THE OLD NORTHWEST
We discussed earlier the powers given to Congress to prevent the spread of slavery and the forces creating an almost irresistible pressure for its expansion. The first contest over expansion came between 1787 and 1821 and involved the Northwest Territory and the Missouri Valley. The two areas were inseparable in the political and judicial contest. It involved the power of Congress to exclude slavery from the Northwest Territory by the Ordinance of 1787; the power of Congress to impose binding provisions on states at the time of admission; the constitutional right of a state to disregard such provisions by changing its constitution after admission; and the force of conditions stated in the surrender of Virginia's claims and in Jay's Treaty. The Congress, the President, the territorial governors and councils, the territorial legislatures, the constitutional conventions, and the judges of the several courts were all involved in the contest. It was, however, largely a political question.
Some settlers in the Old Northwest were willing to own slaves in order to profit from the labor and natural increase. Some wanted servants and the social prestige of slave ownership. But the drive to introduce slavery here, as was true in regard to the trans-Mississippi region at a later date, came from the aggressive character of the slave power. It was psychological in origin, and it had all the attributes of power politics. Slavery in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois would mean slavery in Missouri and the Missouri Valley, and a political alliance of great strength.
The Ordinance of 1787, as we have seen, prohibited slavery in the existing national domain; and the Constitution, drafted at the same time, forbade Congress to use its authority for twenty years to prevent "the migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit." No where else do we find the terms "states now existing" and "original states." They were coined for the specific purpose of confining slavery to its then existing limits. The Northern states, slave and free, had abandoned their claims to western lands that new states might be created from a national domain. There were to be no slaves in this Northwest Territory, which was all the territory under federal jurisdiction free of state claims, but that prohibition was not to be construed to free fugitives from the existing slave states. Nothing was said about new slave states -- there were not to be any. Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, however, never lived up to their agreement. They delayed a surrender of their claims to the region south of the Ohio until slavery had invaded it and then qualified their action with a condition that the new states be slave states.
Said a Committee of the Delaware Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery: "If it had been suggested, that one object of the union, was not only to perpetuate the odious state of slavery, but to extend it beyond its present limits; that so far from a right being reserved to the federal government to restrict the evil, they might be compelled to aid its extension; the accusation