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tempt to enforce its imposition! I will not enumerate the effects of such a conflict. I pray heaven it may never happen, but I will say that, in my opinior, the object is not worth the conflict.
Sir, I invite gentlemen to look at the present state of the public councils, and consider whether they do not hazard their whole object by persisting in a measure so repugnant to the ardent feelings of at least one moiety of this einpire, and so much opposed to the constitutional views of many of the friends of the avowed policy. It is a consideration to which a statesman is bound to look: if actuated by motives of humanity and the public peace, they would be criminal to disregard it. We see it ascertained beyond doubt, that the senate will not consent to this restriction, and that, if we persist in it, they will not unite even in any territorial regulation. The introduction of slaves into the western country will remain free. Those who desire to send this property there for sale will be stimulated to do so without delay; the market there will rise in apprehension of the future acts of Congress, dealers and settlers will take advantage of it; and thus slavery will become too deeply rooted to yield to any means of extirpation which future councils may employ. In the mean time, too, public excitement increases; evil men seize upon the occasion to promote their designs; local prejudices spring up, and the spirit of jealousy and discord is roused in all parts of the country, which they who engender will be wholly unable to allay or direct. But if, consulting the present state of things, gentlemen will yield something to a spirit of harmony and mutual interests, we may now put this unpleasant subject to sleep forever. The people of Missouri will enter the union with their rights unimpaired, and their feelings undisturbed, devoted to your institutions, and inspired with full confidence in your justice and generosity; the territorial soil will then be unpolluted with slavery. Its introduction in regard to that being prohibited, much the largest portion of the western world will be peopled by a population unfriendly to slavery;
and when they come to frame their state constitutions, preparatory to their future admission into the union, they will voluntarily form them in conformity with their habits and principles; for, I desire to be understood as denying the authority of Congress to make any regulations for a territory, which can be binding upon the people against their consent, when they come to make their constitution, and after their admission into the union. I sanctify no irrevocable ordinances. But their territorial regulations will accomplish the object by creating a population whose interests it will be voluntarily to adopt the restriction. In this way, too, Missouri will be seated in the midst of non-slave-holding states, and the force of public sentiment will soon lead to the emancipation of her present slave population. For the accomplishment of all these objects, gentlemen are called upon merely to abstain from the assumption of a doubtful power over a resisting people!
Mr. Chairman, the union of these states is the production of the spirit of harmony and compromise. Do we remember how much our fathers surrendered to compose, and shall we refuse to surrender any thing to preserve it? It was founded in common confidence, and for common benefits; it must be cherished by a common affection and forbearance, or it will scarcely survive the hands which planted it. The founders of the union had their own advantage and the welfare of their children to recommend its adoption; we have our interests, the welfare of our posterity, and the duty we owe to those who transmitted it to us, to perpetuate its blessings. Shall it be said, that we will not sacrifice one prejudice on the altar of the union for its preservation, when they offered up thousands to rear it! They not only tolerated the existing slavery, but in the spirit of mutual compromise, consented to its augmentation from abroad for twenty years! We are only required to leave undisturbed that which they entailed upon us; nay, sir, we are merely required to abstain from encroaching upon the rights of the people, and, in doing so, multiply the
chances of emancipation, and meliorate the condition of the slave.
Sir, if the cause of this restriction upon the people of Missouri, is deaf to all these considerations, and stubbornly sacrifices all, rather than yield a part, I pronounce it an unholy and an unprofitable cause. It carries no peace to the bosom of the enslaved African now on your shores, it neither casts off his fetters, nor lightens his burden. Pass this restriction, and his chains are rivetted as tight as ever; his doom is fixed as irrevocably, nay, more so than before. It may serve, however, Mr. Chairman, to foment political cabals, and promote the unhallowed views of the ambitious and designing. I do not say that such was its object in its origin; I am sure it was not; and I do not believe there is any gentleman on this floor who could be the tool in such an intrigue. But may there not be men out of this House, who would avail themselves of such a state of public excitement, to accomplish the possession of power? Sir, may there not be men out of this House, who are now adding to the impetus which this subject has received for such a purpose? Gentlemen will remember, that the objects of an ambitious man are generally more than half accomplished, before he is willing to avow them. I will not say that there are such, but I will say, if there are, they are unworthy of any public trust in this nation. Nor, sir, will they have much reason to rejoice in their triumph, should they be successful. No political power can be permanent in this country, which shall be founded on local jealousy, and geographical distinctions. Public honors, to be durable, must be won by public services and distinguished merit; they must be sought through the affectionate confidence of a virtuous and intelligent community; they must be the offspring of public gratitude for public worth. Power, acquired in any other way, will not be worth possessing: he, who acquires it by these divisions and distinctions, will not lie upon a bed of roses; bis honors will be worn by a fretful if not a criminal brow, and, in the
midst of a discontented and distracted empire. He will come to the councils of a people disordered by intestine feuds, with feelings embittered by the recollection of domestic strife: his triumph would be as evanescent as uncomfortable. I repeat it, sir, that it will be well for gentlemen to consider whether there are not men who will take advantage of the present agitation, to engender all this mischief. Sir, if there should be one such, it is our duty to defeat his machinations; he is unworthy our confidence; sir, he sits a cormorant in the tree of life,
SPEECH OF JOHN SERGEANT,
A BILL TO ENABLE THE PEOPLE OF THE MISSOURI TER
RITORY TO FORM A CONSTITUTION AND STATE GOVERNMENT, AND FOR THE ADMISSION OF SUCH STATE INTO THE UNION ;
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED
STATES, FEBRUARY 9, 1820.
The question before the committee was on agreeing to the following
amendment:66 And shall ordain and establish that there shall be neither slavery
nor involuntary servitude in the said state, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted. Provided always, that any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any other state, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid. And provided also, that the said provision shall not be construed to alter the condition or civil rights of any person now held to service or labor in the said territory.”
MR. CHAIRMAN, The important question, now before the committee, has already engaged the best talents and commanded the deepest attention of the nation. What the people strongly feel, it is natural that they should freely express; and whether this is done by pamphlets and essays, by the resolutions of meetings of citizens, or by the votes of state legislatures, it is equally legitimate, and entitled to respect, as the voice of the public, upon a great and interesting public measure. The free expression of opinion, is one of the rights guaranteed by the constitution, and, in a government like ours, it is an invaluable right. It has not, therefore, been without some surprise and concern, that I have heard it com