The Great Conspiracy

“Article XIV. That nothing in the Constitution of the United States, or
any amendment thereto, shall be so construed as to authorize any
Department of the Government to in any manner interfere with the
relation of Persons held to Service in any State where that relation
exists, nor in any manner to establish or sustain that relation in any
State where it is prohibited by the Laws or Constitution of such State.
And that this Article shall not be altered or amended without the
consent of every State in the Union.

“Article XV. The third paragraph of the second section of the Fourth
Article of the Constitution shall be taken and construed to authorize
and empower Congress to pass laws necessary to secure the return of
Persons held to Service or Labor under the laws of any State, who may
have escaped therefrom, to the party to whom such Service or Labor may
be due.

“Article XVI. The migration or importation of Persons held to Service
or Involuntary Servitude, into any State, Territory, or place within the
United States, from any place or country beyond the limits of the United
States or Territories thereof, is forever prohibited.

“Article XVII. No territory beyond the present limits of the United
States and the Territories thereof, shall be annexed to or be acquired
by the United States, unless by treaty, which treaty shall be ratified
by a vote of two-thirds of the Senate.”

The Kellogg Proposition was defeated by 33 yeas to 158

The Clemens Substitute was next voted on. This embraced the whole of
the Crittenden Compromise Proposition, as amended in the Senate by
inserting the provision as to all territory “hereafter acquired,” with
the addition of another proposed Article of Amendment to the
Constitution, as follows:

“Article VII. Section I. The elective franchise and the Right to hold
office, whether Federal, State, Territorial, or Municipal, shall not be
exercised by Persons who are, in whole or in part, of the African Race.

“Section II. The United States shall have power to acquire from time to
time districts of country in Africa and South America, for the
colonization, at expense of the Federal Treasury, of such Free Negroes
and Mulattoes as the several States may wish to have removed from their
limits, and from the District of Columbia, and such other places as may
be under the jurisdiction of Congress.”

The Clemens Substitute (or Crittenden Measure, with the addition of said
proposed Article VII.), was defeated by 80 yeas to 113 nays, and then
the Joint Resolution of the Select Committee as heretofore given–after
a vain attempt to table it–was passed by 136 yeas to 53 nays.

Immediately after this action, a Joint Resolution to amend the
Constitution of the United States, which had also been previously
reported by the Select Committee of Thirty-three, came before the House,
as follows:

“Be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United
States of America in Congress assembled, (two-thirds of both Houses
concurring), That the following Article be proposed to the Legislatures
of the several States as an Amendment to the Constitution of the United
States, which, when ratified by three-fourths of said Legislatures,
shall be valid, to all intents and purposes, as a part of the said
Constitution, namely:

“Article XII. No amendment of this Constitution having for its object
any interference within the States with the relation between their
citizens and those described in Section II. of the First Article of the
Constitution as ‘all other persons,’ shall originate with any State that
does not recognize that relation within its own limits, or shall be
valid without the assent of every one of the States composing the

Mr. Corwin submitted an Amendment striking out all the words after
“namely;” and inserting the following:

“Article XII. No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will
authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within
any State, with the Domestic Institutions thereof, including that of
Persons held to Labor or Service by the laws of said State.”

Amid scenes of great disorder, the Corwin Amendment was adopted by 120
yeas to 61 nays, and then the Joint Resolution as amended, was defeated
(two-thirds not voting in the affirmative) by 123 yeas to 71 nays. On
the following day (February 28th), amid still greater confusion and
disorder, which the Speaker, despite frequent efforts, was unable to
quell, that vote was reconsidered, and the Joint Resolution passed by
133 yeas to 65 nays–a result which, when announced was received with
“loud and prolonged applause, both on the floor, and in the galleries.”

On the 2d of March, the House Joint Resolution just given, proposing an
Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting Congress from touching
Slavery within any State where it exists, came up in the Senate for

Mr. Pugh moved to substitute for it the Crittenden Proposition.

Mr. Doolittle moved to amend the proposed substitute (the Crittenden
Proposition), by the insertion of the following, as an additional

“Under this Constitution, as originally adopted, and as it now exists,
no State has power to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the United
States; but this Constitution, and all laws passed in pursuance of its
delegated powers, are the Supreme Law of the Land, anything contained in
any Constitution, Ordinance, or Act of any State, to the contrary

Mr. Doolittle’s amendment was lost by 18 yeas to 28 nays.

Mr. Pugh’s substitute (the Crittenden Proposition), was lost by 14 yeas
to 25 nays.

Mr. Bingham moved to amend the House Joint Resolution, by striking out
all after the word “resolved,” and inserting the words of the Clark
Proposition as heretofore given, but the amendment was rejected by 13
yeas to 25 nays.

Mr. Grimes moved to strike out all after the word “whereas” in the
preamble of the House Joint Resolution, and insert the following:

“The Legislatures of the States of Kentucky, New Jersey, and Illinois
have applied to Congress to call a Convention for proposing Amendments
to the Constitution of the United States: Therefore,

“Be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United
States of America in Congress assembled, That the Legislatures of the
other States be invited to take the subject of such a Convention into
consideration, and to express their will on that subject to Congress, in
pursuance of the Fifth Article of the Constitution.”

This amendment was also rejected, by 14 yeas to 25 nays.

Mr. Johnson, of Arkansas, offered, as an amendment to the House Joint
Resolution, the propositions submitted by the Peace Congress or
Conference, but the amendment was disagreed to by 3 yeas to 34 nays.

The House Joint Resolution was then adopted by 24 yeas to 12 nays.

Subsequently the Crittenden Proposition came up again as a separate
order, with the Clark substitute to it (once carried, but reconsidered),
pending. The Clark substitute was then rejected by 14 yeas to 22 nays.

Mr. Crittenden then offered the Propositions of the Peace
Congress, as a substitute for his own-and they were rejected by 7 yeas
to 28 nays.

The Crittenden Proposition itself was then rejected, by
19 yeas to 20 nays.


On that long last night of the 36th Congress–and of the Democratic
Administration–to the proceedings of which reference was made in the
preceding Chapter, several notable speeches were made, but there was
substantially nothing done, in the line of Compromise. The only thing
that had been accomplished was the passage, as we have seen, by two-
thirds majority in both Houses, of the Joint Resolution proposing a
Constitutional Amendment prohibiting Congress from meddling with Slavery
in Slave States. There was no Concession nor Compromise in this,
because Republicans, as well as Democrats, had always held that Congress
had no such power. It is true that the Pro-slavery men had charged the
Republicans with ultimate designs, through Congress, upon Slavery in the
Slave States; and Mr. Crittenden pleaded for its passage as exhibiting a
spirit, on their part, of reconciliation; that was all.

In his speech that night–that memorable and anxious night preceding the
Inauguration of President Lincoln–the venerable Mr. Crittenden,
speaking before the Resolution was agreed to, well sketched the
situation when he said in the Senate: “It is an admitted fact that our
Union, to some extent, has already been dismembered; and that further
dismemberment is impending and threatened. It is a fact that the
Country is in danger. This is admitted on all hands. It is our duty,
if we can, to provide a remedy for this. We are, under the Constitution
and by the election of the People, the great guardians, as well as the
administrators of this Government. To our wisdom they have trusted this
great chart. Remedies have been proposed; resolutions have been
offered, proposing for adoption measures which it was thought would
satisfy the Country, and preserve as much of the Union as remained to us
at least, if they were not enough at once to recall the Seceding States
to the Union. We have passed none of these measures. The differences
of opinion among Senators have been such that we have not been able to
concur in any of the measures which have been proposed, even by bare
majorities, much less by that two-thirds majority which is necessary to
carry into effect some of the pacific measures which have been proposed.
We are about to adjourn. We have done nothing. Even the Senate of the
United States, beholding this great ruin around them, beholding
Dismemberment and Revolution going on, and Civil War threatened as the
result, have been able to do nothing; we have absolutely done nothing.
Sir, is not this a remarkable spectacle? * * * How does it happen that
not even a bare majority here, when the Country trusted to our hands is
going to ruin, have been competent to devise any measure of public
safety? How does it happen that we have not had unanimity enough to
agree on any measure of that kind? Can we account for it to ourselves,
gentlemen? We see the danger; we acknowledge our duty, and yet, with
all this before us, we are acknowledging before the world that we can do
nothing; acknowledging before the world, or appearing to all the world,
as men who do nothing! Sir, this will make a strange record in the
history of Governments and in the history of the world. Some are for
Coercion; yet no army has been raised, no navy has been equipped. Some
are for pacification; yet they have been able to do nothing; the dissent
of their colleagues prevents them; and here we are in the midst of a
falling Country, in the midst of a falling State, presenting to the eyes
of the World the saddest spectacle it has ever seen. Cato is
represented by Addison as a worthy spectacle, ‘a great man falling with
a falling State,’ but he fell struggling. We fall with the ignominy on
our heads of doing nothing, like the man who stands by and sees his
house in flames, and says to himself, ‘perhaps the fire will stop before
it consumes all.'”

One of the strong pleas made in the Senate that night, was by Mr.
Douglas, when he said: “The great issue with the South has been that
they would not submit to the Wilmot proviso. The Republican Party
affirmed the doctrine that Congress must and could prohibit Slavery in
the Territories. The issue for ten years was between Non-intervention
on the part of Congress, and prohibition by Congress. Up to two years
ago, neither the Senator (Mason) from Virginia, nor any other Southern
Senator, desired affirmative legislation to protect Slavery. Even up to
this day, not one of them has proposed affirmative legislation to
protect it. Whenever the question has come up, they have decided that
affirmative legislation to protect it was unnecessary; and hence, all
that the South required on the Territorial question was ‘hands off;
Slavery shall not be prohibited by Act of Congress.’ Now, what do we
find? This very session, in view of the perils which surround the
Country, the Republican Party, in both Houses of Congress, by a
unanimous vote, have backed down from their platform and abandoned the
doctrine of Congressional prohibition. This very week three Territorial
Bills have been passed through both Houses of Congress without the
Wilmot proviso, and no man proposed to enact it; not even one man on the
other side of the Chamber would rise and propose the Wilmot proviso.”

“In organizing three Territories,” continued he, “two of them South of
the very line where they imposed the Wilmot proviso twelve years ago, no
one on the other side of the Chamber proposed it. They have abandoned
the doctrine of the President-elect upon that point. He said, and it is
on record, that he had voted for the Wilmot proviso forty-two times, and
would do it forty-two times more if he ever had a chance. Not one of
his followers this year voted for it once. The Senator from New York
(Mr. Seward) the embodiment of the Party, sat quietly and did not
propose it. What more? Last year we were told that the Slave Code of
New Mexico was to be repealed. I denounced the attempted interference.
The House of Representatives passed the Bill, but the Bill remains on
your table; no one Republican member has proposed to take it up and pass
it. Practically, therefore, the Chicago platform is abandoned; the
Philadelphia platform is abandoned; the whole doctrine for which the
Republican Party contended, as to the Territories, is abandoned,
surrendered, given up. Non-intervention is substituted in its place.
Then, when we find that, on the Territorial question, the Republican
Party, by a unanimous vote, have surrendered to the South all they ask,
the Territorial question ought to be considered pretty well settled.
The only question left was that of the States; and after having
abandoned their aggressive policy as to the Territories, a portion of
them are willing to unite with us, and deprive themselves of the power
to do it in the States.”

“I submit,” said he, “that these two great facts–these startling,
tremendous facts–that they have abandoned their aggressive policy in
the Territories, and are willing to give guarantees in the States, ought
to be accepted as an evidence of a salutary change in Public Opinion at
the North. All I would ask now of the Republican Party is, that they
would insert in the Constitution the same principle that they have
carried out practically in the Territorial Bills for Colorado, Dakota,
and Nevada, by depriving Congress of the power hereafter to do what
there cannot be a man of them found willing to do this year; but we
cannot ask them to back down too much. I think they have done quite as
much within one year, within three months after they have elected a
President, as could be expected.”

That Douglas and his followers were also patriotically willing to
sacrifice a favorite theory in the face of a National peril, was brought
out, at the same time, by Mr. Baker, when he said to Mr. Douglas: “I
desire to suggest (and being a little of a Popular Sovereignty man, it
comes gracefully from me) that others of us have backed down too, from
the idea that Congress has not the power to prohibit Slavery in the
Territories; and we are proposing some of us in the Crittenden
proposition, and some in the Amendment now before the Senate–to
prohibit Slavery by the Constitution itself, in the Territories;”–and
by Mr. Douglas, when he replied: “I think as circumstances change, the
action of public men ought to change in a corresponding degree. * * * I
am willing to depart from my cherished theory, by an Amendment to the
Constitution by which we shall settle this question on the principles
prescribed in the Resolutions of the Senator from Kentucky.”

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