Compromise Efforts: I Am for Fighting Again

On the 18th, Vice President John C. Breckinridge appointed a “Committee of Thirteen” in the U.S. Senate to “inquire into the present condition of the country, and report by bill or otherwise.” The committee consisted of:

  • Five southern Democrats (John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, Robert M.T. Hunter of Virginia, Lazarus W. Powell of Kentucky, Robert Toombs of Georgia)
  • Three northern Democrats (William Bigler of Pennsylvania, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, Henry M. Rice of Minnesota)
  • Five Republicans (Jacob Collamer of Vermont, James Doolittle of Wisconsin, James Grimes of Iowa, William H. Seward of New York, Benjamin Wade of Ohio).

This special committee was to review all the compromise proposals. The members agreed that no resolution would be adopted unless a majority of each division (southern Democrat, northern Democrat, and Republican) approved. The southerners expressed willingness to approve any resolution that would guarantee their future security in the Union.

Crittenden, who had been working on a compromise plan before Congress reconvened this month, introduced his proposal to his fellow committee members. It consisted of six amendments (with the stipulation that if adopted, they could never be modified in the future) and four explanatory resolutions. The amendments:

  1. Slavery would be prohibited in any U.S. territory north of the 36-30 parallel, and “hereby recognized” south of 36-30. Slavery would be “protected by all the departments of the territorial government during its continuance.” States south of 36-30 would be admitted into the Union with or without slavery, depending on whether it was allowed in their constitutions.
  2. Congress could not abolish slavery in Federal areas within a state that permitted slavery, such as a military post.
  3. Slavery could not be abolished in the District of Columbia without consent of the District residents; if District residents did consent, slaveholders would be compensated for their loss.
  4. Congress could not interfere with interstate slave trading.
  5. Congress would compensate slaveholders who lost fugitive slaves. Congress could sue counties that obstructed fugitive slave laws, and counties could in turn sue individuals obstructing those laws.
  6. No future constitutional amendment could allow Congress to interfere with slavery in any state where it already existed.

The resolutions:

  1. Fugitive slave laws were constitutional and should be enforced.
  2. All state laws that obstructed fugitive slave laws were unconstitutional and should be repealed.
  3. The fugitive slave law should offer equal compensation for returning or releasing alleged fugitives.
  4. Laws banning the African slave trade should be enforced.

President-elect Abraham Lincoln, just as he closely monitored the House Committee of Thirty-three, had his operatives closely monitor this counterpart body in the Senate. Anticipating that Crittenden’s plan would include extending slavery south of the 36-30 line, Lincoln instructed congressional Republicans to oppose it. He wrote to Senator Lyman Trumbull: “If any of our friends do prove false, and fix up a compromise on the territorial question, I am for fighting again—that is all. (It is but repetition for me to say I am for an honest inforcement of the constitution—fugitive slave clause included).”

Lincoln explained why he opposed allowing territorial voters to decide for themselves on the slavery question in a letter to Indiana Republican Party Chairman John Defrees: “I am sorry any republican inclines to dally with Pop. Sov. (i.e., popular sovereignty) of any sort. It acknowledges that slavery has equal rights with liberty, and surrenders all we have contended for.”

On the 20th, Lincoln was visited by Thurlow Weed, the New York party boss known as the “Dictator” and “liege lord of the Albany lobby.” The two men, along with Lincoln allies Judge David Davis and Leonard Swett, conferred for six hours in Lincoln’s parlor about cabinet appointments and the proposed compromise in Congress. Weed expressed strong support for “the reestablishment of the compact of 1820” (i.e., Amendment 1 in Crittenden’s plan), but Lincoln just as strongly expressed opposition.

The president-elect acknowledged the “dangers which threatened the safety both of the government and of the Union,” but there would be no wavering on the premise that slavery must not be allowed to spread into any territory. Lincoln showed “undisguised hostility” toward Weed’s suggestion that the Republicans adopt Crittenden’s plan, but, according to Weed, Lincoln’s “nature was so elastic, and his temperament so cheerful, that he always seemed at ease and undisturbed.”

Lincoln offered a counterproposal for Weed to take back East with him, which provided for more rigid enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act and the repeal of personal liberty laws designed to defy the act that had been enacted in some northern states. Lincoln added a note to Trumbull with the proposal, stating his belief that it “would do much good, if introduced, and unanimously supported by our friends.”

But when Weed delivered the plan to Lincoln’s congressional allies, Seward had an opinion opposite to Lincoln’s, saying that “in the form you give it, it would divide our friends.” Thus, the Republicans could accept neither Crittenden’s nor Lincoln’s compromise plan.



  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. Kindle Edition 2008, 1889.
  • Holzer, Harold, Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter of 1860-1861. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, Reprint Edition, 2008.
  • Kagan, Dangerous Nation, p. 243
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
  • 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.
  • Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States. New York: Penguin Books, 2004.

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