Secession Era Editorials Project

What is Nebraska?

Charleston, South Carolina, Mercury [Democratic]

(8 February 1854)

This question has been often asked of late, and in view of the great principles at issue in it, the public mind should be thoroughly and accurately informed . We do so in better terms than those of the Abolition Address put forth by Senators Chase, Sumner, and Co.

"From the southwestern corner of Missouri pursue the parallel of 36* 30' North latitude, westwardly across the Arkansas, across the north fork of Canadian, to the northeastern angle of Texas; then follow the northeastern boundary of Texas to the western limit of New Mexico; then proceed along that western line to its northern termination; then again turn westwardly, and follow the northern line of New Mexico to the crest of the Rocky Mountains; then ascend northwardly along the crest of that mountain range to the line which separates the United States from the British Possessions in North America, on the 49th parallel of North latitude; then pursue your course eastwardly along that line to the White Earth river, which falls into the Missouri from the North; descend that river to its confluence with the Missouri; descend the Missouri, along the western boundary of Minnesota, of Iowa, of Missouri, to the point where it ceases to be a boundary line, and enters the State in which it gives its name; then continue your southward course along the westward limit of that State to the point from which you set out. You have now made the circuit of the proposed Territory of Nebraska. You have traversed the vast distance of more than three thousand miles. You have traced the outline of an area four hundred and eighty-five thousand square miles; more than twelve times as great as that of Ohio.

This immense region, occupying the very heart of the North American Continent, and larger, by 33 thousand square miles, than all the existing Free States, excluding California-- this immense region, well watered and fertile, through which the Middle and Northern routes from the Atlantic to the Pacific must pass-- this immense region, embracing all the unorganized territory of the nation, except the comparatively insignificant district of Indian territory north of Red River and between Arkansas and Texas," is subject matter of the bill now pleading before Congress:

The position of the South in reference to this question is seemingly anomalous and inconsistent. It is said, that the South is now rallying in defense of the Compromise of 1850, which she repudiated. What are the facts? The North asserted that in all Territory acquired from Mexico, the Mexican law was paramount, and that by its silent force slavery could neither enter nor exist there. They did not, therefore, hesitate to engraft upon the bills admitting Utah and New Mexico, a clause of non-intervention on the part of the Federal Government, inasmuch as its action against slavery was entirely superseded by the Mexican law. This was the treachery of the Compromise, which made it odious to the South. It was non-intervention in theory, but absolute exclusion in fact. The principle of non-intervention in slavery, has ever been the claim and policy of the South. We have asked it at the hands not only of this Government, but of fanatics, and propagandists every where. "Let us alone," is all the South has ever sought. And when the North held out to us a truce which fairly enough conceded the principle, but nullified its a practical effect and benefit, we of course repudiated it as hollow and shameless.

But this principle of non-intervention, however valueless to the South in relation to New Mexico and Utah, is of practical effect as regards to Nebraska. No paramount law supersedes its practical working there. No obsolete code lingers there, to be resuscitated against slavery, and the equal rights of the Southerners, as citizens and men. And it is because of this very thing, that the enemies of the South are struggling against its application to Nebraska. They were willing enough to proclaim non-intervention in New Mexico and Utah, where, as they asserted, its operation was superseded by a superior law; but they scout the idea wherever it is not superseded. They say to the South, if local laws exclude you, we are content. If they do not Congress shall.

A word as to the Missouri Compromise. Is it not the merest falsification to talk of the South violating it? Why the South in spite of her opposition to it at its passage, her belief in its unconstitutionality, and the mark of inferiority which it fixed upon her, has never trenched upon its limits. During the late crisis she was willing that the line of 36* 30' should be run to the Pacific, and the Nashville Convention itself put forth this proposition, as the final law and compact, by which the question of the extension of slavery would be forever put at rest. The North refused it. Can she now complain if her last contract for robbery of the South is found to contain a clause by which former spoilations are restored?

But the position of the Abolitionists on this question is not only treacherous, but it makes also the legislation of the country absurdly inconsistent. It may well be asked, what is the basis upon which the Government acts in reference to slavery. Is it a line of latitude, or is it a principle? The former is the basis of the Missouri Compromise, the latter that of the Compromise of 1850. As the Herald well remarks, by these two acts, Congress has in fact assumed to say to one portion of the settlers in the common territory, you may hold slaves-- to another you shall not. Can arrogance or absurdity exceed this? In 1850 the South said, give us the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific. True it shuts out slavery from Oregon, the whole of Utah, Upper California, and this very Nebraska. But it will settle forever this vexed question. She was then content to take the geographical line as the basis of a settlement. The North said no, we want a principle. They fixed it, and now that it justly and fairly involves consequences unfavorable to them, they seek to repudiate the principle and re-establish the line.

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