Secession Era Editorials Project

Nebraska.

New York, Tribune [Whig]

(23 January 1854)

Before the tribunal of Public Opinion all great public measures must ultimately come for decision. What Congress or a Legislature may do this winter is important; but what the People are thinking and resolving around their quiet firesides is far more important. We propose, therefore, before prejudice, passion, and party spirit shall be aroused to cloud the public judgment and stifle the National conscience, to set forth, calmly and candidly, the question which is now to be decided by the Country in the organization of Nebraska Territory.

Some twenty-five years ago, the Territory of Missouri formed a State Constitution and presented herself at the doors of Congress, asking provisions of that Constitution shocked the moral sense and provoked the deepest hostility of the Free States. They did not merely establish and legalize Slavery in Missouri, where it had indeed existed under the French and Spanish domination long before as well as ever since we purchased this Territory; but they provided also for legislation to forbid the settlement of Free Blacks or Mulattoes within the State. The House of Representatives, under the lead of Gen. JAMES TALLMADGE (Democrat) of this State, rejected the application and refused to admit the State with her pro-Slavery Constitution. In the Senate, the opposition to it was led by the Hon. RUFUS KING (Federalist,) also of this State; but the Slave States were strong enough in this branch to pass the bill with little or no aid from the Free. There was no party division on the subject; the Legislature of our State unanimously resolved against the admission, and throughout the Free States scarcely a voice was raised against the sweeping current of spontaneous, unorganized resistance to the admission of Missouri with her ultra Slave Constitution.

At the next Session, (1820-1,) a strong Committee of Conference between the two Houses was formed. Mr. Clay (Speaker of the House) being at its head, and through his great influence and unsurpassed efforts a bill or adjustment was finally devised which has ever since been known as 'the Missouri Compromise.' This Compromise allowed Missouri to come into the Union, provided she eliminated from her Constitution the obnoxious provision excluding Free Blacks from her soil, but with this further condition or makeweight on the side of Freedom and Humanity:

"Provided, that in all territory ceded by France to the United States under the name of the Louisiana which lies north of thirty six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude, not included within the limits of the State contemplated by this act, Slavery and involuntary servitude, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the parties shall have been duly convicted, shall be, and is hereby, FOREVER PROHIBITED: Provided always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any State or Territory of the United States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid."

This Compromise was once defeated in Committee of the Whole and again in the House (83 to 80,) but finally revived and pushed through by a vote of 87 to 81.

The Herald of Saturday, commenting on the call signed by Walter R. Jones and others for a City Meeting to protest against the passage of Douglas's Nebraska bill, most untruly but we presume ignorantly says:

"This indignation at the prospect of carrying Slavery above the Missouri line of 36* 30' may be natural enough; but the parties to the call seem to forget that the Missouri Compromise line was first invaded by refusing the line of 36*30' in the admission of California. The people of the State had defined its boundaries down to the thirty second degree of north latitude; they had excluded the South from the whole of it; and Congress took them in at their word, casting out every attempt at making the line of 36* 30' -- or 36*, or 35* -- the Southern boundary of the State. They gave the South not a square inch of California, though one half of it lies below the Missouri Compromise line."

A glance at the terms of the Missouri Compromise will show that it had and could have no reference to California or any other Territory recently acquired from Mexico, as it is expressly limited to "the Territory cede by France to the United States under the name of Louisiana: -- that is, to Nebraska and all the Territory of the United States lying North of the 36* 30' west of the Mississippi and east of the Rio del Norte and the Rocky Mountains. When Congress organized Oregon, and expressly excluded Slavery therefrom, a Southern attempt was made to assert in the bill that this exclusion was based on the fact that Oregon lies North of 36* 30', thus extending that line to the Pacific; but Congress refused to say or do any such thing. The Missouri Compromise had already excluded Slavery from the Territory east of the Rocky Mountains, but there its application was limited by those Mountains; so Congress proceeded expressly and finally to exclude Slavery from Oregon likewise.

This Compromise, be it remembered, was not proposed by the North. The overture came from the South, and three-fourths of its support was Southern. John Randolph of course opposed it, from hatred of Mr. Clay; but nearly every Southern vote was cast in its favor, while its few Northern friends nearly all sacrificed themselves by sustaining it. Senator John F. Parrot of New Hampshire, who voted for it, dropped dead as a stone politically, and never recovered; Senator William A. Palmer of Vermont was buried by his support of it and was with great difficulty resuscitated nearly twenty years afterward by a dip into the Anti-Masonic caldron; we believe John Holmes of Maine and Henry R. Storrs of this State were temporarily crushed by their support of it; and we have a pretty strong impression that Henry Shaw (now of our City and late a State Senator, but then a member of the House from the Berkshire District, Mass.) was put out of Congress for his support of the Missouri bill, and has never since found his way back again. But it was a long while ago, and our present recollections of it are indistinct; but of the general fact that the North considered that Compromise a betrayal of its rights and surrender of its principles, and discarded almost every public man who promoted it, there can be no dispute.

Well: the time has at length arrived for giving effect to its conditions on the side of Freedom. Slavery took her part of the consideration in hand, while freedom has waited twenty-four years for hers; and now Mr. Douglas proposes to repudiate altogether, rub out the whole contract, and coolly assume that a subsequent Compromise -- that of 1850 -- has nullified our end of it! Hear him!

"Under this section [of the Missouri Compromise, quoted above] as in the case of the Mexican law in New Mexico and Utah, it is a disputed point whether slavery is prohibited in the Nebraska country by valid enactment. The decision of this question involves the constitutional power of Congress to pass laws prescribing and regulating the domestic institutions of the various Territories of the Union. In the opinion of those eminent statesmen who held that Congress is invested with no rightful authority to legislate upon the subject of Slavery in the Territories, the eighth section of the act preparatory to the admission of Missouri null and void; while the prevailing sentiment in a large portion of the Union sustains the doctrine that the Constitution of the United States secures to every citizen an unalienable right to move into any Territories with his property of whatever kind and description, and to hold and enjoy the same under sanction of law.

"Your Committee do not feel themselves called upon to enter into the discussion of these controverted questions. They involve the same grave issues which produced the agitation, the sectional strife, and the fearful struggle of 1850. As Congress deemed it wise and prudent to refrain from deciding the matter in controversy then, either by affirming or repealing the Mexican laws, or by an act declaratory of the true intent of the Constitution, and the extent of the protection afforded by it to slave property in the Territory, so your Committee are not prepared now to recommend a departure from the course pursued on that memorable occasion either by affirming or repealing the eighth section of the Missouri Act, or by any act declaratory of the meaning of the Constitution in respect to the legal points in dispute. Your Committee deem it fortunate for the peace of the country and the security of the Union, that the controversy then resulted in the adoption of the Compromise Measures, which the two great political parties with singular unanimity have affirmed as a cardinal article of their faith, and proclaimed to the world as a final settlement of the controversy, and an end of the agitation. A due respect, therefore, for the avowed opinions of Senators, as well as a proper sense of patriotic duty, enjoin upon your Committee the propriety and necessity of a strict adherence to the principles, and even a literal adoption of the enactment, of that adjustment in all their Territorial bills, so far as the same are not locally inapplicable. Those enactments embrace, among other things less material under consideration, the following provisions:

"'When admitted as a State, the said Territory, or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union, with or without Slavery, as their Constitution may prescribe at the time of their admission.'

* ******

"'From these provisions, it is apparent that the Compromise Measures of 1850 affirm and rest upon the following propositions:

"'First, that all questions pertaining to Slavery in the Territories, and in the new States to be formed therefrom, are to be left to the decision of the people residing therein, through their proper representatives, to be chosen by them for that purpose.

"Second, that 'all cases involving titles to slaves' and 'questions of personal freedom' are referred to the adjudication of the local tribunals, with the right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.

"'The substitute for the bill which your Committee have prepared, and which is commended to the favorable action of the Senate, proposes to carry these propositions and principles into the practical operation, in the precise language of the Compromise Measures of 1850."

That is to say: All that part of the Missouri Compromise which favored Slavery is fixed, unquestioned, established and irrevocable; but so much of it as favors Freedom is "a disputed point," and is perhaps not a "valid enactment." Eminent statesmen" have declared that Congress has no control over the subject of Slavery in the Territories, though the Constitution expressly provides that "Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting all territory or other property belonging to the United States" -- that is, Congress shall have the same power over the U. S. Territories that a man has over his own house or horse. Even if it were possible to construe this in the narrow, technical sense of a mere power to take care of a valuable property, that would still be sufficient; for Slavery notoriously depreciates the value and retards the settlement of unimproved lands, and Congress might properly exclude it from the Territories for that reason if no other.

But Mr. Douglas does not propose to let Slavery into Nebraska merely on the legal principle of giving the culprit the benefit of a doubt. He coolly assumes that the legislation of 1850, instead of being a compromise, was a surrender at discretion on the part of the Free States! We had demanded the exclusion of Slavery from the territory just acquired from Mexico, or its inhibition therein; the South had resisted this and claimed the right to "emigrate thither with their property," human or other; and Congress had somehow split the difference and made a Compromise. This Compromise, says Mr. Douglas, was not merely at waiver of the Proviso; it was a solemn affirmation by Congress that in all Territories thereafter organised [sic] there should be no legal impediment offered to the introduction of Slavery, even though these Territories (as in the case of Nebraska) had long since been expressly shielded from bondage "forever" by a deliberate act of Congress! The Compromise of 1850 is thus interpreted by Mr. Douglas as not merely a surrender by the North of all that was then at stake, but of all even in the annexation of Texas (March 2,1845) it was expressly stipulated (see Whig Almanac for 1946,p.46) that

"Such States as may be formed out of that portion of said Territory lying south of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude, commonly known as the Missouri Compromise line, shall be admitted into the Union with or without Slavery, as the people of each State asking admission may desire. And in such State or States as shall be formed out of said territory north of said Missouri Compromise line, Slavery or involuntary servitude (except for crime) shall be prohibited."

Here again the principle of the Missouri Compromise reaffirmed and applied to a newly-acquired territory, involving of course the right to apply it to any territory not involved in the terms of previous compact. Yet this, too, is subverted and pronounced a nullity by the tenor of Douglas's report, closely followed in terms of his bill.

Under ordinary circumstances we should not suppose it possible that such a bill had a chance in the House, however it might have in the Senate. But there never before was a time so favorable to such a measure as the present. In the first place, the present Administration is groveled by the charges brought against it by the Hards of practical infidelity to the South on the Slavery question, and are disposed to take some bold step to repel that accusation. Congress is strongly "Democratic" -- nearly two to one -- and this monstrous bill is to put through as a party measure if possible. The Union indorses and commends it; so do the leading organs of the Cabinet throughout the country. Thus the President's home organ, the New Hampshire Patriot, has the following:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14,1854 "The Nebraska bill, as reported by the Territorial Committee in the Senate, seems likely to pass both branches of Congress triumphantly, without eliciting any serious opposition, and in such a form as to apply to the fullest extent the principles of the Compromise of 1850 to the new territory."

This same gross misrepresentation respecting "the principles of the Compromise of 1850" began with Douglas and runs through all his echoes. How baseless it is, we have already shown.

But again: 'The party' in this State is divided into two equal and intensely hostile camps, each of them claiming to be the Simon Pure friends of the South and champions of the Democratic pro-Slavery faith. The South means to test them, and to regard the support of this atrocious bill as the touchstone of Democratic orthodoxy. Thus when Mr., HUGHES (Barnburner) of our State had closed his defense of the Softs,

"Mr. STANTON (of Ky.,) wished to know the principle of the party to which the gentleman belongs. Would his party in New York, or would the Delegates representing that party called the Softs, vote for the application of the Compromise of 1850 to the Nebraska bill when it comes up?

"Mr. HUGHES replied -- If on investigation it should be found to be soundly constitutional and democratic, the Softs of New York would be found sustaining it and walking side by side with the gentlemen from Kentucky; and he had no doubt if the Hards had not forgotten their party fealty, they would be found acting with them."

Thus you see that the two factions are to be stimulated to run a race in servility and treason, and whichever dives deepest and comes up foulest is to be recognized by the South as the genuine Baltimore Democracy.

Is it not time that the Press of the Free States, without distinction of party, should speak out on this question? If these States are to be sold out, let them at least have an opportunity to protest.


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