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The article as it originally appeared.

October 4, 1860, Page 4 The New York Times Archives

Popular Sovereignty

October 4th 1860 Page 4

The New York Times Archives

The phrase "Popular Sovereignty" is potent in the mouth of the stump orator and the demagogue, because it is redolent of the great truths which lie at the basis of our free institutions. The whole people are sovereign, and to them the individual may take his appeal from Congress, from the Executive, and from the Supreme Court itself, upon any question of civil or political liberty. These are but the organs of the popular will; and their decrees, if erroneous, are liable to reversal by the power which created them. The people alone are supreme, under the Constitution, and under God. But the claim of Sovereignty for the people of a Territory is palpably absurd, if we reflect that the Territories are the common property of the country at large, and that no individual has a right to occupy any portion of them without first obtaining the common consent expressed through Congress. This consent may be given in general terms, or with specific conditions. Congress may concede an absolute power of self-government, including the right to elect a Governor and Council, as well as the popular branch of the Legislature, Judges, and all other officers, with a complete right and power of legislation, subject to the Constitution of the United States; or it may vest in the President the right to appoint, with the advice and consent of the Senate, the Governor, Council or Senate, Judges, and all other principal officers, and concede merely the right to elect the lower branch of the Legislature, with perhaps sheriffs and constables. But in either case it is merely delegated power, which they are permitted to exercise, in which there is not an element of Sovereignty.

It is singular that neither Gen. CASS nor Mr. DOUGLAS have ever shown a willingness, practically, to concede absolute powers of self-government to the people of a Territory, notwithstanding the liberality of their theories. In advocating the Kansas-Nebraska bill, it is but just to admit that Mr. DOUGLAS went as far, if not further, than he has recently done, in asserting the sovereign right of the people of a Territory to legislate for themselves "upon all subjects whatsoever;" but he took good care, in framing that bill, to reserve to a Democratic Pro-Slavery President the right of appointing the Governor, upon whom the veto power was conferred, the Secretary of State, who was made ex-officio President of the Council, or Senate, and the Judges, with power to annul the legislative acts if deemed inconsistent with the Pro-Slavery theory of the Constitution.

Here we have another illustration of the facility with which the world is imposed upon by the professions of its public teachers. No private individual, in a matter affecting his pecuniary interests, would for a moment tolerate such a discrepancy between the formal contract and the verbal agreement. These leaders of the Northern Democracy have each attempted in turn to ride into the Executive chair of the nation by proclaiming the equality of the people of the Territories with those of the States, while neither has proposed to concede to them the essentials of sovereignty. As the leaders of the dominant party, they have had it in their power to make the people of the Territories really free, by conferring upon them the right of self-government. But instead of taking this course they in every instance retained the complete control of the powers of legislation, as well as the administration of the laws in the hands of the Central Government. It was the sham popular sovereignty of the Nebraska-Kansas bill which enabled the Administrations of PIERCE and BUCHANAN to defeat the popular will in Kansas, through the instrumentality of corrupt and Pro-Slavery Governors and Judges, imposed upon the people against their wishes, and who would have been driven from the Territory by a storm of public indignation, but for the Federal bayonets which sustained them. It was this vile imposture that enabled border-ruffianism to manufacture its majorities and concoct its Lecompton frauds. Had Mr. DOUGLAS' bill for the organization of the Territory given to the people the right of electing their own officers, and had the Federal military force been merely neutral, instead of abetting ruffianism, the crimes of which the late and present Administrations will stand convicted on the pages of history could never have been perpetrated.

The assertion of sovereign authority in the Territories is a bald absurdity, which those who proclaim in theory deny in practice. But the conception of the right of self-government, provided the Constitution is adhered to, would be in most cases wise and expedient, as well as just. But the Federal Government can never abrogate its right of revising the Territorial laws, although the exercise of that right may rarely become necessary. The abolition of polygamy in Utah at the late session of Congress, is an illustration of the imperative duty which rests upon Congress in this particular, and of the unanimity with which all sections will combine for the exercise of legitimate power, in spite of the vaunted theories of demagogues, invented for a particular juncture to rid themselves of responsibility. If this doctrine of innate Sovereignty in the Territories be conceded, there is no enormity in the shape of governments or institutions which may not be smuggled into our American system, and defy the moral sense of a free Christian people. Polygamy is one of these; but their name is legion. Whatever is odious in despotism or in pagan, superstition might claim protection, and the right to admission into the Union, if this fallacy of Territorial Sovereignty were allowed to become the settled policy of the country. It is but the conceit of a political charlatan and the refuge of a demagogue, who, nevertheless, has never evinced his sincerity by proposing to carry his theory into practice.

At 9 o'clock yesterday morning, the ship Erie, of New-York, arrived at the Brooklyn Navy-yard from Monrovia, on the Coast of Africa, having been captured by the United States steamer Mohican. She had 890 slaves on board, of whom 860 were delivered to the Government agent at Monrovia, the other 30 having died on the voyage from the place of capture. She cleared from Havana on the 11th of April last for the Congo River, in charge of Capt. KNUDSON.

The Erie hauled into the stream at the Navy-yard last evening. She brings home Lieut. J.W. DUNNINGTON, Passed Midshipman H.D. TODD, and a prize crew of ten men, belonging to the captor of the slaver, the U.S. steamer Mohican. The Erie's officers supposed the Mohican to be an English man-of-war, and hoped, by hoisting the American flag, to evade examination. She made the passage from Monrovia to New-York in thirty-four days, and was in company with the Marion, sloop-of-war, off Cape de Verde Islands. The Mohican sailed from Fernando Po on the 4th of August, and stood to the southward for Loando, having the squadron mail on board. When our days out, about fifty miles off the mouth of the Congo River, at 7 A.M., sighted a ship, standing to the Northwest; was about fifteen miles from the vessel, which was under all sail and port studding-sail; immediately got up additional steam and came near the stranger, which refused to show any colors. Fired a blank cartridge, and then the American ensign was hoisted from the peak of the suspicious craft. She hove to, and Lieut. DUNNINGTON went on board. On getting inside the gangway, he was confronted by a Spanish gentleman, of rather respectable appearance, who spoke English well. The officer asked if the Spaniard was Captain; the latter said not, but sent the visitor aft in quest of the skipper. An American, somewhat of a Yankee, then was accosted, but with no satisfactory result, of as he persisted in declaring that the Commander died in the Congo. The mate was next asked for, but was not forthcoming, as he ran away, it was alleged. "Who has charge of the ship?" said the naval man, becoming a little excited. No one enlightening him, he at once ordered the flag to be hauled down. "Now, boys, give' three cheers," cried Lieut. DUNNINGTON, leaning over the ship's side, and addressing his boat's crew; "for we have a genuine prize, and no mistake." The enthusiasm of the man-of-war's men found vent in several loud huzzas, which had no sooner been heard than all the hatches of the Erie flew open, as if by magic, and her crew, who had been keeping the darkies quiet below, rushed on deck, and exclaimed in a regular chorus: "It's all up with us, boys." Mr. DUNNINGTON peeped into the lower apartments, and beheld a whole mass, of woolly heads. Every black eye in the ship was bent on the unexpected intruders, who took a hasty survey of the ship, and proceeded to regulate matters generally. Extra men from the Mohican were then sent for and put on board, and the returning boats took back to the steamer the crew of the Erie. Those amongst them who were foreigners were, allowed to take French leave on the coast, and three important-looking persons, supposed to be the captain and two mates, were brought home in the slaver, and will be turned over this morning to the United States Marshal. The Mohican proceeded to Loando, and the Erie to Monrovia -- the ships' companies giving three cheers for the prize. After a run of 14 days, the slaver anchored at her destination. Twenty-nine of the poor slaves died, principally of fever and dysentery, caused, it is supposed, by Congo water on the passage, and one fell overboard. Rev. JOHN LEYS received the negroes on the 23d of August, and distributed them amongst the inhabitants of Monrovia, who promised to treat them kindly. They were perfectly naked when taken, and were delighted with the disposition made of them. They clapped hands, sung, shouted, and raised a jolly time generally. The officers and men of the Mohican, who escorted the slaves to Monrovia, describe their sufferings during the middle passage as positively revolting. They would not undertake similar duties for any consideration.

The Erie is a fine sailer, and looks like anything but a slaver. She was built at Warren, R.I., in September, 1849, and was owned for a time by Mr. RALPH POST, of New-York. She is a regular "cotton ship" in appearance. Her fitting up was most artistic: she had slave coffers, a sufficient quantity of water, vinegar in casks, placed fore and aft, to last 900 people for sixty days, and an exceedingly large quantity of rice, pork, beef, farina, bread and peanuts, of which a good portion was given to Mr. SEYS at Monrovia. The hold of the vessel is unusually neat, and was kept in excellent order. There was less filth found in the ship than is usual with slavers, which was, perhaps, owing to the fact that a large crew were exclusively employed in preserving the healthy condition of the vessel. The sails are new and valuable, and could not have been long in use. The Erie was boarded in the Congo River by the British steamer Spitfire, previous to receiving slaves. She was only seventeen hours from the slave wharf when the Mohican seized her. No other craft was ever captured on the African station with so many negroes.

The Commandant of the Brooklyn barracks had a guard of U.S. Marines put on board the prize, and they will remain on board until she is in charge of the Marshal.

The Erie's, advices from the African squadron report the San Jacinto on her way to Loando, as was also the corvette Portsmouth. The Sumpter had gone up to Accra, on the Gold Coast; the Mystic, Lieut. LEROY, was at St. Paul's, and also the Constellation, flag-ship. The Mohican was on her return from a cruise to the Gold Coast when she sighted the Erie. Lieut. GARLAND and Pd. Mid. BLAKE have been invalided from the fleet.

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