Browsing "The United States Constitution"

Josiah Quincy, State’s Rights Yankee

Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts spoke the following in 1811 and was keenly aware of the States being sovereign and federated in a voluntary political Union that did not authorize adding territory to it. His State opposed the War of 1812 and refused troops while trading with the enemy – the latter it had done in 1759 when British Gen. James Wolfe confronted the French on the Plains of Abraham. Like other Americans of the antebellum era, Quincy found his own native State to be his home and country.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Josiah Quincy, States-Rights Yankee

“Mr. Speaker, The bill, which is now proposed to be passed [to form Louisiana into a State], has this assumed principle for its basis: that the three branches of this national government, without recurring to conventions of the people, in the States, or to the legislatures of the States, are authorized to admit new partners to a share of the political power, in countries out of the original limits of the United States.

Now, this assumed principle, I maintain to be altogether without any sanction in the constitution. I declare it to be a manifest and atrocious usurpation of power; of a nature, dissolving, according to undeniable principles of moral law, the obligations of our national compact; and leading to all the awful consequences, which flow from such a state of things . . .

Sir, what is this power, we propose now to usurp?

Nothing less than a power, changing all the proportions of the weight and influence, possessed by the potent sovereignties composing this Union. A stranger is to be introduced to an equal share, without their consent. Upon a principle, pretended to be deduced from the constitution, this government, after this bill passes, may and will multiply foreign partners in power, at its own mere motion; at its irresponsible pleasure; in other words, as local interests, party passions, or ambitious views may suggest . . . This is not so much a question, concerning the exercise of sovereignty, as it is who shall be sovereign.

[Is] there a moral principle of public law better settled, or more conformable to the plainest suggestions of reason, than that the violation of a contract by one of the parties may be considered as exempting the others from its obligations?

Do you suppose the people of the Northern and Atlantic States will, or ought to look on with patience and see representatives and senators from the Red River and Missouri, pouring themselves upon this and the other floor, managing the concerns of a seaboard fifteen hundred miles, at least, from their residence?

It is the part of a wise man to foresee danger and to hide himself. This great usurpation, which creeps into this House, under the plausible appearance to giving content to that important point, New Orleans; starts up a gigantic power to control the nation.

With respect to this love of our union . . . It grows out of the affections; and has not, and cannot be made to have, anything universal in its nature. Sir, I confess it, the first public love of my heart is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There is my fireside; there are the tombs of my ancestors. The love of this union grows out of this attachment to my native soil, and is rooted in it.

I cherish it, because it affords the best external hope of her peace, her prosperity, her independence. The bill, if it passes, is the death blow to the Constitution. It may, afterwards, linger; but lingering, its fate will, at no distant period, be consummated.”

(Speech on the Passage of the Bill to Enable the People of the Territory of Orleans to Form a Constitution and State Government, Josiah Quincy, January 14, 1811; American History Told by Contemporaries, Volume III, Albert Bushnell Hart, editor, Macmillan Company, 1901, pp. 410-414)

 

Stephen Douglas on the Alternatives

Illinois politician Stephen A. Douglas thought the solution to the sectional divide in 1860 was finding compromise with Republicans through amendments to the Constitution. Douglas’s Senate speech in early 1861 listed three eventualities he saw ahead, and knew the last would end the union – as Alexander Hamilton presciently observed many years earlier. Formerly a man of compromise, after Fort Sumter, Douglas implored Lincoln to raise “thrice as many” volunteers, despite his witnessing the subjugation of Americans and the end of the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Stephen Douglas on the Alternatives

“In a speech in the Senate, March 15, 1861, Mr. Douglas had reduced the situation to the following three alternative points:

  1. The Restoration and Preservation of the Union by such Amendments to the Constitution as will insure domestic tranquility, safety and equality of all the States, and thus restore peace, unity and fraternity to the whole country.
  2. A Peaceful Dissolution of the Union by recognizing the Independence of such States as refuse to remain in the Union without such Constitutional Amendments, and the establishment of a liberal system of commercial and social intercourse with them by treaties of commerce and amity.
  3. War, with a view to the subjugation and military occupation of those States which have Seceded or may Secede from the Union.”

As a thorough Union man, he could never have agreed to “A Peaceful Dissolution of the Union.” On the other hand he was equally averse to War, because he held that “War is Disunion. War is final, eternal separation.” Hence all his energies and talents were given to carrying out his first-stated line of policy.”

(The Great Conspiracy, John A. Logan, A.R. Hart & Company, 1886, excerpt, pg. 271)

Lincoln and the Supreme Court

Lincoln infamously ignored Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s order finding that the president held no constitutional authority to suspend the writ of habeas corpus – and, reportedly had drafted an order to arrest the Chief Justice. Though Taney would remain Chief Justice during most of the war, his Court was on notice that arrest and imprisonment awaited Lincoln’s dissenters.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Lincoln and the Supreme Court

“The [Lincoln] administration would await no debacle, no breath-taking defeat at the hands of the Supreme Court. It could ill-afford such a calamity. It would move to make such a defeat less likely [and] it would be folly to permit Supreme Court decisions to add to the travail.

President Lincoln and the Republicans were now to decide, concerning the size of the Supreme Court, that the number “ten” was much more convenient than the number “nine.” Under the leadership of Representative James F. Wilson the committee on the judiciary reported to the house a bill to create a tenth circuit . . . [meaning] a tenth Justice. It was prudence that dictated a packed Court in order to strengthen the position of those Justices who would view with favor the acts that the administration deemed necessary.

Admittedly this was a moderate packing of the Court, but the tenth Justice in addition to the three other Lincoln appointees and other friendly Justices on the bench would provide an adequate margin of safety. So it was in the same days that the Prize Cases were being considered by the Court that Congress went about the task of creating . . . a tenth Justice. The Court could not fail to see the implications.

To pack it just at this time was a sharp warning that its size, its powers, and its role rested upon the will of the Congress and the President. There was no delay [in the appointment]. The Senate, deeming that swift action was necessary, passed the bill the same day that it took up consideration of it.

Keep[ing] the power of the Court “right.” That was the strongest motivation for adding a tenth justice . . . during the Civil War. Senator Garrett Davis of Kentucky stated on the floor of the Senate on January 14, 1868, that the Radicals forced the creation of the tenth justiceship.

The power of the government to defend itself would be questioned again before the Supreme Court, and a tenth Justice would at least make certain “that questions of the power of government to suppress rebellion would not come before a Court too hopelessly weighted on the side of the old-line Democratic view of public policy.” The Supreme Court had to be removed as a factor potentially dangerous to the Union. A Congress and a President that had experience the debacles of 1862 would not stand idly by to experience disaster at the hands of the Supreme Court.”

(Lincoln’s Supreme Court, David M. Silver, University of Illinois Press, 1998, pp. 84-88)

A Palpable Violation of the Constitution

Clearly defined in the United States Constitution is this: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only of Levying war against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort . . .” Note the word “them” – not the United States collectively, and that John Brown was convicted of treason against Virginia.  Though Lincoln’s predecessor did not agree with secession, he saw no constitutional authority to coerce a State, and knew that to wage war against a State was treason. Lincoln had no such inhibitions. The following is excerpted from a letter from Jefferson Davis to Mississippi newspaper publisher and war veteran J.L. Power, dated June 19, 1884.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

A Palpable Violation of the Constitution

“Dear Sir,

[From] the statement in regard to Fort Sumter, a child might suppose that a foreign army had attacked the United States – certainly could not learn that the State of South Carolina was merely seeking possession of a fort on her own soil, and claiming that her grant of the site had become void.

The tyrant’s plea of necessity to excuse despotic usurpation is offered for the unconstitutional act of emancipation, and the poor resort to prejudice is invoked in the use of the epithet “rebellion” – a word inapplicable to States generally, and most especially so to the sovereign members of a voluntary union. But, alas for their ancient prestige, [the States] have even lost the plural reference they had in the Constitution . . . Such language would be appropriate to an imperial Government, which in absorbing territories required the subject inhabitants to swear allegiance to it.

Ignorance and artifice have combined so to misrepresent the matter of official oaths in the United States that it may be well to give the question more than a passing notice. When the “sovereign, independent States of America,” formed a constitutional compact of union it was provided in the sixth article thereof that the officers “of the United States and of the several States shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution . . .”

That was the oath. The obligation was to support the Constitution. It created no new obligation, for the citizen already owed allegiance to his respective State, and through her to the Union of which she was a member.

The conclusion is unavoidable that those who did not support, but did not violate the Constitution, were they who broke their official oaths.

The General Government had only the powers delegated to it by the States. The power to coerce a State was not given, but emphatically refused.

Therefore, to invade a State, to overthrow its government by force of arms, was a palpable violation of the Constitution, which officers had sworn to support, and thus to levy war against States which the Federal officers claimed to be, notwithstanding their ordinances of secession, still in the Union, was the treason defined in the third section of the third article of the Constitution, the only treason recognized by the fundamental law of the United States.

By all that is revered in the memory of our Revolutionary sires, and sacred in the principles they established, let not the children of the United States be taught that our Federal Government is sovereign; that our sires, after having, by a long and bloody war, won community independence, used the power, not for the end sought, but to transfer their allegiance, and by oath or otherwise bind their posterity to be the subjects of another government, from which they could only free themselves by force of arms.”

Respectfully, Jefferson Davis”

(Jefferson Davis, the Essential Writings, William J. Cooper, Jr., editor, Modern Library, 2003, excerpts, pp. 431-432)

 

For What are They Waging War?

Jefferson Davis referred to Lincoln’s proclamation of emancipation in early 1863 as affording “our whole people the complete and crowning proof of the true nature of the designs of the party which elevated to power the present occupant of the Presidential chair at Washington and which sought to conceal its purpose . . .” Davis, like others familiar with the United States Constitution, saw that only the individual States could emancipate, not the government created by the States. And waging war upon the States was an act of treason under that same Constitution.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

For What are They Waging War?

January 5, 1863

“Friends and Fellow Citizens . . .

I am happy to be welcomed on my return to the Capital of our Confederacy – the last hope, as I believe, for the perpetuation of that system of government which our forefathers founded – the asylum of the oppressed and the home of true representative liberty.

Anticipating the overthrow of that Government which you had inherited, you assumed the right, as you fathers had done before you, to declare yourselves independent, and nobly have you advocated the assertion which you have made. You have shown yourselves in no respect to be degenerate sons of your fathers.

Men who were bound to you by the compact which their fathers and themselves had entered into the secure to you the rights and principles not only guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence, but rights which Virginia wisely and plainly reserved in her recognition of the government in which she took a part, now come to you with their hands steeped in blood, robbing the widow, destroying houses, seizing the grey-haired father, and incarcerating him in prison because he will not be a traitor to the principles of his fathers and the land that gave him birth.

Every crime which could characterize the course of demons has marked the course of the invader. The Northern portion of Virginia has been ruthlessly desolated – the people not only deprived of the means of subsistence, but their household property destroyed, and every indignity which the base imagination of a merciless foe could suggest inflicted, without regard to age, sex or condition.

In like manner their step has been marked in every portion of the Confederacy they have invaded.

They have murdered prisoners of war; they have destroyed the means of subsistence of families, they have plundered the defenceless, and exerted their most malignant ingenuity to bring to the deepest destitution those who only offence is that their husbands and sons are fighting for their homes and their liberties. Every crime conceivable, from the burning of defenceless towns to the stealing of our silver forks, and spoons, has marked their career.

It is in keeping, however, with the character of the people that seeks dominion over you, claim to be your masters, to try to reduce you to subjection – give up to a brutal soldiery your towns to sack, your homes to pillage and incite servile insurrection.

They have come to disturb our social organizations on the plea that it is military necessity. For what are they waging war? They say to preserve the Union.

Can they preserve the Union by destroying the social existence of a portion of the South? Do they hope to reconstruct the Union by striking at everything which is dear to man? BY showing them so utterly disgraced that if the question was proposed to you whether you would combine with hyenas or Yankees, I trust every Virginian would say, give me the hyenas.”

(Jefferson Davis, the Essential Writings, William J. Cooper, Jr., editor, Modern Library, 2003, excerpts, pp. 285-287)

 

Grecian Horses into the Southern Troy

Jefferson Davis served as both a United States Representative and Senator from Mississippi, Secretary of War, 1853-1857 under President Franklin Pierce, and President of the Confederate States, 1861-1865. He was a staunch Southern Unionist who strived to find peaceful solutions to the sectional controversies that would lead to secession of the Southern States.  The “Know-Nothingism” mentioned below was a Northern nativist political party of the late 1840s and 1850s which opposed the immigration of Irish and German Catholics — Nathaniel P. Banks of Massachusetts and New Yorker Millard Fillmore were leaders of the party.  The following is excerpted from Jefferson Davis’ address of October 2, 1857 at Mississippi City.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Grecian Horses into the Southern Troy

“Colonel Davis rose . . . and referred to various events in the early history of Mississippi . . . that she had never violated the compact of our Union, and unresistingly borne disproportionate burthens for the support of the general government in peace . . . [and] at the first call for soldiers to maintain the honor of the national flag, had, like a Spartan mother, girded the sword upon her sons, who knew well they could never return to the maternal embrace unless they came covered with honorable fame or wrapped in the shroud of death.

[Regarding incessant Northern aggressions borne by the South, were] we to have more compromises to gather further disappointment, and sink still lower from the equality which our Fathers maintained, and transmitted to us? Fraternity and mutual alliance for the interests of each was the motive and purpose for which the Union was formed.

Preparation in the South to maintain her rights in any contingency which the future might and was likely to bring forth, would best serve to strengthen her Northern allies, if they remained true; and would best enable her to dispense with their services, if they should desert.

It was not upon mere party relation that his hopes were founded; it was upon the elevating, purifying power of the doctrine of State rights and strict construction [of the United States Constitution] – the Shibboleth which none but Democrats can pronounce.

In the earlier, and might well be said, in the purer days of the Republic, Mr. Jefferson pronounced the Northern Democracy the neutral allies of the South, and if that alliance was broken there was surely no other on which to rely.

From the foundation of the Government, the party opposed to the Democracy, under its various names and issues had always evinced its tendency to centralization by the latitudinous construction of the powers delegated to the Federal Government.

As examples, he cited the charter of the United States Bank, the enactment of a tariff for protection, a system of internal improvements, a genera distribution of public lands and of public treasure, and last, lowest in tone, and, as its name implied, in intelligence, Know-Nothingism, with its purpose to concede to the Federal Government the power to prescribe the terms on which naturalized citizens should be invested with the right of suffrage in the States.

He said that he considered every departure from strict construction of grants to the Federal Government, as the introduction of another Grecian horse into our Southern Troy, and he invoked every Mississippian to united and vigilant resistance to every such measure.

The South, as a minority section, can alone be secure in her rights by resolutely maintaining the equality and independence of the States, and thus alone could we hope to make our Union perpetual and effective for the great purposes for which it was ordained and established.

He then urged the necessity of home education, of normal schools, and Southern school-books, as the next step after the mother’s pious training in the formation of that character which was essential to progress toward that high destiny to which his anticipation pointed.

If, as was sometimes asserted, Governments contain within themselves the elements of their own destruction, as animate beings have their growth, their maturity to decay; if ours, the last, best hope of civil liberty was, like the many experiments which preceded it, to be engulfed in the sea of time . . . [he hoped] Mississippi would stand conspicuous for all that was virtuous and noble; that through the waves of fanaticism, anarchy and civil strife, her sons would be the Levites who would bear the ark of the Constitution, and when unable to save it from wreck, that in the pile of its sacred timbers their bones would be found mingled.”

(Speech at Mississippi City; The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 6, 1856-1860, L. Crist/M. Dix, editors, LSU Press, 1989, excerpts, pp. 138-139; 153-155)

Conservative Robert A. Taft

Like other Old Right conservatives (rightly said to be the spiritual descendants of antebellum Southern conservatives), Robert A. Taft looked askance at the newly-discovered “civils rights” and saw the Constitution as controlling any and all civil liberties. The likely 1948 and 1952 presidential candidate of the GOP, he was thrust aside by the developing liberal wing of that party in favor of Thomas Dewey and Dwight Eisenhower.  The same liberal wing of the GOP helped defeat conservative Barry Goldwater’s presidential run in 1964.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Conservative Robert A. Taft

“In 1945 he voted against a compulsory federal Fair Employment Practices Committee, declaring that “Race prejudice is a deplorable thing . . . but I don’t believe it is possible to legislate human prejudice out of existence. This seems to me an interference by Federal Government in millions of employer-employee relationships – the regulation of business and individual life. I particularly object to giving some Federal board power to pass on the motives of the employer, a fact almost impossible to determine in most cases . . .”

Taft . . . in an address to the colored students of North Carolina College . . . told his audience that the “control of education under our Constitution is in the jurisdiction of the States and not of the Federal Government. As long as States provide equal educational facilities for white and colored children in the primary schools, I do not think the Federal Government has the constitutional power to require a State to change its established system of education.”

This qualification was not calculated to please the audience. Taft’s position was that if qualitative equality of segregated schools existed in fact, then the federal government possessed no constitutional authority to intervene; presumably he would not have assented to Chief Justice Earl Warren’s later decision that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Negroes interested in politics generally were friendly toward Senator Taft. One colored citizen of Ohio remarked, “Our Senator Taft’s record is wonderful . . . Senator Taft is not pro-Negro. He is not pro-white. He is not pro-labor, nor pro-management. The man has some strange passion for justice. He is not trying to win our votes so much as he is trying to do what is right.”

Asked to explain his general position on civil rights, Taft replied that civil liberties could be understood only in the context of the Constitution; therefore an unqualified endorsement of Negro claims, in the abstract, was impossible for him.

“Broadly speaking,” he continued, “the question is whether I feel that the Federal Government should intervene to protect individuals in their constitutional rights against the actions of other individuals and State and local governments.” He believed that the federal authorities should intervene when such action was clearly sanctioned by the Constitution.

(The Political Principles of Robert A. Taft, Russell Kirk, James McClellan, Fleet Press, 1967, pp. 74-76)

No Dissent in Lincolnian America

Lincoln erroneously saw Unionist Clement Vallandigham as aiding the Confederacy when the former Ohio congressman was actually aiding the Union and preserving the integrity of the United States Constitution in his dissent on Lincoln’s unconstitutional acts. Joseph Holt, Lincoln’s Judge Advocate General, was a Kentuckian and Secretary of War during James Buchanan’s administration and warm to the Radical Republicans taking power. It was he who authorized the ill-fated Star of the West expedition to resupply Fort Sumter in early January, 1861, as well as later prosecuting former Ohio Congressman Vallandigham for alleged treason for his dissent.  The latter is called a “Copperhead,” which was not a Southern supporter, but a Unionist who opposed Lincoln’s draconian methods.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

No Dissent in Lincolnian America

“In early 1863, a military commission prosecuted and convicted Clement Vallandigham, a former congressman, of treason. There is a consensus that this trial ranks among the most important in American history. The twentieth century’s leading scholars of the nation’s legal history, Lawrence Friedman, Kermit Hall and Melvin Urofsky, have all articulated that the Vallandigham trial and eventual Supreme Court determination in the case, is a rare landmark.

But in none of the treatise’s does Holt’s role as Vallandigham’s “prosecutor,” or the participating judge advocates emerge. Indeed, as recently as 2008, a well-researched study on Lincoln’s relationship to the Supreme Court only briefly notes Holt’s role in the entire process.

Melvin Urofsky summed up the Judge Advocate General’s role as, “simply informing the [Supreme Court] that it could inhibit neither Congress nor the President in prosecuting the War.” This is an oversimplification and the importance of Holt’s participation in Vallandigham’s trial is more than symbolic.

Holt, an officer in the War Department argued the case to Supreme Court, rather than the attorney general. This reflected how militarized the law had become and how politicized the Judge Advocate General’s Department was becoming.

[Gen. Burnside’s General Order 38 regarding treason contained] controversial prohibitions aimed at stifling dissent to the war. Most problematic was a section which stated: “The habit of declaring sympathies for the enemy will not be allowed in this department. Persons committing such offenses will be at once arrested, with the view toward being tried as above stated, or sent beyond our lines into the lines of their friends.”

This part of the order conflicted with the Bill of Rights’ recognition of freedom of speech as an inalienable right. [Burnside] intended to ferret out the leaders of subversive organizations [as there were] already acts of public discontent within the Ohio Department . . .

[Burnside’s judge advocate aide Major James Cutts included] allegations [that] Vallandigham referred to the war as “wicked, cruel and unnecessary,” and that the war was “fought for the freedom of the blacks and enslavement of the whites.” [Vallandigham] had publicly accused the [Lincoln] administration of negotiating with the South in bad faith . . . [and] that Lincoln planned to “appoint military marshals in every district and restrain the people of their liberties, to deprive them of their rights and privileges.”

On his own, Lincoln arrived at a novel solution. If, he reasoned, Vallandigham aided the Confederacy, he should be expelled from the Union and reside with them. Holt approved of this course of action.”

(Law in War, War as Law: Brigadier General Joseph Holt and the Judge Advocate General’s Department in the Civil War and Early Reconstruction, 1861-1865, Joshua E. Kastenberg, Carolina Academic Press, 2011, excerpts, pp. 103-106; 110)

 

Opening the Door to Barbarism

In the following study of Francis Lieber’s General Orders No. 100, which claimed to guide the US military in its war upon the South, was the author’s comment that “Perhaps the most significant element of Lieber’s treatise that betrays the lack of attention to US law comes down to this observation: there is no specific reference to the United States Constitution in General Orders No. 100.” Francis (Franz) Lieber was a German revolutionist who fled his home in 1827, settling in Boston. He lost a son in the War Between the States, who fought for the South.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Opening the Door to Barbarism

“Two years into the conflict, after countless thousands of soldiers had died . . . the United States announced the rules by which it conducted the fighting. These regulations took the form of a document bearing the nondescript title of General Orders No. 100, instructions for the government of the armies of the United States in the field, which was compiled by a professor at Columbia College. Francis Lieber was a German émigré, a classical liberal forced by political persecution from his native country.

But there is a puzzling side to this document that has gone largely unnoticed by historians and legal scholars. Why was it allowed to be created and adopted?

One could argue that the process by which Lieber’s code of war came into being contradicted constitutional principles and the established practices of the United States. The Constitution states that the power to declare war and, even more pertinently, to “make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces” belongs with the Congress.

When the nation created the Articles of War in 1806, it did so through congressional legislation, not executive fiat. With General Orders No. 100, the executive branch took a bolder step than many have realized, by assuming a right to determine the parameters of war making, especially the meaning of “military necessity,” without these policies originating with Congress.

As early as August 1861, he went on record in a public letter to Attorney General Bates concerning why the government could treat Confederates as belligerents without recognizing their nationhood. He had seized upon the rationale that became commonplace in the administration – and that owed itself to international precedents – that humanitarian reasons dictated exchanging prisoners and operating under the rules of war.

Reactions to [Lieber’s work] were predictable, with Republicans mostly supportive and administration opponents either ambivalent or hostile. The New York Herald . . . found some policy commendable . . . but stated flatly that “the inhabitants of the Southern States are not alien enemies, but citizens of the United States in insurrection, and consequently the alleged law of nations does not apply.”

Meanwhile, Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon and President Jefferson Davis found nothing to praise in the instructions, pointing out how the definition of “military necessity” opened the door to barbarism. Seddon said the order was “the handicraft of one much more familiar with the decrees of the imperial despotisms of the continent of Europe than with Magna Charta, the Petition of Rights, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States.”

(With Malice Toward Some: Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era, William A. Blair, UNC Press, excerpts, pp. 93-96; 98)

Origins of the Conflict: The Tallmadge Amendment

The words “disunion” and “civil war” were heard in the halls of Congress in early 1819 as Representative James Tallmadge of New York introduced his amendment to restrict slavery in the proposed State of Missouri. Though Tallmadge thought the action would help end slavery within a generation, Howell Cobb of Georgia said he had kindled a fire “which only seas of blood could extinguish.” The Missouri Compromise of 1820 did not include the amendment, but did prohibit slavery above the 36-30 parallel of the Louisiana Purchase, the southern boundary of Missouri.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Origins of the Conflict: The Tallmadge Amendment

“In 1812 the Territory of Orleans became the State of Louisiana, but meantime the District of Louisiana had been repeatedly reorganized [and by 1819] . . . the population of Missouri closely approximated sixty thousand which, according to precedents set in the Old Northwest, made a territory eligible for Statehood.

Successive Missouri legislatures petitioned Congress on the subject, and in 1819 the House Committee on Territories reported favorably a bill enabling Missouri . . . to draw up a constitution and make ready for Statehood.

It was at this juncture that Representative James Tallmadge of New York raised the question of setting limits to the expansion of slavery in the Louisiana Purchase. He proposed to amend the bill reported from committee by providing that the further introduction of slavery into Missouri should be forbidden, and that all children born of slave parents after the admission of the State should be free upon reaching the age of twenty-five years.

Until the introduction of the Tallmadge amendment, the slavery question had played little part in national politics. The problem of how slaves should be counted when apportioning representatives in Congress or assessing direct taxes on the States had been satisfactorily settled in the federal convention by the three-fifths compromise. Also, an earlier Congress had exercised its constitutional authority to pass a fugitive slave act, and the administration of this measure had so far provoked little criticism.

Moreover, slavery had long been regarded as a dying institution. The founders of the American nation had almost unanimously so considered it, Southerners no less than Northerners. Many of them were eager to speed the day when slavery should cease to exist throughout the whole country.

Washington emancipated his slaves by his will; Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin were prominent in the work of emancipation societies; Thomas Jefferson’s anti-slavery views were written into the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Almost by common consent the slave trade was forbidden in 1808, the earliest possible date under the Constitution.

Hostility to slavery during these early days of the republic was firmly grounded on the fact that the institution had ceased to be economically profitable. For this reason, even before the American Revolution, many of the colonies would have taken some anti slavery action had not the British government been so insistent on protecting the profits of British merchants engaged in the slave trade.

As soon as independence became a fact, one State after another took action against slavery . . . [but] the chief obstacle to abolition in the South, where slaves were far more numerous than in the North, was the perplexity felt about what to do with the freed slaves, but Southern emancipation societies were deeply concerned about this problem and were hopeful of finding a solution.

The discovery that cotton could be grown profitably by means of slave labor [with the cotton gin of Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney, and] served to revive the institution of slavery just at the time when it had seemed destined to disappear.

(The Federal Union, History of the United States to 1865, John D. Hicks, Houghton Mifflin, 1948, excerpts, pp. 354-356)