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The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster: With An Essay on Daniel Webster as a Master of English Style

By Edwin P. Whipple; Daniel Webster | Go to book overview

SLAVERY IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.

REMARKS MADE IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, ON THE 10TH
OF JANUARY, 1838, UPON A RESOLUTION MOVED BY MR. CLAY AS A
SUBSTITUTE FOR THE RESOLUTION OFFERED BY MR. CALHOUN ON THE
SUBJECT OF SLAVERY IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.

[On the 27th of December, 1837, a series of resolutions was moved in the Senate by Mr. Calhoun, on the subject of slavery. The fifth of the series was expressed in the following terms:--

"Resolved, That the intermeddling of any State, or States, or their citizens, to abolish slavery in this District, or any of the Territories, on the ground, or under the pretext, that it is immoral or sinful, or the passage of any act or measure of Congress with that view, would be a direct and dangerous attack on the institutions of all the slave-holding States."

These resolutions were taken up for discussion on several successive days. On the 10th of January, 1838, Mr. Clay moved the following resolution, as a substitute for the fifth of Mr. Calhoun's series:--

"Resolved, That the interference, by the citizens of any of the States, with the view to the abolition of slavery in this District, is endangering the rights and security of the people of the District; and that any act or measure of Congress, designed to abolish slavery in this District, would be a violation of the faith implied in the cessions by the States of Virginia and Maryland, a just cause of alarm to the people of the slave-holding States, and have a direct and inevitable tendency to disturb and endanger the Union."

On the subject of this amendment, Mr. Webster addressed the Senate as follows]

MR. PRESIDENT, --I cannot concur in this resolution. I do not know any matter of fact, or any ground of argument, on which this affirmation of plighted faith can be sustained. I see nothing by which Congress has tied up its hands, either directly or indirectly, so as to rut its clear constitutional power beyond the exercise of its own discretion. I have carefully examined the acts of cession by the States, the act of Congress, the proceedings and history of the times, and I find nothing to lead me to doubt that it was the intention of all parties to leave this, like other subjects belonging to legislation for the ceded territory, entirely to the discretion and wisdom of Congress. The words of the Constitution are clear and plain. None could be clearer or plainer. Congress, by that instrument, has power to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over the ceded territory, in all cases whatsoever. The acts of cession contain no limitation, condition, or qualification whatever, except that, out of abundant caution, there is inserted a proviso that nothing in the acts con tained shah be construed to vest in the United States any right of property in the soil, so as to affect the rights of individuals therein, otherwise than as such individuals might themselves transfer their right of soil to the United States. The acts of cession declare, that the tract of country "is for ever ceded and relinquished to Congress and to the government of the United States, in full and absolute right and exclusive jurisdiction, as well of soil as of persons residing or to reside therein, pursuant to the tenor and effect of the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution of the United States."

-445-

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