David Wilmot Appeals for Free Soil (1847)
While the Mexican War was still being fought, President Polk, his eye on California, asked Congress for $2 million with which to negotiate a peace. Representative David Wilmot of Pennsylvania proposed adding to the appropriation bill an amendment or proviso designed to bar slavery forever from any territory to be wrested from Mexico. Angry southerners sprang to their feet; and the so-called Wilmot Proviso, though twice passing the House, was blocked in the Senate. But it became the cradle of the yet unborn Republican party, and it precipitated a debate that continued until silenced by the guns of civil war. In the following speech in Congress by Wilmot, what does he conceive the moral issue to be? How effectively does he meet the argument regarding "joint blood and treasure"? Could he properly be regarded as an abolitionist?
But, sir, the issue now presented is not whether slavery shall exist unmolested where it now is, but whether it shall be carried to new and distant regions, now free, where the footprint of a slave cannot be found. This, sir, is the issue. Upon it I take my stand, and from it I cannot be frightened or driven by idle charges of abolitionism.
I ask not that slavery be abolished. I demand that this government preserve the integrity of free territory against the aggressions of slavery-against its wrongful usurpations.
Sir, I was in favor of the annexation of Texas .... The Democracy [Democratic party] of the North, almost to a man, went for annexation. Yes, sir, here was an empire larger than France given up to slavery. Shall further concessions be made by the North? Shall we give up free territory, the inheritance of free labor? Must we yield this also? Never, sir, never, until we ourselves are fit to be slaves ....
Now, sir, we are told that California is ours, that New Mexico is ours-won by the valor of our arms. They are free. Shall they remain free? Shall these fair provinces be the inheritance and homes of the white labor of freemen or the black labor of slaves? This, sir, is the issue-this the question. The North has the right, and her representatives here have the power. ...
But the South contend that, in their emigration to this free territory, they have the right to take and hold slaves, the same as other property. Unless the amendment I have offered be adopted, or other early legislation is had upon this subject, they will do so. Indeed, they unitedly, as one man, have declared their right and purpose so to do, and the work has already begun.
Congressional Globe, 29th Congress, 2d session (February 8, 1847), Appendix, p. 315.