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A QUESTION OF POWER.
was under no constitutional obligation to make, as its resources forbade it. Compensation could only mean "long continued, and most grievous taxation." Had any one proposed to reimburse the State for the ravage, destruction and misery she had endured through the efforts of disloyal slaveholders to drag her out of the Union? When Missouri had balanced its account with slavery, the people would see little difficulty about compensation. The handwriting was on the wall; the loyal people of Missouri had written the doom of slavery; it could no longer be defended. There was nothing for the State to do other than to emancipate her slaves."
But had the convention power to free the slaves ? Under the constitution, the legislature could not do this, but the general assembly had failed, by one vote, to pass the act calling a State convention, for the purpose of taking the subject of emancipation into consideration, and the members of the present convention had been elected nearly two years and a half before, when the subject was not an issue at the polls.2 No one denied that the members of the convention were entitled to their seats, and it was understood that the assembly had failed to pass the act, because it had been taken up out of its order. If the convention was disposed to pass an ordinance of emancipation, could there be any doubt, now, that it was acting in accordance with the will of the people ? Certainly, it was within the
1 The Speaker, Charles Drake, of St. Louis, had long been opposed to emancipation, but said he became an anti-slavery man “after our National flag was lowered, but not degraded at Sumter." Journal of Proceedings, p. 24.
2 On the 18th of March, 1863, the Missouri Senate, by a vote of seventeen to fifteen, passed a resolution calling a convention to take up emancipation, and on the same day by a vote of seventeen to fourteen in favor of full and final emancipation in the year 1900. The measure failed in the House by a single vote. Senate Journal, pp. 457, 468; House Journal, pp. 602, 608.
FIRST PLAN OF GRADUAL EMANCIPATION.
convention's powers for these differed essentially from those of a legislature. A convention could modify the organic law of the State. The discussion of the powers of the convention was, however, very brief, for the majority of its members were convinced of their authority to act. The question, therefore, must be discussed on its merits.
Judge Breckinridge, a year before, had submitted a plan for gradual emancipation, the first of its kind proposed in a slaveholding State, and had earnestly supported it in one of the ablest speeches on the subject on record. He now renewed his plan, slightly modified, and again defended it with equal power and ability. He pointed out that emancipation must be speedy, yet gradual. It must apply to the slaves in being, as to the after-born; must be framed without reliance upon compensation, and must be free from any provision for the removal of the black race from the State,-leaving that to future legislation. Though by the United States census, there were nearly one hundred and fifteen thousand slaves in Missouri, in 1860,4 there were now less than seventy-five thousand. Of the white population of the State, less than
1 For Northern and Southern views of the powers of the Constitutional Convention, see 75 Pennsylvania State Reports, p. 205 (1873), and 69 Mississippi State Reports, p. 898 (1892). For a discussion of the subject, see Jameson's Treatise on Constitutional Conventions, Chapters VI and VII. For the bibliography of Constitutional Conventions, their Journals and Debates, and a general account of their work, see The Constitutional History of the American People, 1776-1850, Index, Constitutional Conventions.
2 June 6, 1862; see Proceedings of the Convention of that year, pp. 72, 82.
3 For the Breckinridge constitutional amendment, see Proceedings, p. 36. It abolished slavery from and after January 1, 1864, and established a system of indentures for negroes until July 4,
EMANCIPATION AND THE STATE DEBT.
one person in forty-three was a slave-owner. It might confidently be claimed that land would double in value as the result of emancipation. This increase would go far to pay for any loss. Further compensation was impossible, because the State debt was already near its constitutional limit.3
But, it might be asked, if the convention could amend the constitution, so as to abolish slavery, could it not also amend it so as to increase the power of indebtedness? The two propositions, however, were quite different, for the people would not tolerate an increase of the debt, or higher taxation, and they would abolish slavery in order to prevent further depreciation of property. There was a general and strong desire on the part of all slave-owners, that negroes, when free, should be removed to some other part of the country, yet at this time they were excluded from every slaveholding State, and from nearly all the free States. A Southern man would tolerate a negro slave, but not a free negro; a Northern man might endure a free negro, but would not tolerate a slave. Many feared that, if the remaining slaves in the State were emancipated, they would become violent, and demoralize society; yet their number was so great they could not be removed at the expense of the State, nor be driven out by force. Yet, if all remained, there would be less than eighty thousand free blacks to more than one hundred and ten thousand whites.
1 24,632 out of 1,038,150. 2 Proceedings, p. 44.
3 The debt of $26,635,000, which with interest overdue and accrued July 1, 1863, amounted to $30,787,180. The State Constitution of 1820, and the amendment of 1859, limited the public debt to $30,000,000, "except to repel invasions or suppress insurrections, or civil war."
4 See my Constitutional History of the American People, 17761850, Vol. I, Chapter xii, "A People Without a Country.”
DELAWARE, MARYLAND, VIRGINIA.
There is danger, when we attempt to understand the opinions and feelings of the Southern people, in the border States in 1863,--of taking a post-bellum attitude, and of writing the opinions of to-day into the records of that time. We must remember that, while Missouri was studying the great and untried problem of emancipating nearly one hundred thousand negroes, the thought of her people turned toward Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, where the largest number of free blacks were found. In these States there was prejudice against them. Usually they were paupers, and a serious charge on the community in which they lived. Though their number was great, it had been reached gradually, so that society had had time to adjust itself to the existing state of affairs. Missouri could guard against the evils complained of in Maryland and Virginia, only by a system, so regulated and graduated, that the enfranchised blacks might be tolerated, even though they were in larger numbers, relatively to the white population, than in any other State. Again, it must be remembered that the white race was increasing faster than the black; therefore, the evils of emancipation, of which there would be an increasing number of cases, would be greater than at any future period. But, even if the war soon came to an end, would slavery come to an end also ?
One sign of the times was clear to all: the President's proclamation, and the confiscation acts of Congress were making the tenure of slave property so precarious as to deter prudent men from investing in it. Every negro of the State, of ordinary intelligence, knew that his freedom
1 In Delaware, in 1860, there were 18,929 free blacks to 90,925 whites; in Maryland there were 83,942 free blacks to 515,918 whites; in Virginia, 58,042 free blacks to 1,470,000 whites. These were the figures cited in the Missouri convention, and though th vary from the nsus slightly, they must be taken as the evidence set before that body.
CONGRESS MUST HELP.
was the topic of discussion. The race was getting restless. Never again could the old ideas or the old relations be restored. The war had dislocated slavery; the State must make a new adjustment of the affairs of the race. This could best be done by a system of gradual emancipation and indentured apprenticeship. Twelve years were none too long for the change. The practical difficulty of ascertaining the age of negroes made it necessary to treat all alike. If some were freed and others kept in bondage, families would be separated, and new aggravations of discontent would follow. Laws securing a humane system of apprenticeship would differ but little from those already in force regulating slavery. Fugitives would be returned, and those who induced them away would be punished. Of course, the details must be left to the legislature, but the whole scheme was, essentially, one of education for the benefit of the black race.1
Yet, if Missouri should adopt a constitutional amendment, providing for gradual emancipation, could it carry it out unaided by the general government? Ought not a pledge to be secured from the President, that he, or the federal authorities in the State, would respect and execute the ordinance in good faith? To ask a guarantee from the Federal Government to insure a respectful observance of the action of the State, by federal authorities, might seem, to some, unbecoming the representatives of a free people, in a sovereign State.2 Nevertheless, withou the co-operation of federal and State authorities, the attempt to carry out any system of gradual emancipation might not only be a disgraceful farce, but a practical failThe question was a grave one.
Federal troops in Missouri were aiding in executing the laws of the State,
1 Proceedings, pp. 46, 52. 2 Proceedings, d. 158.