Douglas' Report [January 4, 1854]

The principal amendments which your committee deem it their duty to commend to the favorable action of the Senate, in a special report, are those in which the principles established by the compromise measures of I850, So far as they are applicable to territorial organizations, are proposed to be affirmed and carried into practical operation within the limits of the new Territory.

The wisdom of those measures is attested, not less by their salutary and beneficial effects, in allaying sectional agitation and restoring peace and harmony to an irritated and distracted people, than by the cordial and almost universal, approbation with which they have been received and sanctioned by the whole country. In the judgment of your committee, those measures were intended to have a far more comprehensive and enduring effect than the mere adjustment of the difficulties arising out of the recent acquisition of Mexican territory. They were designed to establish certain great principles which would not only furnish adequate remedies for existing evils, but, in all time to come, avoid the perils of a similar agitation, by withdrawing the question of slavery from the halls of Congress and the political arena, and committing it to the arbitrament of those who were immediately interested in, and alone responsible for its consequences. With the view of conforming their action to what they regard the settled policy of the government, sanctioned by the approving voice of the American people, your committee have deemed it their duty to incorporate and perpetuate, in their territorial bill, the principles and spirit of those measures. If any other consideration were necessary, to render the propriety of this course imperative upon the committee, they may be found in the fact, that the Nebraska country occupies the same relative position to the slavery question, as did New Mexico and Utah, when those territories were organized.

It was a disputed point, whether slavery was prohibited by law in the country acquired from Mexico. On the one hand it was contended, as a legal proposition, that slavery having been prohibited by the enactments of Mexico, according to the laws of nations, we received the country with all its local laws and domestic institutions attached to the soil, so far as they did not conflict with the Constitution of the United States; and that a law, either protecting or prohibiting slavery, was not repugnant to that instrument, as was evidenced by the fact, that one-half of the States of the Union tolerated, while the other half prohibited, the institution of slavery On the other hand it was insisted that, by virtue of the Constitution of the United States, every citizen had a right to remove to any territory of the Union, and carry his property with him under the protection of law, whether that property consisted in persons or things....

. .. a similar question has arisen in regard to the right to hold slaves in the proposed territory of Nebraska when the Indian laws shall be withdrawn, and the country thrown open to emigration and settlement. [The report quotes the section of the Missouri Enabling Act (No. 7 7, ante) relating to slavery, and continued:

Under this section, as in the case of the Mexican law in New Mexico and Utah, it is a disputed point whether slavery is prohibited in the Nebraska country by valid enactment. The decision of this question involves the constitutional power of Congress to pass laws prescribing and regulating the domestic institutions of the various territories of the Union. In the opinion of those eminent statesmen, who hold that Congress is invested with no rightful authority to legislate upon the subject of slavery in the territories, the 8th section of the act preparatory to the admission of Missouri is null and void; while the prevailing sentiment in large portions of the Union sustains the doctrine that the Constitution of the United States secures to every citizen an inalienable right to move into any of the territories with his property, of whatever kind and description, and to hold and enjoy the same under the sanction of law. Your committee do not feel themselves called upon to enter into the discussion of these controverted questions. They involve the same grave issues which produced the agitation, the sectional strife, and the fearful struggle of I850. As Congress deemed it wise and prudent to refrain from deciding the matters in controversy then, either by affirming or repealing the Mexican laws, or by an act declaratory of the true intent of the Constitution and the extent of the protection afforded by it to slave property in the territories, so your committee are not prepared now to recommend a departure from the course pursued on that memorable occasion, either by affirming or repealing the 8th section of the Missouri act, or by any act declaratory of the meaning of the Constitution in respect to the legal points in dispute.

Your committee deem it fortunate for the peace of the country, and the security of the Union, that the controversy then resulted in the adoption of the compromise measures, which the two great political parties, with singular unanimity, have affirmed as a cardinal article of their faith, and proclaimed to the world, as a final settlement of the controversy and an end of the agitation. A due respect, therefore, for the avowed opinions of Senators, as well as a proper sense of patriotic duty, enjoins upon your committee the propriety and necessity of a strict adherence to the principles, and even a literal adoption of the enactments of that adjustment in all their territorial bills, so far as the same are not locally inapplicable. . . .

[The report here quotes various provisions of the compromise acts of I850, and concludes]: From these provisions it is apparent that the compromise measures of I850 affirm and rest upon the following propositions —First: That all questions pertaining to slavery in the territories. and in the new States to be formed therefrom, are to be left to the decision of the people residing therein, by their appropriate representatives, to be chosen by them for that purpose.

Second: That "all cases involving title to slaves," and "questions of personal freedom" are referred to the adjudication of the local tribunals, with the right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Third: That the provisions of the Constitution of the United States, in respect to fugitives from service, is to be carried into faithful execution in all " the organized territories" the same as in the States. The substitute for the bill which your committee have prepared, and which is commended to the favorable action of the Senate, proposes to carry these propositions and principles into practical operation, in the precise language of the compromise measures of I850.