RESTORE THE MISS0URI COMPROMISE LINE
A speech by the Hon. Rev. Owen Lovejoy
Member of the Illinois House of Representatives, 1855-1856
February 6, 1855
Western Citizen, April 5, 1855
(In the House of Representatives, Illinois legislature, February 6, 1855, on Joint Resolutions of Instruction to the Illinois delegation in Congress to restore the Missouri Compromise Line, etc.)
There are several points involved in that preamble, and those resolutions. There is
1st. The question: What are the principles on which this government is based in their application to human slavery?
2nd. What has been the application of those principles? And what ought still to be the application of those principles, through the agency of the Federal Government, in regard to the extension of slavery?
3rd. What is the proper application of those principles, which underlie our government, to the question of admitting into the Union, States, the constitutions of which have not a prohibition of human slavery?
4th. What are the principles of the Constitution of the United States in regard to the subject of slavery, and especially in regard to the recapture or reclamation of persons who have escaped, owing service or labor under the law of the several states?
On these points Mr. Speaker I propose to make a few remarks: first, in regard to the question, what are the principles which underlie our government in regard to the question of human slavery?
These principles, Sir, as I understand them find an embodiment and annunciation in the instrument which the framers of the government, early in the struggle of the revolution, with their garments and hands moistened with the blood of that struggle; --the government which they drew up, (Mr. L, was here interrupted by a message from the Governor to the House.) I was about to remark Mr. Speaker that the principles which underlie our government found a suitable exposition in the Declaration of Independence.
I trust it will not be considered tedious or inappropriate in the House of Representatives, of a state that has always boasted of its unwavering, unterrified and pure democracy it will not, I say, be regarded out of place or considered tedious, if I repeat a few of the sentiments which are contained in that instrument. It announced them as we all know in the following manner.
"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created free and equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." If you look into the Madison papers and find the original term in brackets you'll find the term included the word "inherent" - "inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." To protect these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving all their just powers from the consent of the governed. When governments become subversive of these rights, it is the privilege--nay, the declaration goes beyond that, and asserts that is it the duty of the people to overthrow those governments and establish others, upon such principles, and in such forms as to secure these rights. Now, mark you, that was the first embodiment and national proclamation of the great principles of democracy, of human equality. The doctrine that had prevailed was the very reverse of this, the doctrine of the divine right of kings, nobles, lords and earls with a regular graduation on the descending scale till you reached the lowest strata, and there you found the common rabble, the serf, the helot, liegeman and slave.
Our forefathers, deriving their principles and spirit from the old puritan stock, which God selected from the choicest seed of the world, to plant a nation, here declared that these doctrines which had prevailed were untrue, that one man has not a right of a king, and another a peasant. Those long established dogmas, hoary with the powdered wigs of antiquity, were confronted with the great and glorious principle of true democracy that all men are created free and equal. It is the principle of a pure and genuine democracy, that the man whom God has made in his own image and who wears the lineaments of the divine character, has by virtue of a fee simple from the Creator, a title deed to these inherent rights, whether he wields a scepter or guides a plow, whether he was born in a palace or beneath a hedge, and that he possessed these rights of whatever clime, or nation, aye, or whatever color, they inure alike to the pauper whom giant famine lands upon our shores, to the most abject and lash tortured slave that groans in his brutism, and to the rich and princely.
These are the glorious principles which underlie our government; these are the principles of genuine Democracy to which I hold, and planting myself upon them, as upon an immovable rock, pour contempt upon that sham skin-deep democracy of the present day, which would convert our temple of freedom into a slave mart, and make it, like the money changers of old, a den of thieves and robbers.
There are the principles which underlie our government, the principles of Democracy; and I appeal to my democratic friends here if I do not state it truly. Democracy is the evangel of God, applied to civil affairs.
So it is obtained, and I subscribe to it. I subscribe to this article in the creed of genuine Democracy, that man is an immortal being, around whom, cluster those rights, and that they can never be justly, nay, without foul wrong, taken away from him.
These, sir, are the great principles which underlie our government, the principles which form the corner-stone upon which our republic is based--upon which the glorious superstructure, there is no man that can pray more fervently than I that it shall remain as imperishable as the eternal truths and principles upon which it has been reared--esto perpetus. Let it be permanent and perpetual, a glorious monument to the wisdom, foresight and patriotism of our fathers.
I now come, Sir, to the second point, the application of these principles--embodied in the Declaration of Independence, and which underlie our federal government--to the extension of slavery. What was the object of its organization! Was it organized to protect slavery in any way? Was this government organized in any wise to extend and propagate slavery! Never. Never, Sir. It is a perversion of the government to apply it to such a purpose, to the accomplishment of these objects.
I ask your attention, sir, to a familiar fact, that as far back as the year 1787, a point contemporaneous with that of the adoption of the Constitutions--that old Virginia, which has been styled the mother of Presidents under the leadership of Jefferson, proposed to cede a certain territory to the United States, making it an express condition of the cession, that slavery should never exist in all that territory, save in the punishment of crime, whereof the person shall be duly convicted:_________
(Mr. L. was here interrupted again by a Senate message to the House.)
I was about remarking, Mr. Speaker, that the policy of the federal government, under the influence of the principles upon which that government was based - that the policy of the federal government, from the very outset of its organic existence, had been against the extension of human slavery; and so clearly defined was that policy of the government, and so universally adopted, that by a slave-holder himself, conjointly with a then leading slave-holding State, a proposition was made in the cession of the Northwestern Territory, that is as a condition of that cession that slavery never should exist throughout all that vast territory, embracing, as you know, what is now a cluster of magnificent States, among which is the Prairie State of Illinois, that is, as I believe, destined to be among the richest and proudest of them all. May she become the freest and most virtuous and intelligent. If we can only get if from under the dominion of the Nebraska democrats, it will be such a State, perhaps even in spite of that.
All this Territory, at that early period, was consecrated to freedom, and free men. - Mark you, Sir, this was all the Territory that then belonged to the United States. - The framers of the Constitution, the very founders of this Republic, imbued as the Preamble to the resolution asserts with the spirit of freedom, with which the very atmosphere was impregnated, utterly prohibited it within that region and forever consecrated it to freedom; and under the influences of that consecration, these States, these Empires have sprung up.
I cannot stop to institute a comparison between these States and an equal number of slave States. That ground has been traveled over, and you know the result.
I wish however, that it be remembered by every gentleman in the House, that from every inch of Territory that belonged to the United States in 1787, slavery, by an act of the Federal Government, was forever excluded.
A word to my friend from Shelby (Moulton,) to whom I am indebted for many courtesies in giving me information, which my Legislative inexperience has made valuable.
He says that the ordinance of 1787 has not been obeyed by the State of Illinois. - But he is mistaken. If the gentleman will turn to the Constitution of this State, he will find that slavery is forever prohibited here; and although our Statute book unhappily shows too many relics of Legislative barbarism, yet a process of expurgation has been initiated, which will ultimately purge away every vestige of this undemocratic class and caste legislation, as servile as it is unchristian.
There was indeed, a kind of slavery of a limited extent, but nobody seriously pretends that Illinois is a slave State, or ever has been a slave State in any proper sense or common acceptation of the term.
This then, was the policy of the Government at the early period of our history. - Now, we come down from 1787 to 1826--
[Mr. L. was here interrupted by another message from the Senate. After pausing awhile, he playfully remarked--I administered an expurgative dose to the Senate library the other day and it would seem that the Senate must have found access to some ipecac in quantities larger than Homeopathic. (Laughter)]
I was about coming down to another period on the history of our Government - the facts connected with which have been made somewhat familiar to us by the recent discussion.
The main point I wish to keep in view is this, the cause, the policy of the general Government in the application of these great principles, to the question of extending human slavery; and being necessarily limited to time, I wish to come down at once on the period of 1820 - the time that the State of Missouri was admitted into the Union as one of the United States. Hereto, substantially, the same principle has been carried out and applied as in the ordinance of 1787.
What was that Missouri Compromise, of which we hear so much and how has it been violated by the Wilmot Proviso as it is asserted to have been?
I will not go into the minutiae of the history of that Compromise, but the general fact is this, Missouri came and asked for admission into the Union - it's constitution had a clause allowing and protecting human slavery within the limits of the proposed State. - Objection was made against its admission into the Union with its constitution, recognizing and protecting slavery, its admission was refused.
Congress refused to admit Missouri for the reason that its constitution tolerated slavery and they were right, and if I had been there, and the matter had depended upon my vote, I would have voted against it to this day, and there is where I am opposed to the Missouri Compromise. Slave States, as such, have no more right to come into the Union, than would a company of buccaneers who should get possession of one of the Antilles and adopt the form of a republican Government. The simple question before this nation was "Shall Missouri be admitted into the Union?" Congress said no, we will not receive her, because she is a slave State. - Then the slave holders began to play a game of scarecrow, which, shame to our want of nerve and backbone, they have frequently and too successfully acted over in grand tragic and comedy style since, and cried out, "We will dissolve the Union." Here then, was the substance of the Compromise. The slave-holders said virtually to those who were opposed to the admission of Missouri, Now admit Missouri as a slave State, and then, in the bill admitting her, we will insert a clause forever prohibiting slavery in all the Territories north of the line of 36 degrees 20 min., this being the southern boundary of the State.
Now mark you sir and gentlemen of the house, it was not an agreement that slavery should be allowed in all the territories south of that line--nothing in it at all, direct or implied, that slavery might ever go south of that line, much less that such a line should be applied to territories that might subsequently be attained by purchase or otherwise.
In the first place it was all the territory we had not covered by territorial Government, save that which belonged to the Indian tribes. The bargain was, that slavery should be prohibited, nay, in the language of Thomas Benton, whom Democrats will regard as a good authority, abolished in all that territory, and its entrance there utterly prohibited, declaring that it should never defile that virgin soil with its loathsome presence. That is what they declared; this is the whole of the Compromise.
What do we complain of, what do we want! We complain that Senator Douglas in the Senate of U. States, claiming to represent the free people of this state moved, and with the help of his allies and his fellow slaveholders of the south, carried through a motion to repeal that clause that prohibited slavery in that territory; in other words, after having purchased a horse and given a note for it, at less than half its value, they wish to cheat us out of the payment of even that, in other words still, the consideration which the south received and which freedom received for admitting Missouri into the Union as a slaveholding state was, that slavery should be forever prohibited in this territory. They still hold their part of the bargain, and with brazen effrontery, seek to deprive us of the equivalent they were to give; that is the whole of it. They have repealed that prohibition, and now the resolution asks that that prohibition be restored, and that is what is involved in this controversy.
Somehow Douglas never urged the repeal of the Missouri Compromise; if he had, Missouri would have been put out of the Union. If you democratic allies of slavery propagandism won't pay the consideration that we were to receive, then I ask you to throw Missouri out of the Union, and then you have repealed the Missouri Compromise, and not until then. No, that does not suit them. The democracy have placed themselves in a false position, and I hope I shall convert them before I get through my speech. Yes, Sir, they repealed simply this clause prohibiting slavery. Now, if they will go back and repeal the whole Compromise, I do not care so much about it. We will refuse to admit it into the Union, with the savage and piratical provision in her constitution allowing slavery. Every principal of honor and every principal of common honesty requires the restoration of the prohibition or the exclusion of Missouri. Cancel the entire compact, or let it remain untouched. The morality of holding to their share of the spoils, while ours is wrested from us, does not find its level till you get into the region of swindlers and horse jockeys, and it would require a pretty hardened case, even from the latter gentry, to sell you sprained horse for a sound animal, and then steal him away. This is virtually what has been done by the repeal of the eighth section of the Act to which allusion has been made. This is just the position occupied by the Nebraska Democrats.
This is plain talk I know. (A voice, it is a fact,) Yes, it is a fact, and the worst of it is I am going to prove it on you gentlemen, (laughter and applause) the assertion won't hurt you but the established fact will. --Nay, I am not fighting Senator Douglas particularly, he is a mere item or instrument that the slave power has used in the fraud, although it might not be untimely just now to bring Senator Shields upon the carpet, as we are about to elect a Senator. In extenuation of this crime, for so I choose to designate the transaction, it is pled that they had to obey instructions claiming the legislature had instructed our Senators to do as they have done in this regard. Let us see if this is so.
I will call the attention of the House to a few facts as far back as 1848 or 1849, at which time Senator Douglas declared the principle of the Missouri Compromise was canonized in the hearts of the American people, and that no ruthless hand could be found reckless enough to disturb it.
In 1851 were certain resolutions of instructions requiring our senators to vote for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, so it is affirmed. This was in 1851. Mark the date. They passed the legislature but who knew it. A gentleman who represented districts in that session was asked if he knew of the passage of any such resolution. He said in reply that he did not recall passage of any such resolutions, but they were in the record.
And more than all Senator Douglas himself never dreamed of it. It never entered his mind that he had been instructed to go for the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Rather, let us call things by their right names--the repeal of the clause in the acts, which prohibited slavery, but not the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Senator Douglas did not know that he was instructed in January, February, March, and all the months of 1851 rolled away and he never thought of it. The sun of 1851 came and marked the days and months of that year, and he had not found it out. The same was true of 1853 in as much as the writers of the compromise of 1850 did not deem it necessary to disturb it.
Eighteen hundred and fifty four came and when the morning sun of the New Year arrived, shown in golden beauty upon the earth, Senator Douglas did not know… About the first of January he announced his intention to disturb the Missouri Compromise.
Here are the facts. They cannot be gainsaid. They can be denied but they cannot be disproved. Subsequent to this, during an interval of fifteen days, there was sudden light broke into the mind of the senator. He learned all at once, that three years before, in 1851 he had been instructed to go for the repeal of the clause prohibiting slavery in the Missouri Compromise Act. Fifteen or forty days before, he declared he would not disturb that Compromise; but during this short interval; he had been enlightened, and his conscience began to hurt him because he had not obeyed those instructions.
Do you--looking towards Mr. Martin--believe it? You like, 'that footed open dealing'? Confess the truth; and say that he has never thought of it up until that time - that it was a dodge, a subterfuge, conjured up to cover his nefarious assault on human freedom. He was in favor of this restriction in 1848, 1849, 1850 and up to 1854, but during that fifteen days of remarkable illumination - whether it was the light of heaven or the fiery glare of some other place beneath, that flashed upon his mind, I will not say - a flood of light poured in upon his mind, a sense of unfulfilled obligations pressed upon his soul. The Whigs and abolitionists, so it is said, broke in upon the Compromise in advocating the Wilmot Proviso, and all at once our senator became very complacent, and so yielded to instructions. He concluded to give up the point and go against the Missouri Compromise. Where is my friend here, Mr. Richmond of Schuyler, that was so unterrified? Yes, that unterrified democrat, Stephen A. Douglas, yielded to Whig and abolition pressure, repealed an act that had been enshrined in the hearts of the American people like the penates of the old Romans. Because the Whigs and abolitionists had in 1846 favored the Wilmot Proviso, the senator moved this repeal. Who believes that? No living man. See the sophistry of it? It is said here by gentlemen on the floor here and I think by my friend from Shelby, Mr. Moulton, that the antislavery men were opposed to the Missouri Compromise line. And why? What evidence is there of it? Because they were in favor of the Wilmot Proviso - Mr. Moulton interrupting -
I said the abolitionists first broke in upon the Missouri Compromise in 1848. They refused to stand by it, when Senator Douglas wanted to extend it to the Pacific -
Mr. Lovejoy - quote "Thereby hangs a tail." I thank the gentleman for the word. There was no guarantee, Sir, that the Missouri line should extend westward to the Pacific. What was the Missouri Compromise, I again ask - It was a prohibition of slavery in a given territory. It was substantially all the territory we had; and we prohibited slavery in it. I want the gentleman, the unterrified, to understand it, if it is possible for them to do so. We agreed to admit Missouri as a slave state, if slavery should be prohibited in the remaining part of the Louisiana Purchase. Beyond that, we had no territory at the time. We had no territory but the Northwest Territory in 1787, and slavery was excluded from that by the act of cession and a clause in the ordinance of 1787. In 1820 we admitted Missouri and excluded slavery from all the territory we then had, save the Indian Territory. Meanwhile, in 1848 we had acquired new territory in our war with Mexico, and the slaveholders desired us to renew the bargain of 1820. The Missouri Compromise did not bind us to any such thing, neither by word nor by implication. We were under no obligation whatsoever to go for a similar line, extending to the Pacific Ocean. And now in 1848 the question came up - shall we apply the principles of prohibition to all this territory? - Territory that we had acquired. We said, "Yes". It was simply this: suppose you own a section of land and you own it in conjunction with another individual, and you agree that it shall be divided so and so and that a portion of it shall be cultivated, and another portion to be given to thistles and brambles - shall run to waste. Afterwards you buy another section of land: does it follow that the same division is to take place? This is preposterous. The Missouri Compromise was a settlement as to the admission of Missouri and the prohibition of slavery in Kansas and Nebraska and had no reference to territories afterwards acquired. I deny utterly and forever here and everywhere, in the House and out of the House, by moon light and sunlight and gas light and star light, on the road, in the cars and in the mobank, -- that we ever agreed or are under any obligation formal or by implication to apply this dividing line to any new territory which we might acquire. That is a figment of the imagination. Such a claim is an unsubstantial and unreal as "the baseless fabric of a dream." We never agreed, and in the name of liberty, we never will agree to it. I desire that these two points be kept in mind - the admission of Missouri into the Union, and the prohibition of slavery in Kansas and Nebraska. This was the whole of it. The prohibition has been repealed, the barrier has been broken down, and slavery, as it were, invited in to take possession of that glorious and far-reaching territory, extending as it does, to forty-nine degrees north latitude, and stretching westward to the snowcapped summits of the Rocky Mountains. It is all broken down, sir, and slavery is invited to enter in, to take possession, to curse it with the blight and mildew of its presence. And the ruthless hand that recklessly accomplished this impious demolition was that of Senator Douglas aided by the vote of Senator Shields, not under the instructions of the people of Illinois, but of the slaveholders. "But," says a Nebraska friend, -- (I don't like to call you a democrat, for you don't deserve that title, we have got your principles, and would be glad to take possession of the name which you have desecrated) - "why we propose to leave it to the people of the territory there, we do not propose to interfere one way or another, but let the people do as they please." In reply to this, I say that according to our theory, and as our government has been administered from the very outset, the Congress of the United States is the government of the territories. The territories are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the people of the United States, and I as one of the people have the right to a voice in this matter just as much as though I lived upon the soil. They have no more right to the exclusive jurisdiction over that territory than one partner has to the exclusive control of the affairs of the company. The territory of the United States is different from the states, we have jurisdiction over it.
I have other objections to this "squatter sovereignty" doctrine as it is preached. I do not admit that these "sovereigns" or any other sovereigns have any right to convert man into a chattel, into goods, into four-footed beasts. I tell you, gentlemen, they have no authority to do it. I do not believe such a transformation is right, whether expressed by the people of the territory, or by the state, or by the czar of Russia, and the one has the same right as the other--No power on earth has the right to make a man a slave; in doing so, you trample upon the principles of the Declaration of Independence. They have no right to blot out his humanity and convert him into a thing and carry him to market, as they would a mere brute. I deny in the name of the great principles of the Revolution - in the name of a common God, and a common father, I deny this right to anybody and everybody. God made that man as he made you and me in his own image, and the sanction of his authority is around him. Sir, you had better take your foot from his neck, you might as well trample the Son of God. He is degraded, I know. He is often vicious, I grant it. - He is often ignorant, repulsive: I do not deny it, but he is still a man. With the germ of immortal existence buried beneath this outside rubbish, though defaced, crippled, coffined, and confined, there is the divine miniature, and you "squatter sovereigns", I repeat, had better take your feet from off him. If that is the case, some one may ask, why don't you go for abolishing slavery in the states? I do not go for it simply because I do not have the power. If I had the power, you could rely upon my doing. Had I the power, I would abolish serfdom in Russia. If I had the power, I would dot the European continent all over with republics. I have no power to enter the state of South Carolina and abolish slavery there by an act of Congress than I have to go into Brazil and abolish it there. But we have the power to do it in territories as they are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the people of the United States.
Now, Sir, I want these resolutions to pass. I want the resolution that require our senators to use their best endeavors to rescue the prohibition of slavery in all our territories to pass. Nobody contends that the federal government has not a clear right to say to slavery that it shall never occupy one square foot of earth belonging to the United States. All must concede that they have the right to say to this system, so fraught with evil; thus far shall thou come and no farther; here let thy dark wave be stayed. I want to instruct Senator Douglas and Shields to vote for a bill applying the prohibition to Kansas and Nebraska and then extend it south and west till it guards as the cherubims guarded the paradise of God. Every inch of territory over which the stars and stripes, the glorious banner of my country, waves, the emblem of exclusive jurisdiction.
Now, gentlemen, will you not vote for these resolutions? Are they not right? Don't you believe it is the duty of our senator to vote for such a bill whether you be Whigs or Democrats? Ought it not really to be the policy to be adopted by the Government of the United States? That is one of the planks of the Republican Party. The party that has stepped forth like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, full grown and fully equipt for battle, and has already in deed gained no inconsiderable victories - and here is one old, fanatical abolitionist voting with the majority in the Illinois legislature.
[A voice--Your allies deny that you are an abolitionist.]
If anyone denies I am an abolitionist he denies erroneously. I have no doubt what is the truth.
"I am an abolitionist.
I glory in the name.
Though now by slavery's imminence hissed
And covered with shame,
It is a spell of light and power
The watch word of the free;
Who spares it in the trial hour,
A craven soul is he." [Applause].
Some of you may be enlightened as to what abolitionism is. My abolitionism is just what I state here. I do not acknowledge it to be all you may fancy it. - I can hardly refrain from a smile sometimes. Ask a simple act of justice for the poor Negro, that he may have the means of education, and up starts my friend here, and exclaims, oh! You want to bring them up on a social equality with the whites -- you want to marry them, do you?" When I hear them and similar remarks on such occasions it reminds me of an anecdote related of Lady Wortley Montague and Fox. Fox: passing the evening at the home of the former had the misfortune to displease her ladyship, and she, rather petulant, retorted in language allowable at that age, that she didn't care three skips of a louse for him. Fox immediately wrote impromptu,
"A lady hath told me, and in her own house,
She cares not for me three skips of a louse.
I forgive the dear creature of what she has said
For a woman still thinks of what runs in her head."
[Laughter and applause.]
It must be that this thing is running in the head of these gentlemen, this amalgamation idea, I mean. [Applause.] I have digressed, as ministers sometimes will in their discourse. Where was I? Ah. I was speaking in regard to the platform of the Republican Party that, in one of our planks, made of live oak, and it in a craft that is going to run out every storm and already glides over the waters as gracefully as the barge of Cleopatra. Thus I may in one article of our creed that it is constitutional for the American people to prohibit slavery in the territory of the United States, and that it is a sacred obligation which they owe to their country, to the world and to their God to do it.
Another plank in our craft is this: the admission of no more slave states into the union. I would indeed be willing to leave it to any people, so far as the practical result is concurred, to say whether it should be a slave state. Sixty thousand people cannot be found on earth who will vote slavery into a territory, not contaminated with its presence. If you will keep it out until they have inhabitants enough to organize a state government, they will not introduce it.
As for the other plank, the Fugitive Slave Law, as it is called, I wish to remark, so far as the Fugitive Slave Law is concerned in the title, I do not think it is unconstitutional, because it uses in the title of the bill the language of the constitution. I shall in my remarks consider it not a law to return persons owing service of labor, but as a law for the recapture and return of fugitive slaves. I hold it to be in its practical workings, unconstitutional, and if you will bear with me a single moment, I want to take this ground that the constitution of the United States nowhere recognizes, much less guarantees the right of property in man. Now that is not abolition fanaticism, it is a clear legal truth, and a truth that will be admitted sooner or later, that the constitution of the United States recognizes no right of property in man. It says nothing about slavery, nothing in the letter and certainly nothing in the spirit. - It only speaks of persons held to service or labor under the law of the state: according to Madison's own expressed declaration, he would not recognize the idea of property in man. I have the Madison Papers here, and if any gentleman wishes to see them he can in these debates. Madison repudiated the idea of recognizing property in man, he would not use the word servant or servitude, lest it should be so construed, and instead of it, he would employ the terms "person" and "labor" or "service". And, sir, they did this intentionally, because they would not admit the idea of property in man. The interpretation that has been put upon the constitution making it guarantee slavery is traditional, and like most traditions, false. It is not the idea of the language; it is not the spirit of the constitution of the United States. But someone will say it means something. I grant it, let us see what it does.
An article IV, section 2,3.--[a voice from the opposition, "What did Jefferson say?"] He said, he trembled for his country when he remembered that God was just, and that his justice would not sleep forever, and that in the event of a servile war, there was no attribute of this just God that would take sides with us. He said that the little finger of American slavery was thicker than the loins of British slavery--this is what Jefferson said. Does the gentleman want any further quotations?
The constitution says, "any person held to service or labor - that is all the foundation that the act has: it is the basis of the fugitive slave law. Now I declare to you honestly, I am in favor of executing that clause of the constitution, but I believe the Fugitive Slave Law unconstitutional for several reasons.
In the first place, Congress has no business with the subject. And to express this power is an invasion of states' rights. It is the business of the states and not of the federal government to execute that clause. Read the fourth article of the Constitution. It defines the duties which the states owe to each other, and what they shall not do.
It says 2. Article. II. Any person charged with a felony or any other crime, who shall run from justice, shall be delivered to be moved to the state having jurisdiction of the crime.
Suppose a man commits murder in Missouri and escapes into Illinois, who delivers him up? The federal constitution--know the executive of the state. And so in regard to the next clause, where persons held to service or labor are to be delivered up--the conclusion in my own mind after examining this whole subject that it is the business of the state and not of the federal government to execute the clause under consideration. It is our business to take them up and send them back or rather to let them be taken back. But you return a slave under any circumstances. I would have a state law and extend to the later this clause of the constitution, and with it before a jury you can prove that a man owes service or labor. I will be part of that jury to send him back. I will send back anyone who owes service or labor, whether it be an indentured apprentice, an immigrant pledged to work for his passage money, or the person who has bargained for so many -------- and dodged the contract. The slave does not owe service or labor under the law of the slave states and though it has been the wild vagaries of a fanatic now, it will yet be the established doctrine in the construction of the constitution, that the slave does not owe service or labor under the laws of the slave states. He is not held to service or labor by these laws. In Kentucky, for instance, he is made an article of property by the laws the same as a horse or an ox. The law places him as a piece of property at the feet of the master, and he whips the labor out of him if necessary. If the slave runs away in order to proclaim him, the master does not obtain a magistrate's warrant, he takes his dogs and finding him heads him back as he would his stray horse or ox. It would be a fine operation for a constable to take out a warrant from a justice of the peace and seizing the old brindle ox by the horn or the old gray mare by the mane, read his warrant and arrest them in the name of the Christian people of the palmetto State. Now a slave is no more held to service or labor by the laws of a slave state than the horse he drives or the plow he holds. The constitution of the United States was ordained to establish and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. It was not ordained to hunt men and women, for this is to establish injustice and secure the cursor of slavery. No, Sir, it is not nominated in the bond: and I am like the disguised Portia pleading for the unfortunate merchant; if slavery, like the old Jew Shylock will have its pound of flesh, it shall not have a drop of blood. I will not yield one inch of slavery beyond what the Constitution demands. I am going on the very verge of the constitution against it as Franklin declared he would. I understand that it is a duty of the states to deliver up those who escape from justice. Let the state do this and take it out of the hands of the federal government.
I have many objections against the Fugitive Slave Law, mighty and insuperable. I object to it because, as I have said, it imposes upon us obligations that the constitution does not require. I object to it because it requires of us a repulsive and degrading service--that it requires of the north a duty--I will not dignify it by calling it a duty--it requires of us a service against which our nature, our humanity, with all our sense of justice and right revolts. Ask an honorable slaveholder if he will thus pursue a fugitive slave, and he will say no. They usually employ some drunken, degraded, vagabond, the very dregs of society - some miserable bloated retch to perform this drudgery for them, and when this scum reaches a free state, the law calls upon us, all of us, to transform ourselves into four footed beasts and chase down the fugitive. I repeat, it is degrading to us as American citizens, American free men to do this. Sir, I have seen three fugitives within the last three months. One, I recollect, without the least trace of African descent -fair, graceful, and educated, and betrothed to the man of her choice, fleeing from a wretched libertine who had purchased her, and doomed her to a fate worse than death, asked me for shelter and protection. -
Now, what does your Fugitive Slave bill ask of me? It asks me to seize this young woman, to fetter and mangle her, and drag her back to the possession of that …. Libertine. Do you want me to do it?
For American citizens who come down and transform themselves into hunters of men? I know of no such transformation. I have read the metamorphoses of Ovid, which teemed in his fertile imagination. There was the change of one of their deities into a beautiful animal; there was a change of a beautiful lady into a tree weeping blood; there was the change of a hunter into a deer, and devoured by his dogs; and there was the Cirecan trans-formation of men into swine. All these I have read of, but none of them so revolting as the transmogrifying as American citizen into a slave catcher. The only thing that resembles it, was the transformation of an archangel into a toad.
"I would rather be a dog and bay at the moon, I would a kitten and cry mew," before I would be such a citizen. My Nebraska friends, if you fancy this transformation, you may make the experiment, but I apprise you, if they get on the Underground Railroad, they are safe in spite of you.
I have but a word or two more in conclusion. I have traced the principles which underlie our government in their application to the extension of slavery; then, in the admission of new states and as found in the constitution in the application to the Fugitive Slave Law; in these in the main are the planks that go to make up the Republican platform. I want simply to express my confident belief that these principles will triumph--that they will prevail. I was struck with the thought in the discussion of a little railroad down south (mound city road.) In regard to that railroad, gentlemen who discussed the matter had become "higher law" men, and they did not want to fight against providence. They did not wish to oppose nature. Now, gentlemen, you can fight against the elements, you can build cities upon quagmires - the magnificent city St. Petersburg is so founded and sits there queen of the north. Man can overcome the elements. Mind is continually gaining the mastery over matter. It tunnels the mountains, it makes a pathway under the river, and the lightning's even come and say "Here we are, ready to carry your message." But you cannot overcome God's truth. I was pleased with the ability and courtesy with which the young gentlemen conducted the discussion yesterday. Let me entreat them to disregard mere party ties, and consecrate themselves to a high and honorable ambition to serve their country and their race, then, gentlemen, looking back upon your lives, you can say - eregi monumentum area perennius non omnis motar.
Fear not: scorn the worldling laughter;
Thine ambition trample thou:
Thou shall find a long hereafter
To be more than tempts thee now.
O let all that tempts within thee
For the truth's sake go ahead
Strike that every nerve and sinew
Tell on ages tell for God.
The General Context
This speech was presented in the midst of the political intrigue of Abraham Lincoln's nomination as United States Senator, which was voted on two days later in the state legislature. Owen Lovejoy over the past fourteen years had gained a reputation as an extreme, radical abolitionist, but had in fact developed into the mature leader of the well-organized and highly committed political antislavery forces in Illinois.
Expectations ran high the day of the speech. The issue was the effective political response to Stephen Douglas's unpopular Nebraska Act, which had repealed the Missouri Compromise Line, and allowed the spread of slavery into territories heretofore considered free. At stake was which minority political group could be so organized as to defeat the weakened Democratic Party in 1856. Lincoln still believed in the Whig Party could be rejuvenated. Lyman Trumbull had hopes that the Illinois State Democrats would not insist on supporting the Nebraska Act. The Know Nothing or American Party was rapidly increasing its strength in 1854. And there was a solid political antislavery organization in the Northern part of the state. The political tensions were high at this volatile and fluid time. This speech was a defining moment in the political transition that formed the Republican Party in Illinois.
The Social Setting
The Hall of the House of Representatives in the State Capitol was full long before the meeting began. "When Lovejoy commenced, all the seats were occupied, and all standing room taken by intent listeners," according to Edward Magdol, author of Owen Lovejoy: Abolitionist in Congress. A reporter wrote in the Free West, February 6, 1855, "this is the first opportunity Mr. Lovejoy has had to give is views…there is a general feeling he will 'make the fur fly." Many people had not heard an antislavery speech before and they believed the worst distortions of the antislavery platform. But after the speech it was reported in the Free West March 15th, "With scarcely an exception, they say they fully endorse all Lovejoy said." Mr. Lovejoy was no longer pointed out as the 'notorious abolitionists' but an enlightened Christian and eloquent defender of free institutions. Erastus Wright of Springfield wrote the Free West, "Lovejoy it is said, made the greatest speech ever made in the State House." Of course Wright was a personal friend of Owen's martyred brother Elijah and may have exaggerated, and of course Lincoln wouldn't give his "House Divided" speech until three years later.
The Historical Context
Nine months before, on May 30, 1854, Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas pushed through Congress the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Many in Illinois considered this deed by Douglas, as abandoning the sacred Missouri compromise by allowing the possibility of slavery in heretofore-free territory. Conscience Whigs around the nation were alarmed, including Abraham Lincoln. He jumped back into politics and emphatically called for the restoration of the compromise, making earnest, able well-attended speeches, against the Nebraska Act and for the non-extension of slavery into the territories. One such speech was at the Springfield State Fair September 5th 1854, which is known in its written form as the Peoria Speech given a few weeks later. In it Lincoln gave an impassioned critique of slavery extension based on the Declaration of Independence. He called upon Southern Whigs to rise up and join in restoring the Missouri Compromise.
Concerned and able Democrats such as Lyman Trumbull of Belleville, Illinois, and Norman Judd of Chicago also spoke up against the Nebraska Act and became known as Anti-Nebraska Democrats. The rising Know Nothing tide in the form of the American Party was at its height in 1855. It was against foreigners, Catholics and liquor. Though it was a secret, bigoted Protestant organization it helped elect about 30% of the Illinois State Legislature in 1855, scattered among those officially labeled either Whigs or Republicans.
The political antislavery forces had organized the Liberty Party in 1840, which advocated abolishing slavery everyway including the South and establishing equality of rights for the Negro. Lovejoy had run for congress on this radical ticket in 1846. However, in 1848 the Free Soil Party was formed with the explicit decision not to interfere with slavery in southern states where it was accepted by the Constitution. Rather it emphasized stopping the spread of slavery in the territories. In 1852 the Free Democratic Party was organized in Illinois to resist the Southern Slave Power's encroachment on the rights of Northerners. All of these former antislavery political parties were committed to defeat the power of the slaveholding class on the United States Congress.
The Political Context
The political antislavery forces worked vigorously under the leadership of Ichabod Codding, Zabina Eastman and Owen Lovejoy during 1853 and 1854 to organize a new fusion party of Republicans. They called for a State Convention to meet in Springfield September 5, 1854. The deliberate misrepresentation of their moderate Convention as ultra and radical was typical of the continued contempt of proslavery forces toward any antislavery polices in Illinois. This was a major stumbling block in the three-year process of forming the Republican Party in Illinois. Since each group thought they had the strength of take advantage of the weakened Democratic Party in Illinois, they all refused to coalesce with the early Republicans, especially A. Lincoln who did not want to be identified with what were called ultra extremists. Lovejoy assured the committee that it could trust Lincoln on the slavery issue and had invited him to attend the meeting. Lincoln had delivered the impassioned speech on restoring the Missouri Comprise only the day before and the committee didn't need that much convincing. Lincoln later refused to serve on the republican state committee when asked.
The result of the confused political situation was that in the state elections of 1854 for the first time the Democrats no longer had a majority in the state legislature. This was a sign of the vulnerability of the Democrats in the North over the Nebraska Issue. The Nebraska or Douglas Democrats had lost control, though they had a slight majority of the 25 seats in the Senate. In the House of Representatives there were only 21 Nebraska Democrats, with 22 Republicans or fusion members, about 20 Whigs and the rest anti-Nebraska Democrats of the 75 seats.
It was clear there were enough votes to elect an anti-Nebraska member to the United States Senate. Because of organizational issues and bad weather the vote had been postponed to January 8th 1855. Lincoln yearned to become Senator. He set about, with his political allies, to secure the vote. There is considerable evidence to support that there was a general understanding that in return for the republican fusion members' support for Lincoln, the leadership of the House would be anti-Nebraska; that Lincoln would support a resolution on non-extension of slavery in the territories; that resolutions would be introduced in the House by Lovejoy on, (1) non-extension of slavery, (2) no more slave states, (3) and repeal of the fugitive slave law; and that Lovejoy would have an opportunity to address the Legislature on February 6th, prior to the election for Senator. The Democrats yearned to find proof of this scheme. It seemed obvious after the results of both votes, which has been confirmed by letters from the time and reminisces long after the time. The resolution on non-extension of slavery won by about the same number and the same people voting for it that voted for Lincoln for Senator on the first three ballots. The chief contender was the current Democratic Senator James Shields. Other contenders were the popular and somewhat neutral on the slavery issue, Gov. Matteson, and the anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull. On the ninth ballot Lincoln, fearing Democrat Matteson would be elected, threw his support to Lyman Trumbull who became Senator.
The Lincoln Context
The similarities and contrasts of Lincoln's Springfield Speech at the State Fair September 5, 1854 and Lovejoy's speech in the State Capitol five months later signaled the course of the debate leading up to the fusion of the Republican Party.
The foundational legal persuasive arguments, homespun metaphors, rational and emotional appeals to the people's common sense and fairness in both speeches influenced the direction of power for years. Politically they shared the same hatred of slavery, and love for the Declaration of Independence, and restoration of the Missouri Compromise Line which would prevent extension of slavery in the territories, but they did not share Lovejoy's emphasis on religion nor his insistence of the repeal of the so-called Fugitive Slave Law. Nor did they share Lincoln's hope for the resurrected Whig party.
A comparison of their styles of communication could be instructive to any student of literature or rhetoric. Lincoln's style included a careful choice of the appropriate word, a logical, detailed historical analysis, a disarming wit, an emphatic commitment end the spread of slavery, and an earnest plea to join him in restoring the Missouri Compromise. Lovejoy's style included, a vivid use of descriptive language, a simple and profound use of religious terms and images, a love of the basic truths of the experiences of the founders of the country with explicit images of their patriotism, and an ability to be direct and vehement with his anger and hostility to the slaveholding power. Yet, he enjoyed a playful, friendly engaging rapport with his audiences. Lovejoy was called extreme, radical, and fiery; yet in this speech there is no mention of the radical positions to end slavery in the south, nor of equal rights, though those who disagreed with him could easily misinterpret his vehemency. Lincoln on the other hand worked overtime not to be misunderstood and was precise with his language.
The relationship which began at this time between these two men who were so similar yet so different would become an enduring one. Reading these speeches together one is aware of the bond that would be possible if they allowed it to happen--the same impassioned sense of justice, the same objective to make things better, the same personal drive and ambition to make their contribution. Both were endowed with great intellectual and verb gifts and an ability to love and relate to people. Yet they were of different sides of the fence--one was a cautious legal southerner the other an undaunted, protestant Northerner. They had a rough courtship for the next seven years; but in the middle of the civil war found each other, so that Lincoln would write to John Howard Bryant a letter [in the Bureau Country Historical Society] on the occasion of Lovejoy's death, "My acquaintance with him began about ten years ago with every step of it being one of increased respect and esteem, ending in my part with no less than affection on my part."