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Crittenden Compromise // Corwin Amendment

On December 4, 1860, the U.S. House of Representatives created a special Committee of Thirty-Three, with one member from each state, in order to craft a compromise to prevent the secession of Southern slave states from the Union.  Congressman Charles Francis Adams of Massachusetts introduced to the committee a version of a constitutional amendment first (unsuccessfully) proposed by Senator William Henry Seward of New York in the Senate’s Committee of Thirteen.  It would have prohibited future constitutional amendments from interfering with slavery where it already existed (i.e., in the South). 

The proposal was voted favorably by the Committee of Thirty-Three and was reported to the full House on January 21, 1861, by committee chairman Thomas Corwin, an Ohio Republican.  Subsequently, the measure became known as the Corwin Amendment.  It passed the House on February 28 by a vote of 133-65, and the Senate approved it on March 2 by a vote of 24-12.   

In the March 16, 1861 issue of Harper’s Weekly (published March 6), a feature article entitled “Two Nights in the Senate” gave Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois credit for securing passing of the Corwin Amendment in that chamber.  The narrative included character sketches of several senators.  Douglas had been the presidential nominee of the Northern wing of the Democratic Party in 1860.  During the secession crisis, he worked for a compromise, and he wholeheartedly supported the Union when the Civil War began in April 1861.  However, he died less than two months later on June 3. 

In “Two Nights in the Senate” (column two) “Lindley Murray” refers to an author of books on English grammar and spelling, which were used widely in American schools during the nineteenth century.  In column three, “de gustibus, etc.” is probably short for the Latin phrase, de gustibus non est disputandum, which can be translated as, “There is no accounting for taste.” 

In an unusual move, Democratic President James Buchanan signed the Corwin Amendment on March 3, 1861, his last day in office (the Constitution does not require presidential approval for proposed amendments).  It was ratified by only two states—Ohio on May 13, 1861, and by Maryland on January 10, 1862—and therefore fell far short of the necessary three-quarters majority of states in order to become part of the U.S. Constitution.  Had it achieved ratification, the Corwin Amendment, which protected slavery, would have become the Thirteenth Amendment.

Harper's Weekly References

1)  March 9, 1861, p. 151, c. 1-2
“Domestic Intelligence” column, “Mr. Corwin’s Amendment”

2)  March 16, 1861, p. 162, c. 1-4
article, “Two Nights in the Senate”

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Crittenden Compromise // Corwin Amendment





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