A look back at the 1860 plan that would have guaranteed the permanent existence of slavery

Mildred Europa Taylor July 18, 2022
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When Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election, 11 southern states seceded from the Union. He had said during his campaign that he would not ban slavery in places where it was already being practiced but would stop it from expanding. To deal with the secession issues and prevent civil war between the North and South, Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden in December 1860 introduced legislation dubbed the “Crittenden Compromise”. 

The 74-year-old’s Crittenden Compromise would have preserved slavery in the U.S. constitution had it seen the light of day. It would have reinstated the Missouri Compromise of 1820, “extending the line of the 36°30° to the Pacific Ocean, thereby giving the anti-slavery proponents more than two-thirds of the country,” according to Study.com

The Crittenden Compromise came with six proposed constitutional amendments and four proposed Congressional resolutions that Crittenden believed would calm Southern states, prevent civil war and save the Union.

On December 18, 1860, the slaveholder and Democratic senator proposed the following six amendments to the Constitution to the full senate:

  1. Slavery would be prohibited in all territory of the United States “now held, or hereafter acquired,” north of latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes. In territory south of this line, slavery was “hereby recognized” and could not be interfered with by Congress. Further, property in slaves was to be “protected by all the departments of the territorial government during its continuance.” States would be admitted to the Union from any territory with or without slavery as their constitutions provided.
  2. Congress was forbidden to abolish slavery in places under its jurisdiction within a slave state, such as a military post.
  3. Congress could not abolish slavery in the District of Columbia so long as it existed in the adjoining states of Virginia and Maryland, and without the consent of the District’s inhabitants. Compensation would be given to owners who refused consent to abolition.
  4. Congress could not prohibit or interfere with the interstate slave trade.
  5. Congress would provide full compensation to owners of rescued fugitive slaves. Congress was empowered to sue the county in which obstruction to the fugitive slave laws took place to recover payment; the county, in turn, could sue “the wrong doers or rescuers” who prevented the return of the fugitive.
  6. No future amendment of the Constitution could change these amendments, or authorize or empower Congress to interfere with slavery within any slave state.

He also offered the following four resolutions:

  1. That fugitive slave laws were constitutional and should be faithfully observed and executed.
  2. That all state laws which impeded the operation of fugitive slave laws, the so-called “Personal Liberty laws,” were unconstitutional and should be repealed.
  3. That the Fugitive Slave act of 1850 should be modified (and rendered less objectionable to the North) by equalizing the fee schedule for returning or releasing alleged fugitives, and limiting the powers of marshals to summon citizens to aid in their c apture.
  4. That laws for the suppression of the African slave trade should be effectively and thoroughly executed.

But the President-elect and leader of the Republican Party, Lincoln, opposed the Crittenden Compromise. He told Republican Illinois Congressman William Kellogg to “entertain no proposition for a compromise in regard to the extension of slavery,” even before Crittenden presented his plan to Congress, according to History.com.

The Senate created a committee called the Committee of Thirteen to look at the Crittenden Compromise. The Committee was made up of seven Democrats, five Republicans and one Constitutional Unionist. To accept the plan, it should be supported by a majority of Republicans and Democrats. At the end of the day, all the five Republicans on the committee opposed the plan, largely influenced by Lincoln.

On January 16, 1861, the Crittenden Compromise was shot down in the Senate; all 25 Republicans voted no to 23 yes votes. Just a month after the Crittenden Compromise failed in the Senate, another version of it was introduced but that also failed.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: July 18, 2022


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