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Turn where we may, within, around, the voice of great events is proclaiming to us: Reform, that you may preserve. Now, therefore, while everything at home and abroad forebodes ruin to those who persist in a hopeless 5 struggle against the spirit of the age; now, while the crash of the proudest throne of the Continent is still resounding in our ears; now, while the roof of a British palace affords an ignominious shelter to the exiled heir of forty kings; now, while we see on every side ancient 10 institutions subverted, and great societies dissolved; now, while the heart of England is still sound; now, while old feelings and old associations retain a power and a charm which may too soon pass away; now, in this your accepted time, now, in this your day of salvation, take counsel, 15 not of prejudice, not of party spirit, not of the ignominious pride of a fatal consistency, but of history, of reason, of the ages which are past, of the signs of this most portentous time. Pronounce in a manner worthy of the expectation with which this great debate has been 20 anticipated, and of the long remembrance which it will leave behind. Renew the youth of the state. Save property, divided against itself. Save the multitude, endangered by its own ungovernable passions. Save the aristocracy, endangered by its own unpopular power. 25 Save the greatest, and fairest, and most highly civilized community that ever existed, from calamities which may in a few days sweep away all the rich heritage of so many ages of wisdom and glory. The danger is terrible. The time is short. If this bill should be rejected, I pray 30 to God that none of those who concur in rejecting it may ever remember their votes with unavailing remorse, amidst the wreck of laws, the confusion of ranks, the spoliation of property, and the dissolution of social order.
ON THE SLAVERY QUESTION ; IN THE UNITED STATES SENATE, - MARCH 4, 1850.
I HAVE, Senators, believed from the first that the agitation of the subject of slavery would, if not prevented by some timely and effective measure, end in disunion. Entertaining this opinion, I have, on all proper occasions, endeavored to call the attention of 5 both the two great parties which divide the country to adopt some measure to prevent so great a disaster, but without success. The agitation has been permitted to proceed with almost no attempt to resist it, until it has reached a point when it can no longer be disguised 10 or denied that the Union is in danger. You have thus had forced upon you the greatest and the gravest question that can ever come under your consideration — How can the Union be preserved ?
To give a satisfactory answer to this mighty question, 15 it is indispensable to have an accurate and thorough knowledge of the nature and the character of the cause by which the Union is endangered. Without such knowledge it is impossible to pronounce with any certainty, by what measure it can be saved; just as it would be 20 impossible for a physician to pronounce in the case of some dangerous disease, with any certainty, by what remedy the patient could be saved, without similar
knowledge of the nature and character of the cause which produced it. The first question, then, presented for consideration in the investigation I propose to make in order to obtain such knowledge, is — What is it that 5 has endangered the Union ? To this question there can be but one answer, — That the immediate cause is the almost universal discontent which pervades all the States composing the Southern section of the Union. This widely extended discontent 10 is not of recent origin. It commenced with the agitation of the slavery question, and has been increasing ever since. The next question, going one step further back, is — What has caused this widely diffused and almost universal discontent 2 15 It is a great mistake to suppose, as is by some, that it originated with demagogues, who excited the discontent with the intention of aiding their personal advancement, or with the disappointed ambition of certain politicians, who resorted to it as the means of retrieving their fortunes. 20 On the contrary, all the great political influences of the section were arrayed against excitement, and exerted to the utmost to keep the people quiet. The great mass of the people of the South were divided, as in the other section, into Whigs and Democrats. The leaders and 25 the presses of both parties in the South were very solicitous to prevent excitement and to preserve quiet; because it was seen that the effects of the former would necessarily tend to weaken, if not destroy, the political ties which united them with their respective parties in the 30 other section. Those who know the strength of party ties will readily appreciate the immense force which this cause exerted against agitation, and in favor of preserving quiet. But, great as it was, it was not sufficient to prevent the wide-spread discontent which now pervades 35 the section. No ; some cause far deeper and more powerful than the one supposed, must exist, to account for discontent so wide and deep. The question then recurs — What is the cause of this discontent 2 It will be found in the belief of the people of the Southern States, as prevalent as the discontent itself, that they 5 cannot remain, as things now are, consistently with honor and safety, in the Union. The next question to be considered is — What has caused this belief ? One of the causes is, undoubtedly, to be traced to the long-continued agitation of the slave question on the 10 part of the North, and the many aggressions which they have made on the rights of the South during the time. I will not enumerate them at present, as it will be done hereafter in its proper place. There is another lying back of it — with which this is 15 intimately connected—that may be regarded as the great and primary cause. This is to be found in the fact that the equilibrium between the two sections in the government as it stood when the Constitution was ratified and the government put in action, has been destroyed. At 20 that time there was nearly a perfect equilibrium between the two, which afforded ample means to each to protect itself against the aggression of the other; but, as it now stands, one section has the exclusive power of controlling the government, which leaves the other without any 25 adequate means of protecting itself against its encroachment and oppression. To place this subject distinctly before you, I have, Senators, prepared a brief statistical statement, showing the relative weight of the two sections in the government under the first census of 1790, 30 and the last census of 1840. According to the former, the population of the United States — including Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee, which then were in their incipient condition of becoming States, but were not actually admitted — amounted to 35 3,929,827. Of this number the Northern States had 1,997,899, and the Southern 1,952,072, making a difference of only 45,827 in favor of the former States. The number of States, including Vermont, Kentucky, and 5 Tennessee, was sixteen; of which eight, including Vermont, belonged to the Northern section, and eight, including Kentucky and Tennessee, to the Southern, – making an equal division of the States between the two sections under the first census. There was a small pre10 ponderance in the House of Representatives and in the Electoral College, in favor of the Northern, owing to the fact that, according to the provisions of the Constitution, in estimating federal numbers five slaves count but three; but it was too small to affect sensibly the perfect equilib15 rium which, with that exception, existed at the time. Such was the equality of the two sections when the States composing them agreed to enter into a Federal Union. Since then the equilibrium between them has been greatly disturbed. 20 According to the last census the aggregate population of the United States amounted to 17,063,357, of which the Northern section contained 9,728,920, and the Southern 7,334,437, making a difference in round numbers, of 2,400,000. The number of States had increased from 25 sixteen to twenty-six, making an addition of ten States. In the mean time the position of Delaware had become doubtful as to the section to which she properly belonged. Considering her as neutral, the Northern States will have thirteen and the Southern States twelve, making a 30 difference in the Senate of two senators in favor of the former. According to the apportionment under the census of 1840, there were two hundred and twenty-three members of the House of Representatives, of which the Northern States had one hundred and thirty-five, and 35 the Southern States (considering Delaware as neutral)