The Land and Mr. Jefferson
The land is where we live and where the consequences of our presence accumulate, determining what else we can do, and what we can no longer do. The land is thus the book of our lives. Each day we write upon it new pages, some splendid, some sordid, informing our progeny of the truth about us whatever we may write elsewhere.
The book of printed pages you hold calls attention to a chapter in the book of the American land, written between 1776 and 1826. Choices were made by those controlling the government of the United States, and the governments of its territories and states, determining whether or not slavery would be permitted within their boundaries. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase doubled the extent of the territory conceded by the European powers to lie within the United States; through arrangements made as part of that acquisition, slavery was given fresh encouragement in Louisiana and permitted to expand up the Mississippi Valley. A momentum of events began, eventuating in 1861 in an attempted division of the Union by slave owners, slave sellers, and those they could convince to follow their lead. They so detested the prospect of restriction upon the continued spread of their system of forced labor that they sought to take the states they controlled out of the United States.
They had been threatening to do so since the 1780s. They had raised the specter of disunion to have their way when the nation was placed under constitutional government in 1787, when the Southwest Territories were chartered in 1787–89, when Kentucky adopted its constitution in 1792, and when Mississippi Territory was organized in 1802.*____________________