Compromises with Slavery

Milwaukee Daily Press and News, February 15, 1861

He who says he will make no compromises with slavery is no friend of the Union, for the Union could never have existed, but for compromises with slavery.—Milwaukee News.

Does it follow that because some compromises with slavery were made in forming the Union, that we are to be eternally compromising with it? The people of the free States are willing to abide by all the compromises of the constitution, but are not willing to go on compromising and conceding forever.—Madison Journal.

That is the very question at issue—the matter of difference which is now threatening the destruction of the Union. It is not because the compromises of the constitution were not sufficient for the protection of the rights of the South, but because they have been disputed and denied, that new guarantees are now demanded. The South has never asked, and does not now ask, a single concession which it does not believe that the constitution, as it now exists, guarantees to it. Had the institutions of the South never been assailed by the North; had the compromises of the constitution been faithfully adhered to; had no attempt been made to pervert or evade the letter and spirit of that constitution, there would have been no irrepressible conflict; no demands for new guarantees; no compromise or concessions required; no secession attempted, for there would have been no ground for complaint. The Union would have remained as our fathers framed it; each section regulating its own domestic institutions in their own way, without let or hinderance from the other.

In presenting this question, our opponents assume that they are entirely on the defensive; that they are simply resisting the aggressions of the South. This position is utterly false. From the beginning of the slavery agitation, the aggression has been entirely and exclusively from the North, except slight retaliatory demonstrations from the South. Every compromise made has been at the expense of the South. The Republicans, or anti-slavery portion of them, start upon false premises, not justified by law or fact. In the first place, it is not true "that the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom." The rule applies to just that condition in which the government found the territories. The normal condition of all the territories of the United States was that of slavery. The North West territory belonged to Virginia and was subject to her laws until she conceded them to freedom. The South Western territories were left to slavery, just where the laws of North Carolina and Georgia had held it. When Louisiana was acquired, its normal condition was that of a slave territory, and the treaty guaranteed to the people of that territory all their rights of property, and it remained a slave territory until the people of the South conceded all that portion lying north of 36 degrees 30 minutes to freedom. On the formation of our government slavery was the rule, norma, and free territory the exception. All the concessions since, have come from the slave states. These are the simple, historical facts and cannot be controverted. Now all the concessions demanded by the people of the South are the right of common use in the territories to the whole of which they had a legal and equitable claim. When compromise was demanded by the North, the South compromised; when an equal division of the common territory was asked for, they conceded it; shall the North now say, "We will make no further concessions and compromises, because we have the power to take the whole?"

We are not now arguing the moral right or wrong of slavery, but simply its political and legal status in our government. The legal right of slavery in the states is acknowledged by the Republicans; they deny, most emphatically, any intention of meddling with the institution where it exists by local laws. It being then an admitted right in the states; it being recognized and protected by the constitution of the United States; when we say it shall have no rights in the common territories of the United States in which it was the normal condition, we nullify by the strong hand of power, constitutional guarantees, treaty stipulations and the equality of States. Can the minority States accept this ultimatum without degredation [sic]! No matter what we may think about slavery; each State is to decide that question for itself, and we have no more right to prescribe freedom to them than they have to prescribe slavery to us. Under our form of government their rights are as sacred to them as are ours to us; and we assert without the fear of contradiction, that there is not a Northern State which would remain in the Union had the South the power and used it as unscrupulously towards us as the anti-slavery party of the North propose to use their power towards them. When the attempt was made to force slavery into Kansas, did the people of the North content themselves with waiting for legal and peaceful remedies? No! public meetings were held all over the North; men were enlisted for war, and arms placed in their hands; State legislatures voted supplies, and the authority of the federal government was scouted and defied.

Can we, ought we, to expect the people of the South to be less jealous of their rights or less ready to resent wrongs which they regard degrading and humiliating to them as a people?

Regarding the question of slavery simply as a political question—and beyond this we have no more right to meddle with it than we have to meddle with the religious sentiments of our neighbors—can we ask the South to accept less than is proposed by the Crittenden plan of settlement—a right to take their slaves with them to only a small portion of a common territory, in the whole of which slavery was the normal condition and confirmed by treaty?

Had these just rights of the South been half respected, there would have been now no demand for concessions and compromise. But these are not their only ground of complaint, as the editor of the Journal well knows. The old compromises guaranteed to the South, by constitutional provision, the rendition of their fugitive slaves; a majority of the free States have, by legislative enactments, evaded, avoided, or openly and squarely nullified that provision. This same editor of the Journal, only two years ago, signed an address to the voters of Wisconsin, urging the election of a candidate for Supreme Court judge solely upon the ground of nullifying the fugitive slave law in this State; and one of his colleagues, no more guilty than himself, is now in prison suffering the penalty of a violation of that law, after having been once discharged from the custody of the United States Court by our State Court, and after having been rescued by a mob, protected by our State authorities. In view of these facts, is the South not justified in demanding additional securities, or refusing longer to be bound by a compact which the North openly disregard and violate at will?