Sunday, November 29, 2009

"It is a decision not made by the General Government"

Henry Clay's 1st compromise resolution advocated the admission of California as a state with or without slavery. The text of the resolution, and my review of Clay's comments on it in his speech of January 29, 1850 may be found here.

On February 5, 1850, Clay expanded substantially on his comments a week earlier. In particular, he acknowledged what everyone knew – that if admitted California would be a free state – and took head on complaints by “gentlemen who come from the slaveholding States” “that the North gets all that it desires.”

Clay did not deny this, but he did deny that this result constituted a “concession” by the south. There was no cause to complain because California as a state, not Congress, had reached the decision. This principle, that the people in the states had the power to decide whether to be slave or free, was one that the south regularly espoused:
[B]ut by whom does [the North] get [what it desires]? Does it get it by any action of Congress? If slavery be interdicted in California, it is done by Congress, by this Government? No sir; the interdiction is imposed by California herself. And has it not been the doctrine of all parties, that when a State is about to be admitted into the Union, that State has a right to decide for itself whether it will or will not have within its limits slavery?

Clay cited the Missouri Compromise as precedent. Clay made sure to note that he had been among those “in favor of the admission of Missouri” who “contended that, by the Constitution, no such restriction [on the State after admission] could be imposed.” The same principle applied now, Clay maintained.
Then, if in this struggle of power and empire between the two classes of States a decision of California has taken place adverse to the wishes of the southern States, it is a decision not made by the General Government; it is a decision respecting which they cannot complain to the General Government. It is a decision made by California herself, and which California had incontestably a right to make under the Constitution of the United States.

There is, then, in that first resolution, according to the observation which I made some time ago, a case where neither party concedes; where the question of slavery, either of its introduction or interdiction, is silent as respects the action of this Government; and if it has been decided, it has been decided by a different body – by a different power – by California herself, who had a right to make that decision.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails