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The systematic agitation of the slavery question by the northern people with a view to retard the growth and curtail the political power of the southern states, may be said to have commenced about thirty years ago.
The avowed object then was the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, in the forts, arsenals, and dockyards belonging to the government, and in Florida, which was the only organized Territory of the Union. The means of agitation adopted was to flood Congress with immense numbers of petitions signed by men, women, and children, praying for those objects.
No fear was entertained by the South of any action by Congress favorable to the object of the petitioners, for there were not at that time twenty avowed Abolitionists in both its branches; but so averse were our representatives to the introduction of the subject into Congress, on any pretext or for any purpose, that they adopted the very extreme policy of objecting to even the reception of the petitions.
If in this they erred at all, it was from excess of anxiety to keep the subject out of Congress.
After a few years this agitation assumed a new and more practical form. The new system of attack was embodied in the Wilmot proviso, by which it was proposed to exclude slavery from all the Territories by act of Congress. So rapid had been the growth of abolitionism that the Congress which sat in 1848 was probably in favor of the proviso, and, under a subterfuge, it was ingrafted on the Oregon bill. The South resisted it not only on grounds of justice and equality, but as a breach of the Constitution. We insisted that every community should be permitted to regulate its own domestic affairs at such time and in such way as the Constitution allows, and that any interference by Congress was inexpedient and unjust, if not unconstitutional.
The Clayton compromise" which was offered in the same year, was simply a proposition that Congress should take no cognizance of the subject, leaving it to the local law, under the adjudication of the courts. The whole South, including Mr. Calhoun, advocated and voted for it, except eight Whig members of the House of Representatives and two members of the Senate.
I lay no stress on the fact that General Cass was nominated and voted for by the South, after he wrote the “Nicholson letter,” for there was a difference of opinion at the time as to what the letter meant on one point. All agreed, however, that it meant total non-interference by Congress, and so well did that suit the views of the South that we were willing to forgive his equivocal language about squatter sovereignty.
Then came the compromise measures of 1850. By them we gave up the slave trade in the District of Columbia; the admission of California, (the original of squatter sovereignty,) and enough of Texas to make a State. And what did we get in return for these large concessions? A fugitive slave law, no better than that we already had, because the northern States will not allow either to be executed within their limits; a stipulation that Utah and New Mexico should “be admitted into the Union with or without-slavery, as their constitutions should prescribe;'' and, what we valued most of all, an understanding that thereafter non-intervention by Congress should be the established policy of the government. So eager were we to keep the slavery question out of Congress, that we seem to have thought scarcely any price too great to pay for it.
Next in order came the Kansas and Nebraska act of 1854.
In 1850 we had obtained non-interference by Congress in Utah and · New Mexico, and a promise of the same as to future Territories. We had paid a high price in advance, and in 1854 it was to be determined whether the bargain would be adhered to. Non-intervention by Congress, a total and final exclusion of the slavery question from Congress, were everywhere proclaimed as our watch words. We carried Congress; we carried States; we elected the President on it. After twenty years of hard struggle, through all of which we kept this one point constantly and steadily in view, we triumphed and established it as the fixed policy of the government that thereafter Congress should not discuss slavery, nor agitate it, nor legislate about it, except to carry out the express provisions of the Constitution.
That in this long and murderous warfare upon her dearest rights, the South may have committed some errors in matters of policy, is not improbable. She may have accepted issues she ought not to have accepted; she may even have pushed sound principles to excess sometimes; but the tenacity with which she has clung to the one idea of excluding the slavery question from Congress is worthy of all commendation, and has mainly contributed to her ultimate success.
In view of the fact that within the last ten years a fugitive slave law ha een passed as stringent in its provisions as we asked for—the odious Missouri compromise has been repealed—the Dred Scott decision has been rendered—and non-intervention by Congress has been established--a distinguished Senator from Georgia [Mr. TOOMBS) could truly declare in the Senate, a short time ago, that at no time in its history had the federal government more faithfully discharged its duty to the South than within the last ten years. The evils under which we suffer are not caused by the failure of Congress to do its duty, but by the nullification of its laws by northern States, and the treasonable conduct of their citizens.
Having thus briefly brought under notice the prominent points in the history of the slavery agitation, with a view to remind you that non-interference by Congress is what the South has heretofore contended for; I am prepared to enter upon the discussion of a new doctrine, recently made prominent, which promises no present advantage to the South, and which may ultimately deprive its citizens of all participation in the common Territories of the Union. I allude to the doctrine