29 June 2015

Nashville Pro-slavery Secessionist Conventions, 1850

Though little discussed in history classes even at the collegiate level, two conventions of southern supporters of slavery took place in Nashville, Tennessee in 1850 that put the lie to the claim that the secessions of 1860-1861 were not about slavery.

Wilmot Proviso

In August 1846, Congressman David Wilmot, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, attached a rider to an appropriations in the House of Representatives that if passed would ban slavery from all territories that might acquired from Mexico at the end of the Mexican-American War.  Even though a treaty have not even been signed much less adopted.

This measure became known as the Wilmot Proviso.  The measure passed in the House but failed in the Senate, where representation by states gave the slave-owners of the South held a majority.  When brought up again in February 1847, it again passed in the House, where the North’s greater population gave it a majority since representation there was based on that, but it once again failed in the Senate.

After the Treaty of Hidalgo was signed in February 1848 and went to the Senate for approval, anti-slavery Senators attached the Wilmot Proviso to it, but its inclusion failed once again, this time with help from northern Democratic Senators who had previously supported it, including Stephen Douglas of Illinois.

The Wilmot Proviso made an appearance once again in 1850.

Mississippi Convention

Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina initiated a drive for a convention of southern states to discuss ways to defend against “northern aggression”, code for attempts to limit the spread of slavery by restricting it from new territories.  This led to the bipartisan (Democrat and Whig) Mississippi Convention in October 1849, held in the state capital of Jackson.

The Mississippi Convention adopted resolutions condemning the Wilmot Proviso and calling on slave-owners to migrate into the recently-acquired territories of the New Southwest to “spread their voice” in order to protect “states’ rights” and the rights of “property”.  The “property” in question meant Afro-American slaves; “states’ rights” meant the ability of states to base their economy upon that “property”.

Its main accomplishment, however, was an agreement to hold a convention of southern states to devise a strategy for resisting “northern aggression”, to take place in Nashville, Tennessee, in June of the following year.

First Nashville Convention

Legislatures of eight southern states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, and Florida) appointed delegates to the convention.  Tennessee sent delegates too, but since its own legislature took little interest, counties appointed their own delegates.  Out of the 176 who showed, 101 were from Tennessee. 

Again, attendance was bipartisan.  Whigs and moderate Democrats outnumbered the Fire-Eaters, who were already calling for secession.  In addition to calling for a subsequent convention in November to resolve matters further, the delegates adopted the following resolutions, presented here in full.

Resolutions of the first Nashville Convention

1. Resolved, that the territories of the United States belong to the people of the several states of the Union as their common property. That the citizens of the several states have equal rights to migrate with their property to these territories, and are equally entitled to the protection of the federal government in the enjoyment of that property so long as the territories remain under the charge of that government.

2. Resolved, that Congress has no power to exclude from the territory of the United States any property lawfully held in the states of the Union, and any act which may be passed by Congress to effect this result is a plain violation of the Constitution of the United States.

3. Resolved, that it is the duty of Congress to provide proper governments for the territories, since the spirit of American Institutions forbids the maintenance of military governments in time of peace, and as all laws heretofore existing in territories once belonging to foreign powers which interfere with the full enjoyment of religion, the freedom of the press, the trial by jury, and all other rights of persons and property as secured or recognized in the Constitution of the United States, are necessarily void 50 soon as such territories become American territories, it is the duty of the federal government to make early provision for the enactment of those laws which may be expedient and necessary to secure to the inhabitants of and emigrants to such territories the full benefit of the constitutional rights we assert.

4. Resolved, that to protect property existing in the several states of the Union, the people of these states invested the federal government with the powers of war and negotiation and of sustaining armies and navies, and prohibited to state authorities the exercise of the same powers. They made no discrimination in the protection to be afforded or the description of the property to be defended, nor was it allowed to the federal government to determine what should be held as property. Whatever the states deal with as property the federal government is bound to recognize and defend as such. Therefore it is the sense of this Convention that all acts of the federal government which tend to denationalize property of any description recognized in the Constitution and laws of the states, or that discriminate in the degree and efficiency of the protection to be afforded to it, or which weaken or destroy the title of any citizen upon American territories, are plain and palpable violations of the fundamental law under which it exists.

5. Resolved, that the slaveholding states cannot and will not submit to the enactment by Congress of any law imposing onerous conditions or restraints upon the rights of masters to remove with their property into the territories of the United States, or to any law making discrimination in favor of the proprietors of other property against them.

6. Resolved, that it is the duty of the federal government plainly to recognize and firmly to maintain the equal rights of the citizens of the several states in the territories of the United States, and to repudiate the power to make a discrimination between the proprietors of different species of property in federal legislation. The fulfillment of this duty by the federal government would greatly tend to restore the peace of the country and to allay the exasperation and excitement which now exist between the different sections of the Union. For it is the deliberate opinion of this Convention that the tolerance Congress has given to the notion that federal authority might be employed incidentally and indirectly to subvert or weaken the institutions existing in the states confessedly beyond federal jurisdiction and control is a main cause of the discord which menaces the existence of the Union, and which has well-nigh destroyed the efficient action of the federal government itself

7. Resolved, that the performance of this duty is required by the fundamental law of the Union. The equality of the people of the several states composing the Union cannot be disturbed without disturbing the frame of the American institutions. This principle is violated in the denial of the citizens of the slaveholding states of power to enter into the territories with the property lawfully acquired in the states. The warfare against this right is a war upon the Constitution. The defenders of this right are defenders of the Constitution. Those who deny or impair its exercise are unfaithful to the Constitution; and, if disunion follows the destruction of the right, they are the disunionists.

8. Resolved, that the performance of its duties, upon the principle we declare, would enable Congress to remove the embarrassments in which the country is now involved. The vacant territories of the United States, no longer regarded as prizes for sectional rapacity and ambition, would be gradually occupied by inhabitants drawn to them by their interests and feelings. The institutions fitted to them would be naturally applied by governments formed on American ideas and approved by the deliberate choice of their constituents. The community would be educated and disciplined under a republican administration in habits of self-government and fitted for an association as a state, and to the enjoyment of aplace in the confederacy. A community so formed and organized might well claim admission to the Union and none would dispute the validity of the claim.

9. Resolved, that a recognition of this principle would deprive the questions between Texas and the United States of their sectional character and would leave them for adjustment, without disturbance from sectional prejudices and passions, upon considerations of magnanimity and justice.

10. Resolved, that a recognition of tints principle would infuse a spirit of conciliation in the discussion and adjustment of all the subjects of sectional dispute which would afford a guarantee of an early and satisfactory determination.

11. Resolved, that in the event a dominant majority shall refuse to recognize the "neat constitutional rights we assert and shall continue to deny the obligations of the federal government to maintain them, it is the sense of this Convention that the territories should be treated as property and divided between the sections of the Union, so that the rights of both sections be adequately secured in their respective shares. That we are aware this course is open to grave objections, but we are ready to acquiesce in the adoption of the line of 36" 30' north latitude, extending to the Pacific Ocean, as a extreme concession, upon consideration of what is due to the stability of our institution.

12. Resolved, that it is the opinion of this Convention that this controversy should be ended, either by a recognition of the constitutional rights of the Southern people or by equitable partition of the territories; that the spectacle of a confederacy of states involved in quarrels over the fruits of a war which the American arms were crowned with glory is humiliating; that the incorporation of the Wilmot Proviso in the offer of settlement, a proposition which fourteen states regard as disparaging and dishonorable, is degrading to the country. A termination to this controversy by the disruption of the confederacy or by the abandonment of the territories to prevent such a result would be a climax to the shame which attaches to the controversy which it is the paramount duty of Congress to avoid.

24. Resolved, that slavery exists in the United States independent of the Constitution. That it is recognized by the Constitution in a threefold aspect: first, as property; second, as a domestic relation of service or labor under the law of a state; and, last, as a basis of political power. And, viewed on any or all of these lights, Congress has no power under the Constitution to create or destroy it anywhere; nor can such power be derived from foreign laws, conquest, cession, treaty, or the laws of nations, nor from any other source but an amendment of the Constitution itself.

25. Resolved, that the Constitution confers no power upon Congress to regulate or prohibit the sale and transfer of slaves between the states.

26. Resolved, that the reception or consideration by Congress of resolutions, memorials, or petitions from the states in which domestic slavery does not exist, or from the people of said states, in relation to the institution of slavery where it does exist, with a view of effecting its abolition, or to impair the rights of those interested in it, to its-peaceful and secure enjoyment is a gross abuse and an entire perversion of the rights of petition as secured by the federal Constitution: and, if persisted in, must and will lead to the most dangerous and lamentable consequences--that the right of petition for a redress of grievances as provided for by the Constitution was designed to enable the citizens of the United States to manifest and make known to Congress the existence of evils under which they were suffering, whether effecting them personally, locally, or generally; and to cause such evils to be redressed by the proper and competent authority, but was never designed or intended as a means of inflicting injury on others, or jeopardizing the peaceful and secure enjoyment of their rights. whether existing under the Constitution or under the sovereignty and authority of the several states.

Compromise of 1850

Crafted by Representative Henry Clay of Kentucky and Senator Stephen Douglas, this package of five bills passed in September 1850 enacted the following measures.

The State of Texas surrendered its claim over New Mexico Territory (which initially included the later Arizona).  Prior to the Compromise, it had been threatening war.

The Territory of California was admitted to the Union as a free state.

The Wilmot Proviso once again failed to pass.

The slavery question in Utah Territory and New Mexico Territory would be decided by the populations of those polities.

The slave trade, though not slavery itself, was banned in Washington City, District of Columbia.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 (there was one earlier, in 1793) was enacted.

Second Nashville Convention

With the passage of the Compromise of 1850, the more moderate delegates felt less threatened, and with tensions considerably eased, only the Fire-Eaters, the most rabidly uncompromising secessionists, showed for the convention in November.  Most notable of these, given later history, was Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi.

Below are the preamble and resolutions adopted by the Fire-Eaters.  Take particular note of the white supremacism expressed in the statements of the preamble.

Resolutions of the second Nashville Convention

We, the delegates assembled from a portion of the states of this confederacy, make this exposition of the causes which have brought us together, and of the rights which the states we represent are entitled to under the compact of Union.

We have amongst us two races, marked by such distinctions of color and physical and moral qualities as for ever forbid their living together on terms of social and political equality.

The black race have been slaves from the earliest settlement of our country, and our relations of master and slave have grown up from that time. A change in those relations must end in convulsion, and the entire ruin of one or of both races.

When the Constitution was adopted this relation of master and slave, as it exists, was expressly recognised and guarded in that instrument. It was a great and vital interest, involving our very existence as a separate people then as well as now.

The states of this confederacy acceded to that compact, each one for itself, and ratified it as states.

If the non-slaveholding states, who are parties to that compact, disregard its provisions and endanger our peace and existence by united and deliberate action, we have a right, as states, there being no common arbiter, to secede.

The object of those who are urging on the federal government in its aggressive policy upon our domestic institutions is, beyond all doubt, finally to overthrow them, and abolish the existing relation between the master and slave. We feel authorized to assert this from their own declarations, and from the history of events in this country for the last few years.

To abolish slavery or the slave trade in the District of Columbia—to regulate the sale and transfer of slaves between the states—to exclude slaveholders with their property from the territories—to admit California under the circumstances of the case, we hold to be all parts of the same system of measures, and subordinate the end they have in view, which is openly avowed to be, the total overthrow of the institution.

We make no aggressive move. We stand upon the defensive. We invoke the spirit of the Constitution, and claim its guarantees. Our rights—our independence—the peace and existence of our families, depend upon the issue.

The federal government has within a few years acquired, by treaty and by triumphant war, vast territories. This has been done by the counsels and the arms of all, and the benefits and rights belong alike and equally to all the states. The federal government is but the, common agent of the states united, and represents their conjoined sovereignty over subject-matter granted and defined in the compact.

The authority it exercises over all acquired territory must in good faith be exercised for the equal benefit of all the parties. To prohibit our citizens from settling there with the most valuable part of our property is not only degrading to us as equals, but violates our highest constitutional rights.

Restrictions and prohibitions against the slaveholding states, it would appear, are to be the fixed and settled policy of the government; and those states that are hereafter to be admitted into the Federal Union from their extensive territories will but confirm and increase the power of the majority; and he knows little of history who cannot read our destiny in the future if we fail to do our duty now as free people.

We have been harassed and insulted by those who ought to have been our brethren, in their constant agitation of a subject vital to us and the peace of our families. We have been outraged by their gross misrepresentations of our moral and social habits, and by the manner in which they have denounced us before the world. We have had our property enticed off; and the means of recovery denied us by our co-states in the territories of the Union, which we were entitled to as political equals under the Constitution. Our peace has been endangered by incendiary appeals. The Union, instead of being considered a fraternal bond, has been used as the means of striking at our vital interests.

The admission of California, under the circumstances of the ease, confirms an unauthorized and revolutionary seizure of public domain, and the exclusion of near half the states of the confederacy from equal rights therein destroys the line of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes, which was originally acquiesced in as a matter of compromise and peace, and appropriates to the northern states one hundred and twenty thousand square miles below that line, and is so gross and palpable a violation of the principles of justice and equality as to shake our confidence in any security to be given by that majority who are now clothed with power to govern the future destiny of the confederacy.

The recent purchase of territory by Congress from Texas, as low down as thirty-two degrees on the Rio Grande, also indicates that the boundaries of the slaveholding states are fixed and our doom prescribed so far as it depends upon the will of a dominant majority, and nothing now can save us from a degraded destiny but the spirit of freemen who know their rights and are resolved to maintain them, be the consequences what they may.

We have no powers that are binding upon the states we represent. But, in order to produce system and concerted action, we recommend the following resolutions, viz.:

Resolved, That we have ever cherished, and do now cherish a cordial attachment of the constitutional union of the States, and that to preserve and perpetuate that Union unimpaired, this con­vention originated and has now reassembled.

Resolved, That the union of the States is a union of equal and independent sovereignties, and that the powers delegated to the Federal government can be resumed by the several states, whenever it may seem to them proper and necessary.

Resolved, That all the evils anticipated by the South, and which occasioned this Convention to assemble have been realized, by the failure to extend the Missouri line of compromise to the Pacific ocean; By the admission ofCalifornia as a state. By the organization of Territorial governments for Utah and New Mexico without giving adequate protection for the property of the South. By the dismemberment of Texas. By the abolition of the slave trade, and the emancipation of slaves carried into the District of Columbia for sale.

Resolved, That we earnestly recommend to all parties in the slaveholding States, to refuse to go into or countenance any national convention, whose object may be to nominate candi­dates for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency of the United States, under any party denomination whatever, until our constitutional rights are secured.

Resolved, That in view of these aggressions, and of those threatened and impending, we earnestly recommend to the slaveholding states, to meet in a congress or convention to be held at such time and place as the states desiring to be represented, may designate, to be composed of double the number of their senators and representatives in the Congress of the United States, intrusted with full power and authority to deliberate and act with a view and intention of arresting further aggression, and if pos­sible of restoring the constitutional rights of the South, and if not to provide for their safety and independence.

Resolved, That the president of this convention be requested to forward copies of the foregoing preamble and resolutions to the governors of each of the slave-holding States of the Union, to be laid before their respective legislatures at their earliest as­sembling.

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