Tag Archives: Congress

The Second Session of the Thirty-Seventh U.S. Congress

December 2, 1861 – The second session of the first Republican-dominated Congress opened amid growing discontent with the way the Lincoln administration was prosecuting the war.

U.S. Capitol Building under construction, circa 1861 | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

U.S. Capitol Building under construction, circa 1861 | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Republican majority in this Congress included an unprecedented number of New Englanders, most of whom belonged to the party’s Radical faction. Of the 22 Senate committees, 16 were chaired by senators either from New England or born in New England but representing other states. The two most powerful members of the House of Representatives, House Speaker Galusha Grow and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Thaddeus Stevens, represented Pennsylvania but had been born and raised in New England.

Debate quickly focused on more effective means to wage the war. For the Radicals, this meant transforming the conflict from preserving the Union by destroying the Confederacy to destroying the southern way of life by crusading against slavery. This was evidenced by the House rejecting a motion to reaffirm the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution of July 25, which had declared that the war was being waged solely to preserve the Union.

Members of Congress introduced several petitions and bills emancipating slaves, especially those belonging to masters “in rebellion.” Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois introduced a bill providing “for the confiscation of the property of rebels, and giving freedom to the persons they hold in slavery.” This would expand the Confiscation Act by seizing and freeing the slaves of anyone supporting the Confederacy (the current act only provided for seizing slaves actively serving the Confederacy and placing them under Federal supervision).

Trumbull had once been a close political ally of President Lincoln, but they had since clashed on the slavery issue, prompting Trumbull to declare that the president lacked “the will necessary in this great emergency.”

Aside from slavery, financing the war dominated debates. It was estimated that by the end of the fiscal year of June 30, 1862, the Federal debt would be $750 million, with only $165 million in revenue generated by taxation. Unprecedented tax increases were proposed, along with other measures such as increasing import tariffs on coffee, tea, sugar, and molasses. More proposals would be forthcoming upon receiving the Treasury Department’s annual report.

Regarding the military, Congress authorized the navy secretary to award the Medal of Honor to enlisted men in the Navy and Marine Corps. Creation of the Medal came about due to pressure from servicemen and the public. This was the highest military award ever granted by the U.S. Congress also approved an official thanks for “the gallant and patriotic services of the late Brig Gen Nathaniel Lyon, and the officers and soldiers under his command at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.”

In addition, the Senate held a memorial service for Edward D. Baker of Oregon, a fellow senator-turned-colonel, killed at Ball’s Bluff in October. In an unusual occurrence, President Lincoln visited the Senate chamber to attend the service.

The Senate addressed the defection of John C. Breckinridge to the Confederacy by approving a motion: “Whereas John C. Breckinridge, a member of this body from the State of Kentucky, has joined the enemies of his country, and is now in arms against the Government he had sworn to support,” it was resolved “that said John C. Breckinridge, the traitor, be, and he hereby is, expelled from the Senate.”

Breckinridge, the former U.S. vice president under James Buchanan, had attended the special congressional session the previous summer but had since disavowed the Union and accepted a military commission as a Confederate brigadier general. Senators unanimously voted to expel him from the chamber, 36 to 0.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 99; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6818-29; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 88, 92; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 145-48, 151; 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. 358, 495-96; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 267-68; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 751-52; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 213-14; Sylvia, Stephen W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 484; 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), Q461

Advertisements

The Crittenden-Johnson Resolution

July 25, 1861 – Congress approved a resolution defining the Federal government’s goals in the war.

The resolution had been initiated in the House of Representatives on July 22 by Congressman John J. Crittenden of Kentucky to define why the war was being prosecuted. The resolution consisted of two parts, or branches, which members voted on separately. The first branch stated:

“Resolved by the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States, That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon the country by the disunionists of the southern States now in revolt against the constitutional government, and in arms around the capital.”

Members approved this branch by a vote of 121-2. The dissenters, Henry C. Burnett of Kentucky and John W. Reid of Missouri, later joined the Confederacy.

The second branch stated:

“That in this national emergency, Congress, banishing all feelings of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; that this war is not waged on their part in any spirit of oppression, or for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, or purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those (Confederate) States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.”

Members approved this branch by a vote of 119-2, with John F. Potter of Wisconsin and Albert G. Riddle of Ohio dissenting. This reflected President Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural pledge to preserve the Union while not interfering with slavery where it already existed. Several Radical Republicans objected to the clause pledging non-interference with Confederate institutions (i.e., slavery) and many, such as Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, abstained from voting on the measure.

Three days later, the Senate approved the Crittenden Resolution, which became known as the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution with the sponsorship of Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee. The senators removed the House’s division between the resolution’s two “branches” and approved the measure by a vote of 30-5.

John J. Crittenden and Andrew Johnson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

John J. Crittenden and Andrew Johnson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The resolution sought to highlight the view of most Federal authorities that the southern states had launched an unlawful rebellion, and that the conflict would end as soon as those states stopped rebelling. It also served to unite northern political parties by assuring Democrats that Lincoln and the Republicans would not interfere with slavery while waging war.

Several Radical Republicans approved this resolution, even though they went against its rhetoric by working to use the war to abolish slavery. Three Radical senators voted against the resolution, and 24 Radicals in the House and Senate abstained. Anti-war Democrats and Confederate sympathizers argued that the resolution was illogical because it promised to restore sovereignty to the states while violating that sovereignty by invading those same states.

Nevertheless, this became the only congressional declaration explaining why the Federal government was fighting the war. As such, it served as the only legal basis besides Lincoln’s executive actions, which political opponents argued infringed on the right of Congress, not the president, to make law.

—–

Sources

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15063; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 60-61; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6455; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 50; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 100-01; 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. 312; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 315; 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), Q361; Wikipedia: Crittenden Johnson Resolution; Woods, Jr., Thomas E., The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2004), p. 65-66