Civil War Delayed is a series written by Rosemary Jenkins that presents an alternate future had the U.S. Civil War not been fought in 1861. This is the second of six essays. Click here to read the first essay. Click here to read the third essay. Click here to read the fourth essay. Click here to read the fifth essay. Click here to read the sixth essay.
John J. Crittendon, a congressman from Kentucky, was aware of the necessity of putting forth a proposal which would have permanence. By taking the question of slavery out of the hands of the Federal Government, sectional antagonism would at least have been mitigated, if not eliminated, even though the socio-economic problems would have remained. In the form of an unalterable constitutional amendment, precedent for which derived from Article V of the Constitution, it (1) proposed that all territory south of the 36 º 30' line would be open to slavery; this implied that the line could be extended even beyond the Pacific Coast and southward without limits ( 2) denied Congress the right to abolish slavery on Federal property (3) declared that slavery could exist within the boundaries of Washington, D. C. (4) stated that Congress could not hinder interstate transport of slaves (5) noted that where slaves were freed, the former owners must be compensated, and (6) finally, determined that slavery clauses would be exempt from the process of amendment! In addition, no provisions could be passed which would alter the Three-Fifths Clauses (aforementioned), the Fugitive Slave Act would be ever in force, and Congress would never be able to affect slavery where it already existed.
By this compromise, the South would be pacified by giving slavery a permanent constitutional status. The South could expect slavery to remain free from further threats to the security of its system. This series of proposals was similar to what Calhoun had hoped for in 1850 before his death in March of that year.
In actuality, the Crittenden proposal was defeated through a strict party vote. The Senate voted 19 in favor, 20 against; the House similarly voted 80 for the compromise with 113 against it. No Republicans supported it in either House. Thus, as reflected by their actions, the Republicans let the secessionist movement go unchecked by any effort on their part to reassure or conciliate the South.
It is true that the compromise itself lacked refinement and foresight: it offended on moral and ethical grounds; ignored the principle of inevitable change; most unfortunately, it cleared the way for expansion of slavery into hypothetical territory. On the other hand, it was a plan potentially acceptable to all while its ultimate aim was for an enduring peace without sectional conflict.
It appears that Lincoln's opposition to the Crittenden Compromise was greatly responsible for the failure of its passage.
It appears that Lincoln's opposition to the Crittenden Compromise was greatly responsible for the failure of its passage. It also seems certain from the vacillations on the problem by Lincoln's influential Secretary of State, William H. Seward, as seen in his letters to his wife and others, that he would have supported the plan if he had not been dominated by Lincoln, who, at that time, still did not believe that the secessionists would act or be successful in the South if they did seriously try to secede. The Republicans, as a whole, also underestimated the Southern separatist movement, believing that Union sentiment would supersede that of the separatists, whose actions could ultimately lead to disintegration of the Union.
Lincoln prevented the compromise movement from making further inroads into the newly formed Republican Party, one of whose main planks was non-extension of slavery into the territories. It should be noted that had Douglas' 1854 policy (regarding popular sovereignty in the Kansas-Nebraska debates) been accepted, there would have been no reason for the formation of an opposition party and, consequently, the Republican Party (having been first the Anti-Nebraska Party and the Whig Party) would not have been created (at least at that time).
Once again, sectional tensions continued to mount. The Democratic Party began to split when the powerful Stephen A. Douglas (the Little Giant) withdrew temporarily from the party along with his followers when Kansas in 1857 was thrown back for a time to remain as a territory instead of being admitted to the Union. It seemed that most citizens in the Kansas territory opposed the fraudulent LeCompton Constitution, which supported slavery. Nevertheless, the Kansas territory's pro-slavery constitution had passed in 1857 after fraudulent elections (done to appease the South) had been held there, supported by then-President Buchanan. Ultimately, the vote to make Kansas a state passed by the pro-slavery Senate Democrats but defeated by the anti-slavery House Republicans, delaying the approval by Congress of Kansas statehood until January of 1861.
Stephen Douglas famously debated Lincoln in 1858 and beat him for the Senate seat they both sought. Had Lincoln won, there would have been no President Lincoln, at least at that time (although that would likely also have meant no assassination and who knows what might have transpired with regard to the Civil War).
Subsequently, Lincoln had indicated, in accordance with the platform coming out of the Republican National Convention in Chicago, that the right of states to regulate their domestic institutions must not be transgressed. His relative silence concerning the compromises and related issues was based on the conviction that any direct discussion of the delicate question over slavery expansion would only add fuel to the fire and thereby intensify unnecessary sectional antagonisms.
Lincoln, however, cannot be blamed entirely for the defeat of the various bills. The Senate in January 1861 (before Lincoln's March Inauguration) accepted a substitute measure to prevent the Crittenden resolution from reaching a vote on the Senate floor. Although Seward finally voted against the proposal, the Senate's Committee of Thirteen (especially set up to discuss this problem) resolved instead to approve the following: (1) the Constitution should never be so altered as to prevent congressional interference with slavery (2) a fugitive slave, upon apprehension, should be given the right of trial by jury (3) the states should be requested to repeal any Personal Liberty Laws remaining on their books (4) laws should be passed which would penalize plots for and actual invasion of one state by another--a Northern reply to the threat of secession.
It can further be concluded that Northern and Republican sentiment, generally, favored anything which would avoid war. As stated by David Morris Potter in his book on Lincoln:
When the faction of Republican moderates is added to that of Breckinridge (John C. Breckinridge served as Vice President under Buchanan and later as a Confederate general) Democrats, Douglas Democrats, and Constitutional Unionists, assurance seems doubly certain that the majority opinion of the Unionist states would readily have offered concessions in the territories if thereby they could have secured the perpetuation of the Union.
There was a case of a petition appearing before Congress, representing some 2000 Philadelphians, affirming their support for a conciliatory territorial policy as well as backing for Crittenden's bill. The Richmond Whig publication of January 28, 1861, estimated that between three-fourths and four-fifths of the North held these sentiments, as indicated by the numerous rallies, town meetings, editorial comments, and so forth:
There can be no doubt that Crittenden's plan of adjustment, if submitted to a direct vote of the people, would be adopted by such a voice as never was polled in this country!
Lincoln, expressing himself in the Great Debates, believed that the Dred Scott Decision removed from the people and Congress the power to determine what course slavery would take in the territories and would set an unwelcome precedent for other related decisions. It further could strike a death knell for the Republican Party. He contended that so long as Congress had the power to admit new states, it should have the decisive voice as to whether territories would be slave or free. It was expected that new states would follow the slave/free pattern set up when they were still territories.
Between 1848 and 1860, the American border had twice been altered. "A constant agitation for further expansion indicated the determination of ambitious Southerners to enlarge the slave region (which, by the way, included enslaving our Native American populations, a ubiquitous situation rarely recognized for its virulence and violence).
Filibustering in Cuba and Northern Mexico was widely accepted by Southerners; it was clear to them that new states could easily be created from such annexed territory which would, of course, become slave states, as promised by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. "Filibustering" here does not refer to the current process in the U. S. Senate to put off or block a vote altogether; rather, it means in this context the attempt by privately funded military expeditions to take over countries which were otherwise at peace with the United States (it reached its height in the 1850s).
It seems that a prominent part of the foreign policies of Presidents Pierce and Buchanan allowed for expansion of slavery into newly acquired territory. Pierce had obtained land through the 1854 Gadsen Purchase (what is now New Mexico and parts of Arizona). Buchanan, unsuccessfully tried to make Northern Mexico a protectorate of the United States by the terms of the 1859 McLane-Ocampo Treaty (extending Gadsen Treaty provisions, regarding rights of citizen and military transit, tariff policies, trade routes, etc.) but the proposal was flatly rejected in the Senate. In fact, "Senator [James] Doolittle [Wisconsin] . . . condemned the Southern program of 'acquisition of Cuba, Mexico, Central America, all tropical America. . . for the purpose of counter-balancing the growing power. . . of the great Caucasian race in the North and West.'"
This desire by the South to extend the boundary southward was a major reason for Lincoln's firm opposition to the Crittenden plan. "Let either (popular sovereignty or territorial compensation) be done, and immediately filibustering and extending slavery recommences." This passage was part of a letter to Rep. Elihu Washburne of Illinois on December 13, 1860. Further evidence of United States' interest in expansion to the south can be drawn from the following: General Narcisco Lopez' move into Cuba; William Walker's invasion of Mexico and Nicaragua; the organizing of the secret Knights of the Golden Circle in 1861, whose hopes were to make the shores of the Gulf of Mexico a slave empire.
During the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, there was also discussion on the possibility of expansion. In the Freeport Debate, Douglas claimed that due to the increasing population in America because of immigration and procreation, it was necessary to obtain more land to meet the needs of Americans (a self-fulfilling prophecy). Lincoln realized that there would be no end to United States imperialism unless America was committed to containment of slavery. At the Galeburg Debate, Lincoln stated:
If Judge Douglas' policy upon this question succeeds, and gets fairly settled down, until all opposition is crushed out, the next thing will be a grab for the territory of poor Mexico, and invasion of the rich lands of South America, then the adjoining islands will follow, each of which promises additional slave fields. . . .