Nebraska as a State | First State Officers|
Legislative | Political | Removal of the Capital
Impeachment of Gov. Butler: Article I | Article II | Article III|
Article IV | Article V | Article VI | Article VII | Article VIII | Article IX
Article X | Article XI
Impeachment of Gov. Butler (cont.): Answer|
Constitution of 1871 | The James Regime | Proclamation|
The James Regime(cont.) | Supplementary Resolutions|
Constitution of 1875: |
Preamble | Article I--Bill of Rights | Article II--Distribution of Powers
Article III--Legislative | Article IV--Legislative Apportionment
Constitution of 1875 (cont.): |
Article V--Executive Department | Article VI--The Judicial Department
Article VII--Rights of Suffrage | Article VIII--Education
Article IX--Revenue and Finance | Article X--Counties
Article XI--Corporations: Railroad Corporations
Municipal Corporations | Miscellaneous Corporations
Article XII--State, County and Municipal Indebtedness
Article XIII--Militia | Article XIV--Miscellaneous Provisions
Constitution of 1875 (cont.): |
Article XV--Amendments | Article XVI--Schedule
Propositions Separately Submitted | Legislative and Political
Legislative and Political (cont.) | Popular Votes | State Roster|
Senatorial Succession | The Political Status of Nebraska|
The Population of Counties | Omaha in 1858|
Per Cent of Increase in Population | Prof. Wilber's Address
Hon. J. M. Woolworth's Address | Public Lands|
Educational Lands in Nebraska | Educational|
Slavery in Nebraska|
The Woman Suffrage Question|
November 1, 1858, Representative S. G. Daily introduced a bill "to abolish slavery in the Territory of Nebraska." The matter was referred to a special committee, consisting of S. G. Daily, James Stewart, John Taffe, D. P. Rankin and William C. Fleming. On the following day, the three gentlemen first named reported favorably on the bill; but the last two introduced a minority report, regretting the introduction of the bill, fearing that it was done at the promptings of political ambition. The session had been a harmonious one; much remained to be performed, and the discussion of an abstract question, having no bearing upon the practical affairs of the Territory, could but sow the seeds of dissension. The House went into Committee of the Whole on the bill, and, upon rising, adjourned from lack of quorum. The next day, the matter was renewed; and, on motion of Mr. Gwyer, both reports were laid on the table.
But the question of slavery in the Territory, like Banquo's ghost, would not down. Although summarily dismissed by the preceding session, it again came up in the Council. On Wednesday, December 7, 1859, William H.. Taylor introduced a bill "to abolish and prohibit slavery or involuntary servitude." The bill was the second on the file of the session. The matter was referred to a select committee, consisting of William H. Taylor, George W. Doane and George L. Miller. On the 12th, these gentlemen reported. By Mr. Taylor:
That the ostensible objections urged against the passage of the bill are twofold in their character. First, it is said by the opponents of free States and free Territories, that "Slavery does not practically exist in Nebraska Territory. In reply, I claim the converse of the proposition to be true, and will give the facts to show that slavery does practically exist in Nebraska. There has never been to my knowledge a Federal officer appointed to any office in this Territory from any slave State of this Union who has not brought with him into the Territory, a negro or negroes, who have been and are now held in slavery. E. A. Deslonde, Receiver of Public Moneys at Nebraska City, has one or two slaves. Now, if slavery does not exist here, then the slave is free the instant he sets foot on Nebraska soil, provided he came with his master for the purpose of residing in Nebraska. I know of my own knowledge that Hon. S. F. Nuckolls, a Democratic member of the Territorial Legislature, had three colored persons whom he claimed as slaves up to a very late period. Two of these persons escaped from Mr. Nuckolls in the winter of 1858-59. and the other, a colored man of twenty-five years of age, was sold by him, if I am correctly informed, and carried to some of the Southern slaveholding States, as a slave, in the spring of 1859. This man has been a resident of Nebraska for about three years. Mr. A. Majors, one of the Government contractors, has a number of colored persons in Nebraska City whom he claims as slaves now in the Territory of Nebraska. Judge C. F. Holly has two colored persons whom he claims as slaves. How many more there are in the Territory at present I am not advised. But the fact is indisputable. African slavery does practically exist in Nebraska. Our eyes cannot deceive us, and if slavery is wrong, morally, socially or politically, it is wrong to hold one slave. There is no distinction in principle between holding one human being in bondage and ten thousand.
Again, as evidence that slavery does exist, and is considered to be a legal institution here, I have only to cite the fact that Hon. S. F. Nuckolls before alluded to has instituted suit in the Second Judicial Court of this Territory against certain parties residing in the State of Iowa, for the value of two colored persons, his slaves, whom he alleges were abducted from him in the spring of 1858-59, which is now pending in said court and undecided.
Second. It is said by those who oppose the passage of this bill that the "let alone policy is most commendable." If it be true that we are all in favor of freedom, a free Territory, and a free State, why recommend the "let alone policy" as the most commendable. Why curse our virgin soil with the foot-print of African slavery * * I would ask of the opposers of this bill, when is the proper time to pass an act like the one under consideration? Shall we wait until slavery has acquired a permanency? * * It is said that "naught but mischief can arise from the ill-timed and injudicious agitation of the question." * * * If a Constitutional Convention was now in session, it would be said by those who oppose the bill, "Don't agitate the question." * * * Gentlemen of the Council, if you are honestly in favor of Nebraska being a free Territory and ultimately a free State, how can the passage of this bill generate an injurious agitation? Men holding a common sentiment, and desiring a common object, do not get up an ill-timed and injudicious agitation. Nothing short of a sincere opposition to free white labor and a free Territory can produce agitation or excitement. Remember, it is the clashing of public sentiment upon the same subject matter, and not its argument that produces the results contemplated by you. Vote for this bill that makes Nebraska free and prevents persons being held in slavery. and there will be no agitation. We will have then done all in our power and our whole duty, to rid ourselves of the cursed institution of slavery. But, it is objected, the bill pre-supposes the existence of slavery by virtue of the Constitution United States. It presupposes no such thing, but simply admits the fact that persons are to-day held in slavery by usage, or custom, or somehow, and that it ought not to be permitted; however, we all do know that this Administration and a majority of the American Senate, and ninety-three Democrats in Congress of the United States contend that slavery exists in all the Territories of the United States, by virtue of the Constitution, as much and as certainly as in Georgia or South Carolina.
Attorney General Black has recently written several pamphlets to demonstrate this proposition. It cannot be denied, it is contended by a large party in this country, that the people of the Territories in their Territorial capacity have no power to legislate upon the subject of slavery, until they become sufficiently numerous to form a State Constitution, and ask for admission into the Union. And this same party maintains that Congress has power to legislate upon the subject. Thus leaving the people of the Territories to be cursed with slavery, without the ability on their part, or on behalf of Congress, to get rid of it so long as the Territorial existence continues. While, on the other hand, it is contended that the people of the Territories, in their Territorial capacity, have the right and power to prohibit and abolish slavery. This position is contended for and sustained by arguments of great force. How the friends of Senator Douglas can oppose this bill, if they are really in favor of making Nebraska a free State, is astounding to me. We can account for the opposition of the Administration Democracy. The Territory of Kansas has prohibited slavery after an unprecedented struggle against the policy of the two last Administrations, and why should not Nebraska act? Believing that the power exists in the Territorial Legislature under and by virtue of the organic act, and every community has the inherent right to regulate its own affairs and institutions, free from foreign or federal intervention, and that Nebraska should be a free Territory, and forever dedicated to free white labor; and knowing that slavery does practically exist here, I earnestly recommend the passage of the bill for the following reasons:
1st. Because no human being should be held in slavery in this Territory now and hereafter.
2d. Because slavery does practically exist in Nebraska, and should be prohibited.
3d. Because the people of this Territory, in their Territorial capacity have the power to prohibit slavery or involuntary servitude, and a responsible for its continuance.
4th. Because the administration and a large party in this country maintain that neither the people of the Territories nor the Congress of the United States have the power to legislate upon the subject of slavery; and it is time this monstrous proposition was settled and forever put to rest by the judicial tribunals of the land.
5th. Because the passage of the bill will forever rid us of the excitement created in a neighborhood by the slavery propagandist, upon the escape of a slave from bondage.
6th. Because now is the most propitious time to rid ourselves of slavery if there is anything in popular sovereignty.
7th. Because if we permit persons to hold slaves, and slavery to exist, in Nebraska, when we can get rid of it, we will be justly censured by the present and succeeding generations.
All of which is respectfully submitted to the consideration of the Council.
This report was, under the rules, laid over for future action. Whereupon, Hon. George L. Miller submitted the following minority report:
The first question suggested by the examination of this measure, refers to the necessity, if any, which exists for the enactment of such a law in this Territory. It is understood that our power to pass such a law, and to impart to it validity, is extensively desired, and, as there is known to be in the Territory, as well as throughout the Union, great diversity of opinion, both as to the power of the Territorial Legislature over the question of slavery and the expediency of attempting its exercise, your committee deem it extremely injudicious for the Legislature to lend itself to the agitation of a subject which, to the people of Nebraska, is conceded to be really of no practical importance. As to the necessity which exists at present, or is likely to exist in the future, for such a law in this Territory, there can be no two intelligent opinions. No sane person for a moment supposes that Nebraska is in the slightest possible danger of being either a slave Territory or a slave State. Popular sentiment, in Nebraska, is universally against the institution of slavery, and even if it were not, and the public voice were to pronounce to-day in favor of its establishment here, the controlling laws of nature peculiar to this latitude, would utterly preclude the possibility of its obtaining a permanent place among us. Suppose it true--which is is not--that the Territory does furnish a profitable field for slave labor, who is there so infatuated as to believe for an instant that this Territory, peopled almost entirely by men whose associations from infancy and whose education in the midst of free institutions have conducted them into manhood, not only with all their prejudices but with all the convictions of their judgment against the institution--who so foolish as to say that legislation is required or ought to be granted upon this subject? Your committee have felt it to be their duty to inquire into the cause which induced the introduction of the bill under consideration. Having made diligent search, with a view to ascertaining whether any slaves exist in Nebraska, to their utter surprise, after four days' anxious inquiry and labor, they are prepared to report to the Council, that, south of the Platte River, owned and held as such by highly respectable gentlemen, there are six and a half slaves, the fractional portion referring to a small negro boy who is in excellent and humane keeping, in that section of the Territory. Now, instead of becoming alarmed at this information, your committee are rather disposed to congratulate the Council and the country upon the fortunate condition in which these slaves are found. We are happy to add, on the best authority, that their servitude is entirely voluntary, and that they are perfectly contented with their lot. It is to be observed that these slaves were originally from Missouri and Louisiana. One of them, we are informed, proves a great burden to his owner by being subject to fits. What can be done to lighten the burden of the master or remedy the terrible malady of the slave we leave to your careful and candid consideration. At all events, it is very clear that, in removing to this Territory, these slaves have been changed from a worse to a better condition; and, surrounded as they are by increased comforts, and having before them the almost certain prospect of ultimately gaining their freedom, it would seem to be absolute cruelty in the Legislature, even if it had the power and the purpose to do it, to enact a law here which would compel their owners to sell them into a worse bondage, where these prospects would be forever blasted. A noticeable fact is to be found by reference to the Census Record of 1855. At that time, thirteen slaves existed in Nebraska. Under the operation of incidental causes, aided by the stealing propensities of an unprincipled set of abolitionists, inhabiting a place called Civil Bend, Iowa, the number has been reduced to the insignificant figure of four and a half slaves, all told. (In the preceding lines, the number was given as six and a half.--ED].
This furnishes abundant proof of the entire uselessness of the legislation for which the bill under consideration calls; even if it could be shown, which it cannot be, that there is any other cause for apprehension on the subject. Your committee feel fully impressed with the conviction that the people of Nebraska sent their Representatives to the capitol to carry out legitimate objects of legislation. We are not here to waste our time in framing and passing laws which would be but so many dead letters on the statute books; but we are required to devote the brief time allotted for the annual session in laboring for the enactment of wholesome and just laws, which are known to be demanded by the public interest. The legislative session is limited to forty days. Experience and daily observation admonish us that the time is full short enough, with the almost constant attention to our proper duties, for us to answer the demand for such legislation as is required by the general interests of the people. Indeed, we should be recreant to our trusts were we to depart from the plain path of duty in this respect. There is still another consideration which goes to show the want of any necessity for the passage of a law upon the subject of slavery. A bill is before you, with almost a certainty of becoming a law, calling a convention for framing a constitution preparatory to admission as a State into the confederacy. We are then to assume permanent character, and are to decide, by the exercise of rights which are absolute and unquestioned, upon the nature and complexion of our domestic institutions. In obedience to law and in perfect loyalty to the constitution of the United States, having no "higher" guides than are to be found in that great instrument, the people of Nebraska will then assert the high prerogatives which are the attributes of independent sovereignty. The exercise of a doubted power while in our Territorial condition, in regard to a subject which is notoriously of no practical importance to us or others, would be committing us to a folly which would certainly expose us to merited ridicule, if not to deserved rebuke. Your committee deem it proper to state, that in making their report they were denied access to the report of the minority, for reasons which are best known to its author. Hence, the report of a majority of your committee is made without reference to that of the minority. But in view of all the circumstances of the case, the admitted absence of any necessity either for the bill under consideration or the report which is made upon it, it may be justly presumed that both were designed for the single and sole purpose of agitating a subject which may be thought calculated to advance the political interests of restless and ambitious men, at the expense of the peace, harmony and good will that ought to unite in the bonds of common hopes and common aims the people of the Territory, which certainly requires the combined efforts and energies of all to secure to it that position to which, by its inexhaustible resources, geographical situation and other advantages it is so very justly entitled. Nor can your committee permit the occasion to pass without expressing the opinion that the effort to introduce to Nebraska the popular excitements which have agitated and distracted other communities in our neighborhood will be a miserable failure. The people understand the motives which move men to engage in these political games, and they will meet them in the proper way and by the proper means, regarding only those things that shall best redound to the political peace and permanent prosperity of the entire Territory. Your committee respectfully recommend that the bill be referred to the Committee of the Whole, and that it be made the special order for some future day of the session.
This report was also laid over under the rules. Although Mr. Miller referred, in his report, to a "majority of the committee" as speaking, the fact is, a second report was submitted by Hon. George W. Doane, the third member. This gentleman reported, after the two preceding reports had been read, and concurred "in the main with. the views expressed in the report submitted by Mr. Miller." He did not admit that, practically, slavery had any existence in the Territory. "To agree that, because a single instance may be found of a returning emigrant from Utah, who has pitched his tent in some remote part of the Territory, and is cohabiting with two women claiming to be his wives, therefore, polygamy, exists as an institution in the Territory, would be quite as conclusive and sensible as the attempt made by the Chairman of this committee to fasten upon our fair Territory the stigma of slavery by the very slender data upon which his conclusion is based. * * * But if slavery does legally exist in this Territory, as the bill reported by the Chairman would advertise to the world that it does, is it proposed to confiscate the property of such as are interested in that description of property, by an unconditional. abolition of the tenure by which it is held? And if it does not legally exist, what is the necessity of legislating for its abolition? The evil must be corrected by the judicial and not by the legislative branch of the Government."
Mr. Doane waived discussion of the principle involved in the abstract question of the right or wrong of slavery, and merely on the ground of inexpediency at that moment, reported adversely to the bill.
On the 7th of December, a bill "to abolish and prohibit slavery in this Territory" was presented in the House by Mr. Marquette, of Cass County. The next day, the bill was read for the first time, whereupon Mr. Johnson, of Douglas County, moved to lay "the" bill upon the table. This motion was ruled out of order. Mr. Johnson then moved that the bill be rejected. This motion was lost by a vote of eleven yeas to twenty-four nays. On the 16th, the House sat in Committee of the Whole on the bill. The report of Mr. Tufts, reporting the bill back to the House, was accepted. Mr. Hanscom moved that the word "abolish and," wherever preceding the word "prohibit," as used in the bill, be stricken out, and on a vote of nineteen ayes to sixteen nays, the amendment was adopted, leaving the bill merely one of prohibition, without affecting the status of persons then hold as slaves in the Territory. Mr. Campbell offered an amendment declaring that "all free blacks shall be prohibited from settling in this Territory," but this was declared out of order. Mr. Johnson then moved to strike out the enacting clause of the bill. A vote being demanded, the motion was lost, by a vote of fourteen yeas to twenty-two nays. The bill was ordered to be engrossed and passed to a third reading.
The contest was finally concluded, in the House, on the 17th of December. The amended bill was taken up. Mr. Hanscom, of Douglas, opened the fight by moving that further proceedings under the call be dispensed with. This was declared carried. A call of the House was ordered. All members were present, and proceedings under the call were pronounced dispensed with. Mr. Reynolds, of Otoe, moved to amend. This was ruled out of order. Mr. Belden, of Douglas, appealed from the decision of the Chair, but was declared out of order. Mr. Campbell, of Otoe, appealed from the decision of the Chair, denying Mr. Reynolds the right to amend. This was voted on, and the Chair sustained by a vote of twenty-eight ayes to ten nays. Several other motions were made and amendments offered, when an effort was put forth to indefinitely postpone action on the bill, and the House voted the attempt down by seventeen to twenty-one. A motion to adjourn was next tried, but failed. Then the bill was forced, and was passed by a vote of twenty-one yeas to seventeen nays.
This action carried the matter before the Council, in the form of House legislation, and the next action taken by the Council was on December 20. Upon the second reading of the bill, by a vote of seven yeas to six nays, action was indefinitely postponed. The day following, Mr. Reeves, who had voted in the affirmative on the original ballot, moved a reconsideration. It was announced that the bill had gone into possession of the House. Mr. Reeves insisted that the Clerk should recover the bill. During the afternoon session, an attempt was made to table the motion to reconsider, which failed. Mr. Doane then proposed to substitute a joint resolution, and, by a vote of seven to six, the Council voted not to reconsider its action on the House bill. Mr. Doane then offered the following joint resolution:
WHEREAS, Slavery does not exist in this Territory, and there is no danger of its introduction therein; therefore, be it
Resolved. By the Council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Nebraska, that we deem it inexpedient and unnecessary to waste the time of the Legislative Assembly in enacting or to blot the pages of our statute books in publishing acts either to regulate, abolish or prohibit slavery in the Territory of Nebraska.
Resolved, further, That being opposed to the introduction of slavery in this Territory, and asserting the exclusive power of Territorial Legislatures over the whole subject of slavery in the Territories by right of inherent sovereignty in the people to regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, and by virtue of the provisions of the Kansas and Nebraska bill, this Legislature is prepared, in any practical and proper way to take whatever action may be necessary to prohibit or exclude slavery from this Territory, at any time when such legislation may become necessary.
Resolved, further. That, believing the agitation of this question at this time, by the attempt to legislate upon the subject of slavery, in this Territory, to be ill-timed, pernicious and damaging to the fair name of our Territory, the members of the Legislature will oppose all such attempts.
These resolutions, offered by one who "agreed in the main with the report of Mr. Miller," a report which conceded the fact that slavery did exist to the extent of "six and a half slaves;" and also in face of evidence cited by Mr. Miller that, in 1855, thirteen slaves were held in bondage within the limits of Nebraska, might awaken some inquiry as to how the author of the document could reconcile the fact with the declaration. And the confusion would not be lessened by an examination of the tenets of the political party to which a majority of the slaveholding population of the United States belonged. The ablest exponents of that organization argued that slavery might lawfully exist in the Territories carved out of the Louisiana purchase, and that the rights of slaveholders were guaranteed to the limit of a protection of such property by the provisions of the treaty. If it would "blot" the fair name of the Territory to legislate against slavery when slavery did not exist, it could do so only by the placing of a prohibitory statute upon the books in controversion of the rights of free property-holders; if the people were opposed to slavery, as the resolution declared, then the fact of "six and a half slaves" was as ample a cause for the introduction of a measure pronouncing their bondage adverse to popular sentiment as the presence of six and a half millions would have been; if one an might hold slaves, all men had an equal right; and if the Territory had a right at any period to legislate upon local institutions, surely action at that moment was not "ill-timed." But the last resolution explains much to the minds of observant readers, and to them is left the easy task of forming conclusions as to why action was esteemed uncalled for.
December 29, a "Joint resolution for the prohibition of slavery in Nebraska" was introduced into the Council. Mr. Doane objected to the resolution on the ground that the matter had been decided by indefinite postponement, but the Chair decided the point of order not well taken. Mr. Little then changed the form of the measure from a resolution to a bill, and was sustained by a vote of eight to two. In spite of the opposition of strong debaters, the new bill passed by a vote of six to five.
In this form the subject again reached the House, where, January 3, 1860, a special committee reported on it. The majority, Messrs. T. M. Marquette and George B. Lake, suggested some slight verbal changes, and a clause making the bill operative at once, and reported favorably upon its passage. They said:
The question, disguise it as you will, which is involved in this bill, is the great question of the age. Our entire Union is divided into two great parties on this question; one party struggles ever to uphold the principles of this bill, the other labors as earnestly for its overthrow, and we are now called to take one side or the other in this great question. The power to prohibit, in the opinion of the majority of your committee, is conferred on us by our organic act, and, by this measure, the opportunity is given to us to test our fidelity to freedom, and our opposition to the extension of slavery. The opponents of this measure have not a single reason to advance why this bill should not pass; they put forth, however, some excuses for opposing it. They come forth with the miserable plea that they are opposed to blotting our statute books with useless legislation. Sir, this is not so much a plea against this law as it is in favor of blotting our Territory with slavery. They say that slavery does not exist here, and that this measure is useless. This excuse will not now hold good, for a President's message has just reached us in which it is declared, and in this opinion he is backed by a powerful party, that men have the right to bring slaves here and to hold them as such, and that this is slave Territory. We, it is true, may not be of opinion that this doctrine is true; but, sir, if men declare that they have the right to make this a slave Territory, shall we not prohibit them in this act, and prevent the wrong they would do us? If the friends of slavery insist that they have the right to hold slaves here, shall we tamely submit to it? If they insist on making this a slave Territory, which they do, shall we not insist that it shall be forever free?
The passage of the bill was therefore earnestly recommended. It may be noticed, in passing this period of the controversy, that the advocates of freedom omitted to make one clear point, which the opponents of the bill laid themselves open to; that is, while they denied the existence of slavery in the Territory, they, in the next sentence, enumerated the number and condition of slaves in the Territory! How those contradictory statements could have escaped the committee's attention is strange. Of course, the argument that slavery did not exist because it was not general is, at best, but a specious one. The pro-slavery advocates confessed the fact, but denied the theory, of its existence.
¬ The minority report, submitted in antagonism to the foregoing, by Mr. Milton W. Reynolds, contained the statement that slavery had no existence "in law or fact, in this Territory," but the reports submitted by Messrs. Miller and Doane in the Council, as already quoted, show that they admit the fact but deny the legal status of slavery. Mr. Reynolds remarked that "making laws for the regulation or prohibition of slavery recognizes its existence." The fact that slavery did exist in the so-called slave States, and that President Buchanan declared the Territories practically slave Territories, somewhat lessens the weight of the gentleman's argument, However, Mr. Reynolds' minority report favored the passage of the resolution, but objected to the amendments which made it a law on the ground that it would necessitate more discussion and waste of valuable time. The gentleman expressed the belief that ninety-nine out of every one hundred of the people of Nebraska were in favor of freedom and free labor, and he himself was one of the firm supporters of the principles of human liberty. The bill was acted upon at once, by Committee of the Whole, and the nature changed from a resolution to a bill. The time of its going into operation was fixed for July 1, 1860. After numerous attempts to defeat the measure, the bill was adopted by a vote of nineteen yeas to seventeen nays. The bill was then returned to the Council for action as amended, and the amendments concurred in January 3, and reported enrolled and engrossed two days later.
The bill was then placed in the hands of Gov. Black for approval. On the 9th of January, he returned it to the Council unsigned, with the following message of veto:
I herewith return to you "An act to prohibit slavery,'' unsigned and with my objections. This act necessarily involves the whole question of power or jurisdiction over the subject matter. If slavery exists here in law or in fact, to prohibit is to abolish it. If it does not exist, where is the need for legislation? But I do not stop to measure the relative value of mere words, which may be used indifferently, and for the same object. This bill, I suppose, is intended to interdict slavery, or involuntary servitude, within the Territory; and, I suppose, is likewise intended to raise the question whether the Territorial Legislature can do it. At all events, it does so. For the purpose of considering the question with distinctness, I will first examine it, as it may or may not be affected by the treaty with France. This Territory was a part of Louisiana, and all agree that when we acquired Louisiana in 1803, it was slave territory, and slaves were property. The third article of the treaty by which Louisiana became acquired to the United States is important at this point. It is a part of the treaty-compact that "the inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated in the United States, and admitted as soon as possible, according to the provisions of the Federal Constitution, to the enjoyment of all the rights, privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; and in the meantime, they shall be protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property and the religion which they profess." * * Nebraska was acquired to become a State, and for no other purpose. For this purpose, and this alone, is there any power under the Constitution to acquire foreign territory. * * It is a stipulation in the treaty "that the inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States," and it is every whit as strong a stipulation that "in the meantime," they shall be protected in the "free enjoyment of liberty, property and the religion they profess." The faith of the country is pledged to it, and it is just as good to the inhabitants of Nebraska Territory to-date, or any day, as it was to the first inhabitants in 1803. Mr. John Quincy Adams understood this perfectly, and disposed of the question very briefly and conclusively, when Arkansas was before Congress for admission, in 1836. "She is entitled to admission as a slave State, as Louisiana and Missouri have been admitted," by virtue of "that article in the treaty for the purchase of Louisiana, which secures to the people of the ceded territories all the rights, privileges and immunities of the original citizens of the Unite States, and stipulates for their admission, conformably to that principle, into the Union."
Gov. Black proceeded along this line of argument fully and carefully, reviewing the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States and numerous decisions in inferior courts relevant to the issue in hand. He asserted his belief that the citizens of Nebraska were, by the fundamental promises of the treaty, protected in their rights of property in slaves; that "the people made up the States, and the States the confederacy," and that each State was in itself and of itself sovereign and independent, "a law unto itself." "All territory is acquired to become a State; but it is likewise acquired for the common benefit of the existing States. It is theirs, and the Federal Government holds it as their trustee. Consequently, every citizen of every State has a share in it. It is his in the first instance, because he is a citizen of some one of the United States, and he has a right to enter into the Territory, clothed with his rights as a citizen of the State. He takes his property with him, from his own State, and if he may not do so, then the Territory is not acquired for the common and equal benefit of the several States." Pursuing this argument in detail, the message declared the belief that the constitution, while not carrying slavery into the Territories, did guarantee the property right of masters in slaves, and permitted the owners to carry them wherever they desired. Having disposed of the abstract rights, the message considered the power of the Territorial Legislature to pass upon the abolition of slavery--or rather the prohibition of it there. Gov. Black interpreted the clause in the organic bill to be but a triumph of popular sovereignty over Congressional restriction. Whatever the reading of the legislative forms might be, the term, "we, the people," in the opinion of the Governor, meant not the Legislature of a Territory chosen by the people, and the Governor thereof appointed by the President; but the will of the President, acting under the constitution of the United States, and Congress, as the embodiment of the authority of "we, the people of the United States." The people of the Territory would first exercise their powers when they assembled in convention to frame a constitution on which to erect the government of a State. The Territorial Legislature was deemed but a temporary department, having no right or power to pass a law which was regarded as conflicting with the individual rights of citizens--rights protected by the constitution of the United States. The Territory had but a convenient government granted to local residents for local purposes. When the Territory reached the time of setting up for itself a State Government and became a political entity, then the people would, for the first time, vindicate their local sovereignty. Meanwhile, they were but dependents upon the general laws, which, in the Governor's opinion, permitted citizens to hold slaves in the Territory.
On motion of Mr. Furnas, the subject matter of the message was made the special order for the 11th inst.
On the 11th, Mr. Porter moved that the whole matter be laid upon the table. This prevailed. On the 13th, an effort was made to revive the question, and, by a vote of six to five, the matter was taken from the table. On motion of Mr. Furnas, the whole subject was indefinitely postponed. And thus it was that the Council adjourned without positive accomplishment in regard to the slavery question.
A. bill had been presented in the House, early in the session (December 16), by Mr. Nuckolls, of Richardson County, to "prevent free negroes or mulattoes from settling in this Territory." On the 20th of that month, a majority of the special committee to which it was referred reported favorably upon its passage. The next day witnessed the presentation of a minority report, by Mr. T. M. Marquette, opposing the bill on the ground that it was contrary to the principles of freedom on which the structure of the Government rested. An effort was made to transform the original bill into a prohibitory act against slavery, which amendment was carried by a vote of twenty yeas to seventeen nays; but a few moments later it was moved and carried, by a vote of twenty-one to fifteen, to strike out the enacting clause, thereby destroying the validity of the measure in its amended entirety.
The Seventh Assembly convened December 3, 1860.
Again the question of slavery appeared in the Legislature, when Mr. Thayer, on the 7th of December, introduced into the Council a bill "to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude in the Territory," which was preceded in the House by the bill offered by Mr. Mathias, on the 6th. An attempt was made to amend the Council bill to read that fugitive slaves might be reclaimed by their owners; but this amendment was lost. On the 26th of December, the measure passed the Council by a vote of ten yeas to three nays. December 10, the House bill passed that body by a vote of thirty-five yeas to two nays. After ratification of these bills by the opposite houses, the same were presented to Gov. Black for approval; but, on the 1st of January, 1861, they were returned to the Council and House unsigned, and with a lengthy message describing the grounds on which the veto rested. (Pp. 126-131, Council Journal, January 2, 1861.) It need not be here recited what those reason; were, as the message was mainly a duplicate of the former one. January 5, the Council passed the bill over the veto of the Governor, by a vote of ten yeas to three nays; and the House, immediately after the reading of the message, January 1, passed the bill over the veto, by a vote of thirty-one yeas to two nays. This change in popular opinion is indicative of the mighty struggle about to be entered upon by the nation at large.
Thus, after a long and intensely heated contest, the subject was disposed of to the lasting honor of Nebraska, and the new year was entered upon with the proclamation of freedom to all mankind.
The text of the bill, which has now no vital need of place upon the statute books, since the possibility of conflicting, interpretations of the constitution of the United States no longer exists, is as follows:
SECTION 1. Be it enacted, etc. That slavery or involuntary servitude, except for the commission of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, is hereby prohibited in this Territory.
SEC. 2. This act shall take effect from and after its passage.
The law stands on the statute book duly authenticated as having passed both houses over the veto of Gov. Black, and is declared a law by Secretary Morton, "if it in no wise conflicts with the constitution of the United States, the organic act of this Territory, or the laws of the United States."
The grander drama--the mighty tragedy of the century--was yet to come; and when the attestation of that law was written, it could not be foreseen that, whatever of conflict might then exist between this law and the higher statutes, the obstacles to its fullest enforcement were to be expunged forever by the crimson hand of war. But Nebraska did not wait until the die was cast by others, and the tide of public sentiment had been turned toward freedom. With that boldness of action which gives her power to-day before the civilized world, she set her seal of condemnation on the iniquity of human bondage, and pronounced the death of the abomination while yet the act required the moral courage of a hero. Honor be to the name of Nebraska! Honor be to the names of those who stood for freedom when "expediency " and "policy" dictated the ignoring of the fact that slavery did exist within her borders.