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Lake region in 1846 had no interest in slavery, and they, therefore, presented another complication.
The crisis brought to the front the veteran political leader Clay, again in the Senate, for the last great effort of his strenuous life. A resolution looking to the organization of that part of the Mexican cession east of the Sierra Nevada as a territory with slavery excluded had already been introduced in the House;1 and senators had introduced separate bills for the more effectual execution of the constitutional provision concerning fugitive slaves, for the formation of the whole Mexican cession into three territories, and for the reduction of the limits of Texas with her own consent,2 when Clay, January 29,1850, introduced in the Senate a series of eight resolutions looking towards the compromise that alone could make the much-needed legislation possible.
These resolutions provided that California should be admitted as a state and the remainder of the Mexican cession should be organized into territories without restriction as to slavery. The Texas debt contracted previous to annexation, up to an amount to be fixed by Congress, was to be paid by the United States — since Texas had surrendered its revenue from customs—but the condition was annexed that the territorial claims of the state on New Mexico should be given up. Slavery in the District of Columbia and the interstate slave-trade were not to be interfered with, but the importation of slaves into the district for sale should be prohibited. Finally, more effectual provision was to be made for the return of fugitive slaves.1
1 Cong. Globe, 31 Cong., 1 Sess., 91. 2 Ibid., 165-171.
The debate on the resolutions was memorable. It was the last meeting in forensic struggle of the three intellectual giants, Clay, Calhoun, and Webster, who had entered Congress practically together nearly forty years before. It was also the first appearance in the Senate of two young men who were destined to become notable figures in subsequent years—Chase and Seward. Clay and Webster exhausted their surpassing eloquence on behalf of the compromise, while Calhoun gathered his failing energies for one desperate struggle against it, in which, from widely different motives to his own, he was joined by Chase and Seward. Each spoke for a large following; and in their arguments and appeals were well summed up the thought and feeling of the various sections of the Union. The de-nationalizing influence of slavery, if not fully portrayed, was at least abundantly and strikingly illustrated. The dissatisfaction of the North with the Federal ratio, and of the South with the share which it had obtained by compromises already made in the territory, added by annexations to the United States, were strongly expressed; and the determination prevailing among those who opposed slavery on moral grounds to disregard as far as possible, the laws by which it was supported was boldly avowed.
1Cong. Globe, 31 Cong., 1 Sess., 246.
Clay's speech in support of his resolutions was made February 5 and 6, 1850. He was seventythree years of age and in feeble health; but he now. faced the Senate once more, after an absence of eight years,1 with the prestige of long-acknowledged political leadership and the confidence of one who had been looked to for advice and had been trustfully followed by the rank and file of his party in many a similar crisis. Beginning with a few words relative to the importance of the occasion, he went on to say that Congress and the state legislatures were "twenty-odd furnaces in full blast in generating heat, and passion, and intemperance, and diffusing them throughout the whole extent of this broad land"; and expressed his anxiety to restore "concord, harmony, and peace." If Congress sought to overthrow slavery in the state, his voice would be for war, and the slave states would have the good wishes of all who loved justice and truth; but no sympathy would be extended them in a war "to propagate wrongs" in the territory acquired from Mexico. Appealing to the men of the North, he cried: "What do you want ?—What do you want? —you who reside in the free States. Do you want that there shall be no slavery introduced into the territories acquired by the war with Mexico? Have you not your desire in California? And in all human probability you will have it in New Mexico also. What more do you want? You have got what is 1 See p. 66, above.
worth more than a thousand Wilmot provisos. You have nature on your side—facts upon your side—and this truth staring you in the face that there is no slavery in those territories." The abolition of the slave-trade in the District of Columbia Clay regarded as no concession, but as something on which both sides should unite. As to the failure to execute the fugitive-slave law, he thought the South had "serious cause of complaint against the free States"; but disunion would furnish no remedy for any southern grievance. He was "directly opposed to any purpose of secession, of separation"; he thought there was "no right on the part of one or more of the States to secede"; in the Union he meant "to stand and die." 1
On March 4 came the reply of Calhoun. The shadow of death was already upon him, and the speech which he was himself too ill to deliver was read by Senator Mason of Virginia; but the effect of the reading was enhanced by Calhoun's presence. He explained the discontent of the South as due to northern aggression, which had overthrown the equilibrium of the sections by excluding slavery from about three-fourths of the territory added to the original states; and by using a protective tariff to transfer wealth from South to North, with the effect of attracting immigration mainly to the latter, had okanged the character of the United States government from a federal republic to a consoli1 Cong. Globe, 31 Cong., 1 Sess., App., 115-197.
dated democracy; and had begun to agitate the complete abolition of slavery. “Indeed,” said he, “as events are now moving, it will not require the South to secede to dissolve the Union. Agitation will of itself effect it.” The proposed compromise could not save the Union; nor could the “Executive proviso.”—President Taylor's proposition—of allowing the people of the territories themselves to decide the question of slavery within their limits, which must result in its exclusion. The Union could be saved only “by conceding to the South an equal right in the acquired territory, . . . by causing the stipulations relative to fugitive slaves to be faithfully fulfilled—to cease the agitation of the slave question, and to provide for the insertion of a provision in the Constitution, by an amendment, which . . . [would] restore to the South in substance the power she possessed of protecting herself, before the equilibrium between the sections was destroyed by the action of this Government.” " On March 7, 1850, was delivered the speech of Webster, beginning with a magnificent exordium: “Mr. President, I wish to speak to-day, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a northern man, but as an American, and a member of the Senate of the United States. . . . The imprisoned winds are let loose. The East, the West, the North, and the stormy South, all combine to throw the whole ocean into commotion, to toss its billows to the skies, and
* Cong. Globe, 31 Cong., 1 Sess., 451–455.