Revisiting The 1860 Crittenden Compromise That Proposed To Make Slavery Permanent In The United States

Revisiting The 1860 Crittenden Compromise That Proposed To Make Slavery Permanent In The United States

After Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, 11 southern states seceded from the Union. During his campaign, he stated that he would not abolish slavery where it already existed, but would work to prevent it from spreading. To address secession difficulties and prevent civil war between the North and South, Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden offered legislation known as the “Crittenden Compromise” in December 1860.

If the 74-year-Crittenden old’s Compromise had been adopted, it would have kept slavery in the United States Constitution. According to, it would have reinstated the Missouri Compromise of 1820, “stretching the line of the 36°30° to the Pacific Ocean, so giving anti-slavery proponents more than two-thirds of the country.”

Crittenden offered six constitutional amendments and four Congressional resolutions that he claimed would calm Southern states, prevent civil war, and save the Union.

On December 18, 1860, the slaveholder and Democratic senator submitted to the whole Senate the following six constitutional amendments:

Slavery would be forbidden in all land “now held or hereafter acquired” by the United States north of latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes. Slavery was “hereby accepted” in territory south of this boundary and could not be interfered with by Congress. Additionally, slave property was to be “safeguarded by all agencies of the territorial government during its continuance.” States would be admitted to the Union from any territory, with or without slavery, as specified in their constitutions.

It was prohibited for Congress to abolish slavery in areas under its jurisdiction within a slave state, such as a military station.

Slavery could not be abolished in the District of Columbia while it was still legal in the neighboring states of Virginia and Maryland, and without the assent of the District’s residents. Owners who refused to assent to the abolition will be compensated.

The interstate slave trade could not be prohibited or interfered with by Congress.

Owners of rescued fugitive slaves would get full recompense from Congress. Congress was authorized to sue the county that obstructed the fugitive slave laws in order to recover payment; the county, in turn, might sue “the wrongdoers or rescuers” who impeded the runaway’s return.

No subsequent constitutional amendment could change these amendments, or enable or empower Congress to meddle with slavery within any slave state.

He also proposed the four resolutions listed below:

That fugitive slave laws were lawful and should be strictly enforced.

That all state statutes obstructing the enforcement of runaway slave laws, known as “Personal Liberty laws,” were unconstitutional and should be repealed.

That the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 be amended (and made less unpalatable to the North) by equalizing the price schedule for returning or releasing suspected fugitives and limiting marshals’ rights to summon individuals to aid in their capture.

That laws against the African slave trade be effectively and thoroughly enforced.

However, Lincoln, the President-elect and Republican Party leader, was opposed to the Crittenden Compromise. According to, he instructed Republican Illinois Congressman William Kellogg to “consider no notion for a compromise in reference to the extension of slavery” before Crittenden presented his plan to Congress.

The Senate established the Committee of Thirteen to investigate the Crittenden Compromise. Seven Democrats, five Republicans, and one Constitutional Unionist served on the Committee. The plan must be backed by a majority of Republicans and Democrats in order to be accepted. Ultimately, all five Republicans on the committee opposed the idea, which was heavily inspired by Lincoln.

The Crittenden Compromise was defeated in the Senate on January 16, 1861, with all 25 Republicans voting no to 23 yes votes. A month after the Crittenden Compromise was defeated in the Senate, a new version was proposed, but it also failed.






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