The course pursued by the President in relation to West Florida was as warmly approved by many, as it was bitterly censured by some, in the Congress of the United States. "If my recollection is accurate," said an orator in the Senate, who spoke in favor of the administration,1 "all parties had agreed we ought to have the country. They only differed as to the mode of acquiring it. The President, influenced by that policy which has hitherto guided the present administration, of avoiding making this nation a party in the present European war, in the exercise of the discretionary power vested in him by the act of Congress passed on the 24th of February, 1804, which had solemnly asserted our right to this Territory, and authorized the President to take possession of it, and establish a port of entry on the Mobile, whenever he should deem it expedient, did not think proper to seize upon it by force, but to wait for the occurrence of events to throw it into our hands without a struggle. The expediency of taking possession of this Territory cannot, it appears to me, admit of a doubt. If the President had refused or hesitated to meet the wishes p245of the people of West Florida, by extending to them the protection of the American Government, and if they had sought security in the arms of a foreign Power, what should we have heard? He would have been charged with imbecility, and fear of incurring responsibility. He would have been denounced as unworthy of the station his country had assigned to him. Let it be remembered that the Orleans Territory is our most vulnerable part — remote from our physical force — a climate more fatal to our people than the sword of a victorious enemy — and that an enemy in possession of West Florida can with great facility cut off New Orleans from the upper country. If the fortunate moment had not been seized, this province would have fallen into the hands of a foreign power; or, if time had been given for intrigue to mature itself, another Burr-plot would probably have risen from the ashes of the first, more formidable to the integrity of this empire. Burr, like Archimedes, fancies that if had a place to stand upon — a place beyond the jurisdiction of the United States to rally his followers, he could overturn the Government. He has, it is true, fled from the frowns of an indignant country, but he was not alone. Let an opportunity be offered, and a thousand Burrs would throw off the mask and point their arms against the Federal Union."
Referring to the President's proclamation, which has already been recorded in the pages of this History, another orator opposed to the administration exclaimed: "This proclamation is not only a declaration of war, but it is an act of legislation, too. It annexes the territory in question to the Orleans Territory: it creates a Governor; it enacts laws, and appropriates money; it gives the Governor of the Orleans Territory all the authorities and functions over this particular territory which he possesses by virtue of his office as Governor of the former."
p246 After having argued that the President had no power under the Constitution to issue that proclamation, he said: "What has Spain recently done to provoke this act of aggression upon her territory? Is it her determination to resist the usurpation of France, or is it, that she has lately sent a minister to express her friendly disposition to treat with you for both the Floridas, and pay what she owes for spoliations? Do you calculate that France will conquer Spain? This, in my humble opinion, she will not do. France is not now contending with an armed soldiery, but she fights an armed people — a people struggling for their liberty, their religion, and their laws, and resolved not to survive them. What are to be the consequences of this measure — a measure adopted at a time particularly calculated to excite the resentment of Spain and her allies — at a time when that nation is pressed on all sides by its enemy, when its strength is prostrated, when it bleeds at every pore and is almost in the act of fainting? What are we to expect but its indignation and retaliation?"
He concluded his remarks as follows: "The honorable gentleman from Kentucky has told us that Europe is now in a state of barbarism, and has emphatically asked: Are we to sit here and cavil about questions of right? What if Europe has become barbarous? Is that a reason why Americans should become so too — why we should depart from the great system of conduct which has been the pride, the safety and the boast of our country — of faith — of justice — of peace? Is this a reason why we should violate our treaty with Spain — not one of those barbarous powers — but one of the victims of those powers? Is this a reason why we should commit p247an act of injustice and violence toward a people who have proffered you their friendship? Is this a reason why we should embroil the nation in war?"
Notwithstanding this acrimonious opposition, the President was firmly sustained by a large majority.
On the 4th of January, the House of Representatives in Congress assembled, having resolved itself into a Committee of the Whole on the Bill for admitting the Territory of Orleans into the Union as an independent and sovereign State; lengthy discussions ensued, and a violent opposition was made to the Bill on constitutional grounds, and on grounds of policy. It was maintained, among many other reasons given, that the Territory of Orleans was not within the limits of the United States when the Constitution was adopted, and therefore could not be incorporated into the Union of those States; that the population of the Territory was not sufficiently numerous; and besides, that it was not American in its feelings.
"Without intimating," said Mr. Miller, "how far this last consideration may have influence on my mind, under the circumstances in which that country has been lately placed, I cannot, however, but remark that it is natural for man to carry his feelings and prejudices about him. I was born in Virginia, and I have not yet lost some of my Virginia feelings, notwithstanding an absence of fifteen years, and I cannot see why we should expect the people of New Orleans to act and feel differently from other people, more particularly when the French nation is towering so far above the other nations of the earth. They will have a sacred pride in their glory, they will have some attachments, to what extent I cannot say. But, inasmuch as we know that, if we send Paddy to Paris, Paddy he will come back, the idea is certainly not unworthy of our consideration.
"The bill on your table has another feature of some p248weight with me in relation to its policy. You propose to do them a favor by granting them admission to the rank of the other States before they can legally demand it, and, at the same time, you propose terms beyond which they cannot go. This resembles very much a polite invitation to walk in, but under an injunction to see that your feet are well cleaned, and your toes turned out. It is a niggardly sort of policy that I am sorry to see engrafted in the bill. If you design to be liberal, be so; do not destroy your liberality by an ungenerous sentiment.
"Again, there are objections to the bill as presented, that render it impossible for me to give it my sanction. It will be seen that the bill proposes to annex that portion of West Florida in dispute between this and the Spanish Government, to the State to be formed out of the Territory of Orleans. The President has declared to the world that this portion of the country, in our hands, shall be subject to mutual arrangements hereafter to be entered into between the two governments. But, once annex it to a State, and the power to negotiate ceases. What power have we to negotiate about the territory of any of the States? We have none."
Mr. Rhea, of Tennessee, observed in reply: "It has been with extreme regret that I have heard so often, and upon so many former occasions, as well as in the present debate, the charges of French influence and disaffection to this Government, made either in express terms, or else intelligibly insinuated, against the people of New Orleans. Suffer me to ask where are the evidences to support these imputations? Certainly not before the House. Gentlemen may have received from extraneous sources such impressions on their own minds. But if we examine the history of these people since their connection with us, abundant testimony will be found, not p249only to exonerate them from the charge of disaffection, but to demonstrate their fidelity to the American Government. When, on the acquisition of that country, the most radical innovations upon its laws, customs, usages, and civil proceedings were introduced, these people peaceably submitted, without any symptom of insurgency. When they saw many of their dearest rights endangered, or prostrated by new and imprudent modes of judicial proceedings, and by the chicanery of desperate adventurers, they made no unlawful appeals for redress."
On the 14th of January, the subject was resumed in the House of Representatives, and met with the same unrelenting opposition. Josiah Quincy, one of the favorite sons of Massachusetts, and one of the ablest and most influential men of that State, rose, and thus gave vent to his feelings, with more than his usual emphasis of manner:
"I address you, Mr. Speaker, with an anxiety and distress of mind with me wholly unprecedented. The friends of this bill seem to consider it as the exercise of a common power — as an ordinary affair — a mere municipal regulation, which they expect to see pass without other questions than those concerning details. But, Sir, the principle of this bill materially affects the liberties and rights of the whole people of the United States. To me, it appears that it would justify a revolution in this country; and that, in no great length of time, it may produce it. When I see the zeal and perseverance with which this bill has been urged along its parliamentary path, when I know the local interests and associated projects which combine to promote its success, all opposition to it seems painfully unavailing. I am almost tempted to leave, without a struggle, my country to its fate. But while there is life, there is hope. So long as the fatal shaft has not yet been sped, if Heaven so wills p250it, the bow may be broken, and the vigor of the mischief-meditating arm withered.
"If there be a man in this House or nation, who cherishes the Constitution under which we are assembled, as the chief stay of his hope, as the light which is destined to gladden his noonday, and to soften even the gloom of the grave, by the prospect it sheds over his children, I fall not behind him in such sentiments. I yield to no man in attachment to this Constitution, in veneration for the sages who laid its foundation, in devotion to those principles which form its cement and constitute its proportions. What then must be my feelings — what ought to be the feelings of a man cherishing such sentiments, when he sees an act contemplated which lays ruin at the root of all these hopes; when he sees a principle of action about to be usurped, before the operation of which the bonds of this Constitution are no more than flax before the fire, or stubble before the whirlwind? When this bill passes, such an act is done, and such a principle usurped.
"There is a great rule of human conduct, which he who honestly observes, cannot err widely from the path of his sought duty. It is, to be very scrupulous concerning the principles you select as the test of your rights and obligations; to be very faithful in noticing the result of their application; and to be very fearless in tracing and exposing their immediate effects and distant consequences. Under the sanction of this rule of conduct, I am compelled to declare it as my deliberate opinion, that, if this bill passes, the bonds of the Union are virtually dissolved; that the States which compose it are free from their moral obligations, and that, as it will be the right of all, so it will be the duty of some, definitely to prepare for a separation, amicably if they can, violently if they must."
Mr. Quincy was here interrupted and called to order p251by Mr. Poindexter, the delegate from Mississippi, but with a loud voice, and more accentuated intonations, he repeated the remarks which he had made; he justified and vindicated their propriety and correctness; and, to save all misapprehension, and secure their being preserved forever, he fearlessly committed them to writing and handed the paper to the Clerk of the House.
This language and the other features of this incident, extraordinary as they were, produced only a little confusion, according to the report of the debates.2
Mr. Poindexter required the decision of the Chair whether it was consistent with the propriety of debate to use such expressions. He said it was radically wrong for any member to use arguments going to dissolve the Government, and tumble their body itself into dust and ashes. The question he wished to propound to the Chair was this: "Whether it be competent in any member of this House to invite any portion of the people to insurrection, and, of course, to a dissolution of the Union?" "And I," replied Mr. Quincy, "will make this question: Is it not the duty of a member to state the consequences of a measure which appears injurious to him? And the more pregnant a measure is with evil, is not the duty of stating it the more imperious?" The Speaker decided that a great latitude in debate was generally allowed; and that, by way of argument against the bill, the first part of the gentleman's observation was admissible; but that the latter member of the sentence, that it would be the duty of some States to prepare for a separation, amicably if they can, violently if they must, was contrary to the order of debate.
Mr. Quincy having appealed from this decision, and required the yeas and nays on the appeal, the decision of the Chair was reversed, and, therefore, the observations p252of the orator declared to be in order. With a face beaming with satisfaction, and with an exulting tone and manner, he resumed his speech, in the course of which he said
"The bill which is now proposed to be passed has this assumed principle for its basis — that the three branches of this National Government, without recurrence 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 an atrocious and manifest 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.
"Touching the general nature of the instrument called the Constitution of the United States, there is no obscurity — it has no fabled descent, like the Palladium of ancient Troy from the heavens. Its origin is not confused by the mists of time, or hidden by the darkness of unexplored ages; it is the fabric of our day. Some now living had a share in its construction — all of us stood by and saw the rising of the edifice. There can be no doubt about its nature. It is a political compact. By whom, and about what? The preamble to the instrument will answer these questions.
"We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States.
"It is, we, the people of the United States, for ourselves p253and our posterity, not for the people of Louisiana, nor for the people of New Orleans, or of Canada. None of these enter into the scope of the instrument. It embraces only the United States of America. Who those are, it may seem strange in this place to inquire. But truly, our imaginations have, of late, been so accustomed to wander after new settlements to the very end of the earth, that it will not be time ill-spent to inquire what this phrase means, and what it includes. These are not terms adopted at hazard; they have reference to a state of things existing anterior to the Constitution.
[. . .]
"As the introduction of a new associate in political power implies, necessarily, a new division of power, and a consequent diminution of the relative proportions of the former proprietors of it, there can, certainly, be nothing more obvious than that, from the general nature of the instrument, no power can result to diminish, and give away to strangers, any proportion of the rights of the original partners. If such a power exist, it must be found, then, in the particular provisions of the Constitution.
[. . .]
"Have the three branches of the Government a right, at will, to weaken and outweigh the influence respectively secured to each State in this compact, by introducing, at pleasure, new partners situate beyond the old limits of the United States? The question has no relation merely to New Orleans. The great objection is to the principle of the bill. If this bill be admitted, the whole space of Louisiana, greater, it is said, than the whole extent of the old United States, will be a mighty theatre in which this Government assumes the right of exercising this unparalleled power; and it will be; there is no concealment; it is intended to be exercised. Nor p254will it stop until the very name and nature of the old partners be overwhelmed by new-comers into the Confederacy. The question goes to the very root of the power and influence of the present members of this Union.
[. . .]
"This is not so much a question concerning the exercise of sovereignty, as it is who shall be sovereign — whether the proprietors of the old United States shall manage their affairs in their own way, or whether they, and their Constitution, and their political rights, shall be trampled under foot by foreigners, introduced through a breach of the Constitution. The proportion of the political weight of each sovereign State constituting this Union depends upon the number of the States which have a voice under the compact. This number the Constitution permits us to multiply at pleasure within the limits of the original United States, observing only the expressed limitations in the Constitution. But when, in order to increase your powers of augmenting this number, you pass the old limits, you are guilty of a violation of the Constitution in a fundamental point, and in one also which is totally inconsistent with the intent of the contract, and the safety of the States which established the association. What is the practical difference to the old partners, whether they hold their liberties at the will of a master, or whether, by admitting exterior States on an equal footing with the original States, arbiters are constituted, who, by availing themselves of the contrariety of interests and views which in such a confederacy necessarily will arise, hold the balance among the parties which exist and govern us, by throwing themselves into the scale most conformable to their purposes? But the last is the more galling, as we carry the chain in the name and garb of freemen.
[. . .]
p255 "But, says the gentleman from Tennessee (Mr. Rhea), these people have been seven years citizens of the United States. I deny it. As citizens of New Orleans, or of Louisiana, they never have been, and by the mode proposed they never will be, citizens of the United States. They may be girt upon us for the moment, but no real cement can grow from such an association. What the real situation of the inhabitants of these foreign countries is, I shall have occasion to show presently. But, says the same gentleman, if I have a farm, have I not a right to purchase another farm in my neighborhood, and settle my sons upon it, and in time admit them to a share in the management of my household? Doubtless, Sir. But are these cases parallel? Are the three branches of this Government owners of the farm called the United States? I thank Heaven that they are not. I hold my life, liberty, and property, and the people of the State from which I have the honor to be a representative, hold theirs, by a better tenure than any this National Government can give. Sir, (addressing the speaker,) I know your virtue, and I thank the Great Giver of every good gift, that neither the gentleman from Tennessee, nor his comrades, nor any, nor all the members of this house, nor of the other branch of the Legislature, nor the good gentleman who lives in the palace yonder, nor all combined, can touch these my essential rights, and those of my friends and constituents, except in a limited and prescribed form. No. We hold them by the laws, customs, and principles of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Behind her ample shield we find refuge, and feel safety. I beg gentlemen not to act upon the principle that Commonwealth of Massachusetts is their farm.
"But the gentleman adds: What shall we do if we do not admit the people of Louisiana into our Union — our children are settling that country? Sir, it is no concern p256of mine what he does. Because his children have run wild and uncovered in the woods, is that a reason for him to break into my house, or the houses of my friends, to filch our children's clothes, in order to clothe his children's nakedness? This Constitution never was, never can be strained, to lap over all the wilderness of the West, without essentially affecting both the rights and convenience of its real proprietors. It was never constructed to form a covering for the inhabitants of the Missouri, and the Red River country; and whenever it is attempted to be stretched over them, it will rend asunder. I have done with this part of my argument. It rests upon this fundamental principle, that the proportion of political power subject to the internal modifications permitted by the Constitution, is an inalienable, essential, intangible right. When it is touched, the fabric is annihilated. For on the preservation of these proportions depend our rights and liberties.
[. . .]
"The debates on the Constitution will show that the effect of the slave vote upon the political influence of this part of the country, and the anticipated variation of the weight of power to the West, were subjects of great jealousy to some of the best patriots in the Northern and Eastern States. Suppose then that it had been distinctly foreseen that, in addition to the effect of this weight, the whole population of a world beyond the Mississippi was to be brought into this and the other branch of the Legislature, to form our laws, control our rights, and decide our destiny; can it be pretended that the patriots of that day would for one moment have listened to it? They were not madmen. They had not taken degrees at the hospital of idiocy. They knew the nature of man, and the effect of his combinations in political societies. They knew that when the weight p257of particular sections of a confederacy was greatly unequal, the resulting power would be abused; that it was not in the nature of man to exercise it with moderation. The very extravagance of the intended use is a conclusive evidence against the possibility of the grant of such a power as is here proposed. Why, Sir, I have already heard of six States, and some say there will be, at no great distance of time, more; I have also heard that the mouth of the Ohio will be far to the East of the centre of the contemplated empire. If the bill is passed, the principle is recognized. All the rest are mere questions of expediency. It is impossible that such a power be granted. It was not for those men that our fathers fought; it was not for them this Constitution was adopted. You have no authority to throw the rights and liberties and property of this people into a hotch-pot with the wild men on the Missouri, nor with the mixed, though more respectable race of Anglo-Hispano-Gallo-Americans who bask on the sands at the mouth of the Mississippi. I make no object and to them from the want of moral qualities, or political light. The inhabitants of New Orleans are, I suppose, like those of all other countries, some good, some bad, some indifferent.
[. . .]
"I will add only a few words in relation to the moral and political consequences of usurping that power. I have said that it would be a virtual dissolution of the Union; and gentlemen express great sensibility at the expression. The true source of terror is not the declaration I have made, but the deed you propose. Is there a moral principle of public law better settled, or more conformable to the plain suggestions of reason, than that the violation of a contract by one of the parties may be considered as exempting the other from its obligations? Suppose, in private life, thirteen form a partnership, p258and ten of them undertake to admit a new partner without the concurrence of the other three, would it not be at their option to abandon their partnership after so palpable an infringement of their rights? How much more in the political partnership, where the admission of new associates, without previous authority, is so pregnant with obvious dangers and evils? Again, it is settled as a principle of morals, among writers on public law, that no person can be obliged beyond his intent at the time of the contract. Now, who believes, who dares assert that it was the intention of the people, when they adopted this Constitution, to assign eventually to New Orleans and Louisiana a portion of their political power, and to invest all the people those extensive regions might hereafter contain, with an authority over themselves and their descendants? When you throw the weight of Louisiana into the scale, you destroy the political equipoise contemplated at the time of forming the contract.
[. . .]
"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 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, and having a preponderancy in councils, into which, constitutionally, they could never have been admitted? I have no hesitation upon this point. They neither will see it, nor ought to see it, with content. 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 of giving content to that important point, New Orleans, starts up a gigantic power to control the nation.
[. . .]
p259 "New States are intended to be formed beyond the Mississippi. There is no limit to men's imaginations on the subject, short of California and Columbia River. When I said that the bill would justify a revolution, and would produce it, I spoke of its principle and its practical consequences. To that principle and those consequences I would call the attention of this House and nation. It if be about to introduce a condition of things absolutely insupportable, it becomes wise and honest men to anticipate the evil, and to warn and prepare the people against the event. The extension of this principle to the States contemplated beyond the Mississippi, cannot, will not, ought not to be borne; and the sooner the people contemplate the unavoidable result, the better; the more likely that convulsions may be prevented; the more hope that the evils may be palliated, or removed.
"What is this liberty, of which so much is said? Is it to walk about this earth, to breathe this air, and to partake of the common blessings of God's providence? The beasts of the field and the birds of the air unite with us in such privileges as these. But man boasts a purer and more ethereal temperature. His mind grasps in its view the past and the future, as well as the present. We live not for ourselves alone. That which we call liberty, is that principle on which the essential security of our political condition depends. It results from the limitations of our political system prescribed in the Constitution. These limitations, so long as they are faithfully observed, maintain order, peace and safety. When they are violated in essential particulars, all the concurrent spheres of authority rush against each other, and disorder, derangement and convulsions are, sooner or later, the necessary consequences.
"With respect to this love of our Union, concerning p260which so much sensibility is expressed, I have no fear about analyzing its nature. There is in it nothing of mystery. It depends upon the qualities of that Union, and it results from its effects upon our, and our country's happiness. It is valued for that sober certainty of waking bliss which it enables us to realize. 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.
"Low lies that land, yet blest with fruitful stores,
Strong are her sons, though rocky are her shores;
And none, ah! none, so lovely to my sight,
Of all the lands which Heaven o'erspreads with light."
"The love of this Union grows out of my 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. I oppose this bill from no animosity to the people of New Orleans, but from the deep conviction that it contains a principle incompatible with the liberties and safety of my country. I have no concealment of my opinion. The bill, if it passes, is a death-blow to the Constitution. It may afterwards linger; but, lingering, its fate will at no very distant period be consummated."
Mr. Poindexter, in reply, maintained the constitutionality of the bill in all its bearings and features. As to its expediency, or policy, he observed:
"But it is said that the rights of State sovereignty ought to be withheld from the people of the Territory of Orleans, because a majority of the population is composed of emigrants from France, and the descendants of Frenchmen; that among these, there exists a predominant attachment p261to the government of France. I shall not attempt to controvert the fact, that there are individuals of wealth and influence in that Territory, who from early habits and education have imbibed a strong predilection for French laws, customs and manners. No lapse of time, no change of situation, can obliterate the impressions which the mind receives from early precept and example. Is it to be expected that a people whose laws and usages, from time immemorial, have been materially different from those which constitute the rule of conduct in this country, and whose ignorance of our political institutions results from the very nature of the government under which they have lived, can suddenly transfer their affections from that system of jurisprudence which has been handed down from their ancestors, to a government whose law they do not understand, either in theory, or in practice? Such a transition cannot be reconciled without the aid of practical experience, by which the blessings of our free Constitution are demonstrated in the security which it affords to the life, liberty and property of the citizen. How far the original inhabitants of Louisiana are liable to the charge of French partiality, I am not prepared to say; but believe them to be an orderly class of society — well disposed toward the Government of the United States. Those who manifest the greatest regard for France are to be found amongst the emigrants, whose views and expectations carry them beyond the simplicity of a republican form of government. But while I admit the existence of French influence in that quarter of the Union to a certain extent, I cannot make it the basis on which to justify a refusal to emancipate the great body of the people from the trammels of territorial vassalage.
[. . .]
"From the influence of France nothing need be feared. p262The distance by which we are separated from that great Power is a sufficient guarantee that no attempt will be made on her part to subvert our authority in Louisiana. France is not in a situation to assail us, if such a disposition existed in her ruler. The want of naval power will, for many years to come, form an insuperable barrier to the introduction of a French army into the United States. But the people of the Territory of Orleans can never be prevailed on to commit their destinies to an adventurer; they enjoy, not only the necessary comforts, but the luxuries of life in abundance; their increasing wealth furnishes a certain pledge of future greatness. The Government of which they now form a component part, though in many particulars different from that in whose laws they have been educated, exempts them from the desolating storm which carries misery and distress into every region of the whole world; and under the auspices of our mild and salutary Constitution, they may repose in full confidence that their political connection will not depend on the whim or caprice of the tyrants of Europe. It cannot be forgotten that, in the situation of colonies, they were bought and sold like herds of cattle, at the will of foreign nations, without regard to their feelings or wishes. With these insuperable ties on the allegiance of the people of the Territory of Orleans, I consider it an act both of justice and policy to receive them as brothers in the great American family."
In relation to Josiah Quincy's threats of a dissolution of the Union, Mr. Poindexter said: "On all the great questions which have been discussed in the House for four years, a war with England and a separation of the Western States from the Union have been constantly thrown in the way to obstruct the measures of the Administration. Why these subjects have gone hand in hand, I leave gentlemen who are in the secret to explain. p263It ought not to be forgotten that, on a proposition to repeal the embargo, at a time when its effects were severely felt both in Great Britain and her colonies, the gentleman from Massachusetts told us that the people of New England were prepared for insurrection and revolt, unless that measure of resistance to the aggressing belligerents was relinquished; and, contemporaneously with these opinions uttered on the floor of the House of Representatives, the British Minister, resident in the United States, made a confidential communication to his Government, in which a dissolution of the Union was deemed a probable event, should the commercial embarrassments of this country continue. From whom that Minister received his information, no gentleman acquainted with the history of that transaction can doubt."
Mr. Gold sided with Josiah Quincy in the main points of his arguments, and even justified the language which that distinguished member of the House had used, when recommending a dissolution of the Union, should the Bill pass. He said: "In the Parliament of Great Britain, a country so often stigmatized on this floor, will be found examples of free debate fully equal in ardency, vehemence and invective to all that fell from the eloquent member from Massachusetts. We have there witnessed the old Earl Chatham, at a crisis all important to the British Empire (the commencement of the great contest for American rights), sounding the alarm at the measures of administration; pronouncing the war in America founded in wrong and injustice, and arraigning the known favorite measures of the King in a strain of angry and terrible invective that can scarce find its parallel in the English language. Shall this House, in all the fullness of freedom secured by the Constitution, be afraid to follow such examples? It is here, Sir, on this floor, that free debate is consecrated. Here different p264opinions are to mingle in conflict. To repress this freedom, would touch the vital principles of the Constitution."
After animated debates prolonged through many sittings of the House, the Bill passed at last by a vote of 77 yeas to 36 nays, and was approved by the President on the 20th of February. By that act of Congress, all free white male citizens of the United States, who had arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and had resided within the said Territory at least one year previous to the day of election, and had paid a territorial, county, or district, or parish tax; and all persons having in other respects the legal qualifications to vote for Representatives in the General Assembly of the said Territory, were authorized to choose Representatives to form a Convention — which Representatives were to be apportioned amongst the several counties, districts, and parishes in the said Territory of Orleans, in such manner as the Legislature thereof should direct. The number of Representatives could not exceed sixty. The election for those Representatives was to take place on the 3d Monday of September, and the members of the Convention were authorized to determine by a majority of the whole number elected, whether it was expedient or not, at that time, to form a Constitution and a State Government; and, in case of a vote in the affirmative, then the Convention was, in like manner, to declare that it adopted the Constitution of the United States, whereupon the Convention was authorized to form a Constitution and a State Government for the people of said Territory.
The conditions annexed to this grant of authority were: That the Constitution should be republican, and consistent with the Constitution of the United States; that it should contain the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty; that it should secure to the citizen the trial by jury in all criminal cases, and the privilege p265of the writ of Habeas Corpus conformable to the provisions of the Constitution of the United States; that the laws enacted by the new State should be promulgated, and all its records of every description preserved, and its judicial and legislative written proceedings conducted, in the language in which the laws and the judicial and legislative proceedings of the United States were published and conducted; that the said Convention should provide by an ordinance, irrevocable without the consent of the United States, that the people inhabiting the said Territory agreed and declared that they forever disclaimed all right or title to the waste or unappropriated lands lying within the said Territory; that the same will be and should remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States; that each and every tract of land sold by Congress should remain exempt from any tax laid by order or under the authority of the State for any purpose whatever, for the term of five years from and after the respective days of the sales thereof; that the lands belonging to citizens of the United States residing without the said State should never be taxed higher than the lands belonging to persons residing therein; and that no taxes should be imposed on lands the property of the United States; and that the River Mississippi, and the navigable rivers and waters leading into the same, or into the Gulf of Mexico, should be common highways and forever free, as well to the inhabitants of the said State as to other citizens of the United States, without any tax, duty, impost, or toll therefor, imposed by the said State.
The 4th Section of the Act declared that, in case the Constitution for the State to be created should not be disapproved by Congress at their next session, the said State should be admitted into the Union upon the same footing with the original States.
p266 It was provided in the 5th and last Section, that five per cent of the net proceeds of the sales of the lands of the United States after the first day of January, should be applied to laying out and constructing public roads and levees in the said State, as its Legislature might direct.3
The Territorial Legislature had met early in January, but had been prorogued by the Governor until the fourth Monday of the month, on account of an insurrection of negroes which had broken out in the Parish of St. John the Baptist, on the left bank of the Mississippi, about •thirty-six miles above the city of New Orleans. They marched along the river toward the city, divided into companies, each under an officer, with beat of drums and flags displayed, compelling the blacks they met to join their disorderly crew,a and before they could be checked, they set fire to the houses of four or five plantations.4 Most of the planters, being apprised by their own slaves of the coming danger, had fled with their families. One of them, named Trepagnier, contented himself with sending to a place of safety his wife and children, but, deaf to their entreaties, remained at home for the protection of his property. Having provided himself with several fowling pieces which he loaded with buck-shot, and having taken his stand on a high circular gallery which belted his house, and from which he could see at a distance, he waited calmly the coming of his foes. In a short time, Bacchanalian shouts announced their approach, and they tumultuously made their appearance at the front gate which led to the planter's residence. But at the sight of the double-barreled gun which was levelled at them, and which they knew to be in the hands of a most expert shot, they wavered, lacked self-sacrificing p267devotion to accomplish their end, and finally passed on, after having vented their disappointed wrath in fearful shrieks and demoniacal gesticulations. Shaking at the planter their fists, and whatever weapons they had, they swore soon to come back for the purpose of cutting his throat. They were about five hundred, and one single man, well armed, kept them at bay. This incident, among many others, shows how little that population is to be dreaded, when confronted by the superior race to whose care Providence has intrusted their protection and gradual civilization.
The misguided negroes, who had been deluded into this foolish attempt at gaining a position in society, which, for the welfare of their own race, will ever be denied to it in the Southern States of North America, as long as their white population is not annihilated or subjugated, were soon encompassed by regulars under Major Milton, who had come down from Baton Rouge, and General Hampton, who had hastened up with those under his command in New Orleans. To attack was to route the blacks; they fled in every direction with wild cries of despair, leaving sixty-six dead bodies on the field. Most of the prisoners were hung on the spot; sixteen were sent to the city for trial. The fugitives had taken shelter in the neighboring swamps, where they could be pursued but with statement difficulty. Many of them, however, had been dangerously wounded, and every day corpses were discovered by the pursuers. The wretches sent to New Orleans were immediately tried and convicted. As it was intended to make a warning example of them, their heads were placed on high poles above and below the city, along the river,5 as far as the plantation on which the revolt began. The ghastly sight spread terror far p268and wide, and further to insure tranquillity and to quiet alarm, a part of the regular forces and of the militia remained on duty in the neighborhood for a considerable time.
The Territorial Legislature, before its adjournment, had received official information of the passage of the act to enable the people of the Territory to form a Constitution and State Government, preparatory to the admission of the new State into the Union.
Congress having not as yet acted on that part of the President's proclamation which had annexed to the Territory of Orleans that portion of West Florida of which possession had been taken a few months before, its inhabitants were not authorized to elect members of the Convention for framing the Constitution.
The Legislature, without loss of time, proceeded to the apportionment of the future members of the Convention among the Parishes, and made provision for the necessary expenses of election. It then adjourned in the latter part of April, after having passed several important acts, among others, one establishing two banks, the Planters' Bank and the Bank of Orleans, which institutions were thought to be called for by the expiration of the charter of the Bank of the United States.
Another more important act was passed — more important in consequence of the discovery which had led to the passage of the act — granting to Livingston and Fulton the sole and exclusive right and privilege to build, construct, make, use, employ and navigate boats, vessels and water-crafts, urged or propelled through water by fire or steam, in all the creeks, rivers, bays and waters whatsoever, within the jurisdiction of the Territory, during eighteen years from the first of January, 1812.
On the 4th of November, the Convention met in New Orleans, and after having elected Le Breton D'Orgenois p269president pro tempore, adjourned to the 18th of the same month, when, on its meeting again, Julien Poydras was elected president, and Eligius Fromentin secretary.
On taking the chair, the President returned his thanks to the assembly for the honor it had conferred on him, and then expatiated in a somewhat dithyrambic style on the happiness which the Louisianians were to expect from a popular government and from their incorporation into the Union, as members of a sovereign State.
"Yes, gentlemen, I again repeat it," he said, "and ever with new enthusiasm, this government is the most perfect that the human mind has hitherto framed. It is that which has the most effectually, by wise and impartial laws emanating from its Constitution, secured even to the lowest of its members personal safety, the peaceable possession of his property, the free exercise of his faculties, of his talents and of his industry, the sacred rights of conscience, and above all, that right perhaps the most important of all, I mean the right of freely thinking, speaking and writing, without which liberty itself would soon prove an illusion.
"Is it not the summit of political felicity to be able to adopt the Constitution of the United States, as our birthright in our quality of Americans? Can there be anything on earth more flattering, more advantageous, than to see ourselves placed in the rank, and become the equals, of all the free and flourishing States of this astonishing Confederation, which is now the admiration of the universe, and will perhaps one day become the model of all nations? They are henceforth our friends and our brothers; they stretch forth their arms to us, and invite us to enjoy in common with them all the advantages of liberty, which they so gloriously acquired by triumphing over their enemies at the expense of their blood, of all the privations and of all the sacrifices which the love of country p270imperiously requires from virtuous citizens, as the indispensable pledges of their heroic devotedness to liberty.
"We are now presented with that liberty after which we have panted from the moment of our being erected into a Territory, and to obtain which we have never ceased to implore the justice of Congress, which has, at length, yielded to our entreaties, being well informed of our grievances, moved by our just complaints, and struck with the murmurs forced from us by that abject slavery into which we had been plunged by that execrable Territorial Government, that monstrosity in the annals of a free people, which it ought never to have been suffered to disfigure, and from which it ought to be forever effaced.
[. . .]
"Let us hail our emancipation from that odious servitude which has cost us so dear; let us hail it, I say, with transports of gratitude, with that sensibility of soul, those emotions, those throbbings of the heart, felt by a navigator when, after having been the sport of adverse winds, tempest tost, fatigued, harassed, and on the point of perishing from want, he enters the port which is the object of his wishes and the hope of his fortune."
A less enthusiastic orator than Mr. Poydras might perhaps have discovered, on reflection, that he had permitted himself to be carried away by his imagination, and that his speech was not as compact in logic as it was florid in words. For instance: how could he in reality be so extravagantly enamored of a political system which had forced upon him and Louisiana "an abject slavery, an execrable Territorial Government, a monstrosity in the annals of a free people?" Would not a more astute statesman than Mr. Poydras have come to the conclusion that the nation, which, on the threshold of its existence, was, as enemies pretended, intoxicated p271with self-love, with the incense which it burned in self-adoration on its domestic altars, and with the gorgeous prospect of its present and future prosperity, would not in the course of time, according to all probabilities, find within itself a moral or religious principle sufficiently strong to prevent popular majorities from inflicting intolerable oppressions on minorities? Would not that statesman have inferred that the nation which had perpetrated such abominations as are described by Mr. Poydras, could not, if these political crimes were true, be the "astonishing confederation" which he had eulogised in a preceding paragraph, and did not deserve to be the "admiration of the universe"? Would he not have drawn the inevitable deduction that the nation which, in the beginning of its career, had forgotten the commandments of God, and trampled on the rights of man, if the denunciations of the epoch are to be believed, would probably improve in iniquity as it grew older in the possession and lust of irresponsible and ever-expanding power, and that it was not, therefore, destined by Providence "to become the model of nations?" Let the sentiments entertained and expressed by Louisiana, in 1861, answer these questions.
It is now to be hoped by every patriot that, taught by the dire lessons of the past, the Government of the United States, made more powerful by the late intestine war, will, by an enlightened, just and magnanimous administration, ever deserve the universal love of the people, and that no well-founded discontent will ever threaten its existence in the future, in consequence of such violations of the Federal compact as were the cause of deluging the country in blood.
On the next day, Mr. Watkins laid before the Convention a Resolution declaring it to be expedient, in the name of the people of the Territory of Orleans, that said p272Territory be erected into a sovereign and independent State, under the conditions and according to the provisions of the Act of Congress to enable the people of the Territory to adopt a Constitution and State Government, as also for the admission of the said State into the Union on the same footing with the original States, and that said Convention shall proceed forthwith to form a Constitution and State Government.
In the course of the debate on this Resolution, Messrs. Guichard, Blanque, Bernard Marigny, Le Breton D'Orgenois, James Brown, Watkins, and Thomas Urquhart spoke in favor of it; and against it, Messrs. Destréhan, Alexander Porter, Morgan and Hubbard. It was finally adopted by a large majority. Those who voted in the negative were: Jean Noel Destréhan, James Dunlap, Andrew Goforth, Billy Hubbard, D. B. Morgan, Alexanderº Porter and James Thibodeau.6
On the 23d of November, the Convention elected by ballot a committee of seven members for the purpose of preparing and laying before the Assembly the plan of a Constitution. These members were: Magruder, Brown, Blanque, Bry, Destréhan, Johnson and Cantrelle. Destréhan having been one of those opposed to the formation of a Constitution and State Government, it is somewhat surprising that he should have been selected to be a member of this committee. In six days the committee had accomplished their work, and, on the 29th, had laid before the Convention the fruit of their labors.
1812. On the 13th of January, 1812, the Convention passed to the third reading of the Preamble of the Constitution, which defined the limits of the State. A motion was made to add to that preamble the following amendment: "That the limits of the State may be so p273enlarged as to embrace that portion of the country situated south of the Mississippi Territory, and east of the Mississippi River to the Perdido, known by the name of West Florida, or any part thereof, so soon as the titles to the same may be adjusted, and it may be convenient to the Government of the United States to annex it. This motion was rejected by 24 nays to 14 yeas. The nays were: J. B. Armant, J. D. Bellechasse, J. Blanque, Placide Bossier, James Brown, Michel Cantrelle, Louis DeBlanc, J. B. LeBreton D'Orgenois, M. Guichard, S. Henderson, Sebastien Hiriart, Denis DeLaronde, W. A. Maquillé, D. B. Morgan, Bernard Marigny, Manuel Prudhomme, Louis Raynaud, Genesi Roussin, François St. Martin, S. D. Sutton, Thomas Urquhart, James Villeré, Jones Watkins, and Samuel Winter.
On the 23d of the same month, Alexander Porter, in the name of a committee appointed to draft a memorial requesting the annexation of West Florida to the new State which was to be erected, and having, on a previous occasion, reported that memorial, obtained leave to lay before the Convention certain supplemental paragraphs. A motion having been made to adopt them, together with the original report, it was carried by a vote of 25 in the affirmative to 12 in the negative. Those who voted in the negative were: J. Blanque, Michel Cantrelle, Louis DeBlanc, LeBreton D'Orgenois, M. Guichard, Denis DeLaronde, Bernard Marigny, M. Prudhomme, Louis Raynaud, Genesi Roussin, Thomas Urquhart, and J. Villeré. These members had voted on the 13th against the proposition to enlarge the limits of the State, and were, therefore, consistent on this occasion. J. B. Armant, D. Bellechasse and Placide Bossier, who had opposed the extension of the limits of the State, seem to have been absent when the question of the adoption of the memorial came before the Convention, for p274their votes are not recorded; and James Brown, S. Henderson, Sebastien Hiriart, W. A. Maquillé, D. B. Morgan, F. St. Martin, S. D. Sutton, Jones Watkins and Samuel Winter, who had voted with the above-named members of the Convention, changed side, and went to the opposite camp, for reasons which were no doubt satisfactory to their own minds, but which do not appear on record.
The Convention having assented to all the stipulations imposed by the Federal Government as preliminary conditions to the framing of a Constitution and State Government for the Territory of Orleans, and the Constitution having been adopted by a unanimous vote, two delegates, Messrs. E. Fromentin and A. B. Magruder, were elected to carry to Washington City, and lay before the proper authorities, the Constitution, and the other acts of the Convention, with special instructions to urge the speedy action of Congress, and with full power to give all necessary explanations. Two thousand dollars were allowed to each for their expenses.
The Convention adjourned sine die on the 28th of January, 1812, after having adopted all the provisions which were deemed expedient to carry the Constitution into practical effect, should it be approved and sanctioned by Congress.
Here is the Preamble of the Constitution:7
"We, the representatives of the people of all that part of the Territory or country ceded under the name of Louisiana, by the treaty made at Paris, on the 30th day of April, 1803, between the United States and France, contained in the following limits, to wit: beginning at the mouth of the River Sabine, thence, by a line to be down along the middle of said river, including all its islands, to the thirty-second degree of latitude — thence due north to p275the northernmost part of the thirty-third degree of north latitude — thence along the said parallel of latitude to the river Mississippi — thence down the said river to the river Iberville,8 and from thence along the middle of the said river and lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain to the Gulf of Mexico — thence bounded by the said Gulf to the place of beginning, including all islands within three leagues of the coast — in convention assembled by virtue of an act of Congress entitled: An Act to enable the people of the Territory of Orleans to form a Constitution and State Government, and for the admission of said State into the Union on an equal footing with the original States, and for other purposes; — in order to secure to all the citizens thereof the enjoyment of the right of life, liberty and property, do ordain and establish the following Constitution or form of government, and do mutually agree with each other to form ourselves into a free and independent State, by the name of the State of Louisiana."
1 Annals of Congress. Gales & Seaton, p40, 11th Congress, 3d Session.
2 Annals of Congress. Gales & Seaton, p525, 11th Congress, 3d Session.
3 See the Act itself, in the Appendix.
4 Martin's History of Louisiana, p300, vol. 2.
5 Martin's History of Louisiana, p301, vol. 2.
6 See the Journal of the Convention on record in the office of the Secretary of State at Baton Rouge.
7 The whole document will be found in the Appendix.
8 Better known as Bayou Manchac.
a It will have taken me three and a half volumes, over 1800 pages, to react; but my forbearance was finally overswept. This is a truly egregious instance of Gayarré's bias against black people: within the same sentence, he tells us how these downtrodden people organized themselves into companies each under an officer (exactly like the people's militias at the beginning of the Revolutionary War) — and immediately taxes them with being a "disorderly crew". It takes one's breath away; it will also be firmly contradicted by Governor Claiborne, reporting the repeated experience of the Spanish authorities (p335)
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