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Chapter 10: Peace movements.--Convention of conspirators at Montgomery.

On Monday, the 4th of February, 1861, the day on which Slidell and Benjamin left the Senate, a Convention known as the Peace Congress, or Conference, assembled in Willard's Hall, in Washington City, a large room in a building originally erected as a church edifice on F Street, and then attached to Willard's Hotel.

This Convention, as we have observed,1 was proposed by resolutions of the Virginia Legislature, passed on the 19th of January,

and highly approved by the President of the Republic. The proposition met with favorable consideration throughout the country. Omens of impending war were becoming more numerous every day; and at the time this proposition was made, it was evident that no plan for the adjustment of existing difficulties could be agreed upon by the National Legislature. It was thought that a convention of conservative men, fresh from the people, might devise some salutary measures that should go before Congress with such weight of popular authority as to induce acquiescence, and lead to action that would secure pacification, the great object sought.

The Legislatures of most of the States were in session when the proposition went forth, and the response was so general and so prompt, that delegates from twenty-one States--fourteen of them Free-labor and seven of them Slave-labor States--appeared in the Convention.2 When they were not [236] appointed by Legislatures, they were chosen by the Governors. Many of these delegates were instructed, either by formal resolutions of the appointing power or by informal expressions of opinion. Much caution was exercised, because there were well-grounded suspicions that the Virginia politicians, who had proposed the Convention, were adroitly playing into the hands of the conspirators. One of the resolutions that accompanied their invitation to a conference declared that the Crittenden Compromise, so modified as to apply to all the territory of the Republic south of latitude 36° 30‘, and to provide that “Slavery of the African race” should be “effectually protected as property therein during the existence of the Territorial government ;” also, to secure to the holders of slaves the right of transit with this property, “between and through the non-slaveholding States and Territories,” constituted a basis of adjustment that would be acceptable to Virginia. This avowal of their demands at the outset was candid, if not modest and conciliatory.

Massachusetts instructed its delegates to confer with the General Government, or with the separate States, or with any association of delegates from such States, and to report to the Legislature. Rhode Island said:--“Agree, if practicable, upon some amicable adjustment of present difficulties, upon the basis and spirit of the National Constitution.”

Willard's Hall.

New York wished it not to be understood that, in acceding to the request of Virginia, it approved of Virginia's desires, as expressed in the resolutions of its Legislature. It was willing to do all in its power to bring about an honorable settlement of the national difficulties. New Jersey earnestly [237] urged the adoption of the Crittenden Compromise. Pennsylvania declared its willingness to make any honorable concession for the sake of peace, but did not desire any amendment or alteration of the Constitution. It was ready to fulfill every duty prescribed to it by that Constitution, even to the full execution of the Fugitive Slave Act. Delaware simply declared its devotion to the Union, and instructed its delegates to do all in their power for its preservation. Ohio was willing to meet its fellow States in convention, but felt satisfied with the Constitution as it was; while Indiana instructed its delegates not to commit that State to any action until nineteen of the States should be represented, and until they had communicated with the General Assembly of their State, and received permission to commit it to proposed measures. Illinois wished it to be understood that its willingness to confer was not a committal of the State to any proposed policy. It was anxious for conciliation, but saw no reason for amending the Constitution for the purpose. Kentucky would be satisfied with the Crittenden Compromise, according to the Virginia model. Tennessee was willing to adjust all difficulties by the same process, but with enlarged franchises for the slaveholders; while Missouri instructed its delegates to endeavor to agree upon some plan for the preservation or reconstruction of the Union. Its delegates were always to be subordinate to the General Assembly or the State Convention of Missouri.

The Convention was permanently organized by the appointment of John Tyler, of Virginia (once President of the Republic),

as the presiding officer, and Crafts J. Wright, of Ohio, son of one of the delegates from that State, as secretary. Mr. Tyler delivered a short address on taking the chair, in which he said:--“The eyes of the whole country are turned to this assembly, in expectation and hope. I trust that you may prove yourselves worthy of the great occasion. Our ancestors probably committed a blunder in not having fixed upon every fifth decade for a call of a general convention to amend and reform the Constitution. On the contrary, they have made the difficulties next to insurmountable to accomplish amendments to an instrument which was perfect for five millions of people, but not wholly so

John Tyler.

for thirty millions. Your patriotism will surmount the difficulties, however great, if you will but accomplish one triumph in advance, and that is a triumph over party. And what is party, when compared to the work of rescuing one's country from danger? Do this, and one long, loud shout of joy and gladness will resound throughout the land.” At the conclusion of this address, Mr. Wickliffe, of Kentucky, offered a resolution that the Convention should be opened with prayer. It was agreed to, and the Rev. Dr. P. D. Gurley officiated.

The regular business of the Convention was opened by Mr. Guthrie, of [238] Kentucky, who offered a resolution that a committee of one from each State be appointed by the delegates thereof, to be nominated to the President of the Convention, and to be appointed by him, to whom should be referred the resolutions of the State of Virginia, and the other States represented, and all propositions for the adjustment of existing difficulties between the States; the committee to have authority to report what it might deem right, necessary, and proper, to restore harmony and preserve the Union. The resolution was adopted; the committee was appointed,3 and the subjects laid before it were duly discussed, sometimes with warmth, but always with courtesy. On the 15th, Mr. Guthrie, Chairman of the Committee, made a report, in which several amendments to the Constitution were offered. It was proposed-

First, To re-establish the parallel of 36° 30‘ north latitude as a line, in the territory north of which Slavery should be prohibited; but in all territory south of it Slavery might live, without interference from any power, while a territorial government existed. It also proposed that when any Territory north or south of that line should contain the requisite number of inhabitants to form a State, it should,4 if its form of government should be republican, be admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original States, either with or without Slavery, as the constitution of the new State might determine.

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