Secession Era Editorials Project

A Contest of Principle.

Detroit, Michigan, Free Press [Democratic]

(10 February 1854)

When, prior to the American revolution, the King and Parliament of Great Britain attempted to make laws for the Colonies, our sturdy forefathers resisted the encroachment, and chose the alternative of war, rather than submit to oppression. The principle which claims for Congress at the present day the right to legislate for the Territories is identical with that which England then claimed, and which the Colonies resisted.

The revolution was emphatically a contest whether the people of America should govern themselves, or Great Britain should govern them. The present struggle in Congress upon Mr. Douglass' bill is whether the people of the Territories shall control their own affairs, or the General Government shall control them.

In settling the fundamental principle included in this latter issue, it is of infinitesimal consequence whether or not a few miserable negroes shall go into Nebraska. Had Congress spent the same time in legislating for white people that it has for negroes during the past ten years, the general interests of the Union would have been greatly advanced -- the would have enjoyed more happiness -- and the limits of slavery would to-day be more circumscribed than they are. The only serious danger to the permanency of our institutions is the proclivity of the central power to interfere in the rights of the States. When Congress undertakes to say that this or that institution or regulation shall not exist within the limits of certain territory, is says what it has no constitutional warrant for saying, and strike a blow at State rights which the inhabitants of no State will tolerate.

It is, in reality, of the least practical importance whether the Missouri compromise is regarded as abrogated or not. The act is utterly without force or effect, for as Mr. Clay said, in speaking of the Wilmot proviso, "if it were adopted and applied to any Territory, it would cease to have any obligatory force as soon as such Territory were admitted as a State into the Union." But, as establishing a great principle of government, it is of vast importance that the Missouri compromise shall be treated as a nullity. It is demanded of Congress that the assumption of a right to legislate for the Territories shall no longer be maintained, tacitly or otherwise.

This document was produced as part of a document analysis project by Lloyd Benson, Department of History, Furman University. (Proofing info: Entered by Lloyd Benson, Not proofed.) This electronic version may not be copied, or linked to, or otherwise used for commercial purposes, (including textbook or publication-related websites) without prior written permission. The views expressed in this document are for educational, historical, and scholarly use only, and are not intended to represent the views of the project contributors or Furman University.