Crittenden Compromise

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CRITTENDEN COMPROMISE, the most promising of several attempts to resolve issues dividing the North and the South following Abraham Lincoln's election as president in November 1860. The Kentucky senator John J. Crittenden presented his compromise in the U.S. Senate on 18 December 1860 as a comprehensive package of six unchangeable constitutional amendments and four congressional resolutions. He introduced it on 22 December to a special Senate Committee of Thirteen on the sectional crisis, of which he was a member. Crittenden's first amendment proposed settling the territorial dispute by extending the Missouri Compromise line of 36 degrees 30 minutes across the remaining U.S. territory, applying it to land "hereafter acquired," and requiring that the U.S. government guarantee slavery in territory below the line. Other amendments addressed southern grievances by, among other things, restricting the ability of Congress to interfere with slavery in the District of Columbia or on federal property (for example, forts) within the slave states, requiring congressional compensation to slave owners encountering interference when trying to recover escaped slaves, and precluding amendment of the Constitution's three-fifths clause. The more sectionally balanced resolutions included a call for Congress to alter provisions in the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act deemed offensive by northerners.

The plan generated substantial public enthusiasm, especially in mid-Atlantic cities and the border slave states. But unanimous Republican opposition blocked the measure in committee and doomed it when on 2 March 1861 it came up for a belated vote in the full Senate. Republicans, many of them taking their cue from Lincoln, objected especially to the hereafter clause, fearing it might prompt southern initiatives to gain tropical lands for slavery's expansion, and the requirement that U.S. authorities actively protect slavery below 36 degrees 30 minutes.


Knupfer, Peter B. The Union as It Is: Constitutional Unionism and Sectional Compromise, 1787–1861. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Potter, David M. Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1942.

Robert E.May

See alsoAntislavery ; Missouri Compromise ; Slavery .