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locked up in scores of huge Congressional volumes, entirely inaccessible to the general mass of readers; or if, by chance or otherwise, accessible, requiring so much time and research as to render it comparatively valueless.
I believe the most that the people—the voters of this country desire, in reference to the question of slavery, is, to know, from an authentic source, what the framers of the Constitution meant to do with it; what relation they meant the government should hold to the institution, if any; and that, knowing this, regardless of the selfishness and fanaticism of politicians, north or south, east or west, they will steadily pursue the path marked out by their fathers, and perpetuate the principles of Constitutional liberty with every energy and effort in their power.
. That there need be no mistake in this matter, I have commenced this compilation with the debates in the congress of the confederation, the first form of a national government adopted by the colonies after the declaration of independence. These “Notes ” were kept by Thomas Jefferson. They are meagre, it is true, as are all the debates of those times, for stenography was then un
known; but they furnish all, as well as the best, lights we can get, of the opinions of the statesmen at that time. It will be seen that the “Notes ” relate almost exclusively to the slavery question, and hence we may conclude that then, as now, that subject was one of difficulty as well as delicacy. I have given the “Notes” in full, pro and con—I could do no more ; and the reader must form his own opinions,—mine would be superfluous.
Passing from the Articles of the Confederation, I have next taken up the Convention to form the present Constitution. The only debates preserved in that body were taken by Mr. Madison and Mr. Yates; the latter, however, left the Convention before its adjournment, and hence did not take them fully. I have carefully compiled, from both these sources, everything that was said and done relating to slavery, together with such other matter as seemed likely to be of interest at the present time. It will be seen that here, too, difficulties were presented, that for a while seemed likely to preclude the possibility of a union of the States on their present basis; but they were happily arranged, in a spirit of mutual concession and compromise, upon the principle of granting such powers as seemed necessary
for the good of the whole, specifically, and “reserving to the people or the States, respectively,” all powers not granted. These debates, too, are meagre, but they are sufficient to give the intelligent reader a clear notion of the intentions of the Convention, and what powers are really granted to Congress by that instrument of government which has shed so much happiness upon our beloved country.
Pursuing the same purpose, I have next taken up the conventions of the several States to ratify the Constitution, and given everything relating to the subject of slavery that was said and done in them.
In some of these States the debates are quite full; in others but mere fragments have been preserved; and in a few, none at all. I have given everything I could find, and my facilities have not been very limited, upon this subject. The construction given to the Constitution by the wise and good men who deliberated upon its ratification, many of whom had taken part in its formation, has been carefully and fully noted. I have
omitted nothing on this subject within the scope of an ample library, and long, patient, and thorough investigation.
Leaving the Constitution at the period of its ratification by the requisite number of States, I have next taken up the Ordinance of 1787, important in the history of the country as containing the first restriction upon the spread of slavery ever adopted by these States, although it was adopted under the Articles of Confederation, before the present Constitution was framed ; still, it is deemed of importance at the present day, as furnishing a precedent for the prohibition of slavery in the Territories by the general government. This chapter was compiled by Hon. Peter Force, of Washington, from original documents, who has spent a lifetime in compiling the archives of the government, under the authority of Congress. It is unquestionably the only authentic history of that famous ordinance ever given to the country; and I desire here to express to the great American compiler, my sincere thanks for his courtesy and kindness in this behalf.
Passing from this, the first action of Congress
upon the subject of slavery is taken up. This occurred in 1790, the first Congress that assembled under the present Constitution, and was had upon the memorial of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. The report of the committee, and the final action of Congress upon that subject, will be found in this chapter.
The Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, drawn by Messrs. Madison and Jefferson, defining the rights and powers of the general government and the States, are next given.
From this period till the application of Missouri for admission into the Union, in 1820, the question of slavery was not agitated in Congress to any considerable extent. This was the first discussion ever had in that body on the power of Congress to restrict slavery in the territories of the United States. A succinct and careful history of the difficulty is given, together with extracts from the speeches of the most prominent statesmen of that time who participated in it, embracing nearly the entire speech of General Pinckney, who was the only member of Congress, at that time, who was a member of the Convention that framed the Constitution. In this con