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"pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.” Their sacred honor! They pledge their sacred honor to violate the Constitution; they pledge their sacred honor to commit treason against the laws of their country!
I have already stated, Gentlemen, what your observation of these things must have taught you. I will only recur to the subject for a moment, for the purpose of persuading you, as public men and private men, as good men and patriotic men, that you ought, to the extent of your ability and influence, to see to it that such laws are established and maintained as shall keep you, and the South, and the West, and all the country, together, on the terms of the Constitution. I say, that what is demanded of us is to fulfil our constitutional duties, and to do for the South what the South has a right to demand.
Gentlemen, I have been some time before the public. My character is known, my life is before the country. I profess to love liberty as much as any man living; but I profess to love American liberty, that liberty which is secured to the country by the government under which we live; and I have no great opinion of that other and higher liberty which disregards the restraints of law and of the Constitution. I hold the Constitution of the United States to be the bulwark, the only bulwark, of our liberties and of our national character. I do not mean that you should become slaves under the Constitution. That is not American liberty. That is not the liberty of the Union for which our fathers fought, that liberty which has given us a right to be known and respected all over the world. I mean only to say, that I am for constitutional liberty. It is enough for me to be as free as the Constitution of the country makes me.
Now, Gentlemen, let me say, that, as much as I respect the character of the people of Western New York, as much as I wish to retain their good opinion, if I should ever hereafter be placed in any situation in public life, let me tell you now that you must not expect from me the slightest variation, even of a hair's breadth, from the Constitution of the United States. I am a Northern man. I was born at the North, educated at the North, have lived all my days at the North. I know five hundred Northern men to one Southern man. My sympathies
, all my sympathies, my love of liberty for all mankind, of every color, are the same as yours. My affections and hopes in that
respect are exactly like yours. I wish to see all men free, all men happy. I have few personal associations out of the Northern States. My people are your people. And yet I am told sometimes that I am not a friend of liberty, because I am not a Free Soil man. What am I? What was I ever ? What shall I be hereafter, if I could sacrifice, for any consideration, that love of American liberty which has glowed in my breast since my infancy, and which, I hope, will never leave me till I expire ?
Gentlemen, I regret that slavery exists in the Southern States; but it is clear and certain that Congress has no power over it. It may be, however, that, in the dispensations of Providence, some remedy for this evil may occur, or may be hoped for hereafter. But, in the mean time, I hold to the Constitution of the United States, and you need never expect from me, under any circumstances, that I shall falter from it; that I shall be otherwise than frank and decisive. I would not part with my character as a man of firmness and decision, and honor and principle, for all that the world possesses. You will find me true to the North, because all my sympathies are with the North. My affections, my children, my hopes, my every thing, are with the North. But when I stand up before my country, as one appointed to administer the Constitution of the country, by the blessing of God I will be just.
Gentlemen, I expect to be libelled and abused. Yes, libelled and abused. But it does not disturb me. I have not lost a night's rest for a great many years from any such cause. I have some talent for sleeping. And why should I not expect to be libelled ? Is not the Constitution of the United States libelled and abused ? Do not some people call it a covenant with hell ? Is not Washington libelled and abused? Is he not called a bloodhound on the track of the African negro ? Are not our fathers libelled and abused by their own children? And ungrateful children they are. How, then, shall I escape? I do not expect to escape; but, knowing these things, I impute no bad motive to any men of character and fair standing. The great settlement measures of the last Congress are laws. respectable men, representatives from your own State and from other States, did not concur in them. I do not impute any bad motive to them. I am ready to believe they are Americans all.
They may not have thought these laws necessary; or they may have thought that they would be enacted without their concurrence. Let all that pass away. If they are now men who will stand by what is done, and stand up for their country, and say that, as these laws were passed by a majority of the whole country, we must stand by them and live by them, I will respect them all as friends.
Now, Gentlemen, allow me to ask of you, What do you think would have been the condition of the country, at this time, if these laws had not been passed by the last Congress ? if the question of the Texas boundary had not been settled ? if New Mexico and Utah had been left as desert-places, and no government had been provided for them? And if the other great object to which State laws had opposed so many obstacles, the restoration of fugitives, had not been provided for, I ask, what would have been the state of this country now? You men of Erie County, you men of New York, I conjure you to go home to-night and meditate on this subject. What would have been the state of this country, now, at this moment, if these laws had not been passed ? I have given my opinion that we should have had a civil war. I refer it to you, therefore, for your consideration; meditate on it; do not be carried away by any abstract notions or metaphysical ideas; think practically on the great question, What would have been the condition of the United States at this moment, if we had not settled these agitating questions? I repeat, in my opinion, there would have been a civil war.
Gentlemen, will you allow me, for a moment, to advert to myself? I have been a long time in public life; of course, not many years remain to me. At the commencement of 1850, I looked anxiously at the condition of the country, and I thought the inevitable consequence of leaving the existing controversies unadjusted would be civil war. I saw danger in leaving Utah and New Mexico without any government, a prey to the power of Texas. I saw the condition of things arising from the interference of some of the States in defeating the operation of the Constitution in respect to the restoration of fugitive slaves. I saw these things, and I made up my mind to encounter whatever might betide me in the attempt to avert the impending catastrophe. And allow me to add something which is not
entirely unworthy of notice. A member of the House of Representatives told me that he had prepared a list of one hundred and forty speeches which had been made in Congress on the slavery question. “ That is a very large number, my friend,” I said ; “but how is that?” Why," said he, "a Northern man gets up and speaks with considerable power and fluency until the Speaker's hammer knocks him down.
Then gets up a Southern man, and he speaks with more warmth. He is nearer the sun, and he comes out with the greater fervor against the North. He speaks his hour, and is in turn knocked down. And so it has gone on, until I have got one hundred and forty speeches on my list.” “Well,” said I, “where are they, and what are they?” “ If the speaker," said he, “was a Northern man, he held forth against slavery; and if he was from the South, he abused the North; and all these speeches were sent by the members to their own localities, where they served only to aggravate the local irritation already existing. No man reads both sides. The other side of the argument is not heard; and the speeches sent from Washington in such prodigious numbers, instead of tending to conciliation, do but increase, in both sections of the Union, an excitement already of the most dangerous character."
Gentlemen, in this state of things, I saw that something must be done. It was impossible to look with indifference on a danger of so formidable a character. I am a Massachusetts man, and I bore in mind what Massachusetts has ever been to the Constitution and the Union. I felt the importance of the duty which devolved upon one to whom she had so long confided the trust of representing her in either house of Congress. As I honored her, and respected her, I felt that I was serving her in my endeavors to promote the welfare of the whole country.
And now suppose, Gentlemen, that, on the occasion in ques. tion, I had taken a different course. If I may allude so particularly to an individual so insignificant as myself, suppose that, on the 7th of March, 1850, instead of making a speech that would, so far as my power went, reconcile the country, I had joined in the general clamor of the Antislavery party. Suppose I had said, “I will have nothing to do with any accommodation; we will admit no compromise; we will let Texas invade New Mexico; we will leave New Mexico and
Utah to take care of themselves; we will plant ourselves on the Wilmot Proviso, let the consequences be what they may." Now, Gentlemen, I do not mean to say that great consequences would have followed from such a course on my part;
suppose I had taken such a course. How could I be blamed for it? Was I not a Northern man? Did I not know Massachusetts feelings and prejudices? But what of that? I am an American. I was made a whole man, and I did not mean to make myself half a one. I felt that I had a duty to perform to my country, to my own reputation; for 1 flattered myself that a service of forty years had given me some character, on which I had a right to repose for my justification in the performance of a duty attended with some degree of local unpopularity. I thought it my duty to pursue this course, and I did not care what was to be the consequence. I felt it was my duty, in a very alarming crisis, to come out; to go for my country, and my whole country; and to exert any power I had to keep that country together. I cared for nothing, I was afraid of nothing, but I meant to do my duty. Duty performed makes a man happy; duty neglected makes a man unhappy. I therefore, in the face of all discouragements and all dangers, was ready to go forth and do what I thought my country, your country, demanded of me. And, Gentlemen, allow me to say here to-day, that if the fate of John Rogers had stared me in the face, if I had seen the stake, if I had heard the faggots already crackling, by the blessing of Almighty God I would have gone on and discharged the duty which I thought my country called upon me to perform. I would have become a martyr to save that country.
And now, Gentlemen, farewell. Live and be happy. Live like patriots, live like Americans. Live in the enjoyment of the inestimable blessings which your fathers prepared for you; and if any thing that I may do hereafter should be inconsistent, in the slightest degree, with the opinions and principles which I have this day submitted to you, then discard me for ever from your recollection.