-- Dilemmas of Compromise --

Advice: John J. Crittenden

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John J. Crittenden

Crittenden's plan was a comprehensive package designed to remove permanently the slavery issue from federal jurisdiction. Its most important features provided for a constitutional amendment securing slavery in the South for all time, and a permanent extension of the Missouri Compromise line of 36 degrees, 30 minutes in all territories now held or hereafter acquired. It recognized slavery as existing south of the line, and prohibited it north of the line.

As a variant of the Missouri Compromise, the Crittenden proposal had the weight of tradition on its side. Its proponents argued that dividing the country into free and slave areas provided an equitable compromise o f existing territories, and would likely prevent the addition of new territory in the future since each section would oppose annexing lands that would reward the other. Further, the permanent protection of slavery through a constitutional amendment promised greater security to the South and, along with other provisions, might lure the secessionist states back into the Union.

Americans had, throughout their history, avoided bitter political and sectional conflict through compromise. The Crittenden plan, therefore, had considerable popular backing as the best means of securing the Union. Petitions flooded Congress urging i ts adoption, public meetings endorsed it, and a significant element of the Republican Party seemed to favor it. Some contemporaries thought a majority of northerners supported the idea, and while an accurate measurement of its popularity is impossible, it is safe to say that there was a powerful current of support behind it.

By backing the Crittenden Compromise, Lincoln could help assure its adoption. Those who urged this course believed that Lincoln would thereby hearten unionist forces throughout the country, hold the loyalty of the upper South, and return the seceding states to the Union.

Bibliography: Potter, Lincoln and His Party, pp. 105-10, 195-200; Nevins, Emergence of Lincoln, 2: 390-91; Nicolay and Hay, Lincoln, 3: 223-25.

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