Portrait of U.S. Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky

On December 18, 1860, Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden introduced an unsuccessful eleventh-hour attempt to save the Union and to avoid the American Civil War. [Wikimedia Commons]

Crittenden Compromise Facts

December 1860

Key facts about the Crittenden Compromise, an unsuccessful eleventh-hour attempt to save the Union and to avoid the American Civil War.

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  • On December 18. 1860, Kentucky Senator John Crittenden introduced an eleventh-hour compromise proposal in the United States Senate to save the Union.
  • The Crittenden Plan, also known as the Crittenden Compromise, comprised six constitutional amendments and four Congressional resolutions.
  • Crittenden proposed that the U.S. Constitution be amended to:
    • Prohibit slavery in all U.S territories “now held, or hereafter acquired,” north of latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes (the old Missouri Comprise line). In territories south of that line, Congress would recognize and not interfere with the institution of slavery. This amendment went on to state that property in slaves would be “protected by all the departments of the territorial government during its continuance” and that states would be admitted to the Union from any territory, with or without slavery as their constitutions provided.
    • Prohibit Congress from abolishing slavery in places under its jurisdiction within a slave state, such as a military post.
    • Prohibit Congress from abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, so long as slavery existed in the adjoining states of Virginia and Maryland, and without the consent of the District’s inhabitants. This amendment would also compensate owners of freed slaves who did not consent to abolition.
    • Prohibit Congress from abolishing or interfering with interstate slave trade.
    • Require the federal government to provide full restitution to slave owners for the cost of capturing fugitive slaves in northern states.
    • Prohibit any future amendments of the Constitution, altering Crittenden’s proposed amendments, or interfering with the institution of slavery in any slave state.
  • Crittenden’s four Congressional resolutions stipulated that:
    • Fugitive slave laws were constitutional and should be faithfully observed and executed.
    • All state laws which impeded the operation of fugitive slave laws, the so-called “Personal Liberty laws,” were unconstitutional and should be repealed.
    • The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 should be modified (and rendered less objectionable to the North) by equalizing the fee schedule for returning or releasing alleged fugitives and limiting the powers of marshals to summon citizens to aid in their capture.
    • Laws for the suppression of the African slave trade should be effectively and thoroughly executed.
  • After Crittenden presented his plan, the Senate consigned it to the Committee of Thirteen, which had been formed to deal with the secession crisis.
  • After nearly two weeks of consideration, on December 30, the Committee of Thirteen reported to the Senate that it could not reach a consensus on Crittenden’s proposals.
  • Despite the failure of the Committee of Thirteen, Crittenden was able to get his compromise plan before the full Senate, where it was considered during the first three weeks of January 1861.
  • At the urging of President-elect Abraham Lincoln, Radical Republican Senators opposed the Crittenden Compromise because it would have permitted the extension of slavery in future U.S. territories and states.
  • On January 16, 1861, the Senate defeated Crittenden’s proposal by a vote of twenty-five to twenty-three. Republican senators cast all twenty-five votes against the measure.
  • By the time of the Senate vote, four southern states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama) had seceded from the Union.
  • Fourteen senators from southern states that had seceded or were about to secede did not take part in the vote, almost assuring its defeat.
  • The Crittenden Plan was never seriously considered again in Congress, which was dominated by Northern states after the Southern states seceded.
  • Copperheads, Peace Democrats, and conservative Northern newspapers unsuccessfully attempted to resurrect Crittenden’s proposals as a basis for ending hostilities throughout the duration of the war.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Crittenden Compromise Facts
  • Coverage December 1860
  • Author
  • Keywords John J. Crittenden, Crittenden Plan
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date November 29, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update November 15, 2021
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