Tag Archives: Stephen A. Douglas

Lincoln’s Militia Proclamation

April 15, 1861 – President Lincoln issued an official proclamation declaring that the Confederate states were in rebellion against the U.S. Lincoln asked for 75,000 volunteers to join their state militias to help put down the rebellion, and he called for a special session of Congress to assemble on July 4.

When news of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter reached Washington on the 13th, Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey, in the capital at that time, rushed to Secretary of War Simon Cameron’s office and offered 1,000 men from his state for Federal service. Ramsey submitted his proposal in writing, making Minnesota the first state to offer troops in the wartime hysteria that would soon sweep both North and South.

News of Fort Sumter’s surrender spread throughout the country on Sunday the 14th. Several prominent northern politicians visited the White House to pledge support for any efforts President Abraham Lincoln may take to preserve the Union. This included political rival Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, who met with Lincoln despite suffering from severe illness.

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in 1858 | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Lincoln cordially received Douglas. In a private two-hour meeting, Douglas assured Lincoln that despite their political disagreements, he approved Lincoln’s resolve “to preserve the Union, maintain the government, and defend the capital.” Douglas said, “The capital of our country is in danger, and must be protected at all hazards, at any expense of men and money.”

Lincoln shared a draft of a proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion. He then asked Douglas to encourage northern Democrats to support it, thus showing a united political front against the Confederacy. Douglas quickly agreed, suggesting that Lincoln change his proclamation to call for 200,000 troops, because “You do not know the dishonest purposes of those men as well as I do.”

After the meeting, Douglas released a statement to the press declaring that although he “was unalterably opposed to the administration on all its political issues, he was prepared to sustain the President in the exercise of all his constitutional functions to preserve the Union, and maintain the government, and defend the Federal Capital.”

Lincoln held a late-night cabinet meeting, where the officers discussed Lincoln’s proposed proclamation. Some officers wanted the volunteer call raised to 100,000, and others urged it lowered to 50,000. Lincoln kept it at 75,000. Lincoln did not declare war in his proclamation because only Congress could make such a declaration.

The men then discussed when Congress should be assembled to approve military spending. Secretary of State William H. Seward suggested that Lincoln shape his war policy first before calling Congress into session. Lincoln agreed, setting the date for July 4 and hoping the congressmen would use “their patriotism to sanction the war measures taken prior to that time by the Executive.”

The volunteers would serve according to “The 1795 Act for Calling forth the Militia,” which mandated that militia could serve for either 90 days or 30 days after Congress assembled. Thus, their service would end on August 4. Arguing that the size of the crisis called for extraordinary (and unconstitutional) measures, Lincoln proceeded to carry out his war policies without congressional sanction for the next three months. 

Lincoln's Militia Proclamation | Photo Credit: VisitTheCapitol.gov

Lincoln’s Militia Proclamation | Photo Credit: VisitTheCapitol.gov

In the official proclamation released on Monday the 15th, Lincoln declared that southerners had disavowed Federal law, and they “constituted combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in Marshals by law.” He therefore asked 75,000 volunteers to join their state militias for three months “in order to suppress said combinations and cause the laws to be duly executed.” In accordance with the 1795 Militia Act, the call prohibited black volunteers.

Lincoln proclaimed, “I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid in this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of popular government, and to redress wrongs already long enough endured.” A call for rebelling states to disperse their militias and return to the Union within 20 days suggested that no action would be taken against them if they complied.

The proclamation concluded with a call for Congress to remain out of session until July 4. This was a calculation in which Lincoln hoped that northerners would strongly support his policies by that time, and thus Congress would be pressured to sanction all his actions between now and then.

In addition to the 75,000 volunteers, Lincoln also called for an extra 22,700 Regular Army troops to serve. But even during this time of patriotic hysteria, no more than 2,000 men came forward to join the Regular Army, instead preferring the shorter 90-day term of service.

Lincoln derived his notion of “combinations” from the 1795 law (an amended form of the 1792 Militia Act), which President George Washington had used to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion. Washington had referred to individual farmers refusing to pay taxes to distill whiskey as “combinations,” which differed greatly from seven states leaving the Union to form an independent nation.

Taking the Constitution literally, Article IV, Section 4 prevented Lincoln from calling on Federal forces to oppose a state. Moreover, if the states were indeed “sovereign” as documented, then they would also have the right to secede. Others argued that since the states had formed the Federal government, the Federal government did not have the power to suppress a state. However Lincoln, in refusing to refer to the Confederacy by name, would not admit that it was a new and independent nation made up of sovereign states.

Critics also noted that Lincoln’s call for “loyal citizens” undermined the idea of a republic, in which the people themselves are sovereign. Under this definition, requesting loyalty to the Federal government would mean the government, not the people, had become the true sovereign, which in turn meant the U.S. was no longer a constitutional republic.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis expressed dismay upon learning of Lincoln’s proclamation because it was issued when Congress was not in session, which usurped the congressional power to authorize military mobilization. Moreover, Lincoln would not assemble Congress for nearly three months, giving him sole power in the interim to wage war. To many Confederates, this decree simply validated what they had suspected all along—that Lincoln and the Republicans sought to suppress the South and attain absolute rule.

But Lincoln and the Republicans considered the Union indivisible and thus deemed secession illegal. The Confederacy could not be an independent nation and could not receive international recognition. The southern states were merely in such mass rebellion that they required an additional number of citizen militias to disband it. Lincoln avoided the term “war,” which would imply a conflict with a foreign entity, something the Confederacy was not according to his official policy.

Also, proclaiming this a rebellion made it legally easier for Lincoln to call on military force to suppress it because executive acts to oppose a true rebellion did not require congressional approval. But even so, if an insurrection was to occur within a state, the president had no power to use force to put down that insurrection unless requested to do so by the state itself.

Almost as soon as the proclamation was received, northerners began galvanizing behind Lincoln by raising state militia units dedicated to preserving the Union. Massachusetts became the first state to respond to Lincoln’s call by mustering in a militia unit on the 16th. Stephen A. Douglas published his endorsement of Lincoln’s proclamation to unify northern Democrats and Republicans against the Confederacy.

There were also Unionists in largely pro-Confederate states, such as predominantly pro-U.S. eastern Tennessee. At Knoxville, local newspaper editor William G. Brownlow announced he would “fight the Secessionist leaders till Hell froze over, and then fight them on the ice.” A Knoxville resident raised a U.S. flag and dared anyone to try removing it.

However, Lincoln’s proclamation sparked intense outrage in the states still considering secession: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, most of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri. Three of these six would ultimately secede in defiance of Lincoln’s call.

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Sources

  • Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 36-38
  • Catton, Bruce, The Coming Fury p. 329
  • Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 7-8
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 5248-59, 5642-54, 7226-38
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21236-46
  • Davis, William C., First Blood: Fort Sumter to Bull Run (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 11, 13
  • Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 35
  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6205-15
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 50-52
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 23
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 348
  • Klein, Frederic S., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 479
  • Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 145
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 59-60
  • 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. 322
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 66
  • Robertson, Jr., James I., Tenting Tonight: The Soldier’s Life (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 21
  • Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 50-52, 283
  • 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), Q261
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The Buchanan Administration’s Last Days

March 2, 1861 – With his term in office expiring, President James Buchanan approved several last-minute bills including creating new western territories, granting a loan to the Federal government, and increasing tariffs on foreign imports.

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

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

Buchanan signed a bill into law creating the Dakota and Nevada territories. The Dakota Territory consisted of present-day North and South Dakota, and major portions of Montana and Wyoming. Daniel M. Frost and John B.S. Todd of the Frost-Todd Company had lobbied for this region to become a territory; their firm traded with settlers and helped establish towns.

A special 1860 census had counted no more than 900 white settlers in the Dakota Territory. Todd’s hometown of Yankton, with just 300 residents, became the territorial capital. Upon taking office, President Abraham Lincoln appointed his hometown family physician, Dr. William Jayne, as the first territorial governor.

The Nevada Territory consisted of a portion of the western Utah Territory called Washoe. Republicans in Congress had sought to separate Nevada, a predominantly pro-Republican region, from the Utah Territory, which consisted mostly of Mormons whom Republicans opposed because many practiced polygamy. Lincoln appointed an avid supporter, James W. Nye, as territorial governor.

The laws granting territorial status to Dakota and Nevada had no provisions regarding slavery. Northern Democrats, led by Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, accused Republicans of hypocrisy by not demanding that slavery be excluded in these territories in accordance with their political platform. Douglas triumphantly proclaimed that “the whole doctrine for which the Republican Party contended as to the Territories is abandoned, surrendered, given up; non-interference is substituted in its place.”

Republican Congressman Justin Morrill of Vermont | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Republican Congressman Justin Morrill of Vermont | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Buchanan also approved two financial measures on March 2nd. One authorized a loan of $10 million to the Federal government. The other doubled the average tax rate on foreign imports and raised taxes on some imports as high as 250 percent. The Morrill Tariff Act, sponsored by Congressman Justin Morrill of Vermont, sought to protect northern manufacturing from foreign competition.

The tariff had long been an issue that bitterly divided North and South. Raising tariff rates prompted foreign trading partners to raise the price of their goods to make up the difference, and since the South relied mostly on imports, the tariff disproportionately raised southern costs. By the late 1850s, southern states provided nearly three-fourths of all U.S. exports and paid nearly 90 percent of U.S. import taxes.

Under the prior tariff law enacted in 1857, the highest tariff on imports was just 24 percent. However, Republicans traditionally supported higher tariffs, and as their political influence grew, they pushed for greater rates. Many Republicans sought even higher rates than the Morrill Tariff, but Buchanan, a Democrat, would have vetoed such legislation. He only approved this measure in the hope that it would help manufacturing interests in his home state of Pennsylvania. Because Lincoln was an avid high tariff supporter, congressional Republicans expected to raise rates even higher during his presidency.

Stephen A. Douglas led most northern Democrats in opposition to the Morrill Tariff. He warned that raising rates this high would encourage foreign powers such as Great Britain and France to support the Confederacy, which tended toward free trade because of its reliance on imports. Douglas also stated, “Every tariff involves the principles of protection and oppression, the principles of benefits and of burdens.”

The Morrill Tariff Act passed with support from 87 percent of congressional Republicans, but just 12.5 percent from southern Democrats. Several Republicans noted that the Confederacy’s free trade policies could prove disastrous to U.S. financial interests because foreign trading partners would be willing to avoid the high taxes in the North and instead trade with the South.

Buchanan also acted militarily to discuss the secession crisis. On March 1, Secretary of War Joseph Holt ordered the dismissal of Brigadier General David E. Twiggs from the Federal army “for his treachery to the flag of his country” by surrendering Federal military forts and other property in Texas to state officials. The next day, Buchanan submitted a message to Congress explaining that Federal troops had been ordered to assemble in Washington to preserve peace and order.

Buchanan held his last cabinet meeting on the morning of the 4th to consider bills from the outgoing Congress. Holt reported that Major Robert Anderson, commanding the isolated Federal garrison at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, informed him that the fort could not be held much longer without at least 20,000 reinforcements. Holt said he would relay this news to incoming President Lincoln. In addition, the Navy Department recalled all but three of its 42 warships from foreign ports to provide aid in this crisis.

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Sources

  • DiLorenzo, Thomas J., How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold History of Our Country, from the Pilgrims to the Present (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004), p. 78
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 16-17
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 43-47
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 55
  • Robbins, Peggy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 523-24
  • Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 203
  • 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: Nevada Territory

The National Peace Convention

February 4, 1861 – The Peace Convention called by the Virginia legislature in January assembled at Washington.

The convention included 131 delegates from 21 of the 34 states. Arkansas joined the seven seceded states in not participating. California and Oregon did not join due to distance; Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota declined because their Republican leaders distrusted the conference’s intentions.

Delegates from other northern states participated, but they had been appointed by Republican leaders who expected them to oppose any proposal that would expand slavery beyond where it already existed. Border states also participated, which threatened to divide the lower and upper South. Senator William H. Seward of New York, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state-designate, persuaded many fellow Republicans to take part as a conciliatory gesture.

10th U.S. President John Tyler | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

10th U.S. President John Tyler | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Former President John Tyler presided over the convention. He called for the delegates to put patriotism above party and resolve the sectional dispute diplomatically and constitutionally. He said that “the eyes of the whole country are turned to this assembly, in expectation and hope.”

The delegation began with the Crittenden compromise plan as the starting point of discussions, even though it had already been rejected by Congress, and Republicans would not agree to any compromise that could potentially expand slavery. Nevertheless, the convention’s goal was to agree upon compromise proposals, then submit them to Congress for approval, and then to the states for ratification. Critics who believed this conference was futile called it the “Old Gentlemen’s Convention.”

On February 15, debate began on the various ideas drafted by a committee. Eleven days later, the delegates began voting on these proposals. Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois joined with convention delegates Senator John Bell of Tennessee and former Treasury Secretary James Guthrie of Kentucky to urge President-elect Lincoln to support peace.

The Peace Convention delegates submitted their conclusions to Congress on February 27. These included six proposed constitutional amendments:

  1. Slavery would be banned north of the 36-30 geographical line; territories south of that line could permit slavery without congressional interference, and those territories could become states that either allowed or banned slavery depending on what their state constitutions permitted
  2. No further territory would be acquired except through a treaty and consent from four-fifths of the Senate
  3. Congress could not interfere with slavery in states or territories where it was permitted
  4. Congress could not interfere with enforcement of the Constitution’s fugitive slave provisions
  5. The foreign slave trade would be permanently abolished
  6. Federal compensation should be given to slaveholders who lost runaways in some cases

The delegates had defeated these measures by one vote due to Republican opposition, but they submitted them to Congress nonetheless. On the Senate floor, the two Michigan senators released a statement opposing their state’s participation in the Peace Conference, calling it “a step toward obtaining that concession which the imperious slave power so insolently demands.”

Congressional deliberation over the Peace Conference’s findings continued into March, but most people were not optimistic that they would resolve the sectional crisis. Charleston (Missouri) Courier editor George Whitcomb described the situation:

“Men at Washington think there is no chance for peace, and indeed we can see but little, everything looks gloomy. The Crittenden resolutions have been voted down again and again. Is there any other proposition which will win, that the South can accept? If not—there comes war—and woe to the wives and daughters of our land; beauty will be but an incentive to crime, and plunder but pay for John Brown raids. Let our citizens be prepared for the worst, it may come.”

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Sources

  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4362-73
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 13
  • Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 2167
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 31-32, 37, 41-42
  • 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
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 44
  • 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: Crittenden Compromise

Statehood for Bleeding Kansas

January 29, 1861 – President James Buchanan signed the Kansas Statehood Act into law, admitting Kansas into the Union as the 34th state.

Kansas State Flag Adopted in 1861 | Image Credit: K-State.edu

Kansas State Flag Adopted in 1861 | Image Credit: K-State.edu

In 1854, the people of Kansas had been authorized to decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery. This sparked a rush of pro-slavery and anti-slavery partisans into the region to influence elections.

At one time, Kansas had competing pro-slavery and anti-slavery governments in Lecompton and Topeka. Elections were corrupted by fraud, intimidation, and violence. Radical abolitionist John Brown had become notorious for murdering pro-slavery men at Pottawatomie Creek, and the warring factions terrorized various towns. This earned the territory the nickname “Bleeding Kansas.”

Buchanan had offered Kansans 23 million acres of Federal land to accept the pro-slavery Lecompton government, but voters rejected this offer by a nearly seven-to-one margin. In the vote for statehood this month, Kansans voted overwhelmingly in favor of making Kansas a state under the Wyandotte Constitution, which excluded slavery while theoretically allowing blacks to reside in the new state.

Senators from southern states that had not yet seceded sought to delay the bill’s passage to avoid adding further insult to the South. Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois disagreed, declaring, “I do think we ought to admit Kansas promptly, without further delay, or further obstacles. We have had enough controversies about Kansas.”

Republicans had hurried the vote hoping that Kansas would send fellow Republican congressmen to Washington before the congressional session ended on March 4. By this time, the Republican vote had become dominant in Congress due to the withdrawal of representation from South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi.

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Sources

  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 30
  • 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

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

The 1860 Elections

November 6, 1860 – Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 presidential election ensured that the divisions between North and South would not be resolved.

The growing political, economic, and social differences in America essentially resulted in two separate presidential elections this year: Republican Abraham Lincoln versus Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas in the North, and Constitutional Unionist John Bell versus Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge in the South. The results:

  • Republicans Abraham Lincoln of Illinois and Hannibal Hamlin of Maine – 180 electoral votes and 1,866,452 popular votes
  • Democrats John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky and Joseph Lane of Oregon – 72 electoral votes and 849,781 popular votes
  • Constitutional Unionists John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts – 39 electoral votes and 588,879 popular votes
  • Democrats Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia – 12 electoral votes and 1,376,957 popular votes
Clockwise from top left: John Bell, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and John Breckinridge | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Clockwise from top left: John Bell, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and John Breckinridge | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

No candidate appeared on the ballot in all 33 states. The Lincoln/Hamlin ticket received no votes from any slave state, and less than 40 percent of the popular vote. But the Republicans proved that the North had become so populous over the past decade that a pro-northern sectional candidate could win the presidency without any southern support.

The vast northern superiority in population was demonstrated by the northern candidates (Lincoln and Douglas) winning 69 percent of the popular vote. Douglas won the second-most popular votes but could only carry Missouri and part of New Jersey because the Republicans comprised their primary competition. In the South, Breckinridge carried 11 of the 15 slave states, with Bell winning the border states of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Lincoln won enough northern states to garner more electoral votes than all his competitors combined. However, the popular vote against him was 2,824,874, meaning nearly a million more people voted against Lincoln than for him. And of the four candidates, Lincoln had the hardest task because if he did not win a majority of electoral votes, he would have no support in the House of Representatives to break a plurality or tie.

In the congressional elections, non-Republicans held a slight majority by winning 129 seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans won 108 seats, all in the northern states. Voters elected state legislators who eventually put 29 Republicans into the U.S. Senate versus 37 Democrats and other non-Republicans. Only the strong southern Democratic bloc prevented Republicans from enjoying large majorities in both chambers of Congress.

Republicans won the governorships of all northern states and thus would command all northern state militias. But the strong Republican influence did not extend into the upper slave states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, or Missouri, where many refused to be listed on the ballots; Republicans appeared on ballots in only 23 of the 33 states.

Lincoln received telegraphic election returns from his Illinois State House office in Springfield. By 9 p.m., returns showed strong Republican victories in New England, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and the northwestern states. But nothing yet came from New York, a state Lincoln needed to win. Results finally arrived around midnight, showing that Democratic dominance of New York City and Brooklyn could not prevent the Republicans from winning the state and thus the election.

Lincoln and friends attended a midnight supper prepared by Republican ladies. At the Watson Saloon, 100 women sang, “Ain’t you glad you joined the Republicans? Joined the Republicans, ain’t you glad you joined the Republicans, down in Illinois?”

Douglas learned of his defeat in the office of the Mobile (Alabama) Register, when news arrived that Democrats had lost Pennsylvania and New York. He argued with the newspaper editor that Lincoln’s victory would not mean secession, but an early editorial in the Atlanta Confederacy warned that the election results would cause the Potomac River to be “crimsoned in human gore,” sweeping “the last vestige of liberty” from America.

This election shocked southerners because it broke several national assumptions: a southern slaveholder had been president for 49 of the country’s 72 years of existence; 24 of 36 House speakers and 25 of 36 Senate president pro temps had been southerners; and 20 of 35 Supreme Court justices had been southerners, giving them a majority on the Court since the nation’s founding. Now a candidate from a northern party espousing anti-southern policies would occupy the White House for the first time.

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Sources

  • Crocker III, H. W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008) , p. 28
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 34
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 277-78
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 2-3
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 40
  • Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M., The Almanac of American History (Greenwich, CT: Brompton Books Corp., 1993), p. 277
  • Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 297-98
  • White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition)