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A Southern View of History: The War for Southern Independence


In Part four we briefly examine the history of secession movements following the revolutionary war until the Southern States secession of 1860-61 and to look at legislation that used compromises to keep the union intact.

Objective: To develop an understanding of the various secession movements in America, examine the nature of many compromises legislated to hold the union of states together in an attempt to avoid Southern State Secession.

A. Early American Secession Attempts

Concern for states’ rights and thoughts of secession were not exclusive to the South. The secession of South Carolina in December of 1860 was not the first time that secession had been dealt with in the United States. There had been several secession threats and attempts prior to 1860. Significant strains to national unity had erupted in earlier times, notably during the Missouri statehood crisis (1820-1821), the nullification controversy (1832-1833), and the aftermath of the Mexican War (1849-1850). On each of these occasions, political leaders managed to find a compromise that dissipated the danger. Inevitably, compromise proposals were now offered to avert this new possibility of civil war.

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Daniel Webster
Henry Clay
Thomas Jefferson


MASSACHUSETTS 1803: The state of Massachusetts threatened secession in 1803. They were protesting the Louisiana Purchase. Massachusetts said that this purchase would dilute their power within the Union. Many of the politicians in Massachusetts argued that they had the right to secede. Daniel Webster defended Massachusetts in this attempt. The secession of Massachusetts was avoided by negotiation and compromise between Webster, Henry Clay and President Thomas Jefferson.

WEST FLORIDA REPUBLIC: Seven years after the Louisiana Territory was purchased from France by the United States, the southeastern portion of present-day Louisiana found itself under Spanish control. In 1810 the people living in the land of the Florida panhandle, stretching westward to the southern tip of what would later become Louisiana, declared independence. Residents of Fort San Carlos rose against Spanish rule in September 1810, took over the fort, and raised a Bonnie Blue, a blue flag with one white star in the middle, as their national flag. The commandant of the militia, Philemon Thomas, along with John Rhea and other prominent citizens led the assault, and a former American diplomat, Fulwar Skipwith, was named president of the West Florida Republic. They declared that they were an independent nation and developed their own constitution. This republic survived for three months until it was invaded by troops from the United States. President James Madison authorized the governor of the U.S. Territory of Orleans, William C. C. Claiborne, to take over the West Florida Republic with what every force was necessary. The Louisiana State Archives maintains the original 1810 Constitution of the West Florida Republic along with other documents pertaining the creation of the republic.

HARTFORD CONVENTION: The New England region, once again, was the subject of secession when in 1814 all of the New England states, who had earlier demanded that the United States enter the War of 1812, became dissatisfied with the war when it cut into their potential for making a profit. New England states held close mercantile ties to Great Britain. Both Massachusetts and Connecticut refused to contribute militia to the federal government. In spite of an embargo enacted by Congress in December 1813, New Englanders continued to sell supplies to British troops in Canada and to British vessels offshore. This demand for wartime provisions benefited New England businessmen and their states, as did the enhanced market for domestic manufactures

image007During the fall of 1814 twenty-six delegates from the New England states met in Hartford, Connecticut. This meeting is known as the Hartford Convention. The Hartford Convention had been organized by the Federalist Party. Of the 26 delegates, 12 were from Massachusetts, 7 from Connecticut, 4 from Rhode Island, 2 from New Hampshire, and 1 from Vermont. Maine was still a district within Massachusetts. At this meeting the New England states put together a list of demands in order to protect the interests of their region. Federalist extremists, such as John Lowell Jr. and Timothy Pickering, contemplated a separate peace between New England and Great Britain. Political cartoons of the day depicted England’s King George III trying to lure Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island back into the British fold. The delegates drafted articles for secession and drafted proposals to challenge what they saw as President James Madison’s military despotism with the intent to force him to resign. Before the results of this convention could reach Washington, D.C., the war came to an end.

image009The news of the Treaty of Ghent ending the war and of Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans made any recommendation of the convention a dead letter. Its importance, however, was twofold: It continued the view of states’ rights as the refuge of sectional groups, and it sealed the destruction of the Federalist party, which never regained its lost prestige. It so humiliated the attendees of the convention the Federalist Party leaders, that the party ceased to exist as a political force.


image010TARIFFS AND NULLIFICATION: The system of Tariffs was triggered from fallout from the War of 1812. The British attempted to destroy America’s manufacturers by competition. The first protective tariff was passed by Congress in 1816, which was then increasing in 1824, and again in 1828, the Tariff of Abominations. In 1828 the state of South Carolina threatened secession. Sectional differences including financial issues including unfair taxes and tariffs towards the southern states were already a significant issue. The United States Federal government was collecting most of its revenues from the South but was not spending a proportional amount of the revenue in or for the South. Most of the federal spending was being done in the northern states, fueling their industrial growth and helping northern entrepreneurs and speculators to grow rich and powerful. Unfair tariff laws were passed that economically discriminated against the South.

One tariff that was placed on imported goods, the Tariff of Abominations, raised prices on some items as high as 50 percent above the original European price. So if a item could be imported from England to Massachusetts for $100, it would cost $150 to import that same item to Georgia. The Northern interest profited two ways. The tariff raised the price of British goods so high, that they could force Southern to buy goods, sometimes of lower quality from Northern Business. So an item that might have a previous market value of $95 was sold to the Southern businesses for $120. Another way they could profit was to buy the good from England at $100 and sell it to Southern businesses for $135 as a middleman, just below the tariff price, and make a profit without any manufacturing expenses and no capital restrictions. If the South bought directly from England either in cash or by trade of goods such as cotton the extra $50 cost in tariffs to the Federal government. Either way the Southern business lost a competitive edge. Britain in retaliation to finding themselves tariffed out of the market, started to refuse to buy cotton, once again hurting the Southern farmers. These unfair tariff economics would eventually lead to the 1832 Nullification Doctrine, by John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, which stated that a state had the right to consider a federal law null and void within its state boundaries. South Carolinian’s believed there was precedence for the nullification of unconstitutional federal laws. South Carolina called a convention to nullify the tariff acts of 1828 and 1832. The convention declared these tariff acts unconstitutional and authorized the governor to resist federal efforts to collect them.

image012In December of 1832, President Andrew Jackson issued a proclamation after reinforcing the federal forts located near the harbor in Charleston, warning the people of South Carolina that no state can secede from the union “because each secession destroys the unity of a nation.” Jackson was furious over the nullification measures and stated “If one drop of blood be shed there in defiance of the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man of them I can get my hands on to the first tree I can find.” Jackson even asked Congress, in 1833, to pass a force bill allowing him to use the military to enforce the new tariffs.

Despite these threats Jackson, not wanting to push South Carolina into open rebellion, welcomed a compromise tariff bill proposed by Henry Clay. On March 1, 1833, Congress passed he Great Compromise of 1833 a settlement to reduce the tariffs in gradual steps to 20% over a nine year period. South Carolina’s leaders accepted this compromise and the South Carolina convention repealed the act nullifying the earlier tariff law, thus, avoiding South Carolina’s secession for the time being.

According to this chart produced in 1850, the South produced more than a million bales of cotton a year, three-fourths of the world’s supply. In dollar value, cotton represented more than half of the nation’s exports, making it a lucrative target for the Northern business and political interests to control. With the North manipulation of the economy, the South felt more and more like a colony, not of Great Britain, but this time the Federal Government.

References and Details:

Forrest And His Campaigns. CASUS BELLI.” Southern Historical Society Papers Vol. VII. Richmond, Va., October 1879. No. 10
Calhoun–Nullification Explained. By Colonel Benjamin E. Green of Dalton, GA.” Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. XIV. Richmond, Va., January-December 1886
Letters and Times of the Tylers” Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. XIV. Richmond, Va., January-December 1886
Annual Reunion of the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia. The Tariff and Nullification” Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. XVII. Richmond, Va., January-December 1889
“The Case Of The South Against The North.” . Richmond, Va., January-December 1900
“The Causes Of The War.-Nullification” Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. XXXII. Richmond, Va., January-December 1904
“Living Confederate Principles: A Heritage for All Time.” Southern Historical Society Papers. Richmond, Va., Sept. 1915. New Series, Vol. 2, Old Series, Vol. XL.
When in the Course of Human Events“, by Charles Adams, Chapters 4, 5, 6
The Lost Cause: The Standard Southern History of the War of the Confederates” by Edward A. Pollard, Chapter 3,
Story of the Confederate States” by Joseph T. Derry, Part 2, Chapter 2.
“New England in the Republic”, by J.T. Adams
History of the Hartford Convention” by Theodore Dwight
The Story of the West Florida Rebellion“, by Stanley C. Arthur

B. Compromise Attempt:

image013Missouri Compromise: By 1818, Missouri Territory had gained sufficient population to be admission into the Union as a state. Its settlers came largely from the South, and it was expected that Missouri would be a states rights state. To a statehood bill brought before the House of Representatives, James Tallmadge of New York proposed an amendment that would forbid importation of slaves and would bring about the ultimate emancipation of all slaves born in Missouri. This amendment passed the House but not the Senate. The bitterness of the debates emphasized the sectional division of the United States. In 1820, a bill to admit Maine as a state passed the House. The admission of Alabama as a states right state in 1819 had brought the states rights often referred to as southern slave states and the Northern called free states to equal representation in the Senate, and it was seen that by pairing Maine and Missouri, this equality would be maintained. The two bills were joined as one in the Senate, with the clause forbidding slavery in Missouri replaced by a measure prohibiting slavery in the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase north the southern boundary of Missouri of (36°30’N latitude) The House failed the bill. A conference committee of members of both houses was appointed, the bills were treated separately, and in March 1820, Maine was made a state and Missouri was authorized to adopt a constitution having no restrictions on slavery. The 36°30′ proviso held until 1854, when the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise.

image014The Compromise of 1850. The annexation of Texas to the United States and the gain of new territory by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at the close of the Mexican War aggravated the hostility between North and South concerning the question of the extension of states rights vs federal regulation into the new territories, of which extension of slavery, protected by the constitution, was an issue. The Northern states favored the proposal to exclude slavery, and thus Southern influence from all the lands acquired from Mexico. This, naturally, met with violent Southern opposition. When California sought admittance to the Union as a free state in 1849, Congress feared the Southern states might withdraw from the Union altogether since they were losing in the balance of power to legislate their own destinies as part of the United States. John C. Calhoun and other Southerners, particularly Jefferson Davis, maintained that the South should be given guarantees of equal position in the territories, of the execution of fugitive slave laws, and of protection against the abolitionists and the group that would become known as the “Radical Republicans”. Henry Clay proposed that a series of measures be passed as compromise bill. The admission of California as a free state, the organization of New Mexico and Utah territories without mention of slavery, the status of that institution to be determined by the territories themselves when they were ready to be admitted as states, the prohibition of the slave trade in the District of Columbia, a more stringent fugitive slave law; and the settlement of Texas boundary were the points of the compromise. Congress passed these measures as separate bills in September1850. Many in the North and South saw the compromise as a final solution to the question of slavery, states rights, and balance of influence in the nation and would bring an end to the threat of secession.

image016The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854: Congress established the territories of Kansas and Nebraska which again caused concern between North and South as to balance in the legislature, and the opportunity of popular sovereignty, a key component of states rights advocates. By some it was played up to be another bitter sectional controversy over the extension of slavery into the territories, further complicated by conflict over the location of the projected transcontinental railroad. Again Northern industrialists wanted to play all the cards with regards to control and profiteering from the railroad. Because the West was expanding rapidly, territorial organization and alignments were of great concern to both sections of the country. Four attempts to organize a single territory for this area had already been defeated in Congress, largely because of Southern opposition to the Missouri Compromise. Stephen A. Douglas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories, decided to offer territorial legislation making concessions to the South. The bill he introduced contained the provision that the question of slavery should be left to the decision of the territorial settlers themselves, which was exactly in line with states rights, popular sovereignty thinking held so dear by the Southern people. Yes they wanted to maintain a balance of power in the legislature, but they also wanted the citizens of their state to determine their own laws, rather than have them dictated by Congress. The Kansas-Nebraska Act contradicted the provisions of the Missouri Compromise as an amendment was added specifically repealing that compromise. The popular sovereignty provision caused both Southern and Northern forces to marshal strength and exert full pressure to determine the popular decision in Kansas in their own favor, using groups such as the Emigrant Aid Company. The result was know in history as “Bleeding Kansas”.

Compromise was becoming more and more of a failure between the Northern and the Southern points of view. Amongst the many reasons for failure were three principal reasons. First the heart and sentiment of the country lay in burning hatreds, gnawing distrusts, and unbending prejudices which no new laws or statutory amendments could quell. Secondly, two distinct, determined camps of opinion, philosophy and leadership, those being radical Republicans and the fire-eating secessionists, were committed to mutually incompatible positions. Finally, Congress as body of politicians was too close to party politics and power to regional viewpoints, too prone to posturing for public effect and political one-ups-manship, and too little thought national in scope. For compromise to succeed, statesmanship with national rather than regional, political, or special group economy goals were required. Congress did not have the inclination, nor the wherewithal at that point in history to unite for the common good of the states. Throughout the 1850’s incidents of conflict of political and economic interests further alienated members of the legislature. Statesmanship was replaced by antagonism. An example was the Brooks-Sumner incident in the House of Representatives in 1856.

image017As North-South tensions heightened, so did Massachusetts Congressman Charles Sumner’s rhetoric against the South. In his Crime Against Kansas speech, delivered in May 1856, he lambasted southern efforts to extend slavery into Kansas and attacked his colleague, Andrew P. Butler of South Carolina. The South was pictured as evil slave holders, even though the issue the South was stressing was to allow the people of the new states decide their own fate. Of course, like any political cause, they sough allies, in this case new states and territories that would be sympathetic with their political and economic concerns. Shortly after Sumner’s infuriating speech, Butler’s cousin, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina, assaulted Sumner on the Senate floor. At the presses spin on the incident as seen in the drawing is that the cruel South and Southerners were the aggressors and the poor North, good and reasonable were the victims. No attempt was made, at least in the Northern press to understand the provocation that Brooks felt and which in turn drove him to the attack. Brooks chose to address this months later in Congress July 14, 1856: “Some time since a Senator from Massachusetts allowed himself, in an elaborately prepared speech, to offer a gross insult to my State, and to a venerable friend, who is my State representative, and who was absent at the time. Not content with that, he published to the world, and circulated extensively, this uncalled for libel on my State and my blood. Whatever insults my State insults me. Her history and character have commanded my pious veneration; and in her defense I hope I shall always be prepared, humbly and modestly, to perform the duty of a son. I should have forfeited my own self-respect, and perhaps the good opinion of my countrymen, if I had failed to resent such an injury by calling the offender in question to a personal account.” He further comment to attacks he received in the press:” The question has been asked in certain newspapers, why I did not invite the Senator to personal combat in the mode usually adopted. Well, sir, as I desire the whole truth to be known about the matter, I will for once notice a newspaper article on the floor of the House, and answer here. My answer is, that the Senator would not accept a message; and having formed the unalterable determination to punish him, I believed that the offence of “sending a hostile message,” superadded to the indictment for assault and battery, would subject me to legal penalties more severe than would be imposed for a simple assault and battery. That is my answer.” This is an other example of how two regions saw the world different. Duty, honor, action, were viewed differently in the North than in the South. A prelude to a bigger, more costly, more blood conflict could be seen.

image019On the floor of the House of Representatives there were angry harangues, denunciations, and charges, emphasized by bursts of hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and raucous laughter. In the galleries, applause and hissing emanated from the crowd of onlookers which often included loafers, clerks, politicians, handsomely dressed ladies and gentlemen. In the lobbies, a seething, murmuring, ugly-tempered mass of political maneuvers, at times using rough language that would have disgraced a barroom was sounded within the codicils of the congress. Recurrently, speakers lashed out in passages that threatened to precipitate a general affray.

image021The scene was no better in the Senate as men raised their fists and shouted at each other. Threats of violence became commonplace. Sen. James Hammonds, of South Carolina, said, “The only persons who do not have a revolver and a knife are those who have two revolvers.” For a time a New England Representative, a former clergyman, came unarmed, but finally he too bought a pistol. A Louisiana Congressman threatened to fetch his double-barreled shotgun into the House. Supporters of both parties in the galleries also bore lethal weapons and were ready to use them. A single shot or blow might have brought on a melee which would have shocked the civilized world and perhaps dissolved the government.

image023By 1859 a strong current of secession talk was running through the general speechmaking of Southern members of the two houses of Congress. Southern champions in Washington were now more determined than ever before to have Southern grievances addressed. Currents of sectional antagonism flowed from the House as well as the Senate. The road to separation was being followed. The birth of the Confederacy was coming closer as men began to see no hope of a formal resolution of Southern grievances. On December 6, 1860, Senators Brown of Mississippi, Iverson of Georgia, and Wigfall of Texas had made speeches implying that “the heroic South would depart no matter what delusive concessions were made to her.”

Howell Cobb had included in his address to Georgians, on December 6, 1860, a condemnation of compromise. Every hour that Georgia stayed in the union after Lincoln came into power would be “an hour of degradation, to be followed by certain and speedy ruin.”

References and Details:

Annual Reunion of the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia. Sectional Interest the True Issue” Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. XVII. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1889.
The Lost Cause: The Standard Southern History of the War of the Confederates” by Edward A. Pollard, Chapter 4.
Congressional Record 1850-1860
Origin Of The Late War” Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. I. Richmond, Virginia, January, 1876. No. 1
A Vindication Of Virginia And Of The South“, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. I. Richmond, Virginia., February, 1876. No. 2
Fifth Annual Meeting Of The Southern Historical Society, 1877. No. 1-2“, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. V. Richmond, Virginia, January – February, October 31st., 1877
Address of Colonel Edward McCrady, Jr.” Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. XVI. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1888.
Development of the Free Soil Idea in the United States“, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XVII. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1889.
“The Causes Of The War, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXXII. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1904.
The Repeal of the Missouri Compromise“, by P. O. Ray
The History of the Confederacy 1832-1865“, by Clifford Dowdey, Chapter 2
The Story of the Confederate States“, by Joseph T. Derry, Part II, Chapters 2 and 3

C. The Crittenden Compromise

image024The Crittenden Compromise was authored by Kentucky Senator John Crittenden a Whig and disciple of Henry Clayand who interestly enough had two sons that would become generals on opposite sides in the war. Crittenden was part of a Senate committee called a “Committee of Thirteen,” formed to address the crisis of the possible secession of the South. The committee consisted of: Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, and Robert Toombs, of Georgia, representing the Lower South; R.M.T. Hunter of Virginia, Lazarus W. Powell and Crittenden, both of Kentucky, representing the border land states; Stephen A. Douglas and William M. Bigler of Pennsylvania and Henry M. Rice of Minnesota, represented the Northern Democrats; William H. Seward from New York, an ardent abolitionist and Republican Party founder, Jacob Collamer, of Vermont, Ben Wade of Ohio, James. R. Doolittle of Wisconsin and James W. Grimes of Iowa, representing the Northwestern radicals.

At first, Davis declined to serve because of the position he and his state were known to occupy, but under the advice of friends he changed his mind. The committee was named on the very day that South Carolina seceded from the union. The committee had little time and would have to act rapidly. It should be noted that not one of the committee leaders was in close working relations with Lincoln, especially after Jefferson Davis broke with him. Curiously, Seward, became the principal intermediary between the committee and the staunch Unionists of the Cabinet. Leadership within the committee lay with Crittenden. On the day the committee was formed, Crittenden proposed six Constitutional amendments, seeking to satisfy both sides of the sectional crisis.

image025Crittenden’s plan, one of seven offered from within the committee, received earnest attention. The Compromise, as offered on December 18, 1860, consisted of a preamble, six proposed constitutional amendments, and four proposed Congressional resolutions. Martin Van Buren declared that the amendments would certainly be ratified by three-fourths of the states. Crittenden received hundreds of assurances from all over the North and the border states that his policy had reached the popular heart. Before long, resolutions and petition were pouring in upon Congress. In New York City, 63,000 people signed an endorsement of the plan. Another petition bore the names of 14,000 women, scattered from North Carolina to Vermont. From St. Louis came nearly a hundred pages of names, wrapped in the American flag.

But the five Republicans in the committee were influenced not by public opinion but by personal conviction, party principle, and the voice of free-soil leaders. The four minor Senators were inclined to wait for guidance from Seward. Seward was waiting for a statement of policy from Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had already made his mind up. He was never for a moment moved by the Crittenden Compromise which was one of the most fateful decisions of Abraham Lincoln’s career. The first committee vote was taken in Seward’s absence and the proposal was defeated by the Republican majority. Four days later the committee reported to the Senate that it could reach no conclusion.

image026Early in January, Crittenden rose in the Senate to make a proposal that his compromise should be submitted to the people of the entire nation for a popular vote. The proposal inspired widespread enthusiasm. Stephen Douglas declared in the Senate, on the same day Crittenden’s proposal was made, January 3, 1861, that he would “venture to prophesy that the Republicans themselves would approve the proposed amendments.” Horace Greeley later declared that in a popular referendum, the compromise would have prevailed by “an overwhelming majority.” Basically the plan reaffirmed accepted the boundary between free and slave states that had been set by the Missouri Compromise (1820–21), extended the line to California, and assured the continuation of slavery where it already existed by decision of individual states. In addition, upheld the fugitive slave law (1850) with minor modifications, and called for vigorous suppression of the African slave trade. At a peace conference called by the Virginia legislature in 1861, the compromise gained support from four border state delegations. But neither radical Northerners nor radical Southerners liked the plan. Because of Republican obstruction, interposing delay after delay, it failed in the house by a vote of 113 to 80 and in the Senate in March by a vote of 20 to 19.

While compromise was failing in the Senate, it was doing little better in the House, which was even worse adapted to the task of peacemaking. A body too large, too contentious, and too strongly Republican for mediation effort. The House had agreed, on December 4, 1860, to form a special committee of one from each state to discuss the condition of the union. Two days later, Speaker Pennington appointed the “Committee of Thirty-Three.” The committee consisted of sixteen Republicans, fourteen Democrats and three Opposition members. But he failed to name a single Douglas man from the North and most of his Southerners were unrepresentative of public opinion. He also chose too many radical Republicans. The committee was more inclined to quarrel than to agree. No member of the committee offered a plan that caught the national attention like the Crittenden Compromise.

References and Details:

Development of the Free Soil Idea in the United States. An Address Delivered Before the Members of the Nebraska State Historical Society on the Evening of January 14, 1890. By HON. W. H. ELLER. Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. XVII. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1889.

The Vindication Of The South. To Preserve the Union” Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. XXVII. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1899.

“Dedication of the Virginia Memorial at Gettysburg, Friday, June 8, 1917” Southern Historical Society Papers. Richmond, Va., Sept., 1917. New Series, Vol. 4, Old Series, Vol. XLII.
The Lost Cause: The Standard Southern History of the War of the Confederates” By Edward A. Pollard, Chapter 4 & 5,
Story of the Confederate States” by Joseph T. Derry, Part 3, Section 1, Chapter 1.
The Story of the Confederacy” by Robert S. Henry Chapter 2.
“John J. Crittenden: The National Union Party Struggle for the Union”, By D. Kirwan
“Congressional Resolutions Relative to the Peace Commissioners” Southern Historical Society Papers 1959. New Series, Vol. 14, Old Series, Vol. LII. 2d Confederate Congress–(2d Session)–Saturday, February 25, 1865

D. Final Attempts At Compromise

image027Congress had failed to reach any compromise with the States that had now chosen to seceded. The Commonwealth of Virginia promoted a peace conference in the hope that the delegates could arrive at some amicable compromise, then secession fever might diminish and the seceded states might be convinced to rejoin the Union. Governor John Letcher and the Virginia Legislature proposed to hold this National Peace Conference early in 1861 to make one final attempt to overt the break up of the union. On January 19, 1861 all states were invited to send delegates to the convention which would meet in Washington, D.C. on February 4, 1861. The Washington Peace Conference met at the Willard Hotel, in Washington, from February 4th through February 27th, 1861, but only some of the states sent representatives. The Lower South, and Arkansas, boycotted the convention. The seceding states were forming the Confederacy and thought that the compromise was a game to trick the border areas into staying in the Union rather than joining the new Confederacy. Representatives of 21 of the States still in the Union, among them, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina, Missouri, Delaware, and Virginia were in attendance. Former president John Tyler of Virginia was the presiding officer.

The attitude of Northern extremists toward the convention can be seen when Michigan senators were initially opposed to their state’s participation in the conference. But on February 9, both of them telegraphed their governor to send delegates. They did so on the grounds that moderate members of the assemblage seemed likely to prevail and that more obstructionists were needed. J.A. Seddon of Virginia, David Wilmot of Pennsylvania, and Lot M. Morrill of Maine, did their utmost to obstruct the gathering.

The absence of thirteen states was too great a hurdle for the convention to overcome. In the last days of the Buchanan Administration, the conference agreed to resolutions framed as a single amendment made of seven sections. This amendment and its sections were very similar to the Crittenden Compromise, although slightly different in wording and a few details. When these resolutions were presented to a Senate committee, they were rejected 28-7. The House, on March 1, refused to suspend its rules in order to consider the amendment. Neither North or South seemed to want to listen to the proposal. Soon Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee also seceded to join the new Confederacy.

image028The final attempt at compromise in order to prevent the dissolving of the Union, came from Congress because the Peace Conference failed produce the desired results. The Corwin amendment was and remains a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution offered by Ohio Congressman Thomas Corwin during the closing days of the 2nd Session of the 36th Congress as House Joint Resolution No. 80. The proposed, but not yet ratified amendment would have forbidden the Federal banning of slavery and was a last-ditch effort to avert the outbreak of the Civil War. Corwin’s measure emerged as the House of Representatives’ version of an earlier identical proposal in the Senate by William Seward. This Congressional compromise effort would have been an amendment to the constitution, but is almost never discussed by present day historians because it discredits their banner of a “war to free the slaves” and the northern icons, people they hold up as the moral beacons of America. The proposal was that the Northern legislators would guarantee slavery for states that already had it. This amendment passed both houses of Congress without any slave states present, offering proof that the failure of previous compromise efforts was based on opposition to the spread of slavery, rather than a vote against slavery itself.

On February 28, 1861, the United States House of Representatives approved the resolution by a vote of 133-65 (Page 1285, Congressional Globe). On March 2, 1861, it was approved by the United States Senate with a vote of 24-12 (Page 1403, Congressional Globe). A young Henry Adams observed that the measure narrowly passed both houses due to the lobbying efforts of Abraham Lincoln, the President-Elect. The Corwin amendment appears officially in Volume 12 of the Statutes at Large at page 251. The official record from the U.S. House of Representatives notes:

“Joint Resolution to amend the Constitution of the United States. Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the following article be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which, when ratified by three-fourths of said Legislatures, shall be valid, to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution, viz.: “Article Thirteen” No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.” APPROVED, March 2, 1861.

The resolution was signed by President James Buchanan, shortly before Lincoln was inaugurated. It is interesting to note that this is the only proposed, but not ratified amendment to the Constitution, to have been signed by a President. The President’s signature is considered unnecessary because of the constitutional provision that on the concurrence of two-thirds of both Houses of Congress the proposal shall be submitted to the States for ratification. The is also President is powerless to veto a proposed constitutional amendment. It is the only amendment to that time ever issued by Congress which contained in its actual text a numerical designation.

Some secondary sources state that Lincoln sign ed this resolution He was already elected but not inaugurated until March 4 1861. More secondary sources state that Buchanan, who was still the sitting president at the time signed it. Since this was a proposed 13th amendment in 1861 and was not ratified into law, I fear some in their research of the “presidential signed this amendment” are confusing it with the actual 13th Amendment that Lincoln did get ratified in December 1864. We may never be able to discern the truth about Lincolns involvement due to the attempts at sanctification of his life by his revisionist history worshipers.

Ratification efforts began almost immediately after the measure’s adoption and included a public endorsement in the inaugural address of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s lack of opposition to the amendment proposal in his address of March 4, 1861 is evidence that he was willing to accept slavery if it meant that his government could continue collecting tariffs.

“I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution, which amendment, however, I have not seen, has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

This symbolic approval of slavery by Lincoln also gives significant credibility to the idea that his much heralded Emancipation Proclamation that would come in 1863 was no more than a destabilizing maneuver aimed at the Southern economy and to reduce their capacity to sustain a defense to the Northern war.

The proposal was ratified by the legislatures of Ohio (May 13,1861) and Maryland (January 10, 1862). Illinois lawmakers, sitting as a constitutional convention at the time also approved it. The amendment is known to have been considered for ratification in several additional states including Kentucky, New York, and Connecticut where it was either rejected or died in committee under neglect as other wartime issues came to preoccupy the those states attention.

References and Details:

“Living Confederate Principles: A Heritage for All Time” Southern Historical Society Papers. Richmond, Va., Sept., 1915. New Series, Vol. 2, Old Series, Vol. XL
The Lost Cause: The Standard Southern History of the War of the Confederates“” by Edward A. Pollard, Chapter 4, 5, 6
Story of the Confederate States” by Joseph T. Derry, Part 3, Section 1, Chapter 1
The Story of the Confederacy” by Robert S. Henry Chapter 2
Political History of the United States of America during the Great Rebellion by Edward McPherson
Congressional Record 1861
Congressional Globe, Page 1285
Congressional Globe, Page 1403
Volume 12 of the Statutes at Large, Page 251
Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
From Revolution to Reconstruction 1994

Part 4 Questions:
In short essay format give and support an opinion for at least six of these questions:

1. Describe the motivation of the New England states and the Federalists as it pertained to the Hartford Convention and potential secession in the early 1800’s.
2. Give justification for or against the Tariffs of Abominations either from the Northern or Southern perspective.
3. If you were a Southern farmer or business man, what would your reactions have been to the Nullification actions proposed by Calhoun?
4. What sectional concerns regarding westward expansion continued to be raised by both the North and the South from the Missouri Compromise through the Compromise of 1850?
5. Why would the South wish to have a popular sovereignty approach to new territories and states, and the North push for predetermined federal legislation for the new states?
6. Why was the term “Bloody Kansas” coined and what circumstances caused the Kansas-Nebraska Act to aggravate the turmoil?
7. Why would most Southern citizens understand and support Preston Brooks response to Charles Sumner, and why would most Northern citizens and the Northern Press condemn Brooks?
8. What motives did the Republican members of the “Committee of Thirteen” have to ignore popular support of the Crittenden Comprise and to vote to defeat the plan?
9. What were the problems faced by the National Peace Conference of 1861?
10. Explain the motives behind Lincoln and the Congress with regards to the proposed 13th Amendment. What implications does that have regarding defining the cause of the war to come?
11. When looking over the proposed 13th Amendment we see Lincoln more concerned about holding the union together and maintain revenue from Southern states, compared to the concerns of black slaves. Why do you think America has been lead to believe that Lincoln was the “Great Emancipator” in the face of campaign statements regarding the Negro and slavery?

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