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THE ANNEXATION OF TEXAS.
A SPEECH DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNI
TED STATES, IN COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON THE STATE OF THE UNION, JANUARY 6, 1845.
I have very little hope, Mr. Chairman, of saying any thing new on the question before us, or of giving any new interest or force to the views which have already been presented, both to Congress and the Country, by the master minds of the nation. Certainly, I have not risen to attempt any formal response to the challenge which was tendered me a few days since by the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, (Mr. C. J. Ingersoll.) That gentleman was pleased to call on me emphatically for an argument. He was particular in warning me against declamation. He would be contented with nothing short of an argument. Now, Sir, I must be allowed to say that such a call, and such a caution, would have come with something of a better grace from the honorable member, if he had given me the example as well as the precept. If he had “reck'd his own rede," and had given to the House something better than a desultory string of bald assertions and balder assumptions, he might have thrown down the gauntlet to whom he pleased. But I must protest that it was a little ungracious in the honorable member, to urge upon me the steep and thorny way of arguing a negative, after sauntering along the primrose path of dalliance him. self, with the burden of the affirmative fairly upon his own shoulders.
The honorable member from Alabama, (Mr. Payne,) who spoke last, was somewhat in the same vein. “He would not entertain the House with a mere Fourth of July oration.” He, too, wanted nothing but an argument. Now, with all deference to the better judgment of the honorable member, I must be allowed to express a doubt, whether a good Fourth of July oration would not be one of the best arguments that could be framed for this precise occasion. When men seem ready to forget their own country, and to run after foreign alliances; to disregard the feelings of their fellow-citizens, and expend their sympathies upon aliens; and to look more to the security of slavery than of freedom ; it seems to me, Mr. Chairman, that some remembrance of the Fourth of July; that some recalling and recounting of the early days, and the early deeds of our Revolution; that some reminiscences of the period when Virginia, and South Carolina, and Massachusetts, were bound together by mutual league, by united thoughts and counsels, by equal hope and hazard in the glorious enterprise of Independence; that some recurrence to the opinions, as well as to the acts, of our patriot fathers; their opinions about freedom, and about what constituted "an extension of the area of freedom;" their opinions, too, about slavery, in those days, when one of the greatest complaints against Great Britain was, not that she considered slavery an evil, and, having abolished it at great cost in her own colonies, had expressed a wish, — no further harm, a wish that it might be abolished throughout the world, - but that she regarded it as the source of a profitable traffic; that she would not suffer South Carolina and Virginia to abolish it; and had even reprimanded a Governor of South Carolina for assenting to an act for that purpose;— it seems to me, I say, that some such Fourth of July oration as this, would be an argument every way suitable and seasonable.
At any rate, the stricter argument of this case belongs rightfully to those in favor of the annexation. It belongs to those who seek to accomplish this momentous change in our national condition and our national identity. It belongs to those who are dissatisfied with their existing country, and who are ready to peril its peace, its honor, and its union, in order to obtain another and an ampler theatre for their transcendent patriotism. It is for them to argue this question. It is for them to make a
It is for them, to show the consummate policy of the measure. It is for them, above all, to prove their constitutional power to accomplish it.
As for us, Mr. Chairman, who seek no change, who are con. tent with our country as it is, who look to its augmentation by internal development and not by external acquisition, whose only policy it is to improve, build up, illustrate, and defend the land and the liberties we now enjoy,— we might well be excused from arguments of any sort on such a subject. It would be enough for us to sit quietly in our seats, and, when called on to give our voices upon these resolutions, to say of our country, as the barons of old England said of their laws, when threatened with usurpation : Nolumus, nolumus mutari !
Sir, I desire to press this point upon the consideration and upon the consciences of gentlemen around me; and more espe. cially of those who, being associated politically with the friends of annexation, are understood to entertain doubts as to the constitutionality of the scheme proposed. We have a Constitution. We have sworn to support it. It is a Constitution of limited powers of specific grants of power. It declares in its own terms that “the enumeration of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” It declares further, that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” It is thus the duty of every man who gives his support to a measure of legislation, to be convinced in his own mind that the measure is positively constitutional. It is not for him to call for arguments from others to prove it unconstitutional. It is not for him to find justification for his vote in the feebleness or in the silence of those who deny his power, but in the force and the convincing proof of those who maintain it. Still less is it for him to adopt the extraordinary doctrine advanced by an honorable member from Alabama, (Mr. Belser,) who has told us that, in case of constitutional difficulty on this question, he should follow the maxim of Hoyle: “ Where you are in doubt, take the trick!". Northern gentlemen have often been charged with latitudinarianism in their interpretation of the Constitution. They profess to be always in favor of a liberal construction of it. But they have never yet carried their liberality to such a pitch as this. It may be the attribute of a good judge to amplify his
jurisdiction; but we hold it to be the duty of an honest republican legislator, under a limited Government like ours, to exercise no doubtful powers; and to believe nothing constitutional without a reason, a substantial reason, for the faith that is in him.
I am not at all surprised, however, at the disposition which has been manifested in some quarters to shift the burden of proof, and to call for arguments from others, instead of attempting to make a case for themselves. Unquestionably the friends of Texas in this House have a heavy task on their hands. Unable to agree upon any plan among themselves; having exhausted every art for reconciling their discordant opinions; the ultima ratio of a letter from the Hermitage, even, having been resorted to in vain; the old Roman cement having altogether lost its cohesive quality upon this occasion; their only hope seems now to be, that, by throwing all their individual schemes before the Committee, the blows of their enemies may prove more efficient than the love-pats of their friends, and may knock some one of them into a shape, or impress upon some one of them a color, which will secure for it the support of a majority. I have reason to think that the members from Massachusetts, and of the Northern States generally, are relied upon to perform a principal part in this moulding and coloring process. It seems to be hoped that the anti-slavery feeling which we are supposed to represent, will exhibit itself to such an excess, will be betrayed into such an intemperate outbreak upon this question, as to embarrass the position of some of our Whig friends from the South, and either to compel them to vote for annexation now, or to stimulate the States which they represent to send back to the next Congress those who will.
Such, Mr. Chairman, is the forlorn hope of the friends of Texas at this moment. I trust they will be disappointed in it. They have already elected a President under some such influ
But I rejoice to believe that they will fail in annexing Texas by it, at this session at least. I certainly, for one, shall minister to no such mischief. I have no hesitation in saying that I shall oppose the annexation of Texas, now and always, upon the ground that it involves an extension of domestic slavery. No considerations of National aggrandizement; no
allurements of Northern interest and advantage; were they even as real, as in this case they are specious and delusive; will ever win my assent to such an enlargement of the slave-holding territory of my country. Nor shall I hesitate to speak of slavery in connection with this question, if my time be not exhausted before I reach that topic in the order of my remarks. I shall do so firmly and fearlessly, as I have always done in this House and elsewhere; but I shall do so in a spirit of entire deference to the Constitution, which I have sworn to support, and which it is my special purpose in these remarks to maintain and vindicate. I shall speak of slavery, too, with the most unqualified admission, which no Northern statesman has ever withheld, that over slavery, as it now exists within any of the existing States of the Union, this government has no manner of control.
No, Sir, this question is not to be settled in this manner, or in any manner, I trust, at the present session. As often, indeed, as I reflect on its magnitude, I find it difficult to realize that it is really and in good faith before us for decision. Certainly, Mr. Chairman, it is impossible for me to reconcile, with any views which I entertain of the nature of our government and the character of our Constitution, the idea that such a question as this can be decided finally and forever, here and now, by this Congress, in this way, under these circumstances. An irrevocable incorporation into our Union of a vast foreign nation; the naturalization, by a stroke of the pen, of I know not how many thousand Mexicans, and of all the other aliens who may have resided six months in Texas; the admission of five-and-twenty thousand slaves into our country, in defiance of that compromise of the Constitution and laws under which no slaves were to be admitted after the year 1808; the annexation of a territory large enough to alter all the relations and destroy all the balances of our existing system, of a capacity not merely for adding new stars to our Constellation, but for disturbing the courses, and even changing the orbits, of those which are now revolving in harmony together — for turning them upon a new centre and towards another sun; that such a measure should be initiated, carried on, and consummated as this has been, and is now proposed to be, is, in my judgment, monstrous, monstrous beyond all expression.