Missouri Question: Speech of Mr. Walker, of N.C.

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Missouri Question: Speech of Mr. Walker, of N.C.
by Felix Walker

City of Washington Gazette; Date: 05-11-1820; Volume: V; Issue: 759; Page: [2]; Location: Washington (DC), District of Columbia

Missouri Question -- SPEECH of MR. WALKER, OF N.C.

In the House of Representatives of the U. States, on the amendment proposed, requiring the restriction of slaves in Missouri, as a condition of her admission into the Union.

Mr. Speaker, I should not have risen on this question did I not believe that we are about to be plunged into a dangerous and conflicting policy wherein some of our best interests and dearest rights are deeply involved. In giving my views on this subject, I find I have to encounter difficulties that I cannot avoid. It has undergone such a luminous discussion, so as almost to preclude further investigation, and anything more that could be said appears like beating the air or speaking to the wind. I have been looking out for some unbeaten path, some untroden ground, wherein I might pursue the principle without a commentary on those who have gone before me, but find it scarcely attainable; as believing it will materially affect the interests of that portion of the community I represent, I feel it a duty incumbent upon me to resist the proposition, and state my objections to its adoption, under a conviction that the principle is incompatible with the true policy of this country.

Sir, the amendment proposed in the bill, to restrict and prevent slaves from being taken into the Missouri, is perhaps one of the most momentous & important questions that ever was or can be presented for legislation, as it has a tendency in its consequences to affect the vital interests of the people of the whole United States, and unhinge that policy which has so long and so firmly bound us together, and on the decision of which the peace and safety of the union measurably depends. (or it has become so) Not from its intrinsic merit or moral excellence as is presented, but by adoption, it was generated and created with us; we gave it birth, it drew the first breath in this House, and here it began its existence, and had the gentleman from New York, Mr. Taylor, suffered it to rest in its native cradle, we should not have heard the unpleasant voice vibrate and echo round these walls, and the sound go to every state in the Union--we should have remained in quietness and at peace one with another.

In taking a view of the situation of the American people, we must acknowledge that the hand that placed and planted us in this western hemisphere, in our present attitude, is divine. Severed, as it were, from the discordant and conflicting politics of foreign powers, holding in our hands the olive branch of peace, possessing the happy privilege of self government, in the exercise of religious liberty and rights of conscious; surrounded with national blessings and embracing domestic happiness, respect abroad, union and tranquility at home, and rapidly advancing to the highest grade of national prosperity: and while in the possession and enjoyment of all these highly favored privileges, we refuse to be quieted, we will, we must have something to excite us. Like the troubled ocean, we cannot rest; and we have truly arrived at the principle in this phantom of the mind, this creature of imagination, this particle of discord--the amendment proposed in the bill. Sir many are the evils of life incident to man, but that which exceeds all others and most to be dreaded and avoided, is family feuds and quarrels, contentions and convulsions within; if the enemy is without, we can unite and repel him, but when he is withing you walls, and man's foes are those of his own household, it enters into the vitals of national and domestic security: a horrid picture, friend against friend, brother against brother, father and son at variance. And we have the word of truth for it, that a house divided against itself cannot stand. On this question the Constitution has been the ark of safety, the sanctuary in which every gentleman has taken refuge, on both sides: to prove the purity of his doctrine, every nerve has been touched, every cord has been unstrung of that instrument; the mysteries it contains, both positive and incidental, has been brought to light and clearly explained, and to my mind it appears evident that the constitution is a compact made between the states, as a covenant of peace and union, and authorises no restriction to be laid on a free people in forming a constitution and state government for themselves, such as is contemplated by the amendment to bill on your table, for the people of Missouri. This principle is as clear as the light, and we cannot deny it. But, sir, I yield the constitutional and legal points to the combatants in argument who have preceded me, and proceed to examine and sustain the principle of free government on moral and political ground, and state my reasons why I am decidedly opposed to the restriction in the amendment proposed to the bill. Sir, slavery is the theme of declamation, as if the slave holding states were contaminated with a leprosy, which infects the whole republic; a contagion that will overspread the western hemisphere. Sir, that slavery is an evil we all admit with one breath, and that little or nothing can be said in favor of the principle, but something may be said in mitigation of damages, as it respects us in the present existing state of things. Sir, it is not our original sin; it was placed on us by our ancestors, and now, and at this time, beyond our reach to remedy; we are not in possession of the means commensurate to effect the object of emancipation in this our day. But gentlemen seem to think that because our fathers eat sour grapes our children's teeth are set on edge, and that we so joined to our idols that we cannot give up, or part with our darling sin and the sin of our fathers, in retaining our slaves in bondage. But, Mr. Speaker, bad as the cause is, and however blackened by description, I must enter a plea for our ancestors and tread lightly on the ashes of the dead. They did not make war on any free people, and subject to bondage any free nation, and bring them into a state of slavery and vassalage. No, sir, they purchased them with their money when brought from Africa, from a country where they were slaves by their own policy, and in a much worse condition that with their new American masters. We have a right to assert this doctrine, by the best historical evidence now to be collected. Sir, slavery is an evil, I repeat, but is no new invented criminal practice, it is an old offender; it was in this country in an early period of its settlement, and has descended down to us to the present time, and were we to attempt to trace the original, we me must retrograde far back into the old world, to a distant period when Nimrod the mighty hunter began the chase, and his prey was man; and from that era down to the present, throughout all ages and among all nations, civilized or uncivilized. With Jews and Christians, Greeks and Romans, Turks and infidels, slavery or something amounting to slavery in principle and practice, has had an existence in the world, and still it was and still remains to be an evil. And yet gentlemen seem to treat the subject as a new measure, as if we were just commencing and about to colonise a new country with slaves west of the Mississippi, similar to the first introduction of them into this country.

On this ground they have taken a formidable stand, and impenetrable fortress, which they conceive to be invincible; they have sounded the tocsin of alarm, and are determined to arrest the progress in making the Mississippi the Rubicon of the West, over which the unhallowed foot of an African slave shall ever pollute the sacred soil. But Mr. Speaker, I can speak for one, and almost pledge myself for every gentleman, on the same side, that were we, at this time, free from that fatal incumbrance, and now about to adopt such a policy, would renounce the principal, an reject it with abhorrence and flee from it as the law of a serpent. But, sir, gentlemen who advocate this restrictive doctrine, seem to have overlooked their own object in espousing the cause, as they suppose, of oppressed humanity. While they are loosening the cords and knocking of the fetters from the slave, they are fastening a more galling and infamous chain on their masters and the free people of the South--and while they are endeavoring to find an expedient to restore the privation of natural liberty to the slave, are attempting to fix an odium, an ignominious restriction, on the slave-holding states, in the privation of political toleration in denying the the free exercise of their constitutional and natural rights, in emigrating to the West with their slave property. Sir, the purchase of Louisiana was the purchase of the whole states, the slave-holding states contributed their full share of funds for that purchase, which constitutes them equal proprietors of the soil, and therefore entitled to equal rights of inheritance; but, sir, if your amendment is adopted, it will curtail them in those rights, and give a decided preference to the states in the East and North over those of the South, it is a long known and well established principle, which all experience proves, that interest in the most powerful incentive to the actions and pursuits of mankind; and it is a well known fact, that banking system has been carried to a vast extent in the states to the North & East; they abound in banks, & where there are banks it must be believed there is money, and money may be had: wealthy individuals, corporations, associate companies, may unite together and form a combination, and procure such sums of money, as will answer their purpose from the banks, and with a strong monied interest proceed to the Missouri, or some parts West of the Mississippi, and purchase a principality of land, while the Southern states have no such resources; and it is also evident that countless multitudes of emigrants from Europe are every year pouring in the populous cities i the East, they mush have land to cultivate, and not the means to purchase--and from the good news of a land flowing with milk and honey to the West, they will naturally proceed down the waters of the Mississippi as adventurers, and necessarily become tributaries to those who hold the lands, and then and there will be landlord and tenant, a name that sounds not much better than master and servant in a republican government; while the citizens of the South must halt at the banks of the Mississippi with his slave property; hitherto may he come, but no further; and your country will be overspread with foreigners, in exclusion of your own citizens. This one, among many others, affords a clear demonstration of the advantages in favor of the eastern section of the Union, over that of the south.

Sir, do, we not profess to maintain and guarantee to each other a government of equality? For this we struggled, fought and bled, in the revolution--and to that invaluable principle of our policy, I have always given my support, and under such a government I wish to live and die, and to leave it as an inheritance to my children. Sir, there never was, nor never will be a government, without some imperfections--something interwoven in our policy that we could wish was not there, but cannot be removed. Now the true principle is, the evil that we cannot prevent, and the good in which we all are partakers; let it be universal between state and state, citizen and citizen, mingle the bowl, everyone his draught, share and share and share alike, each their portion equally distributed of both the good and evil, and not by any discriminating policy, give a preponderance of power or interest to any one section of the Union, in preference to another.

Sir, let it be remembered, that we came here to legislate for freemen, not for slaves; we hold our seats by their suffrage, we preside over the destinies of the nation, their dearests interests are in our hands, and they look to us for the security and protection of their rights, and to them we are responsible for our conduct as their legislators. Let us not forget the duties of our high station and the trust reposed in us, by legislating on the principle of slavery, which is altogether an abstract proposition, slaves being the property of the citizen as much as any other he possesses; and we have no legitimate power to intermeddle with any man's property, or direct what he will do with it, where he will carry it, or how he will dispose of it.

Sir, by attempting to cure one evil absolutely incurable, let us be aware we don bring on ourselves a complication of evils more dangerous and fatal than all the slaves and slavery that ever did or ever will exist in the United States, by introducing a doctrine that will have a tendency to lessen the confidence between the states, and violate that harmony and union which from the beginning and at this time binds us together. Sir, we are not, nor can we be, united by the coarser ties of human laws, or by measures of rigorous and rigid policy, but by the silver cords and mutual embraces of interest, friendship, and affection, adopt a policy that will tend to weaken or dissolve those solid (?) relations; you destroy the intercourse between the states, and sap the foundations of your republic. But, Mr. Speaker, I will attempt to shew that we who are against this restrictive policy, are serving the best interests of our country, and promoting the means of the comfort and happyness of both the white and the black, the bound and free people: First we are contending for general and universal equality of rights and privileges inherent in our government, in which every citizen is, and ought to be n equal participant, such as free access to all the profits and emoluments arising under the general government, without distinction or discrimination. Our legislative course ought to be directed to that radical point--the first principle and lasting basis of all republics--Any innovation or departure from that rule is dangerous, and sometimes fatal: we know not where it may end--it may slide us into aristocracy, or drive us into despotism, and in the result demolish our fair fabric. In republics, reforms for the better have generally originated in the people they have always held a jealous control over the different branches of government, and kept within sight of their liberties, and have often administered correctives in cases of excess.

But, sir, a departure from republican institutions has always began in their councils and their cabinets, in some abuse of delegated powers; where too high a tone or too much apathy has been the result of their deliberations. Let us in the present instance avoid and disavow the dangerous policy of assuming greater powers in our legislative capacity than is given us by the constitution or the people; and legislate to some practical effect, by a strict adherence to the rule we are preserving, and serving the best interest of a free people. And as it regards the slaves, if the proposed amendment prevails it can have no good effect on their condition, but entirely the reverse; it will neither increase or diminish their population, the numbers will be same on either side of the Mississippi; in that point of view it will neither make one hair white or black, if motives of charity and benevolence toward the oppressed people be the motives of gentlemen in bringing forward this restrictive measure, they do greatly err; not being acquainted with the habits and customs of the Southern states. Relative to the situation of their slaves, it must be admitted that where slaves are numerous, they do not fare so well, the means of subsistence are scanty, and improvident, and not easily obtained even by those who wish to supply the slaves with sufficiency; but the further to the west the rich and more prolific and fertile the soil, and more plenty the provision, and within the reach of the hungry and naked. But, sir, by this restriction you are riveting their chains more severe than at present, by denying them a passage over the Mississippi, where they may better their condition by changing a bad master, and with certainty going into a new country where they will more easily and conveniently obtain food and raiment; the only inheritance, the sum total of their happiness and comfort in this life. In this view of the subject it is evident the restriction operates more sever on the slave than his master, and prevents the future comforts of those unfortunate people, as well as abridges the liberty of the master, the free citizen, in removing with his slave property to a better soil, where the condition of both may be improved.--Thus, sir, I have attempted to show that we, who are walking in the good old way of general equality and universal privilege, aside from all political distinctions, are promoting the best interests of both bond and free.

Sir, the proposed amendment announces a doctrine I did not ever expect to hear promulgated on the floor of the Representatives of a free people, as that of proscription, and if it prevails will give a vital stab to the feelings and interests of the people of the southern States, and will prostrate the dearest pledge of our country's pride by this act of of discrimination in prohibiting the citizens of the south from an equal interest and participation with their fellow citizens of the east and north, i the solid west of the Mississippi; they must, they will feel the sting of degradation in the attempt to defranchise them of their rights--making them subservient to the strong powers of the Eastern States, and in a political sense, as hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Their sensibilities are awake, they are feeling alive to every, the least approach of any incroachment on their national rights or abridgement of their liberties; touch them in that tender, that exquisite part, they will bleed--they cannot, they will not tamely submit to any subjected measure of policy; they will rally round the tree of liberty, growing in our happy soil, whose branches extends and overspreads our continent, under whose shadow we sit with delight; it is of so nice so delicate a texture, break a twigg it will wither; strike the root it will perish forever, and can only live, grow and flourish while we unite to preserve it. If it is true, and I believe it will be found to be true, that whatsoever we sow we shall reap; let us pause, and beware that we do not sow the seeds of discord among our brethren--it will be a root of bitterness that will spring up and fasten on the vitals of our republic; will eat like a canker and bring forth the poisonous fruits of discontent, contention, confusion, and universal discord, and perhaps in the last resort end so dissolution or separation, which is more to be dreaded than all the evils that can be placed upon us by the united world. Sir, it is our duty as legislators to adapt our measures of policy to the habits and customs and event to the feelings and prejudices of each other, in the different sections of the Union, a due deference to such views--would prevent a multitude of evils. Gentlemen who support this restrictive system seem to have no correct views of the economy and usages of the people of the southern states in relation to the ir slaves; they have drawn a horrid picture of whips and scorpions, they suppose we have no further regard for them than for the fruits of their labor; this mistaken opinion is, for the lack of better acquaintance, which if they did know our manners and customs the would form very different conclusions: our slaves are our friends as well as our property--they were born in our houses, and raised in our families, and consequently we feel a sympathy for them and they for us; they are immediately under our care and protection, and we will not suffer them to be ill treated by any--will redress their injuries and protect their persons form abuse; an in many instances so strong is the attachment of the slave to his master; that had they the offer of emancipation they would not go, nor could we drive them from our walls. Their lives are also regarded and protected from the laws, particularly I know in the state from whence I come the life of a slave is as sacred as that of his master; and the punishment is death to kill a slave as well as a freeman; so it is evident their condition is not so intolerable as is represented by those gentlemen who have undertaken to draw the picture. On other advantage I will mention, that the slave has, to which every one who owns a slave is a witness: their cares are less, and their wants are fewer than the master, in their situation they fulfil and finish the circle of life in as much satisfaction as any people, and perhaps with more contentment than if they were free. Sir, would it not be an act of cruelly to compel the citizens of the south, who was disposed to remove to the Missouri to sell his slaves born in his house and brought up in his family, and mutually attached by all the sympathies of natural affection, such as a man feels for those of his own household: And to disunite and separate families, by parting with his slaves contrary to the will of both, and violate the most tender sensibilities of the human heart in order to purify and entitle him to an inheritance, and give him a passport as a citizen, worthy to reside on the west of the Mississippi; he had better be an alien at once. Sir, when I meet my fellow citizen from the east and north, I wish and feel to give my hand as a brother, without reserve as children of the same great family, united in the sympathies of mutual affection and reciprocal interest and equal participants in all the rights, benefits and privileges that government bestows. But, Sir, if your Restrictive System prevails, it will weaken that tender relation, we shall view each other with watchful eyes and cold hearts, and with a jealousy that will tend to annihilate those friendly and brotherly affections we now feel and entertain for each other, and at last be driven to relinquish the pledge of union that so long and so happily has continued to bind us together to the present day. This will be the impression made on the public mind of the people of the Southern States: if you force upon us this rigorous and excessive measure, you will shoot an arrow you cannot recal, and inflict a wound you may never be able to heal, if you do not prevent it, by a more accommodating policy.

One remark I will make, which may serve to awaken us--and for aught we know be the immediate effects of this present discussion; gentlemen seem to addressing the language of charity and benevolence, and appear to take a great interest in the deplorable situation of our slave property, perhaps they know not what they do, among men of every class, there are always some restless and interprising spirits, not contented in any situation of life; the news of this tumultuous debate, will reach our homes before we can arrive--and should some of our slaves from the impression made upon their minds from what they hear, raise an insurrection and commit murder on our families and neighbors, what would be the feelings of gentlemen, and how would they reconcile themselves to the awful catastrophe, who are so loudly sounding the alarm on this floor.

So, we are now about to give birth and bring into the union the first state West of the Mississippi; common observations and all experience proves that the infant born natural, free, and unfettered, and without impediment always brings into the world the best constitution, and is best prepared to grow and arrive at maturity, without the aid of so many nurses, to bring it to perfection; and if you will suffer the people of Missouri to organise their own government to whom the power properly and constitutionally belong,s they will exercise that right according to their own views and opinions, and will form a constitution and state government for themselves and adopt the policy best suited to their interests and feelings, and assume the attitude of state sovereignty inherent in them as a free people. Sir, the people of Missouri are competent judges of their political rights and will most assuredly claim and contend for them, in equality with other states in the union; we must regard the voice of the people, it is a sovereign voice that will be heard , a voice that we must all obey, and is a fact you will find to be true, that the further west from you metropolis, the greater the enthusiasm for liberty: the people of Missouri will cheerfully yield to your constitutional powers, but beyond that will not go, nor can you compel them. Sir, precedents we find has almost become the law of the land, and generally governed our decisions in every case where they have been cited, and we must expect that the terms on which we admit this new state into the union will be the model for all new states, that will be formed in that extensive territory west of the Mississippi to the pacific ocean, and as we are now about to establish and identify a policy that will govern future legislature and future generations, which exceedingly increases our responsibility on the decision of this momentous question, and while in the progress of our deliberations, let us be cautious, consider and solemnly pause before we determine, and not participate ourselves into the gulph stream of danger and difficultly, from whence we may never be able to return to peaceful shades of love and union; which if you adopt this restriction without any modification I am made to fear will be our critical situation and the consequences yet unknown.

Sir, some of the present generation has witnessed and felt the horrors of two wars; the first Revolutionary war, which happily terminated in our emancipation from the old world, and gave us an eminent station among the nations of the earth, in forming the greatest republic now in existence, and the best that ever did exist, which by our wisdom and united councils, under the auspices of Diving Providence, we have been enable to preserve and progress to that degree of eminence and prosperity on which we now stand, and we fondly hoped would continue inviolable while time would last. But now, for the first time, we begin to see a storm gathering, a cloud arising, which if it should increase and break, and discharge its baleful contents, will shake it to the base, and desolate our homes and our prospects. Sir, if we pursue these restrictive measures, this degrading policy, unqualified, what will the people of Missouri say, or what can they calculate on us as their representatives. They will say, and most assuredly conclude, that we have exceeded our constitutional powers and become the dictators, if not their tyrants, while acting in our legislative capacity. We have lately emerged from a cruel and desolating war, that exhausted both blood and treasure--but it was a war in which we all united against our common foe and wherein we acquired national honor, and, I believe, national prosperity will be the increase; but sir, both these wars bear no proportion to the calamities we must expect to suffer, and the difficulties we must encounter, should we ever be so unfortunate as to draw our swords against each other; which heaven forbid.--We shall then experience horrors and distresses never before witnessed in our (as yet happy) country; and which I fondly hope we never may; but still there may be danger, and it is our duty to avoid every appearance of that much to be dreaded and worst of evils, disunion, and not in any instance move toward any point that would tend to lead to that fatal experiment. Sir in the last war we lost our thousands, but if you will force upon us this restriction, you may, in the end, in the course of your mistaken policy, which if persisted in, go on with increasing rapidity, at at last compel us take leave of each other, and lead to an event that may prostrate the lives of the ten thousands of your choice citizens and fatally terminate in the dissolution of our confederated government.