Mr. Norton's Speech.

[p. 209-212]

Mr. Norton's speech in response to Mr. Bond's resolution to prohibit free blacks from coming into Illinois and to prohibit slave owners from bringing slaves into Illinois in order to set them free.

Mr. NORTON said, that he desired to state the reasons which would govern him in his vote upon this question, and why he should vote against the resolution and the amendment. He was happy to say that he did not find himself in the dilemma in which other gentlemen were placed. He opposed this resolution because he deemed it wrong in principle and wrong in practice, and could give the reasons for going against it without feeling himself called upon to define his position. He would give his views, founded, as he thought, upon principles of right. The resolution, as he understood it, had two objects — the first, the exclusion, by penal enactments, of all free negroes; the second, a prohibition against their emancipation and settlement in this State. The first of these he considered a direct infringement of the constitution of the United States, which he, as a member of the Convention, had taken an oath to support, and which was regarded as the glory of the country, and gave us a character abroad. No one would contend that we had the power to infringe that constitution in any of its provisions. That constitution says, "that the citizens of one State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities in the several States."

This resolution prohibits free negroes from coming into the State. Does that sacred instrument — the constitution of the United States — say "white" citizens. No, sir, you may search in vain in that instrument for the word white, or black, or yellow. What citizens does the constitution recognize? — All native born and naturalized citizens. He would refer gentlemen to the State of Vermont, no distinction is made in her constitution; there these people have all the privileges possessed by the whites; they have property and a right to vote. Go to Massachusetts, where he thought they had a little notion of what was liberty — government and right, and there they are entitled to hold property, a right to vote, and, in theory, if not in practice, a privilege of a seat in the General Assembly. These men are citizens of those States. Can we say then that a citizen of Massachusetts, Vermont or New York shall be prohibited from settling in the State of Illinois, in direct violation of an article of the constitution of the United States? If that constitution can be violated in one provision, it can be in another. Was any such distinction contemplated at the adoption of that constitution? Do you think that the men who framed that constitution would ever have permitted the word "white" to go into the constitution? Every delegate in the Convention that framed that constitution from the North — from Virginia and Maryland, would have voted against it. And if they had put it in, the constitution would never [have] been adopted by the people. He came not there to produce excitement by a discussion on this subject. He would rather have avoided it, but by the introduction of this resolution the question had been forced upon them. He would ask the gentleman who introduced this resolution, if he remembered the time, when it was attempted to put such a provision as this in the constitution of Missouri, how the whole north opposed it, and that Missouri could never have been admitted into the Union with that provision in her constitution, without some explanatory clauses. The people, would have let her fall into the dust before they would have consented. He was not prepared to say that those born in servitude and yet slaves are citizens, this question did not arise, and he was not disposed to argue it. The first principle of this resolution is unequal, unjust and opposed to the first principles of free government. These colored people came to this country not of their own accord, we brought them here, they cannot get away; it is said to colonize them, how? they cannot colonize themselves. He would not insert a provision inviting them to our State; nor would he have one to prohibit them. Is it just, equal or republican to say in our constitution that an honest colored man, with property and perhaps education, shall not come to this State because some men of color who are here are lazy? Our armies were now fighting at the south and the probability is that we will extend the area of our freedom, and that States are to come into the Union with people of every stripe and color, and can they come in without full and equal rights? If this clause be inserted into the constitution he would guaranty 10,000 votes against it, and in the county of Will he would guaranty a majority of 1,000. The whole north would oppose it. This resolution was the very thing to produce excitement; such things had been always the cause of it all over the length and breadth of the land. Having thus justified his vote, he did not consider he should define his position.