Description[Wilmot Proviso]. John McLean Autograph Letter Signed With Related Papers. A letter from Supreme Court Justice McLean to Gamaliel Bailey, four pages, 8" x 9.75", Cincinnati; October 10, 1847. Justice McLean states his position on the Wilmot Proviso, which was still under debate in both houses. In part: "I think in advocating the Wilmot proviso, you do not take the strong ground and the only one which can be successful. You know my view is, to oppose the acquisition of territory and especially the acquisition of territory by conquest... My objection to it [the Wilmot Proviso] is that it is not the strongest ground to be assumed against the extension of slavery. This proviso may be repealed at any time by Congress, and it adds nothing, of legal force, against the extension of slavery. We will suppose that territory is annexed, without the proviso. What follows - the territory is free. It is just as free without the proviso as with it. How is it to be made slave territory. Our decisions have fully established that slavery is local, and that it only exists within the jurisdiction where it is instituted. If a slave escapes beyond the jurisdiction in which he is held, he is free; and his master cannot reclaim him, unless there is some general law on the subject. The result of this principle is that there can be no slavery in a territory of the United States, unless it is sanctioned by law... Don't you see the strength in this position. By advocating the Wilmot Proviso, you weaken the position... But there is another ground which if sustainable, is better that a thousand Wilmot provisos. It is, that Congress have no power to institute slavery. The power to tolerate slavery or recognize it, where it exists in a territory before its organization as a territory, is not the same as the power to institute slavery. For slaves being recognized by law as property, coming into the Union, the recognition of slavery is the mere recognition of vested rights. This was the case in the annexation of Louisiana. The question whether Congress can institute slavery in a territory which is free is a great question. I have not examined this question as I should do, nor would it be proper, perhaps, that I should give an opinion on the print, before it shall come judicially before me. My inclination is strongly against the power... " In total four pages filled with great content in which McLean poses legal arguments as a means to prevent the expansion of slavery in newly acquire territories. The Wilmot Proviso would ultimately be defeated; and eventually the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law would debunk McLean's argument that "slavery is local."
Together with six letters from Gamaliel Bailey, two addressed to Judge McLean, and four to Sarah McLean (the Judge's wife). The group also contains a period fair copy of one of Bailey's letters to Sarah, accomplished in an unknown hand. In a letter dated August 7, 1847, Bailey seeks McLean's advice regarding how to use legal recourse in demanding advertising contracts from the government: "The law of Congress of 1845, makes it obligatory, unqualifiedly, on the Government... to advertise their contracts, notices, &c in two papers at Washington having the largest circulation..." Bailey believe that the circulation of the Era met these standards. Later in the same letter, Bailey asks McLean for a report on a pending court case in Columbus regarding a slave: "... is there no way of obtaining a full and an accurate report? That was a cold-blooded opinion of Judge Woodbury. He used the term 'property' in relation to human beings, as flippantly as if he were a slave holder..." His letter dated November 4, 1847 includes political content: "New York, you will have learned, is turned topsy-turvy. Poor Mr. Polk and his man Friday!... Marcy had laid himself out to carry the state for the Administration. And to complete the confusion of tongues, Martin Van Buren, suddenly comes out and virtually accepts a nomination from a portion of the invincible Democracy of Pennsylvania..."
Bailey's letters to Sarah McLean are no less interesting. The letters cover many political topics, the challenges in raising money for his newspaper, and his anti-slavery position.
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