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measure in very forcible terms, and hoped the house would proceed no further in the investigation of the subject.” “Mr. Smith, (S. C.) recurring to the memorial, observed that congress could not constitutionally interfere in the business, upon the prayer of the memorialist, as that went to the entire abolition of slavery : it could not, therefore, with propriety, be referred to a committee. “In the Southern States, difficulties on this account had arisen in respect to the ratification of the Constitution; and, except their apprehensions on this head had been dissipated by their property being secured to them and guaranteed to them by the Constitution itself, they never could have adopted it. He then depicted the miseries that would result from the interference of congress in the southern governments. He asserted, as his opinion, that, if there were no slaves in the Southern States, they would be entirely depopulated: from the nature of the country, it could not be cultivated without them. Their proprietors are persons of as much humanity as the inhabitants of any part of the continent: they are as conspicuous for their morals as any of their neighbors. “He then asserted that the Quakers are a society not known to our laws; that they stand in exactly the same situation with other religious societies: their memorial relates to a matter in which they are no more interested than any sect whatever; and it therefore must be considered in the light of advice: and is it customary to refer a piece of advice to a committee He then contrasted this memorial with one that might be presented from the sect called Shaking Quakers, whose principles and practices are represented in a very exceptionable point of light, and asked whether congress would pay any attention to such a memorial. He hoped the memorial would not be committed.”
If Mr. Smith really thought that the interference of congress on the subject of slavery was unconstitutional, when so good an opportunity was offered, why did he not dwell upon this point, — the strongest point he could have urged 7 and, if he could have shown it was not in their power to interfere, there would have been an end to the subject. But, instead of stopping on what he undoubtedly knew was an untenable point, he talks about the humanity of the slaveholder, and about the practices of the Shaking Quakers. “Mr. Page was in favor of the commitment. He hoped that the benevolent designs of the respectable memorialists would not be frustrated at the threshold, so far as to preclude a fair discussion of the prayer of their memorial. He said, they do not apply for a total abolition of slavery. They only request that such measures may be taken, consistent with the Constitution, as may finally issue in the total abolition of the slave-trade. He could not conceive that the apprehensions entertained by the gentlemen from Georgia and South Carolina were well founded, as they respected the proposed interference of congress.” “Mr. Madison observed it was his opinion, yesterday, that the best way to proceed in the business was to commit the memorial, without debate on the subject. From what has taken place, he was more convinced of the propriety of the idea. But, as the business has engaged the attention of many members, and much has been said by gentlemen, he would offer a few observations for the consideration of the house. He then went into a critical review of the circumstances respecting the adoption of the Constitution, the ideas upon the limitation of the powers of congress to interfere in the regulation of commerce in slaves, and showing they were not precluded from interfering in their importation, and, generally, to regulate the mode in which every species of business shall be transacted. He adverted to the western country, and the cession of Georgia, in which congress has ceRTAINLY the power to REGULATE the subject of slavery : which shows that gentlemen are MISTAKEN in supposing that congress cannot constitutionally interfere in the business, in any degree whatever. He was in favor of committing the petition, and justified the measure by repeated precedents in the proceedings of the house.” “Mr. Gerry entered into a justification of the interference of congress, as being fully compatible with the Constitution. He descanted on the miseries to which the Africans are subjected by this traffic, and said he never contemplated this subject without reflecting what his own feelings would be, in case himself, his children, or friends, were placed in the same deplorable circumstances. He then adverted to the flagrant acts of cruelty which are committed in carrying on that traffic, and asked whether it can be supposed that congress has no power to prevent such transactions as far as possible. He then referred to the Constitution, and pointed out the restrictions laid on the general government respecting the importation of slaves. It is not, he presumed, in the contemplation of any gentleman in this house to violate that part of the Constitution; but that we have a right to regulate this business is as clear as that we have any rights whatever; nor has the contrary been shown by any person who has spoken on the occasion. Congress can, agreeably to the Constitution, lay a duty of ten dollars a head on slaves; they may do this immediately. He made a calculation of the value of slaves in the Southern States: he supposed they might be worth ten millions of dollars. Congress have a right, if they see proper, to make a proposal to the Southern States to
purchase the whole of them; and their resources in the western country may furnish them with the means. He did not mean to suggest a measure of this kind; he only instanced these particulars to show that congress has a right to interfere in this business. He thought that no objection had been offered of any force to prevent the committing the memorial.” “Mr. Boudinot was in favor of the commitment, and enlarged on the idea suggested by Mr. Gerry, and observed the memorial contained only a request that congress would interpose their authority in the cause of humanity and mercy.” “Mr. Gerry and Mr. Stone severally spoke again on the subject. The latter gentleman, in opposition, said that this memorial was a thing of course; for there never was a society of any considerable extent, which did not interfere with the concerns of other people; and this interference, at one time or another, deluged the world in blood. On this principle, he was opposed to the commitment.” “Mr. Tucker moved to modify the first by striking out all after the word ‘opinion,” and insert the following: ‘that the several memorials proposed for the consideration of this house, a subject on which its interference would be unconstitutional, and even its deliberations highly injurious to some of the States of the Union.’” “Mr. Jackson observed he had been silent on the subject of the report coming before the committee, because he wished the principles of the resolutions to be fairly examined, and to be decided on their true grounds. He was against the proposition generally, and would examine the policy, the justice, and the use of them; and he hoped, if he could make them appear in the same light to others as they did to him, by fair arguments, that the gentlemen in opposition were not so determined in their opinions as not to give up their present sentiments. “With respect to the policy of the measure, the situation of the slaves here, their situation in their native States, and the disposition of them in case emancipation, should be considered. That slavery was an evil habit he did not mean to controvert; but that habit was already established, and there were peculiar situations in countries which rendered that habit necessary. Such situations the States of South Carolina and Georgia were in : large tracts of the most fertile land on the continent remained uncultivated for the want of population. It was frequently advanced on the floor of congress, how unhealthy those climates were, and how impossible it was for northern constitutions to exist there. What, he asked, is to be done with this uncultivated territory Is it to remain a waste 2 Is the rice trade to be banished from our coast 2 Is congress willing to deprive itself of the revenue arising from that trade, which is daily increasing, and throw this great advantage into the hands of other countries 2
“Let us examine the use or benefit contained in the report. I call upon gentlemen to give me one single instance in which they can be of any service. They are of no use to congress. The powers of that body are already defined, and those powers cannot be amended, confirmed, or diminished, by ten thousand resolutions. Is not the first proposition of the report contained in the Constitution ? Is not that the guide and rule of legislation ? A multiplicity of laws is reprobated in society, and tends to confound and perplex. How strange would a law appear to confirm a law ; and how much more strange must it appear for this body to pass resolutions to confirm the Constitution under which they sit! This is the case with others of the resolutions.
“A gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Stone) very properly observed that the Union had received the States with all their evil habits about them. This was one of