previous next

Chapter 7:

  • Refusal of Congress to act either with a view to conciliation or defence
  • -- the Senate Committee of Thirteen and its proceedings -- Mr. Crittenden submits his Compromise to the Committee -- its nature -- the Committee unable to agree -- testimony of Messrs. Douglas and Toombs that the Crittenden Compromise would have arrested secession in the cotton States -- Mr. Crittenden proposes to refer his amendment to the people of the several States by an act of ordinary legislation -- his remarks in its favor -- proceedings thereof -- expression of public opinion in its favorPres— ident Buchanan recommends it -- recommendation disregarded and proposition defeated by the Clark amendment -- observations thereon -- peace Convention proposed by Virginia -- its meeting and proceedings -- amendment to the Constitution reported by Mr. Guthrie, chairman of the Committee -- its modification on motion of Mr. Franklin, and final adoption by the Convention -- Virginia and North Carolina vote with Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont against it -- its rejection by the United States Senate -- the House of Representatives refuse even to receive it -- every Republican member in both branches of Congress opposed to it.

In this perilous condition of the country it would scarcely be believed, were it not demonstrated by the record, that Congress deliberately refused, throughout the entire session, to pass any act or resolution either to preserve the Union by peaceful measures, or to furnish the President or his successor with a military force to repel any attack which might be made by the cotton States. It neither did the one thing nor the other. It neither presented the olive branch nor the sword. All history proves that inaction in such an emergency is the worst possible policy, and can never stay the tide of revolution. On the contrary, it affords the strongest encouragement to rebellion. The sequel will prove the correctness of these opinions.

Then, first, as to the action of Congress on the President's recommendation to adopt amendments to the Constitution. Soon after its meeting, on the motion of Senator Powell, of Kentucky, ‘so much of the President's Message as relates to the present agitated and distracted condition of the country, and the grievances between the slaveholding and. the nonslave-holding States,’1 was referred to a special committee, consist [135] ing of thirteen members. This committee was composed of the most distinguished and influential Senators. They were true representatives of the political parties to which they respectively belonged. It consisted of five Republicans: Messrs. Seward, Collamer, Wade, Doolittle, and Grimes; five from slaveholding States: Messrs. Powell, Hunter, Crittenden, Toombs, and Davis; and three Northern Democrats: Messrs. Douglas, Bigler, and Bright. The latter three were intended to act as mediators between the extreme parties on the committee.

No legislative body, in the history of nations, had ever created a committee upon whose action more important consequences depended. Beyond question, they had it in their power justly and honorably to preserve the peace of the county and the integrity of the Union.

The committee first met on the 21st December, 1860, and, preliminary to any other proceeding, they ‘resolved that no proposition shall be reported as adopted, unless sustained by a majority of each of the classes of the committee; Senators of the Republican party to constitute one class, and Senators of the other parties to constitute the other class.’ This resolution was passed, because any report they might make to the Senate would be in vain unless sanctioned by at least a majority of the five Republican Senators. On the next day (the 22d), Mr. Crittenden submitted to the committee ‘A Joint Resolution’ (the same which he had two days before presented to the Senate), ‘proposing certain amendments to the Constitution of the United States,’ now known as the Crittenden Compromise This was truly a compromise of conflicting claims, because it proposed that the South should surrender their adjudged right to take slaves into all our Territories, provided the North would recognize this right in the Territories south of the old Missouri Compromise line. This amendment offered terms to the North far less favorable to the South than their existing rights under the decision of the Supreme Court.

The Constitution, as expounded by this decision, opens all the Territories, both North and South, as the common property of the States, to the introduction and protection of slave property. Mr. Crittenden's amendment proposed to restrict this general [136] right and confine it to the Territories south of the latitude of 36° 30′. It prohibited slavery forever from all Territories, ‘now held or hereafter acquired,’ north of this line, whilst south of it slavery was ‘recognized as existing, and shall not be interfered with by Congress, but shall be protected as property by all the departments of the Territorial Government during its continuance; and when any Territory north or south of said line, within such boundaries as Congress may prescribe, shall contain the population requisite for a member of Congress, it shall be admitted into the Union with or without slavery, as the Constitution of such new State may provide.’2

This amendment yielded everything to the North, except a mere abstraction. It gave, in point of fact, all the vast territories of the United States to perpetual freedom, with the single exception of New Mexico. And in regard to this, it is scarcely necessary to state to any person in the least degree acquainted with geography, that New Mexico could never practically become a slaveholding State. As to the Indian Territory south of 36° 30′, it belongs not to the United States, but is secured to the Indians by solemn treaties, founded upon full and indeed ample equivalents.

At the first it was confidently expected that this amendment would be yielded by the North as a peace offering to the South. It was in substance and in fact neither more nor less than an offer to restore the Missouri Compromise, against the repeal of which the Republican party in Congress, in 1854, had so justly struggled. It was hailed by the people throughout the country as the rainbow upon the cloud, promising peace and perpetuity to the Union. Indeed, who could fail to believe that when the alternative was presented to the Senators and Representatives of the Northern States, either to yield to their brethren in the South the barren abstraction of carrying their slaves into New Mexico, or to expose the country to the imminent peril of civil war, they would choose the side of peace and union? The period for action was still propitious. It will be recollected that Mr. Crittenden's amendment was submitted before any of our forts had been seized, before any of the cotton States, except [137] South Carolina, had seceded, and before any of the Conventions which had been called in the remaining six of these States had assembled. Under such circumstances it would have been true wisdom to seize the propitious moment before it fled forever, and even yield, if need be, a trifling concession to patriotic policy, if not to abstract justice, rather than expose the country to a great impending calamity. And how small the concession required even from a sincere anti-slavery Republican! In the language of Mr. Crittenden: ‘The sacrifice to be made for its preservation [that of the Union] is comparatively worthless. Peace and harmony and union in a great nation were never purchased at so cheap a rate as we now have it in our power to do. It is a scruple only, a scruple of as little value as a barleycorn, that stands between us and peace and reconciliation and union; and we stand here pausing and hesitating about that little atom which is to be sacrificed.’3

Notwithstanding these powerful arguments in favor of the Crittenden Compromise, it was rejected by the Committee of Thirteen, every one of its five Republican members, together with Messrs. Davis and Toombs, from the cotton States, having voted against it. Indeed, not one of all the Republicans in the Senate, at any period or in any form, voted in its favor, doubtless for the reason that it tolerated slavery within New Mexico, in opposition to the Chicago platform. This they held paramount to every other consideration.

The committee, having failed to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion, reported their disagreement to the Senate on the 31st December, 1860, in a resolution declaring that they had ‘not been able to agree upon any general plan of adjustment.’4 Thus on the last day of the year 1860 vanished the reasonable prospect that any of the seven cotton States would voluntarily remain in the Union. Soon thereafter the Conventions of Florida on the 7th January, Mississippi the 9th, Alabama the 11th, Georgia the 19th, Louisiana the 25th, and Texas the 5th February, adopted ordinances of secession by overwhelming majorities. Several of these States, after the evil example of South Carolina, [138] proceeded to seize the public property within their limits; and the authorities of Louisiana, even before her ordinance of secession, more outrageous than the rest, robbed the Branch Mint and Sub-Treasury at New Orleans of a large amount of money.

But was Mr. Crittenden correct in believing, notwithstanding the adverse vote of Messrs. Davis and Toombs in the committee, that the adoption of his amendment would have arrested secession in the cotton States? There is good reason to believe that he was, with the exception of South Carolina; and she could not long have remained in a state of isolation. On this question we have the published testimony of two members of the Committee of Thirteen, which has never since been contradicted. Mr. Douglas, in his speech of the 3d January, 1861, but three days after the report of the committee and within the hearing of all its members, said: ‘If you of the Republican side are not willing to accept this [a proposition for adjustment made by himself] nor the proposition of the Senator from Kentucky (Mr. Crittenden), pray tell us what you are willing to do. I address the inquiry to the Republicans alone, for the reason that in the committee of Thirteen, a few days ago, every member from the South, including those from the cotton States (Messrs. Toombs and Davis), expressed their readiness to accept the proposition of my venerable friend from Kentucky (Mr. Crittenden), as a final settlement of the controversy, if tendered and sustained by the Republican members. Hence the sole responsibility of our disagreement, and the only difficulty in the way of an amicable adjustment, is with the Republican party.’5

And Mr. Douglas, afterwards, on the 2d of March, 1861, reaffirmed his former statement. In replying to Senator Pugh (of Ohio), he said: ‘The Senator has said that if the Crittenden proposition could have been passed early in the session, it would have saved all the States except South Carolina. I firmly believe it would. While the Crittenden proposition was not in accordance with my cherished views, I avowed my readiness and eagerness to accept it, in order to save the Union, if we could unite upon it. No man has labored harder than I have to get it passed. I can confirm the Senator's declaration that Senator [139] Davis himself, when on the Committee of Thirteen, was ready, at all times, to compromise on the Crittenden proposition. I will go further and say that Mr. Toombs was also ready to do so.’6

Besides, on the 7th January, 1861, Mr. Toombs, only twelve days before his State seceded, said: ‘But although I insist upon this perfect equality in the Territories, when it was proposed, as I understand the Senator from Kentucky now proposes, that the line of 36° 30′ shall be extended, acknowledging and protecting our property on the south side of that line, for the sake of peace, permanent peace, I said to the Committee of Thirteen, and I say here, that with other satisfactory provisions, I would accept it,’ etc., etc.7t

Mr. Crittenden did not despair of ultimate success, notwithstanding his defeat before the Committee of Thirteen. After this, indeed, he could no longer expect to carry his compromise as an amendment to the Constitution by the necessary two-thirds vote of Congress. It was, therefore, postponed by the Senate on his own motion.8 As a substitute for it he submitted to the Senate, on the 3d January, 1861, a joint resolution (S. No. 54), which might be passed by a bare majority of both Houses. This was to refer his rejected amendment, by an ordinary Act of Congress, to a direct vote of the people of the several States. This he prefaced by some striking remarks. He said: ‘The times on which we have fallen, sir, are of a very extraordinary character; full of danger to the peace of the country, and even to the union of the country. Its extraordinary character seems to require of us all efforts, ordinary and extraordinary, for the purpose of averting the danger which now so threateningly hangs over us. The measure which I am about to propose, sir, is of that extraordinary character; and I shall be at a loss for a justification and excuse for it, if it cannot be found in the perilous condition of public affairs, and in that great law, the safety of the people.’

He then proceeded to offer his resolution in the following language: ‘Whereas the Union is in danger, and, owing to the [140] unhappy divisions existing in Congress, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for that body to concur in both its branches by the requisite majority, so as to enable it either to adopt such measures of legislation, or to recommend to the States such amendments to the Constitution, as are deemed necessary and proper to avert that danger; and whereas in so great an emergency the opinion and judgment of the people ought to be heard, and would be the best and surest guide to their Representatives: Therefore, Resolved, That provision ought to be made by law without delay for taking the sense of the people and submitting to their vote the following resolution [the same as in his former amendment], as the basis for the final and permanent settlement of those disputes that now disturb the peace of the country and threaten the existence of the Union.’

It was supposed that this resolution would conciliate the support of some at least, if not all, of the Republican Senators. By referring the questions in dispute to the legitimate fountain of all political power, it would relieve them from previous committals to the Chicago platform. Besides, it was believed that they would not assume the responsibility of denying to the people of their own States the opportunity of expressing an opinion at the ballot-box on questions involving no less a stake than the peace and safety of the Union. Nevertheless, it will appear from the sequel, that not a single Republican Senator ever voted for the resolution. Had Congress thought proper to refer the Crittenden Compromise to the people of the several States, no person who observed the current of public opinion at the time, can fail to believe that outside of South Carolina it would have received their approbation. Memorials in its favor poured into Congress from all portions of the North, even from New England.9 One of these presented to the Senate was from ‘the Mayor and members of the Board of Aldermen and the Common Council of the city of Boston, and over 22,000 citizens of the State of Massachusetts, praying the adoption of the compromise measures proposed by Mr. Crittenden.’10 It may be proper here to observe that the resolution of Mr. Crittenden [141] did not provide in detail for holding elections by which ‘the sense of the people’ could be ascertained. To supply this omission, Senator Bigler, of Pennsylvania, the able, indefatigable, and devoted friend of the measure, on the 14th January, 1861, brought in ‘A bill to provide for taking the sense of the people of the United States on certain proposed amendments to the Constitution of the United States;’ but never was he able, notwithstanding his persevering efforts, to induce the Senate even to consider this bill.

President Buchanan, in the mean time, and from the beginning, exerted all his constitutional influence in favor of these measures. In his special message to Congress of the 8th January, 1861, after depicting the deplorable consequences which had already resulted to the country from the bare apprehension of civil war and the dissolution of the Union, he says:

Let the question be transferred from political assemblies to the ballot-box, and the people themselves would speedily redress the serious grievances which the South have suffered. But, in Heaven's name, let the trial be made before we plunge into armed conflict upon the mere assumption that there is no other alternative. Time is a great conservative power. Let us pause at this momentous point, and afford the people, both North and South, an opportunity for reflection. Would that South Carolina had been convinced of this truth before her precipitate Action! I, therefore, appeal through you to the people of the country, to declare in their might that the Union must and shall be preserved by all constitutional means. I most earnestly recommend that you devote yourselves exclusively to the question how this can be accomplished in peace. All other questions, when compared with this, sink into insignificance. The present is no time for palliatives; action, prompt action is required. A delay in Congress to prescribe or to recommend a distinct and practical proposition for conciliation, may drive us to a point from which it will be almost impossible to recede.

A common ground on which conciliation and harmony can be produced is surely not unattainable. The proposition to compromise by letting the North have exclusive control of the territory above a certain line, and to give Southern institutions [142] protection below that line, ought to receive universal approbation. In itself, indeed, it may not be entirely satisfactory, but when the alternative is between a reasonable concession on both sides and a dissolution of the Union, it is an imputation on the patriotism of Congress to assert that its members will hesitate for a moment.

This earnest recommendation was totally disregarded. It would be a useless labor to recapitulate all the proceedings in the Senate upon the proposition of Mr. Crittenden to refer his amendment to a vote of the people. On the 14th January, 1861, he made an unsuccessful attempt to have it considered, but it was postponed until the day following.11 On this day it was again postponed by the vote of every Republican Senator present, in order to make way for the Pacific Railroad bill.12 On the third attempt (January 16), he succeeded, but by a majority of a single vote, in bringing his resolution before the body. Every Republican Senator present voted against its consideration. A direct vote upon the resolution, so earnestly desired by the country, now seemed inevitable. The parliamentary tactics of the Republican party, however, defeated this object. Mr. Clark, a Republican Senator from New Hampshire, moved to strike out the entire preamble and resolution of Mr. Crittenden, and in lieu thereof insert as a substitute a preamble and resolution of a directly opposite character, and in accordance with the Chicago platform. This motion prevailed by a vote of 25 to 23, every Republican Senator present having voted in its favor.134 Thus Mr. Crittenden's proposition to refer the question to the people was buried under the Clark amendment. This continued to be its position for more than six weeks, until the day before the final adjournment of Congress, 2d March, when it was far too late for final action even had there been a majority in its favor. This superincumbent weight was then removed, and the proposition itself was defeated by a vote of 19 in the affirmative against 20 in the negative.14 Thus the Republican party accomplished their object, and thus terminated every reasonable [143] hope of any compromise between the North and the South.

It is proper for future reference that the names of those Senators who constituted the majority on this momentous question, should be placed upon record. Every vote given from the six New England States was in opposition to Mr. Crittenden's resolution. These consisted of Mr. Clark, of New Hampshire; Messrs. Sumner and Wilson, of Massachusetts; Mr. Anthony, of Rhodes Island; Messrs. Dixon and Foster, of Connecticut; Mr. Foot, of Vermont; and Mr. Fessenden, of Maine. The remaining twelve votes, in order to make up the 20, were given by Messrs. Bingham and Wade, of Ohio; Mr. Trumbull, of Illinois; Messrs. Bingham and Chandler, of Michigan; Messrs. Grimes and Harlan, of Iowa; Messrs. Doolittle and Durkee, of Wisconsin; Mr. Wilkinson, of Minnesota; Mr. King, of New York; and Mr. Ten Eyck, of New Jersey. It is also worthy of observation, that neither Mr. Hale, of New Hampshire, Mr. Simmons, of Rhode Island, Mr. Collamer, of Vermont, Mr. Seward, of New York, nor Mr. Cameron, of Pennsylvania, voted on the question, although it appears from the journal that all these gentlemen were present in the Senate on the day of the vote. It would be vain to conjecture the reasons why these five Senators refrained from voting on an occasion so important.

It will be recollected that a direct vote of the Senate on the Crittenden resolution was defeated by the adoption of the Clark amendment, at so early a period of the session as the 16th January, when there was still time for action. This amendment prevailed only in consequence of the refusal of six secession Senators to vote against it. They thus played into the hands of the Republican Senators, and rendered them a most acceptable service. These were Messrs. Benjamin and Slidell, of Louisiana; Mr. Iverson, of Georgia; Messrs. Hemphill and Wigfall, of Texas; and Mr. Johnson, of Arkansas. Had these gentlemen voted with their brethren from the border slaveholding States and the other Democratic Senators, the Clark amendment would have been defeated, and the Senate would then have been brought to a direct vote on the Crittenden resolution. [144] Had this been effected and the Crittenden resolution adopted by the Senate, as it might have been by the votes of the recusant Senators, this would have awakened the people of the country to their true condition, and might have aroused them into action in sufficient time before the close of the session to avert the impending danger. As it was, they remained in a state of suspense, and still continued to hope until the very day before the termination of Congress, when all hope was finally extinguished. Such conduct on the part of these six Senators cannot be too severely censured. They thus deserted the Democratic Senators from the border slaveholding and other States, at the hour of their utmost need. It is but a poor excuse for their defection to say, as they did, that the Republican Senators, whose votes were necessary to any effectual compromise, had steadily repudiated the Crittenden propositions in every form, and for this reason they were already on the eve of abandoning their seats in the Senate.

Whilst the lovers of peace were almost despairing for the fate of the Crittenden amendment, their hope of its final triumph was revived by the interposition of Virginia.15 The General Assembly of that Commonwealth, on the 19th January, 1861, adopted resolutions expressing ‘the deliberate opinion’ ‘that unless the unhappy controversy which now divides the States of the Confederacy shall be satisfactorily adjusted, a permanent dissolution of the Union is inevitable.’ For the purpose of averting ‘so dire a calamity,’ they extended an invitation ‘to all such States, whether slaveholding or nonslaveholding, as are willing to unite with Virginia in an earnest effort to adjust the present unhappy controversies, in the spirit in which the Constitution was originally framed,’ to appoint Commissioners for this purpose, to meet on the 4th February, 1861, at the City of Washington. The resolutions expressed a favorable opinion of the Crittenden Compromise, with some modifications, and the belief that ‘it would be accepted as a satisfactory adjustment by the people of this Commonwealth.’ Such was the origin of the Peace Convention. The best hopes of the country were now fixed on the border slave States, ineluding [145] North Carolina and Tennessee. These great and powerful commonwealths still remained faithful to the Union. They had hitherto stood aloof from secession, and had manifested an earnest desire not only to remain in the Union themselves, but to exert their powerful influence to bring back the seceding sister. Virginia had ever ranked as chief among the Southern States, and had exercised great influence over their counsels. She had now taken the lead in the grand design to save the Union, and it became the duty of the President to render her all the aid in his power in a cause so holy. Every reflecting man foresaw that if the present movement of Virginia should fail to impress upon Congress and the country the necessity for adopting a peaceful compromise, like that proposed by Mr. Crittenden, there was imminent danger that all the border slave States would follow the cotton States, which had already adopted ordinances of secession, and unite with them in an attempt to break up the Union. Indeed, as has been already seen, the Virginia Legislature had declared that, in case of failure, such a dissolution was ‘inevitable.’

The Peace Convention met on the 4th February.16 It was composed of one hundred and thirty-three commissioners, representing twenty-one States. A bare inspection of the list will convince all inquirers of the great respectability and just influence of its members. Among them there were many venerable and distinguished citizens from the border States, earnestly intent upon restoring and saving the Union. Their great object was to prevail upon their associates from the North to unite with them in such recommendations to Congress as would prevent their own States from seceding, and enable them to bring back the cotton States which had already seceded. It will be recollected that on the 4th February, when the Peace Convention assembled, six of the cotton States, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, and Florida, had already adopted ordinances of secession; and that but four days thereafter (8th February) deputies from these States had adopted and published at Montgomery, Alabama, a Provisional Constitution for the socalled Confederate States. The Union was then crumbling to [146] pieces. One month only of the session of Congress remained. Within this brief period it was necessary that the Convention should recommend amendments to the Constitution in sufficient time to enable both Houses to act upon them before their final adjournment. It was also essential to success that these amendments should be sustained by a decided majority of the commissioners both from the Northern and the border States. It was, however, soon discovered that the same malign influence which had caused every Republican member of Congress to oppose the Crittenden Compromise, would probably defeat the patriotic purpose for which the Convention had assembled.

On Wednesday, the 6th February, a resolution was adopted,17 on motion of Mr. Guthrie, of Kentucky, to refer the resolutions of the General Assembly of Virginia, and all other kindred subjects, to a committee to consist of one commissioner from each State, to be selected by the respective State delegations; and to prevent delay they were instructed to report on or before the Friday following (the 8th), ‘what they may deem right, necessary, and proper to restore harmony and preserve the Union.’

This committee, instead of reporting on the day appointed, did not report until Friday, the 15th February,18 and thus a precious week was lost. The reason for this delay shall be expressed in the language of Mr. Reverdy Johnson, a member of the committee and a commissioner from Maryland. In his letter of 13th May, 1863, to the editors of the ‘Journal of Commerce,’ in answer to allegations made by Mr. David D. Field, who had also been a member of the committee from New York, he says:

In the committee to whom the whole subject was referred, and at whose head was placed Mr. Guthrie, of Kentucky, and of which Mr. Field was a member, efforts to this end [reasonable guarantees to the South on the subject of slavery] were made again and again, but in vain. And what was finally agreed upon and reported, met with the sanction of but a bare majority of the committee, Mr. Field not being of that majority. The discussions in every meeting of the committee were earnest, and a part of the Southern members (I was of the number) implored [147] their Northern brethren to agree to something that there was any reason to believe would be satisfactory to the South. I saw then that unanimity could alone render the propositions of the committee effective. I also saw, and as the result has proved, that no satisfactory adjustment attained, an attempt at least would be made to sever the Union.19

The amendments reported by a majority of the committee, through Mr. Guthrie, their chairman, were substantially the same with the Crittenden Compromise; but on motion of Mr. Johnson, of Maryland, the general terms of the first and by far the most important section were restricted to the present Territories of the United States.20 On motion of Mr. Franklin, of Pennsylvania, this section was further amended, but not materially changed, by the adoption of the substitute offered by him. Nearly in this form it was afterwards adopted by the Convention.21 The following is a copy: “In all the present territory of the United States north of the parallel of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes of north latitude, involuntary servitude, except in punishment of crime, is prohibited. In all the present territory south of that line, the status of persons held to involuntary service or labor, as it now exists, shall not be changed; nor shall any law be passed by Congress or the Territorial Legislature to hinder or prevent the taking of such persons from any of the States of this Union to said territory, nor to impair the rights arising from said relation; but the same shall be subject to judicial cognizance in the Federal courts, according to the course of the common law. When any Territory north or south of said line, within such boundary as Congress may prescribe, shall contain a population equal to that required for a member of Congress, it shall, if its form of government be republican, be admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original States, with or without involuntary servitude, as the Constitution of such State may provide.”

Mr. Baldwin, of Connecticut, and Mr. Seddon, of Virginia, on opposite extremes, made minority reports, which they proposed [148] to substitute for that of the majority. Mr. Baldwin's report was a recommendation ‘to the several States to unite with Kentucky in her application to Congress to call a Con. vention for proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States, to be submitted to the Legislatures of the several States, or to Conventions therein, for ratification, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by Congress, in accordance with the provisions in the fifth article of the Constitution.’22

Of the two modes prescribed by the Constitution for its own amendment, this was the least eligible at the existing crisis, because by far the most dilatory. Instead of calling upon Congress, then in session and which could act immediately, to propose specific amendments to the Legislatures of the several States, it adopted the circuitous mode of requesting these Legislatures, in the first instance, to apply to Congress to call a Convention. Even should two-thirds of them respond in the affirmative to this request, the process would necessarily occasion a delay of years in attaining the object, when days were all-important. This would entirely defeat the patriotic purpose of the Peace Convention. It was called to obtain, if possible, a direct vote of two-thirds of both Houses before the end of the session in favor of such amendments as it might recommend. Could such a vote be obtained, it was confidently expected by the friends of the Union that its moral influence would, for the present, satisfy the border States; would arrest the tide beginning to rise among their people in favor of secession, and might enable them to exercise an effective influence in reclaiming the States which had already seceded. Affairs were then so urgent that long before the State Legislatures could possibly ask Congress to call a Convention as required by Mr. Baldwin's proposition, the cause of the Union might be hopeless. It was, therefore, rejected.

This proposition of Mr. Baldwin, evasive and dilatory as it was, nevertheless received the votes of eight of the twenty-one States.23 These consisted of the whole of the New England States, except Rhode Island, and of Illinois, Iowa, and New York, all being free States. This was an evil omen. [149]

The first amendment reported by Mr. Seddon differed from that of the majority inasmuch as it embraced not only the present but all future Territories.24 This was rejected.25 His second amendment, which, however, was never voted upon by the Convention, went so far as distinctly to recognize the right of secession.

It cannot be denied that there was in the Convention an excreme Southern rights element, headed by Mr. Seddon. This manifested itself throughout its proceedings. These show how naturally extremes meet. On more than one important occasion, we find the vote of Virginia and North Carolina, though given in each case by a bare majority of their commissioners, side by side with the vote of Massachusetts and Vermont. It would be too tedious to trace the proceedings of the Convention from the report of the committee made by Mr. Guthrie until its final adjournment. It is sufficient to say that more than ten days were consumed in discussion and in voting upon various propositions offered by individual commissioners. The final vote was not reached until Tuesday, the 26th February, when it was taken on the first and vitally important section, as amended.26

This section, on which all the rest depended, was negatived by a vote of eight States to eleven. Those which voted in its favor were Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. And those in the negative were Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Virginia. It is but justice to say that Messrs Ruffin and Morehead, of North Carolina, and Messrs. Rives and Summers, of Virginia, two of. the five commissioners from each of these States, declared their dissent from the vote of their respective States. So, also, did Messrs. Bronson, Corning, Dodge, Wool, and Granger, five of the eleven New York commissioners, dissent from the vote of their State. On the other hand, Messrs. Meredith and Wilmot, two of the seven commissioners from Pennsylvania, dissented from the majority in voting in favor of the section. Thus would the Convention have terminated [150] but for the interposition of Illinois. Immediately after the section had been negatived, the commissioners from that State made a motion to reconsider the vote, and this prevailed. The Convention afterwards adjourned until the next morning. When they reassembled (February 27), the first section was adopted, but only by a majority of nine to eight States, nine being less than a majority of the States represented. This change was effected by a change of the vote of Illinois from the negative to the affirmative, by Missouri withholding her vote, and by a tie in the New York commissioners, on account of the absence of one of their number, rendering it impossible for the State to vote. Still Virginia and North Carolina, in the one extreme, and Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, in the other, persisted in voting in the negative. From the nature of this vote, it was manifestly impossible that two-thirds of both Houses of Congress should act favorably on the amendment, even if the delay had not already rendered such action impracticable before the close of the session.

It would be useless to refer to the voting on the remaining sections of the amendment, which were carried by small majorities.27 The Convention, on the same day, through Mr. Tyler, their President, communicated to the Senate and House of Representatives the amendment they had adopted, embracing all the sections, with a request that it might be submitted by Congress, under the Constitution, to the several State Legislatures. In the Senate this was immediately referred to a select committee, on motion of Mr. Crittenden. The committee, on the next day (28th Feb.),28 reported a joint resolution (No. 70) proposing it as an amendment to the Constitution, but he was never able to bring the Senate to a direct vote upon it.29 Failing in this, he made a motion to substitute the amendment of the Peace Convention for his own.30 This he prefaced by declaring that he looked upon the result of the deliberations of that body ‘as affording the best opportunity for a general concurrence among the States, and among the people.’ He, therefore, ‘had determined to take it in preference to his own proposition, [151] and had so stated to many of the members of the Convention.’ He further said that be had ‘examined the propositions offered by that Convention; they contain, in my judgment, every material provision that is contained in the resolution called the Crittenden Resolution.’ He also had adopted this course ‘out of deference to that great body of men selected on the resolution of Virginia, and invited by Virginia herself. The body having met, and being composed of such men, and a majority of that Convention concurring in these resolutions, I think they come to us with a sanction entitling them to consideration.’ Mr. Crittenden's reasons failed to convince the Senate, and his motion was rejected by a large majority (28 to 7).31 Then next in succession came the memorable vote on Mr. Crittenden's own resolution, and it was in its turn defeated, as we have already stated, by a majority of 20 against 19.

We cannot take leave of this venerable patriot, who so wisely appreciated the existing danger, without paying a just tribute to the vigor and perseverance of his repeated efforts to ward off from his country the direful calamity of disunion and civil war. Well did he merit the almost unanimous vote of the Virginia Convention, on the 11th March, tendering him the thanks of the people of Virginia for ‘his recent able, zealous, and patriotic efforts in the Senate of the United States, to bring about ajust and honorable adjustment of our national difficulties.’32 This vote, we may remark, was far from being complimentary to the conduct of a majority of their own commissioners (Messrs. Tyler, Brockenbrough, and Seddon) in the Peace Convention.

In the House of Representatives, the amendment proposed by the Convention was treated with Still less respect than it had been by the Senate.33 The Speaker was refused leave even to present it.34 Every effort made for this purpose was successfully resisted by leading Republican members. The consequence is that a copy of it does not even appear in the Journal.

Although the amendment was somewhat less favorable to the South, and ought, therefore, to have been more acceptable to the North than the Crittenden amendment, yet like this it [152] encountered the opposition of every Republican member in both Houses of Congress. Nevertheless, it presented a basis of compromise which, had it been conceded by the North, might and probably would have been accepted by the people of the border States, in preference to the fearful alternative of their secession from the Union.

1 Senate's Report of Committees, 2d session, 86th Congress, 1860-61, No. 288

2 Senate Report of the Proceedings of the Committee, Dec. 31, 1860.

3 Con. Globe, 8d Jan., 1861, p. 237.

4 Senate Report of Committee, 1860-61, No. 288.

5 Appendix to Con. Globe. 1860-61, p. 41

6 Con. Globe, 1860-61, p. 1391.

7 Ibid., p. 270.

8 Ibid., p. 237.

9 Index to Senate Journal, pp. 494, 495, and 496.

10 Senate Journal, 1860-61, p. 218.

11 Con. Globe, 1860-1, . 361-363.

12 Ibid., p. 881.

13 Ibid., p. 409.

14 Ibid., p. 1405.

15 Con. Globe, 180-61, p. 601.

16 Con. Globe, 1860-1, p. 125

17 Official Journal of the Convention, pp. 9 and 10.

18 Ibid., p. 21.

19 The cotton States had already attempted to sever it so far as this was in their power.

20 Official Journal, p. 42.

21 Ibid., p. 70.

22 Official Journal pp. 24 and 25.

23 Ibid, p. 63.

24 Off Journal, pp. 26, 27, and 28.

25 Ibid., p. 28.

26 Ibid., p. 70.

27 Senate Journal, pp. 332, 333.

28 Ibid., p. 337.

29 Ibid., p. 384.

30 Con. Globe, 1860-61, p. 1404.

31 Senate Journal, p. 386.

32 National Intelligencer, March 14, 1861.

33 Con. Globe, pp. 1331, 1332, 1333.

34 House Journal, pp. 446, 448, 449.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Crittenden (21)
Toombs (7)
Guthrie (5)
Jefferson Davis (5)
Seddon (4)
Stephen A. Douglas (4)
Baldwin (4)
Reverdy Johnson (3)
David D. Field (3)
Wade (2)
John Tyler (2)
Seward (2)
Powell (2)
Grimes (2)
Franklin (2)
Doolittle (2)
Collamer (2)
Clark (2)
James Buchanan (2)
Bingham (2)
Bigler (2)
Wool (1)
Wilson (1)
Wilmot (1)
Wilkinson (1)
Wigfall (1)
Trumbull (1)
Sumner (1)
Summers (1)
Slidell (1)
Simmons (1)
Ruffin (1)
Rives (1)
Pugh (1)
Morehead (1)
Meredith (1)
Horatio King (1)
Iverson (1)
R. M. T. Hunter (1)
Hemphill (1)
Harlan (1)
Hale (1)
Granger (1)
Foster (1)
Foot (1)
Fessenden (1)
Eyck (1)
Durkee (1)
Dodge (1)
Dixon (1)
Corning (1)
Chandler (1)
Cameron (1)
Bronson (1)
Brockenbrough (1)
Bright (1)
Benjamin (1)
Anthony (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: