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The Crittenden Compromise (December 18, 1860) was an unsuccessful proposal by Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden to resolve the U.S. secession crisis of 1860–1861 by addressing the concerns that led the states in the Deep South of the United States to contemplate secession from the United States.


The compromise consisted of six proposed constitutional amendments and four proposed Congressional resolutions. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate rejected it in 1861. It was widely perceived as making heavy concessions to the South, but perhaps the most significant aspect of it was Abraham Lincoln's immediate rejection, because he was elected on a platform that opposed the expansion of slavery. The South's reaction to his rejection paved the way for the American Civil War.

There were many unpopular features of the compromise that led to its failure. It guaranteed the permanent existence of slavery in the slave states and addressed Southern demands in regard to fugitive slaves and slavery in the District of Columbia. But the heart of the compromise was the permanent reestablishment of the Missouri Compromise line: slavery would be prohibited north of the 36° 30′ parallel and guaranteed south of it. The compromise, furthermore, included a clause that it could not be repealed or amended.

The compromise was popular among Southern delegates in the Senate, but it was generally unacceptable to the Republicans (free soilers) who believed that slavery must not be allowed to expand. One of these Republicans was Abraham Lincoln, who condemned the compromise as one that did not deal with the future of slavery in America. Republicans declared that if the compromise were accepted, it "would amount to a perpetual covenant of war against every people, tribe, and state owning a foot of land between here and Tierra del Fuego."[1] At the time the only territories south of the line were parts of New Mexico Territory and Indian Territory; there was considerable agreement on both sides that slavery would never flourish in New Mexico, and in fact the South refused House Republicans' proposal approved by committee on December 29 to admit New Mexico as a state immediately. [2] However, not all opposition to the Crittenden Compromise also opposed further territorial expansion of the United States; the February 6, 1861 New York Times referred to "the whole future growth of the Republic" and "all the Territory that can ever belong to the United States, — the whole of Mexico and Central America". [3][4]

The full text[5] of the compromise was introduced on December 18 and printed in the Congressional Globe on the same day. It was tabled on December 31. The proposals were discussed in February 1861 at the peace conference, the final formal effort to avert the start of war.


Amendments to the Constitution[]

  1. Slavery would be prohibited in any territory of the United States "now held, or hereafter acquired," north of latitude 36 degrees, 30 minutes line. In territories south of this line, slavery of the African race was "hereby recognized" and could not be interfered with by Congress. Furthermore, property in African slaves was to be "protected by all the departments of the territorial government during its continuance." States would be admitted to the Union from any territory with or without slavery as their constitutions provided.
  2. Congress was forbidden to abolish slavery in places under its jurisdiction within a slave state such as a military post.
  3. Congress could not abolish slavery in the District of Columbia so long as it existed in the adjoining states of Virginia and Maryland and without the consent of the District's inhabitants. Compensation would be given to owners who refused consent to abolition.
  4. Congress could not prohibit or interfere with the interstate slave trade.
  5. Congress would provide full compensation to owners of rescued fugitive slaves. Congress was empowered to sue the county in which obstruction to the fugitive slave laws took place to recover payment; the county, in turn, could sue "the wrong doers or rescuers" who prevented the return of the fugitive.
  6. No future amendment of the Constitution could change these amendments or authorize or empower Congress to interfere with slavery within any slave state.

Fugitive slave laws[]

  1. That fugitive slave laws were constitutional and should be faithfully observed and executed.
  2. That all state laws which impeded the operation of fugitive slave laws, the so-called "Personal liberty laws," were unconstitutional and should be repealed.
  3. That the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 should be modified [and rendered less objectionable to the North] by equalizing the fee schedule for returning or releasing alleged fugitives and limiting the powers of marshals to summon citizens to aid in their capture.
  4. That laws for the suppression of the African slave trade should be effectively and thoroughly executed.


See also[]