Secession Era Editorials Project


New York, Tribune [Whig]

(24 February 1854)

Some of the apologists for the proposed repeal of the Missouri restriction endeavor to excuse this piece of iniquity by a suggestion well worthy of those who make it. They tell us in effect that this Pierce-Douglas proposition for opening Nebraska to the slaveholders is after all only a tub thrown out to whale. It will prove they hint a mere unavailing concession, well enough to tickle and amuse our irritable southern brethren with -- as good a prescription to keep them quiet as bread pills, of being perfectly harmless and of costing nothing. This Nebraska Territory, they suggest, is not a region in which slaveholders will be likely to settle. Hold your tongues, say these adroit tricksters, bent it would seem on tricking everybody; hold your tongues, let the Presidency be secured to the Pierce-Douglas dynasty. However we may legislate there can be no doubt that Nebraska will be settled by non-slaveholders, and when State Constitutions come to be framed, Slavery will be prohibited and all will be right again.

This it will be observed is one of the same arguments urged by those northern men who excused themselves for supporting the clauses in the omnibus bill which organized territorial governments in New Mexico and Utah without any prohibition of Slavery. This prohibition it was said was unnecessary, because Slavery being already excluded from those regions by their physical character it would be superfluous to re-enact in that respect the will of God. Physical laws, the laws of God, have no doubt a certain inherent potency, and yet it is sometimes very well to back them up by human legislation. The good people of New Haven were not so much out of the way when they resolved to be governed by the laws of God till they had time to make some of their own. A merely superfluous law is at least innocent. Mr. Webster was indeed so tender of the feelings of his southern friends -- a tenderness for which he got rather a shabby return -- that he did not want unnecessarily to put any Slavery prohibition into those bills lest it might look like a taunt or a reproach. But this reason does not apply to Nebraska. The ugly words, so shocking to the sensibility of the South, have no need to be repeated. The provision excluding Slavery is to be found in an old act of more than thirty years ago. All that is necessary is to let that prohibition alone. Why lacerate the feelings of the North -- it is true the eels are by this time pretty well used to being skinned, but they still squirm a little under the operation -- why lacerate the feelings of the North by a positive enactment opening Nebraska to slaveholders, when the South, if we are to place any reliance on this view of the case, will gain nothing substantial to it by it.

There may, no doubt, be those northern opponents of the spread of Slavery, and at the same time very polite friends of the South, who may esteem this laceration of northern feeling as a trifle compared with putting the South into good humor, and at the same time securing another presidential term to Mr. Pierce, and the successorship to Mr. Douglas -- and all this without any sacrifice except one of feeling merely. But, then, are these opponents of Slavery so perfectly satisfied that no other sacrifice will be required? Is it so certain that if we open Nebraska to the slaveholders, giving them a chance, as Mr. Calhoun expressed it in the case of New Mexico, to get in with their slaves, is it perfectly certain that we may not find ourselves in the predictament of the unwary rabbit who admitted a viper into his hole? In the case of New Mexico and Utah, the argument was very plausible that the physical character of those territories was such as effectually to prohibit the immigration of slaveholders. And besides, there was the Mexican law abolishing slavery to serve as an additional barrier. But the physical character of Nebraska, at least of that part of it which first will be settled, and which is likely to decide the social and political character of the whole region, is very different. The best, at all events the most accessible portion of that Territory lies in the same latitude with Missouri and adjoins it. The law of God did not and does not keep slaveholders out of Missouri. Though comparatively but a handful of the population, they contrive to rule that State pretty effectually, and even to hold such a man as Mr. Benton under their thumb; and why should they not do the same thing in Nebraska?

Mr.Webster, in his famous 7th of March speech, ascribed the change of sentiment on the subject of Slavery which has taken place in the southern States within the last forty years solely to extension of the cultivation of cotton. In a certain point of view this is a correct enough account of the matter, and yet it lies open to criticism: for, in the first place, Mr. Webster ascribes to the whole South, including South Carolina and Georgia, a hostility to slavery in the early days of the Republic which never existed except in Maryland and Virginia, and partially in North Carolina; and, in the second place, he entirely omits to explain how the change of opinion growing out of the extension of the cultivation of cotton happens to have principally exhibited itself in those States in which no cotton is cultivated. The remote cause of that change of opinion, which he made so prominent a topic, was no doubt the extension of the cultivation of cotton; but as it is most strikingly exhibited in the more northern of the slave States, so its immediate cause was the introduction into those States of business of rearing slaves for sale; a business resulting of rearing slaves for the extension of the cultivation of cotton, and -- according to the common operation of all half- measures -- of the abolition of the African slave trade. Mr.Webster was cautious of offending the polite ears of his southern auditors by the slightest allusion to so delicate a topic. Nevertheless the fact is, that beside the great slaveholding staples of cotton, sugar, rice and tabacco, there is another, the chief one of all the border slaveholding States in which of the late years they have supplanted the coast of Guinea. We mean the breeding of slave children for sale to the cotton planters. Everybody knows that it is profits of this business, which alone in a financial point of view make Slavery worth sustaining in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri are beginning to go into the same business, and why is not the Territory of Nebraska just as well adapted for it?

As there is no conceivable business more calculated to extinguish every sentiment of humanity and every feeling of self-respect than that of breeding slave children for sale, so the cotton-growing devotees of Slavery, and would-be lords and masters of the Union, very well know that the greater extension they can give to this discreditable business, the firmer hold they shall obtain upon those States and Territories in which it prevails, and the greater predominancy over them. Nebraska is not fit for growing cotton and sugar. So much the better; then it never can become a competitor and a rival of those States that are. But, change it into a slave-breeding district, and it is effectually yoked forever to the car of slaveholding dominion, standing much in the same relation to the slave purchasing States that the poor white non-slaveholders of the South do to the rich slaveholders. Hence it is very easy to understand the great zeal of the cotton members of Congress for the Nebraska fraud. Repeal the Missouri Proviso, and not only is Nebraska prevented from being settled by a free white population, laboring with their own heads -- a class of persons so generally despised throughout the slave States, and allowed so merely nominal a share of political influence -- but while firmly bound to the slaveholding interest, this is accomplished in such a way as to remove all danger that this vast region will ever become anything else than a mere humble, subservient vassal of the cotton-growing South.

It is not to be supposed that Messrs. Pierce and Douglas have ever reflected much upon any results of their proposed fundamental law for Nebraska, except such as are personal to themselves. If they have looked any further than the next Presidential election it was only to one Presidential election beyond. It might therefore be unfair to charge them with deliberately plotting any consequences of their proposed measure not bearing upon personal Presidential politics. Even great men sometimes find it difficult to see anything beyond the circumference of their own shadow, and it seems to be an inevitable consequence of becoming a candidate for the Presidency that one's shadow becomes exceedingly long and so very black as quite to boggle the intellectual eyes of individuals more far-seeing than the two sponsors of this Nebraska bill. But whether Messrs. Pierce and Douglas see it, and deliberately contemplate it or not, their bill is a bill in the first place for opening a new field for slave-breeding, an in the second place for reducing Nebraska to a mere dependency of the cotton growing interest.

If Nebraska were a country like Louisiana or Texas, fit for the growth of sugar or cotton, where the employment of slave labor promised, temporarily at least, very great returns, as the world goes there might be, if there were no compacts nor compromises in the way, something to be said in favor of letting slaveholders into it. But where is the man brazen enough to avow that we need any more slave- breeding districts? Surely it is the height of shameless folly to ask the North to consent to the repeal of the Missouri restriction, in order to open a new field, and to give a new impulse, to a business so disgraceful to the American nation, so debasing and demoralizing to every community engaged in it! Is it not enough that Virginia, once the leader in our politics, once the loud trumpeter of the Rights of Man, should have been quite bought up politically and morally, and swallowed whole as it were, by South Carolina and Georgia? Is it not enough Kentucky, the once proud daughter of a once proud mother, should be content to subside socially and politically into a mere body-servant, a sort of mulatto waiting maid, to Alabama and Mississippi? And must Nebraska too, even before its birth, be devoted, as happens in so many slaveholding families, to be the drudge and the concubine of her more fortunate cotton-growing brothers, who the more they use and abuse her the more they will despise her?

Surely it is not any regard to the interests of Nebraska that has prompted the introduction of Douglas's clause of repeal into the bill for organizing that Territory. Few, if any, of those who hope to find or to make in that new region a home for themselves and their families, can desire it. It is not to be credited that those whom Slavery has driven, or is about to drive from Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri can wish to introduce the same curse into the new country to which they fly. It is not either to please or to benefit those by whom Nebraska is to be settled that this repeal is proposed. Nebraska will indeed bear all the burden and suffer all the disgrace. All the benefit, if any, will accrue to Messrs. Pierce and Douglas on the one hand, and to the cotton-planters on the other.

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