Secession Era Editorials Project

The Territorial Question.

Detroit, Michigan, Free Press [Democratic]

(13 January 1854)

If the principles of the Compromise Measures, embodied in the bill reported to the Senate for the organization of the Territory of Nebraska, are not maintained, it will be the fault of the South. -- There can be few, if any, democratic members of Congress from the North who will be so far false to their obligations to their party, and who will so far hazard the peace and quiet of the country, as to fail to sustain a plan of settlement which, matured in 1850 by the best spirit of the age, ahs been prolific of national blessings.

The report of the Committee on Territories, which we printed yesterday, makes our readers acquainted with the proposed plan upon which all territories shall be hereafter organized. It is, simply, to leave all matters of territorial legislation to the people of the territories themselves. -- When Congress has organized a territory - created and set in motion the machinery of its government - its duties have been performed and its legitimate powers exhausted. Thenceforth, the people are their own rulers in respect to all their domestic affairs; and interference from any other power is anti-democratic and arbitrary. And when a people inhabiting such territory ask to be admitted into the Union as a sovereign State, Congress has but to inquire whether the constitution they present for their government is republican in form and intent. Their domestic concerns -- their local laws, present and future, do not come under the purview of Congress.

This is the doctrine, in brief, of Gen. Cass' Nicholson Letter and of the Compromise Measures, and it is the only doctrine upon which Territories can be organized and States admitted. Congress has no more power to inhibit any particular institution in a territory than it has to establish it, and vice-versa. The correctness of this hypothesis is the more evident, when we reflect that when a State is once admitted it is sovereign, and can alter its domestic institutions at pleasure, and do any act without the assent of Congress. If Congress has imposed restrictions upon her while a Territory, they are not binding upon her as a State. -- Hence, if it be even admitted that Congress has power to legislate for a territory, the exercise of the power is fruitless, because the State may disregard it.

How reasonable, how equitable, how much in consonance with common sense, then, are the doctrines of the committee's report; and how perfectly they assimilate with the principles of State rights. To deny that these doctrines are correct is to deny the ability of the inhabitants of the territories to govern themselves; and to fail to adopt them as the policy of the government is to withhold privileges which belong to all American communities.

If any portion of the South demands more than is granted in this plan of settlement, the demand is preposterous. The bill for the organization of Nebraska, like the Compromise Measures, is common ground upon which all sections can meet. -- It forever sets at rest a mischievous question, and carries out a great democratic doctrine -- the doctrine of the right of the people of the incipient States of the Union to pass their own laws and make their own regulations.

We sincerely trust the democratic party in Congress, representing all sections of the confederacy, will, without permitting an angry element of discord to enter the halls of legislation, unite in adopting a measure which commands the approval of a vast preponderance of the American people.

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