[Volume 1, Page 537]

CHAPTER 15 | Document 29

Timothy Pickering to Rufus King

6 Mar. 1785King Life 1:45--46

In looking over the Act of Congress of the 23d of April 1784 (Mr. Jefferson's act) and the present report of an ordinance relative to these lands, I observe no provision is made for ministers of the Gospel, nor even for schools and academies. The latter might have been brought into view; tho' after the admission of Slavery, it was right to say nothing of Christianity. Yet so glaring an inconsistency could not have occasioned much surprise. It is easy to be inconsistent. Congress made this important declaration "that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," and these truths were held to be self evident. These great truths are echoed through the U.S., nevertheless a proposition for preventing a violation of these truths in a country yet unsettled and from which such violence might easily have been excluded, did not obtain! What pretence (argument there could be none) could be offered for its rejection? I should indeed have objected to the period proposed (the year 1800) for the exclusion of slavery, for the admission of it for a day or an hour ought to have been forbidden. It will be infinitely easier to prevent the Evil at first, than to eradicate or check it at any future time. How would Congress wish the new states to be settled, by slaves or by freemen? Take any given period, say 50 years--Will those States in that time have more acres of improved land by the admission than by the exclusion of slaves? In respect to population and improvement, compare Pennsylvania with Maryland and Virginia, particularly the latter. But why do I expostulate with you who already see all the reasons on this subject in points of view more striking than I can place them? Forgive me if my solicitude to prevent the greatest of evils has rendered me prolix. To suffer the continuance of slaves until they can gradually be emancipated in States already overrun with them may be pardonable, because unavoidable without hazarding greater evils; but to introduce them into countries where none now exist, countries which have been talked of--which we have boasted of--as an asylum to the oppressed of the Earth--can never be forgiven. For God's sake, then, let one more effort be made to prevent so terrible a calamity. The fundamental constitutions of the States are yet liable to alterations, and this is probably the only time when the evil can certainly be prevented.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 15, Document 29
The University of Chicago Press

The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King. Edited by Charles R. King. 6 vols. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1894--1900.

© 1987 by The University of Chicago
All rights reserved. Published 2000