Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Quote of the Day

Quotation du Jour

Since this has come up in a comments section, I thought it would be worth quoting John Quincy Adams' comments, on moving some resolutions on the Louisiana Purchase.  

By the treaty with France we have  acquired all the rights of sovereignty over the inhabitants of Louisiana which France could impart; but as, to use the language of our declaration of independence, the just powers of a govern­ ment can be derived only from the consent of the governed, the French Republic could not give us the right to make laws for the people of Louisiana, without their acquiescence in the transfer. I never considered this as an objection against the ratification of the treaty, because I did not deem it indispensable that this con­sent of the ceded people should precede the conclusion of the com­pact. That would indeed have been the most natural and most eligible course of proceeding, had it been practicable, and such was the opinion of our own executive before the negotiation of the treaty. But theoretic principles of government can never be carried into practice to their full extent. They must be modified and accommodated to the situations and circumstances of human events and human concerns. But between those allowances necessary to reconcile the rigor of principle with the resistance of practice, and the total sacrifice of all principle, there is a wide difference. If in the Louisiana negotiation our government had insisted on obtaining the consent of the people before the con­clusion of the treaty, in all probability the treaty itself never could have been concluded. A momentary departure from the inflexible rigor of theory was, therefore, perfectly justifiable, and in con­cluding the treaty we acquired a power over the territory and over the inhabitants which requires, so far as relates to the latter, one thing more to make it a just and lawful power. I mean their own consent. For although the necessity of the case right excuse us for not having obtained this consent beforehand, it could not absolve us from the obligation to acquire it afterwards.

(My text is from elsewhere, but the only online link I can find is here.  Goto p. 25 for the full thing.)

Categories > Quote of the Day

Discussions - 5 Comments

Reading further in that, Adams embraces the Lockean idea of slavery as justifed by conquest. If we had won the territory through war, we could do what liked, on that basis. It was only the purchasing of the territory (and the peple in it?) which meant we had to right to tax them or make laws to govern them without their consent through representation.

(I do love John Quincy Adams.)

Did the US ever intend to make slaves of the people in the Purchase? I don't think so.

But many U.S. citizens, including President Jefferson, wanted to keep many residents of Louisiana in slavery after the purchase.

I read JQA as arguing that no legislative power is legitimate without consent. He notes taxation because it's the strongest example.

P.S. JQA also argued at Ghent, quoting Vattel, that the U.S. deserved land more than various Indian tribes because the U.S. would make more civilized use of it. (I had it first, was not a sufficient reason). After he lost the Presidency, and it became apparent that much of the territory he helped to secure for the U.S. in 1814 and later on would be used for slaver, he concluded that he was wrong. The Indians would make more civilized use of the land than would slaveholding Americans.

Allowing people in the territory to keep their slaves is not the same as enslaving the people of the territory. I grant the principle, that slavery is an abrogation of natural rights and is evil, but suggest we should not impose our current values on the period. The people who lived on the other side of the Mississippi would have understood my distinction completely.

Yes, we can read what JQA says in that way, but since no one was proposing that in purchasing the Purchase we were also purchasing the inhabitants of the Purchase, it was in matters of governance, like taxation, that consent of the governed mattered. If this had been a matter of high principle with him, would he have come to support the Purchase, as he did?

Re your PS: that kind of thing is what makes JQA so engaging.

It's not a question of purchasing the inhabitats. It's a question of forcibly changing their political allegiance. That's a violation of the principles upon which the U.S. was founded. According to the principles of 1776, such change is only to be made with the consent of the governed. Hence, "the just powers of a govern­ ment can be derived only from the consent of the governed, the French Republic could not give us the right to make laws for the people of Louisiana, without their acquiescence in the transfer." He's talking about all law, not just taxes.

I addressed that in the other thread.

JQA certainly thought those [people] in the Louisiana would object if it were put to a vote, but that does not mean it was true. It was his surmise. New Orleans certainly was French, but think about Aaron Burr's conspiracy. He wasn't speaking to a bunch of French people in the West of 1805.

I suspect it became clear to Adams that there were not all that many people in the territory that had a clear political allegiance in the way he meant it. France (or Spain) owned the territory as a possession. Who was going to go out there and take a poll of the inhabitants to see where their loyalties lay? Do you suppose there were more Indians with tribal loyalties than there were Frenchmen? Were there more Frenchmen with loyalty to Napoleon's French government or were there more Bourbon supporters who had escaped the French Revolution and would still be loyal to a king? Perhaps the Spanish had a majority( -- doubtful). Or perhaps there were numbers of people who either were US citizens or who would like to be or who would simply prefer that to being handed back and forth from the French to the Spanish sovereigns as European pawns.

I know exactly what Adams meant, but no one had consulted the people of the territory as to their political allegiance prior to the purchase by the US. Given that they would be allowed to form states eventually and choose an independent allegiance in that way, the inhabitants had a better chance at "consent of the governed" in a territory owned by the US than owned by anyone else. And they were going to be owned, even though given the political reality of their existence they had more free expression of their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (or property) than almost anyone else in the world.

Only an American would ask them what they wanted. That's why I refer to matters of governance. Outside of New Orleans, most people ruled themselves -- who would be a tax-collector in that territory, anyway? Most of the place was in a state of nature and unimproved, hence reference to natural law philosophy as to what ought to be done with it.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field
 

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL: http://nlt.ashbrook.org/movabletype/mt-tb.cgi/16235