THE COMPROMISE OF 1850: TWO VIEWS
The controversy over the admission of California to the Union in 1850 almost prompted the secession of several slaveholding states. In the passages below South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun and Massachusetts Congressman Horace Mann offer opposing views on the issue of California and slavery in speeches before Congress.
Calhoun: The Union cannot... be saved by eulogies on the Union, however splendid or numerous. The cry of "Union, Union, the glorious Union!" can no more prevent disunion than the cry of "Health, health, glorious health!" on the part of the physician, can save a patient lying dangerously ill...
How can the Union be saved? There is but one way by which it can with any certainty; and that is, by a full and final settlement, on the principle of justice of all the questions at issue between the two sections...
But can this be done? Yes, easily; not by the weaker party, for it can of itself do nothing not even protect itself but by the stronger. The North has only to will it to accomplish it to do justice by conceding to the South an equal right in the acquired territory, and to do her duty by causing the stipulations relative to fugitive slaves to be faithfully fulfilled to cease the agitation of the slave question, and to provide for the insertion of a provision in the Constitution, by an amendment, which will restore to the South, in substance, the power she possessed of protecting herself before the equilibrium between the sections was destroyed by the action of this Government...
If you who represent the stronger portion, cannot agree to settle them on the broad principle of justice and duty, say so; and let the States we both represent agree to separate and part in peace. If you are unwilling we should part in peace, tell us so; and we shall know what to do, when you reduce the question to submission or resistance.
Mann: Gentlemen of the South not only argue the question of right and of honor; they go further, and they tell us what they will proceed to do if we do not yield to their demands. A large majority of the Southern legislators have solemnly "resolved" that if Congress prohibits slavery in the new territories, they will resist the law "at any and at every hazard..."
And do the gentlemen who make these threats soberly consider how deeply they are pledging themselves and their constituents by them? Threats of dissolution, if executed, become rebellion and treason.... Such forcible opposition to the government would be treason. Its agents and abettors would be traitors. Wherever this rebellion rears it crest, martial law will be proclaimed; and those found with hostile arms in their hands must prepare for the felon's doom...
I have only to add that such is my solemn and abiding conviction of the character of slavery that under a full sense of my responsibility to my country and my God, I deliberately say, better disunion better a civil or a servile war better anything that God in His Providence shall send, than an extension of the bounds of slavery.
Source: John M. Blum, The National Experience: A History of the United States (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989), pp. 268 269.
ABOLITIONISTS GARRISON AND DOUGLASS
William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass were leaders of the abolitionist movement. In the passages below Garrison and Douglass outline their views. The Garrison passage is from the first editorial of his anti slavery newspaper, The Liberator, founded in 1831. The Douglass passage is from speech he gave in Boston in 1857.
Garrison: I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not a cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think or speak, or write with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in the cause like the present. I am in earnest I will not equivocate I will not excuse I will not retreat a single inch AND I WILL BE HEARD.
Douglass: The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle... If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. In the light of these ideas, Negroes will be hunted at the North, and held and flogged at the South so long as they submit to those devilish outrages, and make no resistance, either moral or physical.
Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.
Sources: Richard Current, American History: A Survey, (New York: Knopf, 1961), p.314; Lerone Bennett, Ebony Pictorial History of Black America, I, (Nashville: Southwestern Company, 1971), p. 221 222.
A FUGITIVE SLAVE RESPONDS TO HIS OWNER
The Fugitive Slave Act proved unenforceable in the North because abolitionists refused to assist local authorities in capturing runaway slaves. In 1860 J.W. Lougen, a fugitive slave living in Syracuse, N.Y., responded to his owner, Mrs. Sarah Logue, of Tennessee, who had requested he return to her plantation or face the possibility of slave catchers. Lougen's reply reflects his sense of personal security in Syracuse.
Mrs. Sarah Logue:
Yours of the 20th of February is duly received, and I thank you for it. You sold my brother and sister, Abe and Ann, and twelve acres of land, you say, because I ran away. Now you have the meanness to ask me to return and be your chattel, or in lieu thereof, send you $1,000 to redeem the land but not to redeem my poor brother and sister! If I were to send you money, it would be to get my brother and sister, and not that you should get land. You say you are a cripple...to stir my pity, for you knew I was susceptible in that direction. I do pity you from the bottom of my heart. Nevertheless, I am indignant beyond the power of words to express, that you should be so cruel as to tear the hearts I love so much all in pieces; that you should be willing to crucify us all, out of compassion for your poor foot or leg. Wretched woman! I value my freedom, to say nothing of my mother, brothers and sisters more than your whole body; more, indeed, than my own life, more than all of the lives of all the slaveholders and tyrants under heaven.
You say you have offers to buy me, and that you shall sell me if I do not send you $1,000, and in the same breath and almost in the same sentence, you say, "You know we raised you as we did our own children." Woman, did you raise your own children for the market? Did you raise them for the whipping post? Did you raise them to be driven off, bound to a coffle in chains? Where are my poor bleeding brothers and sisters? Can you tell? Who was it that sent them off into sugar and cotton fields, to be kicked and cuffed, and whipped, and to groan and die... Do you say you did not do it? Then I reply, your husband did, and you approved the deed and the very letter you sent me shows that your heart approves it all. Shame on you!
You say I am a thief, because I took the old mare along with me. Have you got to learn that I had a better right to the old mare than Mannasseth Logue had to me? Is it a greater sin for me to steal a horse, than it was for him to rob my mother's cradle and steal me? If he and you infer that I forfeit all my rights to you, shall not I infer that you forfeit all your rights to me? Have you got to learn that human rights are mutual and reciprocal, and if you take my liberty and life, you forfeit your own liberty and life? Before God and high heaven, is there a law for one man which is not a law for every other man?
If you or any other speculator on my body and rights, wish to know how I regard my rights, they need but come here, and lay their hands on me to enslave me. Did you think to terrify me by presenting the alternative to give my money to you, or give my body to slavery? Then let me say to you, that I meet the proposition with unutterable scorn and contempt. I stand among a free people, who, I thank God, sympathize with my rights and the rights of mankind...
Source: Stanley I. Kutler, Looking for America: The People's History, Vol. I, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979), pp. 342 343.
OREGON TERRITORY BANS AFRICAN AMERICANS
The Territorial Legislature in 1854 reenacted an earlier statute which banned the entry of African Americans into Oregon. The new measure is reprinted below.
A BILL TO PREVENT NEGROES AND MULATTOES FROM COMING TO, OR RESIDING IN OREGON
Sect. 1 Be it enacted by the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Oregon that it shall not be lawful for any negro or mulatto to enter into, or reside within the limits of this Territory. Providing that nothing in this act shall ....apply to any negro or mulatto now resident in this Territory, nor shall it apply to the offspring of any such as are residents....
Sect. 2 That Masters and owners of vessels having negroes or mulattoes in their employ on board of vessel may bring them into Oregon Provided that in so doing such master, or owner, shall be responsible for the conduct of such negro or mulatto....and shall be liable to any person aggrieved by such negro or mulatto.
Sect. 3 No negro or mulatto shall be permitted to leave the port where the vessel upon which they are or may be employed shall be lying without the written permission of such master or owner....
Sect. 4 That it shall be the duty of masters and owners of vessels having brought negroes or mulattoes into Oregon as aforesaid to cause such negro or mulatto to leave this territory with such vessel upon which the shall have been brought into the Territory, or from some other vessel within forty days.
Sect. 5 If any master or owners of a vessel having brought negroes or mulattoes as provided for in the second section of this act into this Territory, shall fail to remove and take the same with them when leaving the Territory.... shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor....and on conviction, shall be fined and imprisoned at the discretion of the court; Provided that the fine in no case shall be less than five hundred dollars.
Sect. 6 If any negro or mulatto shall be found in this Territory, except as hereinbefore provided and except such as may now be permanent residents, it shall be the duty of any Judge or Justice of the Peace to....to issue a warrant for the apprehension of such negro or mulatto, directed to any sheriff or constable....to arrest....such negro or mulatto....
Sect. 7 If any negro or mulatto shall be found a second time unlawfully remaining in this Territory he shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall....upon conviction be fined and imprisoned at the discretion of the court.
Sect. 8 The Governor of this Territory shall cause this act to be published in some one or more of the California newspapers and such other newspapers as he may think necessary in order to carry out the spirit of the same.
Sect. 9 This act to take effect and be in force from and after its passage.
Source: Archives of the Oregon Historical Society
BRIDGET "BIDDY" MASON IN SLAVERY AND FREEDOM
Bridget "Biddy" Mason, born a slave in Georgia, became one of the first settlers of Los Angeles when the city had fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. Today a memorial to her 19th urban homestead sits across the street from the Ronald Reagan Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles. Here is a partial account of the freedom Mason found in the Far West.
Nothing is left of the original homestead of Biddy Mason, the first black woman to own property in Los Angeles. In its place, at 331 South Spring Street, is the new Broadway-Spring Center, primarily a parking structure. But this is no ordinary parking garage. Ten stories tall, the Broadway-Spring Center is a rather graceful pink-and-green building with a Tony Sheets bas-relief on the front facade. The ground floor will be divided into shops with access to the small, tranquil park that has been named after Mason and which provides a green, well-planted walkway between Broadway and Spring Street. Two public art pieces─one by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, the other by Betye Saar─have recently been installed here, and, as part of the same project, a fine art book has been printed by artist Susan E. King, all to honor Mason and the site where her home once stood.
More than a mile away, close to the USC campus, an old church that Mason founded still exists. The First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles, one hundred and eighteen years old, is a testament to the complexity of Mason's life, work, and impact on the city. Many black leaders in the community worship there. The dynamic Reverend Cecil L. "Chip" Murray offers up sermons with titles such as "You Can't Beat the House," while a conga drum, an electric guitar, and clapping hands set a background beat for gospel-rocking songs that bring people to their feet and infuse the room with sudden, irresistible energy, the energy of hope and belief and love.
There's a very large mural at the front of the church, lit with a golden light that also bathes the pulpit. A history is pictured there: pyramids, Africa, slavery, migration, rows of crops and workers. Presiding over everything is the great motherly figure of Biddy Mason─Grandma Mason. She's tending a flock of sheep, and she appears dignified and strong.
Biddy Mason bought her land and built her house in 1866 in a town then so raw and new that the streets were troughs of mud or dust. Gas lamps were individually lit, one by one, every night, by a rider on horseback, illuminating a scant few blocks of humble houses in the bottom of a dark, sloping basin, now the valley of a billion lights.
Mason was born in 1818 in the state of Georgia and sold into slavery at eighteen. She walked across America in 1848 with the family who owned her and her sister─a Mississippi family who'd converted to Mormonism and were trekking west in caravans of wagons. They were a homeless people slouching toward Zion, traveling with their slaves and stock and children in oxcarts loaded with everything they owned. Biddy thus became a western pioneer, a black slave caught up in a white religious pilgrimage. She had three children at the time, including the baby she carried in her arms.
They walked from Mississippi to Paducah, Kentucky, to Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Lincoln, Nebraska, and points less charted to the west, seven continuous months of walking, until eventually Biddy's party passed the valley of the Great Salt Lake in Utah─where others settled permanently─and went on to San Bernardino, arriving in 1851.
But this Mormon family, named Smith, who owned Biddy and her sister and their children, didn't realize that California was a free slave state: If you brought your slaves here, and they wanted to leave you, they could. That's exactly what Biddy wanted, but Smith was hoping to depart for Texas, taking his slaves along before anyone could stop him.
Biddy, however, had made friends with free blacks here, including Elizabeth Flake Rowan, Charles Owens, and his father, Robert Owens, who ran a flourishing stable on San Pedro Street. Owens got up a posse of vaqueros to rescue Biddy and her kin, swooping down on the Mormon camp in the Santa Monica mountains in the middle of the night. Biddy sued for freedom in court, won her papers in 1856, and moved her family in with the Owens. She was, at this time, thirty-eight years old.
Mason possessed great skills in medicine and became a midwife. Like many Afro-American women, she knew the lore of remedies and rituals. (For childbirth, keep the patient walking as "long as she can drag"; for a new baby, "string small pieces of poke root around a baby's neck to ease teething"; to celebrate a birth, "make a blue flame in the hearthfire by throwing a handful of salt"...)
Ten years after winning her freedom she had saved enough money to buy the Spring Street lot; she eventually built her own house there─the house in which the First African Methodist Church was born. In time she bought more land.
Her grandsons were prosperous, in part because she gave them land to start a stable, and later she erected a two-story building. She became known for her good works. Before her death in 1891, she also became rich enough to know the joys of opening her hand and giving her wealth away.
Source: Judith Freeman, "Commemorating An L.A. Pioneer," Los Angeles Magazine, April, 1990, pp. 58-60.
BLEEDING KANSAS ONE SOUTHERNER'S VIEW
Axalla John Hoole, a South Carolinian, was one of thousands of Americans who participated in the settlement of Kansas Territory in the 1850s. Hoole, like most Southerners, came to Kansas partly to insure its admission as a slave state while Northern settlers had the opposite intent. These excerpts from his letters home describe "Bleeding Kansas."
Lecompton, K.T., Sept. 12, 1856
My Dear Mother
I must write you a few lines to let you know how I am getting along, though I have but little hopes of your getting this letter for some time past have been miscarried or stopped on the way but I will make the venture.
You perceive from the heading of this that I am now in Lecompton, almost all of the Proslavery party between this place and Lawrence are here. We brought our families here, as we though that we would be better able to defend ourselves when altogether than if we were scattered over the country. [Anti slavery leader James] Lane came against us last Friday..... We had about 400 men with two cannon we marched out to meet him, though we were under the impression at the time that we had 1,000 men. We came in gunshot of each other, but the regular soldiers came and interfered, but not before our party had shot some dozen guns, by which it is reported that five of the Abolitionists were killed or wounded. We had strict orders from our commanding officer (Gen'l Marshall) not to fire until they made the attack, but some of our boys would not be restrained. I was a rifleman and one of the skirmishers, but did all that I could to restrain our men though I itched all over to shoot, myself. I drew a bead a dozen times on a big Yankee about 150 yards from me, but did not fire, as I knew if I did, the boys all around me would do the same, and we had orders not to fire until the word was given....I firmly believe that we would have whipped them, though we would have lost a good many men. I did not see a pale face in our whole army, every man seemed keen to fight. I for one, did not feel as nervous as I am when I go to shoot a beef or a turkey.
Your Affectionate Son
Douglas, K.T., July the 5th., 1857
I fear, Sister, that coming here will do no good at last, as I begin to think that this will be made a Free State at last. 'Tis true we have elected Proslavery men to draft a state constitution, but I feel pretty certain, if it is put to the vote of the people, it will be rejected, as I feel pretty confident they have a majority here at this time. The South has ceased all efforts, while the North is redoubling her exertions. We nominated a candidate for Congress last Friday Ex Gov. Ransom of Michigan. I must confess I have not much faith in him, tho he professes to hate the Abolitionists bitterly, and I have heard him say that Negroes were a great deal better off with Masters. Still, I fear him, but it was the best we could do. If we had nominated a Southern man, he would have been beaten, and I doubt whether we can even elect a Northerner who favors our side...
Source: Stanley I Kutler, Looking for America: The People's History, Vol. I, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979), pp. 393 394.
THE DRED SCOTT DECISION
In 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott v. Sanford that a black slave was undeniably property and because no citizen could be deprived of his property without due process of law as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment, Congress could not outlaw slavery in any territory under its jurisdiction. The decision understandably sent shock waves through the black community and, moreover, angered anti slavery advocates throughout the country. Part of that controversial decision is printed below.
The question is simply this: Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied [sic] by that instrument to the citizen? One of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United States...
In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show that neither ...slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were acknowledged as a part of the people...
They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.
...The general words [of the Declaration of Independence] would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day would be so understood. But is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration; for if the language, as understood in that day, would embrace them, the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the Declaration of Independence would have been utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted; and instead of the sympathy of mankind, to which they so confidently appealed, they would have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.
...They perfectly understood the meaning of the language they used, and how it would be understood by others; and they knew that it would not in any part of the civilized world be supposed to embrace the negro race, which, by common consent, had been excluded from civilized Governments and the family of nations, and doomed to slavery... The unhappy black race were separated from the white by indelible marks, and laws long before established, and were never thought of or spoken of except as property, and when the claims of the owner or the profit of the trader were supposed to need protection.
It is the judgment of this court...that the plaintiff in error is not a citizen of Missouri, in the sense in which that word is used in the Constitution...and that the Circuit Court of the United States had no jurisdiction in the case, and could give no judgment in it...
Source: Leslie H. Fishel and Benjamin Quarles, The Negro American: A Documentary History, (Glenview, Ill., 1967), pp. 205 207.