“Two to five years in the penitentiary” The Committee on Territories Weights In, Part Five

Galusha Grow

Galusha Grow

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4; Report with the Kansas petition here.

The Committee on the Territories, chaired by Galusha Grow, reported to the House that the Congress had caused all Kansas woes by opening the territory to slavery. Now the Kansans had gone to work to fix that, establishing a free state government in defiance of the proslavery territorial regime, and petition for admission under a free state constitution. However irregular, their situation had precedent in the cases of Arkansas and Michigan. Congress had the sovereign power to admit states whenever, however it liked. The expediency and morality of admitting a free Kansas mattered, not the details. Would the Congress do Kansas a favor to make it a state?

Grow’s committee thought it would, as Kansans had suffered the domination of their polls by violent Missourian invaders. He had this information not from abolitionist newspapers or antislavery rumor mills, but straight from no less a solid proslavery man than Franklin Pierce. The report cited minutes of the Kansas governor’s office, as forwarded to the House by the president. They had highlights:

In the third representative district, two of the judges of election

were driven from the room by a company of armed men from the State of Missouri, who threatened their lives, and commenced to destroy the house and beat in the door

In the tenth representative district, Missourians

surrounded the window and obstructed the citizens of the Territory from depositing their votes

In the first election district, “Six or seven hundred armed men” camped by the polls and obstructed them most of the day. Petitioners told Andrew Reeder that someone set up a polling place at an unauthorized location and “non-residents surrounded the polls with firearms and voted indiscriminately.”

All of this in a territory where the local inhabitants, bona fide settlers, had promised to them the right to decide for or against slavery for themselves? The census of February, 1855, counted 2,905 legal voters. Not quite a month after, 6,351 men voted in the legislative elections, 5,664 for the proslavery ticket. New territories could grow fast, but you’d have to grease up all Missouri, fold it into a funnel, and pour it on Kansas to pile on so much growth so fast. As a result, only one free-state man won election. The petitions he got inspired Andrew Reeder to set aside a few more elections and hold mostly clean ones, but the legislature expelled those men and seated the originals. Then it enacted a stringent set of laws effectively outlawing antislavery activity.

As a remedy for these evils and a redress of such wrongs, it is proposed by their apologizes to authorize the people, at some future time, to form another constitution, to be again submitted to Congress, with a new application for admission as a State.

Why should their present application be rejected, and they be forced to pass through the mockery of another election, under the authority of this Territorial legislature and subject to another invasion of non-residents? Immediate action is necessary in order to put an end to the strife in the Territory, which, the President informs us, threatens the peace not only of Kansas, but of the Union.

Why indeed? No reasonable person could deny that giving Kansas a do-over would invite Missourian filibusters to have another go. And they had a government supported by a majority of Kansans, constitution in hand, right there. What could one expect? Either the Missourians would have their way again and it would solve nothing, or James Lane would go home and come back with a similar petition in a year.

In that year, more militants would surely come to Kansas. Delay would only give more chance for armed clashes and let tension boil higher. Only settling the slavery question, Grow’s report affirmed, would give Kansas any peace. Admission at once would do the job. Forcing Kansas to endure “two to five years in the penitentiary” would only punish them. They had suffered enough.

“They were driven by violence” The Committee on Territories Weights In, Part Four

Galusha Grow

Galusha Grow

Parts 1, 2, 3

The Committee on the Territories laid out relevant precedent for admitting Kansas’ free state government to the Union. Arkansas had a wildcat state convention and Congress admitted it. Congress likewise, eventually smiled on Michigan despite only a minority, party convention accepting the terms of Michigan’s admission. Kansas had just the same. Galusha Grow’s committee held neither of these prior admissions in error, since Congress had complete discretion as to when, how, and if it would use its power to make states. Might rarely makes for the best of right, though. The power to do something didn’t make every exercise of that power a good idea. Thus Grow’s majority report turned to the question of expediency.

The case for that began with a history of Kansas from 1854. The Kansas-Nebraska Act had, “[f]or the first time in the history of the government” removed a restriction upon slavery. The old policy, Grow averred, barred slavery “from all territory where it had not an actual existence, and to regulate and even restrict it where it had.” Grow’s history comes straight from antislavery orthodoxy. From the founders on, the nation accepted that slavery existed in some places and could not easily uproot it but stood firm against its spread. Congress had even asserted the power to interfere with slavery in states, by preventing the import of slaves from abroad.

Grow left out that most of the slave states no longer needed to import people by 1808 and so conceded little. We can pick apart the details further, particularly how Grow declares this a sort of formal policy rather than a series of practical concessions to slavery by a national government largely in the thrall of slaveholders. But Grow believed it and offered what, to millions of Northerners, seemed a plausible account of the nation’s past. He had the larger point of emphasizing, against late antebellum Southern orthodoxy, the Congress absolutely had the power to make decisions on slavery for territories. Only by adopting this new doctrine, popular sovereignty, had Kansas’ troubles come about:

instead of leaving this Territory, as it had been for more than a third of a century, consecrated to freedom by all the solemnities that can surround any legislative act; instead of adhering to the policy established by the fathers of the republic, and continued by the uniform action of the government for more than half a century, of settling in Congress the question of the future existence of slavery in a Territory at the time of organizing its temporary government, all restrictions were thrown off, and the existence of slavery was left as a bone of contention for the settlers of the Territory during its Territorial existence, and to be thrown back again into Congress whenever the State should apply for admission. The act itself virtually invited slavery to take possession by removing all barriers to its introduction.

Grow did not deny his partisanship, stressing that opening the territory to slavery brought about all the strife to date. Restriction it would, by implication, have led to an orderly territorial progress for Kansas. He defended antislavery emigrants: they accepted the logic of popular sovereignty and removed to Kansas to exercise it, the same right that every white American enjoyed. For their trouble

they were driven by violence from the polls, and their ballot-boxes seized by organized bands of armed men from the State of Missouri.

Holy Toledo in Ohio: The Committee on Territories Weights In, Part Three

Galusha Grow

Galusha Grow


Galusha Grow’s Committee on the Territories reported that Kansas’ irregular state government had precedent in the recent past. All of twenty years back, the people of Arkansas got together a state convention, wrote a constitution, and sent it on to Washington. At the time, no less an authority than Andrew Jackson’s attorney general signed off. They had the right to do so and the territorial legislature could not forbid them. Nor did granting statehood under such a constitution present any objections. Grow affirmed that even without precedent, Congress had the power to admit states at will, but the precise legal circumstances that the Congress grappled with now it had faced before. If Arkansas could do it, why not Kansas?

One could argue that Arkansas had some kind of unique situation. One might say that slave states get special rights. But Grow finished with Arkansas only to move on to Michigan, where I write this post. Some years back, Michigan celebrated its sesquicentennial. The territory felt fit for statehood well before it gained admission to the Union, but had disagreements with its neighbors. Michigan’s southern boundary ought to have run from the bottom of Lake Michigan to the bottom of Lake Erie. The legislators in Washington thought they shared a latitude. They don’t quite and Ohio and Indiana got statehood in advance of Michigan. When Ohio surveyed its northern border, it surveyed at an angle to include within itself the outlet of the Maumee river. Understanding the river and its port as an economic asset, and one which had been governed as a part of Michigan for some time prior, the territory commissioned its own survey that put the land right back with the Mitten. Between the two lines, you had the Toledo Strip.

This takes us up to 1833. Because Michigan doesn’t accept the Strip belonging to Ohio, the Ohio delegation blocks the territory’s application for statehood. Except for the boundary issue, Michigan followed the conventions: asking Congress for an Enabling Act before writing a constitution and all that. The Ohioans had some support in this from Indiana and Illinois, which had also revised their borders northward.

In 1835 the people of Michigan, after repeated failures to obtain an act of Congress authorizing a state convention, called one themselves without any such authority, elected delegates, formed and adopted a constitution, and under it elected State officers, United States senators, and a representative to Congress.

The governors of Michigan and Ohio also called out their militias, formed them up on either side of the Maumee, and took a few shots at one another. The sole injury came when an Ohioan named Two Stickney (yes, really) stabbed a Michigan sheriff. The Toledo War didn’t make for much of a war, but it did cost Michigan’s governor his job.

Congress finally agreed to take Michigan on as a state, provided that it accept the Ohio border. In exchange, the territory could have the lion’s share of the Upper Peninsula. The people of Michigan refused to trade an area with clear economic potential for an empty wilderness. This takes us into 1836. By this point the national coffers have a pleasantly full look to them, to the point that the Congress plans to pass the money out to the states. Michigan, meanwhile, has spent hundreds of thousands on militia expenses. It could use the cash but lowly territories would get nothing. Thus

Their action [rejecting the territory swap] was not satisfactory to a portion or a “party” of the people, and they, without any legislative act whatsoever, called another convention, and accepted the terms proposed by Congress though the people of large sections of the State refused to take any part in this convention, regarding it as illegal and revolutionary.

The proceedings from both conventions reached Washington, where Andrew Jackson forwarded them to Congress with the argument that the second convention, though not authorized by law, represented the will of “the people themselves”. Here we have an illegal convention that represents a minority, a party interest, making decisions for a territory without any formal authority to do so. What did Congerss do? It admitted Michigan on January 27, 1837. And so my grandfather’s favorite exclamation to use in front of children was born: “Holy Toledo in Ohio!”

Arkansas had an unauthorized convention and got into the Union. Michigan had that and dueling conventions. It received statehood. Why couldn’t Kansas?


“No legal objection” The Committee on Territories Weights in, Part Two

Galusha Grow

Galusha Grow

Galusha Grow’s (R-PA) Committee on Territories reported that the territorial phase of government constituted a necessary evil. The white men of a newly colonized area simply could not afford a state government, nor could the poor state of infrastructure, communications, and the hazards of the frontier support one. Without federal largess, they would live long in anarchy. Thus Congress stepped in and established a government on the nation’s dime, filling the gap until the white colonists existed in sufficient number to pay for it themselves. In exchange, Congress took a supervisory role over the territory. That necessarily impinged on the self-government of the colonists, but since they hadn’t lost any of their natural capacity for self-rule the Congress had a responsibility to end the territorial stage and admit the territory as a state as soon as the circumstances justified it. Neither of these amounted to a Constitutional requirement, and Grow came armed with exceptions, but it did make for a kind of moral obligation to admit Kansas.

Provided, of course, Kansas had written a republican constitution and had the numbers. Grow turned first to the numbers. He cited an estimate that Daniel Woodson, Secretary of Kansas, had forwarded to Franklin Pierce and which Pierce duly transmitted over to Congress. Did twenty-five thousand suffice? If not, Woodson’s number had aged a six months. If the trends from then continued, then Grow expected “forty-five or fifth thousand” white people on the ground. “Each month,” he tactfully added

from excitement and stimulus given toe migration in all parts of the Union to this Territory, adds largely to its numbers.

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

Ely Thayer and Jefferson Buford don’t come up by name, but everybody knew exactly who and what Grow meant.

Grow stressed that, while the Congress might have certain conventions on the point, the Constitution laid out no hard number of white people that justified statehood. It, like the rest of the admission process, hung on Congress’ sovereign discretion. This “affords no uniform precedent.” For Tennessee, the Congress accepted a bit more than 32,013 (its population in the 1790 census). Louisiana came in with than 34,311 (1810 census). Indiana passed the finish line with less than 23,890 (1810 again). Mississippi shed its territorial status with less than 42,176 (1820). Missouri had 55,988 whites (1820), Arkansas 25,671 (1830). Florida finished up the list with 27,943 and change (1840 census). Nothing like a pattern emerges here, unless it sets a bar blurred across the low-to-mid tens of thousands. By Woodson’s estimate, Kansas had somewhere around as many people on hand as Indiana, Arkansas, and Florida did when Congress admitted them. Grow slid neatly into taking his projected growth as a given and pointed out that Kansas’ population exceeded that of “many of the States and the time of their admission into the Union.”

All of this makes Kansas petition for statehood, which it claimed to already half-possess by taking it on itself to write a constitution, sound very normal. Grow held that accepted conventions did not make for binding precedent, so the fact that Congress had not given leave for any such thing didn’t matter. His committee grappled with the issue all the same. “In a majority of cases” Congress gave advance permission for constitution writing, but not every one. Tennessee, Arkansas, Michigan, Florida, and Iowa went on without an enabling act. The Constitution didn’t require one and its lack had produced no great evil. Congress retroactively endorsed them through the acts of admission. What it could do for five territories, it could do for a sixth.

Benjamin Franklin Butler of New York

Benjamin Franklin Butler of New York

Furthermore if one wanted a precedent, then Galusha Grow had one that neither ex-Democrats like himself nor present members of the Democracy could lightly set aside. Arkansas had a constitutional convention without the permission of Congress or their legislature. The governor wrote asking if he had a duty to put a stop to that. Andrew Jackson, through Attorney General Benjamin Franklin Butler (the New York lawyer, not the Massachusetts general), wrote back

They undoubtedly possess the ordinary privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States. Among these is the right of the people peacably to assemble and to petition the government for the redress of grievances. In the exercise of this right, the inhabitants of Arkansas may peaceably meet together in primary assembly, or in convention chosen by such assemblies, for the purpose of petitioning Congress to abrogate the Territorial government, and to admit them into the Union as an independent State. The particular form which they may give to their petition cannot be material so long as they confine themselves to the mere right of petitioning, and conduct all their proceedings in a peaceable manner. And as the power of Congress over the whole subject is plenary and unlimited, they may accept any constitution framed, which in their judgment meets the sense of the people to be affected by it.

Twenty years back, Old Hickory’s administration practically looked into the future and blessed the free state movement. Even if the petition came with a constitution attached, as Kansas’ had, Butler said

I perceive no legal objection to their power to do so.

Possibilities for Peace

William H. Seward in 1851

William H. Seward in 1851

What if William Seward and Stephen Douglas threw a war and no one came? The Fugitive Slave Act outraged the North and prompted incidences of popular resistance even to the point of violence, but by 1854 the outrage had largely settled into the status quo. Anthony Burns (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) might have fanned the old flames, but he did so in Boston. Few places in the North had Boston’s passion for antislavery politics. He also did so amid the anti-Nebraska furor. The twin outrages reinforced one another, with the latter probably doing a great deal more to popularize the cause of the former.

But settlement of the American West, wherever the frontier ran at a given moment, usually involved relatively scrupulous respect for lines of latitude. Most emigrants expected to farm and so sought a climate and soil similar to that at home for economic as well as sentimental reasons. Those rails of latitude would take people from enslaved Missouri into Kansas, but also take people from free Iowa into the Nebraska Territory all the way up to the Canadian border. No one seems to have said that the Kansas-Nebraska Act meant Kansas for slavery and Iowa for freedom, but one could easily read that settlement in.

Nineteenth century Americans lived in a nation half slave and half free. However much they grumbled, held protest meetings, and said nasty things about the other half, they proved for decades entirely capable of living with the partition. In time, the North’s loss of Kansas to slavery might have taken on the appearance of a fair trade for the South’s loss of California to freedom. If the Nebraska territory all went free, then the vast majority of the Missouri Compromise remained in place in fact if not in law. In due course Minnesota and Nebraska would come in as free states. Maybe that would also mean that New Mexico and Utah turned slave, but the old two by two program of admitting states would proceed at least until then. The nation might get a decade or more of the old days come again. The South could not claim any kind of mistreatment over that and the North’s outrage might fade in the face of its practical triumph.

The South’s gain might have proved equally transitory. Slaveholders rightly viewed their human property as a fragile institution because that property could decide to take off on its own and display all the ingenuity that actual people, with their white skin, enjoyed. As such, they shrank from taking slaves anywhere that antislavery feeling might prevail in the foreseeable future. That kept Missouri from swelling with slaves. The same concerns helped sell slaves out of the Upper South and into the Lower South. Furthermore, slaveholders looking to improve their fortunes through expansion had far safer avenues than chilly Kansas. The Missourians might see in Kansas hemp and tobacco land, but Texas and Arkansas offered virgin soil ripe for cotton. Even arid New Mexico, far from the grasping hands of slave-stealing abolitionists could present a more appealing face than a Kansas where antislavery men openly conspired to make the land free. Even as the future of Kansas hung in the balance, New Mexico and Utah sent out calls for southern settlers.

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

Where did that leave an enslaved Kansas? The South might claim a symbolic victory and hold back the tide of free states in the Senate for a few more years, but for how long? And how long would barely enslaved Kansas prove reliable? Southerners fretted already over Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. Another unsteady ally in future controversies could provide another swing vote to force on the South some new detestable compromise.

But what if it worked? A well-enslaved Kansas had to get its slaves from somewhere. They would surely come mostly from adjacent Missouri, where the tide of white immigration had already turned the state’s demographics worryingly Northern. Its black belts would count as white belts down in the Cotton Kingdom. If Kansas drained the slaves from Missouri and turned it into a free state, would Kansan slavery long remain a slavery island in the free wilderness? Missouri had just that problem already. Down the road, the South’s win of one state for slavery could mean the loss of two.

Maybe Douglas had it right the first time, by passing the buck to the territory and its legislature things could just fall out as they may. Either section could glean a win out of that, either right then or a few years later. If no one came and made a war of it, then sudden outrage could settle into the new way of things. Those exercised over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, on either side, would mostly feel their passions cool and decide that however painful their ordeal, the Union survived and life went on.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection, Part Three

The Mosquito Coast (via Wikipedia)

The Mosquito Coast
(via Wikipedia). Greytown sat at the mouth of the San Juan river.

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2

The British and Americans agreed that neither power should dominate Central America or any future Nicaraguan canal. Instead, they foresaw a neutral canal where both nations could enjoy the flow of commerce without troubling one another. The British could have their British Honduras, now Belize, but no more. So they agreed in the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty.

To hear the Americans tell it, Britain’s expanding into islands in the Bay of Honduras violated that understanding. They had Belize and should settle for that. To the British, the Bay Islands formed no more than an extension of Belize, to which the United States had already consented by accepting the presence of British Honduras. Furthermore, the Americans had it wrong regardless as the treaty looked forward, coming fully into effect only when someone set to building the Nicaragua canal.

Here London proved the equal of any dissembling American diplomat. The British had, at absolute minimum, expanded British Honduras by establishing their control over the Bay Islands. Though the British had past dealings with and attempted settlements upon the islands, they went to the United Provinces of Central America on that nation’s independence. The Hondurans inherited the islands on their independence. They protested when British settlers came squatting, but had no means to evict them at the time. When those settlers asked for British protection, the British obliged and then set up the crown colony. All of this looks, in the broad strokes, very like the kind of thing that the Americans wanted to do to Cuba and had done, over a longer time, to Mexican Texas.

Cornelius Vanderbilt

Cornelius Vanderbilt

Matters might have remained in that state, a cause of some tension but otherwise an interesting footnote at best. But Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Accessory Transit Company ran the steamers over the Nicaragua route, linking the American East to the new American Far West. Vanderbilt went off to Europe and with him safely gone, two unscrupulous businessmen stole the company out from under him. When he returned, Vanderbilt resolved to ruin the men and threw his cash behind a route across the isthmus of Panama.

Meanwhile, in Greytown at the eastern end of the Nicaragua route, the Accessory Transit Company took charge of some land by the harbor. The free port’s officials wanted that land turned into a quarantine station. The company refused. The officials might have made off with some company property during the dispute. With things heating up, an American agent with close ties to the Company, Joseph W. Fabens, sent off dispatches to Washington about how out of control things had become.  Along the way, a Company captain brutally murdered a black pilot.

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Solon Borland (D-AR)

You can get away with a lot in a free port, but blatant murder asked too much latitude of Greytown’s government. They sent a man to arrest the captain. Here the American captain’s story comes together with another American in extreme southeastern Nicaragua, Arkansan Solon Borland. A former senator who physically attacked Henry S. Foote back in 1850, Borland had a radical pedigree a bit too hot for Arkansas. He resigned in 1853 and ended up posted to Managua as the American minister. There he won friends and influenced people by lobbying for the United States to take up the Honduran side in the Bay Islands dispute and giving a public speech about how he hoped to see Nicaragua soon annexed to the United States. He’d have done better to wait a year until William Walker (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) ran the nation.

Passing through Greytown in May of 1854, Borland stepped up with gun in hand to stop the arrest. Instead he got arrested. Protesting his arrest got Borland a broken bottle tossed in his face by the unfriendly crowd. His diplomatic immunity got Borland freed and he returned to Washington to tell his story. If this kind of thing had happened in Cuba, a war might very well have erupted. But the Mosquito Coast lived in a legal limbo, Greytown especially. No one could plausibly blame Nicaragua, or even the United Kingdom, for the act of an unruly mob in a fairly lawless town of five hundred outside the reach of both. That said, someone had to pay. The mob assaulted and injured an American diplomat. Even calm old William L. Marcy would not take that sitting down.

Lincoln’s Peoria Speech, Part Seventeen

Lincoln 1860

Abraham Lincoln

(Introduction, Parts 12, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16. Full text.)

Lincoln kept on hammering away at Douglas’ claim that the public wanted the Missouri Compromise gone. If Lincoln could point to all the ways the political establishment accepted the Missouri Compromise and treated it as a natural default position in the late 1840s, Douglas could switch principles and tell another story.

Senator Douglas sometimes says the Missouri line itself was, in principle, only an extension of the line of the ordinance of ’87—that is to say, an extension of the Ohio river.

Douglas could tell some whoppers. This one sounds almost plausible, since the line of the Ohio and the Missouri Compromise line purported to do the same thing: split off lands reserved to slavery from those reserved to free labor. Furthermore it had the appeal of turning the antislavery movement’s favorite law, the Northwest Ordinance, back on them. They used Jefferson’s slavery ban language in the Wilmot Proviso. They hailed it as the beginning of their movement. They pointed to each repetition of it in territorial law as another strike against slavery and another sign that the nation, as a whole, once thought slavery should someday end and before that be contained.

As an old riverboat man, Lincoln knew his geography. More than that, Lincoln held a patent on a method for lifting riverboats over sandbars, shoals, and other obstructions. You can read it here, if you can handle the poor OCR. He got the idea after a boat caught a snag and stuck with him on it. Flatboats took him twice to New Orleans, where he got to see the heart of slavery up close and personal.Lincoln had been down the rivers too often to miss the absurdity:

I think this is weak enough on its face. I will remark, however that, as a glance at the map will show, the Missouri line is a long way farther South than the Ohio; and that if our Senator, in proposing his extension, had stuck to the principle of jogging southward, perhaps it might not have been voted down so readily.

Mark Twain could move a plantation six hundred miles south for the convenience of fiction, but Stephen Douglas would not haul the Ohio down from where it joined the Mississippi north of Missouri’s southern border.

Lincoln did, however, grant Douglas half a point. If he really meant to extend a line from the Ohio, then the angle the river flowed at would reserve most of the continental United States to freedom. Few antislavery men would have passed up a deal that gave them probably more than even the Wilmot Proviso would.

Lincoln’s Peoria Speech, Part Sixteen

Lincoln 1860

Abraham Lincoln

(Introduction, Parts 12, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. Full text.)

Douglas had a plethora of reasons that the public had secretly repudiated the Missouri Compromise, making his repeal of it in the KansasNebraska Act no big deal. Lincoln began by grappling with the most potentially damaging one, the support he and other antislavery men now incensed with Douglas gave to the Wilmot Proviso. He first set out how the Missouri Compromise did not include any automatic provision to extend its line past the Louisiana Purchase. But he had still more to say about the Missouri Compromise and the great principle Douglas supposed it embodied:

Another fact showing the specific character of the Missouri law—showing that it intended no more than it expressed—showing that the line was not intended as a universal dividing line between free and slave territory, present and prospective—north of which slavery could never go—is the fact that by that very law, Missouri came in as a slave state, north of the line. If that law contained any prospective principle, the whole law must be looked to in order to ascertain what the principle was. And by this rule, the south could fairly contend that inasmuch as they got one slave state north of the line at the inception of the law, they have the right to have another given them north of it occasionally—now and then in the indefinite westward extension of the line. This demonstrates the absurdity of attempting to deduce a prospective principle from the Missouri Compromise line.

The line itself must rest on a great, deep truth of the universe that permanently divided slavery and freedom. After all, it reserved a section of land to freedom north of it and then reserved another section, also north of it, for slavery. If this encoded some principle of deep constitutional truth, then surely the North deserved a free state south of the line. Right, Stephen? The North accepted that compromise, so why not the South? Why did it break with the sacred pact and not suck up, say, a free Arkansas? Or, more on the point, why would it not accept a free California transgressing the line? That shouldn’t cause any problems, right?

Lincoln hammered it home, returning to Wilmot:

When we voted for the Wilmot Proviso, we were voting to keep slavery out of the whole Missouri [Mexican?] acquisition; and little did we think we were thereby voting, to let it into Nebraska, laying several hundred miles distant. When we voted against extending the Missouri line, little did we think we were voting to destroy the old line, then of near thirty years standing. To argue that we thus repudiated the Missouri Compromise is no less absurd than it would be to argue that because we have, so far, forborne to acquire Cuba, we have thereby, in principle, repudiated our former acquisitions, and determined to throw them out of the Union! No less absurd than it would be to say that because I may have refused to build an addition to my house, I thereby have decided to destroy the existing house! And if I catch you setting fire to my house, you will turn upon me and say I INSTRUCTED you to do it!

Stephen Douglas

Stephen Douglas

This struck at the weakest point of Douglas’ story: the transparent lie that everyone had secretly, but knowingly, repudiated and repealed the Missouri Compromise in 1850 and then, one supposes, forgot thereafter. Even Douglas’ liver probably couldn’t take the amount of lubrication required to honestly believe that. Everybody, even those who hated it, agreed in 1850 that the Missouri Compromise still stood.

And furthermore, antislavery men did not adhere to the Missouri Compromise only when it served them:

The most conclusive argument, however, that, while voting for the Wilmot Proviso, and while voting against the EXTENSION of the Missouri line, we never thought of disturbing the original Missouri Compromise, is found in the facts, that there was then, and still is, an unorganized tract of fine country, nearly as large as the state of Missouri, lying immediately west of Arkansas, and south of the Missouri Compromise line; and that we never attempted to prohibit slavery as to it. I wish particular attention to this. It adjoins the original Missouri Compromise line, by its northern boundary; and consequently is part of the country, into which, by implication, slavery was permitted to go, by that compromise. There it has lain open ever since, and there it still lies. And yet no effort has been made at any time to wrest it from the south. In all our struggles to prohibit slavery within our Mexican acquisitions, we never so much as lifted a finger to prohibit it, as to this tract. Is not this entirely conclusive that at all times, we have held the Missouri Compromise as a sacred thing; even when against ourselves, as well as when for us?

That territory, the future Oklahoma, remained Indian Country at the time of Lincoln’s speech. But some of the tribes there did practice slavery, and would fight for the Confederacy to save it, and no antislavery man proposed a slavery ban there. Back in 1820, such a movement had existed to keep slavery out of Arkansas. While slavery only explicitly got to keep Missouri, the men who drew the line knew that Arkansas would come into the Union eventually and knew they gave it up to slavery then. So the South really got two states for a compromise named after only one. It might have gotten still a third in years to come, possibly still more if the South endeavored to split up Texas.