Monday, July 20, 2009

John C. Calhoun: "To whose benefit should [Mexican territory] enure?"

It has been a while, but when we last visited John Calhoun, he was explaining to the Senate on February 9, 1847 his proposed resolution to the war with Mexico.

After describing the line that he would draw, Calhoun circled back to outline its advantages. First, it would "enable us to fulfil all the objects for which the war was declared." Second, it was cheap. The border could be maintained with a handful of forts. The fact that the border would run through areas far from the principal Mexican population made it all the more defensible.

This, in turn, meant that the federal government could save tens of millions of dollars. The taxes that would be necessary to fund continued war would be eliminated, increased tariffs could be avoided, and free trade maintained:
What . . . will be the fruits of this policy? Why, sir, a large portion of the war expenses will be immediately cut off . . . thus effecting a savings of from fifteen to twenty millions of dollars a year. Further taxes will not be required; the credit of this Government will be immediately strengthened, and the measure which some of us have so much at heard, and which we are risking the enjoyment of -- I mean free trade -- may in a short time be secured . . ..

Conversely, continuation of the war threatened increased tariffs and would require the government also to impose "internal taxes." The people would not stand for it:
[C]an you provide the ways and means [to continue the war]? I fear there will be more difficulty in this than you imagine. Remember, that you have only as a reliance your treasury notes and such money as you can borrow. You must either borrow or impose taxes. What taxes can you impose? Your taxes upon imports can give you but a small supply; you must resort to internal taxes, a measure which is abhorred by the people of this country more perhaps than by those of any country upon the face of the earth.

Some of the states were already choking on debt, Calhoun maintained, and would not tolerate more:
[M]any of the States are indebted more than they can pay. If you lay an internal tax, it must be laid uniformly throughout all the States; and if you lay it upon those States thus indebted, will not repudiation extend? Will Pennsylvania, with a debt of forty millions -- will those States which are unable to discharge their obligations -- will they bear such a tax? No, sir.

Calhoun then turned to the sectional conflict that the seizure of all of Mexico would create. In a phrase, would slavery be permitted in Mexico? (Here, as in earlier posts, I am converting the third-person reporting of the Congressional Globe to the first person.)
But there is a still deeper, a still more terrific difficulty to be met -- a difficulty more vital than those to which I have alluded -- a difficulty arising out a division of sentiment which goes to the very foundation of our Government. How should these lands be acquired, if any are acquired? To whose benefit should they enure? Should they inure to the exclusive benefit of one portion of the Union? We are told, and I am fearful that appearances too well justify the assertion, that all parties in the non-slaveholding portion of the Union insist that they should have the exclusive control of this acquired territory -- that such provision should be made as should exclude those who are interested in the institutions of the South from a participation in the advantages to be derived from the application of these institutions to the territory thus acquired.

Calhoun put his northern colleagues on notice: if northerners were determined that territory acquired from Mexico would be slave-free, they could be assured that southerners would be equally adamant in demanding protection of their rights:
Sir, if the non-slaveholding States, having no other interests in the question except their aversion to slavery -- if they can come to this conclusion with no interest in the matter but this, I turn and ask gentlemen, what must be the feeling of the population of the slaveholding States, who are to be deprived of their constitutional rights, and despoiled of the property belonging to them -- assailed in the most vulnerable point, for to them this question is a question of safety, of self-preservation, and not a mere question of policy; and thus to be despoiled by those who are not concerned?

If there is sternness and determination [on] one side, you may be assured there will be on the other. If I may judge from what I have heard, from the appearances proceeding from the non-slaveholding States -- and I have no reason to doubt it, they being the first to cry out for a vigorous prosecution of the war -- can you suppose that less feeling will be exhibited on the part of those who are to be entirely excluded from their rights, and while this radical difference exists between them?

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