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Of Ex-Gov. Aaron V. Brown, in the Second Session of the
Southern Convention, on the Resolution Reported Saturday, November 15th, 1850.
MR. PRESIDENT :-Since our adjournment in June last, Congress has acted on all the great and exciting subjects which had called this convention together. Our business now is, to examine how far that action has been or ought to be satisfactory to the south. I have examined the bills, with the strongest predisposition to be pleased and satisfied with them. I am proud of my country-proud of her institutions—proud of her brilliant and triumphant career. I am, therefore, painfully anxious that nothing should occur to retard her progress or to obscure her bright and glorious future. But, sir, I have tried in vain to be convinced that the south has received any thing like justice at the hands of the north. In every effort my mind stands baffled and rebuked in the vain attempt.
I begin, sir, with the admission of California, I waive all irregularity in her application-all imputed Executive dictation-all doubts about the citizenship of those who participated in the formation of her constitution. Still I am compelled to demand, why was she permitted to come in with all this boundless extent of country? It was not necessary to her people; on the contrary, we know that it was highly inconvenient to them. Why, then, was it done? That man must be blind who does not see, and know, and feel that it was done for the sole purpose of excluding the south forever from the shores of the Pacific. The north had said that she should be excluded. The Wilmot proviso was the infamous instrument selected for the purpose. The people of California, forgetting for the moment how much they stood indebted to southern valor and southern counsels for their very existence, let themselves to the inglorious deed. Congress, by rejecting every proposition to curtail her enormous boundary, ratified and confirmed it; and thus the great work of our exclusion was accomplished. Remember, sir, I am not complaining that California was admitted as a State : nor am I objecting to any size and boundary which the wants and necessities of her people might demand. My precise objection is, that she was let in with an extent of boundary which she did not need and which she did not expect or desire to retain, and which, in reality, she is only holding over against the south, for the future benefit of the freesoil States of the north. Congress ought to have said, “Take of the common territory what you need—take largely and freely; but you shall not take all.” Now, sir, if Congress refused to say this, with the view of depriving the south of her fair and just proportion of this common fund, the device, though ingenious, was nevertheless a flagrant violation of the Constitution.
So much as to the admission of California into the Union. What of Utah and New Mexico, embracing all the balance of the territory ? They have been organized into territorial governments, but with no clause repealing any laws or ordinances of Mexico abolishing slavery which may be in force in them. For the want of such a clause, I maintain that they are as effectually lost to the south as if they had been sunken by an earthquake. If those laws and ordinances are in force, then, of course, they are lost. But I maintain that if it be only doubtful whether they are in force or not, that very doubt is as fatal to the south as the Wilmot proviso. No southern man will dare to take his property there until that doubt is removed. Congress ought to have removed it. Her own discussions had started it, and the master minds of that body had fixed and confirmed it. If her object really was to open those
countries equally and fairly to all the citizens of all the States, she should have added the following section : “ Be it enacted, that all laws and parts of laws passed by Mexico, which may be in force in said territories in relation to slavery, be, and the same are hereby repealed.” Mr. President, this short but expressive sentence would have at once calmed the fears and discontents of the south. The clouds which lowered so darkly over her horizon would have been dispelled, and the rainbow of hope and confidence would have shone with renewed brightness and glory. But no : the amendment was offered and voted down, and the south doomed to submit--not to the Constitution, but to Mexican laws if they existed, or to stay away, from a well grounded apprehension that they might exist. Sir, that was the fatal vote that prostrated the south in those territories. She was the equal of the other States. She had as much right to enter there with her property as they had with theirs. But Congress leaves an old Mexican ordinance, or the well grounded fear of it, to do that which Mexican bayonets could never do: to drive every southern man away from the country.
And what are the explanations and apologies for this extraordinary vote when given by southern men? It is first alleged that these Mexican laws are not in fact in force, and then it is gravely insisted that you cannot repeal what is not in force! that you cannot repeal a nonentity! In passing a new law, how often does the legislator find himself in doubt as to how many of the old laws may be in conflict with it? or, how often does he doubt of what the opinions of the judges might be on the subject ? and how sure is he in either case, to give certainty and force to the new enactment, to declare “ that all laws and parts of laws which may be inconsistent with it shall be repealed ?" No man can give dignity or respectability to such a sophistry, and I dismiss it, in order to notice another. It is said that such a repeal of the Mexican laws would be equivalent to the establishment of slavery in those territories, which Congress cannot and ought not have done. What! to repeal “all laws and parts of laws” in relation to slavery equivalent to the establishment of it? Directly the reverse-it leaves the whole country, rasa tabula, a mere blank-with nothing for or against slavery. What then? Why, it must remain forever unestablished, unless Congress shall interfere and establish it. This is forbidden by the great doctrine of non-intervention. What then ? It must remain so unestablished until the territorial legislatures establish it. The universal opinion has been (at least until very lately, that territorial legislatures had no such power. What, then, becomes of slavery in these territories, the common property of the States, during the interval of the repeal of the Mexican laws and the time when they form a State Constitution, preparatory to admission into the Union ? During all this time the country is a mere blank, with nothing for or against its establishment. It is subject to the Constitution of the United States alone. If that will protect the southern man's property there, he is content. If it will not, he is content. He invokes no intervention of Congress, save to set aside the previous intervention of Mexico. When that is done he has an open field and a fair chance under the Constitution."
But, sir, another argument is made, that the doctrine of nonintervention forbade this repeal of the Mexican laws and ordinances. I pretend to understand something of this doctrine. I have borne its banner through three hard fought politicial
I have unfurled it in every valley and planted it on nearly every mountain top of Tennessee. What was that doctrine ? Non-intervention by anybody and every bodybetween the people and their right to settle the question of slavery when forming their State Constitution. Non-intervention by Congress, non-intervention by Mexico, non-intervention by any body and every body—that was the Polk, the Cass, the democratic doctrine, if you please. What an absurdity! ! To hold on with a death-grasp to non-intervention by Congress, and at the same moment to advocate intervention by Mexico ! Intervention by Mexico cleaves your rights to the earth, as certainly as intervention by Congress. Why all this clamor against the Wilmot proviso? Why this bold and daring declaration that you would resist that at all hazards and to the last extremity, if, after all, these old Mexican ordinances were to remain unrepealed, the only things which American valor could not subdue in Mexico !
Mr. Clay, Gen. Cass, Mr. Webster, and many others whose
names may well stand in proud association with theirs, long since told you that these ordinances were in force. If you did not mean to open that country to the south, by repealing them, why did you not surrender at once and say that the south never could and never ought to get any portion of it? Sir, I put the question to this convention, I put it to the good sense of mankind, whether great Constitutional rights ought ever to he sacrificed by holding to a mere abridgement of the doctrine of non-intervention, too narrow and contracted for their protection ?
Mr. President: In the progress of this dispute about our territorial possessions, we have lost too much, by not better understanding this doctrine of non-intervention. At our last session we maintained this doctrine in its fullest, broadest sense. In ten resolutions we maintained it-maintained it as to the whole country. But, sir, after cxhausting every argument and making every appeal to our northern brethren to allow us the full benefit of it, we turned to the contemplation of the painful fact, whose bitter realization we have since experienced—to the fact that there was little or no probability that our rights would be fully recognized. Under the full belief that they would not, we planted ourselves on the former compromises which had been made in critical periods of our history. Sir, we were unanimous in favor of the Missouri compromise line--not one discordant voice was heard through the spacious hall of our deliberations. If the Congress of the United States had responded favorably to that voice, all would now have been well with the Republic. California would have been in the Union, but with her southern boundary on thirty-six degrees, thirty minutes. She would then have been larger than Virginia, New York, or Pennsylvania. The remaining country would have been organized into territorial governments, without saying a word about slavery-neither admitting it nor rejecting it; but with a repealing clause of laws which might be in force there abolishing slavery. Thus the south and the north would have been thrown on an equal footing, leaving it to the Constitution--not to Congress--not to the laws of Mexico--to say whether slaves should be carried there or not. Ah, if this had been