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His Speech at Cooper Institute.
The Fathers of the Constitution.
be in the mode of presenting the facts, and the inferences and observations following that presentation.
“In his speech last autumn, at Columbus, Ohio, as reported in The New York Times, Senator Douglas said :
“Our fathers, when they framed the Government under which we live, understood this question just as well, and even better than we do now.'
"I fully indorse this and I adopt it as a text for this discourse. I so adopt it because it furnishes a precise and agreed starting point for the discussion between Republicans and that wing of Democracy headed by Senator Douglas. It simply leaves the inquiry : What was the understanding those fathers had of the questions mentioned ?'
"What is the frame of Government under which we live ? "The answer must be: The Constitution of the United States.' That Constitution consists of the original, framed in 1787 (and under which the present Government first went into operation), and twelve subsequently framed amendments, the first ten of which were framed in 1789.
“Who were our fathers that framed the Constitution ? I suppose the 'thirty-nine' who signed the original instrument may be fairly called our fathers who framed that part of the present Government. It is almost exactly true to say they framed it, and it is altogether true to say they fairly represented the opinion and sentiment of the whole nation at that time. Their names being familiar to nearly all, and accessible to quite all, need not now be repeated.
"I take these thirty-nine,' for the present, as being our fathers who framed the Government under which we live.'
“What is the question which, according to the text, those fathers understood just as well, and even better than we do now?
"It is this : Does the proper division of local from federal authority, or any thing in the Constitution, forbid our Federal Government control as to slavery in our Federal Territories ?
Speech at the Cooper Institute.
Slavery and the Federal Government,
“Upon this, Douglas holds the affirmative, and Republicans the negative. This affirmative and denial form an issue ; and this issue this question—is precisely what the text declares our fathers understood better than we.
"Let us now inquire whether the 'thirty-nine,' or any of them, ever acted upon this question ; and if they did, how they acted upon it how they expressed that better understanding
“In 1784 — three years before the Constitution – the United States then owning the Northwestern Territory, and no other—the Congress of the Confederation had before them the question of prohibiting slavery in that Territory; and four of the thirty-nine' who afterward framed the Constitution were in that Congress, and voted on that question. Of these, Roger Sherman, Thomas Miffin, and Hugh Williamson voted for the prohibition—thus showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor any thing else, properly forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in federal territory. The other of the four-James McHenry_voted against the prohibition, showing that, for some cause, he thought it improper to vote for it.
“In 1787, still before the Constitution, but while the Convention was in session framing it, and while the Northwestern Territory still was the only territory owned by the United States—the same question of prohibiting slavery in the territory again came before the Congress of the Confederation; and three more of the thirty-nine' who afterward signed the Constitution, were in that Congress, and voted on the question. They were William Blount, William Few, and Abraham Baldwin ; and they all voted for the prohibition —thus showing that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor any thing else, properly for.. bids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in federal territory. This time the prohibition became a law,
Speech at the Cooper Institute.
Slavery in the Territories.
being part of what is now well known as the Ordinance of '87.
“The question of federal control of slavery in the territories, seems not to have been directly before the Convention which framed the original Constitution; and hence it is not recorded that the 'thirty-nine' or any of them, while engaged on that instrument, expressed any opinion on that precise question.
"In 1789, by the First congress which sat under the Constitution, an act was passed to enforce the Ordinance of '87, including the prohibition of slavery in the North-western Territory. The bill for this act was reported by one of the 'thirty-nine,' Thomas Fitzsimmons, then a member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania. It went through all its stages without a word of opposition, and finally passed both branches without yeas and nays, which is equivalent to an unanimous passage. In this Congress there were sixteen of the 'thirty-nine' fathers who framed the original Constitution. They were John Langdon, Nicholas Gilman, Wm. S. Johnson, Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, Thos. Fitzsimmons, William Few, Abraham Baldwin, Rufus King, William Patterson, George Clymer, Richard Bassett, George Read, Pierce Butler, Daniel Carrol, James Madison.
"This shows that, in their understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor any thing in the Constitution, properly forbade Congress to prohibit slavery in the federal territory; else both their fidelity to correct principle, and their oath to support the Constitution, would have constrained them to oppose the prohibition.
"Again, George Washington, another of the 'thirty-nine,' was then President of the United States, and, as such, approved and signed the bill, thus completing its validity as a law, and thus showing that, in his understanding, no line dividing local from federal authority, nor any thing in the Constitution, forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in Federal territory.
His Speech at the Cooper Institute. Slavery in Mississippi.
"No great while after the adoption of the original Constitution, North Carolina ceded to the Federal Government the country now constituting the State of Tennessee ; and a few years later Georgia ceded that which now constitutes the States of Mississippi and Alabama. In both deeds of cession it was made a condition by the ceding States that the Federal Government should not prohibit slavery in the ceded country. Besides this, slavery was then actually in the ceded country. Under these circumstances, Congress, on taking charge of these countries did not absolutely prohibit slavery within them. But they did interfere with it-take control of iteven there, to a certain extent. In 1798, Congress organized the Territory of Mississippi. In the act of organization they prohibited the bringing of slaves into the Territory, from any place without the United States, by fine and giving freedom to slaves so brought. This act passed both branches of Congress without yeas and nays. In that Congress were three of the thirty-nine' who framed the original Constitution. They were John Langdon, George Read, and Abraham Baldwin. They all, probably, voted for it. Certainly they would have placed their opposition to it upon record, if, in their understanding, any line dividing local from Federal authority, or any thing in the Constitution, properly forbade the Federal Government to control as to slavery in Federal territory.
“In 1803, the Federal Government purchased the Louisiana country. Our former territorial acquisitions came from certain of our own States; but this Louisiana country was acquired from a foreign nation. In 1804, Congress gave a · territorial organization to that part of it which now constitutes the State of Louisiana. . New Orleans, lying within that part, was an old and comparatively large city. There were other considerable towns and settlements, and slavery was extensively and thoroughly intermingled with the people. Congress did not, in the Territorial Act, prohibit slavery :
His Speech at the Cooper Institute.
Slavery in Louisiana.
The Missouri Question.
but they did interfere with it—take control of it—in a more marked and extensive way than they did in the case of Mississippi. The substance of the provision therein made, in relation to slaves, was :
"First. That no slave should be imported into the territory from foreign parts.
“Second. That no slave should be carried into it who had been imported into the United States since the first day of May, 1798.
“Third. That no slave should be carried into it, except by the owner, and for his own use as a settler; the penalty in all the cases being a fine upon the violator of the law, and freedom to the slave. ·
"This act also was passed without yeas and nays. In the Congress which passed it, there were two of the 'thirty-nine.' They were Abraham Baldwin and Jonathan Dayton. As stated in the case of Mississippi, it is probable they both voted for it. They would not have allowed it to pass without recording their opposition to it, if, in their understanding, it violated either the line proper dividing local from Federal authority or any provision of the Constitution.
“In 1819–20, came and passed the Missouri question. Many votes were taken, by .yeas and nays, in both branches of Congress, upon the various phases of the general question. Two of the 'thirty-nine'-Rufus King and Charles Pinckneywere members of that Congress. - Mr. King steadily voted for slavery probibition and against all compromises, while Mr. Pinckney as steadily voted against slavery prohibition and against all compromises. By this Mr. King showed that, in bis understanding, no line dividing local from Federal authority, nor any thing in the Constitution, was violated by Congress prohibiting slavery in Federal territory; wbile Mr. Pinckney, by his votes, showed that in his understanding there was some sufficient reason for opposing such prohibition in that case.