Ordinance of 1787 Had No Effect on Slavery
Stephen Arnold Douglas

The States formed out of the territory northwest of the Ohio, did not become free by virtue of the Ordinance, nor in consequence of it. Those States became free by virtue of their own will, recorded in the fundamental laws of their own making. That is the source of their freedom. In all republican states, laws and ordinances are mere nullities, unless sustained by the hearts and intellects of the people for whom they are made, and by whom they are to be executed.

The Ordinance of 1787 did the South no harm, and the North no good. Illinois, for instance, was a slave territory. Even in 1840, there were 331 slaves in Illinois. How came these slaves in Illinois? They were taken there under the Ordinance, and in defiance of it. The people of Illinois, while it was a territory, were mostly emigrants from the slaveholding States. But when their convention assembled at Kaskaskia in 1818, to form the constitution of the State of Illinois, although it was composed of slaveholders, yet they had become satisfied, from experience, that the climate and productions of Illinois were unfavorable to slave labor. They accordingly made provision for a gradual system of emancipation, by which the State should become eventually free. These facts show that the Ordinance had no practical effect upon slavery. Slavery existed under the Ordinance; and since the Ordinance has been suspended by the State governments, slavery has gradually disappeared under the operation of laws adopted and executed by the people themselves. A law passed by the national legislature to operate locally upon a people not represented, will always remain a dead letter, if it be in opposition to the wishes and interest of those who are to be affected by it.

In regard to the effects of the Missouri Compromise on the question of slavery, I do not think that it had any practical effect on that question, one way or another; it neither curtailed nor extended slavery one inch.

We recognize the right of the South, in common with our right, to emigrate to the Territories with their property, and there hold and enjoy it in subordination to the laws in force there. The senator from South Carolina desires such an amendment to the Constitution as shall stipulate that in all time to come, there shall be as many slaveholding States in the Union as there are States without slaves. The adoption and execution of such a provision would be an impossibility. We have a vast territory which is filling up with an industrious and enterprising population, large enough to form seventeen new States, one-half of which we may expect to see represented in this body during our day. Of these, four will be formed out of Oregon, five out of our late acquisition from Mexico, including the present State of California, and two out of Minnesota. Each of these will be free Territories and free States, whether Congress shall prohibit slavery in them or not. Where are you to find the slave territory with which to balance these seventeen free Territories? In Texas? If Texas should be divided into five States, at least three of them will in all probability be free.


Life of Stephen A. Douglas to which are added His Speeches And Reports by H. M. Flint, pages 40-42
W. H. Harrison, Jr., Publisher and Bookseller, 315 Wabash Avenue, Chicago, 1863