Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Clayton Compromise 9: "They should not decide upon the life of my dog if I could prevent it"

In my last post on the Clayton Compromise, Rep. Alexander Stephens (Whig – Georgia) delivered a compelling legal brief on August 7, 1848 to explain why he had moved to table the bill ten days earlier. Legal authority and case law, he argued, would have compelled the Supreme Court to conclude that slavery was barred in the former Mexican territories of California and New Mexico.

It appeared Stephens's argument was winding down. He briefly dismissed the argument that the bill was pro-South because a southern-leaning Supreme Court would rule in favor of slavery, no matter what the merits:
It is with pain I have heard allusions made to the present composition of the court – five judges from the South, and four from the North; and that, therefore, the question would be safe for the South in their hands, as we had a majority of the bench. I consider such an argument a gross imputation upon the court; and no greater disgrace could be attached to the members of it, or to the country, than a decision made from any such considerations. No judge, whether from the North or the South, could ever be influenced by such motives, until he became as corrupt and as debased as the execrable [Elijah] Impey – the infamous tool of [Warren] Hastings.

If I thought such motives could operate upon the court, that would be the last body in the world I would refer the decision of any question to. They should not decide upon the life of my dog if I could prevent it.

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