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Corwin Amendment
01-27-2020, 07:51 PM (This post was last modified: 01-27-2020 07:54 PM by Steve.)
Post: #1
Corwin Amendment
Looking at the news coming out of Virginia today reminded me of the so-called "Corwin Amendment" (or Slavery Preservation Amendment), the proposed 1861 amendment which would've barred future constitutional amendments granting Congress the power to abolish or interfere with slavery in the states. Its text read:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.

It was passed on the last day of the Buchanan administration, and despite its name was the brainchild of Senator (and soon to be Secretary of State) William Seward.

One thing always seems to be missing when discussing the amendment. There were 36 states when it passed, with 26 state ratifications needed for the amendment to be ratified. By that time 7 southern states had already seceeded. Mathematically, (with only a one state margin) it could only have been ratified if those states returned to the Union.

This article claims that Lincoln was the man behind Seward in crafting the amendment:

http://philmagness.com/?page_id=398

So I'll ask everybody here what they think about Mr. Magness's belief about Lincoln's role? Do you agree with it?
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01-28-2020, 10:04 AM
Post: #2
RE: Corwin Amendment
I do not know about Lincoln's exact role, but I don't find it surprising that he would support it. The 1860 Republican platform stated that there should be no expansion of slavery into the territories; it did not say that states where slavery was already legal should be required to change their laws on slavery. This is the position on slavery that Lincoln ran on.
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01-29-2020, 05:23 PM
Post: #3
RE: Corwin Amendment
A few years ago Brooks Simpson gave one of the best synopsis of the Corwin Amendment. Here it is.

Best
Rob

https://cwcrossroads.wordpress.com/2011/...amendment/

Abraham Lincoln in the only man, dead or alive, with whom I could have spent five years without one hour of boredom.
--Ida M. Tarbell

I want the respect of intelligent men, but I will choose for myself the intelligent.
--Carl Sandburg
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01-30-2020, 07:00 PM
Post: #4
RE: Corwin Amendment
Thanks for sharing the Simpson article, Rob. I have to disagree with Simpson that Lincoln's mention of the amendment in his first inaugural, saying that he had "no objection" to it, isn't an endorsement, at least as a compromise measure with the already secceeded states returning to the union and preventing a war. If Lincoln didn't want to show at least some support, he wouldn't have mentioned it at all in his speech.

Simpson does have a point of how Lincoln haters seem to use the amendment as some sort of moral argument against the man. Just read some of the crazy comments to Simpson's article. I agree with Simpson that the transmittal letter of the amendment has nothing to do either way in regards to Lincoln's support. And of course, just because he showed some support of it as a compromise measure after it was already passed by Congress doesn't mean that he pressed Seward to pass it.

From what I can check in the Lincoln Collected works there's nothing in it where he explicitly mentions it. Here are the three most relevant letters that I could find:

To Duff Green, a representative from the Buchanan administration:

Gen. Duff Green. Springfield, Ill. Dec 28th 1860.

My dear Sir--- I do not desire any amendment of the Constitution. Recognizing, however, that questions of such amendment rightfully belong to the American People, I should not feel justified, nor inclined, to withhold from them, if I could, a fair opportunity of expressing their will thereon, through either of the modes prescribed in the instrument.

In addition I declare that the maintainance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection, and endurance of our political fabric depends ---and I denounce the lawless invasion, by armed force, of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter under what pretext, as the gravest of crimes.

I am greatly averse to writing anything for the public at this time; and I consent to the publication of this, only upon the condition that six of the twelve United States Senators for the States of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas shall sign their names to what is written on this sheet below my name, and allow the whole to be published together.

Yours truly

A. LINCOLN.


And to Lyman Trumball:

Confidential
Hon. Lyman Trumbull Springfield, Ills.
My dear Sir. Dec. 21, 1860
Thurlow Weed was with me nearly all day yesterday, & left at night with three short resolutions which I drew up, and which, or the substance of which, I think would do much good, if introduced, and unanamously supported by our friends. They do not touch the territorial question. Mr. Weed goes to Washington with them; and says he will, first of all, confer with you and Mr. Hamlin. I think it would be best for Mr. Seward to introduce them, & Mr. Weed will let him know that I think so. Show this to Mr. Hamlin; but beyond him, do not let my name be known in the matter.
Yours as ever
A. LINCOLN


And to Andrew Curtain:

Confidential
Hon. A. G. Curtin Springfield, Ills.
My dear Sir Dec. 21. 1860
Yours of the 14th. was only received last night. I am much obliged by your kindness in asking my views in advance of preparing your inaugeral. I think of nothing proper for me to suggest except a word about this secession and disunion movement. On that subject, I think you would do well to express, without passion, threat, or appearance of boasting, but nevertheless, with firmness, the purpose of yourself, and your state to maintain the Union at all hazzards. Also, if you can, procure the Legislature to pass resolutions to that effect. As [I] shall be very glad to see your friend, the Attorney General, that is to be; but I think he need scarcely make a trip merely to confer with me on the subject you mention.
Yours very truly A. LINCOLN
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01-30-2020, 07:13 PM
Post: #5
RE: Corwin Amendment
Steve,

Possibly as a preventative to a war, but I still think the term endorse is too strong. Not actively opposing something is a far cry from actively supporting it. As for the comments, you should take some time to look over the blog, which Brooks hasn't updated since 2017. There are some real corkers.

Best
Rob

Abraham Lincoln in the only man, dead or alive, with whom I could have spent five years without one hour of boredom.
--Ida M. Tarbell

I want the respect of intelligent men, but I will choose for myself the intelligent.
--Carl Sandburg
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01-31-2020, 12:54 PM (This post was last modified: 02-01-2020 11:18 AM by David Lockmiller.)
Post: #6
RE: Corwin Amendment
(01-30-2020 07:00 PM)Steve Wrote:  Confidential
Hon. Lyman Trumbull Springfield, Ills.
My dear Sir. Dec. 21, 1860
Thurlow Weed was with me nearly all day yesterday, & left at night with three short resolutions which I drew up, and which, or the substance of which, I think would do much good, if introduced, and unanamously supported by our friends. They do not touch the territorial question. Mr. Weed goes to Washington with them; and says he will, first of all, confer with you and Mr. Hamlin. I think it would be best for Mr. Seward to introduce them, & Mr. Weed will let him know that I think so. Show this to Mr. Hamlin; but beyond him, do not let my name be known in the matter.
Yours as ever
A. LINCOLN

Doris Kearns Goodwin addressed President-elect Lincoln’s thoughts and actions throughout the “Great Secession Winter” in her book “Team of Rivals” at pages 296-304, but without mentioning the proposed Corwin amendment to the Constitution. The following are two selections from this entire text that is well worth reading in its entirety for an adequate understanding of an important chapter in American history.

Almost unnoticed, Lincoln managed through a series of complex and subtle maneuvers to keep the Republican Party intact through the “Great Secession Winter.” Whatever conciliatory measures he might consider, Lincoln was adamant, he told Trumbull, that there must be “no compromise on the question of extending slavery. If there be, all our labor is lost, and, ere long, must be done again. . . . Stand firm. The tug has to come, & better now, than any time hereafter.” If the door were opened to slavery in any of the new territories, Lincoln feared that the South would eventually try to annex Cuba or invade Mexico, thereby restarting the long struggle.

Though Lincoln remained inflexible on the territorial question, he was willing, he told Seward, to compromise on “fugitive slaves, District of Columbia, slave trade among the states, and whatever springs of necessity from the fact that the institution is amongst us.” [This bolded phrase should sound familiar. Cooper Union Address: Lincoln examined the beliefs and actions of the founders, concluding that they had marked slavery “as an evil not be extended, but to be tolerated and protected only because of and so far as its actual presence among us makes that toleration and protection a necessity.” (Team of Rivals, page 231.)] Knowing that two parallel committees in the House and Senate were set to address the sectional crisis, Lincoln relayed a confidential message to Seward that he had drafted three short resolutions. He instructed Seward to introduce these proposals in the Senate Committee of Thirteen without indicating they issued from Springfield. The first resolved that “the Constitution should never be altered so as to authorize Congress to abolish or interfere with slavery in the states.” The second would amend the Fugitive Slave Law “by granting a jury trial to the fugitive.” The third recommended that all state personal liberty laws in opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law be repealed.

Seward agreed to introduce Lincoln’s resolutions without revealing their source, though he was of the opinion that they would do nothing to stop the secession movement. The best option, he told Lincoln, was to focus on keeping the border states in the Union, though he feared “nothing could certainly restrain them” short of adopting the series of proposals authored by Kentucky’s John Crittenden. The Crittenden Compromise, among other provisions, offered to extend the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific, thereby initiating the very extension of slavery into the territories Lincoln had pledged to prevent.

Lincoln’s clear resolve never to accept any measure extending slavery prevented the wavering Seward and other like-minded Republicans from backing the Crittenden Compromise. As one Southern state after another withdrew from the Union, Seward came to believe that only conciliation could save the Union. With Lincoln’s iron hand guiding the way in this matter, however, Seward conceded that there was not “the slightest” chance that the Republican side would adopt the Compromise. (“Team of Rivals” at pages 296-297.)

The president-elect was engaged in a more intricate game of political engineering than Seward realized. While undoubtedly pleased that Seward’s conciliatory tone had produced a calming effect on the border states, Lincoln knew that if he personally called for compromise, he would lose the support of an important wing of the Republican Party. Instead, he maintained firmness through silence while Seward absorbed the backlash for what might prove an advantageous posture of conciliation. . . .

In the end, though Lincoln’s role was not fully recognized at the time, he was the one who kept his fractious party together when an open rupture might easily have destroyed his administration before it could even begin. By privately endorsing Seward’s spirit of compromise while projecting an unyielding public image, President-elect Lincoln retained an astonishing degree of control over an increasingly chaotic and potentially devastating situation. (“Team of Rivals” at page 304.)

"So very difficult a matter is it to trace and find out the truth of anything by history." -- Plutarch
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