David Wilmot Argues For a Free California, 1847

The Congressional Globe, 29th Congress, 2d Session. Washington, D.C.: Blair & Ives, 1847. 352-354.

       Sir, it will be recollected by all present, that in the last session of this Congress, an amendment was moved to a bill of a similar character by me in the form of a proviso, by which slavery should be forever excluded from any territory that might be subsequently acquired by the United States from the Republic of Mexico.

       Sir, permit me to say, that upon the occasion the proviso was sustained by a very decided majority of this House. Nay, sir, more; it was sustained, if I mistake not, by a majority of the Republican party on this floor.And I am prepared to show, I think, that the entire South were then willing to acquiesce in what appeared to be, and, as far as the action of this House is concerned, what the legislation, will, and declaration this Union on the subject. It passed in this House. Sir, there were no threats of disunion sounded in our ears. It passed here, and it went to the Senate, and it was the judgment of the public, and of many men well informed, that had it not been defeated there for the want of time, it would have passed that body and become the established law of the land. . . .

       Yes! no anathemas were fulminated against me then. I was not then denounced as an abolitionist by the correspondents of the "Union," as I have been since, and from which charge I intend to vindicate myself. . . .

       Why, sir, in God's name should the Union be dissolved for this? What do we ask in this matter? We ask but sheer justice and right. It was a question of compromise. I would go as far as any man in this House for compromise. Were it a question of concession and compromise, I might perhaps say to the North, Concede again, as you have done before; yield all; bow to the South, as you have done on all previous occasions--yield this also. But it is a question of naked and abstract right; and, in the elegant language of my colleague from the Eerie district, sooner shall they draw this right shoulder from its socket, than I will yield one jot or tittle of the ground on which I stand.

       What, then, do we ask? Sir, we ask the neutrality of this Government on this question of slavery. I have stood up at home, and fought single-handed--no, I was not single-handed, because my party was with me--but I have stood at home, and fought, time and again, against the Abolitionists of the North. I have denounced them publicly, upon all occasions, when it was proper to do so. I have met them in their own meetings and assailed them. And, sir, the efforts that may be made, here or elsewhere, to give an abolition complexion to this movement, cannot, so far as my district and my people are concerned, have the least effect. And efforts made to give me the character of an abolitionist, will fall harmless when they reach my constituency. They know me upon this question distinctly. I stand by every compromise of the Constitution. I adhere to its letter and its spirit. And I would never invade one single right of the South. So far from it am I, that I stand ready, at all times and upon all occasions, as do nearly the entire North, to sustain the institutions of the South as they exist, with our money and with our blood, when that day comes, as many--many southern men--fear it may come. When that day comes, sir, the North stands with them. We go for every compromise of the Constitution.

       But, sir, this is another question--entirely another question. We ask that this Government protect the integrity of free territory against the aggressions of slavery--against its wrongful usurpations. Sir, I was in favor of the annexation of Texas. I supported it with the whole influence which I possessed, and I was willing to take Texas in as she was. I sought not to change the character of her institutions. Texas was a slave country. . . . We voted for the annexation of Texas. The Democracy of the North was for it, to a man. We are for it now--firmly for it. Sir, we are fighting this war for Texas, and for the South. I affirm it; here is a matter well known to the Union. . . . Now, sir, we are told that California is ours; and so it is. I intend to refer more particularly to this subject before I conclude. But, we are told, California is ours. And all we ask in the North is, that the character of its territory be preserved. It is free; and it is part of the established law of nations, and all public law, that when it shall come in to this Union, all laws there existing, not inconsistent with its new allegiance, will remain in force. This fundamental law, which prohibits slavery in California, will be in force; this fundamental law, which prohibits slavery in New Mexico, will be in force. Shall the South invade it? Shall the South make this Government an instrument for the violation of its neutrality, and for the establishment of slavery in these territories, in defiance of law? That is the question. There is no question of abolition here, sir. It is a question whether the South shall be permitted , by aggression, by invasion of right, by subduing free territory and planting slavery upon it, to wrest this territory to the accomplishment of its own sectional purposes and schemes? That is the question. And shall we of the North submit to it? Must we yield this? It is not, sir, in the spirit of the compact; it is not, sir, in the Constitution. . . .

       When territory presents itself for annexation with slavery already established, I stand ready to take it, if national considerations require it, as they did in the case of Texas. I will not change it institutions, then. I make no war upon the South. I have no squeamish sensitiveness on the subject of slavery--no morbid sympathy for the slave. But I stand for the integrity of the territory. It shall remain free, so far as my voice and vote can aid in the preservation of its free character.

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