On November 6, 1860, American voters elected Republican Abraham Lincoln as the sixteenth President of the United States. Alarmed by what they considered to be extremist views held by Lincoln and Radical Republicans, Southerners began escalating their threats to leave the Union. On November 10, only four days after Lincoln’s victory, South Carolina was the first state to act, calling for a state convention to consider secession. On December 3, 1860, when the second session of the 36th Congress convened, President James Buchanan sent the legislature a message requesting an “exploratory amendment” to deal with the secession crisis. Congressmen from both houses responded with a flurry of proposals to save the Union.
On December 4, 1860, by a vote of 145 to 38, the House formed a select committee to entertain ideas to avert disunion. Known as the Committee of Thirty-three, the group comprised one representative from each state. The members of the committee were:
|Houston, George S.||Alabama||Democrat|
|Burch, John C.||California||Democrat|
|Ferry, Orris F.||Connecticut||Republican|
|Whiteley, William G.||Delaware||Democrat|
|Hawkins, George S.||Florida||Democrat|
|Love, Peter E.||Georgia||Democrat|
|Dunn, William M.||Indiana||Republican|
|Morse, Freeman H.||Maine||Republican|
|Davis, Henry W.||Maryland||American|
|Adams, Charles F.||Massachusetts||Republican|
|Howard, William A.||Michigan||Republican|
|Phelps, John S.||Missouri||Democrat|
|Tappan, Mason||New Hampshire||Republican|
|Stratton, John L. N.||New Jersey||Republican|
|Humphrey, James||New York||Republican|
|Winslow, Warren||North Carolina||Democrat|
|Campbell, James H.||Pennsylvania||Republican|
|Robinson, Christopher||Rhode Island||Republican|
|Boyce, William W.||South Carolina||Democrat|
|Nelson, Thomas A. R.||Tennessee||Opposition|
|Hamilton, Andrew J.||Texas||Democrat|
|Morrill, Justin S.||Vermont||Republican|
|Millson, John S.||Virginia||Democrat|
|Washburn, Cadwallader C.||Wisconsin||Republican|
Proposed Constitutional Amendment
On December 11, Thomas Corwin of Ohio chaired the first meeting of the committee. The members considered various proposals during its existence, which ended on January 14, 1861. In the committee’s majority report, Corwin informed the full House that the members could not agree on compromise solutions regarding the crucial issues dividing the nation.
The committee did, however, endorse a proposed constitutional amendment first introduced by Charles Adams and later sponsored by Corwin. Nearly identical to a measure introduced earlier in the Senate by William Seward, the Corwin Amendment aimed to reassure Southerners (particularly those living in the Border States) that the incoming administration had no intention of meddling with slavery in states where it already existed. The measure would have prohibited Congress from interfering with the institution of slavery in any state. Both houses of Congress eventually endorsed the proposed amendment, but it never became law because only two state legislatures (Ohio and Maryland) ratified it.
As was the case with the Senate Committee of Thirteen, the House Committee of Thirty-three could not find enough common ground to prevent the dissolution of the Union and the onset of civil war.