Crittenden, John J. (1787–1863)

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CRITTENDEN, JOHN J. (1787–1863)

A Kentucky lawyer, John Jordan Crittenden was a United States attorney general (1841, 1850–1853) and senator (1817–1819, 1835–1841, 1842–1848, 1855–1861). In late 1828 President john quincy adams nominated him to the Supreme Court, but the Senate's Democratic majority killed the appointment. A border state Whig, Crittenden always supported compromise on slavery. Thus, as President Millard Fillmore's attorney general, Crittenden vigorously enforced the 1850 fugitive slave law. But he also opposed annexation of texas, the Mexican War, the kansas-nebraska act, and Kansas statehood, because these issues raised the politically disruptive question of slavery in the territories. In December 1860 Crittenden proposed four resolutions and six constitutional amendments to settle the secession crisis. The resolutions condemned the northern personal liberty laws and reasserted the constitutionality of the fugitive slave laws. The amendments—one of which declared the others "unrepealable"—would have compensated masters for unrecovered fugitive slaves and given permanent protection to slavery where it already existed and in all existing territories or those "hereafter acquired" which were south of the missouri compromise line. Crittenden's only concession to northern sentiments was to propose the permanent prohibition of slavery north of the Missouri Compromise line; however, many Northerners read "hereafter acquired" as an invitation for proslavery filibustering in Latin America. Furthermore, Republicans opposed any western extension of slavery. Southern extremists, on the other hand, wanted secession, and not compromise. Thus, only the amendment permanently protecting slavery in the existing states was approved by Congress. From 1861 to 1863 Crittenden worked to prevent Kentucky's secession and limit the war to preserving the Union. Thus, he opposed the emancipation proclamation, the confiscation acts, the use of black troops, West Virginia statehood, and other administration policies.

Paul Finkelman


Kirwan, Albert D. 1962 John J. Crittenden: The Struggle for the Union. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.