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Collection: The Liberator

Publication: THE LIBERATOR

Date: January 4, 1839


Location: Boston, Massachusetts

In our last number, we published the excellent speech of JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, in the House of Representatives, upon the question of reference to the Committee of Foreign Affairs, of sundry petitions, asking for the recognition of Haytian Independence. At the conclusion of Mr. A's remarks— Mr. Wise, of Va. rose in reply. I have, as yet, said he, stated but one of my objections to the reception of this petition. I will now endeavor to state others. I did, indeed, take the opportunity, though I believe it was not then strictly in order, to say what was my great objection, and that was that this memorial prays for national amalgamation with a black republic. The gentleman from Massachusetts, (Mr. Adams,) asks me what I mean by national amalgamation. I will tell him: I mean just the same thing as is meant by social amalgamation. To be more explicit, I say that these petitions for establishing relations with Hayti are part and parcel of abolition; nay, they form parts of the abolition petitions themselves. I want no better evidence of the fact than this very memorial discloses. I will read it. (Here Mr. Wise reads the memorial.) Here are three distinct petitions, one for the abolition of slavery in the District, one against admitting slave states, and the third for this establishment of relations with Hayti . I read all, that I may show to my slave-holding brethren that this is but part and parcel of the English scheme, set on foot by Garrison, and to bring abolition as near us as possible. They want us to recognise an insurrectionary republic on our Southern coast; that is the substance of the prayer of these very peaceful and very amiable petitioners. Can any gentleman doubt the fact that this whole thing is a part of the abolition scheme? You have by your resolution said, in effect, that it is constitutional to abolish slavery in this District, and ----- Here the chair called Mr. Wise to order; it was not in order to refer to that subject. I will not refer to it; but I will say that, although it may be perfectly legitimate in the abstract to hold national relations with Hayti as a foreign independent power, yet you have said that what may be in itself perfectly legitimate, if it is urged as a means to an ulterior purpose which is unconstitutional, ceases to be itself constitutional. I argue from the resolution you have recently adopted, and I contend that on the same principle, you may as well reject this memorial, as you would a memorial praying for abolition: because its ulterior object is unconstitutional and illegal. You have received and laid all such petitions on the table. I go farther and insist that this memorial shall not be received. And now, as to the right of petition. The gentleman from Massachusetts and myself shall not differ in the abstract. I admit, as freely as he does, the right of petition; but I insist that the petition must be for something, to do which power exists in the Government. The petition must ask the Government to do only what it may constitutionally do. It is vain and idle to contend that the people have a right to petition for that which the government has no power to grant. The question then resolves itself into one of the power of government. If the object of the prayer is that Government will aid in incendiary schemes, or that it will attempt the abolition of slavery, I contend that it is in vain to pretend it ought to be received, because the Government cannot do what is asked. The chair again reminded Mr. Wise that he was out of order in referring to the abolition of slavery. Mr. Wise. My argument is, that you cannot receive this memorial, because its ulterior object is unconstitutional. Can there be a stronger argument? I will read a petition, and if I see from its contents that it is for what I cannot do, I will return it— respectfully, if it is couched in respectful language; if it is insulting to southern representatives, I will return it insultingly, indignantly. This is the course of every man in private life. We are the representatives of a delegated and limited government; and, when we are asked to do a thing, we are first to look in our charter and see whether power has been given us to do it. Am I to be told that this is not legitimate reasoning? The right of petition is not absolute and unconditional, as the gentleman seems to suppose; it is modified— modified by the Constitution— modified by the state of things in a particular part of the country— modified by the mutual relation of the States— modified by the peculiar condition of our southern people. The gentleman from Massachusetts, goes on the ground that the right is inherent, absolute, unconditional, unrestricted, unmodified in any way, as if there were nothing to limit it either in theory or in practice. Why, let me ask the gentleman from Massachusetts, why shall all that is inflammable be thus continually kindled into a flame by petitions asking for vain things? Even the common law requires that no man shall be compelled to do a vain thing. Shall it, then, be required of the gentleman from Massachusetts to do so vain a thing as to pour in petitions upon this House, praying Congress to do what Congress has no right to do? The whole question is a question of power. The main argument on which we oppose the reception of petitions on the subject of abolition, is the want of power in Congress to abolish slavery in the District. The Chair reminded Mr. Wise that all petitions on that subject were at once laid on the table. The present petition had relation to the recognition of Hayti , and there was nothing in its terms which would warrant a discussion touching the abolition of slavery. Mr. Wise. I read the whole. The Chair. True; but all which relates to abolition has been laid on the table. It is only so much as relates to Hayti which is now before the House. You cannot discuss the right of abolition on this memorial. Mr. Wise. I am demonstrating that petitions of this kind come within the spirit of petitions for abolition; they are part and parcel of abolition. The Chair. There is nothing in the terms of the memorial on the subject of abolition, and you may not, on that ground, evade a rule of the House. Mr. Wise. The gentleman says that my argument against the reception of this memorial is, that it amounts to amalgamation; and he inquires of me, whether there is not enough of amalgamation in my own state of Virginia. (Mr. Wise here sunk his voice so as scarcely to be heard. He was understood to say, I will not regard this question, coming from him, as a personal insult on myself and upon my state; but I will reply, no; there is no amalgamation in Virginia. Her laws, her morals, her policy, and her people, all forbid, abhor, detest it. They will war against it here.) And when the rampart of the Constitution fails to be a defence, they will change the field of battle to their own soil, and use other weapons than words. The subject is far too serious for retort or taunt. So far as the gentleman meant to allude to another species of amalgamation, which he considered as a reproach to my people, let me tell him that it is not Virginians alone, or slaveholders alone, who are concerned in it. (Mr. Wise here again dropped into so low a key as to be inaudible, though appearing to speak with great earnestness and pointed application.) I believe with the gentleman from Massachusetts, that I might appeal to members of Congress for their knowledge on that subject, and perhaps the representatives of slaveholders would not suffer in comparison with their northern brethren. I wondered, while the gentleman was on this topic, that he had not appealed to the Great Crossings in Kentucky. (A laugh.) The Chair called Mr. Wise to order. Mr. Wise. I am upon amalgamation. (A laugh.) The gentleman tells us we have commercial intercourse with a land of slaves. He alludes, I suppose, to the slave trade. The gentleman from Massachusetts knows full well that he does not argue fairly when he styles the slave trade 'commercial relations.' The Chair interposed. Mr. Wise, The gentleman from Massachusetts spoke of it. The Chair. Yes; but the Chair called him to order. It is not in order to debate any subject relating to slavery. Mr. Wise. Well, sir; the gentleman said that the prayer of these petitioners was legitimate, and might be granted, because it was necessary to establish commercial relations with Hayti . It was wrong to refuse relations with a land of freemen, which we permitted with a land of slaves. I reply, that the Government has set its face against what he calls commercial relations with the African states; it does not recognise that trade as a lawful commercial relation; but all the states, slaveholding and non-slaveholding, have pronounced it piracy. As to commercial relations with Hayti , we can conduct them as they have been conducted heretofore. There is no need of recognizing a government of insurrectionists, a nation of slaves, who rose and cut their masters' throats, for the sake of establishing new commercial relations with them. We are told of the spoilations of Christophe, and that no reparation will be made till we recognize the black republic. Sir, there are national remedies other than recognition. There is such a thing as war. We can, if necessary, compel this indemnification. There is no necessity for a recognition which is at open war with the interests and feelings of a portion of our own people. The amount of these claims cannot be very great. The seizure was of private property; it is a fair subject for letters of marque and reprisal. The gentleman tells us that our agent was arrested at the threshold for want of a regular commission.— Yes, sir; and shall the South, for a paltry sum due for seizures, aye, for a sum equal to the whole value of Hayti , and of the United States to boot, be compelled to yield those great considerations which are vital to her safety? We abstained before, it seems, for fear of a quarrel with France. And pray how long is it since France recognized this black republic of Hayti ? Four years, or thereabout. Yet now, when abolition rages, now, for the first time, we hear that we must recognize because France has recognized her. We refused before, on account of the pernicious example, and out of deference to the feelings and peculiar relations of the South; and would the example be less dangerous now? Sir, it would be a fearful example now, when England is freeing her colonial slaves. The Chair. The gentleman is not in order. Mr. Wise. Why, sir, the gentleman from Massachusetts got out all he wanted to say about the same thing. (A laugh.) The Chair. It was not in order, and the Chair interposed. Mr. Wise. I say we abstained before, out of deference to the South; and shall we recognize now, when the march of abolition has reached the colonial possessions of Great Britain? The Chair again checked Mr. Wise. Mr. Wise. We are called to recognize the insurrectionists who rose on their French masters. A large portion of those now in power in this black republic are slaves, who cut their masters' throats. Christophe himself was an insurrectionist and a revolutionist.— Their government has the stamp of such an origin.— And will any gentleman tell me now that slaves, aided by an English army— (and it is consolatory to think, when we are threatened by abolitionists with having our throats cut at the South, that these slaves in St.

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