The Great Conspiracy

“‘Six senators retained their seats and refused to vote, thus
themselves allowing the Clark Proposition to supplant the
Crittenden Resolution by a vote of twenty-five to twenty-three.
Mr. Benjamin of Louisiana, Mr. Hemphill and Mr. Wigfall of Texas,
Mr. Iverson of Georgia, Mr. Johnson of Arkansas, and Mr. Slidell of
Louisiana, were in their seats, but refused to cast their votes.’

“I sat right behind Mr. Benjamin, and I am not sure that my worthy
friend was not close by, when he refused to vote, and I said to
him, ‘Mr. Benjamin, why do you not vote? Why not save this
Proposition, and see if we cannot bring the Country to it?’ He
gave me rather an abrupt answer, and said he would control his own
action without consulting me or anybody else. Said I: ‘Vote, and
show yourself an honest man.’ As soon as the vote was taken, he
and others telegraphed South, ‘We cannot get any Compromise.’ Here
were six Southern men refusing to vote, when the amendment would
have been rejected by four majority if they had voted. Who, then,
has brought these evils on the Country? Was it Mr. Clark? He was
acting out his own policy; but with the help we had from the other
side of the chamber, if all those on this side had been true to the
Constitution and faithful to their constituents, and had acted with
fidelity to the Country, the amendment of the Senator from New
Hampshire could have been voted down, the defeat of which the
Senator from Delaware says would have saved the Country. Whose
fault was it? Who is responsible for it? * * * Who did it?
SOUTHERN TRAITORS, as was said in the speech of the Senator from
California. They did it. They wanted no Compromise. They
accomplished their object by withholding their votes; and hence the
Country has been involved in the present difficulty. Let me read
another extract from this speech of the Senator from California

“‘I recollect full well the joy that pervaded the faces of some of
those gentlemen at the result, and the sorrow manifested by the
venerable Senator from Kentucky [Mr. Crittenden]. The record shows
that Mr. Pugh, from Ohio, despairing of any Compromise between the
extremes of ultra Republicanism and Disunionists, working
manifestly for the same end, moved, immediately after the vote was
announced, to lay the whole subject on the table. If you will turn
to page 443, same volume, you will find, when, at a late period,
Mr. Cameron, from Pennsylvania, moved to reconsider the vote,
appeals having been made to sustain those who were struggling to
preserve the Peace of the Country, that the vote was reconsidered;
and when, at last, the Crittenden Propositions were submitted on
the 2d day of March, these Southern States having ‘nearly all
Seceded, they were then lost but by one vote. Here is the vote:

“YEAS-Messrs. Bayard, Bigler, Bright, Crittenden, Douglas, Gwin,
Hunter, Johnson of Tennessee, Kennedy, Lane, Latham, Mason,
Nicholson, Polk, Pugh, Rice, Sebastian, Thomson and Wigfall–19.

“‘NAYS-Messrs. Anthony, Bingham, Chandler, Clark, Dixon,
Doolittle, Durkee, Fessenden, Foot, Foster, Grimes, Harlan, King,
Morrill, Sumner, Ten Eyck, Trumbull, Wade, Wilkinson and Wilson–

“‘If these Seceding Southern senators 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, the subject finally
going before the People, who have never yet, after consideration,
refused Justice, for any length of time, to any portion of the

“‘I believe more, Mr. President, that these gentlemen were acting
in pursuance of a settled and fixed plan to break up and destroy
this Government.’

“When we had it in our power to vote down the amendment of the
Senator from New Hampshire, and adopt the Crittenden Resolutions,
certain Southern Senators prevented it; and yet, even at a late day
of the session, after they had Seceded, the Crittenden Proposition
was only lost by one vote. If Rebellion and bloodshed and murder
have followed, to whose skirts does the responsibility attach?

“What else was done at the very same session? The House of
Representatives passed, and sent to this body, a Proposition to
amend the Constitution of the United States, so as to prohibit
Congress from ever hereafter interfering with the Institution of
Slavery in the States, making that restriction a part of the
Organic law of the Land. That Constitutional Amendment came here
after the Senators from seven States had Seceded; and yet it was
passed by a two-third vote in the Senate. Have you ever heard of
any one of the States which had then Seceded, or which has since
Seceded, taking up that Amendment to the Constitution, and saying
they would ratify it, and make it a part of that instrument? No.
Does not the whole history of this Rebellion tell you that it was
Revolution that the Leaders wanted, that they started for, that
they intended to have? The facts to which I have referred show how
the Crittenden Proposition might have been carried; and when the
Senators from the Slave States were reduced to one-fourth of the
members of this body, the two Houses passed a Proposition to Amend
the Constitution, so as to guarantee to the States perfect security
in regard to the Institution of Slavery in all future time, and
prohibiting Congress from legislating on the subject.

“But what more was done? After Southern Senators had treacherously
abandoned the Constitution and deserted their posts here, Congress
passed Bills for the Organization of three new Territories: Dakota,
Nevada, and Colorado; and in the sixth section of each of those
Bills, after conferring, affirmatively, power on the Territorial
Legislature, it went on to exclude certain powers by using a
negative form of expression; and it provided, among other things,
that the Legislature should have no power to legislate so as to
impair the right to private property; that it should lay no tax
discriminating against one description of Property in favor of
another; leaving the power on all these questions, not in the
Territorial Legislature, but in the People when they should come to
form a State Constitution.

“Now, I ask, taking the Amendment to the Constitution, and taking
the three Territorial Bills, embracing every square inch of
territory in the possession of the United States, how much of the
Slavery question was left? What better Compromise could have been
made? Still we are told that matters might have been Compromised,
and that if we had agreed to Compromise, bloody Rebellion would not
now be abroad in the Land. Sir, Southern Senators are responsible
for it. They stood here with power to accomplish the result, and
yet treacherously, and, I may say, tauntingly they left this
chamber, and announced that they had dissolved their connection
with the Government. Then, when we were left in the hands of those
whom we had been taught to believe would encroach upon our Rights,
they gave us, in the Constitutional Amendment and in the three
Territorial Bills, all that had ever been asked; and yet gentlemen
talked Compromise!

“Why was not this taken and accepted? No; it was not Compromise
that the Leaders wanted; they wanted Power; they wanted to Destroy
this Government, so that they might have place and emolument for
themselves. They had lost confidence in the intelligence and
virtue and integrity of the People, and their capacity to govern
themselves; and they intended to separate and form a government,
the chief corner-stone of which should be Slavery, disfranchising
the great mass of the People, of which we have seen constant
evidence, and merging the Powers of Government in the hands of the
Few. I know what I say. I know their feelings and their
sentiments. I served in the Senate here with them. I know they
were a Close Corporation, that had no more confidence in or respect
for the People than has the Dey of Algiers. I fought that Close
Corporation here. I knew that they were no friends of the People.
I knew that Slidell and Mason and Benjamin and Iverson and Toombs
were the enemies of Free Government, and I know so now. I
commenced the war upon them before a State Seceded; and I intend to
keep on fighting this great battle before the Country, for the
perpetuity of Free Government. They seek to overthrow it, and to
establish a Despotism in its place. That is the great battle which
is upon our hands. * * * Now, the Senator from Delaware tells us
that if that (Crittenden) Compromise had been made, all these
consequences would have been avoided. It is a mere pretense; it is
false. Their object was to overturn the Government. If they could
not get the Control of this Government, they were willing to divide
the Country and govern part of it.”] The Clark substitute was then agreed to, by 25 (Republican) yeas to 23
Democratic and Conservative (Bell-Everett) nays–6 Pro-Slavery Senators
not voting, although present; and then, without division, the Crittenden
Resolutions were tabled–Mr. Cameron, however, entering a motion to
reconsider. Subsequently the action of the Senate, both on the
Resolutions and Substitute, was reconsidered, and March 2d the matter
came up again, as will hereafter appear.

Two days prior to this action in the Senate, Mr. Corwin, Chairman of the
Select Committee of Thirty-three, reported to the House (January 14th),
from a majority of that Committee, the following Joint Resolution:

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United
States of America in Congress assembled, That all attempts on the parts
of the Legislatures of any of the States to obstruct or hinder the
recovery and surrender of Fugitives from Service or Labor, are in
derogation of the Constitution of the United States, inconsistent with
the comity and good neighborhood that should prevail among the several
States, and dangerous to the Peace of the Union.

“Resolved, That the several States be respectfully requested to cause
their Statutes to be revised, with a view to ascertain if any of them
are in conflict with or tend to embarrass or hinder the execution of the
Laws of the United States, made in pursuance of the second section of
the Fourth Article of the Constitution of the United States for the
delivery up of Persons held to Labor by the laws of any State and
escaping therefrom; and the Senate and House of Representatives
earnestly request that all enactments having such tendency be forthwith
repealed, as required by a just sense of Constitutional obligations, and
by a due regard for the Peace of the Republic; and the President of the
United States is requested to communicate these resolutions to the
Governors of the several States, with a request that they will lay the
same before the Legislatures thereof respectively.

“Resolved, That we recognize Slavery as now existing in fifteen of the
United States by the usages and laws of those States; and we recognize
no authority, legally or otherwise, outside of a State where it so
exists, to interfere with Slaves or Slavery in such States, in disregard
of the Rights of their owners or the Peace of society.

“Resolved, That we recognize the justice and propriety of a faithful
execution of the Constitution, and laws made in pursuance thereof, on
the subject of Fugitive Slaves, or Fugitives from Service or Labor, and
discountenance all mobs or hindrances to the execution of such laws, and
that citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and
immunities of citizens in the several States.

“Resolved, That we recognize no such conflicting elements in its
composition, or sufficient cause from any source, for a dissolution of
this Government; that we were not sent here to destroy, but to sustain
and harmonize the Institutions of the Country, and to see that equal
justice is done to all parts of the same; and finally, to perpetuate its
existence on terms of equality and justice to all the States.

“Resolved, That a faithful observance, on the part of all the States, of
all their Constitutional obligations to each other and to the Federal
Government, is essential to the Peace of the Country.

“Resolved, That it is the duty of the Federal Government to enforce the
Federal Laws, protect the Federal property, and preserve the Union of
these States.

“Resolved, That each State be requested to revise its Statutes, and, if
necessary, so to amend the same as to secure, without Legislation by
Congress, to citizens of other States traveling therein, the same
protection as citizens of such States enjoy; and also to protect the
citizens of other States traveling or sojourning therein against popular
violence or illegal summary punishment, without trial in due form of
law, for imputed crimes.

“Resolved, That each State be also respectfully requested to enact such
laws as will prevent and punish any attempt whatever in such State to
recognize or set on foot the lawless invasion of any other State or

“Resolved, That the President be requested to transmit copies of the
foregoing resolutions to the Governors of the several States, with a
request that they be communicated to their respective Legislatures.”
This Joint Resolution, with amendments proposed to the same, came up in
the House for action, on the 27th of February, 1861–the same day upon
which the Peace Congress or Conference concluded its labors at

The Proposition of Mr. Burch, of California, was the first acted upon.
It was to amend the Select Committee’s resolutions, as above given, by
adding to them another resolution at the end thereof, as follows:

“Resolved, etc., That it be, and is hereby, recommended to the several
States of the Union that they, through their respective Legislatures,
request the Congress of the United States to call a Convention of all
the States, in accordance with Article Fifth of the Constitution, for
the purpose of amending said Constitution in such manner and with regard
to such subjects as will more adequately respond to the wants, and
afford more sufficient Guarantees to the diversified and growing
Interests of the Government and of the People composing the same.”

This (Burch) amendment, however, was defeated by 14 yeas to 109 nays.

A Proposition of Mr. Kellogg, of Illinois, came up next for action. It
was a motion to strike out all after the first word “That” in the
Crittenden Proposition–which had been offered by Mr. Clemens as a
substitute for the Committee Resolutions–and insert the following:

“The following articles be, and are hereby, proposed and submitted as
Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be
valid, to all intents and purposes as part of said Constitution, when
ratified by Conventions of three-fourths of the several States.

“Article XIII. That in all the territory now held by the United States
situate north of latitude 36 30′ Involuntary Servitude, except in the
punishment for crime, is prohibited while such territory shall remain
under a Territorial government; that in all the territory now held south
of said line, neither Congress nor any Territorial Legislature shall
hinder or prevent the emigration to said territory of Persons; held to
Service from any State of this Union, when that relation exists by
virtue of any law or usage of such State, while it shall remain in a
Territorial condition; and when any Territory north or south of said
line, within such boundaries as Congress may prescribe, shall contain
the population requisite for a member of Congress, according to the then
Federal ratio of representation of the People of the United States, it
may, if its form of government be Republican, be admitted into the Union
on an equal footing with the original States, with or without the
relation of Persons held to Service and Labor, as the Constitution of
such new State may provide.

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