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thority is there in any territory of the Union which can override and nullify that of the supreme government on which it depends, and from which it derives whatever power it possesses ? ”
This is a fearful statement, and shows how impossible it is to have any thing to do with slavery without being defiled by it, no matter how cautious we may be. It is an important fact also to show, that the general government, if it have the power to abolish slavery, ought to abolish it as soon as possible; if not, or no power to meddle with it at all, it ought to pass no law concerning it.
Mr. Clayton was the father of the bill in the Senate to organize governments in Oregon, California, and New Mexico commonly and unfavorably known as the Compromise Bill. The Slavery question, as applicable to these territories, had been debated, apparently unsuccessfully, in the Senate for several weeks, when Mr. Clayton made the motion to raise a committee composed of equal numbers from both sections of the Union, as well as of both political parties. He was, of course, chairman of it; and although from a slave-holding state, he is not a slaveholder, free labor being more profitable where he resides than slave labor. But he is as utterly heartless as to man's rights — as warm an advocate of the despotic pretensions of the slaveholder, as if he had scores of his fellow-creatures in bondage, or was the owner of a large sugar or cotton plantation. The other Senators from slaveholding states were Mr. Calhoun, Mr. Underwood, and Mr. Atchison. Those from the free states were Messrs. Phelps, Clarke, Dickinson, and Bright, one of whom, if not two, have declared themselves favorable to Slavery, while the remaining two but dimly represent the spirit of liberty now rising in the free states, and inexorably demanding that there shall no longer be slavery in the land. The bill reported to the Senate by this committee was passed by a vote of 33 yeas to 22 nays; was sent at once to the House of Representatives, where, on the motion of Mr. Stephens, a southern member, it was laid on the table, without any intention of taking it up again, by 112 yeas to 97 nays. The House of Representatives passed its own bill for organizing a territorial form of government in Oregon, and sent it to the Senate ; it was then that Senator Clayton made his speech.
Were we to judge of him entirely by this effort, we should say he is imperious, overbearing, impatient of opposition to
his plans, a “man of the world," whose moral standard ascends no higher than the law of the country. He was evidently a good deal offended at the summary manner in which the House of Representatives disposed of a bill from which he looked for a complete settlement of the long and violent slavery agitation, endangering, in his opinion, the integrity of the Union ; and in which he had borne so conspicuous a part, that he well might have raised the demagogical cry that he had again saved it. With him there is a struggle to keep down his resentment at their treatment or rather his contempt, for he virtually charges them, and indeed all opposers, with ignorance; not recollecting that Mr. Stephens supported his motion on the very grounds that had been urged against the bill in the Senate, where the discussion of it may have been sufficiently heard by the members of the House. Nor does he conceal his feelings toward such of his brother senators as opposed the bill, for on them he bestows some of his hardest and most illnatured blows.
We do not intend, by these remarks, to disparage the effort of Senator Clayton, compared with those of other senators on the same occasion, nor to convey the idea that it was wanting in ability. By no means: --- for in point of fact, although Mr. Clayton does not profess to deal in the mysteries of Slavery
it was quite superior to those that we have especially brought to the notice of our readers. As a composition it is smoother, the electio verborum is easier; as an argument it is more regularly built and systematic than theirs. In fine, according to the generally received notion of strength, he is stronger than they are, abler, has greater power of explaining, condensing, and recommending his meaning. They utter sentiments so very adverse to all our notions of justice -- so entirely repugnant to the truths that we have pronounced "self-evident," that what they say is at once cast aside, without producing any mischievous results. But it is not so with Senator Clayton. While he insinuates opinions as mischievous as theirs, he so introduces them that they often find not only transient harbor, but are likely to be looked on as the opinions that ought to be always entertained. Indeed, we should fear that they might prevail, were not popular im. provement slowly but constantly and certainly circumscribing their area, and bringing closer together the walls that are finally to crush them.
We hear over and over again of the "compromises” of the
Constitution. These words are in the mouth of every politician; they forun the warp and woof of almost every speech about Slavery, whether in or out of Congress, and even large political assemblies have not failed to employ them. But they are, for the most part, without any very definite meaning. We do not remember to have seen them so explained as Mr. Clayton explains them, or so lightly thought of as he seems to think of them. So reprehensible, indeed, do we consider his remarks, that had they been drawn from him by any unlooked for occasion, or sudden excitement, we should in that find his excuse. But they were not; for his speech bears every mark of having been deliberately considered. After calling the rash advocates of slavery at the South, and the uncompromising opponents of it at the North" geographical factions," and saying that the war between thein and the bill was a war of extermination — that they do not desire any thing that would tranquillize the country and restore fraternal feelings to its discordant sections, he then proceeds:
“ They have falsely represented the bill to be a compromise of principle, and have employed the cant that principle cannot be compromised, although the Constitution itself was but a compromise of principle, and the result of mutual concession between the different members of the confederacy."
As if not content with this, he returns to the charge and says:
“That same spirit, that mutual deference and concession are again rendered indispensable by our condition. We are now about to apply the Constitution to a region larger than the old thirteen states when the Union was founded. Under such circumstances, when I hear a man set up for himself a higher standard of morality and virtue than that of the fathers of the Republic, and say that he can agree to no compromise, or, to use the cant of the time, that principle cannot be compromised, I think of the poet's exclamation
"0! for a forty-parson power to chant thy praise, hypocrisy!' “Not a man came out of the convention that framed the Constitution who had not objections to some part of it. It was a compromise, and the same feeling which governed in its formation is, and ever will be, indispensable to its preservation."
That the Constitution was what Washington said it was — “the result of a spirit of amity, and of mutual deference and concession," we are not inclined to call in question. The name of Washington is here introduced by Mr. Clayton, who artfully associates his expressions, as just now quoted, with his own, that the Father of his Country may seem to have used, or given his sanction to, the obnoxious sentiment of Mr. Clayton.
But “ a spirit of amity,” — “mutual deference and concession,” are, by no means, the same as Mr. Clayton's “compromise of principle” – indeed, they are widely different from it. The first ought to prevail everywhere and at all times. We doubt whether a constitution or form of government intended to pervade a country as large as ours was ever made, or can be made without “ amity, mutual deference and concession,” and we hazard but little in saying that Washington, anxious as he unquestionably was, for the adoption of the Constitution, never pronounced it a “compromise of principle," or used words tantamount to them; and we have too much respect for his memory - for his honesty — for his sense of propriety, to suppose that he ever declared a “compromise of principle” to be the “ cant of the times.”
Notwithstanding the light and contemptuous terms in which Mr. Clayton speaks of compromising a principle, - if he mean the same thing by principle that we do, truth, or what we honestly take for truth; the consciousness of acting according to what we believe right; doing to others as we would have them do to us, if he mean this, we do not see how it can be done. A principle is our highest treasure. Adherence or non-adherence to it makes the good man or the bad
To the poor — to the afflicted - it gives a self-respect which the honors of the world or its wealth cannot give. Nothing is equal to self-respect, and nothing is of value enough to be given in exchange for it. He who wisely respects himself, respects the Being who made him - the Saviour who died for him. If, by a compromise of principle it be meant that a part of the truth we already possess is to be yielded on both sides, then that part is lost, abandoned, for a principle cannot be transferred. Both exchangers are injured; both have admitted injustice; both have lost, what in their present state is irrecoverable - their self-respect. The vile becomes equal to the precious. A lie is as good as the truth, and better, if it seem better to effect the purpose for which it is told. We may lawfully do evil, if, in our dim, imperfect, and partial apprehension, we suppose good will result from it. Right and wrong — justice and injustice — the will of God and the will of the Devil are a mere nothing, and for persons
to boggle about preferring one to the other is nothing but
We readily adınit that the consolidation of the Union, after the peace of 1783, was the “ greatest interest,” so far as government was concerned, which could enlist the intelligent friends of the country, although there was a large party that thought otherwise. Yet all such interests are subordinate to the respect which
every man owes to himself. He may have an interest in the government, as government is administered, as great as it can excite; for instance, in the establishment of a heavy tariff, or of a system of direct taxation : but let the complete success of the government depend on his telling a falschood, though it be known only to himself, and he will not hesitate what to do. For the act of the government he is not responsible - it cannot injure him as a inan, as a moral being; for his own act he feels that he is responsible, and that he may be everlastingly sunk by it in his own estimation, if not in that of others.
Now if this be true, to establish the “ Constitution of the Union," important as it is admitted to have been, was not of as much value as for one honest man — Washington, for instance - to maintain his integrity; to prove himself faithful when others required him to be faithless and degenerate; to be seen doing what he believed right, in spite of t.se scoffs and contumely of those who knew they were doing wrong;
Whilst we say this, we do not mean to affirm that there was no compromise of principle in the Constitution. There was
- a mischievous one. It was on the part of Northern members, who well knew that Slavery, making merchandise of human beings, was morally wrong, a sin, yet consented it should be in the Union, and be protected by its power as one of its interests — provided they and their constituents received advantages in certain fisheries, or in the carrying trade, or for any other equivalent, we care not what. Of this compromise, had we not historical evidence of it, we could not but be aware from the discord it has produced. We are now reaping the bitter fruits of it. It is in vain to look for a cessation of it as long as slavery exists. Conscience on the one side, and injustice and avarice on the other, know no truce. The war will be waged, till one or the other gains a complete victory. Which will gain that victory it is not hard to fore
But even on this compromise, Washington, in all likelihood, did not look so seriously as we now do. He probably thought it little more than a “deference," a " Concession," for