The Great Controversy--Its Settlement

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 11, 1861

The question of the capability of the negro race for personal or political freedom among us is not solved, nor in any degree relieved by the case of Hayti, or the British West Indies. Hayti lies in the torrid zone, the proper residence of the negro. It never was, nor ever can be, at once under the political dominion and in the complete or available occupancy of the white races. France could hold it by the force of arms, she could garrison it, but she could not colonize, or, in any proper sense, occupy it. The political and personal liberty of the blacks there, is no more to the question of their enfranchisement here, than it is in Central Africa. As to the West Indies, they are there in a state of pupilage or wardship under the British Government, and the whites are not in strife with them for the occupancy of the country and. the conduct of its municipal affairs. In all the British West Indies, at the time of their emancipation, the whites numbered about fifty thousand to eight hundred thousand colored inhabitants. The slave system in the Islands had so far failed that it became necessary to abandon it as an economic policy. Nineteen out of the twenty millions of pounds sterling given to the masters in compensation for the loss of their slave property, went to the payment of their debts in Englandl They were bankrupt, and nothing could be done with the Islands but put them to the trial of their fortunes as African states or provinces, under the care and protection of the superior race. The British hold of them now is only a political protectorate, and an absentee landlordism. Both Hayti and the West Indies are within the tropics. White men can get no home there, and no other dominion than that of foreign force. But our Cotton States are only semi-tropical; their white population is greatly in the majority numerically. They can, in the fullest sense of the word, occupy the domain, though they cannot cultivate its fields. Our question is, therefore, a different one from that which the islands are quoted to solve for us. Here it is:—Can the negro race enjoy our form of freedom in the presence, and consistently with the welfare of the white population? In our Southern States the staple products are those which require the unskilled labor of the negro. The whites occupy them for no other purpose than to avail themselves of such labor. They intend no such diversification of productive industry as Europeans in the temperate climates pursue. Cotton, rice, tobacco, and sugar, as objects of commerce, up to the quantity and value which gives them wealth and prosperity, will not be abandoned except under compulsion—such compulsion as would be a catastrophe to six millions of whites and four millions of blacks; and is, therefore, among the things improbable and inexpedient, and even impracticable as an enterprise, in the present state of things; for we must remember that the settlement of this question according to the project of the philanthropists, involves the Africanization of the country, the expulsion of the white population, and all the risks to the world's business that there is in negro self-government there, as well as the risks to themselves.

Thinking men must pause upon the fact that in the Free States, where the number of free colored people does not amount to the ratio of paupers to population in most civilized countries, the destiny of these people is not yet settled, or the disposal of them determined. They are not admitted in[to] the government or into society. As they have increased in numbers so as to press their presence and influence upon consideration, they have been politically disfranchised by those States which once, by mere neglect or oversight, allowed them some participation in our political privileges.

Freedom in the present age means, not only self-government, but an equal share in the government of the whole community—the government of others. The people of the Northern States do not invest the Degrees among them with this power, but, as they are very inconsiderable in point of numbers, find no difficulty in governing them. It might not be expedient or safe to reserve the right of political mastership over four millions of emancipated men, leaving them free and irresponsible in the conduct of their material and personal affairs, with the whites at the same time dependent upon their industry for the wealthproducing power of the country. The peace and prosperity of States demands, not only harmony between the employers and the employed, the capitalist and the laborer, but requires besides, such a spirit of enterprise, and such a capacity and ambition for their own prosperity in the laborers as shall answer the demand upon them for productive labor. If these millions were held at wages no larger than the expenses of their keep, would they freely produce cotton enough to sustain the cultivation? And if they could, by exercise of their liberty, compel the rates of wages that freemen require, would the profit of its culture sustain the enterprise? Can these people be induced to work in freedom to the measure and effect required to keep the business in prosperity? If these questions must be answered in the negative, emancipation implies an industrial and economic revolution, with the wreck of the fortunes and callings of the white population—in a word, a surrender of the country, below the line of north latitude, thirty-five degrees, to the African race.

The impracticability of such a project is settled already by the dissolution of the Union upon a mere alarm that it is to be attempted. And to meet and allay that alarm the party suspected of the purpose has already disavowed it. It is not among the things allowable or feasable, and ought not to have a feather's weight of influence upon our conduct, or objects in any principle or policy of our national conduct. The idea must no more color our administration of the Territories capable of, and requiring African labor, than in the States where it is acknowledged to be beyond our jurisdiction; for, whatever makes noninterference right in regard to the sovereign States, applies with equal force to the public domain, which falls within the reason of the rule. The mere possession of force for the disposal of a question does not carry with it the right or the responsibility of exercising it. The reason of the thing must rule it.

For conclusive authorities in support of our doctrine, so far as such authorities apply to the construction of the constitutional rights and duties of the Federal Union upon this matter, we may quote President LINCOLN. To the question, "May Congress prohibit slavery in the Territories?" he answers:—"The Constitution does not expressly say." But he has been anticipated by the party of which he has become the exponent. On the MONTGOMERY-CRITTENDEN amendment to the Kansas act, every Republican in the House voted to admit that State into the Union with or without slavery in its Constitution; and at the session just closed, the same party passed three territorial bills, without inserting the prohibitory proviso. In practice, as in principle, the doctrine is abandoned, upon the clear conviction that it settles itself without, and even in defiance of, national legislation, as to all the public domain clearly above that line of climate which appropriates the earth to its varied industries, the same overruling law as obviously applies to all the regions unquestionably below that line. The rule of non-interference by positive legislation rests upon the same reason equally in both cases, and is tacitly conceded and practically obeyed. But the uncertain belt of country which lies between these plainly distinguished divisions is in doubt. That doubt of itself should determine us to let natural causes decide it, for the doubt shakes at once the duty, the responsibility and the practicability, while it proves the inexpediency of assuming them. But the principle admitted in the government of the far North and far South territories, applies just as well to the intermediate domain. It commands us to remit the whole matter to the operation of the natural causes which must decide it. Principle and prudence both allow us to anticipate the issue, wherever that is known, and by agreement, called compromise, put all that is clear and certain out of dispute; and every consideration which should have place in the settlement of the great strife requires from us an equally explicit and binding agreement, to abstain from all controversy about that portion of the common property whose destiny is still uncertain.

We will not detain our readers with a resume of the points presented and argued in the five articles which we have devoted to this subject. They lead us to an entire agreement with the resolutions of the Peace Conference; and we trust that the country will be speedily composed by a virtual adoption of them in the settlement of the great controversy which is now trying our capacity for republican government, with all our interests and hopes involved in the issue.