|Last-Ditch Efforts at Compromise
|Digital History ID 3057|
Threats of secession were nothing new. Some Southerners had threatened to leave the Union during a Congressional debate over slavery in 1790, the Missouri Crisis of 1819 and 1820, the Nullification Crisis of 1831 and 1832, and the crisis over California statehood in 1850. In each case, the crisis was resolved by compromise.
Many expected the same pattern to prevail in 1861.
Four months separated Lincoln's election to the presidency and his inauguration. During this period, there were two major compromise efforts. John J. Crittenden (1787-1863) of Kentucky, who held Henry Clay's old Senate seat, proposed a series of Constitutional amendments, including one to extend the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean, in defiance of the Compromise of 1850 and the Dred Scott decision. The amendment would prohibit slavery north of the line but explicitly protect it south of the line. On January 16, 1861, however, the Senate, which was controlled by Democrats, refused to consider the Crittenden compromise. Every Republican Senator opposed the measure and six Democrats abstained. On March 4, the Senate reconsidered Crittenden's compromise proposal and defeated it by a single vote.
Meanwhile, Virginia had proposed a peace convention to be held in Washington, D.C., February 4, 1861, the very day that the new Confederate government was to be set up in Alabama. Delegates, who represented 21 of the 34 states, voted narrowly to recommend extending the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific. The delegates also would have required a four-fifths vote of the Senate to acquire new territory. The Senate rejected the convention's proposals 28 to 7.
Compromise failed in early 1861 because it would have required the Republican Party to repudiate its guiding principle: no extension of slavery into the western territories. President-elect Lincoln made the point bluntly in a message to a Republican in Congress:" Entertain no proposition for a compromise in regard to the extension of slavery. The instant you do, they have us under again; all our labor is lost, and sooner or later must be done over....The tug has to come and better now than later."
With compromise unattainable, attention shifted to the federal installations located within the Confederate states, especially to a fort located in the channel leading to Charleston Harbor. In November 1860, the U.S. government sent Colonel Robert A. Anderson (1805-1871), a pro-slavery Kentuckian and an 1825 West Point graduate, to Charleston to command federal installations there. On December 26, under cover of darkness, he moved his forces (10 officers, 76 enlisted men, 45 women and children, and a number of laborers) from the barely defensible Fort Moultrie to the unfinished Fort Sumter. On January 9, 1861, President James Buchanan made an effort to reinforce the garrison, but the supply ship was fired on and driven off.
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