Among the reasons which have induced me to rise, one is to express my surprise. Surprise, did I say? I ought rather to have said, my extreme astonishment, at the assertion I heard made on both floors of Congress, that, in forming the Constitution of the United States, and particularly that part of it which respects the representation on this floor, the
Northern and Eastern States, or, as they are now called, the non-slaveholding States, have made a great concession to the Southern, in granting to them a representation of three-fifths of their slaves; that they saw the concession was a very great and important one at the time, but that they had no idea it would so soon have proved itself of such consequence; that it would so soon have proved itself to be by far the most important concession that had been made.1
They say, that it was wrung from them by their affection to the Union, and their wish to preserve it from dissolution or disunion; that they had, for a long time, lamented they had made it; and that, if it was to do over, no earthly consideration should again tempt them to agree to so unequal and so ruinous a compromise. . . .
It was, sir, for the purpose of correcting this great and unpardonable error; unpardonable, because it is a wilful one, and the error of it is well known to the ablest of those who make it; of denying the assertion, and proving that the contrary is the fact, and that the concession, on that occasion, was from the Southern and the Northern States, that, among others, I have risen.
It is of the greatest consequence that the proof I am about to give should be laid before this nation; for, as the inequality of representation is the great ground on which the Northern and Eastern States have always, and now more particularly and forcibly than ever, raised all their complaints on this subject, if I can show and prove that they have not even a shadow of right to make pretences or complaints; that they are as fully represented as they ought to be; while we, the Southern members, are unjustly deprived of any representation for a large and important part of our population, more valuable to the Union, as can be shown, than any equal number of inhabitants in the Northern and Eastern States can, from their situation, climate, and productions, possibly be. If I can prove this, I think I shall be able to show most clearly the true motives which have given rise to this measure; to strip the thin, the cobweb veil from it, as well as the pretended ones of religion, humanity, and love of liberty; and to show, to use the soft terms the decorum of debate oblige me to use, the extreme want of modesty in those who are already as fully represented here as they can be, to go the great lengths they do in endeavoring, by every effort in their power, public and private, to take from the Southern and Western States, which are already so greatly and unjustly deprived of an important part of the representation, a still greater share; to endeavor to establish the first precedent, which extreme rashness and temerity have ever presumed, that Congress has a right to touch the question and legislate on slavery; thereby shaking the property in them, in the Southern and Western States, to its very foundation, and making an attack which, if successful, must convince them that the Northern and Eastern States are their greatest enemies; that they are preparing measures for them which even Great Britain in the heat of the Revolutionary War, and when all her passions were roused by hatred and revenge to the highest pitch never ventured to inflict upon them. Instead of a course like this, they ought, in my judgment, sir, to be highly pleased with their present situation; that they are fully represented, while we have lost so great a share of our representation; they ought, sir, to be highly pleased at the dexterity and management of their members in the Convention, who obtained for them this great advantage; and, above all, with the moderation and forbearance with which the Southern and Western States have always borne their many bitter provocations on this subject, and now bear the open, avowed, and, by many of the ablest men among them, undisguised attack on our most valuable rights and properties. . . .
The revolt of New Jersey and Pennsylvania accelerated the new Constitution. On a motion from Virginia the Convention met at Philadelphia, where, as you will find from the Journals, we were repeatedly in danger of dissolving without doing any thing; that body being equally divided as to large and small States, and each having a vote, and the small States insisting most pertinaciously, for near six weeks, on equal power in both branches — nothing but the prudence and forbearance of the large States saved the Union. A compromise was made, that the small States and large should be equally represented in the Senate, and proportionally in the House of Representatives. I am now arrived at the reason for which I have, sir, taken the liberty to make these preliminary remarks. For, as the true motive for all this dreadful clamor throughout the Union, this serious and eventful attack on our most sacred and valuable rights and properties, is, to gain a fixed ascendency in the representation in Congress; and, as the only flimsy excuse under which the Northern and Eastern States shelter themselves, is, that they have been hardly treated in the representation of this House, and that they have lost the benefit of the compromise they pretend was made, and which I shall most positively deny, and show that nothing like a compromise was ever intended.
By all the public expenses being borne by indirect taxes, and not direct, as was expected; if I can show that all their pretensions and claims are wholly untrue and unfounded, and that while they are fully represented, they did, by force, or something like it, deprive us of a rightful part of our representation, I shall then be able to take the mask from all their pretended reasons and excuses, and show this unpardonable attack, this monster, in its true and uncovered hideousness. . . .
If, as no doubt, you will in future confine your imports to the amount of your exports of native products, and all your revenue is to be, as it is now, raised by taxes or duties on your imports, I ask you who pays the expense, and who, in fact, enables you to go on with your Government at all, and prevents its wheels from stopping? I will show you by the papers which I hold in my hand. This, sir, is your Secretary of the Treasury's report, made a few weeks ago, by which it appears that all the exports of native products, from Maine to Pennsylvania, inclusive, for the last year, amounted to only about eighteen millions of dollars; while those among the slaveholding States, to the Southward of Pennsylvania, amounted to thirty-two millions or thereabouts, thereby enabling themselves, or acquiring the right, to import double as much as the others, and furnishing the Treasury with double the amount the Northern and Eastern States do. And here let me ask, from whence do these exports arise? By whose hands are they made? I answer, entirely by the slaves; and yet these valuable inhabitants, without whom your very government could not go on, and the labor of two or three of whom in the Southern States is more valuable to it than the labor of five of their inhabitants in the Eastern States, the States owning and possessing them are denied a representation but for three-fifths on this floor, while the whole of the comparatively unproductive inhabitants of the Northern and Eastern States are fully represented here. Is it just — is it equal? And yet they have the modesty to complain of the representation, as unjust and unequal; and that they have not the return made them that they expected, by taxing the slaves, and making them bear a proportion of the public burdens. . . .
Before I proceed to the other parts of this question, I have thus endeavored to give a new view of the subject of representation in this House; to show how much more the Eastern and Northern States are represented than the Southern and Western; . . .
The supporters of the amendment contend that Congress have the right to insist on the prevention of involuntary servitude in Missouri; and found the right on the ninth section of the first article, which says, "the migration or importation of such persons as the States now existing may think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year 1808, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation not exceeding ten dollars."
In considering this article, I will detail, as far as at this distant period is possible, what was the intention of the Convention that formed the Constitution in this article. The intention was, to give Congress a power, after the year 1808, to prevent the importation of slaves either by land or water from other countries. The word import, includes both, and applies wholly to slaves. Without this limitation, Congress might have stopped it sooner under their general power to regulate commerce; and it was an agreed point, a solemnly understood compact, that, on the Southern States consenting to shut their ports against the importation of Africans, no power was to be delegated to Congress, nor were they ever to be authorized to touch the question of slavery; that the property of the Southern States in slaves was to be as sacredly preserved, and protected to them, as that of land, or any other kind of property in the Eastern States were to be to their citizens.
The term, or word, migration, applies wholly to free whites; in its Constitutional sense, as intended by the Convention, it means "voluntary change of servitude", from one country to another. The reasons of its being adopted and used in the Constitution, as far as I can recollect, were these; that the Constitution being a frame of government, consisting wholly of delegated powers, all power, not expressly delegated, being reserved to the people or the States, it was supposed, that, without some express grant to them of power on the subject, Congress would not be authorized ever to touch the question of migration hither, or emigration to this country, however pressing or urgent the necessity for such a measure might be; that they could derive no such power from the usages of nations, or even the laws of war; that the latter would only enable them to make prisoners of alien enemies, which would not be sufficient, as spies or other dangerous emigrants, who were not alien enemies, might enter the country for treasonable purposes, and do great injury; that, as all governments possessed this power, it was necessary to give it to our own, which could alone exercise it, and where, on other and much greater points, we had placed unlimited confidence; it was, therefore, agreed that, in the same article, the word migration should be placed; and that, from the year 1808, Congress should possess the complete power to stop either or both, as they might suppose the public interest required; the article, therefore, is a negative pregnant, restraining for twenty years, and giving the power after.
The reasons for restraining the power to prevent migration hither for twenty years, were, to the best of my recollection, these: That, as at this time, we had immense and almost immeasurable territory, peopled by not more than two millions and a half of inhabitants, it was of very great consequence to encourage the emigration of able, skilful, and industrious Europeans. The wise conduct of William Penn, and the unexampled growth of Pennsylvania, were cited. It was said, that the portals of the only temple of true freedom now existing on earth should be thrown open to all mankind; that all foreigners of industrious habits should be welcome, and none more so than men of science, and such as may bring to us arts we are unacquainted with, or the means of perfecting those in which we are not yet sufficiently skilled — capitalists whose wealth may add to our commerce or domestic improvements; let the door be ever and most affectionately open to illustrious exiles and sufferers in the cause of liberty; in short, open it liberally to science, to merit, and talents, wherever found, and receive and make them your own. That the safest mode would be to pursue the course for twenty years, and not, before that period, put it at all into the power of Congress to shut it; that, by that time, the Union would be so settled, and our population would be so much increased, we could proceed on our own stock, without the farther accession of foreigners; that, as Congress were to be prohibited from stopping the importation of slaves to settle the Southern States, as no obstacle was to be thrown in the way of their increase and settlement for that period, let it be so with the Northern and Eastern, to which, particularly New York and Philadelphia, it was expected most of the emigrants would go from Europe: and it so happened, for, previous to the year 1808, more than double as many Europeans emigrated to these States, as of Africans were imported into the Southern States.
. . .
I will only mention here, as it is perfectly within my recollection, that the power was given to Congress to regulate the commerce by water between the States, and it being feared, by the Southern, that the Eastern would, whenever they could, do so to the disadvantage of the Southern States, you will find, in the 6th section of the 1st article, Congress are prevented from taxing exports, or giving preference to the ports of one State over another, or obliging vessels bound from one State to clear, enter, or pay duties in another; which restrictions, more clearly than any thing else, prove what the power to regulate commerce among the several States means.3