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in 1778, thirty years before the prohibition under tlic constitution, and one hundred and fifty-eight years after the introduction of slavery into her borders. It was a public testimony of this great state against slavery, as wrong in principle and a practical evil; and it was a pledge, that she would do, what could safely be done, to mitigate, and ultimately to abolish it. The other southern states entered vigorously into the business of importing slaves, by the aid of the northern slave-traders. The fact is supremely disgraceful, as all must admit, to the states in which this traftic was permitted, and to the individuals from the north, by whom the horrible atrocities of the traffic were practised for the sake of gain.
In the year 1780, the confederated States resolved in Congress, that the unappropriated lands, that might be ceded to the United States, 'should be disposed of for the common benefit, and be formed into distinct republican states.' In 1787, Congress passed an ordinance, for extending the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, which form the basis whereon these republics, their laws and constitutions, are erected." The sixth article of this ordinance declares, that there shall be neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude in the territory north west of the river Ohio.' It was adopted by the unanimous voice of the states represented in that Congress, com prising all the slave-holding states, except Maryland, whose delegates were not present. The transaction was a most important one, and highly honorable to all the parties concerned in it. Nine independent states, assemblod in Congless, unanimously made an ordinance to exclude slavery from all the territory, not then belonging to the old states, and thus did much to secure the freedom, stability and happiness of a large part of the American union. Through all future ages, the inhabitants of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and the states hereafter to be formed between the lakes and the Mississippi, will bless the memory of the distinguished legislators, by whose wisdom and provident care, the great interests of posterity were thus early consulted. To this ordinance all subsequent proceedings of the national and state governments have conformed; and the territory, which thirty years ago was an entire wilderness, now contains nearly a million of freemen, and not a single slave. In thirty years more, it will contain, in all probability, three millions; and, before the end of the present century, twelve or fifteen millions.
This state of things gives rise to several interesting reflections.
We see how casy it is to accomplish the most important ends, by giving a right direction to a course of measures, at the beginning. Of this consideration, the statesmen of 1787 availed themselves. Though they had no conception of the astonishing growth of this western country in the short period of thirty years, they knew very well, that at some future timc, great and populous communities would exist there; and for the security and happiness of these cominunities, they were determined to provide. But had they busied theniselves entirely with the personal and private interests of the day, and left posterity to take care of themselves, the settlement of this very conntry would have been commenced principally by slave-holders. These settlers, and their adherents in the old states, would liave been clamorous for the right of retaining their slaves. Perhaps if the subject had been suffered to lie untouched till the year 1797, only ten years, it would then have become impossible to exclude slavery, from the infant settlements of the territory. A motley population would have arisen there; and the omission of early precaution would have been lamented with bitter tears, as having let in a remediless curse upon all future generations.
From the unanimity of the slave-holding states in adopting this measure, we may observe how apt men are to do right, after a full and fair developement of a subject, and when no present selfish interest clashes with their decision. In the year 1787, the southern states did not wish for an outlet for a redundant slave-population; and the settlement of the north western territory did not appear likely to affect their interests materially in any way. These states were thus left to act impartially, without any solicitations of present interest. We see what their decision was. Though they all, except Virginia, imported slaves at this very time, directly from Africa; and though Virginia permitted a domestic slave-trade, and held in bondage an immense multitude of human beings, yet they unanimously agreed to exclude slavery from the whole territory then belonging to the United States in common, for the sake of “extending,” (to use their own words,) “the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty.” What a comment is this on the pretexts now used for the permission of slavery in the country beyond the Mississippi.
Of all great questions, which have divided the interests and wishes, of men, perhaps not another can be mentioned, concerning which a right course at the beginning is so important and decisive, as in relation to the question of freedom and slavery. The state of Illinois is in the same latitude as the contemplated state of Missouri, and sep. arated only by a river. The soil and natural productions and advan. tages are similar. Yet the people of Illinois would reject with indig. nation a proposal to introduce slavery; while the people of Missouri are demanding, not only with importunity, but with violent threats, the right, as they call it, of keeping up a domestic slave-trade, and of perpetuating the acknowledged curse of slavery. How is this to be accounted for? By the simple statement, that slavery was at first excluded from Illinois; and the inhabitants are so well aware of the evils which they have escaped, that they deem their privileges inval. uable in this respect; wbile Missouri has been seitled, especially of late, by slave-holders, carrying their slaves with them, and unable to live comfortably in a land of freedom only. This difference of intercsts and wishes will increase in all future times. So it is with the people of Pennsylvania and Maryland, of Ohio and Kentucky; and so it will be with the inhabitants of the eastern and the western banks of the Mississippi. The people of the non-slave-holding states will think and speak in terms of high exultation of their own condition, compared with that of their neighbors; while the slave-holders will bewail the evils which they experience, and yet cling to the cause of all these evils with the most anxious solicitude. It will be extraordinary if human depravity does not show itself in contempt and bitter disdain on one side, to be repaid with intense hatred on the other,
We return from these reflections to the consideration of what transpired at the formation of the federal constitution. In this instrument no direct mention is made of slavery, or the slave-trade. Such an omission is unquestionably a defect. Had all the members of the Ainerican confederacy been willing to do what was plainly right, the constitution would have imposed upon Congress the duty of putting an immediate stop to the slave-trade, and of enforcing the abolition, by the strong arm of the general government. Indeed, if all the states had been actuated by the most evident principles of justice, they would separately, and long before this period, have pronounced the entire abolition of so monstrous a traffic. Still it might have been proper to give Congress the specific power of effectually securing the abolition, by a general law with adequate sanctions. However desirable it was, that such a provision should be inserted in the constitution, it is not a just cause of national reproach that it was omitted. The reason is obvious. The parties to the constitution were, previously to its ratification, independent states with full sovereignty. The majority of the states had neither the right, nor the power, of imposing a constitution on the minority. It was earnestly wished, that all the states should join the union; and, in order to effectuate this object, sume concessions, and a spirit of compromise, were indispensable, The mere omission of any subject, in circumstances like these, cannot fix a stigma upon our national character; though it may bave been occasioned by very reprehensible designs, on the part of some of the contracting parties.
But the constitution gave Congress the power oto regulate com. merce with foreign nations;” and thus implicitly gave the power of regulating or prohibiting the slave-trade. To guard against this im. plication, the slave-importing states insisted upon a clause, which would enable them to carry on the slave-trade for twenty years; viz, till the year 1808. It is remarkable how delicately this clause is worded. It says, that the migration or importation of such persons, as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress, prior to the year 1808; but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not excceding ten dollars for each person."
The mere student of politics and history, unacquainted with the transactions of the times, would hardly suppose, on reading the words just quoted, that they were inserted in a constitution of free government, for ihe sole purpose of permitting the continuance of the slave-trade during the period of twenty years. As the preamble of the constitution declares, that it is established by the people of the United States for this purpose, among others, namely, “to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity," it would have sounded rather harsh to say, in plain and strong language, that a people, boasting themselves to be the freest and lappiest coinmunity on earth, should enjoy the privilege of stealing men in Africa for twenty years, and of bringing them for sale into this country, where they and their “posterity” should be beld in hopeless bondage. So genıle language was used; but the thing remains the same. It is to be observed, however, that this clause did not create the slave-trade; vor in any sense justify it. I'he trade was in existence, and had been, for more than a century and a half. It was under the control of separate states, acting independently of each other; and it might have been carried on with out limits, so far as then appeared, had not Congress obtained the power of prohibiting it, after the expiration of a delinite period. The majority of the Convention iniglit have supposed, that they achieved much, when they placed this subject under the ultimate control of the nation. We ought to rejoice that they accomplished this, rather than reproach them for not insisting on more; when, by doing so, they might have defeated the great object for which they were convened. We should remember, also, that the enormities of the slave-trade had not then been exposed to public view, and of course had not excited the public indignation: and that, subsequently to this time, it required a struggle of eighteen years, in the British parliament, to put down that horrible complication of fraud, pillage, and murder. After making every reasonable apology, however, the insisting upon a temporary continuance of the slave-trade, was a foul stain upon the characters of all, how many or few they might be, by whom its continuance was urged. It is certainly a most amazing exhibition of human weakness, and of human depravity too, tirat any considerable portion of those, who had declared it to the world, as a self-evident truth, (appealing to God for the sincerity of their declaration,) that “all men are created equal," and have certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,' should, while these professions are issuing from their lips, demand the privilege of carrying on a regular traffic in human flesh; a trafic, not only murderous in itself, but the fundamental principle of which is, that a large part of mankind are created to be the slaves of others, and that they have no rights,-no claim to liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. Well might Mr. Jefferson say, in relation to the whole subject of slavery, “I tremble for any country, when I reflect that God is just.”
After the constitution had gone into operation, Congress availed itself of all the power which it possessed. The slave-trade was immediately taxed; and was prohibited in the year 1808. This was done as a matter of course; and without any thing resembling that struggle, which Great Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal, lave successively maintained, with a view to perpetuate this mass of crime and wretchedness.
It caunot be denied, that every year's perseverance in the slavetraile, after the adoption of the constitution especially, buro awful testimony against the states, where this trade was tolerated. These statés ought to have renounced the trade immediately and forever, and to have proposed an amendment to the constitution, su that Congress should liave had the immediate power of enforcing the abolition. Every state in which slavery was still permitted, should have exerted all its wisdom, benevolence, and patriotism, in mitigating the unavoidable evils of its condition; in securing certain privileges to the slaves; and in providing for their gradual emancipation. The rule of duty should have been, a constant regard to the comfort, safety, and happiness of the blacks themselves, with reference to the law of God, and the decisions of the final jndgment. So far as this rule has been departed from, the departure will be found in the end to be folly and madness.
On looking at the eagerness of the southern states to retain the slave-trade, and their present eagerness to find an oatlet for their slaves, we are forcibly taught the evils of a short-sighted, temporary, partial policy;-a policy, which contravenes the most evident principles of justice in compliance with the selfish interests of a few individ. uals. Three fourihs of the persons, who profited, or attempted to profit, by the twenty years slave-trade, have left the world to appear before a God of justice. The few who remain are tottering on the brink of the grave, But their sin and folly do not perish with them. Already, the southern people are filled with terror at the prodigious increase of slares. All future generations will bewail the miserable policy, which consulted the feverish avarice and cupidity of a few, at the expense of great national interests, and the permanent safety and happiness of the whole southern country.
So it will be hereafter with the people of Missouri. They now challenge the privilege of holding slaves, with as much ardor as if their existence depended upon the question. Within thirty years from this time, they will curse tlie day that a slave was permitted to tread their soil. To rid themselves of the evil, if present measures are persisted in, will have become, to human view, impossible.
Since the adoption of the constitution, it bas been the duty of Con. gress to watch the extension of slavery with a jealous eye, and to cxert every delegated power in guarding against it. We fear that an impartial examination of our history in this respect, will leave the impression, tlrat both Congress and the nation have been criminally inattentive to the subject. Nearly at the time, when the colistitution was adopted, the territory, now forming the state of Tennessee, was ceded to the United States, on the basis of the ordinance of '1787, but with a restriction of that ordinance, so far as to permit the existence of slavery in the ceded territory. In 1802, the territory, which has recently been formed into the states of Mississippi and Alabama; was ceded to the United States, on the same basis, and with a similar restriction. Now we very much doubt, whether the nation can be justified in having accepted these cessions, on such termis. The terri. tories had then but a small number of inhabitants; and the probibition of the increase of slaves, and a declaration that every person, born there after the date of cession, should be free, would have produced no injury, and effectuated much good. It will be said, that North Carolina and Georgia, would not have made the cession upon other terms, than those actually adopted. Be it so. Upon those states only, then, would have rested the responsibility of filling the whole southern country with slaves. The nation at large would not have sanctioned it, nor have been at all answerable for it. As to the advantage derived to the national treasury, from the sale of lands in these territories, it is a very small consideration. The time will come, when the millions, produced by the lands of Alabama, will be estimated a poor compensation for the least swerving from sirict principle. VOL. XVI,