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Peace Congresses.

In 1782 Prince Kaunitz agreed with Vergennes that, in a proposed peace congress at Vienna, the United States government should be represented, so that direct negotiations between it and Great Britain might proceed simultaneously with those of the European powers. The proposition was pronounced by the able Queen of France to be a masterpiece of political wisdom. But England refused to negotiate for peace with France until that lower should give up its connection with the American “rebels.” This proposition was embodied by Kaunitz in the preliminary articles which he prepared for the peace congress. He cast the blame of its ill-success on the unreasonable pretensions of the British ministry.

On Jan. 19, 1861, a series of resolutions were adopted by the Virginia legislature recommending a national peace convention or congress to be held in the city of Washington on Feb. 4, for the purpose of effecting a general and permanent pacification; commending the Crittenden compromise as a just basis of settlement; and appointing two commissioners, one to go to the President of the United States, and the other to the governors of the seceding States, to ask them to abstain from all hostile action pending the proceedings of the proposed convention. The proposition for such a convention was received with great favor. President Buchanan laid it before Congress with a commendatory message, but the Virginians had accompanied this proposition with a menace. On the same day the legislature resolved, “That if all efforts to reconcile the unhappy differences between the sections of our country shall prove abortive, then every consideration of honor and interest demands that Virginia shall unite her destinies with the slave-holding States.” Delegates to the peace convention were chosen from nearly every State but the seven seceding ones. They met at [101] Willard's Hotel, in Washington, D. C., Feb. 4. The convention was permanently organized by the appointment of ex-President John Tyler, of Virginia, to preside, and Crafts J. Wright, of Ohio, as secretary. The convention was opened with prayer by Rev. Dr. P. D. Gurley. Mr. Guthrie, of Kentucky, opened the business by offering a resolution for the appointment of a committee consisting of one from each State represented, to whom all resolutions and propositions for the adjustment of difficulties might be referred, with authority to report a plan to “restore harmony and preserve the Union.” The committee was appointed, and Mr. Guthrie was chosen its chairman. He made a report on the 15th, in which several amendments to the Constitution were offered. It proposed:

First. The re-establishment of the boundary between slavery and freedom on the line fixed by the Missouri Compromise—lat. 36° 30′ N. 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 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 may determine.

Second. That territory should not be acquired by the United States unless by treaty, nor, except for naval or commercial stations, unless such treaty should be ratified by four-fifths of all the members of the Senate.

Third. That neither the Constitution nor any amendment thereof should be construed to give power to Congress to interfere with slavery in any of the States of the Union, nor in the District of Columbia, without the consent of Maryland and the slave-holders concerned, compensation to be made for slaves emancipated to owners who refuse their consent; nor to interfere with slavery under the jurisdiction of the United States, such as in arsenals, navyyards, etc., in States where it was recognized; nor to interfere with the transportation of slaves from one slavelabor State to another; nor to authorize any higher taxation on slaves than on land.

Fourth. That the clause in the Constitution relating to the rendition of slaves should not be construed to prevent any of the States, by appropriate legislation, and through the action of their judicial and ministerial officers, from enforcing the delivery of fugitives from labor to the person to whom such service or labor should be due.

Fifth. That the foreign slave-trade should be forever prohibited.

Sixth. That the first, second, third, and fifth of the foregoing propositions, when in the form of ratified amendments to the Constitution, and the clause relating to the rendition of fugitive slaves, should not be amended or abolished without the consent of all the States.

Seventh. That Congress should provide by law that the United States should pay to the owner the full value of his fugitive slave in all cases where the law-officer whose duty it was to arrest such fugitive should be prevented from doing so by violence or intimidation, or where such fugitive should be rescued, after arrest, and the claimant thereby should lose his property.

This was the majority report, and was substantially the Crittenden compromise then before the Senate. Two members of the committee—Baldwin, of Connecticut, and Seddon, of Virginia—each presented a minority report. The former proposed a general convention of all the States to consider amendments to the Constitution; the latter objected to the majority report because it fell short of the demands of Virginia. He proposed an amendment to the Constitution that would protect the slave-holder in transporting his slaves anywhere, as property; also that should forever exclude from the ballot-box and public office “persons who are in whole or in part of the African race.” He also proposed an amendment recognizing the right of peaceable secession. Other propositions were submitted by members in open convention, among them one from Salmon P. Chase, of Ohio, proposing an adjournment of the convention to April 4, to enable all the States to be represented. The various propositions were earnestly discussed for several days. David Dudley Field, of New York, proposed, Feb. 26, to amend the majority report by striking out the seventh section and inserting the words, “No State shall withdraw from the [102] Union without the consent of all the States convened in pursuance of an act passed by two-thirds of each House of Congress.” This was rejected by a vote of 11 States against 10. The votes were by States. When, on the same day, the majority report was taken up for final action, Baldwin's proposition, offered as a substitute, was rejected by a vote of 13 States against 8. Seddon then offered his substitute, and it was rejected—16 States against 4. James B. Clay, a son of Henry Clay, then offered Crittenden's compromise. It was rejected by 14 States against 5. Guthrie's report was then taken up, and after some modifications was adopted.

Following this, T. E. Franklin moved, as the sense of the convention, that the highest political duty of every citizen of the United States is allegiance to the national government, and that no State has a constitutional right to secede therefrom. It was rejected by 10 States against 7. Mr. Guthrie offered a preamble to his propositions, which was agreed to, and Mr. Tyler was requested to present the plan to Congress forthwith. This ended the business of the convention, when Reverdy Johnson, of Maryland, obtained leave to place on record and have printed with the proceedings of the convention a resolution deploring the secession of some of the States; expressing a hope that they would return; that “the republican institutions guaranteed each State cannot and ought not to be maintained by force,” and that therefore the convention deprecated any effort of the federal government to coerce, in any form, the said States to reunion or submission, as tending to an irreparable breach, and leading to incalculable ills. The proceedings of the convention were laid before the Senate, March 2, 1861. After a long debate on that and several other propositions, it was finally decided by a vote of 25 to 11 to postpone the “Guthrie plan” in favor of a proposition of amendment adopted by the House of Representatives, which provided that “no amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to interfere within any State with the domestic institutions thereof.” The Senate concurred, and the Crittenden compromise being called up, it was rejected. The peace convention was a failure. It was a vain attempt to conciliate the slave power.

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