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plained of, and even censured in this debate. One member suggests to us that, in the excitement which prevails, he discerns the efforts of what he has termed an “expiring party,” aiming to re-establish itself in the possession of power, and has spoken of a “juggler behind the scene.” He surely has not reflected upon the magnitude of the principle contended for, or he would have perceived at once the utter insignificance of all objects of factious and party contest, when compared with the mighty interests it involves. It concerns ages to come, and millions to be born. We, who are here, our dissensions and conflicts, are nothing, absolutely nothing, in the comparison: and I cannot well conceive, that any man, who is capable of raising his view to the elevation of this great question, could suddenly bring it down to the low and paltry consideration of party interests and party motives. Another member, (Mr. M'Lane,) taking indeed a more liberal ground, has warned us against ambitious and designing men, who, he thinks, will always be ready to avail themselves of occasions of popular excitement, to mount into power upon the ruin of our government, and the destruction of our liberties. Sir, I am not afraid of what is called popular excitement— all history teaches us, that revolutions are not the work of men, but of time and circumstances, and a long train of preparation. Men do not produce them: they are brought on by corruption—they are generated in the quiet and stillness of apathy, and to my mind nothing could present a more frightful indication, than public indifference to such a question as this. It is not by vigorously maintaining great moral and political principles, in their purity, that we incur the danger. If gentlemen are sincerely desirous to perpetuate the blessings of that free constitution under which we live, I would advise them to apply their exertions to the preservation of public and private virtue, upon which its existence, I had almost said, entirely depends. As long as this is preserved, we have nothing to fear. When this shall be lost, when luxury and vOL. III. 40
vice and corruption, shall have usurped its place, then, indeed, a government resting upon the people for its support, must totter and decay, or yield to the designs of ambitious and aspiring men. Another member, the gentleman to whom the committee lately listened with so much attention, (Mr. Clay,) after depicting forcibly and eloquently, what he deemed the probable consequences of the proposed amendment, appealed emphatically to Pennsylvania; “ the unambitious Pennsylvania, the keystone of the federal arch,” whether she would concur in a measure calculated to disturb the peace of the union. Sir, this was a single arch; it is rapidly becoming a combination of arches, and where the centre now is, whether in Kentucky or Pennsylvania, or where at any given time it will be, might be very difficult to tell. Pennsylvania may indeed be styled “unambitious,” for she has not been anxious for what are commonly deemed honors and distinctions, nor eager to display her weight and importance in the affairs of the nation. She has, nevertheless, felt, and still does feel, her responsibility to the union; and under a just sense of her duty, has always been faithful to its interests, under every vicissitude, and in every exigency. But Pennsylvania feels also a high responsibility to a great moral principle, which she has long ago adopted with the most impressive solemnity, for the rule of her own conduct, and which she stands bound to assert and maintain, wherever her influence and power can be applied, without injury to the just rights of her sister states. It is this principle, and this alone, that now governs her conduct. She holds it too sacred to suffer it to be debased by association with any party or factious views, and she will pursue it with the singleness of heart, and with the firm but unoffending temper which belong to a conscientious discharge of duty, and which, I hope I may say, have characterized her conduct in all her relations. If any one desire to know what this principle is, he shall hear it in the language of Pennsylvania herself, as contained in the preamble to her act of abolition, passed in the year 1780, P *
read it not without feelings of sincere satisfaction, as abridged by a foreign writer, with his introductory remark. (2 Belsham, 23, memoirs of Geo. 3.) “It affords a grateful relief from the sensations which oppress the mind in listening to the tale of human folly and wretchedness, to revert to an act of the most exalted philanthropy, passed about this period, by the legislature of Pennsylvania, to the following purport:” “When we contemplate our abhorrence of that condition, to which the arms and tyranny of Great Britain were exerted to reduce us, when we look back on the variety of dangers to which we have been exposed, and deliverances wrought, when even hope and fortitude have become unequal to the conflict, we conceive it to be our duty, and rejoice that it is in our power, to extend a portion of that freedom to others, which hath been extended to us, to add one more step to universal civilization, by removing, as much as possible, the sorrows of those who have lived in undeserved bondage. Weaned by a long course of experience from those narrow prejudices and partialities we had imbibed, we conceive ourselves, at this particular period, called upon, by the blessings we have received, to manifest the sincerity of our profession. In justice, therefore, to persons who, having no prospect before them, whereon they may rest their sorrows and their hopes, have no reasonable inducement to render that service to society which otherwise they might; and also, in grateful commemoration of our own happy deliverance from that state of unconditional submission to which we were doomed by the tyranny of Britain—Be it enacted, that no child born hereafter shall be a slave, &c.” In this manner did Pennsylvania express her thankfulness for the deliverance that had been wrought for her, and I am confident she will never incur the sin and the danger of ingratitude. Steadfastly as Pennsylvania holds the position here taken, she will not officiously obtrude her opinions upon her sister states. One of the grounds of her rejoicing, and one of the causes of her gratitude, was, that “she had it in her power to abolish slavery.” She will not, in this respect, presume to judge for others, though she will rejoice if they too should have the power and feel the inclination. But, whenever the question presents itself, in a case where she has a right to judge, I trust she will be true to her own principles, and do her duty. Such I take to be the case now before the committee. The proposed amendment presents for consideration three questions: that of the constitutional power of Congress, that which arises out of the treaty of cession, and, finally, that which is termed the question of expediency. I beg the indulgence of the committee while I endeavor to examine them in the order stated. First. We are about to lay the foundation of a new state, beyond the Mississippi, and to admit that state into the union. The proposition, contained in the amendment, is, in substance, to enter into a compact with the new state, at her formation, which shall establish a fundamental principle of her government, not to be changed without the consent of both parties; and this principle is, that every human being, born or hereafter brought within the state, shall be free. The only questions under the constitution, seem to me to be, whether the parties are competent to make a compact, and whether they can make such a compact? If they cannot, it must be either for want of power in the parties to contract, or from the nature of the subject. It cannot, at this time of day, be denied, that the United States have power to contract with a state, nor that a state has power to contract with the United States. It has been the uniform and undisputed practice, both before and since the adoption of the COnStitution. [Mr. Sergeant here mentioned numerous instances of cessions of territory, by states, to the union, and one instance of a cession of territory by the United States to a state, in which the stipulations on each
side were stated in the same manner and with like solemnity as in contracts with individuals. He observed, that the states had the capacity to contract with each other, so far as they were not restrained by the constitution; and further, that they had the capacity to contract with individuals, and in so doing, to part with a portion of their legislative power. He also remarked, that if it were competent to the United States to contract with an old state, it seemed to follow of course, that it had a competency to contract with a new one; and, accordingly, no new state, (unless formed out of an old one,) had ever been admitted into the union, but upon terms agreed upon by compact, and irrevocable without the consent of all parties.]
Thus it appears, that a new state may contract; and it is essential that it should be so, for her own sake as well as for the sake of the union. It remains, then, to inquire, whether the stipulation, proposed in the amendment, is, on account of the nature of the subject, such a one as it is beyond the power of a state to enter into ? It has already been remarked, that a state, at the moment of its formation, is as entirely sovereign, and as capable of making a binding contract, as at any future period. The real question, therefore, is, whether it is beyond the power of any state in this union, for any consideration whatever, to bind itself by a compact with a state, or with the United States, to prohibit slavery within its borders? To suppose so, seems to impute a want of sovereign power, which could only arise from its being parted with by the constitution, and this, I think, can scarcely be affirmed. But I do not mean to anticipate, as my object, at present, is to follow the practice of the government.
In this view, the ordinance of 1787, respecting the North-West Territory, and the history of the states formed under it, are eminently deserving of consideration and respect. This ordinance was framed upon great deliberation. It was intended to regulate the