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Memorial regarding slavery's extension, 21 December 1819

The committee appointed by one of the foregoing resolutions to prepare and present a memorial to congress, having withdrawn for the purpose of agreeing to the same, again appeared in the meeting—when the following was reported on their behalf by Mr. Duer, and unanimously adopted.

To the honorable the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress assembled.

The memorial of the inhabitants of the city and county of Albany, in the state of New York,

Respectfully showeth,

That your memorialists have ever regarded the existence of slavery within the United States not only as a moral evil, but as a political calamity, from the opprobium and dangers of which it became our rulers, upon the acquisition of our national independence, and the establishment of our free consitutions of goverment, to deliever us as speedily as a due regard to the rights of property might allow. It is therefore gratifying to your memorialists, to find in some of the first acts of the founders of our liberties a justification of both their sentiments and their expectation.

Soon after the revolution which terminated in the establishment of our political independence, and almost immediately upon the adoption of those forms of goverment which secured our natural and civil rights, measures were adopted in this state, and some others in which slavery had been permitted, to promote its gradual and final abolition. And upon the formation of the federal consitution, the wise and good men who framed that instrument admitted into it an article, as a limitation of the powers vested in congress, by which it was provided, that the migration or importation of slaves should not be prohibited by congress, prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight. In virtue of that inherent power to which this limitation evidently refers, congress, by an act passed on the second day of March, one thousand eight hundred and seven, prohibited such migration from that day on which the limitation of their power should have expired. 

Your memorialists further respectfully represent, that during the existence of that confederation of the states which was superceded by the establishment of our present consitution, to wit: in the year 1787, the United States in congress assembled, passed an ordinance for the goverment of the territory northwest of the river Ohio, ceded to them by the several states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New-York and Virginia, the two former of which states prohibited, and the two latter permitted slavery within their respective limits; which cession was, upon the express condition, that the states thereafter to be created from that territory, should have the same rights of sovereignty, freedom and independence as the other states. This ordinance contains certain articles which are styled, "unalterable unless by commom consent," the 6th of which provides, "that there should be neither, slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, and they are accordingly forever prohibited in the state since erected therein.

Your memorialists are aware, that other states have been erected within the original limits of the United States, and admitted into the union without a prohibition of the extention of slavery therein, and it is by no means their intetion now to call in queston the wisdom of congress in consenting to such admission. Three of those states comprehend territory, ceded to the U.S. by the states of N. Carolina and Georgia, upon condition that the ordinance of 1787, except the sixth article thereof respecting slavery, should be applied thereto. And of the other two states now in question, slavery was never permitted in the one, and the other having been formed from part of a state which permitted its existence, was by a liberal construction of the consitution, exempt from all such interferences of congress, as might disturb or impair therein, the security of property in slaves.

Your memorialists are also aware, that from a part of the territory acquired by the treaty beyond the original limits of the United States, one other state has been erected and admitted into the union without a prohibition of slavery therein. But your memorialists venture to presume, that this omission is to be ascribed to the peculiar situation and circumstance of that portion of the territory in question, or to causes analagous to those which prevented the total and immediate abolition of slavery, in some of the oldest members of the confederacy; and upon the admission of that state into the union, such other condtions were imposed by congress as in the particular instance were deemed required and proper.

Such considerations, however, your memorialists apprehend, cannot apply where new states are proposed to be erected in those fertile and extensive, but almost unpeopled portion of the territory, acquired by treaty, west of the river Mississippi. Nor in the opinion of your memorialists, can any considerations of justice or policy be offered to induce congress to consent to the admission of any such state into the union, without a condition prohibiting therein, an extension of the complicated evils of slavery.

With great mortification, therefore, your memorialists percieved, that at the last session of congress, an amendment adopted by the honorable the house of representatives to a bill for the admission into the union of a new state to be erected from the Missouri territory, rendering the prohibition of the further extension of slavery therein, a condition of such admission, had been disagreed to by the honorable the senate. And it is with equal regret your memorialists have learnt, that a bill is now pending in the honorable the house of representatives for erecting a new state from the same territory and admitting it into the union, without such condition. 

With all due submission to the superior wisdom and intelligence of congress, your memorialists respectfully suggest, that since the expiration of the time limited in the constitution, the national legislature has possesed the power of prohibiting the introduction of slavery in any state thereafter to be admitted into the union, whether that state were formed from territory comprised within the original limits of the United States, or from territory acquired by treaty beyond those limits; and consequently that it now possesses indisputable power to render the prohibition of the further extention of slavery in such new state a condition of its admission into the union. That there is nothing contained in the treaty by which the Missouri territory was with the rest of Louisianna ceded to the United States, to restrain the exercise of such power in regard to the state now proposed to be erected therein, and that it is highly just and expedient that congress should, on the present occasion, as well as in all future cases of the admission of new states into the union, interpose to prevent, in the most effectual manner, the further increase of slavery in this nation.

Your memorialists are unwiling to enlarge upon these topics, from a conviction that the reasons and motives by which they might be enforced, cannot fail to press themselves on the minds, and touch the hearts of the representatives of a humane, enlightened people. They cannot forbear however to remark, that whatever considerations of political prudence may have led to the compromise by which, upon the adoption of the federal goverment, three fifths of all other persons than free persons, and indians not taxed, were included in the apportionment of representatives and direct taxes, they can afford no argument to justify the extension of the principle in regard to states not then comprised within our territorial limits. On the contrary, your memorialists believe that such an application of the rule would be repugnant to the spirit of that article of the constitution to which they have referred. At the time that constitution was adopted, the boundaries of the United States were, as to the purposes of this question, accurately defined, and in all human probability no acquisition of foreign territory was contemplated. The advantage or disadvantage resulting to the several states from the article in question, was a subject of fair and rational calculation, and the effects and consequences of the principle embraced in it, must have been estimated in reference to the probable increase of population within the then limits of the union, and in connection with the power of congress to prohibit the importation or migration of slaves after a fixed period. An extension, therefore, of the rule which would admit three fifths of the slaves hereafter to be introduced into the immense regions westward of the Mississippi, to be computed in the apportionment of representatives in congress, would destroy the equilibrium intended to be established by the constitution; and as the public revenue is in point of fact drawn almost entirely from the sources of indirect taxation, such extension would give to the states in which involuntary servitude would be permitted, a preponderance, for which no counterpoise could be found in the constitution, and might lead to to a catastrophe to which your memorialists can never advert without dismay. Neither can they contemplate, without dread, the consequences of a measure by which so large a proportion of that part of our territory, which is bounded by the dominions of a foreign nation, would be deprived of the constitutional militia force necessary to protect it from invasion from abroad, or insurrection at home. 

Besides the political evils to be apprehended from the further extension of slavery within our limits its moral tendency and effects appear to your memorialists of a nature to excite still stronger emotions.— They can never reflect without horror upon the cruelties and sufferings which in other countries have preceded and attended servile wars, nor remeber without poingant regret that while other civilized nations of the earth are uniting to effect the extirpation of slavery, in this free republic alone it should be proposed to extend and perpetuate its existence. 

Your memorialists, therefore, humbly pray, that congress will pass no law for admitting the state of Missouri, or any other new state into the union, without rendering the prohibition of the further extension of slavery therein a condition of such admission.

And your memorialists in duty bound will ever pray, &c.

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Source: Albany (NY) Argus
Collection: N/A
Series: Series 3 (17 February 1815-2 December 1821)