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In the Senate of the United States

Admission of Kansas─LeCompton Constitution

Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas

March 1, 1858

The Vice President

The first business before the Senate is the motion to refer so much of the President’s annual message as relates to the affairs of the Territory of Kansas to the Committee on Territories.

Missouri Senator Green: “I move to postpone all prior orders, and that the Senate now proceed to consideration of the bill (S. No. 161) for the admission of the State of Kansas into the Union.


It is useless to cry peace in Kansas, when there is no peace; but there is an easy way to solve the difficulty. As their boundaries are not exceptionable, as the constitution presented is republican, as the population is sufficient, is it then a legal constitution? I say yes. It emanated from the people.

Vermont Senator Collamer

“Prior to the year 1854, Congress had, by acts of legislation at various periods, settled the subject of slavery in every inch of territory that this country owned. Could any man have anticipated that in four years the whole of this adjustment would be utterly destroyed, and all these arrangements of peace obliterated and that he would find what the President tells us is this day the State of Kansas, a slaveholding state, as absolutely such as South Carolina or Georgia.


But, Sir, in May 1854, the Missouri Compromise Line was declared to be inoperative and void; not because it was unconstitutional, but because it was said to be inconsistent with the compromise measures of 1850. The controversies which have resulted from it, the condition of the country ever since, speak in a language more potent than I can use, to show it was a blunder.

The essential qualities which enter into the objection to the Compromise of 1850 consist in this: there was a quid pro quo for the contract called the Missouri Compromise. It was of the essence of a contract. The South received their part and have kept it; they have got their cake. It was the disregard of the agreement, saying “we will get more and not restore what we have,” that is the immorality of it. I know there was constitutional authority for Congress to repeal it but that does not make the repeal morally right.

I cannot but say that if we look at the subject of African slavery on a broad and liberal scale, and with reference to great periods in the progress of the world, it is after all a very small subject, a very little affair. I think from the footprints they have left behind, it is obvious the family of man makes around this earth great cycles of revolution. The human family are prompted by reasons which they can hardly control and which they hardly understand. Their progress is from the East westward. At the present moment the great exodus of Europe which is throwing its avalanche on this continent, joined with the immigrants from the northern and eastern portions of this country, go to swell the great tide of immigration. The family of man is going around the earth, and the little, accidental colonization of a few Africans here, compared with this, is nothing but small edges along the margin of the great stream. It is a small matter in the long run; but it seems to be enough to agitate our day and our time.

Note: It certainly began as a small thing, a very little affair; the importation of a few Africans as slaves. But, then, suddenly at the turn of the 18th Century into the 19th, it was a big thing, a very important affair, because now the African population was in the millions, impossible to get rid of and impossible to live with in social and political equality; impossible because of white racism.

But, sir, as I was saying, the emigration thus passing from east to west, the great current of the family of man going out in each cycle of revolution which it makes, partakes of the degree of civilization which in that period exists. The family of man, now coming to this continent, is deeply impressed with the idea of individual independence, the love of freedom, the idea, too, that man, as a laboring being, having his destiny in his own hands, shall have his labor guided by the light of his own intellect; that labor and intellect shall be together; the laborer shall work by the light of his own intellect, guide his own destinies, participate in all the actions of his government by his vote. Such people can never look upon slavery but with regret, and generally with displeasure.

March 2, 1858, continuing

I come back to the question whether slave property is such as can be carried out of its State─whether it is the same as other property? Here I cannot avoid speaking of what is called the Dred Scott Decision. The dogma of the right to carry slave property beyond the limits of the State at first was not received at all. Did anyone suppose it was the correct doctrine when Congress was passing laws fixing certain lines, and saying slavery should not go north of them? Did they dream of anything of that kind then? No. Even in modern times when we acquired territory from Mexico, was it adopted as the correct doctrine? Mr. Toombs of Georgia objected when Congress made the law, in the Compromise of 1850, that New Mexico could come in the Union slave or free as it chose. I am right I believe in that.

Georgia Senator Toombs Yes, Sir.


Mr. Collamer: This doctrine has grown up and seeks elevation since that time. What is the Dred Scott Decision? The court had a case in front of it. The court decided, on a full hearing that they had no sort of jurisdiction of the case, and ordered it dismissed. How came they, then, to have authority to make a decision? They had no authority, no jurisdiction of the case. They said they had not. Clearly, whatever else they said was extra-judicial. I do not say the Court may never pass on a political question, but I do say it is to be regretted. I think it very much to be regretted that the Justices of that Court should have thought it proper to employ their extra-judicial lucubrations in putting forth ex cathedra endorsements of a political dogma.

In examining the question of whether the Constitution recognizes and protects slave property, as it is claimed, the same as other property, I think it has been disposed of with very cheap logic. Most of it is a mere assumption─an assumption that is exceedingly arrogant in some of its forms. I do not say that slaves are never property; I do not say they are or they are not. Within the limits of a State that declares them property, they are property, because they are within the jurisdiction of the State which makes the declaration.

Note: This is the essence of the origin of the Union: the political idea that the people who form the body politic of a political community─a “State”─hold the sovereign power to declare their own domestic policies. This idea lies at the core of the American Revolution.

But, in the context of the Constitution, if this be property in the States, what is the nature and extent of it? I insist that the Supreme Court has often decided and everyone has understood that slavery is a local institution, existing by force of state law, and of course that law can give it no force beyond the limits of the State. As Justice Nelson wrote in Dred Scott `No State can enact laws to operate beyond its own dominions. This is the result of the independence of distinct and separate sovereignties.’ Then, by virtue of state law you cannot move your slave property one inch beyond the borders of your state. It is not property anywhere else.

Does the Constitution give any other character than this; does it make slaves property beyond the jurisdiction of the states authorizing it? The Supreme Court seems to say it does, by reference to the Fugitive Slave Clause. The very fact the clause exists demonstrates the opposite, that the framers did not regard it as other property. It was a thing that needed a provision other property did not. The insertion of the clause shows it was not regarded as other property.

Note: Mr. Collamer’s argument seems unsound, though his logic seems good. The Taney Court based its decision primarily on the Due Process Clause; the idea that the government cannot take a person’s “property without due process of law” which means, in essence, without paying just compensation.

If a man’s horse strays from Delaware to Maryland he can go and get it. Is there any clause in the Constitution for it? No. If the man rode his horse back is there any provision for it? No. But here they seem to have assumed that a provision was necessary to allow the man to take his slave back with him, if he had run away. They provided only for those who escaped and, therefore, if a man takes his slave over voluntarily, this provision is that he cannot take him back, because it only covers those who escape.

The clause does not allow the man to take his slaves into a free state and keep him there, sell him there. It only allows the man to bring back from a free state a slave that escaped there. How then can you take it to a Territory? It is an assumption without any foundation.

Virginia Senator  Mason

If I may interrupt, to ask a question. I understand the basis of your argument is the assumption that slavery exists only as the creation of positive law. I hold, on the contrary, that slavery is a condition only, the condition of property; that property is a condition which the slave brought from Africia, a condition recognized by the common law of this country and therefore property ever after, unless abrogated by positive law.

Mr. Collamer: Mr. President, I did suppose, though I did not know the Senator from Virginia was of that school, that it was claimed even on a higher ground; that it was not the accidental condition of the man in Africa, brought here, but that it was a divine right, begun by authority from on high, and sanctioned by revelation. This has been claimed.

Note: There is no question but that the Bible and the Koran sanction slavery. The Bible possessed great credibility in the 16th and 17th centuries, its words taken literally. Few of us living in the 21st Century consider the Bible anything more than a history book.

I am not now prepared to go into the subject of revelation, but I say to the Senator, if he will turn to the Dred Scott Decision he will find the Court put the right upon the idea of local authority. Chief Justice Taney, in his opinion, said that it had been argued that this condition of things is recognized as part of the law of nations, and he utterly repudiated the whole idea. If the Senator will look at the case of Prigg v. Pennsylvania he will see that the Supreme Court decided that the local law where it exists, is the true foundation of the right to hold slaves. But I shall proceed now with my argument.

In my view, the security, the safety, of the institution of slavery essentially depends, in all time, on holding it to be a local institution, the creature of local law. In this country there are less than a third of a million of slave holders. There are nineteen millions of free white people. If it is ever to be made a national question there can be no doubt what the answer will be. If it is intended to keep within the pale of the Constitution, to preserve the unity of the States and remain one people together, there is no way this institution can be preserved but by holding it to be a local institution.

It seems to me that those gentlemen who seem to be trying to precipitate this issue, to push on this point, to extend the institution beyond its local limits by the action of the general government, are endeavoring to push this question upon the people as a national matter, in which they must participate, and shall participate. What result does that bring about in my mind? These men know that slavery cannot be made national in this country, if you keep it together. I see nothing else in the design to push the issue than an effort to precipitate a collusion with the view of inducing separation.

The President, in his late message, has said that, `it has been adjudicated by the highest tribunal in the land, that slavery exists in Kansas by virtue of the Constitution of the United States, and that Kansas at this moment is as much a slave state as Georgia. This can be changed immediately by the people of Kansas in convention assembled passing a constitution that prohibits slavery.’ We understand that one side or the other is to be cheated. Ah, well, that is another step in the progress of popular sovereignty.

March 3, 1858

New York Senator Seward

“Mr. President, . . . The question whether there shall be slavery in the territories is again the stirring question of the day. The restless proviso has burst from the cerements of the grave, and striking hands here in our very presence with the gentle spirit of popular sovereignty run mad, is seen raging freely in our halls scattering dismay among the administrative benches in both Houses of Congress.


The question of slavery in the Territories involves a dynastical struggle of two antagonistic systems, the labor of slaves and the labor of freemen, for mastery in the Union. Such a struggle is not to be arrested, quelled, or reconciled, by temporary expedients or compromises.

I always engage reluctantly in these discussions. . . This reluctance deepens now, when I look around me, and count the able contestants who have newly entered the lists on either side, and shadowy forms of many great and honored statesmen who once were eloquent in these disputes, but whose tongues have become stringless instruments, rise up before me.

The excitement over Kansas, it seems to me, is based on three peculiar circumstances. First, that, where in the beginning the ascendency of the slave states was absolute, it is now being reversed. Second, that where the national government favored this change of balance from the slave states to the free states, it has now reversed this policy, and opposes its change. Third, that national intervention in the Territories in favor of slave labor and slave States, is opposed to the natural, social, and moral developments of the Republic.

Kansas became a theater of the first actual national conflict between slave holding and free labor immigrants; they met face to face to organize, through the machinery of republican action, a civil community. The free laborers came into the territory with money, horses, cattle, implements, and engines. They marked their farms and proceeded at once to build, plow and sow. The slave holders came in irregularly, marked their farms and then withdrew to the States from whence they came.  Free labor won the day, but the slaveholders by fraud took it away.

I perceive, Mr. President, that I have passed from the ground of expediency to the ground of right and justice. Among all our refinements of constitutional principle, one principle, one fundamental principle, has been faithfully preserved, namely: That the new States must come voluntarily into the Union. They must not be forced into it. Though Kansas might perish, she cannot be brought into the Union by force.

So long as the States come into the Union by free consent, their admission will be an action of Union and this will be a Confederacy. Whenever they shall be brought in by force, their admission will be an act of consolidation, and the nation, ceasing to be a Confederacy, will become in reality an empire.

Note: This is the political reality of the Civil War. Before the war the States were indeed “States. The war made them provinces, stripped them of their sovereign right to declare their domestic policies.

Sir, in view once more of this subject of slavery, I submit that our own dignity requires that se shall give over this champerty with slave holders, which we practice in prescribing acquiescence in their rule as a condition of toleration of self-governance in the Territories. We may wisely give it up and admit Kansas as a free State, since she will consent to be admitted only in that character.

If I could suppose it desirable to enlarge the field of slave labor, I should nevertheless maintain that it is wise to give up the idea of slavery in Kansas. The question has risen from a private one about slavery as a domestic institution, to one of slavery as a national policy. At every step you have been failing.

I think there are regions, beginning at the north pole, and stretching southward, where slavery will die out soon, if it be planted; and I knew that in the tropics slavery lives long. But I cannot find a certain boundary. I am sure, however, 36 30 is too far north. I think it is a moveable boundary, and that every year it advances towards a more southern parallel.

Every nation has always some ruling idea, which, however, changes with the several stages of its development. A ruling idea of the colonies on this continent, two hundred years ago was, labor to subdue and reclaim nature. Then African slavery was seized and employed as an auxiliary, under a seeming necessity. That idea has ceased forever. It has given place to a new one. Aggrandizement of the nation, not, indeed, as it once was, to make a small state great, but to make a State already great the greatest of all States. It still demands labor, but it is no longer the ignorant labor of barbarians, but labor perfected by knowledge and skill, and combination with all the scientific principles of mechanism. It demands, not the labor of slaves, which needs to be watched and defended, but voluntary, enlightened labor, stimulated by interest, affection, and ambition. It needs that every man shall own the land he tills, that every head shall be fit for the helmet, and every hand fit for the sword, and every mind ready and qualified for counsel. To attempt to aggrandize a country with slaves for its inhabitants, would be to try to make a large body of empire with feeble sinews and empty veins.

Note: Seward is truly the founder of the Republican party, yet here he shows himself a racist at heart. The times moving on, making the labor of Africans as slaves obsolete, replaced by “enlightened labor” leave the African as a free man in limbo, his labor not wanted in the competition between white laborers for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

A free republican government like this, notwithstanding all its constitutional checks, cannot long resist and counteract the progress of society. Slavery is exceptional, local, and short-lived. Freedom is the common right and ultimate destiny of all mankind. All other nations have abolished slavery or are about to. All political parties in this country that have tolerated the extension of slavery, except one, has perished for that error already. That last one─the Democratic Party─is hurrying toward the same fate.

The nation has reached the point where intervention by the Government for slavery and Slave States will no longer be tolerated. Free labor has at last apprehended its rights, its interests, its power and its destiny, and is organizing itself to assume the government of the Republic. It has beaten you back from California and in Kansas; it will invade you soon in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Missouri, and Texas. It will meet you in Arizona, in Central America, even in Cuba.

The interest of the white race demands the ultimate emancipation of all men. Whether that consummation shall be allowed to take effect, with needful and wise preparations against sudden change and disaster, or be hurried by violence, is all that remains for you to decide. For the future of your system of slave labor throughout the Republic, the responsibility will rest, not on the agitators you condemn, or on the political parties you arraign, or even altogether on yourselves, but it will be due to the inherent error of the system itself. The white man needs this continent to labor upon. His head is clear, his arm is strong, and his necessities are fixed. He must and will have it. To secure it, he will go back forty years and resume the original policy of intervention in favor of free labor.

It is for yourselves, not for us, to decide how long and through what further mortifications and disasters the contest shall be protracted, before freedom shall enjoy her already assured triumph. I would have it ended now. But this can be done in only one way. It can be done only by you abandoning all further attempts to extend slavery under the Federal Constitution.

Mr. President, this expansion of the empire of free white men is to be conducted through the process of admitting new States, and not otherwise. The white man, whether you consent or not, will make the states to be admitted, and he will make them all free states. We must admit, and admit them all free; otherwise, they will become independent and foreign states, constituting a new empire to contend with us for the continent. . .

Note: This is the true reason why the North, in control of the Federal Government, used its military power to attack and subjugate the Southern Confederacy.

I am sure that no patriot, who views the subject as I do, could wish to evade or delay the trial. By delay we could only extend slavery, at the most, throughout the Atlantic region of the continent. The Pacific slope is free, and it always must and will be free. The mountain barriers that separate us from that portion of our empire are quite enough to alienate us too widely, possibly to divide us too soon. Let us only become all slaveholding States on this side of those barriers, while only free States are organized and perpetuated on the other side, and then indeed there will come a division of the great American family into two nations, equally ambitious for complete control over the continent, and a conflict between them, over which the world will mourn, as the greatest and last to be retrieved of all the calamities that have ever befallen the human race.”

March 4, 1858

The Senate, as Committee of the Whole, resumed consideration of the bill that would admit Kansas into the Union. The pending questions are as follows:

Mr. Green submitted a substitute for the original bill and now Mr. Pugh offers an amendment to the substitute bill which reads:


“be it further enacted that the admission of Kansas as a state shall never be construed as to deny or impair the right of the people, with the consent of their Legislature, to alter or abolish their form of government as they think proper to keep it a republican form of government in accordance with the Constitution.”


Mr. Green offers an amendment to Pugh’s amendment:


“nothing is to prevent the Legislature from altering the State’s constitution.”


South Carolina Senator Hammond:

“Sir, it is well understood that the numerical majority of the people could, if they chose, exercise the sovereignty of the country. . . The first gun of the Revolution was a salute to a new organization of popular sovereignty that was embodied in the Declaration of Independence, developed, elaborated and inaugurated forever in the Constitution of the United States. . . . the power of the ballot box by this the people retained sovereignty.


Seward and company want to agitate the slavery question. I think the time is gone by for that. Our minds are all made up. I am willing to discuss it as a practical thing, as a thing that is, and is to be; and to discuss its effects upon our political institutions, and to ascertain how long those political institutions will hold together under its effects.

The Senator from New York entered very fairly into this field yesterday. . . when he so openly said the battle had been fought and won. . . that he means the South is a conquered province, and that the North intends to rule it. He said his side meant to take the government from our side and that all the territories of the Union would be preserved for free labor. . . .

What guarantee have we, when you have this government in your possession, in all its departments, even if we submit to what the Senator wants, the concentration of slavery in its present territory. . . What guarantee do we have that you will not emancipate our slaves? We cannot rely on your faith when you have the power.

Now, Sir, I think it important that I should attempt to bring the North and South face to face, and see what resources each of us might have in the contingency of separate organizations. If we never acquire another foot of territory of the South, look at her. 850,000 square miles; as large a territory as Great Britain, France, Spain and Austria. Is that not territory enough to make an empire that shall rule the world? Through the heart of our country runs the Great Mississippi and beyond we have desert wastes to protect our rear. Can you hem in such a territory as that? You talk about putting up a wall of fire around 850,000 square miles so situated? How absurd.

But, Sir, in this territory lies the great valley of the Mississippi, now the real, and soon to be the acknowledged seat of the empire of the world. We own the most of the valley. The most valuable part of it belongs to us; and by all laws of nature slave labor will go over every foot of it, eventually. On this fine territory we have a population four times as large of that of all the colonies at the time of the Revolution. At any time the South can raise, equip, and maintain in the field, a larger army than any Power on earth can send against her, and an army of soldiers, each brought up on horseback, with guns in their hands.

Note: Senator Hammond’s mind, here, is in fantasyland. In the event, after a year of preparation, the Southern Confederacy could not field an army to match the Union’s. Shiloh is the objective proof of it.

If we take the North, even with the admission of Kansas and Minnesota, her territory will be 100,000 square miles short of ours (leaving out California and Oregon). The population of the North is fifty per cent greater than ours. . . .

But if there were no other reason why we should never have a war, would any sane nation make war on cotton? Without firing a gun, without drawing a sword, when they make war on us, we can bring the whole world to our feet. The South is perfectly competent to go on, one, two, three years, without planting a seed of cotton. . . . What would happen if no cotton were furnished for three years? This is certain: old England would topple and headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her. No, Sir, you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dares make war on it. Cotton is king.

 Note: Here the crucial importance of England to the success of the Confederacy to win its independence stands out.

But, Sir, the greatest strength of the South arises from the harmony of her political and social institutions. This harmony gives her a frame of society, the best in this world, and an extent of political freedom, combined with entire security, such as no other people ever enjoyed upon the face of the earth.

In all social systems there must be a class to do the mean duties, to perform the drudgery of  life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intelligence and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, refinement, and civilization. It constitutes the very mud-sills of society and of political government; and you might as well attempt to build a house in the air, as to build either the one or the other, except on the mud-sills.

Fortunately for the South, she found a race adapted to that purpose to her hand. A race inferior to herself, but eminently qualified in temper, in vigor, in docility, in capacity to stand the climate, to answer all her purposes. We use them for the purpose and call them slaves. I would not characterize that class of the North by that term, but you have it; it is there; it is everywhere. It is eternal.

The Senator from New York said yesterday that the whole world had abolished slavery. Yes, the name, but not the thing. God only can do it when he repeals the rule that the poor will always be with you. For the man who lives by daily labor takes the best he can get for it; in short, your whole class of manual laborers, as you call them, are slaves. The difference between us is that ours are hired for life and well compensated; there is no starvation, no begging, no want of employment. Yours are hired by the day, not cared for, and scantily compensated, which can be proved by walking down a street in your cities. Why, Sir, you meet more beggars in one day that you would meet in a lifetime in the South.

Note: Keep in mind that you must judge these men by their times, not yours. At the time Hammond speaks, Karl Marx is at a desk in a garret in London, writing Das Kapital. “Freedom” is an illusion to the white laboring man of the times, he is poor, wretched, whipped by Capitalism.

Our slaves are black, of another inferior race. This status is an elevation. None of that race on the whole face of the globe can be compared with the slaves of the South and they know it.

Your slaves are white, of your own race. They are your equal in natural endowment and they feel galled by their degradation.

The great west has been opened to your surplus population, and your hordes of semi-barbarian emigrants, who are crowding in every year. . .

Wisconsin Senator Doolittle:

:. . . Sir, the people of these United States, upon their sober second thought, will not only not dissolve this Union themselves, but they will not suffer it to be dissolved.”

Kentucky Senator Clay:

“The remark the Senator just made has frequently fallen from the other side of the Chamber. I should like to have a clear explanation of it. I wish to know whether the Senator means that the power of this government would be exerted to coerce a State into the Union?


Mr. Doolittle:  “. . .The people will not only not dissolve it, but they will not suffer it to be dissolved.”

Mr. Clay: “The Senator does not seem to understand my question. I have heard it said on this floor that the North would not permit any State to secede from the Union. What I wish to understand is whether the Senator means to say that the physical power, the military and naval forces, of the Government should be exerted to coerce any State back into the Union after she had chosen to separate herself?

Mr. Doolittle:

“When cases arise, it will be time enough to meet them

. . . . Whenever the hour of trial shall come, the deep, the devoted, the intense, the undying love of the great mass of the American people for the Union of these States will prove itself to be stronger and more abiding than the power of any political organization. I know that politicians can sway public opinion, but there are other times and other questions─great emergencies─times that try the souls of men, when the deep fountains of the human heart are broken up; and then it is, as at the Revolution, when the voice of men become the voice of God. Times when the heavens are darkened, and the storm is gathered, and the rains descend and the flood comes and rolls along, fit emblem of Almighty wrath and power; resistance but maddens its fury and increases its strength, when political organizations and platforms are all swept away; to become more flood wood upon the surface of the rushing current.

Sir, there can be no mistaking the fact that a great emergency is upon us. We are in the midst of a revolution in which the Administration at Washington is attempting, by force of arms, to force a State into the Union against the will of its people. But it will learn that the people are about to take the matter into their own hands. We hear them in thundertones tell us this LeCompton constitution shall not be forced upon the people of Kansas.

But I digress from your question. . .  Sir, I know some have charged that the Republican Party is sectional in its purposes and disloyal to the Union; that it aims to trample down the constitutional rights of the States, and thus, indirectly, undermine the foundations of the Union. This charge is utterly groundless. Its purposes are not to trample down any of the institutions of the South. But simply to restore the administration of the Federal Government to the policy of the early republican fathers. It asks for nothing more. It will be satisfied with nothing less.

We will fight for the Union to the very death. And if any man try to overthrow it, we will indict him for treason, try him for treason, and if the jury do not acquit him upon the ground of insanity, we will hang him. If that be disloyalty to the Union then the Republican Party is guilty of the charge.

The Republican Party is charged not to suffer the Union to be dissolved; to use every power to prevent its dissolution. Although it cost the treasure, the agony, and the blood of our ancestors to achieve it, I trust the time will never come when it will cost the blood, the agony, and the treasure, of their sons to maintain it.

Note: here it is, 1858; and everyone knows what will happen when the Republicans seize control of the Federal Government. The South will secede and there will be the mother of all wars.

Sir, Wisconsin is proud it can trace its ancestry to the Old Dominion. If the day may ever come when treason shall raise its head against the Constitution and the Union, and undertake to sever Virginia from her offspring, be assured, Sir, that the teeming millions who inhabit those northwestern states, as well as the northern and eastern states, will continue to bear the same flag which Washington bore, and they will belong to the land that holds his ashes, though the peaceful Potomac which flows past his tomb shall run red with the blood of traitors. They will never surrender their birthright and it shall not be taken from them. This Constitution is their constitution. This country is their country. The flag of the Union is their flag, and they will never desert it, never surrender it.

The Union of these States is cemented by another bond, no less strong. The bond of a common interest in the great valley of the Mississippi.  I agree with the Senator that the valley of the Mississippi will bind the Union together in bonds which can never be broken. Louisiana will never consent that the mouths of the Mississippi shall be held in a foreign jurisdiction. There is an irresistible logic in overwhelming numbers, and numbers, too, constantly augmenting in almost geometrical progression under the operation of the laws of emigration and population with an unerring certainty. To suppose that even now, and more especially when, within the next thirty years, there shall be a free white population of more than fifty millions with an identity of interest in the commerce of the Mississippi, they will not suffer that outlet to be held by a foreign State, on account of negroes held in slavery by a few hundred thousand citizens of some of the States of this Union. It would be as idle as to undertake to dam the waters of the Mississippi, to chain the lightning. It is one of those things that cannot be done. No line of separation can be made to divide the valley of the Mississippi. You cannot cut that river in two.

This Union rests upon a foundation more enduring than any mere human enactments. It rests upon the laws and the necessities of our population and geographical position; upon the laws which govern the growth of ages in this history of mankind. The same almighty being who watched over its infant colonization, its revolutionary struggle. . . , still watches over every step of its growth and progress and, despite parties and platforms, watches over it still.”

March 8, 1858

Mr. Doolittle: Mr. President, I must be permitted to notice some of the extraordinary doctrines announced by Senator Hammond. He says we cannot be trusted when we have the power. I ask him, when and where have the people of the North broken their plighted faith? Was it the passage of the Ordinance of 1787? Who passed that ordinance? It was passed by the unanimous vote of Congress. Who was it that passed the Missouri Compromise? It was passed by the votes of the Southern states against the voice of the majority of the representatives of the Northern states. Who sought to break down the plighted faith which was given by the Missouri Compromise? Was it not the representatives of the Southern states? Holding the power of government for sixty years what right have they to complain of plighted faith?

This term “plighted faith”is the semantic device that ultimately swings the abstract argument against the South. The evidence is reasonably clear that, indeed, there seems to have been a tacit understanding between the framers at the Convention that, while the South had a necessary interest in its slaves, it was willing to let the Union expand with free territory. Proof of this is Virginia’s willingness to give its title to the lands northwest of the river Ohio to the Union with the condition free States be developed from it.

He says a majority of our people, a majority of our voters, are slaves. On behalf of Wisconsin, four fifths of whose [white] people earn their daily bread by their own labor, all of whose population regard labor as dignified and honorable, and not as a degradation, I repel the imputation. Am I to be told, here, on this floor, that, because my own father was a poor laboring man when he commenced the great battle of life, I am to be regarded as the son of a slave?

As one of the representatives of the free white men of the non-slaveholding states, they are not now slaves, nor will they ever be slaves. They understand full well their power and their position and their future destiny upon this continent.

As an American citizen, maintaining the doctrines of the American Revolution, I admit that, as an abstract right, any people possesses the right to decide the form of their government and make that government conform to their own will. But that is revolutionary, not a legal right. It is a right that rests not upon the law, but a right that is above and before and beyond the law itself. It rests upon the higher law of the absolute sovereignty in human affairs. But it is a right to be exercised only as a revolutionary right. When the evils of an existing government become intolerable, and there is no peaceable mode of redress, they may exercise and properly exercise this abstract revolutionary right.

There is another qualification to the exercise of this right, and that is, there should be a moral certainty of success. Whoever undertakes to revoluntionize a government, to disturb the existing order of things, to supersede the established government and make it give place to another, must carry the revolution through, he must carry it to victory, to success, or he must pay the penalty for producing rebellion.

[The debate went off into the details of the proposed constitution which included the provision that a free Negro could not remain in the territory when it became a state, and senators asked where could he go since Illinois did not permit Negroes to enter.]

Illinois Senator Trumbull: “I do not wish to interfere, but I wish to say that there is no law in the state of Illinois providing that a free negro shall not live in the state.



Senator Green: But there is a law that he shall not come in. Suppose he comes in: what do you do with him?

Senator Trumbull: We have a provision for disposing of him if he comes into the State. We have a statute on the subject.

Senator Green: How do you dispose of him? You set him up and sell him.

Senator Trumbull: Under our statutes we hire him.

Senator Green: You sell him for a time.

Senator Trumbull: He is hired out for a particular length of time.

Senator Greeen: the Kansas constitution has the same provision.

Note: Is this not surreal? What is at the bottom of the thing is the attitude and political power of free white men, on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, thinking only about themselves. They are struggling over Kansas solely for what it means to them. The African plays no part in the community they both are arguing about, except to the extent the Southerners would like the benefit of them as property in Kansas, and the Northerners want nothing to do with them whether property or not.


Senator Foster: Mr. President, I believe that when the people come together and make a compact of government, under which they agree to live, they are bound by it. And it is because they have this inalienable right that they are bound to it. It is their government; and they have the right to make it as they please, and it is made to protect the rights of the minority. That is the object of a constitution. The very purpose of the instrument is to protect the rights of those who, aside from the constitution, would not have the power to protect themselves. If that constitution is a nose of wax in the hands of those who may abolish it when they please, where is liberty at all?

March 9, 1858

Senator Hamlin: Mr. President, what was the original design of our government in its foundation and what was the action of the South at that period of time? It was the principle of freedom. When our constitution was formed everyone expected that the institution of slavery would fade away. Times have changed. The invention of the cotton gin made the production of cotton profitable, and with the nerve of the pocket book sentiments have changed.  All the framers concurred in the doctrine that it scorched the green earth where its footfalls fell. Under that view the Ordinance of 1787 was adopted.

Note: Had there been no cotton gin, does any thinking person believe slavery would have simply disappeared? Hardly can this be reasonably expected, since the problem is not, in fact, slavery; it is assimilating free Africans into white American society.


How stands the South today. She has repudiated the doctrines of her fathers and comes here asserting that our government is founded of the great principle of human servitude─a system that degrades the white man who labors beside the slave.

But, sir, is it not the South that has violated the compact? She seized upon the Executive and bound him in her manacles. She holds the Government in all its departments. You have the legislative power in your control; you have the executive, you have got the judiciary in your power. . . This Dred Scott opinion, mark I do not call it a decision, is given upon a question they tell us gravely is not before them. They erect a structure for which they have no foundation. They gravely tell us they have no jurisdiction and then give us their opinion as to what they would decide if they had. They have no right to tell us what our political power is.

Let me say now that the Democratic Party is in the hands of South Carolina. I remember when Mr. Calhoun offered his resolutions here, only a few years ago, in relation to the powers of government over slavery in the Territories─I refer to the resolutions which he offered in the days of the compromise. The Senator from New York remembers how they were laughed out of the Senate. They are in the Senate today; they are the basis of the Democratic Party; they are now triumphant in every department of government. You have the Supreme Court, because they say in their opinion that─”For more than a century before the adoption of the Constitution they had regarded [Africans] as beings of an inferior order, and─Mark the words─possessed of no rights which a white man was bound to respect.”

Note: While the quoted words carry with them today, to say the least, an impression of grossness in political theory, they ring true in point of objective fact. From about 1650 onward, the British King’s policy of government was to allow his subjects to bring Africans to Virginia as slaves, a policy that continued to about 1808, a period of 150 years.


It is conveniently ignored by professors of history today that during the 16th and 17th centuries, Africans themselves, independent of Europeans, made slaves of their weaker fellows and there was as great a brutality in the manner in which they lived as existed among the Englishmen that inhabited the colony of Virginia during that time. In other words, the supposed difference between the two races in the matter of “civilization” was nonexistent.


Is there a beast that toils in any state─I speak of beasts─where legislation has not been thrown around it a protecting care that it shall not be abused by its owner? Is there a slave state where slavery exists intensified, where your Legislatures have not protected the rights of person to the slave?

Note: The answer is, no; statutes existed in all the slave states that regulated when, how, and in what manner a slave might be physically punished, with prison sentences imposed against any white person who violated the laws.


The Supreme Court, I thought, went a great way. It is revolting─I repeat once again─it is an inhuman expression. They said that was the sentiment in revolutionary times. I say it is historically incorrect. But improving on that doctrine the Democracy today says the white men of Kansas have no rights that it is bound to respect.

Senator Durkee: That is the doctrine of progress.

Senator Hamlin: I think it is the kind of progress that the boy made in going to his daily toils at school. It was a cold, rainy day that slowed his arrival at school. The teacher asked why and he replied that in taking a step forward he fell two steps backward. This doctrine is modern Democracy intensified and explained by the Senator from South Carolina.

He told us, “the poor have always been with you.” That is true. There is no denial of that fact. There is, however, another maxim of the same good book: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Does poverty imply a crime? Does poverty imply servitude? Does poverty imply slavery? I join issue with the Senator there. Because men are poor, does that imply that they are to be placed on the same basis with persons who are subjugated, and who toil in the chains of slavery? I deny it.

Note: In the 1850s, my paternal great grandparents, Mike Ryan and Helen Considine, came to America on a coffin ship from Ireland with nothing but the clothes on their back. To say they came voluntarily, in contrast to the Africans who came in chains, is an illusion. They came, because if they hadn’t they would have starved to death in a ditch.


There is a prompting of the heart, there is a principle of Christian benevolence, that tells you, tells me, tells everyone that if there are poor, it is our duty to alleviate their poverty, and to remove their distress─not, because they are poor, to class them in the same condition with negro slaves. God forbid that you should class the poor man with the slave who lives only to toil and toils only to live.

Note: To any objectively reasonable mind, Hamlin’s language makes plain that the Northern white men he represents sees the African as a class beneath them. The political position of their leaders, here, is that they do not want to live with Africans, not because they are slaves but because they are Africans.


Whatever may be our obligations to all mankind, whatever in truth and principle may be demanded of us toward all races, there ought to be at least in our hearts something that shall respond to the wants of our own Caucasian race. If we have no sympathy, if we have no feeling whatever for other races, we may be pardoned, at least, if we would honestly incorporate and advance in our Government that system which will elevate our own race.

In my judgment the Senator from South Carolina has mistaken the character of our laborers and their position. I have seen what has satisfied me that the laborers who toil beside the slave have little intelligence, they are poorly clothed, and that, while they thought themselves above the slave, they were actually below the slave. I remember, sir, that upon the banks of the Potomac I once heard an African taunt a white man that he was so poor than he had not a master; and when I looked at the poor white man I confess that I thought there was some truth in the taunt of the African.

Now, my word on it, the Senator from South Carolina has mistaken the character of our population and our laborers. I stand here the representative of northern laborers. In my own person I present a laboring man─educated at the printing case, toiling in my field, and earning with my own hands, and by the sweat of my own brow, the food on which I subsist. Such representatives as we are we shall vindicate the [white laboring man’s] rights.

Note: The more one reads this record, the more clearly does the point pound home: the problem is not recognizing the right of the African to earn by the sweat of his own brow what he needs to subsist; if that were the problem it would have been fixed by the white men in the Senate and the House long before 1858. The problem that is insolvable is the problem of living in social and political equality with the African in the American community of 1858. They don’t know how to make it possible. (Think about the world of 1858 and them in it.)




Joe Ryan