Page images

constitutional obligations or to interfere with the execution of even the Fugitive Slave Act, but simply to protect her own inhabitants. To the allegation, which had been frequently made, that Massachusetts sympathized with the John Brown raid, and had chosen for her governor a man who indorsed it, he interposed an emphatic denial. He pronounced it a libel upon the governor, upon the State, and upon the Republicans, to charge them with indorsing that invasion. He considered the various points of the Crittenden proposition, and, though according its venerable author the purest motives of patriotism, characterized the scheme as "a complete surrender of all practical issues concerning slavery in the Territories to the demands of slave-propagandism," "the incorporation into the organic law of the nation of irrepealable, degrading, and humiliating concessions to the dark spirit of slavery." He referred to the noble and heroic course of the colored soldiers in the Revolution, and pronounced the policy infamous that would put the stamp of degradation on the race, the descendants of men who merited a better reward from the heirs of those who were then willing to accept aid and deliverance through their agony and blood. Alluding to the fact that the mails were no longer sacred, that Northern seamen were imprisoned without alleged crime, that Northern ships were compelled to pay tribute in the form of fees "for unwelcome visitation," that Northern men sojourning at the South were subjected to vexatious annoyances, he said the Kentucky Senator proposed no remedies for these Northern wrongs; but he asks for irrepealable constitutional provisions to eternize slavery and make its provisions perpetual. "This," he said, "we dare not do. To do it would consign our names to what the Irish orator called 'oppression's natural scourge, - the moral indignation of history.'"

The resolutions came up the next day; but, without debate or action, they were postponed. They were not taken up again until the closing evening of the session, when, amid great confusion, and the seeming uncertainty of the members as to what was really before the Senate, a vote was reached. Before the main question was put, the amendment of Mr. Powell of Ken

tucky, that the African slave-trade should be effectually suppressed, that persons aiding slaves to escape shall be delivered up as other criminals, and that the laws of the State from which such slaves escape shall be "the test of criminality," and that Congress should pass efficient laws for the punishment of persons making or abetting insurrection and invasion, was adopted. Mr. Crittenden himself then proposed as an amendment of his own resolutions the propositions presented by the Peace Congress, but they received only seven votes. His resolutions were brought to a vote and were defeated, nineteen voting for them and twenty voting against them.

These resolutions and their history, it has been said, afford a very clear insight into the state of feeling and purpose existing both North and South. Though called a compromise, and put forth to conciliate and compose the jarring sentiments and interests of the two sections by a gentleman venerable for age, and hitherto conspicuous for his moderation and general opposition to the wild schemes of the propagandists, they took advanced Southern ground, and made demands that had been previously consented to only by a very few extreme proslavery men at the North. Its treatment of the territorial question, making the line of 36° 30′ parallel of latitude the dividing line between free and slave territory, had been twice proposed in Congress, in 1847 and 1848, and voted down by a large majority of Northern Democrats and Whigs. But now, after the election of a Republican President, the same proposition was gravely brought forward, and, what is more noteworthy, it came very near being adopted; and was actually defeated by Southern defection, by the refusal of six Southern Senators to vote therefor, because they did not desire conciliation, because they refused to be placated, because they had determined, with or without cause, to break up the Union. The adoption of Clarke's amendment had been seized upon by the secessionists and telegraphed to their Southern constituents as proof that "all hope of conciliation" was gone. But Mr. Crittenden, who had been interrogated, sent the following despatch to a North Carolina editor: "In reply, the vote against my resolutions will be reconsidered. Their failure was the result of the refusal

[blocks in formation]

of six Southern Senators to vote. There is yet good hope of success." His hope, largely shared in by others, was doomed to disappointment, but his testimony as to the conduct of the six recusant Senators is conclusive. Senator Andrew Johnson, in a speech in the Senate during the succeeding year, testified also to the same fact. "Who did it?" he asked. He answered his own question. Referring to these six Senators, he said: "They did it. They wanted no compromise. They accomplished their object by withholding their votes. . . . . I believe more, Mr. President, that these gentlemen were acting in pursuance of a settled and fixed plan to break up and destroy the government. . . . . If these seceded Southern States had remained, there would have passed by a large vote (as it did without them) an amendment by a two-third vote, forbidding Congress ever interfering with slavery in the States. The Crittenden proposition would have been indorsed by a majority vote. . . . . And yet, even at a late day of the session, after they had seceded, the Crittenden proposition was only lost by one vote."

Such was the Crittenden Compromise, such its history, and such the lessons that combined they teach. They revealed the determined purpose and the desperate audacity of the secession leaders, and the terrible sacrifices of feeling, and principle even, that the North, embracing many who had voted for Mr. Lincoln, was willing to make to save the Union and avert the threatened appeal to arms.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

erdy Johnson's amendment and speech. - Seddon's speech. Entreaties. - Boutwell. - Imperious demands. Resisted by D. Dudley Field, Allen, and Noyes.

- Coercion condemned and concession pleaded for by Rives, Seddon, Ewing, Frelinghuysen, and Dodge. Further concession deprecated by Morrill, Field, Tuck, and Smith. - Debate. Various amendments. Strong speech by Chase. Result and adjournment. - Action in Congress.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

THE increasing excitement and growing intensity of feeling which pervaded the country, preceding, producing, and resulting from the election of Mr. Lincoln, suggested the idea and created in the minds of many a desire for general conference and mutual consultation. It was hoped, by many conservative men of both sections, that by such formal comparison of views and mutual concessions some further compromise might be secured, and some common ground on which all might stand could be discovered. Virginia took the lead. In February, 1861, her legislature adopted a series of resolutions, in which was expressed the opinion that, unless the unhappy controversy could be "satisfactorily adjusted," a permanent dissolution of the Union is inevitable, and "the determination to make a final effort" to prevent it, and thus "restore the Union and Constitution in the spirit in which they were established by the fathers of the Republic." For this purpose it extended an invitation to all the States to unite with her in an effort for the adjustment of "the present unhappy controversy," and for securing "to the people of the slaveholding States adequate guaranties for the security of their rights," and to send dele

gates to a meeting to be held in Washington on the fourth day of the February following.

Shadowing forth its purpose in calling such a conference, not to use a harsher phrase, it further resolved that if it should agree upon any plan of adjustment requiring amendments of the Constitution, it should submit such amendments to Congress; and that if the latter should "fail to agree upon such amendments, or if, agreeing, it should refuse to adopt them, then that result should be communicated to the governor of Virginia, to be by him laid before the convention of the people and the General Assembly." To render more sure its wish and purpose, it expressed the opinion that what were called the Crittenden resolutions, modified by the insertion of a guaranty for the protection of slavery in Territories south of 36°30', and of slave property in transit through the free States, should be the basis of the proposed adjustment. It appointed ex-PresiIdent Tyler a commissioner to wait upon the President, and Judge John Robinson a commissioner to urge upon South Carolina and the seceded States to "agree to abstain pending the proceedings contemplated by the action of this General Assembly, from any and all acts calculated to produce a collision of arms between the States and the government of the United States."

To this invitation of Virginia twenty-two States responded, though commissioners were not appointed without much opposition in some of the Northern States. Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, and Oregon were not represented, while South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana, having already seceded, had no voice in the deliberations of the body.

Beside their delegations, several States sent an expression of opinion upon the exigencies of the occasion, and the measures demanded thereby. The resolutions of Kentucky were in substance like those of Virginia. Those of Tennessee were more intensely Southern than any other. New Jersey indorsed the Crittenden resolutions; but Pennsylvania, while expressing her willingness to unite in any earnest and "legitimate effort to restore peace to the country," affirmed that

« PreviousContinue »