The Congressional Globe, Volume 13, Part 2: Twenty-Eighth Congress, First Session Page: 31
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28th Cong 1st Sess.
APPENDIX TO THE CONGRESSIONAL GLOBE,
Rules of the House—Mr, Beardsley.
H. of Reps.
ed only to see whether this class of petitions, to
which the rule pointed, were for objects unconstitu-
tional or not. Mr. B. admitted that, when petitions
asked Congress to interfere between roaster and
slave in the States, they stood on ground prohibited
by the Constitution. On this point Mr. B.'s con-
victions were just as strong as those of the gentle-
man from Georgia, [Mr. Black,] although he might
not accompany or express them with quite so much
fervor of feeling. He was not, however, at all sur-
prised that Southern gentlemen should feel very
strongly on the subject; nor did he blame them for it.
A portion of these petitions referred to the abolition
of the traffic in slaves between the States. To this
branch of the subject Mr. B- had not paid so much
attention: he was firmly of opinion against the expe-
diency of passing any law for such prohibition; but
whether or not Congress possessed the power to pass
such a law, he was not fully satisfied. But he
waived that, as irrelevant to the present question.
Another subject of these petitions was the abo
lition of slavery in the District of Columbia and in
the Territory of Florida. Now, he was decidedly
in favor of leaving the laws as they were in this re-
spect; yet he could not say that he entertained any
doubt that Congress possessed constitutional power
to do wh it the petitioners asked, if they chose to
do it. He took it for granted that, in regard to
slavery in the abstract, there existed at the North,
and at the West, and at the South, but one senti-
ment. He presumed that, were the South now
free from slaves, no Southern man would wish to
see slavery introduced there. On this point all the
people of the Union, he supposed, were agreed.
Slavery had come down upon the present generation
in the South without their fault; and, situated as
they were, he really did not know what they were
to do with their slaves, but to retain them as they
Mr. E. J. BLACK here interposed; and, having
obtained the floor for explanation, observed that
the gentleman from New York seemed to suppose
that the people of Georgia regarded slavery as an
evil; he should not now attempt to argue the point,
but he could assure the gentleman he was wholly
mistaken; Mr. B.'s constituents did not regard it as
an evil at all, but quite the contrary.
Mr. BEARDSLEY resumed, and thanked the
gentleman for correcting any error into which lie had
fallen; he had had no particular reference to the
gentleman's constituents, but had spoken generally.
Opinions upon slavery depended much upon educa-
tion; and were, to some extent, matters of taste. He
should not dwell on the subject, for it had, in strict-
ness, nothing to do with the main question under
discussion. He had referred to it m passing to
the reasons which induced him to think it inexpe-
dient for Congress to interfere with the subject of
slavery in the District of Columbia. Maryland and
Virginia, the two States which surrounded the Dis-
trict, and enclosed it by their territory, were both of
them slaveholding States; and so long as they are
continued such, to abolish slavery within the Dis-
trict would do no practical good to the slaves nor
anybody else. For this reason, he was against ex-
ercising the power which Congress possessed over
the subject, though he believed it to be plenary.
And here he would add a word, to show on what
ground it was he held the doctrine that Congress
has full power to abolish slavery in the District.
But he must remark, in the outset, that he could not
agree in the. opinion put forth by one of his col-
leagues, [Mr. Dai is,] viz: that the very act of ce-
ding the District to Congress for a seat of Govern-
ment, did, in itself, of necessity work the abolition
of slavery within the District bo ceded. Mr. B.
held no such opinion. The Constitution, as adopt-
ed by the States, provided that Congress might ac-
cept a district of territory not exceeding ten miles
square, if ceded by one or more of the States, for
the seat of the Federal Government. Subsequently
to its adoption, Virginia ceded one part and Mary-
land another of the present District of Columbia—
both providinff, in the act of cession, that the lavs
of Virginia und Maryland should remain and
continue in full force until Congiess should other-
wise order. At that time slavery formed a part of
the law of botli States, and those laws in relation to
slavery would remain in force accordingly. And
Congress, in accepting the cession, declared, m
words, that the laws of Virginia and Maryland
should continue in force in the District of Columbia
till otherwise provided by Congress. Those laws
were in force now; and if slavery was lawful in
Virginia and Maryland at the daw of the cession, it
was lawful in the District now. It stood to this
hour on that footing. Congress adopted for the
District laws which, in terms, legalized slavery in the
Having thus pointed to the grounds on which sla-
very rests in this District, he was bound to show
that Congress had power to interfere, to abolish
these laws and enact others. The same Constitution
which permitted the cession of the District, de-
clared that over it, Congress should have full, com-
plete, and exclusive jurisdiction "in all cases what-
Mr. BLACK, of Georgia, (interposing.) Those are
not the terms of the Constitution: Congress has ex-
clusive but not unlimited jurisdiction.
Mr. BEARDSLEY resuming. Well, I may not
have quoted the precise words, for I have not the
Constitution before me; but sure I am it gives to
Congress exclusive jurisdiction in all cases whatso-
ever. It gives to Congress, within the District, for
this purpose, as full power as Parliament possesses
in Great Britain. Within those limits Congress can
do any thing.
Mr. BLACK. Will the gentleman permit me to
ask him one question'
Mr. BEARDSLEY. Certainly.
Mr. BLACK. Can Congress, within the District
of Columbia, establish an order of nobility, or create
a religious establishment?
Mr. BEARDSLEY. Of course not. We find in
•the Constitution express limits to the power of Con-
gress, some of which apply to the District as much
as to the States; but those restrictions have no ap-
plication to this subject of abolishing slavery. The
Constitution gives, I repeat it, to Congress exclu-
sive jurisdiction over this District. The words are:
Congress may "exercise exclusive legislation
in all cases whatsover" over it. This power is
fiven to Congress as fully and absolutely as State
.egislatures possess it over the States. May not the
Legislature of Virginia abolish slavery in that Stated
May not the Legislature of Georgia exercise a simi-
lar power' Who can doubt it? This power has been
too frequently exercised to be now drawn in question.
Every State north of Delaware has, at one time or
another, exercised this power of abolishing slavery
within its own limits; for it has, at some period exist-
ed among them all. I shall not stop here to inquire
whether the States could abolish it without provi-
ding remuneration to the slaveholder; that is a differ-
ent question: that they have power to do it, either
with or without compensation, is as plain as words
can make if. And why should they not? Cannot
they pass a law to do it? They may pay the master
or not, but cannot they take the slave eompulsorily
from the master? Surely they can; and that is
enough to give Congress jurisdiction of the subject
in this District.
Yet, (said Mr. B.,) although such is my clear
conviction as to this question of power, my unqual-
ified opinion is adverse to its exercise in a District
situated as this is, in regard to slave States sur-
Mr. B. said there was another idea to which he
wished to advert. It had been said that the repre-
sentation in this House, founded in part on the slave
population, as authorized by the Constitution, was
one of the compromises which gave life and being
to the Constitution, and that any change m this re-
spect, by an amendment of that instrument, as its
provisions authorized, would at once destroy the
Constitution itself, and necessarily dissolve the
Now, sir, (said Mr. B.,) I desire to be distinctly
understood. I am for standing firmly by the Con-
stitution, with all its compromises and balances, as
they ore; and am as decidedly opposed to the amend-
ment recommended by the Legislature of Massa-
chifpts as any gentleman south of the Potomac
can De. I agree with the gentleman from Maine,
[Mr. Hamlin,] that the North is as firmly attached
to the Constitution, in all its provisions, as the South
can claim to be. But, settled as my conviction iti
this respect is, I cannot forbear an expression of
my deep surprise, my especial wonder, that such
consequences as I have stated should be deduced
from such premises.
The Constitution authorizes its own change and
amendment, and declares the mode in which amend-
ments may he made. This is not nil: it also de-
clares, in most explicit and emphatic terms, that
amendments, when thus made, become "valid, to
all intents and purposes, as part of the Constitution."
There is no limit to this power of amendment which
in any degree bears upon this question. Each and
every part, with a few specified exceptions, may •'
thus be changed and modified; and still the Consti-
tution will exist, as amended, in all its plenitude of
obligation and ef power. Amendments have re-
peatedly been made, and in the most delicate parts
of its structure; and still it is in force. And yet we
are told that the instrument itself may thi>s be con-
stitutionally amended out of existence. Sir, is not
this paradoxical, not to say absurd? Is it possible
that an amendment, constitutionally made, can ever
work out any such disastrous consequence? What
part of the Constitution, let me ask, is there, which
may not be changed by amendment? The Constitu-
tion, as it now is, indicates what shall be the quali-
fications of electors of members of this House.
May not these he changed by an amendment, and
the Constitution still survive the change? It is part
of the Constitution itself that it may be amended.
To this the States assented when they became mem-
bers of the Union; and no change which can be
made in the organic law, in accordance with the
Constitution, am, in any degree, impair its obliga-
tion, or annul its power.
But the reason given for this new principle of con-
stitutional construction is not less remarkable than
the bold inference deduced from it. The slave rep-
resentation was yielded as a compromise to secure
the ratification of the Constitution; and hence any *
change in this part of the fundamental law would
work out this mighty consequence. I admit the '
fact, but I deny the conclusion. This, sir, was not
the only essential part of the Constitution which
was adjusted by a compromise of rights and inter-
ests. Upon this principle the large States assented to
an equal representation in the Senate. On the same
principle, and for the same purpose, the States, whose
local position would have attracted and secured most
of the external trade of the country, gave up to the
General Government about to be created all power
to impose duties on imports. This, and other vital '
powers, by which some of the States might have
enriched themselves at the expense of others, wcro
all surrendered to make us, for all national purposes,
one people. The Constitution, it has been well said,
is but a bundle of compromises, in which some rights
were relinquished and some acquired. On these
terms the several States agreed to unite for-the com-
mon benefit of all; and with the express declaration,
on the face of the compact, that any changes in its
structure or provisions, when made and assented to
in a particular manner, should thereby "be valid to
all intents and purposes as part of this Constitution,"
aJid consequently binding upon every mejpber of the
But I leave this subject, Mr. Speaker. I have al-
ready stated that I was against any such change in
the Constitution, although I felt no difficulty on the
question of power. Nor is there any danger of
such a change. Why should the basis of repre-
sentation in this House be changed? Who believes
that it will be changed? It is altogether ideal and
imaginary; nobody seriously even dreams of such a
thing. It is in the highest degree improbable, and
should disturb no one. But if gentlemen will make
the question of power, we must of ceuise discuss it;
and 1 again insist that the Constitution may be
just as well amended in this respect as in any other.
But I dismiss that subject; it is foreign to the ques-
tion before us. I voted for the reference of the
Massachusetts resolutions, not because I was in
favor of the amendment they propose. And here
let me say, Mr. Speaker, with all possible respect,
that an attachment to the Constitution of this Union
is liot exclusively possessed by gentlemen df the
South. I admit, and I know, that the men of the '
South are a noble people; but I beg them to believe
that we of the North have some little reverence for
the Constitution, and some degree of attachment to
the Union, as well as they. I hope and trust in
God that there is on this subject an American feel-
ing, far above all sectional interests and sectional
In brief, then, I hold it to be the constitutional
right of every citizen to petition Congress, and I
hold it to be our duty to receive their petitions, un-
less they are disrespectful m their terms—in which
case we are not bound to listen, any more than a
gentleman is bound to hold comerse with one who
addresses him in vile and abusive language. I will
make one other exception; for if the petition
asks that which is plainly unconstitutional, and that
only, I see no objection to refusing it a hearing.
But, subject to these limitations, it is our impera-
tive duty to receive all petitions addressed to us.
When they have been received, we can treat them -
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United States. Congress. The Congressional Globe, Volume 13, Part 2: Twenty-Eighth Congress, First Session, book, 1844; Washington D.C.. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth2368/m1/41/: accessed August 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.