Sunday, July 31, 2011

William Seward's April Fools Memo: The Prequel

As you may know, in his somewhat wacky April 1, 1861 "April Fools Memorandum", entitled Some Thoughts for the President's Consideration, Secretary of State William H. Seward recommended to President Abraham Lincoln, among other things, that the United States declare war on Spain and France:
I would demand explanations from Spain and France, categorically, at once.

I would seek explanations from Great Britain and Russia, and send agents into Canada, Mexico, and Central America to rouse a vigorous continental spirit of independence on this continent against European intervention.

And, if satisfactory explanations are not received from Spain and France,

Would convene Congress and declare war against them.
In her beautifully written book, A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War, Amanda Foreman provides evidence that Seward had been contemplating the possibility of war as a means of diverting secession for almost two months before he delivered his memorandum to Lincoln. On the morning of February 3, 1861, "Seward paid a surprise call on Lord Lyons," the British envoy to the United States in Washington. In a confidential memorandum to his government, Lord Lyons reported that, during the meeting, Seward indicated that a foreign war would not displease him. Lyons reported that
Seward also repeated to him a recent conversation with the minister from Bremen (one of the smaller states of the German Confederation), "no doubt for my instruction." The hapless diplomat had complained about the Republican Party's election promise to place tariffs on foreign imports, saying that such a move would turn Europe against America at the moment when she most needed friends. Seward claimed to have replied that nothing would give him more pleasure, since he would then have the perfect excuse for an international quarrel, "and South Carolina and the seceding states would soon join in."

Resolution VI of The Virginia Plan

Lawprof Kurt T. Lash has written some great articles on the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, among other things. A new article is always a treat. I haven't read it yet, but I see via Lawrence Solum's Legal Theory Blog that the good professor has a new article up at SSRN: "Resolution VI": The Virginia Plan and Authority to Resolve "Collective Action Problems" Under Article I, Section 8. The abstract is as follows:
In the past few years, a number of influential constitutional scholars such as Jack Balkin, Robert Cooter, Andrew Koppelman, Neil Siegel and others have called for doing away with the traditional principle of judicially limited enumerated power and replacing it with the principle declared in Resolution VI of the Virginia Plan originally introduced in the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention. According to Resolution VI, federal power should be construed to reach all matters involving the “general interests of the Union,” those “to which the “states separately are incompetent” and those affecting national “harmony.” Resolution VI advocates maintain that, under this principle, Congress has power to regulate all collective action problems of national importance. In support of their claim, Resolution VI advocates argue that the members of the Philadelphia Convention adopted Resolution VI and sent the same to the Committee of Detail with the expectation that the resulting text would be based on this overriding principle of national power, and that they accepted the text of Article I, Section 8 as the enactment of Resolution VI. These scholars also claim (or rely on the claim) that Philadelphia Convention member James Wilson publicly declared during the ratification debates that the framers based Article I, Section 8 on the principle of Resolution VI.

A close reading of the historical sources, however, shows that the framers did not view Article I, Section 8 as having operationalized the general principle of Resolution VI and allowing federal action in all cases in which the “states separately are incompetent.” In fact, they expressly stated otherwise. Even more importantly, it turns out that there is no historical evidence that Resolution VI played any role whatsoever during the ratification debates. Claims to the contrary are based on an error of historical fact.
For those who are not familiar with it, the full text of Resolution VI, as reprinted in Farrand's Records, provided as follows:
6. Resolved that each branch ought to possess the right of originating Acts; that the National Legislature ought to be impowered to enjoy the Legislative Rights vested in Congress by the Confederation & moreover to legislate in all cases to which the separate States are incompetent, or in all which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual Legislation; to negative all laws passed by the several States, contravening in the opinion of the National Legislature the articles of Union; and to call forth the force of the Union agst. any member of the Union failing to fulfill its duties under the articles thereof.
Prof. Solum awards the article his "Download of the Week" prize and opines, "Highly recommended. Download it while its hot!" I've already done so.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Henry Clay and the First Bank: The Cow and the Turkey

In the early 1820s William Harris Crawford of Georgia would become a conservative, almost winning the presidency in 1824. But all that lay in the future. In February 1811, he was a staunch defender of the First Bank of the United States in the Senate, "deliver[ing] a brilliant speech is support of the bank, which even [Nathaniel] Macon called 'a better argument in favor of it on constitutional ground than ever has been made. . . .'"

In his February 15, 1811 Senate speech opposing the extension of the First Bank's charter, Henry Clay, having disposed of William Branch Giles, next turned to Sen. Crawford's complaint, as paraphrased by Clay, "that this has been made a party question." In fact, Clay pointed out, the original bank bill, passed in 1791, "was one of the causes of the political divisions of this country" and had spurred the formation of the Jeffersonian Republicans. It was Crawford, not opponents of the bank, who was playing politics and abandoning the Republican party:
And if, on this occasion, my worthy friend from Georgia has gone over over into the camp of the enemy, is it kind in him to look back upon his former friends, and rebuke them for the fidelity with which they adhere to their old principles?
Taking advantage of the fact that Crawford and other proponents had cited different provisions of the Constitution as the source of Congress's power to create the bank, Clay mocked their attempts to locate "some congenial spot" in which to locate "[t]his vagrant power":
This vagrant power to erect a bank, after having wandered throughout the whole Constitution in quest of some congenial spot whereupon to fasten, has been at length located by the gentleman from Georgia on that provision, which authorizes Congress to lay and collect taxes, &c. In 1791, the power is referred to one part of the instrument; in 1811, to another. Sometimes it is alleged to be deducible from the power to regulate commerce. Hard pressed here, it disappears, and shows itself under the grant to coin money.
Clay's arguments had to this point been largely playful. But now he became more serious. The Constitution granted Congress limited and defined powers. "The power to charter companies is not specified in the grant." And while the Necessary and Proper Clause may effectively grant implied powers, those powers "must be necessary, and obviously flow from the enumerated power with which it is allied."
What is the nature of this Government? It is emphatically federal, vested with an aggregate of specified powers for general purposes, conceded by existing sovereignties, who have themselves retained what is not so conceded. It is said that there are cases in which it must act on implied powers. This is not controverted, but the implications must be necessary, and obviously flow from the enumerated power with which it is allied.
Emphasizing the fearsome powers of corporations, Clay denied that the power to charter companies could be created by mere implication:
The power to charter companies is not specified in the grant, and I contend is of a nature not transferable by mere implication. It is one of the most exalted attributes of sovereignty. In the exercise of this gigantic power we have seen an East India Company created, which has carried dismay, desolation, and death throughout one of the largest portions of the habitable world. A company which is, in itself, a sovereignty - which has subverted empires and set up new dynasties - and has not only made war, but war against its legitimate sovereign!
Examples of implied powers cited by supporters - such as "the power 'to make rules and regulations for the government of the land and naval forces,' which, it is said, is incidental to the power to raise armies and provide a navy" - only proved Clay's point, for they demonstrated "[h]ow extremely cautious the Convention were to leave as little as possible to implication."
In all cases where incidental powers are acted upon, the principal and incidental ought to be congenial with each other, and partake of a common nature. The incidental power ought to be strictly subordinate and limited to the end proposed to be attained by the specified power. In other words, under the name of accomplishing one object which is specified, the power implied ought not to be made to embrace other objects, which are not specified in the Constitution.
Applying these principals might permit the creation of a bank of limited powers. But the First Bank had, and was proposed to have, powers that extended far beyond any enumerated end:
If then you could establish a bank to collect and distribute the revenue, it ought to be expressly restricted to the purpose of such collection and distribution. It is a mockery, worse than usurpation, to establish it for a lawful object, and then extend it to other objects which are not lawful. In deducing the power to create corporations, such as I have described it, from the power to collect taxes, the relation and condition of principal and incident are prostrated and destroyed. The accessory is exalted above the principal. As well might it be said that the great luminary of day is an accessory, a sattelite [sic] to the humblest star that twinkles forth its feeble light in the firmament of the heavens!
In order to illustrate his point Clay resorted to an analogy. I'm not sure it works, but who can resist a story about a cow and a turkey?
Like the Virginia justice, you tell the man, whose turkey had been stolen, that your book of precedents furnishes no form for his case, but then you will grant him a precept to search for a cow, and when looking for that he may possibly find his turkey! You say to this corporation, we cannot authorize you to discount - to emit paper - to regulate commerce, &c. No! Our book has no precedents of that kind. But then we can authorize you to collect the revenue, and, while occupied with that, you may do whatever else you please!
About the illustration, entitled A Foot-Race (1824):
A figurative portrayal of the presidential race of 1824. A crowd of cheering citizens watch as candidates (left to right) John Quincy Adams, William Crawford, and Andrew Jackson stride toward the finish. Henry Clay has dropped from the race and stands, hand on head, on the far right saying, "D--n it I cant save my distance--so I may as well "draw up."" He is consoled by a man in riding clothes, "Well dont distress yourself--there'll be some scrubbing by & by & then you'll have a chance." Assorted comments come from the crowd, reflecting various sectional and partisan views. A Westerner with stovepipe hat and powder horn: "Hurra for our Jacks-"son."" Former President John Adams: "Hurra for our son "Jack."" Two men in coachmen's livery: "That inne-track fellow [Crawford] goes so well; that I think he must have got the better of the bots [boss?]." and "Like enough; but betwixt you & I--I dont think he'll ever get the better of the "Quinsy."" A ragged Irishman: "Blast my eyes if I dont "venter" a "small" horn of rotgut on that "bald filly" in the middle [Adams]." A Frenchman: "Ah hah! Mon's Neddy I tink dat kick on de "back of you side" is worse den have no dinner de fourt of july." In the left background is a platform and an inaugural scene, the "Presidential Chair" with a purse "

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Henry Clay and the First Bank: "A most unjustifiable law"

Early in his national career, Henry Clay opposed the extension of the charter of the First Bank of the United States. In his book The Old Republicans: Southern Conservatism in the Age of Jefferson, Norman K. Risjord has characterized Clay's principal speech in opposition to the BUS as "probably the ablest exposition of Republican doctrine on the subject since [James] Madison's war on the bank in 1791." That prompted me to find the speech in the Annals of Congress, and I thought I'd share some highlights here.

Clay first came to Washington to serve brief stints as United States Senator from Kentucky in 1806-07 and 1810-11. It was during his second term that the Senate took up the question whether the Bank of the United States should be extended. The BUS had originally been chartered by the First Congress in 1791 for a period of twenty years, and the charter was scheduled to expire in 1811.

On Friday February 15, 1811, Henry Clay took the Senate floor to oppose extension of the charter. In light of Clay's later advocacy of his American System - based on the three pillars of a national bank, a high, protective tariff, and federal funding of internal improvements - young Senator Clay's denunciation of the First Bank proved to be a supreme irony, which his political opponents ever used against him.

But in February 1811 Clay declared that he had, after much deliberation, concluded that he had no choice but to oppose the charter extension bill as "a most unjustifiable law." Clay maintained that he had initially decided not to speak against the bill. The original Bank bill had been passed after the founders themselves had thoroughly explored the arguments pro and con. What more could Clay add?
As the subject, at the memorable period when the charter was granted, called forth the best talents of the nation- as it has, on various occasions, undergone the most thorough investigation, and as we can hardly expect that it is susceptible of receiving any further elucidation, it was to have been hoped that we should have been spared an useless debate. This was the more desirable because there are, I conceive, much superior claims upon us for every hour of the small portion of the session yet remaining to us.
But the arguments advanced in favor of charter extension, Clay explained, demanded refutation:
Under the operation of these motives, I had resolved to give a silent vote, until I felt myself bound, by the defying manner of the arguments advanced in support of the renewal, to obey the paramount duties I owe my country and its constitution; to make one effort, however feeble, to avert the passage of what appears to me a most unjustifiable law.
With this preamble, Clay rounded on one of the orators whose "defying manner" of argument had apparently stirred Clay - Senator William Branch Giles of Virginia. Sen. Giles, generally an advocate of an energetic federal government, had argued that the federal government nonetheless lacked the power to establish a bank, resulting in (in the words of John Randolph of Roanoke) "the most unintelligible speech on the subject of the Bank of the U.S. I ever heard." Clay played on these contradictions:
After my honorable friend from Virginia (Mr. GILES) had instructed and amused us with the very able and ingenious argument which he delivered on yesterday, I should have still forborne to trespass on the Senate, but for the extraordinary character of his speech. He discussed both sides of the question, with great ability and eloquence, and certainly demonstrated to the satisfaction of all who heard him, both that it was Constitutional and unconstitutional, highly proper and improper to prolong the charter of the bank.
Clay then illustrated Sen. Giles's oratorical success by relating a no doubt apocryphal story about Patrick Henry:
The honorable gentleman appeared to me in the predicament in which the celebrated orator of Virginia, Patrick Henry, is said to have been once placed. Engaged in a most extensive and lucrative practice of the law, he mistook in one instance the side of the cause on which he was retained, and addressed the court and jury in a very splendid and convincing speech in behalf of his antagonist.

His distracted client came up to him whilst he was progressing, and interrupting him, bitterly exclaimed, "you have undone me! "you have ruined me!"

"Never mind, give yourself no concern," said the adroit advocate; and turning to the court and jury, continued his argument by observing, "May it please your honors, and you, gentleman of the jury, I have been stating to you what I presume my adversary may urge on his side. I will now show you how fallacious his reasoning and groundless his pretensions are."

The skilled orator proceeded, satisfactorily refuted every argument he had advanced, and gained his cause! A success with which I trust the exertion of my honorable friend will on this occasion be crowned.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"In every tax, your object should be revenue"

In The Old Republicans, Norman K. Risjord cites a speech delivered by Virginia Rep. Alexander Smyth on Thursday January 30, 1823 as "the first time it was openly asserted on the House floor" "that the protective tariff was unconstitutional." Rep. "Smyth maintained that the power to lay and collect taxes was for purposes of revenue only; Congress had no power to protect domestic manufactures":
Sir, I consider the committee who brought in this bill as an unconstitutional committee. Show me your authority to encourage domestic manufactures. You have nothing to do with manufactures but to pass a law for giving up runaway apprentices; and nothing to do with agriculture, but to pass a law for giving up runaway slaves.

You have power "to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States." The power granted to you is a power to raise revenue for the purpose of executing your granted powers; not a power to impose taxes to diminish the revenue, thereby to encourage and protect domestic manufactures. If you levy taxes for any other purpose but to raise revenue bona fide, you abuse your power.

You have a choice of subjects of taxation, but, in every tax, your object should be revenue. If, by the imposition of the duties necessary to the raising an adequate revenue, manufactures are encouraged, it is a beneficial consequence. The Convention who former the Constitution, have never mentioned the subject of manufactures; yet, they had under consideration a proposition to give the General Government a controlling power over manufactures, which they appear to have rejected. [Here Mr. S. read some passages from the Journal of the Convention to show that such a proposition was, with others, referred to a committee; that several of the other propositions, which were referred with it, were inserted in the Constitution; but this was omitted.]

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"The first defense of slavery as a positive good ever to be heard on the floor of Congress"

In The Old Republicans: Southern Conservatism in the Age of Jefferson, Norman K. Risjord identifies an argument by North Carolina Senator Nathaniel Macon, made on Thursday January 20, 1820, during the Missouri debates, as “the first defense of slavery as a positive good ever to be heard on the floor of Congress”:
It is a fact, that the people who move from the non-slaveholding to the slaveholding States, when they become slaveholders by purchase or marriage, expect more labor from them than those do who are brought up among them.

To the gentleman from Rhode Island (Mr. Burrill) I tender my hearty thanks, for his liberal and true statement of the treatment of slaves in the Southern States. His observations leave but little for me to add, which is this, that the slaves gained as much by independence as the free. The old ones are better taken care of than any poor in the world, and treated with decent respect by all their white acquaintances. I sincerely wish that he, and the gentleman from Pennsylvania, (Mr. Roberts,) would go home with me, or some other Southern member, and witness the meeting between the slaves and the owner, and see the glad faces and the hearty shaking of hands. . . .

The owner can make more free in conversation with his slave, and be more easy in his company, than the rich man, where there is no slave, with the white hireling who drives his carriage. He has no expectation that the slave will, for that free and easy conversation, expect to call him fellow-citizen, or act improperly.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Some Recommended History Podcasts

I commute most days, and most of my time in the car is spent listening to – you guessed it! – history podcasts. I therefore thought I'd regale you with brief descriptions of some of my favorites. The list is in roughly chronological order. All of the selections are available at iTunes, either as podcasts or in the iTunes U section.

I've probably praised Yale history prof Donald Kagan's course on ancient Greek history before – I'm too lazy to check. Very briefly, Don Kagan (I'm always tempted to use a Marlon Brando-in-the-Godfather rasp and inflection) is one of the great figures in the ancient history field. His four volume work on the Peloponnesian War remains, almost forty years after its publication, the outstanding work on the subject. His lecturing skills have been highly regarded since at least the mid-1970s, when students packed his introduction to ancient Greek history course despite its esoteric subject matter, rigorous grading and Prof. Kagan's notorious status as a despised conservative on a campus that regarded Bobby Seale as a moderate. We are now blessed to have that course available. Take advantage.

Mike Duncan is no Don Kagan. Nonetheless, I've enjoyed – and continue to enjoy – his History of Rome podcasts a great deal. He's over 150 installments now, covering roughly 1.000 years from the appearance of a bunch of huts on the banks of the Tiber to the latter part of the empire (the western empire, at any rate) in the years following the death of Constantine. If you know little about Roman history, you'll learn a good deal. If you know your stuff, it's fun and relaxing, sort of like visiting with an old friend. My only warning is that some of the pronunciations will make you cringe.

Yale prof Keith E. Wrightson speaks with a delightful and mellifluous British accent – which is appropriate, I suppose, for a course on Early Modern England, i.e., basically the Tudors and the Stuarts, from roughly 1500 through 1700. Prof. Wrightson is so smooth that it can be a bit off-putting: one senses that every comma and pause is scripted. But he knows his material inside and out. Although the course includes much of the standard political history, where the good professor really shines, I think, is on the social and economic side. Although Prof. Wrightson repeatedly apologizes for those lectures (students must complain about economic history in particular in their reviews), he conveys a wonderful sense of the transformation of the country and much of its populace from an essentially medieval and local society to an increasingly urbanized and proto-industrial one with extensive regional and national ties.

I thank God that I did not take Stanford history prof Jack Rakove's course on colonial and revolutionary America as an undergraduate. Without background, I would have had no idea what he was talking about. The man is the exact opposite of the well-modulated Prof. Wrightson – he's manic. But it's the mania of a man whose ideas are so plentiful that they just come pouring out in a flood of words. Prof. Rakove is one of the leading scholars on the period of the early Republic and James Madison. My suggestion is that you first read Prof. Rakove's fine Original Meanings, which will give you an anchorage that will allow you to appreciate the torrent as it rushes by. Two subsidiary complaints. The course was recorded during the 2008 election season, and Prof. Rakove does not hesitate to display his adoration of the Big O. Second, there a few annoying comments about the Second Amendment, which he believes, for reasons that elude me, does not support an individual right to bear arms (I've read the brief he submitted to the Supremes and find it totally unconvincing). Prof. Rakove is living proof, I guess, that modern liberal ideology can trump the common sense of even an otherwise learned man.

Yale prof Joanne B. Freeman has a silly laugh, but that's what makes her great. Silly as it is, her laugh embodies and conveys the love for her subject in her course on the American Revolution. Prof. Freeman excels at humanizing the Founders – even the dour Thomas Jefferson – and at bringing home, for example, the communications and world-view gap (my phrase) between the colonists and the British, and explaining the unexpected shock and wrench that the colonists felt when they belatedly discovered that their love of their mother country and its institutions had led them revolt against it.

I think I've complained before that Yale prof David Blight sounds like Garrison Keillor (has no one else recognized this?). I also think, to be frank, that Prof. Blight can sometimes sound like a pompous ass. But if you can get past those two points (which I did), it's hard to ignore one of the leading authorities on the Civil War era. It's been a while since I've heard his course on the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, so I'm a little light on details, but as I recall you get a good, well-told survey of all the basics from about the Wilmot Proviso with a heavy dose, as you might expect, of memory, race, and the like.

I've placed Dan Carlin and his Hardcore History last only because Dan's podcast is unclassifiable. Dan's topics range from ancient Mesopotamia to Word War II. Or he can come up with quirky and fascinating subjects that range across history – Is slavery a baseline human condition? Until recently was the model for child rearing a form of child abuse? Dan's stentorian and melodramatic delivery seems to elicit mixed reviews, but I enjoy it as part of the overall over-the-top package that Dan is clearly trying to deliver. Over-the-top or not, the drama of Dan's episodes – whether it's Tiberius Gracchus being beaten to death or the slaughter of the Stalingrad campaign – can't be beat. My advice is to try out an episode. Don't like it? Fine. But if you like it you'll probably be hooked and have hours of listening pleasure ahead. Dan takes his older podcasts out of free access as he releases new ones, so I suggest downloading the older shows now; you can delete them if you don't like them.

I find my podcasts by browsing around iTunes and the internet. If anyone has other suggestions, I'd be glad to take them.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Treat this Whip-Syllabub of a Post as a Perfect Nihility

In the course of reading Pauline Maier's excellent Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788, I've run across some fun words I'm determined to work into conversations, as well as a nice little story.

Our first word is "nihility", which I particularly like as a former Classics major. The quotes are from a letter by none other than George Washington to John Jay, dated August 15, 1786, discussing the powerlessness of the Confederation Congress:
Requisitions [by the Confedration Congress for funds] were "a perfect nihility," he [Washington] wrote Jay in August 1786, and "if you tell the [state] Legislatures they have violated the treaty of peace [with Great Britain] and invaded the prerogatives of the confederacy they will laugh in your face. What then is to be done?"
Our second item is "whip-syllabub", as used by Rep. Aedanus Burke of South Carolina exactly three years later, on August 15, 1789, to describe the proposed amendments to the Constitution then being considered by the House of Representatives:
In the course of those extended debates [in the House during August 1789], critics insisted that the proposed amendments would never satisfy their constituents. Rather than "those solid and substantial amendments which the people expect," Aedanus Burke sad, the select committee's proposals were "whip-syllabub," an eighteenth-century dessert that was "frothy and full of wind, formed only to please the palate," not the stomach; or "like a tub thrown out to a whale" by sailors to divert it from attacking their ship.
And, finally, we have Amos Singletary, who provides not a word, but a witty repartee. Mr. Singletary, "a onetime gristmill owner" from Sutton, Massachusetts, served as a delegate to the January 1788 Massachusetts ratification convention, where he proved to be (in the phrase of a newspaper report) "as remarkable for his taciturnity, as his zeal for religion," hemming and wiping his brow before he explained his objections to "this here self same constitution."

But I digress. The story I meant to relate involving Mr. Singletary concerns "a story about him from a period long before 1788, when the town [of Sutton] was shaken by a religious revival."
A local manufacturer of hoes "being under concern of mind" caught sight of Singletary, who was a justice of the peace and an "earnest Christian," and called out to him: "O Squire! O Squire! What shall I do to be saved?" Singletary had scarcely brought his horse to a stop when he answered: "Put more steel in your hoes."
Amos Singletary "died in 1806, in his mid-eighties."

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

"The Goviner of the universe"

I've been reading Pauline Maier's fine Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 slowly and savoring it. I've also been reading it mostly backwards. I started at the beginning, but then skipped forward to New York, followed by Virginia, back to Pennsylvania, then forward to Connecticut and Massachusetts, which is where I am now.

Don't know what to make of this, however. Prof. Maier reports that the Massachusetts town of Ashfield, considering back in 1776 the form of government that the state should adopt, came up with a somewhat "unconventional" answer:
Massachusetts townsmen also had a proven capacity to think in unconventional ways. In 1776, for example, the people of Ashfield in western Massachusetts said they wanted no "Goviner but the Goviner of the universe and under him a States Ginaral to Consult with the wrest of the united States for the Good of the whole" . . ..
The lesson that Prof. Maier draws is that not all people in western Massachusetts - the neighborhood of Daniel Shays' Rebellion - were "die hard localists. Some, at least, had a powerful sense of national identity."

California and the Missouri Compromise Line

In the late 1840s, during the lead-up to the Compromise of 1850, some federal legislators argued that the prospective state of California should be divided in half and ultimately be admitted as two states. These were southerners, of course, who were proposing that the Missouri Compromise line be extended to the Pacific. The northern portion would be admitted as a free state; slavery would be permitted in the south.

It was not to be, because most northerners, and some southerners (including Louisiana slaveholder Zachary Taylor), objected, for a variety of reasons, and most of us would say that the good guys won that fight. But Lawprof Ilya Somin's recent post at Volokh makes me wonder: would we all not have been better off, at least in the long run, if proponents of the extension of the Missouri Compromise line had succeeded?
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