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A History of the Republican Party by Platt

For ratification by the States


In 1773 and 1774, when the colonists spoke their final defiance against Great Britain, and the latter launched her retaliatory measures, the climax was reached. It is to be kept in mind that at this time slavery existed in every one of the Colonies. The First Continental Congress, representing all the Colonies except Georgia (who agreed to concur), met at Philadelphia in September, 1774, to determine what should be done in this grave crisis. It turned out to be largely a Peace Congress, but a protest, several addresses and a non-importation and non-consumption agreement was signed. One of the Articles of this agreement provided that "We will neither import nor purchase any slave imported after the first day of December next, after which time we will wholly discontinue the slave trade, and will neither be concerned in it ourselves, nor will we hire our vessels or sell our commodities or manufactures to those who are concerned in it." This important and far-reaching resolution received the unanimous support of all the Colonies. Would that its spirit had been kept alive!

[Illustration: The White House, Washington, D. C.]

Almost two years after the First Continental Congress met (the Revolution having been started in the meantime) the Declaration of Independence was adopted, but there was no expression in it against slavery or the slave trade. The original draft of that instrument contained a fierce denunciation of England's part in the slave trade:

"He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him; capturing and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur a miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of Infidel Powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where men could be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative by suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce."

These burning words were from the pen of Jefferson, who had been the most active in his opposition to slavery. They were omitted from the Declaration, out of compliance to South Carolina and Georgia, but they voiced unquestionably the sentiment of a large majority of the Continental Congress. This was the first fatal concession to South Carolina and Georgia, and we shall find them again united and influencing the other Southern Colonies to maintain a bold stand for slavery at the most critical period in the nation's history.

On the same day in June, 1776, that the Committee was appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence, Congress resolved that "A Committee be appointed to prepare and digest the form of a Confederation to be entered into between the Colonies." The work of this Committee was the Articles of Confederation, which were presented in November, 1777, for ratification by the States. These Articles contained no anti-slavery sentiments, and we are only concerned with them in noting the unexpected and most important results which came up before the ratification was completed. Several of the States claimed a right to the territory west of the Alleghanies to the Mississippi under their original charter. Their claims were conflicting, and Maryland refused to ratify the Articles of Confederation until the land-claiming States should relinquish all their rights to Congress. For a number of years these States were obdurate, but Maryland held out resolutely and bravely, and finally, by her firm action and the magnanimity of New York and Virginia, the question was settled by the cession of the disputed lands to Congress. The acquisition of the Northwest Territory is one of the great turning points in American history, for we shall see that the subsequent development of this territory was of no less importance than the saving of the Union from annihilation by the slave power.


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