state of the democracy.

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