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THE LANDMARK OF FREEDOM:
NO REPEAL OF THE MISSOURI COMPROMISE.
SPEECH IN THE SENATE, AGAINST THE REPEAL OF THE MISSOURI PROHIBITION OF SLAVERY NORTH OF 36° 30' IN THE NEBRASKA
AND KANSAS BILL, FEBRUARY 21, 1854.
Cursed be he that removeth his neighbor's landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen. DEUTERONOMY, xxvii. 17.
6 THE Nebraska Debate," as it was called at the time, was one of the most remarkable in our history. It grew out of the proposition to overturn the famous Missouri Compromise, so as to admit Slavery into the vast territory west of the Mississippi, where it had been prohibited by that Compromise. The country was startled by the outrage. Many who had tried to reconcile themselves to the Fugitive Slave Bill, as required by the Constitution, were maddened by this most audacious attempt. Even assuming that the Fugitive Slave Bill was in any sense justifiable, there was nothing to justify this flagrant violation of plighted faith, where Slavery was the inexorable robber. Here began those heats which afterwards showed themselves in blood. Never was the action of Congress watched with more anxiety. Speeches were read as never before, especially those opposed to this new aggression. That of Mr. Sumner was extensively circulated in various editions, and he received numerous letters expressing sympathy and gratitude. The tone of these illustrates the reception of the speech. The late Rufus W. Griswold, so well known in contemporary literature, wrote from New York on the day after its delivery : “The admirable speech which you delivered in the Senate yesterday will bring you a wearying quantity of approving letters ; but, though aware of this, I cannot refrain from assuring you of my own admiration of it and gratitude for it, nor from telling you that all through the city it appears to be the subject of applauding conversation. I congratulate you on having made a speech so worthy of an American Senator, and calculated to be so serviceable to the cause of Liberty.” Frederick Douglass, who watched the contest from a distance with the interest of a former slave, wrote: “ All the friends of Freedom in every State and of every color may claim, you just now as their representative. As one of your sable constituents, I desire to thank you for your noble speech for Freedom and for your country, which I have now read twice over.” An original Abolitionist wrote: “Let me thank you from my heart of hearts for your noble speech. It is everything that we could wish, - bold, free, and true. God will surely bless you !” The feeling of the hour appeared also in the following from John G. Whittier : “I am unused to flatter any one, least of all one whom I love and honor; but I must
in all sincerity, that there is no orator or statesman living in this country
or in Europe whose fame is so great as not to derive additional lustre from such a speech. It will live the full life of American history." Professor C. S. Henry, of the New York University, wrote: “I thank you for your noble speech on the Nebraska Bill. In every quality of nobleness transcendently noble. Unsurpassed in tone and temper, unrivalled in impregnable soundness and judicious statement of positions, in clearness and logical force of historical recital, in conclusiveness of reasoning, in beautiful fitness of style, and in the true eloquence of a justice-loving soul.” Among the curiosities of praise, considering the political position of the writer, was a letter from Pierre Soulé, our minister at Madrid, and formerly Senator from Louisiana, containing the following passage : “Que je profite de cette occasion pour vous dire combien j'ai été heureux du succès, et pour mieux dire, du triomphe éclatant que vous avez obtenu à l'occasion de votre discours sur le Nebraska Bill. Courage ! Sic itur ad astra. Mais que dis-je ? Vous y êtes déjà, et habile qui réussirait vous en déloger.” These are examples only; but they help to exhibit the condition of the public mind. The North was aroused, and felt as never before towards those who spoke in its behalf.
The origin of the debate will appear from a statement of facts.
On the 14th of December, 1853, Mr. Dodge, of Iowa, asked and obtained leave to introduce a bill to organize the Territory of Nebraska, which was read a first and second time by unanimous consent and referred to the Committee on Territories. This was a simple Territorial Bill, in the common form, containing no allusion to Slavery, and not in any way undertaking to touch the existing Prohibition of Slavery in this Territory.
On the 4th of January, 1854, Mr. Douglas, of Illinois, as Chairman of the Committee on Territories, reported this bill back to the Senate with various amendments, accompanied by a special report. By this bill only a single Territory was constituted, under the name of Nebraska ; the existing Prohibition of Slavery was not directly overthrown, but it was declared that the States formed out of this Territory should be admitted into the Union “with or without Slavery,” as they should desire.
On the 16th of January, Mr. Dixon, of Kentucky, in order to accomplish directly what the bill did only indirectly, gave notice of an amendment, to the effect that the existing Prohibition of Slavery “shall not be so construed as to apply to the Territory contemplated by this Act, or to any other Territory of the United States; but that the citizens of the several States or Territories shall be at liberty to take and hold their slaves within any of the Territories of the United States, or of the States to be formed therefrom."
On the next day, January 17, Mr. Sumner, in order to preserve the existing Prohibition, gave notice of the following amendment.
- Provided, That nothing herein contained shall be construed to abrogate or in any way contravene the Act of March 6, 1820, entitled . An Act to authorize the people of Missouri Territory to form a Constitution and State Government, and for the admission of such State into the Union on an equal footing with the original States, and to prohibit Slavery in certain Territories '; wherein it is expressly enacted, that in that territory ceded by France to the United States, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude, not included within the limits of the State contemplated by this Act, slavery and involuntary sérvitude, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes, whereof the parties shall have been duly convicted, shall be, and is hereby, forever prohibited.?"
It is worthy of remark, that at this stage the proposition of Mr. Dixon, and also that of Mr. Sumner, were equally condemned by the Washington Union, the official organ of the Administration. It had not then been determined to sustain the repeal.
On the 23d of January, Mr. Douglas, from the Committee on Territories, submitted a new bill, as a substitute for that already reported. Here was a sudden change, by which the Territory was divided into two, Nebraska and Kansas, and the Prohibition of Slavery was directly overthrown. According to his language at the time, there were “incorporated into it one or two other amendments, which make the provisions of the bill upon other and more delicate questions more clear and specific, so as to avoid all conflict of opinion.” It was formally enunciated in the bill, that the Prohibition of Slavery was superseded by the principles of the legislation of 1850, commonly called the Compromise Measures, and is hereby declared inoperative.” This of course superseded the proposed amendment of Mr. Dixon, who subsequently declared his entire assent to the bill in its new form. It also presented the issue directly raised in Mr. Sumner's proposed amendment.
On the next day, January 24th, when the amended bill had just been laid upon the tables of Senators, and without allowing the necessary time even for its perusal, Mr. Douglas pressed its consideration upon the Senate. After some debate it was postponed until the 30th of January, and made the special order from day to day until disposed of.
Meanwhile an appeal to the country was put forth by a few Senators and Representatives in Congress, calling themselves Independent Democrats. The only Senators who signed this appeal were Mr. Chase and