When Congress assembled on December 3, 1860, many believed there was still a possibility of saving the Union. The country was in the midst of a political revolution; and American statesmanship was confronted with the task of restoring internal peace to a nation split asunder over the question of the rights of slavery under the Constitution.
The majority of the people in the lower South had despaired of securing definitive amendments to the Constitution and were preparing to assert the sovereignty of their states and withdraw from the Union. Some of them had faith in the ultimate success of a new nation. Thousands believed it the only possible method of assuring an adjustment of the difficulties and looked to a future reconstructed Union on what they believed to be sound principles of equity and justice.1 They wanted peace, but p147 they were reconciled to the horrors of war if there were no escape from it. Their entire position on this point was summed up by Benjamin in the last trying days at Washington when all hope of compromise was gone:
We desire, we beseech you, let this parting be in peace. I conjure you to indulge in no vain delusion that duty or conscience, interest or honor, imposes upon you the necessity of invading our States or shedding the blood of our people. You have no possible justification for it. I trust it is in no craven spirit, and with no sacrifice of the honor or dignity of my own state, that I make this last appeal, but from far higher and holier motives. If, however, it shall prove vain, if you are resolved to pervert the Government framed by the fathers for the protection of our rights into an instrument for subjugating and enslaving us, then, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the universe for the rectitude of our intentions, we must meet the issue that you force upon us as best becomes free men defending all that is dear to man.
What may be the fate of this horrible contest no man can tell, none pretend to foresee; but this much I will say: the fortunes of war may be adverse to our arms; you may carry desolation into our peaceful land, and with the torch and fire you may set our cities in flames . . . but you can never subjugate us; you never can convert the free sons of the soil into vassals, paying tribute to your power; and you never, never can degrade them to the level of an inferior and servile race. Never! Never!2
Men of this kind controlled the seven states of the lower South. They refused to make advances in Congress. They considered themselves the representatives of sovereign states and believed in the right of a sovereign state to judge the extent of its grievances and determine the p148 nature of redress. The states which they represented having provided for conventions to consider their future status in the Union,3 they declared that it would be impolitic as well as impossible to state in advance the nature of guarantees which would be deemed acceptable. They expressed a willingness to transmit to their constituents any proposals for compromise the North chose to offer, but further than that they refused to go.4
Others favored a final effort to secure an assurance of safety for their institutions by constitutional methods, through an appeal to the representatives of the Northern people. They constituted the minority in the remaining slave states, in which they were likely to become a majority at any time; and they included in their number such statesmen as Stephens and Johnson of Georgia, Soulé of Louisiana, and governors Ellis of North Carolina, Letcher p149 of Virginia, Magoffin of Kentucky, Harris of Tennessee, and Jackson of Missouri.
Still others, regarding the Republicans as a Northern minority and as disposed to adopt a pacific attitude during the crisis, were in favor of remaining in the Union until — and this was their ultimatum — the incoming administration attempted to subjugate any state which had interposed its sovereignty in defense of its constitutional rights. Bell of Tennessee, Morehead of North Carolina, Tyler of Virginia, and Breckinridge of Kentucky were among their number.
United with these two groups of Southerners in an effort to secure some sort of definitive amendments to the Constitution as a means of saving the nation from dismemberment was a large portion of the Douglas Democrats of the Northwest, represented by Douglas, McClernand, and Logan of Illinois, Fitch of Indiana, and Pugh and Vallandigham of Ohio. As a party they had nothing to lose and much to gain by assuming the leadership in urging conciliation. Their political fortunes were on the decline. Many of them had been defeated at the last election and others were in line for defeat at the next election. A successful consummation of their efforts at compromise would have placed them in a strategic position and shattered the party organization of their chief opponents.
At the other extreme were the Republicans, equally as reticent as the Southern-rights men, though probably for a different reason. They were, in December, 1860, without a well-defined policy and lacked stability in party organization. Having but recently won the presidential election, not yet in control of the national government, and recognized as a sectional and minority party, they p150 sought to avoid any action tending toward dissension and disintegration within the party. To admit the moral right of the Southern demands for constitutional safeguards would have been a tacit admission of party designs against Southern institutions. No man, not even Lincoln, was established firmly enough as a party leader to be able to define party policies, other than to express surprise at the unusual political excitement. Unhappily, irresolution in the crisis constituted a definitive attitude, because the party controlled the legislatures of the Northern states; and because in Congress the adoption of constitutional amendments depended upon its active support. Congress was powerless to act unless the Republicans were willing to have it do so. Likewise, the people of the free states were powerless to register their sentiments on the question of compromise, unless they gave their approval to the calling of state conventions.
Constitutional amendments were imperative as the only means of quieting the tense political situation; and whether they were to be secured in the usual manner or through the medium of a national convention the coöperation of the Republican party was essential. By this method alone the sense of the people relative to the existing controversy could be secured. The strongest argument of those Southerners who opposed secession was that the principles of the Republican party were neither the principles of the majority of the Northern people, nor of the people of a majority of the states. The question was, would the people, with whom all sovereignty rested, be allowed to speak in the crisis. Proposed amendments in Congress presented an opportunity of ascertaining the willingness of the Republican party to define its position.
p151 Men of all parties and from all sections of the country urged immediate action. Herschel V. Johnson, vice presidential candidate on the Douglas Democratic ticket, and opponent of immediate secession in Georgia, said that any one was laboring under a great delusion who thought that the South was divided on the question of submitting to a federal administration along the lines of the Chicago platform. He predicted that unless personal liberty laws were immediately repealed, and the claims to Congress of the power to prohibit slavery in the territories and the interstate slave trade were abandoned, no power on earth could save the Union. He said further: "The great mass of the Southern people believe in the right of secession, and they will not receive patiently its negation by the Federal Executive." He pleaded for the Northern legislatures to take some immediate, positive action toward repealing their obnoxious laws, and for Lincoln or some one authorized to speak for him to disclaim all "intention to use the power of Congress against slavery anywhere, under any pretext, for any purpose. . . . Lincoln would not violate the dignity of his position, nor act unworthy a patriot and statesman, by making or causing the announcement above suggested even before his inauguration. The emergency is great. The peril to the Government imminent. The interests at stake are incalculable."5
Cobb of Alabama said in the House of Representatives, December 11, "If anything is to be done to save my State, it must be done immediately. . . . My prayer is that something may be done by which that State may remain in this Union upon constitutional and equal principles. I am not a secessionist. I desire peace. But, sir, I desire p152 that my State may be awarded her rights under the Constitution."6
Ex-Governor Neill S. Brown of Tennessee, leader of the most conservative party of the state, declared that "if the people of the United States have so far lost their love of country that they could not, in a spirit of conciliation, adopt such amendments, or any amendments necessary to heal the present breach and restore harmony, then indeed may it be truly said that the Union cannot be preserved, and is not worth preserving."7 Senator Crittenden declared that if the members of Congress had not come to Washington in a spirit susceptible to solemn consideration of the disturbing questions before the country, they were not fit for the positions they occupied.8 Senator Powell of the same state emphatically stated that "every impulse of honor, duty, and patriotism demands that we, without delay, exhaust every constitutional means within our power to restore harmony and quiet the country, and preserve a wise and just Constitutional Union."9
Dixon, Republican senator from Connecticut, regarded further crimination and recrimination as dangerous; asserted that "if it be possible, the first thing should be to restore the fraternal spirit which once existed, ought to exist, and may still exist"; and declared that he knew no other way to do it except "by cheerfully and honestly assuring to every section of the country its constitutional rights. No section professes to ask more; no section ought p153 to offer less."10 Senator Pugh of Ohio maintained that ninety-nine hundredths of the people of the entire country "are anxious this day to redress all outrages and all causes of reasonable complaint"; that if the American people could not arrange their difficulties in a satisfactory manner there was no hope for mankind anywhere; and that if South Carolina "cannot be retained by the bonds of affection, or, if estranged, cannot be brought back to us by the arts of kindness, why, then, in God's name — horrible as I esteem such an alternative — let her depart in sorrowful silence." He favored a convention in each state, followed by a national convention, "in order, if possible, to lay more deeply, more broadly, and, I trust, more wisely, the foundation of our common liberty and security and happiness."11
Douglas urged the members of Senate to lay aside party feuds until they had saved the country.12 Sickles of New York asserted that "the Southern representatives on this floor cannot, if they would, no matter what personal sacrifices they may deem it their duty to make, arrest the movement which has already enlisted the support of the great masses of the Southern people . . . the responsibility of dealing with the existing state of things and the power to deal with it effectively rest alone on the Republican leaders. . . . Let the representatives of the aggressive States at the other end of the Capitol and here speak to their people. Let the legislatures of the Northern States be convened and let them act."13 The Missouri Republican declared that Lincoln could do more than any other p154 man to quiet the country if he would but recommend the repeal of the personal liberty laws and assure the South of pacific intentions.14 Vallandigham of Ohio was indefatigable in his efforts to avert a disruption of the Union. "The time is short," said he, "the danger imminent; the malady deep-seated and of long standing. Whatever is to be done must be done at once, and it must be done thoroughly. . . . Let there be no delays, no weak inventions, no temporizing expedients. Otherwise, not secession of a few States only, but total and absolute disruption of this whole Government is inevitable."15
The central theme of the President's message was that the Union could and ought to be saved by peaceable methods. He denied the right of the Southern states to justify resistance on any ground but the right of revolution, which "ought to be the last desperate remedy of a despairing people, after every other constitutional means of conciliation had been exhausted." He denied, likewise, the right of the federal executive or of Congress to make war upon the people of any state, holding that the Union was based upon public opinion, and that "if it cannot live in the affections of the people, it must one day perish. Congress possesses many means of preserving it by conciliation, but the sword was not placed in their hands to preserve it by force." Explanatory amendments to the Constitution, definitely settling the disputed points, ought to be adopted by Congress or by a national convention called for that purpose; and Congress and the state legislatures should assume the responsibility of restoring peace and harmony between the states. As to the nature of the amendments which should be adopted, he suggested: first, p155 a recognition of the right of property in slaves in the slave states where it existed; second, provision for the protection of slavery in the common territories; and third, recognition of the right of the slave owner to the restoration of fugitive slaves, together with a definite statement of the unconstitutionality of the personal liberty laws.16 The message was suited admirably to the exigencies of the moment, but was criticized severely by the extremists of both sections.17 For Buchanan to have asserted the right of the executive department to precipitate civil war, when the predominant sentiment of the country was believed to be in favor of pacification, and previous to the assembling of Congress and the state legislatures upon whom the responsibility of effecting peaceable adjustment rested, would not only have been a lack of statesmanship, it would have been sheer madness. Whether there was a possibility of preserving the Union by peaceable means no man certainly could know, and no one can yet say positively because of the mass of conflicting testimony. The people of those states about to assert their independence had refrained wisely from armed collision with the federal government. They did not want war, and war was inevitable if the federal government assumed an aggressive attitude.
In the House of Representatives a resolution of Boteler of Virginia was adopted on the second day of the session, providing a special committee of one from each state to consider that part of the President's message relating to the critical situation. The vote on the adoption of this resolution and the appointment of members to the committee p156 were ample evidence of what was to be expected. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 145 to 38. The thirty-eight votes in opposition were all Republicans.18 It is true that the great majority of the Republicans voted for it; but that is not a criterion for judging their attitude toward conciliation. The committee, appointed by a Republican Speaker, included four members who had voted against it: Tappan of New Hampshire, Morse of Maine, Howard of Michigan, and Washburn of Wisconsin. It was, moreover, placed under the chairmanship of Corwin of Ohio, whom the Southerners had thoroughly distrusted since the days of the Mexican War, and whose state delegation had been conspicuous in the vote against creating the committee. Furthermore, wherever it was possible, Republicans were placed upon the committee. Sixteen members of that party were appointed, to the exclusion of the Northern Douglas Democrats, though that party had voted solidly for the committee. The Bell men were given only two places on the committee, and, whenever possible, Southern representation was accorded the Douglas supporters, who were out of harmony with the vast majority of the people in that section. The committee was provided to expedite the framing of a program of possible conciliation, and to eliminate further dissension which would be certain to follow debate in the committee of the whole. Its labors would be worthless if its report were not acceptable to the House. Expediency demanded that its composition be such as to unite all parties, and especially to insure a report upon which the conservative elements of the country might unite. Vallandigham of p157 Ohio most ably said: "If the gentleman from Ohio, the chairman of this committee, would do anything effectively to correct public sentiment in our common State, it is to the two hundred and ten thousand men, not of his own party, together with such others of that party as he may be able to carry over with him, that he is to trust for the vindication of such measures, if any, of conciliation and adjustment which his committee may propose, and the House and the Senate may adopt."19
The immediate and most disastrous result was that, while some Southerners regarded it as a mere expedient to gain time and disorganize the South, others accepted it as an indication that the Republicans never would accede to measures of conciliation.20 Hawkins of Florida and Boyce of South Carolina refused to serve upon the committee after the House had refused them the usual courtesy of being excused upon request.21 The Republicans were, therefore, in complete control of the committee, and they converted it into a graveyard for every proposal of compromise and conciliation introduced into the House of Representatives.22
In the Senate, acrimonious debate was precipitated immediately over that part of the President's message relating to the right of the federal government to assert forcibly its authority in a seceding state. The proceedings during the first three weeks of December present a dreary debate upon the intricacies of constitutional law, while the authority of the federal government was crumbling, p158 the Union was being disrupted, and conservative men were pleading for peace and conciliation. The Republicans sought to confine all discussion to the question of employing forcible measures to preserve the Union. Hale of New Hampshire foreshadowed the party attitude on the third day of the session when, in debate with Iverson of Georgia, he said the existing state of affairs "looks to a surrender of that popular sentiment which has been uttered through the constituted forms of the ballot-box, or it looks to open war."23
Powell of Kentucky introduced into the Senate, December 6, a resolution to submit to a special Committee of Thirteen that part of the President's message dealing with the disturbed condition of the country, with power to offer any recommendation it might think necessary for federal legislation or constitutional amendments.24 Repeated efforts were made on the part of the Republicans to defeat the resolution, and it was not until December 18 that the committee was finally agreed upon. Upon that committee were placed Senators Powell and Crittenden of Kentucky; Powell, because he was the author of the resolution, and Crittenden because he had devised the most sensible and acceptable scheme for adjusting the sectional dispute by constitutional amendment. Hunter of Virginia completed the representation from the states of the upper South. Toombs of Georgia and Davis of Mississippi represented that party of the South which favored immediate Southern independence. Douglas of Illinois, Rice of Minnesota, and Bigler of Pennsylvania represented the Northern opposition to Republicanism. Seward of New York, Wade of Ohio, Collamer of New Hampshire, Doolittle p159 of Wisconsin, and Grimes of Iowa represented the Republican party. It was a well-balanced committee both from the standpoint of geographical distribution, political principles, and public leadership.
The Committee of Thirty-three did not meet until December 11, and the Committee of Thirteen did nothing definite until December 22. Meanwhile, Johnson of Tennessee and Crittenden of Kentucky had introduced into the Senate important groups of joint resolutions. The Johnson resolutions, introduced on December 13, proposed the following constitutional amendments: (1) election of United States senators by direct popular vote; (2) division of the several states into electoral districts equal in number to the congressional representation of each state, each of which should cast one vote for President and Vice President; (3) provision for a second election between the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes in case no one received a majority vote in the first election; (4) choice of the President from the Northern states and the Vice President from the Southern states in 1864, alternating every four years; and (5) division of the Supreme Court into three classes, one third to retire every four years, and each class to be equally divided between the North and South.25
Crittenden introduced his famous proposed amendments together with resolutions relative to additional congressional legislation on December 18. The leading provisions of the Crittenden proposals were those which had to do with slavery in the territories. This had been first submitted to the Committee of Thirty-three on December 12 by Nelson of Tennessee and Taylor of Louisiana. p160 Nelson proposed that the territories be divided along the line of 36 degrees and 30 minutes; that slavery be forever prohibited in the region north of that line; that it might exist, and should be protected by congressional legislation in the region south of that line, so long as it remained under territorial governments; and that, when any new state should be created in the Southern region, the inhabitants thereof should continue or abolish slavery as they might choose. Taylor proposed that the citizens of the several states should be allowed to carry into the territories every species of property recognized by the states from which they came, and be secured in the enjoyment of it until such time as state constitutions were framed preparatory to admission into the Union. Other amendments proposed by Nelson and Taylor would prohibit Congress from interfering with the interstate slave trade and with slavery in the District of Columbia. Each proposed an amendment to allow Congress to provide compensation to slave owners for property lost because of any nullification of the fugitive slave law. Nelson proposed that the President and Vice President should come from opposite sides of the 36 degree 30 minute parallel. Taylor submitted an amendment limiting the franchise to members of the Caucasian race. Whiteley of Delaware suggested extending the presidential term to eight years and the choice of electors by congressional districts. By a solid Republican vote all consideration of these and kindred constitutional amendments was postponed in the committee until December 27; and at that time Nelson substituted the Crittenden proposals for his own.26
Meanwhile, every proposition contained in the Crittenden p161 amendments had been defeated in the Committee of Thirteen, Collamer, Doolittle, Grimes, Seward, and Wade voting against them in their entirety.27 The same members then voted against resolutions tendered by Crittenden endorsing the right of the slaveholder to the return of his property and recommending the repeal of all state laws nullifying the fugitive slave law. A resolution to amend the fugitive slave law in such manner as to eliminate features objectionable in the North was unanimously adopted, as was a resolution recommending a thorough enforcement of the laws prohibiting the foreign slave trade.28 On the following day, Douglas placed before the committee a series of proposed amendments which in substance embraced the Crittenden program except for the question of the territories. His proposal was (1) that the status of slavery in all existing territories should remain unchanged until the time of the formation of state constitutions; (2) that no new territory should be acquired except by treaty, two thirds of each House concurring, and the status thereof in respect to servitude remaining as at the time of acquisition; (3) that the area of all new states should be as nearly uniform as possible, not less than sixty thousand nor more than eighty thousand square miles; and (4) no new state to be admitted with less than fifty thousand inhabitants.29 Again the Republican members voted against every proposition and Douglas's plan was discarded.30 Crittenden's proposals, submitted to the Committee of Thirty-three by Nelson, met a similar fate and all hope of Congress agreeing upon any substantial measures of adjustment was gone.
p162 Having failed in their efforts to secure the adoption of constitutional amendments by Congress, the conservative forces directed their attention to securing a national convention, and to preventing a collision between the armed forces of the federal government and those of the Southern states until a convention could be assembled. After two weeks of silence on their part, broken only by occasional and noncommittal remarks necessary to defer the adoption of the Powell resolution, the Republican senators had assumed an aggressive attitude on December 17. Wade of Ohio delivered on that day an address which was published in every Southern paper of importance, and which did more to advance the cause of immediate secession than any other event thus far in the session.31 He stated that he had not even been aware of any unusual discontent or political excitement until he reached Washington. He was certain that the complaints against the personal liberty laws had no basis in fact; that there was not a single principle in the Chicago platform injurious to Southern rights; and that whatever apprehensions existed among the Southern people arose from unwarrantable prejudice and nothing else. He knew of no just grievance, and the day of compromise was past. The people had rendered a verdict upon the question of slavery, and "it would be humiliating and dishonorable to us p163 if we were to listen to a compromise by which he who has the verdict of the people in his pocket should make his way to the presidential chair. . . . I know not what others may do; but I tell you that, with the verdict of the people given in favor of the platform upon which our candidates have been elected, so far as I am concerned, I would suffer anything to come before I would compromise that away." He denied the right of secession, and plainly intimated that the incoming administration would enforce the federal jurisdiction in any state which attempted to secede. Resistance would place the Southerners in a position of making war upon the government and subject them to punishment for treason. Not satisfied with stating his unwillingness to join in measures of compromise, he remarked that South Carolina was "a small State; and probably, if she were sunk by an earthquake today, we would hardly ever find it out, except by the unwonted harmony that might prevail in this chamber."32 The Senate immediately adjourned and, on the following day, the Powell resolution was adopted, Crittenden introduced his famous compromise measures, and Lane of Oregon presented a resolution providing for a national convention.
Lane's resolution also requested the Southern states to meet first in convention to determine the nature of guarantees necessary to their security and peace, and instructed the executive department of the federal government to refrain from all acts of violence against the aggrieved states, even to the extent of withdrawing the military forces from the Southern forts, if necessary.33 The resolution was referred to the Committee of Thirteen where p164 it was never brought to a vote. A similar proposal, presented by Burch of California, was defeated by a vote of 13 to 16 in the Committee of Thirty-three, every Republican except Corwin of Ohio voting against it.34
Whatever hope had existed early in December of arresting the secession movement in the lower South had virtually disappeared.35 The first prerequisite to the adoption of any plan of conciliation was to admit that the Southern people did have grievances in fact, and that there was a real cause for the distracted condition of political affairs, arising from the apprehensions of further aggression by the incoming administration. This the Republicans refused to admit.
Those who favored conciliatory measures contended that the issue before the American people in December, 1860, was not the same issue which they had been called upon to decide during the presidential campaign. They emphasized the fact that at least ten million citizens, representing a tremendous majority in seven states and a powerful minority in as many more, regarded the results of the election as a direct threat against their future p165 security, and intended to interpose the authority of their state governments for protection. Three alternatives were before the remaining portion of the people: (1) to provide, by legislative enactments and constitutional amendments, guarantees of the rights of a powerful minority sufficient to allay the apprehensions of the Southern people; (2) to arrange for a peaceable separation of the Union; or (3) to withhold all guarantees, refuse to permit a separation of the states, and plunge the nation into civil war. They denied that those issues were decided in the November election. It might well be, although it was extremely doubtful, that a majority of the people in a majority of the states concurred in an endorsement of the slavery provisions of the Chicago platform, when presented with the alternative of endorsing popular sovereignty or congressional protection. It was not certain that, one month later, or at any earlier time, they would have demanded adherence to that platform even to the extremity of subjecting the Southern people by force of arms.
Those who favored conciliation believed that, if the controlling group of Republican congressmen were certain that the Chicago platform represented the principles of the people, they should have been willing to call a national convention; and that, if they had no intention of seizing upon the opportunity presented to initiate a destructive war against the Southern people, they would not have assumed such inflexible hostility toward all the innumerable proposals designed to prevent war. Douglas summarized their analysis of the situation when he said:
For the purpose of removing the apprehensions of the southern people, and for no other purpose, you propose to amend the Constitution, so as to render it impossible, in all future p166 time, for Congress to interfere with slavery in the States where it may exist under the laws thereof. Why not insert a similar amendment in respect to slavery in the District of Columbia, and in the navy-yards, forts, arsenals, and other places within the limits of the slaveholding States, over which Congress has exclusive jurisdiction? Why not insert a similar provision in respect to the slave trade between the slaveholding States? The southern people have more serious apprehension on these points than they have of your direct interference with slavery in the States.
If their apprehensions on these several points are groundless, is it not a duty you owe to God and your country to relieve their anxiety and remove all causes of discontent? Is there not quite as much reason for relieving their apprehensions upon these points, in regard to which they are more sensitive, as in respect to your direct interference in the States, where they know and you acknowledge that you have no power to interfere as the Constitution now stands? The fact that you propose to give assurance on the one point and peremptorily refuse to give it on the other, seems to authorize the presumption that you do intend to use the powers of the Federal Government for the purpose of direct interference with slavery and the slave trade everywhere else, with the view to its indirect effects upon slavery in the States, or, in the language of Mr. Lincoln, with the view of its "ultimate extinction in all States, old as well as new, north as well as south."
If you had exhausted your ingenuity in devising a plan for the express purpose of increasing the apprehensions and inflaming the passions of the southern people, with the view of driving them into revolution and disunion, none could have been contrived better calculated to accomplish the object than the offering of that one amendment to the Constitution, and rejecting all others which are infinitely more important to the safety and domestic tranquillity of the slaveholding States.
The Republican congressmen denied any intention of making war upon the states which might assert their independence, p167 but insisted that the revenues must be collected and the delivery of the mails sustained. Pugh replied that it was not of the slightest consequence whether they called it "coercion, or collecting the revenue, or defending public property, or enforcing the laws; you know, and I know, that it means war; and that war will follow it."36
The action of the Republicans in steadfastly opposing all plans of conciliation brought forward and earnestly endorsed by such eminent men as Crittenden, Douglas, Pugh, and others stimulated the secession movement. Viewed from the standpoint of the Southerners this refusal to do anything to restore harmony and friendly relations between the sections, combined with the evident intention to discountenance the right of Southern independence, was especially irritating. Many Southerners believed that the party had carried the election because of the division in the ranks of their opponents; that their elevation to power rested upon accidental circumstances and not upon popular endorsement of their principles; and that the party leaders knew it, and dared not appeal to the people for an endorsement of their position. The refusal to allow the various amendments to the Constitution to be reported from the congressional committees that they might be discussed in open debate, and the refusal to call a national convention substantiated that interpretation of the Republican attitude. Those Southerners, therefore, who had urged that the secession movement be delayed until an opportunity could be presented to the Northern people of defining their attitude, rapidly became secessionists because they believed the Northern people would never be given an opportunity to speak in the p168 crisis.37 The attitude of Hale, Wade, and other republican congressmen left no ground for the leaders of the minority in the lower South to stand upon. Stephens, Johnson, Taylor, and others like them were attempting to stem the tide of secession, not because they denied that right, but because they believed the immediate secessionists had incorrectly judged the strength of the radical Republican party in the Northern states; because they believed that if secession could be delayed, guarantees of Southern rights would be granted. Had the Republicans, therefore, deliberately sought the most efficient method of furthering the secession movement they could have found none better than their refusal to listen to methods of conciliation, and the haste with which they threatened South Carolina and other states which might follow her with violence. It was a course which, from the very start, crystallized Southern sentiment, broke down all differences of opinion, and united the two great parties in the lower South. While conservative Southern men were exerting every effort to delay immediate action, the Republicans in the North were fighting the battle for the unconditional secessionists.
On the other hand, it must be remembered that the Crittenden proposals were the most moderate emanating from the South. Their adoption by Congress, unless p169 accompanied by a manifestation of approval from the people, would have been interpreted as a concession made on the basis of expediency; and the Southern people were determined to accept nothing less than substantial proof that anti-slavery agitation would not be revived with the passing of the crisis.38 There were Southerners who believed that slavery would expand to the territories if granted the same protection as other property, and there were some who subscribed to the positive good argument; but it was as a speculative idea upon morals, principles, and the theoretical ideal of state equality that the territorial question loomed large. The Charlottesville Review, leading anti-secession paper of Virginia, reached the heart of the issue when it said: "There is a habit of speaking derisively of going to war for an idea — an abstraction — something which you cannot see. This is precisely the point on which we would go to war. An idea is exactly the thing that we would fight for. . . . The people who will not fight for ideas will never retain the spirit to fight for anything. Life loses its highest meaning, when opinions become matters of indifference. . . . Therefore, we say, for this idea of State honor — for this abstract principle of not bating her just claims upon threat of coercion — we would convulse this Union from centre to circumference."39 The fact that this was typical of the attitude of conservatives in the upper South makes it extremely doubtful if a compromise of the territorial question would have been accepted. The lower South would not have p170 agreed to constitutional amendments embracing the slavery question, unless additional governmental machinery had been devised giving to the South the exclusive control of the institution of slavery. Finally, no state, after having released its citizens from the authority of the United States Government, would have recognized an amended constitution as other than a basis of negotiation for a reconstruction of the Union; nor would any such have sent delegates to a national convention organized on any other basis than the principles of free consent.40
1 The New Orleans Bee, January 10, 1861, said: "Among the advocates of secession it is safe to say there are many thousands who believe that the decided position assumed by the South is the only practicable means left of bringing the free States to a recognition of our rights and of their constitutional obligations. It is thought that when once the act of separation will have been consummated by a large segment of the South, the North will be thoroughly convinced of its past errors; that an overpowering popular reaction will occur; that Black Republicanism will be overthrown, and that the people of the free States will, with one accord, invite the South to reconstruct the Union upon a satisfactory basis of immutable constitutional guarantee." See, also, ibid., December 22, 1860.
2 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 2 Sess., I, 217.
Convention Bill Passed by Legislature
Date of Election of Delegates
Date Conventions Were to Assemble
|Alabama||Feb. 24, 1860||Dec. 24, 1860||Jan. 7, 1861|
|South Carolina||Nov. 10, 1860||Dec. 6, 1860||Dec. 17, 1860|
|Georgia||Nov. 18, 1860||Jan. 2, 1861||Jan. 16, 1861|
|Florida||Nov. 28, 1860||Dec. 18, 1860||Jan. 3, 1861|
|Mississippi||Nov. 29, 1860||Dec. 20, 1860||Jan. 7, 1861|
|Texas||Dec. 3, 1860||Jan. 8, 1861||Jan. 28, 1861|
|Louisiana||Dec. 11, 1860||Jan. 7, 1861||Jan. 23, 1861|
4 Davis, Remarks in the Senate, December 5, 1860, ibid., 12; Clingman, Remarks in the Senate, December 3, 1860, ibid., 4; Singleton, Jones, Clopton, Miles, and Gatrell, Remarks in the House of Representatives, December 4, 1860, ibid., 7. They were supported in this attitude by a large portion of the Southern press. The Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, January 22, 1861, said: "The appeal for a compromise committee in Congress came from the wronged and endangered South. It was granted, and that and every successive proposal for adjustment coming from the South lowered the tone, we think misrepresented the purpose of the Southern people, and rendered the achievement of Southern security more precarious, if not impossible. Not one of those plans should have come from the South as a matter of policy." See, also, The New Orleans Bee, December 21, 1860.
5 Herschel V. Johnson to August Belmont, November 27, 1860, in Daily Missouri Republican, St. Louis, December 12, 1860.
6 Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., I, 59.
7 Ex-Governor Neill S. Brown to A. Milman, A. C. Beech, E. Cunningham, W. S. Cheatam, and others, December 10, 1860, in the Republican Banner, Nashville, December 13, 1860.
8 Crittenden, Remarks in the Senate, December 4, 1860, Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 2 Sess., I, 5.
9 Powell, Remarks in the Senate, December 10, 1860, ibid., 24.
10 Dixon, Remarks in the Senate, December 10, 1860, ibid., 52.
11 Pugh, Remarks in the Senate, December 10, 1860, ibid., 34.
12 Douglas, Remarks in the Senate, December 10, 1860, ibid., 28.
13 Sickles, Remarks in the House of Representatives, December 10, 1860, ibid., 40.
14 The Daily Missouri Republican, November 15, 1860.
15 Vallandigham, Remarks in the House of Representatives, December 10, 1860, Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 2 Sess., I, 38.
16 Buchanan, Fourth Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1860, ibid., II, Appendix, 1‑7.
17 See the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, December 7, 1860, for a hostile Southern attitude.
18 The vote against the committee by states was as follows: Ohio 10, New York 8, Pennsylvania 5, Michigan 3, Wisconsin 2, Massachusetts 2, Connecticut 2, Illinois 2, Maine 2, Indiana 1, New Hampshire ; Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 2 Sess., I, 6.
19 Vallandigham, Remarks in the House of Representatives, December 10, 1860, ibid., 38.
20 Hawkins, Remarks in the House of Representatives, December 10, 1860, ibid., 36.
21 Ibid., 22‑23.
22 For the many proposed amendments buried in committee, see ibid., 76‑79.
23 Hale, Remarks in the Senate, December 5, 1860, ibid., 9.
24 Ibid., 19.
25 Ibid., 82‑83. These resolutions were referred to the Committee of Thirteen and were never brought to a vote either in committee or in the House.
26 Journal of the Committee of Thirty-three, 3‑9.
27 Journal of the Committee of Thirteen, 4‑6.
28 Ibid., 7.
29 Ibid., 8‑11.
30 Ibid., 16‑17.
31 The following editorial comment of The New Orleans Bee, December 25, 1860, is typical of the Southern reaction: "Now, Mr. Wade echoes the opinions of Seward, and Sumner, and Chase, and Trumbull, and King, and the whole host of Black Republicans in and out of Congress. They have no idea whatever of receding. They know that such a policy would be suicidal, and they will risk the integrity of the Union rather than shatter their own organization into fragments. Besides, they are fanatics, and fanaticism never reasons. The Black Republicans declare through Senator Wade that the day of compromises is past, and that it is absolutely ridiculous to talk about them. He is right in more than one sense."
32 Wade, Remarks in the Senate, December 17, 1860, Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 2 Sess., I, 99‑104.
33 Ibid., 112.
34 Journal of the Committee of Thirty-three, 39.
35 "A dissolution of the Federal Union cannot be prevented. South Carolina is gone already! There was but one hope that others would not follow her; and the refusal of the Black Republicans in Congress to make any concessions to the wronged and greatly aggrieved South, the many indications that the dominant party intend to continue their unholy attacks on slavery and the slave States, the war tone of the friends of the President elect throughout the country, have blasted that almost ere it was born." The Daily Courier, Louisville, December 27, 1860. "In the face of this deep and ominous agitation of the whole South . . . nothing has yet been done or offered by the ruling minds of the North in the cause of reconciliation to quiet alarms or restore peace. The population grows wilder and the movement rises and spreads, and the master chiefs of the dominant section are dumb, or only speak so as to give new provocations to the excited and new discouragements to the moderate." The daily Picayune, December 27, 1860. See, also, The New Orleans Bee, February 6, 1861.
36 Pugh, Remarks in the Senate, December 20, 1860, Cong. Globe, 36 Cong., 2 Sess., II, Appendix, 33.
37 The New Orleans Bee, January 16, said: "We believe that with the possible exception of a few of the New England States, there is not a non-slaveholding Commonwealth of which the people would not accept the Crittenden amendments by an overwhelming majority. Give them but a chance to do so, and our firm conviction is that they would record a sentence of condemnation against Black Republicanism such as it has never received. We are, however, fully convinced that the adversaries of the South will not lend their countenance to any project of ascertaining the will of the people, simply because they are certain in advance of utter discomfiture. They dare not plead their cause before a tribunal from which they would be expelled with ignominy and scorn."
38 The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, December 4, 1860; The Daily Herald, Wilmington, N. C., January 7, 1861; Daily Nashville Patriot, February 19, 1860;º New Orleans Daily Crescent, February 14, 1861; The New Orleans Bee, December 22, 1860; and the Frankfort Commonwealth, January 23, 1861.
39 January 25, 1861. See, also, The New Orleans Bee, December 21, 1860.
40 The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, February 10, 1861; Richmond Enquirer, December 18, 1860.
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