Sunday, September 24, 2023

Robert P. Letcher to Senator John J. Crittenden, May 6, 1850

MEXICO, May 6, 1850.

DEAR CRITTENDEN,—Ah, my dear governor! not quite so fast. You have pulled trigger a little too quick. There is no discrepancy between my speech and my letters. What a man says in his official capacity is one thing, and what he has a right to say in his private capacity is quite another thing, it's all “as straight as a gun-barrel.” I spoke for the United States, and am in no way responsible for what I said as an advocate; mind, I appeared as counsel. I reserve my defense till my return. If Clayton is a tender-hearted man, he will give me leave to return in October. I could not go now if I had leave, because of the crowd of business,—because, also, of the vomito. I am surprised, disappointed, and mortified exceedingly to hear that you are all taking the rounds, eating and drinking just as merrily and as happily as if I were with you. It is too bad, really. Had the good ship Walker been cast away, sure enough I don't believe it would have made a single swallow less, particularly of the liquids, among the whole squad of you. What a prolific topic of reflection does this furnish to one of my tender sensibilities, whose vanity had prompted him to suppose his absence would make a vacuum in the social circle that time itself would hardly ever fill up! Nobody died of a broken heart, nobody shed a tear, nobody lost a meal, or even a drink,—in fact, increased their drinks when it was fully believed I was food for the sharks in the Gulf of Mexico; and if this had been so, by this time the whole matter would have been utterly forgotten. Well, all I can say is, my friends can stand trouble and loss better than any other man's friends living. A noble set of fellows they are! I am as bad off as Orlando Brown was in Washington, when he took it into his head that the Frankfort people were glad he had left, and asked me to tell him candidly how it was. I told him he was right, and the only fear was that he might possibly come home. I am not altogether happy in my mind, but I don't wish my rascally friends to know that, they might think it was on that account,—not a bit of it! My depression is owing to the deep interest I feel for my country. Write to me often, write me the longest sort of letters. The Prussian minister just called to take a last farewell. A noble fellow he is! It was quite a tender scene. I shall miss that man more than any human being in this city. I have had one of Bob's and Harry's hams boiled, and I eat it twice a day,—no eating three times a day in this country. Bankhead and his wife are here; they are more broken down than any couple I know. I am distressed to look at them.

Your friend,

SOURCE: Ann Mary Butler Crittenden Coleman, Editor, The Life of John J. Crittenden: With Selections from His Correspondence and Speeches, Vol. 1, p. 370

Senator John J. Crittenden to Orlando Brown, May 18, 1850

 FRANKFORT, May 18, 1850.

MY DEAR SIR,—Your letter of the 9th inst. was duly received, and, by the telegraph, we already know that all you taught me to expect has come to pass. The Republic has changed hands, and Mr. Hall has succeeded the former editors. It is to be greatly regretted that there should be any motive or cause for such a movement. Not that Mr. Hall is not very competent and worthy, but the regret is that there should have been any disagreement between the retiring editors and the administration. I had hoped that Burnley's mediation might have reconciled all differences, and that our friend Bullitt's known attachment to the President would have made him forego all his objections to the cabinet. The extent of his objections I do not know, nor do I mean to blame him, for I am very certain that he has acted from honest convictions and motives. But I must say, at the same time, that for myself I am not sensible of any objections that require such an opposition to the cabinet. Indeed, I doubt very much whether General Taylor could select another cabinet of more ability, or character, or personal worth. But I do not mean to make comments on the subject. The storm that has just passed by will be followed, I hope, by that calm that usually compensates for its ravages; and I trust that we shall yet see the administration emerging successfully from the difficulties that now surround it.

I shall be delighted to see you at home, but this is overcome by the absolute sadness I feel at your quitting old Zack at such a time, when, perhaps, he most requires the comfort and assistance of your society and counsel. I received Robert's letter yesterday. You may tell him so, and his children and all are well. I have not another word to say about his affairs and solicitations at Washington. Under a first impulse I said and wrote much more than I ought. Hereafter he can only have my good wishes, and must depend on himself. I must not be mixed up with any office-seeking for my own family.

I have written to our friend Mr. Richard Hawes, apprising him of your views and wishes, and inquiring whether he would be willing, in the event of your resignation, to accept your present office. I have not yet received his answer, but I anticipate, from many conversations with him, that he will not accept it. If he will, he is the very man, and the man of my choice. Without much acquaintance with Mr. Alexander McKee, I had formed a kind opinion of him, and supposed, from information, that he was very much a man of business. In a conversation last winter, I mentioned that it was not expected by your friends that you would continue long in office, and suggested to him the vacancy as one that would very well suit him. But little more was then said on the subject, and nothing since has passed between us about it. I am told that he went through the place a few days ago, on his way to the East, but he did not call on me, and I know not his object. I have heard that his thoughts have been turned of late towards California, and an office at Washington may not now be desirable to him; and in the present uncertainty I have no more to say about it. He is not apprised of what I lately wrote to you in his behalf.

I wish that before you leave Washington you would especially take it upon yourself to have something clever done for our friend, Mr. George W. Barbour, a senator in our General Assembly from the Princeton district. You recollect him, I hope. He is a fine-looking, high-spirited, and noble-hearted fellow, a lawyer by profession, and of fair capacity. He is poor, and too modest and proud to seek for office, though he wants it. He is an ardent and thorough Taylor-man. Now, what can be done for such a man? I have undertaken to be his intercessor, and have written in his behalf time and again to Clayton, and perhaps to others, but, so far, have not got even any answer relating to him. A chargé-ship to anywhere in South America would be very acceptable to him; so would a judgeship in any of our territorial governments, or the office of secretary in those governments. Now, this is a wide range; there are many offices in it, and mighty few such clever fellows anywhere as Barbour. The place that that fellow Meeker was slipped into, and ought to be slipped out of, would suit poor Barbour exactly, and he is worthy of it. I have told Barbour that he must be patient, and that I was certain something would, sooner or later, be done for him. It begins to be the "later," and nothing is yet done. The last alternative is to try and get you to make up this business and do something in it.

Your friend,
O. BROWN, Esq.

P.S.—I can do nothing more with Clayton in Barbour's case but quarrel with him, and that I don't want to do,—first, because he is a stout fellow and might whip me; secondly, I like the fellow.

J. J. C.

SOURCE: Ann Mary Butler Crittenden Coleman, Editor, The Life of John J. Crittenden: With Selections from His Correspondence and Speeches, Vol. 1, p. 371-2

Senator John J. Crittenden to Orlando Brown, June 7, 1850

FRANKFORT, June 7, 1850.

DEAR ORLANDO,—I returned last Sunday from Indianapolis after a week's absence. Nothing could exceed the kindness and hospitality which attended me throughout the State. The receptions and honors with which they endeavored to distinguish me were almost overwhelming to one so plain as I am and so unaccustomed to such ceremonies and distinctions. I feel that I owe to Indiana and her governor a great debt of gratitude. In that State there is very little political abolition, and, with a strong and patriotic feeling for the Union, there is mingled a particularly fraternal kindness and affection for Kentucky. The prevailing sentiment there is for a compromise and amicable settlement of all the slavery question. The plan suggested in General Taylor's message was spoken of frequently as most acceptable, but I think they would be satisfied with Mr. Clay's bill. In my speech at Indianapolis I spoke of old Zack as the noble old patriot in whom the country might have all confidence, and, without discriminating between the various plans that had been proposed, I expressed my hope and confidence that they would result in some form of amicable adjustment. The occasion required me to avoid, as far as possible, the appearance of partisanship or party politics; but it was due to my heart to give old Zack a good word, and I did it. I felt it a duty, too, to talk right plainly to them about abolition and the mischiefs that its meddlesome and false humanity had brought and was tending to bring upon the country. I went so far as to advise those who, from tenderness of conscience about slavery, could not acquiesce in what our fathers had done, and could not reconcile themselves to the Constitution of the United States and the performance of the duties it enjoined, to quit the country, etc. All this seemed to be well received except, as I learned afterwards, by some half-dozen abolitionists out of a crowd of as many thousand. The convention is in session, and I have scarcely time to steal a moment to write to you.

Well, you have resigned. It makes me glad, and it makes me sorry; glad that you are coming back to us,—sorry, that you are leaving General Taylor. The difficulties that are surrounding him only tend to increase my sympathy and zeal for him, and I retain my confidence that the storm will rage around him in vain, and that his firm and resolute integrity and patriotism will bear him through triumphantly. There is one peril before him that is to be carefully avoided, and that is the peril of having thrown upon his administration the responsibility of defeating the bill of the committee of thirteen or any other measure of compromise. It has appeared to me that the principal questions of the slavery controversy might have been disposed of more quietly and easily on the plan recommended by the President; but the people are anxious for a settlement, and comparatively indifferent as to the exact terms, provided they embrace anything like a compromise; and it seems to me that any concession or sacrifice of opinion as to the mode ought to be made to accomplish the end. It is not necessary to enlarge upon this subject. General Taylor's message is the foundation of all their plans in this, that it avoids the Wilmot proviso; all the rest is the mere finish of the work. My whole heart is bent on the success of General Taylor. I know that he deserves it, and believe he will achieve it. Tell Robert his little girls are gay as birds, and are continually dragging me into the garden to pull strawberries with them. I have taken poor Bob's disappointment quite to heart; but let that go.

Your friend,

SOURCE: Ann Mary Butler Crittenden Coleman, Editor, The Life of John J. Crittenden: With Selections from His Correspondence and Speeches, Vol. 1, p. 372-4

Senator John J. Crittenden to Albert T. Burnley, July 19, 1850

July 19, 1850.

DEAR BURNLEY,—I returned from Louisville last evening, where I was suddenly summoned a few days ago to attend the sick and, as was then supposed, dying bed of my son-in-law, Chapman Coleman. I left him much improved, and, as the doctors induced me to hope, out of danger, though still quite ill. This absence delayed the receipt of your telegraphic dispatches, in which you ask me if I will accept the office of Attorney-General, and say that it is important I should answer immediately. A little reflection will show you the difficulty of answering this communication with the telegraphic brevity of a "yes" or "no." Indeed, I find much of the same difficulty in responding to you in any mode. You are upon the spot, and with a nearer and better view of the condition of things. You give me no intimation of your opinions or wishes; nor do you give me to understand that the inquiry was made at the suggestion or by the authority of the President or any other official. I must therefore understand it as more an inquiry of your own, in order, perhaps, to enable you and other friends to press me more effectually for the office. If this be the object and purpose, I could not answer you affirmatively without in substance seeking the office for myself. That I am not willing to do, either in form or substance, directly or indirectly. I would not, for any consideration subject myself to the imputation of endeavoring to force or solicit my way into the cabinet of Mr. Fillmore. There are stations that can be neither agreeably nor usefully occupied except by persons having the personal good will and confidence of the President. My relations with Mr. Fillmore have always been of the most agreeable and amicable character, and I hope they may continue so. It seems to me that if he pleased to desire my acceptance of the office of Attorney-General, the most proper course would be for him to tender it to me; and that the most proper and becoming course for me would be to wait till it was tendered. The tender would then be most honorable to both parties, and certainly most gratefully received by me. I feel that before such an offer it would be indelicate in me to say that I would or would NOT accept. You will appreciate all this without any explanation, and so I shall leave the subject. There is no confidence, Burnley, that I fear to repose in you; and if it should appear to you that there is too much of reserve in this letter to be used towards an old and well-tried friend, I wish you to understand that it is intended to apply to the subject only, and to keep distinct and clear the line of conduct that I sincerely desire to pursue in relation to this matter.

My situation now is not exactly what it was when I declined an invitation to go into the cabinet of General Taylor; and to you, as my friend, my personal friend, I may say that my impression is that I should accept the office if tendered to me; but I will have no agency in seeking or getting it; nor do I wish my friends to place me in any attitude that can be construed into any such seeking; nor do I wish them to give themselves any trouble about the matter. If the offer of the office comes freely and without solicitation, then it comes honorably, and may be taken the more honorably. I think you will now understand me fully, and I have only to add that I am always your friend,

To A. T. BURNLEY, Esq.

SOURCE: Ann Mary Butler Crittenden Coleman, Editor, The Life of John J. Crittenden: With Selections from His Correspondence and Speeches, Vol. 1, p. 374-5

Senator John J. Crittenden to Ann Mary Crittenden Coleman, July 23, 1850

FRANKFORT, July 23, 1850.

MY DEAR DAUGHTER,—Doubly near and dear to me in your affliction, I do not know how to address you, or to express my sympathy in your great calamity. You will find, my child, in your own heart and in your own reflections the only real consolations. If, as I believe, this life is but a state of preparation and probation, happiest is he who, having done his duty like a man and a Christian, is soonest relieved from it. You have every reason to be assured that such is the fortunate lot of that husband of whom death has deprived you. That very excellence, which you mourn the loss of, will become a source of comfort and consolation to your heart. The death of your husband has placed you under great responsibilities, and left you many duties to perform. Turn, then, courageously to the performance of those duties, and in their performance you will find strength and consolation. You will feel, too, the high and pleasant consciousness that you are thereby best gratifying and manifesting your respect and devotion to the memory of your husband. He has enjoined it upon you to take his place in respect to your children, and to be to them as a father and mother also. You will, I know, consider this a sacred duty, and will not abandon it by giving yourself up to unavailing grief. I had intended to go to Louisville, to-morrow, to see you, but, upon consultation with Harry, it is decided to be best to postpone my visit for about a week; then, perhaps, I may be more serviceable to you than now. Your mother will probably accompany me. Farewell, my dear child.


SOURCE: Ann Mary Butler Crittenden Coleman, Editor, The Life of John J. Crittenden: With Selections from His Correspondence and Speeches, Vol. 1, p. 376

John J. Crittenden on the Constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Bill, September 18, 1850

The provisions of the bill, commonly called the fugitive slave bill, and which Congress have submitted to the President for his approval and signature, are not in conflict with the provisions of the Constitution in relation to the writ of habeas corpus.

The expressions used in the last clause of the sixth section, that the certificate therein alluded to "shall prevent all molestation" of the persons to whom granted, "by any process issued," etc., probably mean only what the act of 1793 meant by declaring a certificate under that act a sufficient warrant for the removal of a fugitive; and do not mean a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

There is nothing in the act inconsistent with the Constitution, nor which is not necessary to redeem the pledge which it contains, that fugitive slaves shall be delivered upon the claim of their owners.


September 18, 1850.

SIR, I have had the honor to receive your note of this date, informing me that the bill, commonly called the fugitive slave bill, having passed both houses of Congress, had been submitted to you for your consideration, approval, and signature, and requesting my opinion whether the sixth section of that act, and especially the last clause of that section, conflicts with that provision of the Constitution which declares that "the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended unless when, in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it."

It is my clear conviction that there is nothing in the last clause, nor in any part of the sixth section, nor, indeed, in any of the provisions of the act, which suspends, or was intended to suspend, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, or is in any manner in conflict with the Constitution.

The Constitution, in the second section of the fourth article, declares that "no person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."

It is well known and admitted, historically and judicially, that this clause of the Constitution was made for the purpose of securing to the citizens of the slaveholding States the complete ownership in their slaves, as property, in any and every State or Territory of the Union into which they might escape. (Prigg vs. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 16 Peters, 539.) It devolved on the general government, as a solemn duty, to make that security effectual. Their power was not only clear and full, but, according to the opinion of the court in the above-cited case, it was exclusive, the States, severally, being under no obligation, and having no power to make laws or regulations in respect to the delivery of fugitives. Thus the whole power, and with it the whole duty, of carrying into effect this important provision of the Constitution, was with Congress. And, accordingly, soon after the adoption of the Constitution, the act of the 12th of February, 1793, was passed, and that proving unsatisfactory and inefficient, by reason (among other causes) of some minor errors in its details, Congress are now attempting by this bill to discharge a constitutional obligation, by securing more effectually the delivery of fugitive slaves to their owners. The sixth, and most material section, in substance declares that the claimant of the fugitive slave may arrest and carry him before any one of the officers named and described in the bill; and provides that those officers, and each of them, shall have judicial power and jurisdiction to hear, examine, and decide the case in a summary manner, that if, upon such hearing, the claimant, by the requisite proof, shall establish his claim to the satisfaction of the tribunal thus constituted, the said tribunal shall give him a certificate, stating therein the substantial facts of the case, and authorizing him, with such reasonable force as may be necessary, to take and carry said fugitive back to the State or Territory whence he or she may have escaped,—and then, in conclusion, proceeds as follows: "The certificates in this and the first section mentioned, shall be conclusive of the right of the person or persons in whose favor granted to remove such fugitive to the State or Territory from which he escaped, and shall prevent all molestation of such person or persons by any process issued by any court, judge, magistrate, or other person whomsoever."

There is nothing in all this that does not seem to me to be consistent with the Constitution, and necessary, indeed, to redeem the pledge which it contains, that such fugitives "shall be delivered up on claim" of their owners.

The Supreme Court of the United States has decided that the owner, independent of any aid from State or national legislation, may, in virtue of the Constitution, and his own right of property, seize and recapture his fugitive slave in whatsoever State he may find him, and carry him back to the State or Territory from which he escaped. (Prigg vs. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 16 Peters, 539.) This bill, therefore, confers no right on the owner of the fugitive slave. It only gives him an appointed and peaceable remedy in place of the more exposed and insecure, out not less lawful mode of self-redress; and as to the fugitive slave, he has no cause to complain of this bill,—it adds no coercion to that which his owner himself might, at his own will, rightfully exercise; and all the proceedings which it institutes are but so much of orderly, judicial authority interposed between him and his owner, and consequently of protection to him, and mitigation of the exercise directly by the owner himself of his personal authority. This is the constitutional and legal view of the subject, as sanctioned by the decisions of the Supreme Court, and to that I limit myself.

The act of the 12th of February, 1793, before alluded to, so far as it respects any constitutional question that can arise out of this bill, is identical with it. It authorizes the like arrest of the fugitive slave, the like trial, the like judgment, the like certificate, with the like authority to the owner, by virtue of that certificate as his warrant, to remove him to the State or Territory from which he escaped, and the constitutionality of that act, in all those particulars, has been affirmed by the adjudications of State tribunals, and of the courts of the United States, without a single dissent, so far as I know. (Baldwin, C. C. R. 577, 579.)

I conclude, therefore, that so far as the act of the 12th of February, 1793, has been held to be constitutional, this bill must also be so regarded; and that the custody, restraint, and removal to which the fugitive slave may be subjected under the provisions of this bill, are all lawful, and that the certificate to be granted to the owner is to be regarded as the act and judgment of a judicial tribunal having competent jurisdiction.

With these remarks as to the constitutionality of the general provisions of the bill, and the consequent legality of the custody and confinement to which the fugitive slave may be subjected under it, I proceed to a brief consideration of the more particular question you have propounded in reference to the writ of habeas corpus, and of the last clause of the sixth section, above quoted, which gives rise to that question.

My opinion, as before expressed, is that there is nothing in that clause or section which conflicts with or suspends, or was intended to suspend, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. I think so because the bill says not one word about that writ; because, by the Constitution, Congress is expressly forbidden to suspend the privilege of this writ, "unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it;" and therefore such suspension by this act (there being neither rebellion nor invasion) would be a plain and palpable violation of the Constitution, and no intention to commit such a violation of the Constitution, of their duty and their oaths, ought to be imputed to them upon mere constructions and implications; and thirdly, because there is no incompatibility between these provisions of the bill and the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in its utmost constitutional latitude.

Congress, in the case of fugitive slaves, as in all other cases within the scope of its constitutional authority, has the unquestionable right to ordain and prescribe for what causes, to what extent, and in what manner persons may be taken into custody, detained, or imprisoned. Without this power they could not fulfill their constitutional trust, nor perform the ordinary and necessary duties of government. It was never heard that the exercise of that legislative power was any encroachment upon or suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. It is only by some confusion of ideas that such a conflict can be supposed to exist. It is not within the province or privilege of this great writ to loose those whom the law has bound. That would be to put a writ granted by the law in opposition to the law, to make one part of the law destructive of another. This writ follows the law and obeys the law. It is issued, upon proper complaint, to make inquiry into the causes of commitment or imprisonment, and its sole remedial power and purpose is to deliver the party from "all manner of illegal confinement." (3 Black. Com. 131.) If upon application to the court or judge for this writ, or if upon its return it shall appear that the confinement complained of was lawful, the writ, in the first instance, would be refused, and in the last the party would be remanded to his former lawful custody.

The condition of one in custody as a fugitive slave is, under this law, so far as respects the writ of habeas corpus, precisely the same as that of all other prisoners under the laws of the United States. The "privilege" of that writ remains alike to all of them, but to be judged of—granted or refused, discharged or enforced—by the proper tribunal, according to the circumstances of each case, and as the commitment and detention may appear to be legal or illegal.

The whole effect of the law may be thus briefly stated: Congress has constituted a tribunal with exclusive jurisdiction to determine summarily and without appeal who are fugitives from service or labor under the second section of the fourth article of the Constitution, and to whom such service or labor is due. The judgment of every tribunal of exclusive jurisdiction where no appeal lies, is, of necessity, conclusive upon every other tribunal; and therefore the judgment of the tribunal created by this act is conclusive upon all tribunals. Wherever this judgment is made to appear, it is conclusive of the right of the owner to retain in his custody the fugitive from his service, and to remove him back to the place or State from which he escaped. If it is shown upon the application of the fugitive for a writ of habeas corpus, it prevents the issuing of the writ; if upon the return, it discharges the writ and restores or maintains the custody.

This view of the law of this case is fully sustained by the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Tobias Watkins, where the court refused to discharge upon the ground that he was in custody under the sentence of a court of competent jurisdiction, and that that judgment was conclusive upon them. (3 Peters.)

The expressions used in the last clause of the sixth section, that the certificate therein alluded to "shall prevent all molestation" of the persons to whom granted "by any process issued," etc., probably mean only what the act of 1793 meant by declaring a certificate under that act a sufficient warrant for the removal of a fugitive, and certainly do not mean a suspension of the habeas corpus. I conclude by repeating my conviction that there is nothing in the bill in question which conflicts with the Constitution or suspends, or was intended to suspend, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, sir,

Your obedient servant,

SOURCE: Ann Mary Butler Crittenden Coleman, Editor, The Life of John J. Crittenden: With Selections from His Correspondence and Speeches, Vol. 1, p. 377-81

John J. Crittenden’s Eulogy of United States Supreme Court Associate Justice John McKinley, July 20, 1852

Since its adjournment yesterday, the members of the bar and officers of the court held a meeting and adopted resolutions expressive of their high sense of the public and private worth of the Hon. John McKinley, one of the justices of this court, and their deep regret at his death. By the same meeting I was requested to present those resolutions to the court, and to ask that they might be entered on its records, and I now rise to perform that honored task.

Besides the private grief which naturally attends it, the death of a member of this court, which is the head of a great, essential, and vital department of the government, must always be an event of public interest and importance.

I had the good fortune to be acquainted with Judge McKinley from my earliest manhood. In the relations of private life he was frank, hospitable, affectionate. In his manners he was simple and unaffected, and his character was uniformly marked with manliness, integrity, and honor. Elevation to the bench of the Supreme Court made no change in him. His honors were borne meekly, without ostentation or presumption.

He was a candid, impartial, and righteous judge. Shrinking from no responsibility, he was fearless in the performance of his duty, seeking only to do right, and fearing nothing but to do wrong. Death has now set her seal to his character, making it unchangeable forever; and I think it may be truly inscribed on his monument that as a private gentleman and as a public magistrate he was without fear and without reproach.

This occasion cannot but remind us of other afflicting losses which have recently befallen us. The present, indeed, has been a sad year for the profession of the law. In a few short months it has been bereaved of its brightest and greatest ornaments. Clay, Webster, and Sergeant have gone to their immortal rest in quick succession. We had scarcely returned from the grave of one of them till we were summoned to the funeral of another. Like bright stars they have sunk below the horizon, and have left the land in widespread gloom. This hall that knew them so well shall know them no more. Their wisdom has no utterance now, and the voice of their eloquence shall be heard here no more forever.

This hall itself seems as though it was sensible of its loss, and even these marble pillars seem to sympathize as they stand around us like so many majestic mourners.

But we will have consolation in the remembrance of these illustrious men. Their names will remain to us and be like a light kindled in the sky to shine upon us and to guide our course. We may hope, too, that the memory of them and their great examples will create a virtuous emulation which may raise up men worthy to be their successors in the service of their country, its constitution, and its laws.

For this digression, and these allusions to Clay, Webster, and Sergeant, I hope the occasion may be considered as a sufficient excuse, and I will not trespass by another word, except only to move that these resolutions in relation to Judge McKinley, when they shall have been read by the clerk, may be entered on the records of this court.

SOURCE: Ann Mary Butler Crittenden Coleman, Editor, The Life of John J. Crittenden: With Selections from His Correspondence and Speeches, Vol. 1, p. 381-3

Robert P. Letcher to John J. Crittenden, October 20, 1850

MEXICO, October 20, 1850.

DEAR CRITTENDEN,—Mr. Marks, a gentleman of respectability and intelligence, has just signified to me that he sets out for Washington City in a few hours. I give you a brief letter. Attend to him and introduce him to Mr. Webster. He is quite intimate with the government, and has been for many years the confidential friend of some of the leading members of the cabinet. Mr. Webster's amendments to the treaty were received about ten days ago. I have succeeded in getting the whole of them adopted, with the exception of two. Marks can tell you all about it. They never can be carried, if tried, to the day the great judgment-gun shall be fired. I have tried every argument, every persuasion, every threat, to prevail upon the cabinet to accept these two amendments in vain. In fact, I tried very hard to have these amendments inserted in the original treaty for three months. I believe I could prevail upon these folks to cede the whole country to the United States sooner than agree to these modifications. I won't trouble you with these matters. Unhappy as I am here, anxious as I am to return home, I will not quit my post till the end of this treaty is seen. I have some reason to believe Mr. Webster is not satisfied with my negotiations in regard to this treaty. This fills me with the deepest concern. It is utterly impossible for Mr. Webster to know and see things in this country as they really exist. Under all the circumstances, I know it was right to sign that treaty; I care not who may think to the contrary. Mr. Webster shall have a chance of appointing some one in my place who suits him better. I have worked hard since I have been in this country, and expect but little thanks; but I don't deserve censure or reproach. I don't mean to utter a word of complaint against Mr. Webster, or to say to any one else what I have said to you, unless it becomes necessary in my own defense, and then I'll say a damned deal. The truth is I feel a little desperate, and as cross as—at the idea of being reproached. Damn the treaty; it's opposed by all the foreign influence, by the opposition party, and by all the moneyed and commercial men of this country in solid column. The newspapers have openly charged me with forcing the government to make it. They have charged me with the crime of controlling this government as I please. The foreign ministers talk in the same way.

So I am, you may well imagine, worried to death, and get no thanks for it. If anything whatever occurs, which in your judgment should render it proper for me to resign, you are fully authorized to file my resignation at any moment. All I care about is to see the end of this treaty, and then my mission shall be at an end through the grace of God.

Good-by to you.

SOURCE: Ann Mary Butler Crittenden Coleman, Editor, The Life of John J. Crittenden: With Selections from His Correspondence and Speeches, Vol. 1, p. 383-4

R. J. B. to John J. Crittenden, November 23, 1850

LEXINGTON, Nov. 23, 1850.

MY DEAR SIR,—More than a year ago our friend Garnett Duncan made application to the President and to the Secretary at War for a cadet's warrant at West Point for my oldest son. He did this spontaneously as an act of personal regard, and perhaps as some expression of his sense of things of other days. I had other friends whose influence might have aided him; but in the same spirit that actuated him, I told him I would do nothing; so that if he succeeded, he should have all the gratitude of the lad and all the pleasure of the good deed. He failed. But the President and the Secretary both promised to put the lad's name on the list, and held out strong hopes, if not a certain assurance, of his appointment a year from that time, to wit, now.

Now, my dear sir, if this appointment can be had, I shall be very glad; my boy will be gratified in the strongest and almost the earliest wish of his heart, and I trust the country may be gainer thereby in the end. The lad is now a little past sixteen years of age; he is a member of the Sophomore class at Danville, and is of robust constitution, fine talents, and earnest, firm, and elevated nature. It is to gratify him in a strong, nay, a vehement, passion that I desire this thing. For myself I never did, never will, solicit anything from any government. The ancestors of this lad, paternal and maternal, have done the State some service. You know all about all I could with propriety say.

If there is any impropriety in my thus addressing you, I pray you to excuse it; if there is none, and this thing can be accomplished, it will be only another proof of your goodness and another ground of the grateful and affectionate friendship of Yours ever,

R. J. B.

SOURCE: Ann Mary Butler Crittenden Coleman, Editor, The Life of John J. Crittenden: With Selections from His Correspondence and Speeches, Vol. 1, p. 384

R. J. B. to John J. Crittenden, April 12, 1851

LEXINGTON, KY., April 12, 1851.

DEAR SIR,—You may, perhaps, recollect that I was inconsiderate enough to address a letter to you during the last winter on the subject of a warrant to West Point for one of a numerous family of sons, under circumstances which I erred, perhaps, in supposing were somewhat peculiar, and with claims upon the country, personal and hereditary, which I no doubt greatly overrated in my desire to gratify the ardent wishes of a beloved child.

I was not fortunate enough to receive any answer to that letter; and although the application was warmly supported by both the senators from this State and several members of Congress from this and other States, being myself without political influence, it failed, as I ought to have foreseen it must. I feel it to be due to you and to myself to say that I regret very much having, in a moment of parental weakness, committed so great an error, and by this declaration atone, at least to my own feelings, for the only instance, through a life now not very short, in which I have asked from any one anything for myself or any member of my family. Praying you to excuse what I so much regret, I am, very respectfully,

Your friend and servant,
R. J. B.

SOURCE: Ann Mary Butler Crittenden Coleman, Editor, The Life of John J. Crittenden: With Selections from His Correspondence and Speeches, Vol. 1, p. 385

Congressman Albert G. Brown to His Constituents, May 13, 1850

FELLOW-CITIZENS: I feel impelled, by a strong sense of duty, to address to you this communication. If it shall seem to you more appropriate that I should have delivered the sentiments which follow, in the form of a speech in the House of Representatives, I reply, that the difficulty of obtaining the floor interposes at all times serious obstacles to that mode of address. At this period of excitement, when events of the greatest consequence are pursuing each other in rapid succession, it appears to me neither wise nor safe to risk the doubtful chances of an early opportunity of addressing you through the ordinary medium of a congressional speech.

Events of the utmost magnitude are transpiring at the seat of the national government. In these events you have a deep interest, and I would not leave you a single day in ignorance of my views, or in doubt as to the manner in which I mean to discharge the high and important trusts which your partiality has devolved upon me.

It is well known to you, that the people in California, following the lead of General Riley, an officer of the United States army stationed in that country, took upon themselves, during the last summer, the responsible task of forming a state constitution, and setting up a state government in that territory.

This proceeding has been extensively criticised, and very generally condemned, as altogether anomalous and irregular. It is no part of my present purpose to follow up these criticisms. That the whole proceeding was irregular and in total disregard of the rights of the South, is beyond dispute. That it was basely fraudulent, I have ever believed, and do now believe. That the people in that country were prompted to the course pursued by them, by the secret spies and agents sent out from Washington, I have never doubted for a single moment. That they were induced to insert the "Wilmot proviso," in their so-called state constitution, by assurances held out to them that such a course would facilitate their admission into the Union of these states, I as religiously believe as I do in the existence of an overruling Providence.

Pursuing the idea that there had been illegitimate influences at work to produce particular results in California, I on two several occasions introduced into the House of Representatives resolutions directing a searching inquiry into all the facts. But the dominant power would give no countenance to my object.

I have seen it stated in a letter written in California, and published in the Republic newspaper in this city, "that it was everywhere understood in that country, that the President desired the people of California to settle the slavery question for themselves." I endeavored to bring the public mind to bear on this point, and in a card published in the Republic, I inquired "how it came to be everywhere thus understood?" but no response was ever made to the inquiry. The semi-official declaration, however, quickened my suspicions that some one had spoken as by authority for the President.

Thomas Butler King, Esq., one of the President's agents in California, has repeatedly declared that the California Convention was held under the sanction of President Polk and Secretaries Buchanan and Marcy; and that it was to these functionaries General Riley made allusion when he said to the people in that country that he was acting in compliance with the views of the President, and the Secretaries of War and of State. Mr. Polk is dead, and the two ex-secretaries positively deny the truth of Mr. King's declaration.

If General Riley stated officially to the people of California, on the 3d of June, 1849, the date of his proclamation, that THE President, THE Secretary of War, and THE Secretary of State approved his conduct meaning thereby Mr. Polk, Mr. Buchanan, and Mr. Marcy—it was a fraud upon the people of California. The statement could only have been made with a view to give the highest official sanction to his conduct, and he knew perfectly well that all three of the gentlemen alluded to, were private citizens at the date of his proclamation. When he said THE President, he meant to give the weight of presidential influence to his acts. He meant that the people should understand him as alluding to the man in power, and not to a retired gentleman and private citizen.

Mr. King undertakes to prove that he is right in his declaration, and asserts that the steamer which carried him to California was the first arrival in that country after General Taylor's inauguration, and "that she conveyed the first intelligence that Congress had failed to provide a government for that territory;" and by way of giving point to his declaration in this respect, he asserts that he landed for the first time at San Francisco, on the 4th day of June; that General Riley was then at Monterey, distant about one hundred and fifty miles, and that he (Mr. King) did not see him (Riley), or have any communication with him; and that the proclamation, calling the California Convention, bore date June 3d, 1849. Thus rendering it impossible, as he assumed, that said proclamation could have been based on information received from the present President and his Secretaries, through his (Mr. King's) arrival. Unfortunately for the accuracy of these statements and the legitimacy of the conclusions, General Riley commences his proclamation with the emphatic declaration "that Congress had failed to provide a government for California;" and the inquiry at once arises, how, if Mr. King landed at San Francisco on the 4th of June, 1849, with the first intelligence of this failure on the part of Congress, could General Riley have known and proclaimed the important fact at Monterey, distant one hundred and fifty miles, on the 3d of June of that year? We see at once that it could not be so.

President Polk and his cabinet could not have sent advice to California of this failure on the part of Congress; for it is historically true that the failure occurred in the very last hour of Mr. Polk's administration.

Through some channel General Riley was advised that Congress had failed to provide a government for California, and this after President Taylor came into power. I do not say that Mr. King was this channel, but I do say that from the same medium through which he derived the information that Congress had failed to provide a government, he may, and probably did, receive also the views of the President and his cabinet, and hence he was enabled to speak as he did with positive certainty of the one and of the other.

"You are fully possessed," says the Secretary of State, Mr. Clayton, to Mr. King, in a letter bearing date of April 3, 1849, “You are fully possessed of the President's views, and can with propriety suggest to the people of California the ADOPTION of measures best calculated to give them effect. These measures must, of course, originate solely with themselves." Mr. King, then, was informed that he could with propriety suggest the adoption of measures to carry out the President's views, he having been fully possessed of those views. But these measures must originate with the people! Beautiful! Mr. King is sent to California to suggest to the people the adoption of measures to carry out the President's views, but these measures must ORIGINATE with the people! And more beautiful still, Mr. King comes home, after disburdening himself of the views whereof he was "fully possessed," and gravely tells the country he did not go to California on a political mission, and had nothing to do with the local affairs of that country; and this, too, after he was denounced in the convention as the President's emissary. I suspect Mr. King could tell how it came to be "everywhere understood in California that the President wanted the people to settle the   question for themselves."

I have thought proper to present these facts and deductions, for the purpose of showing you that mine are no idle suspicions. When I say that, in my opinion, a great fraud has been perpetrated, I want you to understand that there is some foundation for my opinion.

The action of Congress, I am free to admit, may have had much to do in fixing the sentiment in the mind of the President and of the Californians, that no territorial government would be allowed which did not contain the Wilmot proviso; and judging from the temper constantly displayed in urging this odious measure at all times and in all seasons, it was, I grant, a rational conclusion that no government asked for or established by the people would be tolerated unless slavery was prohibited; but was this a sufficient reason why the President or his agents, or even the people of California, should trample under foot the rights of the South? We had our rights in that country, and they ought to have been respected; I risk nothing in saying that they would have been, had we been the stronger party. Our fault consisted in our weakness, and for this we were sacrificed.

It is said, I know, that California is not suited to slave labor-that the soil, climate, the very elements themselves, are opposed to it. Slave labor is never more profitably employed than in mining; and you may judge whether slaves could be advantageously introduced into that country, when I inform you, on the authority of the debates of their convention, that an able-bodied negro is worth in California from two to six thousand dollars per annum.

I pass over the studied and systematic resistance which the California. admissionists have constantly and steadily interposed against all investigation, with this single remark—"that the wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are as bold as a lion."

Immediately after the assembling of the present Congress, it became apparent that the admission of California into the Union as a state was to become the great question of the session; and it was palpable from the beginning, that there was a large majority in favor of it. The President was not slow in taking his position. He brought the subject to the favorable notice of Congress in his annual message, and very soon after, in a special communication, he earnestly recommended it to our favorable consideration. The fearful odds of the President, the Cabinet, and a congressional majority, was arrayed against us; but, nothing daunted, a few of us, relying on the justice of our cause, and placing our trust in the intelligence, virtue, patriotism, and indomitable firmness and courage of our constituents, resolved to resist it.

To lay before you the grounds of that resistance, and to lay bare the sophistry and double-dealing of the friends of this measure, are among the chief aims of this letter.

A large class of those who advocate the immediate introduction of California into the Union, place their advocacy on the ground that the people have a right in all cases to govern themselves, and to regulate their domestic concerns in their own way. It becomes important to understand the meaning of declarations like these, and to ascertain the extent to which such doctrines may be rightfully extended.

I admit the right of self-government; I admit that every people may regulate their domestic affairs in their own way; I freely and fully admit the doctrine that a people finding themselves in a country without laws, may make laws for themselves, and to suit themselves. But in doing this they must take care not to infringe the rights of the owners and proprietors of the soil. If, for example, one hundred or one thousand American citizens should find themselves thrown on an island belonging to Great Britain, uninhabited and without laws, such citizens, from the very necessity of their position, would have a right to make laws for themselves. But in doing this, they would have no right to say to her Majesty's subjects in Scotland, you may come to this island with your property, and to her Irish subjects, you shall not come with your property. They would have no right to set the proprietors at defiance, or to make insulting discriminations between proprietors holding one species of property and those owning another species of property. No such power would be at all necessary to their self-government, and any attempt to exercise it would justly be regarded as an impertinent attempt to assume the supreme power, when in fact they were mere tenants at will.

If the people of California, who had been left, by the unwise and grossly unjust NON-ACTION of Congress, without law and without government, had confined themselves to making their own laws and regulating their own domestic affairs in their own way, I certainly never should have raised my voice against their acts. But when they go further, and assume the right to say what shall be the privileges of the owners and proprietors of the soil-when they take upon themselves to say to the fifteen Northern States, your citizens may come here with their property, and to the fifteen Southern States, your citizens shall not come here with their property, they assume, in my judgment, a power which does not belong to them, and perform an act to which the South, if she would maintain her rights, ought not to submit.

Attempts have been made to draw a parallel between the conduct of our revolutionary fathers, who claimed the right to legislate independent of the British crown, and that of the Californians, who have assumed to set up an independent government of their own. When our fathers set up an independent government, they called it revolution; and if the people in California set up a like government, I know of no reason why their conduct shall not in like manner be denominated revolutionary. Our fathers revolted and took the consequences; California has a right to do the same thing; but that she has any other than a revolutionary right, I utterly deny.

Very distinguished men have assumed the position, that the rights of sovereignty over the territory reside in the people of the territory, even during their territorial existence. Let us test the soundness of this theory by a few practical applications. The expression "the people of a territory" is one of very uncertain signification as to numbers. It may mean one hundred thousand, or it may mean one thousand or one hundred. The question naturally presents itself, when does this right of sovereignty commence? Is it with the first man who reaches the territory? May he prescribe rules and regulations for those who come after him? or must there be a thousand or fifty thousand, or a greater or a less number, before the rights of sovereignty attach?

Perhaps we are told that the sovereignty begins when the people assemble to make laws. Very well; let us put this theory into practical operation. Ten thousand French emigrants have settled, let us suppose, at the base of the Rocky Mountains, without the limits of any organized state or territory of the United States, and they are without government or laws. They make laws for themselves, and you acquiesce; they set up a government for themselves, and you admit their right; they claim the sovereignty over the territory and set up an independent state government, and you admit their power to do so. You expect them to ask admission into the Union, but the new sovereignty says no, we prefer independence, or we prefer to become an integral part of the French republic. What will you do under such circumstances? Can you force her to abandon her acknowledged independence? Can you force her into the Union against her will? What! require a sovereign to pursue your will and not her own? This would indeed be revolution.

If California is in fact, as she is admitted by some to be in theory, an independent sovereignty, I see nothing which is to prevent her remaining out of the Union if she elects to do so. I see nothing which may prevent her, if she chooses, allying herself to any other nation or country. I know of no right by which this government may take from her the independence, the sovereignty which she now possesses, if indeed she be a state without the Union.

The tenure by which we hold our territorial possession is indeed most fragile, if this doctrine of territorial sovereignty can be maintained. We may expend millions of treasure, and pour out rivers of our purest and best blood in the acquisition of territories, only to see them taken possession of, and ourselves turned out, by the first interloper who may chance to plant his foot upon them.

I am always glad of an opportunity to do the fullest justice to a political opponent, and in this spirit I beg leave to say, that, in my judgment, Mr. Clay, in a late speech in the Senate, took the true ground on this subject. He denied that California was a state, or that she could become so out of the Union. He maintained the right of the people to self-government, but denied the validity or binding force of their written constitution, until the state should be admitted into the Union. Will the reader recollect this, as I shall have occasion to use it in another connection.

Let us pause for a moment to consider the honesty and sincerity of purpose with which the lofty pretension has been set up in certain quarters, that the people have a right to regulate, arrange, and mould their institutions to suit themselves. In the early part of last year, the people inhabiting a large portion of our unoccupied possessions in what was then known as New Mexico and California, met in convention and framed a state constitution, giving the name of DESERET to their country. They defined their boundaries, and included within their limits a large extent of Pacific coast. Their constitution was in every element essentially republican. They sent their agent to Washington, with a modest request that the constitution thus formed should be accepted, and the state of Deseret admitted into the Union. How this application was treated we shall presently see. Later in the same year, the people of New Mexico formed a territorial government, and sent their delegate to Washington to present their wishes, and, if permitted, to represent their interests. In the summer of the same year, and several months after the Deseret convention, the Californians held their convention. They extended their boundaries so as to monopolize the whole Pacific coast, in total disregard of the prior action of Deseret. And then, in contempt of the modest example of her two neighbors, she sends, not an agent or a delegate to Washington, with a civil request, but she sends up two senators and two representatives, with a bold demand for instantaneous admission into the Union.

What followed? The President made two earnest appeals to Congress to admit California, and he told us plainly to leave the others to their fate. Not only does he fail to give them a friendly salutation, but he in truth turns from them in scorn. Not a word does he utter in their behalf, or in defence of their independent conduct. Their modesty failed to commend them to his paternal notice.

In Congress, and throughout the country, a general outcry is now heard in favor of California. Everywhere throughout the length and breadth of the land, the cry of California, glorious California, is heard. It comes to us from the east and from the west, from the north and (I am pained to say) in some instances from the south. If any man has dared to interpose the slightest objection to the immediate admission of California—if any one has hesitated about yielding to California all that she so boldly demands, he has been denounced, black-balled, hooted at, and almost driven from society. Meantime no voice has been heard in defence of the rights of New Mexico and Deseret. They, too, assume to settle their own affairs in their own way. Yet no whisper of encouragement and hope greets their modest agent and delegate at Washington. The great national voice is engaged to sing and shout for California. Why has this been so? Why this marked distinction between these several parties? The people, we are told, have a right to act for themselves. California acted for herself, Deseret for herself, and New Mexico for herself; and yet, amid the din and clamor in favor of California, we have lost sight of her more retiring and modest sisters. Why is this? I'll tell you, fellow-citizens. Deseret and New Mexico did not insult the South by excluding slavery. With a becoming modesty they were silent on this subject. California, influenced by unwise counsels, flung defiance in your teeth, scoffed at your rights, and boldly threw herself into the arms of the North. Here is the secret of all this boiling and bubbling in favor of California, and here, too, may be found the end of the great doctrine that the people may settle the slavery question for themselves. If they settle it against the South it is well, and if they do not it is no settlement at all.

Ah! but we are told there is a vast difference between these territories; New Mexico and Utah have but few inhabitants, and California has many thousand—some say one hundred thousand and some say two hundred thousand. I do not understand that because a people are fewer in number, that therefore they have no political rights, whilst a greater number may have every right. But how stands the case in regard to these hundreds of thousands of people in California? We all know that the emigration to that country has been confined to hardy male adults, robust men. In most cases their families and friends have been left in the states, to which, in four cases out of five, they themselves have intended to return. At the elections last summer they voted about twelve thousand, and later in the fall, on the important question of adopting a state constitution, with the ballot box wide open and free for every vote, they polled less than thirteen thousand. I should like to know where the balance of this two hundred thousand were. At least one hundred and fifty thousand of them, I suspect, were never in the country, and the rest regarded the whole thing as a ridiculous farce, with which they had nothing to do. And this is the state and these the people who have excluded slavery, and sent two senators and two representatives to Washington.

You will have no difficulty in determining in your own minds that I am opposed to allowing the people of the territories to settle this question, either for us or against us. It is a matter with which they have no concern. The states are equals and have equal rights, and whatever tends to impair or break down that equality, always has and always shall encounter my stern and inflexible opposition.

My position in reference to congressional action on this subject is easily explained. I am for non-intervention—total, entire, unqualified non-intervention. Leave the people of all the states free to go with their property of whatever kind, to the territories, without let and without hindrance, and I am satisfied. But this I must say, that whenever Congress undertakes to give protection to property in the territories, on the high seas, or anywhere else, there must be no insulting discrimination between slave property and any other species of property. To say that Congress may protect the northern man's goods in California, but that Congress shall not protect the southern man's slaves, is intervention. It is intervening for the worst ends, and in the most insulting


We have been told, fellow-citizens, that we once said the people of a territory, when they come to make a state constitution, might settle the slave question for themselves, and that we have now abandoned that ground. Not so-I speak for myself. I have always maintained, and I maintain to-day, that the people of a territory, when duly authorized to form a state constitution, may settle this and all other questions for themselves and according to their own inclinations. But was California duly authorized? Where did she get her authority? We have been told that she got it from the Almighty. This is very well if it is so. But it would be more satisfactory to me to know that she got it from the proprietors of the soil, and that her action had been subordinate to the Federal Constitution.

I have no inclination to discuss this point at length. Whenever it can be shown that California has been subjected to the same ordeal through which Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, and other slaveholding states have been compelled to pass, I will, if in Congress, vote for her admission into the Union, without a why or wherefore, as concerns slavery. But it is asking of me a little too much to expect that I shall vote for her admission, under all the remarkable circumstances attending her application, until she has passed this ordeal.

If it shall be shown that I am getting a fair equivalent for surrendering your rights in California, you may reasonably expect me, in your name, to favor a compromise. The great national mind wants repose, and I for one am ready for any arrangement which may afford a reasonable augury of a happy adjustment of our differences. This brings me to a brief review of Mr. Clay's so called compromise scheme.

The leading bill presented by Mr. Clay from "the Committee of Thirteen" contains three distinct and substantive propositions: First, the admission of California. In this, as in every other scheme of settlement tendered to the South, California, in all her length and breadth, stands first. Secondly, we are offered territorial governments for New Mexico and Utah (Deseret that was), without the Wilmot proviso; and thirdly, we have a proposition to dismember Texas, by cutting off enough of her northern possessions to make four states as large as Mississippi, and for the privilege of doing this we are to pay millions of dollars. The suggestions for filling this blank have varied from five to fifteen millions of dollars.

I have already suggested some reasons why the admission of California, as an independent proposition, ought not, in my judgment, to receive your sanction. I now propose to inquire whether the union of these three measures in one bill makes the whole, as a unit, more worthy of your consideration and support. All the objections to the admission of California stand out in the same force and vigor in Mr. Clay's bill as in all former propositions for her admission. We are asked to make the same sacrifice of feeling and of principle which we have so often and so long protested we would not make—unless indeed it shall be shown that we are getting a fair equivalent for these sacrifices. Mr. Clay has himself told us, in effect, that we were making these sacrifices. He has told us, as I remarked to you in another place, that California was not a state, and could not become so out of the Union. That, in truth, her constitution had no binding force, as a constitution, until the state was admitted into the Union. The constitution of California contains the anti-slavery clause, the "Wilmot proviso." But the constitution is a dead letter, so far as we are concerned. It has no vitality, no binding effect until the state is admitted. Congress admits her, and by the act of admission puts the proviso in force—gives it activity and life. Who, then, but Congress is responsible for the active, operative "proviso"—for that proviso which excludes you from the country? Congress and Congress alone is responsible. You can now understand more fully what I meant, when I signed a letter to his excellency the governor, saying, "that the admission of California was equivalent to the adoption of the Wilmot proviso." The northern people understand this, and to a man they are for her admission.

The question now is, are we offered any adequate consideration for making this sacrifice of feeling and of principle? This is a question worthy of the most serious and critical examination.

By the terms of the resolutions, annexing Texas to the United States, it is expressly provided "that such states as may be formed out of that portion of her territory lying south of the parallel of 36° 30′ north latitude, shall be admitted into the Union with or without slavery, as the people of each state asking admission may desire." And it is as expressly stipulated, that "in such STATE or STATES as may be formed out of said territory lying north of that line slavery shall be prohibited." In pursuance of these resolutions Texas came into the Union. The South consented to this arrangement, and to-day, as at all former periods, I am ready to abide by it.

Examine these resolutions, and what do we find? A clear and distinct recognition of the title of Texas to the country up to 36° 30′, as slave territory, for it is stipulated that the people may determine for themselves, at a proper time, whether slavery shall or shall not exist in all the country below that line. Nay more, the rights of Texas above this line are admitted; for it is expressly provided that in the STATE or states to be formed out of the territory north of 36° 30', slavery shall be prohibited, but not until such state or states ask admission into the Union. We have, then, the clearest possible recognition of the title of Texas up to 36 ½° as slave territory, and to sufficient territory above that line to make one or more states.

Now, what do we hear from the North? That Texas never had any just claim to any part of this territory; that it always did, and does now belong to New Mexico. But, as Texas is a young sister, and one with whom we should not deal harshly, we will give her —— millions of dollars for her imaginary claim. Mr. Benton, in the exuberance of his liberality, offers fifteen millions of dollars; and other gentlemen, less ardent, propose smaller sums. But our present dealing is with Mr. Clay's plan for a compromise.

If the reader has a map, I beg that he will first trace the line of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes, north latitude; and then fix his eye on the north-eastern boundary of Texas at the point where the one-hundredth parallel of longitude crosses the Red River; and, from this point, run a direct line to a point twenty miles above El Paso, on the Rio Grande; and between these two lines, he will have the slave territory which Mr. Clay's compromise proposes to sell out. It will be seen, on comparison, that this territory is nearly twice as large as the state of Mississippi. Whether five or fifteen millions of dollars are given for it, it is needless to say we shall have to pay more than our due proportion of the money.

To me, it is not a pleasant thing to sell out slave territory, and pay for it myself; and I confess that this much of the proposed bargain has not made the admission of California a whit more palatable to me.

I say nothing of Texas above 36° 30'; that country was virtually surrendered to abolition by the terms of the Texas annexation. If Texas thinks proper to give it or sell it to the Free-Soilers, in advance of the time appointed for its surrender, I make no objection. But all the South has a direct political interest in Texas below this line of 36° 30'; and I do not mean to surrender your interest without a fair equivalent.

What is to be the destiny of this territory, if it is thus sold out, and what its institutions? It is to become an integral part of New Mexico, and I risk nothing in saying it will be dedicated to free soil. Its institutions will be anti-slavery. If the character of the country was not to undergo a radical change in this respect, or if this change was not confidently anticipated, we all know that the northern motive for making this purchase would lose its existence. As the country now stands, it is protected by the annexation resolutions against all congressional interference with the question of slavery. Transfer it to New Mexico, and we expose it to the dangerous intermeddling which has so long unhappily afflicted that and all our territorial possessions.

This brings me to the only remaining proposition in Mr. Clay's compromise bill—that to establish territorial governments for New Mexico and Utah, without the "Wilmot proviso." If this were an independent proposition, tendered in good faith, and accepted by the North with a fixed purpose to abide by it, I have no hesitation in saying it would receive my cordial support. I repeat what I have often said, that whilst I shall resist the exclusion of slavery by congressional action, I have no purpose or design to force or fasten it upon any country through the agency of Congress. Whilst I demand that Congress shall not oppose our entrance into the territories with our slaves, I do not ask it to assist us in going there. All I ask is, that we may be treated as equals—that no insulting discrimination shall be drawn between southern and northern people—between southern property and northern property.

How is this proposition regarded by the northern men to whom it is tendered, and by whom it may be accepted? The spirit in which it is accepted is a part of the res gesta; and I therefore press the inquiry, in what light is the proposition regarded ?—in what spirit will it be accepted, if it is accepted at all, by northern men? When we shall have answered this inquiry, it will be seen whether there is leaven enough in this little lump to leaven the whole loaf.

Mr. Webster is positive that we can never introduce slaves into the territory. "The laws of God," he thinks, will for ever forbid it. He, and those who go with him, will not vote for the "proviso," because it is unnecessary. They are opposed, uncompromisingly opposed, to the introduction of slaves into the territories; and they are ready to do anything that may be found necessary to keep them out. It is easy to see what they will do, if we commence introducing our slaves. They will at once say, "the laws of God" having failed us, we must try what virtue there is in the "Wilmot proviso." Mr. Clay and those who follow him are quite certain that "we are already excluded by the laws of Mexico." They, too, are opposed to the introduction of slavery into the territories, and stand ready to see it excluded. The northern men who stand out against the compromise, insist, and will continue to insist, on the Wilmot proviso, as the only certain guarantee that slavery will be permanently excluded. All, all are opposed to our going in with our slaves, and all are ready to employ whatever means may be necessary to keep us out. I assert the fact distinctly and emphatically, that we are told every day that if we attempt to introduce our slaves at any time into New Mexico or Utah, there will be an immediate application of the "Wilmot proviso," to keep us out. Mark you, the proposition is to give territorial governments to New Mexico and Utah. These are but congressional acts, and may be altered, amended, explained, or repealed, at pleasure.

No one here understands that we are entering into a compact, and no northern man votes for this compromise, with the expectation or understanding that we are to take our slaves into the territories. Whatever additional legislation may be found necessary hereafter to effect our perfect exclusion, we are given distinctly to understand will be resorted to. But there is yet another difficulty to be overcome, a more serious obstacle than either "the laws of God," as Mr. Webster understands them, or "the laws of Mexico," as understood by Mr. Clay. In regard to the first, I think Mr. Webster is wholly mistaken, and if he is not, I am willing to submit; and in regard to the second, I take the ground, that when we conquered the Mexican people, we conquered their laws. But Mr. Clay's bill contains a provision as prohibitory as the "proviso" itself. The territorial legislature is denied the right to legislate at all in respect to African slavery. If a master's slave absconds, no law can be passed by which he may recover him. If he is maimed, he can have no damages for the injury. If he is decoyed from his service, or harbored by a vicious neighbor, he is without remedy. A community of slaveholders may desire to make laws adapted to their peculiar wants in this respect, but Congress, by this compromise of Mr. Clay's, denies them the right to do so. They shall not legislate in regard to African slavery. What now becomes of the hypocritical cant about the right of the people to regulate their own affairs in their own way?

With these facts before us, it becomes us to inquire how much we give and how much we take, in voting for Mr. Clay's bill. We admit California, and, being once in, the question is settled so far as she is concerned. We can never get her out by any process short of a dissolution of the Union. We give up a part of pro-slavery Texas, and we give it beyond redemption and for ever. Our part of the bargain is binding. Our follies may rise up and mock us in after times, but we can never escape their effects. This much we give; now what do we take? We get a government for New Mexico and Utah, without the Wilmot proviso, but with a declaration that we are excluded already "by the laws of God and the Mexican nation," or get it with a prohibition against territorial legislation on the subject of slavery, and with a distinct threat constantly hanging over us, that if we attempt to introduce slaves against these prohibitions, the "Wilmot proviso" will be instantly applied for our more effectual exclusion.

Such is the compromise. Such is the proposed bargain. Can you, fellow-citizens, expect me to vote for it? Will you demand of your representative to assist in binding you hand and foot, and turning you over to the tender mercies of the Free-Soilers?

It is said, we can get nothing better than this. But is that any sufficient reason why we should vote for it ourselves? If I am beset with robbers, who are resolved on assassination, must I needs lay violent hands on myself? or if my friend is in extremis, must I strangle him? We can get nothing better, forsooth! In God's name, can we get anything worse? It is said that if we reject this, they will pass the "Wilmot proviso." Let them pass it; it will not be more galling than this. If the proviso fails to challenge our respect, it at least rises above our contempt. If it ever passes, it will be the Act of the American Congress of men learned in the law, and familiar with the abstruse readings of the Constitution. It will be done deliberately, and after full reflection. It will not be done by adventurers on the shores of the Pacific, who seem to know but little of our Constitution or laws, and to care less for our rights.

I have heard it said that it will be dangerous to reject the application of California for admission into the Union. Already she is threatening to set up for herself, and if we reject her, she will withdraw her application and establish herself as an independent republic on the Pacific. Let her try it. We have been told that if the South refuse to submit to the galling insults and outrageous wrongs of the North, the President will call out the naval and military power of the nation, and reduce us to submission. When California asserts her independence, and sets up her republic on the Pacific, we shall see how quick the President will be to use this same military and naval force, in bringing her back to her allegiance. These threats have no terrors for me.

As I could respect the reckless and bold robber who, unmasked, presents his pistol and demands my money or my life, above the petty but expert pickpocket, who looks complaisantly in my face while he steals my purse,—so can I respect the dashing and dare-devil impudence of the Wilmot proviso, which robs the South, and takes the responsibility, above the little, low, cunning, sleight-of-hand scheme, which robs us just as effectually, and leaves us wondering how the trick was performed.

So long as I remain in your service, fellow-citizens, I will represent you faithfully, according to my best judgment. In great emergencies like this, I feel the need of your counsel and support. It would give me pain, if any important vote of mine should fail to meet your approbation. Whilst I shall never follow blindly any man's lead, nor suffer myself to be awed by any general outcry, I confess myself not insensible to the applause of my countrymen. In a great crisis like the present, men must act, responsibility must be taken, and he is not fit to be trusted who stops in the discharge of his high duties to count his personal costs.

I cannot vote for Mr. Clay's compromise bill. With very essential changes and modifications, I might be reconciled to its support. These I have no hope of obtaining, and I therefore expect to vote against it. Like the fatal Missouri compromise, it gives up everything and obtains nothing; and like that and all other compromises with the North, it will be observed, and its provisions maintained, just so long as it suits the views of northern men to observe and maintain them, and then they will be unscrupulously abandoned.

It will give me great pleasure to find myself sustained by my constituents, in the votes I intend to give. My head, my heart, my every thought and impulse admonish me that I am right, and I cannot doubt or hesitate.

Your fellow-citizen,
WASHINGTON CITY, May 13, 1850.

SOURCE: M. W. Cluskey, Editor, Speeches, Messages, and Other Writings of the Hon. Albert G. Brown, A Senator in Congress from the State of Mississippi, p. 178-90

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Theodore Parker to Congressman Horace Mann, Saturday Night, March 11, 1850

BOSTON, March 11, 1850.        
Saturday Night.

DEAR SIR,—God bless you for your noble speech which I have just read in the Boston Daily Journal. Send me a copy to keep as a monument of the age when the Websters did as they have done, and oblige

Yours truly,

SOURCE: Mary Tyler Peabody Mann, Life of Horace Mann, p. 295

Congressman Horace Mann, March 13, 1850

MARCH 13, 1850.

The hallucination that seizes the South on the subject of slavery, is, indeed, enough to excite our compassion; but an excuse of their conduct to themselves on this ground, would, perhaps, enrage them more than any thing else. I would be willing to offer them any pecuniary indemnity which they might desire. Indeed, I had thought of bringing forward some such idea in my speech; but I feared they would only scout it.

I do not think Mr. Webster can be honest in the views expressed in his speech. I would struggle against a belief in his treachery to the last minute; but this speech is in flagrant violation of all that he has ever said before.

You are in an error in supposing that the exclusion of slavery from the Territories will affect the growth of cotton or rice unfavorably. Slaves are in great demand now for the cotton and rice fields. No production of the Territories would come in competition with their great staples. It is a fear of losing the balance of power, as they call it; and no doubt, in some cases, a fear that this is only a beginning of a war upon slavery in the States themselves. On this latter point, they will not be pacified by any declarations made by the North. Then, again, on this subject they are not a reasoning people.

To recur to Mr. Webster again. He has said some things it was quite unnecessary to say, and some things not true. Look at his interpretation of the admission of Texas! The act was, as he has quoted in his speech, that four new States—no more might be formed from Texas: those south of 36° 30′ might be slave States, and those north must be free States. Now, he says we are bound to admit four slave States. But we are bound to admit only four in the whole. Why, then, admit all these four as slave States, and then others, that is, if we get the consent of Texas, as free States? No: we are to admit but four in the whole; and, as one or two of these are to be free, there must not be four slave. He therefore not only proposes to execute that ungodly bargain, but to give one or two slave States to the South as a gratuity.

So his offer to take the proceeds of the public lands to deport free blacks is of the greatest service to slavery. It is just what the South wants, to get rid of its free blacks. It would enhance the value and the security of the slave property so called. Had he proposed to give the proceeds of the lands to deport manumitted slaves, that would encourage manumission, and be of real service to humanity. Indeed, the more I think of the speech, the worse I think of it.

SOURCE: Mary Tyler Peabody Mann, Life of Horace Mann, p. 295-6

Congressman Horace Mann to Samuel Downer, March 21, 1850

WASHINGTON, March 21, 1850.

MY DEAR SIR, I am glad to hear from you. I did not know but you would give me over to "hardness of heart and to a reprobate mind" after my votes for Speaker. But I am as well satisfied as I can be of any thing that it was the best course. If we must have one of two men for Speaker, you do nothing towards deterring me from supporting one of them, on the ground that he is a bad man, so long as I can prove the other to be a worse one. I have found that those who hold to the doctrine, that they will not take the least of two evils, forget that, by adding their own course to the number of evils, they make three of them, and then generally take the worst two of the three. I prefer the least one of two to the worst two of three. . . .


SOURCE: Mary Tyler Peabody Mann, Life of Horace Mann, p. 296

Congressman Horace Mann to Samuel Downer, March 1850

MARCH, 1850.

MY DEAR FRIEND,—Mr. Webster astonished almost all Northern men here. We are recovering from the shock; but it was a severe one. It was as unexpected as it was astounding. It may seem egotistic in me; but I wish I had not spoken till after he did. I should have liked to ask him how he knows that God has Wilmot provisoed New Mexico. Has he had any new revelation since the North-west Territory needed provisoing, since Wisconsin needed it, since Oregon needed it? Indiana came near being a slave State, proviso and all; and would have been so, if Congress had not rejected her petition, John Randolph, of Virginia, making the report. Has God Wilmot-provisoed the whole belt of country from the eastern side of Delaware to the western side of Missouri, any more than he has New Mexico? and, if so, why has not his proviso taken effect? Is there not a vast region of those States that lies far north of the greater part of New Mexico? Has Mr. Webster any geological eyes by which he has discovered that there are no mines in New Mexico which could be profitably worked by slaves? If predial slavery cannot exist there, cannot menial? Does not slavery depend more on conscience than on climate? If individuals do not desire to carry slavery into New Mexico for personal profit, may not communities and States desire it for political aggrandizement?

As to fugitive slaves, I need say nothing. While Massachusetts citizens are imprisoned in Southern ports, I think fugitive slaves will be gentlemen at large in Massachusetts.

But the offer to give eighty millions received and a hundred and eighty millions expected to be received from the public lands to transport free negroes to Africa, and thereby to give increased value to slaves and increased security to slave property, is atrocious.

Now, would to God that you Free-soilers were not a separate organization! With what power such men as S. C. Phillips, G. Palfrey, William Jackson, and Sumner, could act upon the Whigs, if they were not alienated from them! For Heaven's sake, heal this breach, instead of widening it, and bring the whole force of the North to bear in favor of freedom!

With best love for your wife and your babes and yourself, I am very truly and sincerely yours,


SOURCE: Mary Tyler Peabody Mann, Life of Horace Mann, p. 297-8