Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Crittenden Compromise

I've been catching up on the Times superb Disunion series. If they continue this for the next 14 years, through the Compromise of 1877, it won't have ended too late. I was reading a piece today on the Crittenden Compromise, devised as a last ditch effort to save the Union from dissolution. I had forgotten how loathsome and unacceptable it was:

Crittenden’s plan consisted of a package of constitutional amendments and congressional resolutions, all of which would be “unamendable.” Among their provisions, these amendments would have protected slavery in all of the slave states from future actions by Congress; permitted slavery to spread in all federal territories and future territories below the line of 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude (which runs roughly along the northern border of North Carolina, Tennesee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona); forbidden Congress from abolishing slavery on federal property within a slave state; prevented Congress from interfering with the interstate slave trade; and indemnified owners whose runaway slaves could not be recovered under the Fugitive Slave Law. 

Yikes. I can't state strongly enough how absolutely unacceptable this was. First, like the Missouri Compromise and Compromise of 1850, it wouldn't have satiated the South's desire to make the nation fully slave. Second, it would have institutionalized slavery to an extent making it much harder to get rid of. Third, it would have meant complete capitulation to right-wing forces.

Some thought Lincoln would accept it. He's been interpreted as a man willing to do anything to save the Union, but clearly he was not. It's an unfair analogy, but one wonders what a DLC-influenced Democrat would have done in the same situation. At the very least, it's nice to remember a president standing up to evil conservative forces and draw a line in the sand instead of constantly moving right and engaging in triangulation.

It's also shocking how close the Crittenden Compromise came to passing:

When Crittenden took his plan to the Senate floor on Jan. 16, 1861, it was voted down 25-23. Every one of the 25 no votes was cast by a Republican.

Had Lincoln not taken such a strong stand, it would have passed. Of course, the constitutional amendments would have to have gone to the states and I find it unlikely they would have achieved ratification. But I'm glad we didn't have to find out.