February 27, 1861 – The U.S. House of Representatives considered and defeated various measures seeking to reconcile North and South.
By the end of February, most compromise efforts had been exhausted. The southern states had formed a new Confederacy, and most northerners expressed either relief that they had left or indignation at their defiance of the Federal government.
One of the major points of contention involved the abolitionists within the Republican Party. In a speech on the Senate floor, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts offered a major concession by declaring, “I take this occasion to declare most explicitly that I do not think that Congress has any right to interfere with slavery in a State.”
This principle was consistent with both historical congressional legislation and the Republican Party platform. However, southerners still objected to the Republicans’ opposition to expanding slavery into the territories. Also, many accused Sumner of insincerity because he did not declare support for this principle until after nearly every reconciliation attempt had failed. Others thought that Sumner’s position simply meant too little too late.
On the 27th, the House considered and defeated several measures designed to offer a compromise:
- Calling for a constitutional convention to address the sectional crisis
- Adopting the Crittenden compromise plan
- Admitting the New Mexico Territory into the Union as a slave state (Republicans opposed this bill by a three-to-one margin, but it did help keep the Upper South in the Union since its introduction in December 1860)
The House did approve measures to appease the South, including a pledge to faithfully enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and a call for northern states to repeal personal liberty laws. Both of these received support from Secretary of State-designate William H. Seward and President-elect Abraham Lincoln. But the measures did not persuade any Confederate states to return to the Union.
In a more ominous move, Congress also approved the Navy Department’s request for seven heavily armed steamers to supplement the U.S. naval fleet.
The House then considered a proposed constitutional amendment:
“No amendment of this Constitution, having for its object any interference within the States with the relations between their citizens and those described in second section of the first article of the Constitution as ‘all other persons,’ shall originate with any State that does not recognize that relation within its own limits, or shall be valid without the assent of every one of the States composing the Union.”
Thomas Corwin of Ohio proposed to replace this text with that of his “Corwin Amendment,” which stated:
“No Amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give 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 the State.”
The Corwin Amendment failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority on two votes (121 in favor to 68 opposed, then 123 in favor to 71 opposed). The next day, the House called another vote on the measure as proposed by the Committee of Thirty-three. This time it reached the two-thirds majority, 133 to 65. Two-fifths of House Republicans supported this measure, along with Seward and Lincoln.
Some celebrated this amendment as a “harbinger of peace.” Others opposed its redundancy since Congress had no legal right to interfere with slavery anyway. Republican Owen Lovejoy of Illinois asked, “Does that (amendment) include polygamy, the other twin relic of barbarism?” Democrat John S. Phelps of Missouri replied, “Does the gentleman desire to know whether he shall be prohibited from committing that crime?” The amendment went to the Senate for consideration.
Also on the 28th, a special Senate committee issued a report endorsed by three of its five members urging passage of the Crittenden compromise plan as modified by the Peace Convention delegates. The two opponents, both Republicans, issued a minority report recommending no action on the compromise plan until a national convention could be assembled.
- Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 14613
- Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 15
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 42-43
- McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 256
- White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012) Q161
- Wikipedia: Corwin Amendment