Constitutional Attempts to Save the Union
On Christmas Eve 1860, Senator Stephen A. Douglas, the “Little Giant” from Illinois, attempted to solve the sectional crisis by offering two constitutional amendments as compromise measures.
Following the example of his Senate colleagues John J. Crittenden, Andrew Johnson, and Jefferson Davis, Douglas submitted a joint resolution aimed at appeasing the South by affording slavery greater federal protection.
His first amendment proposed that Congress make no law “in respect to slavery or servitude in any Territory of the United States.”
When the population of any western territory was sufficient for statehood, the state would be admitted with or without slavery as the territorial inhabitants so desired.
Douglas’s second amendment reflected Senator John Crittenden’s earlier proposal in many respects, but embodied two significant additions.
The first was that Congress should have the power to “acquire, from time to time, districts of country in Africa and South America, for the colonization, at the expense of the Federal Treasury, of such negroes and mulattoes as the several States may wish to have removed from their limits,…”
The second addition simply stated that, “The elective franchise and the right to hold office, whether federal, State, territorial, or municipal, shall not be exercised by persons of the African race, in whole or in part.”
Possessing racist views shared by most white northerners, Douglas sought to prevent free blacks’ participation at all levels of government and to devise a means of deporting free blacks at the request of the various states.
Over the next three months, eight other proposals to amend the Constitution in order to solve the national crisis included clauses prohibiting “persons of the African race” from voting or holding political office. Like all but one of the proposed constitutional amendments offered over Secession Winter, Douglas’s amendment met with the disfavor of Republicans and Democrats alike.
SOURCE: 36th Cong., 2nd Sess., Senate Report 288, pp. 8-10
– Submitted by Dwight T. Pitcaithley, New Mexico State University
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