Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
—I. No census had been taken in America when the convention of 1787 met, but its debates were based on the following estimates of population, which the census of 1790 showed to be fair approximations: 1, Virginia, 420,000; 2, Massachusetts, 360,000; 3, Pennsylvania, 360,000; 4, New York, 238,000; 5, Maryland, 218,000; 6, Connecticut, 202,000; 7, North Carolina, 200,000; 8, South Carolina, 150,000; 9, New Jersey, 138,000; 10, New Hampshire, 102,000; 11, Georgia, 90,000; 12, Rhode Island, 58,000; 13, Delaware, 37,000. In the five southern states the entire population was slightly larger, only three-fifths of the slaves being included in the above list. Of the thirteen states New Hampshire was not represented in convention until July 23, 1787, and Rhode Island not at all. Of the remaining eleven states, a "large state" majority and a "small state" minority were formed almost from the convention's first meeting, the large states being Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, and the small states, New York, Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey and Delaware. However greatly the votes varied on minor points, on the great and essential question of a national or a federative form for the new government, the vote was usually six to five as above given.
—Had the two parts been strictly "large" against "small" states, according to the population above given, of course the vote would have stood three to eight; but North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, either from ambitious hopes of the future growth of their vast western territory, or from a desire to gratify the larger states and draw them into a union which should afford effective national protection against the southern Indians, habitually voted with the larger states, and made them a majority, since each state was entitled to one vote in the convention. Between the two parts of the convention the main question at issue was, whether the new government should be one in which each state's influence should be proportioned to its population, or one in which each state, however small, should have an influence equal to that of any other state, as under the confederacy. The large states naturally preferred the former, or "national" system, and the small states the latter, or "federative" system.
—May 29, Edmund Randolph, of Virginia, offered the "Virginia plan" (see
—At first the compromise hardly found a favoring voice in the convention. The committee was declared to have exceeded its powers, and so moderate a delegate as Madison "only restrained himself from animadverting on the report, from the respect he bore to the members of the committee." Nevertheless, as step by step its items were brought up for debate and decision, the whole was adopted and became an integral part of the constitution, with the addition of the power given to the senate to propose amendments to money bills. The senate, therefore, whose conception has received warmer admiration than that of any other feature in the constitution, owes its existence, in its present form, entirely to an unwilling compromise of the conflicting demands of the large and the small states.
—II. One of the incurable evils of the confederacy was that the states which had formed it, after withholding from congress any power to control commerce, had provided that their articles of association should only be amended by a unanimous vote. The commerce of the country was therefore the commerce of 13 separate states, each of which could levy any duties it saw fit upon exports or imports, provided it did not interfere with existing treaties, or touch the property of the United States or of any other state. The state of New Jersey, before ratifying the articles of confederation, had warmly objected to this feature, as one which might involve "many difficulties and embarrassments," and most of the delegates from the commercial states had entered the convention with an intention to give the new federal government this essential and absolute power of controlling commerce. Against this intention the delegates from other states were not disposed to array themselves, except upon one point. In several of the states a single article made up the mass of the exportation, as was the case in South Carolina with rice, in North Carolina with ship stores, and in Virginia and Maryland with tobacco. Should the new federal government be given the power to lay export duties on these, a hostile majority in congress might easily cripple or annihilate the whole wealth of a state at one blow. Before the question came to be considered, C. C. Pinckney, of South Carolina, had twice given notice that his state would not enter the new Union unless the power to tax exports was withheld. The Virginia plan, as originally offered, made no direct reference to commerce, but only proposed that congress should be empowered "to legislate in all cases to which the separate states are incompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual legislation." Chas. Pinckney's plan, which was introduced also May 29, and whose "Powers of Congress" are very closely followed in the constitution, as finally adopted, distinctly proposed to give congress the power "to regulate commerce with all nations, and among the several states." But neither these plans, nor that of Hamilton, offered June 18, contained any restriction on the power of congress to tax exports: this first appears in the draft of the constitution as reported Aug. 6, in the words, "No tax or duty shall be laid by the legislature on articles exported from any state." With the omission of the words "by the legislature" this was adopted, Aug. 21, by a vote of 7 states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia) to 4 (New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware). New York's delegates, with the exception of Hamilton, had already left the convention because of the success of the first compromise. By this, the second, compromise congress was given complete control over national or inter-state commerce, with the exception of a restriction upon its power to tax exports.
—III. The two days following the adoption of the second compromise were taken up by a stormy debate on the question of the slave trade, ending in an emphatic refusal by Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, to enter the new Union unless its Congress should be forbidden to prohibit this traffic, or to tax it more highly than the trade in other imports. Here again the convention was brought to a stand-still, and again the whole question was referred to a select committee which reported the third great compromise of the constitution. It consisted in forbidding congress to prohibit the importation of slaves, when allowed by state laws, before 1808, but permitting the imposition of a tax of $10 per head on such importations. The slave trade was thus brought at once under the revenue power of congress, and within 20 years thereafter, under its commercial power also. As a make-weight for the northern states, a provision in the draft of Aug. 6, that "No navigation act shall be passed without the assent of two-thirds of the members present in either house," was stricken out, thus giving to a congressional majority complete control over commerce; and, as a make-weight for the southern states, it seems (from C. C. Pinckney's language to the South Carolina convention) to have been a general understanding, though not a part of the compromise committee's report, that provision would be made for a fugitive slave law. That part of the report relating to the slave trade was adopted by a vote of 7 states to 4, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey voting in the negative. The rest of the report, and the provision for a fugitive slave law a few days after, were adopted without any opposition.
—No part of the constitution has been more warmly condemned than the two "compromises of a moral question," (I. and III.). Those who so regard them forget that to the members of the convention slavery was not a moral question at all; that in out two northern states, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, unless we include the quasi independent republic of Vermont, (see
—IV. MISSOURI COMPROMISE. The question of slavery was at first of only incidental interest in the political history of the country. The convention of 1787, whose work and plans were mainly confined to the fringe of states along the Atlantic coast, had really joined two nations, a slaveholding nation and one which only tolerated slavery, into one; but the union was physical, rather than chemical, and the two sections retained distinct interests, feelings and peculiarities. As both spread beyond the Alleghanies to the west, the broad river Ohio lay in waiting to be the natural boundary between the states in which slavery should be legal and those in which it should be illegal. When the tide of emigration began to pour across the Mississippi and fill the Louisiana purchase, the dividing line was lost and conflict became inevitable.
—The territory of Missouri, formerly the district of Louisiana (see
—The Tallmadge proviso. in the eyes of most of the northern politicians who supported it, was merely an attempt to maintain the balance of power between the two sections. Kentucky had been offset by Vermont, Tennessee by Ohio, Louisiana by Indiana, and Mississippi by Illinois. The territory of Alabama had applied for authorization to form a state government, which, indeed, was granted at this session; and the Tallmadge proviso was a demand that Missouri, as a free state, should now offset Alabama. Accordingly, before the meeting of the next congress, the legislatures of Delaware and all the northern states (except those of New England, whose unpopularity as federalists would have made their open support of doubtful value, and Illinois, whose early settlers were largely southern) had warmly approved the Tallmadge proviso, and stamped it as emphatically a northern measure. In most of the legislatures the vote was unanimous, former party lines being entirely dropped. But, inextricably complicated with this sectional question, there were very many other fundamental questions, so that a full discussion of the Missouri case would almost involve a treatise on American constitutional law.
—I Even granting that congress had the power to govern the territory of Missouri absolutely, what power was there in congress to forever prohibit the future state of Missouri from permitting slavery within its own limits if by its own laws it should see fit to do so? While other states enjoyed the privilege of permitting or abolishing slavery at their discretion, was Missouri, while nominally entering the Union on equal terms with the other states, to be debarred the right of choice? On the other hand, if congress had the power to legislate for the territory, what power could prevent congress from controlling and laying conditions upon the organization of the territory into a state? What right had Missouri to object to the absolute prohibition of slavery to which Ohio, Indiana and Illinois had submitted without a thought of complaint or objection? (See
—A new congress (the 16th) met Dec. 6, 1819. Alabama was at once admitted as a state, Dec. 14, and the number of free and slave states was thus equalized. Missouri, through her territorial legislature, again demanded admission as a state. Maine, whose democratic majority wished to separate from federalist Massachusetts, had already formed a state constitution and now applied for admission also. The Maine bill passed the house, Jan. 3, 1820. In the senate, after a month's debate, Jan. 16 - Feb. 16, the Maine bill was also passed, but with a "rider," consisting of the Missouri bill without restriction of slavery. This attempt to compel the house to accept the Missouri slave state bill, or lose both, was passed by a vote of 23 (including 3 from the north) to 21. Feb. 17, Thomas, of Illinois (pro-southern), offered as an amendment to the bill the compromise afterward adopted, which had been suggested in February, 1819, by McLane, of Delaware, and which consisted, in effect, of a division of the Louisiana purchase between the free states and the slave states; and the senate adopted the Thomas amendment by a vote of 34 to 10. Although the affirmative vote in this instance contained the votes of most of the northern senators, this was not the first symptom of weakening in the northern vote; the organization of Arkansas as a slave territory (see
—The senate passed the bill, with the Thomas amendment, by a vote of 24 to 20.
—Feb. 18, the house disagreed to the senate bill as amended, the Thomas amendment having only 18 votes to 159. Both houses, by strong votes, adhered to their position, and the senate asked and was granted a conference committee, which reported, 1, that the senate should give up its union of the Maine and Missouri bills; 2, that the house should give up the Tallmadge proviso; and 3, that both houses should unite in admitting Missouri, with the Thomas amendment, as follows: "And be it further enacted, That in all that territory ceded by France to the United States, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude, excepting only such part thereof as is included within the limits of the state contemplated by this act, slavery and involuntary servitude, otherwise than in the punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall be and is hereby forever prohibited." A proviso for securing the return of fugitive slaves from the territory in general was added. The whole compromise was then passed by the house, the second part of it by a vote of 90 (76 from the south, 14 from the north) to 87, and the third part by 134 to 42, 35 of the nays being ultra-southern members, who refused to approve any interference by congress with slavery in the territories. (See
—The approval of the president was still necessary to make the bills law, and Monroe demanded the opinions of his cabinet on the questions, 1, whether the prohibition of slavery was constitutional; and 2, whether the word forever was at territorial "forever," or applicable also to states formed from the territory in future. The cabinet was unanimously in the affirmative on the first question, but divided on the second; but by an adroit suggestion of Calhoun the two questions were joined into one—was the Thomas amendment constitutional? To this every member promptly responded in the affirmative, and the bill was signed March 6, 1820.
—The Missouri compromise of 1820, of which Thomas, of Illinois, was the father, and Henry Clay, of Kentucky, the active, zealous and successful sponsor, was thus completed in all its parts. At first sight it seems unfair, if any arrangement, with which both parties to a controversy are content, can be called unfair. In a territory, acquired by national action without the consent of its inhabitants, and therefore under national control, it is impossible to make out a case for the establishment of slavery, any more than of a territorial church, without the express action of congress; but the south, by persistently claiming this right as to the whole of the Louisiana purchase, had successfully established it as to a large, and the only present useful, part of it. There is, however, another view of the matter to which attention must be directed. For nearly 20 years congress had utterly neglected to assert or enforce its power over slavery in the territories. It had shut its eyes to the existence of slavery in the Louisiana purchase; it had admitted Louisiana as a slave state; it had allowed the territorial legislatures to legislate in favor of slavery; so late as 1819 it had organized the territory of Arkansas without restriction of slavery; and those who had brought slavery into the territories might, with considerable show of fairness, claim that congress had now no right to suddenly assert a power over their property in the case of Missouri which it had not claimed in that of Louisiana. The claim is so far well founded that it is difficult to deny the parallelism between Louisiana and Missouri. The north, therefore, in order to secure the rest of the Louisiana purchase in its normal condition of freedom, was compelled to pay for its 20 years' laches by surrendering the modern states of Missouri and Arkansas to the slaveholding settlers whom it had allowed to enter and possess them. It can not, however, be too strongly insisted that what Randolph called the "dirty bargain" had two sides, that the south had formally abandoned all future claim to establish slavery in territories north of 36° 30'; that the north had tacitly pledged itself not to exert the power of congress to abolish slavery in the Louisiana purchase south of that line; and that both sides had recognized the absolute power of congress over slavery in the territories, without which the compromise could never have been made. In 1836, when admitting Arkansas as a state, the north was strongly tempted to break its agreement, but refused to do so, even John Quincy Adams insisting that the admission of Arkansas as a slave state was "so nominated in the bond," and must be punctually fulfilled. In 1852-4 (see
—Attention should also be called to the evil effects of the Missouri compromise. 1. It recognized by law that which every effort should have been made to blot out, the existence of a geographical line which divided the whole people into two sections, and it thus went far to establish parties on this geographical line. Jefferson's eye was quick to recognize this fact. In his letter of April 22, 1820, to John Holmes, he says: "This momentous question, like a fire-bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed, indeed, for the moment; but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated, and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper." From this time parties were to be really national only so long as the question of slavery was kept under cover; when that question came to the surface, the whole controlling intelligence of the south spoke in the language of Dixon, of Kentucky, in 1854: "Sir, upon the question of slavery I know no whiggery and I know no democracy—I am a pro-slavery man." 2. In this compromise, however faithfully kept by both sides, lay the elements of future conflict. A comparison of the western territory of the United States with the country's steady rate of increase in population should have shown the statesmen of 1820 that the southwestern boundary was so abrupt a barrier to the movement of migration that it could not endure. When it should be broken down, and when new territory, not covered by the Missouri compromise, should be added to the United States, it was not to be expected that the south should then submit to a restriction upon slavery which it had successfully resisted in 1820. Bonds which can not restrain a child will not be very effective when he has grown to be a strong man, and, this principle of a division of territory once admitted, it was plain that future acquisitions of territory would be for the benefit, not of the whole nation, but of a partnership of two, whose southern member would be certain to claim a full share.
—The above is usually considered the Missouri compromise, though there were some few difficulties still to be settled. 1. In the presidential election of 1820, Missouri, though not yet admitted as a state, chose presidential electors, and many of the southern members sought to have their votes counted. This difficulty was avoided by counting the votes in the alternative. (See
—V. COMPROMISE OF 1850. The principle of the Missouri compromise, the supreme control of congress over the territories, even in the regulation or abolition of slavery, remained undisputed for nearly 30 years. It had been recognized in 1820 by 34 out of 44 in the senate (the vote on the Thomas amendment), by 134 out of 176 in the house, by president Monroe, and by all his cabinet, which included John C. Calhoun and Wm. H. Crawford from the south. It received a new indorsement in the joint resolution for the admission of Texas in 1845 (see
—The Mexican war brought a new addition of territory (see
—In the south the excitement among the controlling body of slaveholders had grown so in tense that its culmination marks the year 1850 as the point where the theory of secession first began to shade into possibility. The people of the still unorganized territory of California, whose population had been suddenly and enormously increased by the discovery of gold, had formed a state constitution, June 3, 1849, expressly prohibiting slavery. During the year the excitement was increased by the action of the people of New Mexico, to which Texas asserted a territorial claim, in forming a state constitution, May 15, 1850. This was interpreted as an effort to add another to the growing column of free states, and an army was at once raised in Texas to extend the jurisdiction of that state over the disputed territory. A convention of slave state delegates met at Nashville, Tenn., June 2, 1850, and declared any exclusion of slaveholders and their property from the new territories to be an injury and an insult to the south; and the various southern legislatures had instructed their governors, in the event of the success of the Wilmot proviso, to call state conventions in order to secure concert of action against a common danger.
—A new congress met in December, 1849 (See
—These resolutions were debated for two months after Feb. 5, and the debate ended, April 19, by their reference to a compromise committee of thirteen, of which Clay was chairman. May 8, the committee reported the following propositions, which finally made up the compromise of 1850: 1, the admission of any new states properly formed from Texas, with or without slavery, as the people of the new state should decide; 2, the admission of California on similar terms; 3, the organization of New Mexico and Utah territories without the Wilmot proviso; 4, the passage of the last two measures in one bill; 5, the payment to Texas of an indemnity of $10,000,000 for the abandonment of her claim to New Mexico; 6, the passage of a more effective fugitive slave law; 7, the abolition of the slave trade, but not of slavery, in the district of Columbia.
—Many senators desired to consider these measures separately, but the committee had decided to embrace them all in one bill, of four parts, commonly called the omnibus bill. Part 1 was in 39 sections: §§ 1-4 for the admission of California; §§ 5-21 for the organization of the territory of Utah, with a prohibition against the passage of laws "in respect to African slavery" by its legislature: §§ 22-38 for the organization (with the same prohibition) of the territory of New Mexico; and § 39 for the fulfillment of proposition 5 above. Parts 2 and 3, in three sections, carried out proposition 6 above, and formed the celebrated fugitive slave law. Part 4, in two sections, carried out proposition 7 above.
—The omnibus bill was debated until the last day of July, when it was discovered that successive amendments had cut out all its provisions except the Utah bill, which was passed Aug. 1. By this time the martial preparations of Texas, backed by offers of aid from other southern states, had shown some compromise to be necessary, if war was not to follow. The other bills, which had failed together, were now passed separately by the senate: the Texas bill, Aug. 10, 30 to 20; the California bill, Aug. 13, 34 to 18; the New Mexico bill, Aug. 14, 27 to 10; the fugitive slave bill, Aug. 23, 27 to 12; and the District of Columbia bill, Sept. 14, 33 to 19. In the house the Texas and New Mexico bills were passed together, Sept. 4, 108 to 97; the California bill, Sept. 7, 150 to 56; the Utah bill, Sept. 7, 97 to 85; the fugitive slave bill, Sept. 12, 109 to 73; and the District of Columbia bill, Sept. 17, 124 to 47. All the provisions of Clay's scheme of compromise were therefore finally successful.
—The gist of the compromise, as stated by Clay himself in debate, July 22, was, on the one hand, forbearance by the north to insist upon the application of the Wilmot proviso to Utah and New Mexico, and, on the other hand, forbearance by the south to insist upon the express introduction of slavery into those territories; all the other measures were only feathers to fly the arrow. The north was to obtain the effectual application of the Wilmot proviso to California, by its admission as a free state, and also the abolition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia; the south was to obtain an effective fugitive slave law, and an indemnity to Texas, of whose bonds many of the Southern leaders were holders. There was no application of popular sovereignty to the new territories, for their legislatures were forbidden to pass laws on the subject of slavery; nor was there any settlement of the status of slavery there, for the committee's bill, as stated by Clay on introducing it, did not decide whether slavery did or did not exist in Utah or New Mexico, only forbidding the legislatures to prohibit it if it existed, or to introduce it if it did not exist. Clay's own belief, as he then stated it, was that slavery did not exist there, having been abolished by Mexican law. The whole arrangement was evidently a mere make-shift, intended to avoid the question of slavery in Utah and New Mexico, in the hope that these territories would soon form state governments and decide the matter for themselves. There is not the slightest perceptible evidence, either in the omnibus bill or in the debates, of any intention to repeal, directly or indirectly, the Missouri compromise or its prohibition of slavery north of the parallel of 36° 30'; nor did the Texas bill make any repeal of the prohibition of slavery in new states to be formed from Texas north of the Missouri compromise line, which had been first imposed by the joint resolution admitting Texas. Had the compromise of 1850, as it was understood by its framers and by the two parties which formally indorsed it in 1852, been maintained, there seems to be very little doubt that the United States might have prolonged for many years the desperate effort to "endure one-half slave and one half free." The Kansas-Nebraska bill was really as much a repeal of the compromise of 1850 as of the compromise of 1820.
—VI. CRITTENDEN COMPROMISE. In 1860 senator John J. Crittenden, of Kentucky, introduced a proposition to amend the constitution by dividing the territories between the two sections on the line of the Missouri compromise. His amendment was approved by the legislatures of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and New Jersey, in their instructions to their delegates to the peace conference in 1861 (see
—To this were added four resolutions: 1, asserting the constitutionality of the fugitive slave law; 2, earnestly requesting the repeal of the personal liberty laws; 3, promising the amendment of the fugitive slave law by making the commissioner's fee the same whether his decision was for or against the claimant, and by restricting the use of the posse comitatus to cases of resistance or rescue; and 4, promising the stringent suppression of the African slave trade. (See
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