Corwin Amendment (1861)

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On 2 March 1861, in a futile attempt to prevent the secession of the slaveholding states, Congress proposed, and sent to the states for ratification, a constitutional amendment designed to protect slavery in the states where it existed. The amendment, written by Representative Thomas Corwin of Ohio, would have prohibited any future constitutional amendment authorizing Congress to abolish or interfere with the "domestic institutions" of any state. Although the amendment went on specifically to include the institution of "persons held to service or labor," it is not clear what other domestic institutions, if any, might have been protected.

The Corwin Amendment was proposed after President-elect abraham lincoln rejected the crittenden compromise proposals, which would have permitted slavery in some federal territories. Its intended effect was that, although slavery would survive in the existing slave states, there would never be any new slave states admitted to the union, and slaveholders would be an ever diminishing minority. In any case, the Corwin Amendment was largely a symbolic gesture of conciliation, as six southern states had already seceded by the time it was proposed. The legislatures of only two states (Ohio and Maryland) voted to ratify the Corwin Amendment.

Dennis J. Mahoney


Hyman, Harold M. 1967 The Narrow Escape from the Compromise of 1860: Secession and the Constitution. Pages 149–166 in Harold M. Hyman and Leonard W. Levy, eds., Freedom and Reform. New York: Harper & Row.