The Great Conspiracy

The Crittenden-Compromise Joint-Resolution had been introduced in the
Senate at the opening of its session and referred to a Select Committee
of Thirteen, and subsequently, January 16th, 1861, having been reported
back, came up in that body for action. On that day it was amended by
inserting the words “now held or hereafter to be acquired” after the
words “In all the territory of the United States,” in the first line of
Article I., so that it would read as given above. This amendment–by
which not only in all territory then belonging to the United States, but
also by implication in all that might thereafter be acquired, Slavery
South of 36 30′ was to be recognized–was agreed to by 29 yeas to 21
nays, as follows:

YEAS.–Messrs. Baker, Bayard, Benjamin, Bigler, Bragg, Bright,
Clingman, Crittenden, Douglas, Fitch, Green, Gwin, Hemphill, Hunter,
Iverson, Johnson of Tennessee, Kennedy, Lane, Mason, Nicholson, Pearce,
Polk, Powell, Pugh, Rice, Saulsbury, Sebastian, Slidell and Wigfall–29.

NAYS.–Messrs. Anthony, Bingham, Cameron, Chandler, Clark, Collamer,
Dixon, Doolittle, Durkee, Fessenden, Foot, Foster, Grimes, Hale, Harlan,
King, Latham, Seward, Simmons, Sumner, Ten Eyck, Trumbull, Wade and

The question now recurred upon an amendment, in the nature of a
substitute, offered by Mr. Clark, to strike out the preamble of the
Crittenden proposition and all of the resolutions after the word
“resolved,” and insert:

“That the provisions of the Constitution are ample for the preservation
of the Union, and the protection of all the material interests of the
Country; that it needs to be obeyed rather than amended; and that an
extrication from our present dangers is to be looked for in strenuous
efforts to preserve the peace, protect the public property, and enforce
the laws, rather than in new Guarantees for particular interests,
Compromises for particular difficulties, or Concessions to unreasonable

“Resolved, That all attempts to dissolve the present Union, or overthrow
or abandon the present Constitution, with the hope or expectation of
constructing a new one, are dangerous, illusory, and destructive; that
in the opinion of the Senate of the United States no such Reconstruction
is practicable; and, therefore, to the maintenance of the existing Union
and Constitution should be directed all the energies of all the
departments of the Government, and the efforts of all good citizens.”
Before reaching a vote on this amendment, Mr. Anthony, (January 16th)
made a most conciliatory speech, pointing out such practical objections
to the Crittenden proposition as occurred to his mind, and then,
continuing, said: “I believe, Mr. President, that if the danger which
menaces us is to be avoided at all, it must be by Legislation; which is
more ready, more certain, and more likely to be satisfactory, than
Constitutional Amendment. The main difficulty is the Territorial
question. The demand of the Senators on the other side of the Chamber,
and of those whom they represent, is that the territory south of the
line of the Missouri Compromise shall be open to their peculiar
Property. All this territory, except the Indian Reservation, is within
the limits of New Mexico; which, for a part of its northern boundary,
runs up two degrees above that line. This is now a Slave Territory;
made so by Territorial Legislation; and Slavery exists there, recognized
and protected. Now, I am willing, as soon as Kansas can be admitted, to
vote for the admission of New Mexico as a State, with such Constitution
as the People may adopt. This disposes of all the territory that is
adapted to Slave Labor or that is claimed by the South. It ought to
settle the whole question. Surely if we can dispose of all the
territory that we have, we ought not to quarrel over that which we have
not, and which we have no very honest way of acquiring. Let us settle
the difficulties that threaten us now, and not anticipate those which
may never come. Let the public mind have time to cool * * *. In
offering to settle this question by the admission of New Mexico, we of
the North who assent to it propose a great Sacrifice, and offer a large

“* * * But we make the offer in a spirit of Compromise and good
feeling, which we hope will be reciprocated. * * * I appeal to
Senators on the other side, when we thus offer to bridge over full
seven-eighths of the frightful chasm that separates us, will you not
build the other eighth? When, with outstretched arms, we approach you
so near that, by reaching out your hands you can clasp ours in the
fraternal grasp from which they should never be separated, will you,
with folded arms and closed eyes, stand upon extreme demands which you
know we cannot accept, and for which, if we did, we could not carry our
constituents? * * * Together our Fathers achieved the Independence of
their Country; together they laid the foundations of its greatness and
its glory; together they constructed this beautiful system under which
it is our privilege to live, which it is our duty to preserve and to
transmit. Together we enjoy that privilege; together we must perform
that duty. I will not believe that, in the madness of popular folly and
delusion, the most benignant Government that ever blessed humanity is to
be broken up. I will not believe that this great Power which is
marching with giant steps toward the first place among the Nations of
the Earth, is to be turned ‘backward on its mighty track.’ There are no
grievances, fancied or real, that cannot be redressed within the Union
and under the Constitution. There are no differences between us that
may not be settled if we will take them up in the spirit of those to
whose places we have succeeded, and the fruits of whose labors we have

And to this more than fair proposition to the Southerners–to this
touching appeal in behalf of Peace–what was the response? Not a word!
It seemed but to harden their hearts.

[Immediately after Mr. Anthony’s appeal to the Southern Senators, a
motion was made by Mr. Collamer to postpone the Crittenden
Resolutions and take up the Kansas Admission Bill. Here was the
chance at once offered to them to respond to that appeal–to make a
first step, as it were. They would not make it. The motion was
defeated by 25 yeas to 30 nays–Messrs. Benjamin and Slidell of
Louisiana, Hemphill and Wigfall of Texas, Iverson of Georgia, and
Johnson of Arkansas, voting “nay.” The question at once recurred
on the amendment of Mr. Clark–being a substitute for the
Crittenden Resolutions, declaring in effect all Compromise
unnecessary. To let that substitute be adopted, was to insure the
failure of the Crittenden proposition. Yet these same six Southern
Senators though present, refused to vote, and permitted the
substitute to be adopted by 25 yeas to 23 nays. The vote of Mr.
Douglas, who had been “called out for an instant into the ante-
room, and deprived of the opportunity of voting “–as he afterwards
stated when vainly asking unanimous consent to have his vote
recorded among the nays-would have made it 25 yeas to 24 nays, had
he been present and voting, while the votes of the six Southern
Senators aforesaid, had they voted, would have defeated the
substitute by 25 yeas to 30 nays. Then upon a direct vote on the
Crittenden Compromise there would not only have been the 30 in its
favor, but the vote of at least one Republican (Baker) in addition,
to carry it, and, although that would not have given the necessary
two-thirds, yet it would have been a majority handsome enough to
have ultimately turned the scales, in both Houses, for a peaceful
adjustment of the trouble, and have avoided all the sad
consequences which so speedily befell the Nation. But this would
not have suited the Treasonable purposes of the Conspirators. Ten
days before this they had probably arranged the Programme in this,
as well as other matters. Very certain it is that no time was lost
by them and their friends in making the best use for their Cause of
this vote, in the doubtful States of Missouri and North Carolina
especially. In the St. Louis journals a Washington dispatch,
purporting (untruly however) to come from Senators Polk and Green,
was published to this effect.

“The Crittenden Resolutions were lost by a vote of 25 to 23. A
motion of Mr. Cameron to reconsider was lost; and thus ends all
hope of reconciliation. Civil War is now considered inevitable,
and late accounts declare that Fort Sumter will be attacked without
delay. The Missouri delegation recommend immediate Secession.”

This is but a sample of other similar dispatches sent elsewhere.
And the following dispatch, signed by Mr. Crittenden, and published
in the Raleigh, N. C., Register, to quiet the excitement raised by
the telegrams of the Conspirators, serves also to indicate that the
friends of Compromise were not disheartened by their defeat:

“WASHINGTON, Jan. 17th, 9 P. M.

“In reply the vote against my resolutions will be reconsidered.
Their failure was the result of the refusal of six Southern
Senators to vote. There is yet good hope of success.

There is instruction also to be drawn from the speeches of Senators
Saulsbury, and Johnson of Tennessee, made fully a year afterward
(Jan. 29-31, 1862) in the Senate, touching the defeat of the
Crittenden Compromise by the Clark substitute at this time.
Speaking of the second session of the Thirty-sixth Congress, Mr.
Saulsbury said:

“At that session, while vainly striving with others for the
adoption of those measures, I remarked in my place in the Senate

“‘If any Gibbon should hereafter write the Decline and Fall of the
American Republic, he would date its fall from the rejection by the
Senate of the propositions submitted by the Senator from Kentucky.’

“I believed so then, and I believe so now. I never shall forget,
Mr. President, how my heart bounded for joy when I thought I saw a
ray of hope for their adoption in the fact that a Republican
Senator now on this floor came to me and requested that I should
inquire of Mr. Toombs, who was on the eve of his departure for
Georgia to take a seat in the Convention of that State which was to
determine the momentous question whether she should continue a
member of the Union or withdraw from it, whether, if the Crittenden
propositions were adopted, Georgia would remain in the Union.

“Said Mr. Toombs:

“‘Tell him frankly for me that if those resolutions are adopted by
the vote of any respectable number of Republican Senators,
evidencing their good faith to advocate their ratification by their
people, Georgia will not Secede. This is the position I assumed
before the people of Georgia. I told them that if the party in
power gave evidence of an intention to preserve our rights in the
Union, we were bound to wait until their people could act.’

“I communicated the answer. The Substitute of the Senator from New
Hampshire [Mr. Clark] was subsequently adopted, and from that day
to this the darkness and the tempest and the storm have thickened,
until thousands like myself, as good and as true Union men as you,
Sir, though you may question our motives, have not only despaired
but are without hope in the future.”

To this speech, Mr. Johnson of Tennessee subsequently replied as
follows in the United States Senate (Jan. 31, 1862)

“Sir, it has been said by the distinguished Senator from Delaware
[Mr. Saulsbury] that the questions of controversy might all have
been settled by Compromise. He dealt rather extensively in the
Party aspect of the case, and seemingly desired to throw the onus
of the present condition of affairs entirely on one side. He told
us that, if so and so had been done, these questions could have
been settled, and that now there would have been no War. He
referred particularly to the resolution offered during the last
Congress by the Senator from New Hampshire [Mr. Clark], and upon
the vote on that he based his argument. * * * The Senator told us
that the adoption of the Clark amendment to the Crittenden
Resolutions defeated the settlement of the questions of
controversy; and that, but for that vote, all could have been peace
and prosperity now. We were told that the Clark amendment defeated
the Crittenden Compromise, and prevented a settlement of the
controversy. On this point I will read a portion of the speech of
my worthy and talented friend from California [Mr. Latham]; and
when I speak of him thus, I do it in no unmeaning sense I intend
that he, not I, shall answer the Senator from Delaware. * * * As
I have said, the Senator from Delaware told us that the Clark
amendment was the turning point in the whole matter; that from it
had flowed Rebellion, Revolution, War, the shooting and
imprisonment of people in different States–perhaps he meant to
include my own. This was the Pandora’s box that has been opened,
out of which all the evils that now afflict the Land have flown. *
* * My worthy friend from California [Mr. Latham], during the last
session of Congress, made one of the best speeches he ever made. *
* * In the course of that speech, upon this very point he made use
of these remarks:

“‘Mr. President, being last winter a careful eye-witness of all
that occurred, I soon became satisfied that it was a deliberate,
wilful design, on the part of some representatives of Southern
States, to seize upon the election of Mr. Lincoln merely as an
excuse to precipitate this revolution upon the Country. One
evidence, to my mind, is the fact that South Carolina never sent
her Senators here.’

“Then they certainly were not influenced by the Clark amendment.

“‘An additional evidence is, that when gentlemen on this floor, by
their votes, could have controlled legislation, they refused to
cast them for fear that the very Propositions submitted to this
body might have an influence in changing the opinions of their
constituencies. Why, Sir, when the resolutions submitted by the
Senator from New Hampshire [Mr. Clark], were offered as an
amendment to the Crittenden Propositions, for the manifest purpose
of embarrassing the latter, and the vote taken on the 16th of
January, 1861, I ask, what did we see? There were fifty-five
Senators at that time upon this floor, in person. The Globe of the
second Session, Thirty-Sixth Congress, Part I., page 409, shows
that upon the call of the yeas and nays immediately preceding the
vote on the substituting of Mr. Clark’s amendment, there were
fifty-five votes cast. I will read the vote from the Globe:

“‘YEAS–Messrs. Anthony, Baker, Bingham, Cameron, Chandler, Clark,
Collamer, Dixon, Doolittle, Durkee, Fessenden, Foot, Foster,
Grimes, Hale, Harlan, King, Seward, Simmons, Sumner, Ten Eyck,
Trumbull, Wade, Wilkinson, and Wilson–25.

“NAYS–Messrs. Bayard, Benjamin, Bigler, Bragg, Bright, Clingman,
Crittenden, Douglas, Fitch, Green, Gwin, Hemphill, Hunter, Iverson,
Johnson of Arkansas, Johnson of Tennessee, Kennedy, Lane, Latham,
Mason, Nicholson, Pearce, Polk, Powell, Pugh, Rice, Saulsbury,
Sebastian, Slidell and Wigfall–30.

“The vote being taken immediately after, on the Clark Proposition,
was as follows:

“YEAS–Messrs. Anthony, Baker, Bingham, Cameron, Chandler, Clark,
Collamer, Dixon, Doolittle, Durkee, Fessenden, Foot, Foster,
Grimes, Hale, Harlan, King, Seward, Simmons, Sumner, Ten Eyck,
Trumbull, Wade, Wilkinson and Wilson–25.

“NAYS-Messrs. Bayard, Bigler, Bragg, Bright, Clingman, Crittenden,
Fitch, Green, Gwin, Hunter, Johnson of Tennessee, Kennefly, Lane,
Latham, Mason, Nicholson, Pearce, Polk, Powell, Pugh, Rice,
Saulsbury and Sebastian-23.

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