March 1, 1861 – The Senate took up last-minute measures in the hopes of finally reconciling North and South and restoring the Union.
In their last days in session, senators considered three compromise proposals:
- The compromise plan introduced by Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky
- The amendments recommended by the Peace Convention
- The “Corwin amendment” that had passed in the House of Representatives on February 28, sponsored by Thomas Corwin of Ohio
Although Republicans tried delaying votes on these measures to prevent their passage before the congressional session ended on March 3, the bills finally came to the floor:
- A bill adopting the Crittenden proposals failed over Crittenden’s protests
- A bill replacing the Crittenden plan with the Corwin amendment (introduced by George Pugh of Ohio) failed, 25 to 14
- A bill calling for a national convention to seek a compromise (introduced by William H. Seward of New York and Lyman Trumbull of Illinois) failed, 25 to 14
- A bill approving the Peace Convention recommendations failed, 34 to 3; most Republicans objected to this measure even being considered
This left the Corwin amendment, which passed by the exact two-thirds majority needed, 24 to 12. The measure had been introduced in the Senate by Seward, President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state-designate. Lincoln, who also supported this amendment, had used his influence to persuade enough Republicans to approve it. Congressmen who had resigned their seats when their states seceded did not vote.
This amendment sought to assure the South that slavery would be permanently legal. It also aimed to dissuade the border slave states from joining the Confederacy. President James Buchanan not only approved this measure but he set a precedent by signing it, even though a president’s signature was not necessary for constitutional amendments.
The measure was submitted to the states for ratification; if approved, it would become the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although it had endorsements from Democrats and Republicans, the Corwin amendment went ignored in the new Confederacy and northern states ultimately rejected it. This marked the last major attempt at compromise.
- Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4385
- Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 16
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 44
- Napolitano, Andrew P., Lies the Government Told You: Myth, Power, and Deception in American History (Thomas Nelson, Kindle Edition, 2010), Loc 346-49
- 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