Tag Archives: John J. Crittenden

The Confiscation Act

August 6, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln reluctantly signed a bill into the law authorizing Federal military commanders to seize property, including slaves, from people “aiding, abetting, or promoting” rebellion against the U.S.

Sponsored by Republican Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, the law decreed in carefully worded language that “all such property is hereby declared to be lawful subject of prize and capture wherever found; and it shall be the duty of the (president) to cause the same to be seized, confiscated, and condemned.” The confiscated property “shall be condemned in the district or circuit court of the United States having jurisdiction.”

District attorneys were empowered to “institute proceedings of condemnation,” and any revenue gained from the confiscated property would be given to the Federal government. If a citizen brought a case for confiscation to the district attorney, that citizen would be eligible to receive half the confiscated property’s value; this incentivized informers. Property subject to seizure included land, homes, livestock, farm equipment, businesses, cash, stocks, bonds, and most importantly, slaves (although they were not referred to by that term).

Every slave owner aiding the Confederate military “shall forfeit his claim to such labor.” While this empowered Federal authorities to seize slaves as prizes of war, the law provided no explanation of what would be done to care for the slaves once confiscated. The law also did not provide for freeing those slaves; it only provided for taking them from disloyal masters.

Slaves as "contraband of war" | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Slaves as “contraband of war” | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Since this law mostly applied to slaves working in the Confederate armies as laborers, many assumed that those confiscated would be put to work at the same jobs for the Federal armies. This seemed to indicate that they would stay slaves, except now working for the Federal government rather than the Confederacy. Nevertheless, this law adopted the policy initiated by Major General Benjamin F. Butler at Fort Monroe, where he considered fugitive slaves to be “contraband of war” and refused to return them to their masters.

In the Republican-dominated Congress, all but six Republicans approved this measure. Supporters argued that confiscating property was an appropriate action to take against traitors. Many Radical Republicans saw this is a first step toward abolishing slavery, and they pushed this bill through Congress partly as a way to express disapproval of Lincoln’s moderate stance on the issue.

All but three members of the non-Republican parties in Congress (Democrats, Whigs, Constitutional Unionists, etc.) opposed this measure. Opponents argued that the law contradicted Lincoln’s stated war aims and the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution declaring that the war was about preserving the Union without interfering with slavery. Congressman John J. Crittenden, who co-sponsored the resolution, argued that legal precedent established the Federal government had no right to interfere with slavery during peace, and thus it should be the same during war.

Critics also argued that the logic of seizing property from traitors had no merit because under the Constitution, property could not be seized until the owner was convicted in court. Thus, property would be confiscated without constitutionally guaranteed due process. This law could also pave the way towards Federal military forces waging war on civilians.

While signing several last-minute bills in the Senate Chamber, Lincoln hesitated before signing this one because it interfered with slavery, something Lincoln had pledged not to do in his inaugural address. The partisan nature in which the bill passed troubled many because it indicated that if the conflict became a war against slavery, Republicans could expect no support from any other political parties to fight it. Partly to keep up bipartisanship in the struggle, this law was never fully enforced.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12211-19; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6608; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 161-62; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 54; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 369; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 105-06; 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. 355-56; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 60; 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

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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.

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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

Reconciliation Efforts End

March 1, 1861 – The Senate took up last-minute measures in the hopes of finally reconciling North and South and restoring the Union.

Congressman Thomas Corwin of Ohio | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Congressman Thomas Corwin of Ohio | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In their last days in session, senators considered three compromise proposals:

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.

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Sources

  • 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

The Failed Crittenden Compromise

January 3, 1861 – Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky took the unprecedented step of urging his colleagues to submit his comprehensive plan to preserve the Union to a popular vote.

Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Three days after the Senate had tabled Crittenden’s compromise measure, Crittenden reported that the Committee of Thirteen, formed to reconcile North and South, had defeated the plan 7 to 6. Acting on the advice of President-elect Abraham Lincoln, all five Republican committeemen refused to accept any compromise that included extending slavery beyond where it already existed. Two southern Democrats, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and Robert Toombs of Georgia, also rejected Crittenden’s compromise on the grounds that it would be worthless without bipartisan support.

Fellow committeeman Stephen A. Douglas, an Illinois Democrat, delivered a speech on the 3rd criticizing both Republicans and southern Democrats. Douglas accused southerners of “rushing madly into (secession), as a refuge from apprehended dangers which may not exist.” Douglas then challenged Republicans to come up with an idea of their own for preserving the Union since they had rejected all ideas proposed by others. Douglas accused Republicans of gaining “partisan capital out of a question involving the peace and safety of the Union.”

Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Douglas also mocked the Republicans for rejecting Crittenden’s proposal to extend the 36-30 boundary line to the Pacific after they had supported doing this when the Kansas-Nebraska Act became law in 1854: “You have sung paeans enough in its praise, and uttered imprecations and curses enough on my head for its repeal, one would think, to justify you now in claiming a triumph by its establishment.”

While condemning the “dangerous and revolutionary opinions” of President-elect Lincoln, Douglas also condemned secession by declaring that the Federal government had the right “to use all the power and force necessary to regain possession” of South Carolina. Douglas declared, “There can be no Government without coercion. Coercion, is the vital principle upon which all Government rests.”

Douglas reiterated support for Crittenden’s compromise, with amendments to prohibit blacks from voting or holding public office, and to federally fund colonizing (i.e., deporting) blacks outside the U.S. Crittenden expressed support for Douglas’s amendments, then asked the Senate to hold a simple majority vote on whether to submit the compromise measure to a national referendum.

Republicans reacted to Douglas’s speech by accusing him of cowardice for favoring conciliation over military action. Congressman Elihu Washburne of Illinois wrote to Lincoln that Douglas’s speech “was utterly infamous and damnable, the crowning atrocity of his life.” Republicans also refused to sacrifice anything within their party platform to stop secession. This hard stand emboldened southern states to give even greater consideration to secession.

On the 7th, Crittenden issued another plea for conciliation. He voiced opposition to secession and urged support for his proposed compromise: “I am for the Union; but, my friends, I must be also for the equal rights of my State under this great Constitution and in this great Union.” Acknowledging wrong on both sides, Crittenden asserted that slaveholders had as much right to bring their slaves into the territories as those entering the territories without slaves.

15th U.S. President James Buchanan | Image Credit: Familysearch.org

15th U.S. President James Buchanan | Image Credit: Familysearch.org

The next day, President James Buchanan submitted a message to Congress asking to “pause at this momentous point and afford the people, both North and South, an opportunity for reflection…” He reaffirmed that neither he nor Congress could wage war against a state, but if seceded states refused to allow Federal authorities to collect Federal taxes, those states could be forced to comply. To avoid such a confrontation, Buchanan urged, “Let the question be transferred from the political assemblies to the ballot box” by submitting Crittenden’s compromise to a public vote.

The following week, Democratic Senator William Bigler of Pennsylvania backed Buchanan’s request by introducing legislation that would submit the compromise plan to a popular referendum. Republicans strongly opposed bringing the issue to the people, prompting Douglas to demand that they announce their party’s intentions immediately.

Republicans introduced an alternate resolution on the 16th. This rejected a public referendum because Crittenden’s plan proposed constitutional amendments, and the Constitution already contained a process for proposing amendments; any deviation from that process would be “dangerous, illusory, and destructive.” The resolution also declared that the Constitution “needs to be obeyed rather than amended.”

Republicans did not expect their resolution to pass, but it did because of six Democratic abstentions. Moreover, the full Senate rejected Crittenden’s compromise measure, 25 to 23. All 25 Republicans rejected the plan, and 14 senators from states that had either seceded or were considering secession did not vote.

These votes killed Crittenden’s compromise once and for all. Many politicians in both North and South believed that it offered too little, too late. But to southerners, this proved that Republicans would refuse any other compromise ideas. By mid-January, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama had already seceded, and more states would soon follow.

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Sources

  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 1229-40
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 21-23, 27
  • 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. 253-54
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 43
  • 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

Compromise Efforts

December 18, 1860 – Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky introduced a complex set of amendments and resolutions designed to end the sectional crisis and ensure the Union remained intact.

The second session of the Thirty-sixth U.S. Congress assembled on December 3, just as southern states contemplated seceding from the Union. Much of the reason for seceding was the fact that Republicans controlled Congress for the first time; previously they had only been a minority party and they now remained a dysfunctional combination of former Whigs, Democrats, and Know-Nothings. This did much to hamper effective leadership during this crucial time.

In the House of Representatives, congressmen appointed 33 members, one from each state, to a special committee to consider “the present perilous condition of the country” and recommend possible solutions to the sectional crisis. By December 12th, they had received some 23 bills and resolutions attempting to resolve the dispute. Committee members themselves came up with over 30 proposals, but none proved practical enough to garner majority support.

The next day, two-thirds of the U.S. representation of seven southern states (seven senators and 23 congressmen) signed a manifesto to their constituents. The manifesto declared: “The argument is exhausted. All hope of relief in the Union, through the agency of committees, Congressional legislation, or constitutional amendments, is extinguished… The honor, safety, and independence of the Southern people are to be found in a Southern Confederacy.” This came before any congressional efforts for compromise had been fully considered or acted upon.

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, Lazarus W. Powell of Kentucky, William H. Seward of New York, Robert Toombs of Georgia), three northern Democrats (William Bigler of Pennsylvania, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, Henry M. Rice of Minnesota), and 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 intended to review all the compromise proposals. Members resolved 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.

Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Committee member Crittenden introduced his compromise proposal to his fellow members. This consisted of six constitutional amendments and four congressional resolutions:

  • Amendment 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 their whether it was allowed in their constitutions.
  • Amendment 2: Congress could not abolish slavery in Federal areas within a state, such as a military post.
  • Amendment 3: Slavery could not be abolished in the District of Columbia without consent of the District residents; slaveholders who did not consent would be compensated for their loss.
  • Amendment 4: Congress could not interfere with interstate slave trading.
  • Amendment 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.
  • Amendment 6: No future constitutional amendment could allow Congress to interfere with slavery in any state where it already existed.
  • Resolution 1: Fugitive slave laws were constitutional and should be enforced.
  • Resolution 2: All state laws that obstructed fugitive slave laws were unconstitutional and should be repealed.
  • Resolution 3: The fugitive slave law should offer equal compensation for returning or releasing alleged fugitives.
  • Resolution 4: Laws banning the African slave trade should be enforced.

Many committee members urged passage of this “Crittenden Compromise.” Some Republicans, fearing a Wall Street collapse, urged fellow party members to support it, including party boss (and Seward backer) Thurlow Weed. However, President-elect Abraham Lincoln remained firmly opposed to the measure.

Senator William H. Seward of New York | Credit: Wikispaces.com

Senator William H. Seward of New York | Credit: Wikispaces.com

The following week, Seward proposed a measure similar to Crittenden’s compromise that included a constitutional amendment prohibiting Congress from interfering with slavery in states where it already existed, providing jury trials to fugitive slaves, and revising state constitutions that contained personal liberty laws conflicting with the U.S. Constitution.

Meanwhile, legislators looked to offer up new land to the slave states as a compromise. Stephen A. Douglas wrote to Congressman Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia offering support for annexing Mexico as a slave territory to avoid secession. And on the 29th, the House Committee of Thirty-three proposed granting statehood to the New Mexico Territory (present-day New Mexico and Arizona).

Most Republicans supported the New Mexico proposal, even though it violated their party platform by expanding slavery (New Mexico had a pro-slave provision). However, most conceded that slavery would not flourish in that territory’s climate and the final result would be adding another free state to the Union. As such, congressmen from the Lower South opposed the measure while Upper South members supported it. Republican Charles Francis Adams of Massachusetts convinced nine of the committee’s 15 Republicans to support the bill, but it was ultimately defeated.

On New Year’s Eve, the Committee of Thirteen reported that it could not reach any compromise agreement on Crittenden’s compromise, Seward’s proposal, or any of the other dozens of bills and proposals offered. The northern and southern Democrats had joined forces to support several compromise measures, but the Republicans, led by President-elect Lincoln behind the scenes, held firm in opposition because none of them barred expanding slavery into the territories. Lincoln said that the compromises “would amount to a perpetual covenant of war against every people, tribe, and state owning a foot of land between here and Tierra del Fuego (on the southern tip of South America).

Senator Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana represented the southern faction who opposed the compromises because they conceded too much to the northern states. Amid loud cheering and shouting from the Senate galleries, Benjamin declared:

“You do not propose to enter into our States, you say, and what do we complain of? You do not pretend to enter into our States to kill or destroy our institutions by force. Oh, no… You propose simply to close us in an embrace that will suffocate us… The day for adjustment has passed… We desire, we beseech you, let this parting be in peace… you can never subjugate us; you can never 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!”

Thus, the year ended with little hope for reconciliation between North and South.

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Sources

  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 1218-29
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 4-5
  • Kagan, Dangerous Nation, p. 243
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 10-13, 15, 17-18
  • 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. 252, 254
  • Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 298-99
  • Wikipedia: Crittenden Compromise; Timeline of Events Leading to the American Civil War