Corwin Amendment

Today, the current political climate of the United States is charged, with citizens, municipalities, and states, along with federal representatives, ardently calling for all forms of public recognition tied to the Confederate States of America (CSA) to be removed from public lands and buildings. As statues and other forms of CSA recognition are cast off, the statutory icons of those that would have made institutionalized slavery invulnerable to all interference by the federal government stand tall.

Immune from public scrutiny, nonetheless, are the journalists, community leaders, presidents, vice presidents, congressional and state officials who drafted and/or supported the most egregious pro-slavery resolution in U.S. History: the Corwin Amendment.  This proposed 13th amendment, approved with a ⅔ majority of the 36th Congress on March 2, 1861, forbid the passing of any federal law or constitutional amendment interfering with “the domestic institution of the states...including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”  In other words, it would have prevented Congress and the U.S. Constitution from banning slavery. Moreover, had this proposed amendment been ratified, the current Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments would not have been permissible, as they abolish or interfere with the domestic institution of the states. 

It is my hope, especially if you are not a resident of the south, that you take a few minutes to review this blog.  The information, drawn from historic documents such as the Congressional records, laws, speeches and nineteenth-century newspaper accounts, is factual and should challenge your perspective on who should or should not be honored in the long-standing controversy over slavery and states' rights that resulted in the American Civil War.    

The original Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed by the 36th Congress on March 2, 1861:     

After the presidential election of Abraham Lincoln on November 6, 1860, southern states, beginning with South Carolina on December 20, 1860, began to secede from the United States of America. In the midst of this constitutional crisis, President James Buchanan (D) tried to persuade the southern states that state domestic institutions, including slavery would remain legal, even under the incoming Republican Lincoln administration.  Buchanan asked Congress to draw up what he called an “explanatory amendment” to the Constitution that would explicitly recognize the right of states to sanction human bondage and allow slaveholders to retain their human property in perpetuity under federal law. In response, the House of Representatives established a "Committee of Thirty-three," consisting of one member from each state, under the leadership of Representative Thomas Corwin (OH-R), to prepare a plan for reconciling the secessionist crisis.

Within weeks, the committee delivered a constitutional amendment to the House that they hoped would end the secession crisis. Prematurely called the thirteenth amendment, the proposed joint resolution -- without using the words “slave” or “slavery” -- denied  “to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”  The full text affirmed:
No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.
The amendment's words were crafted to shield "domestic institutions" of the states from the constitutional amendment process and from abolition or interference by Congress.  Such “institutions” notably included slavery and indentured servitude. Officially designated as HR Resolution No. 80, the proposed amendment passed the House of Representatives on February 28th, by the convincing vote of 133 to 65.  

U.S. House Journals: Thursday, February 28, 1861:  
Shall the resolution  Pass and it was decided in the affirmative,   Yeas ... 133       Nays ... 65, Two-thirds voting in favor thereof.  The yeas and nays being desired by one-fifth of the members present, Those who voted in the affirmative are:
Statue of Schuyler Colfax in Indianapolis

Charles F. Adams (MA – R)
James T. Hale (PA - R)
John W. Noell - (MS - D)
Green Adams (KT – O)
Chapin Hall (PA - R)
Abraham B. Olin (NY - R)
Garnett B. Adrain (NJ - ALD)
Andrew J. Hamilton (TX - ID)
George W. Palmer (NY - R)
Cyrus Aldrich (MIN - R)
J. Morrison Harris ( MD - A)
George H. Pendleton (OH - D)
William C. Anderson (KT – O)
John T. Harris (VA - ID)
Samuel O. Peyton (KT - D)
William T. Avery (TN - D)
John B. Haskin (NY - ALD)
John S. Phelps (MS - D)
Elijah Babbitt (PA - R)
Robert Hatton (TN - O)
Albert G. Porter (IN - R)
Thomas J. Barr (NY - ID)
William Helmick (OH - R)
Roger A. Pryor (VA - D)
J. R. Barrett (Missouri - D)
Charles B. Hoard (NY - R)
James M. Quarles (TN - O)
Thomas S. Bocock (VA - D)
William S. Holman (IN - D)
John H. Reynolds  (NY - ALD)
Alexander R. Boteler (VA - O)
William Howard  (Ohio - D)
Alexander H. Rice (MA - R)
John E. Bouligny (LA - A)
William A. Howard (MI - R)
Jetur R. Riggs (NJ - ALD)
Reese B. Brabson ( TN - O)
George W. Hughes (MD - D)
Christopher Robinson (RI - R)
Lawrence O'Bryan Branch (NC-D)
James Humphrey (NY - R)
James C. Robinson (IL - D)
George Briggs (NY - R)
Albert G. Jenkins (VA - D)
Thomas Ruffin (NC - D)
Francis M. Bristow (KT - O)
Benjamin F. Junkin (PA - R)
Albert Rust (AK - D)
John Y. Brown (KT - D)
William Kellogg (Ill - R)
Charles L. Scott (CA - D)
John C. Burch (CA - D)
William S. Kenyon (NY - R)
George W. Scranton (PA - R)
Henry C. Burnett (KT - D)
David Kilgore (IN - R)
 John Sherman (OH - R)
Martin Butterfield (NY - R)
John W. Killinger (PA - (R)
Daniel E. Sickles (NY - D)
James H. Campbell (PA - R)
Jacob M. Kunkel (MD - D)
William E. Simms (KT - D)
Horace F. Clark (NY - ALD)
Charles H. Larrabee (WI - D)
William N. H. Smith (NC - O)
John B. Clark (Missouri - D)
James M. Leach (MI - R)
Elbridge G. Spaulding (NY - R)
Sherrard Clemens (VA - D)
Shelton F. Leake (VA - ID)
Benjamin Stanton (OH - R)
Clark B. Cochrane (NY - R)
John A. Logan (IL - D)
John W. Stevenson (KT - D)
John Cochrane (NY - D)
William B. Maclay (NY - D)
James A. Stewart (MD - D)
Robert Mallory (KT - O)
William B. Stokes (TN - O)
Thomas Corwin (OH - R)
Charles D. Martin (OH - D)
Lansing Stout (OR - D)
Samuel S. Cox (OH - D)
Elbert S. Martin (VT - ID)
John L. N. Stratton (NJ - R)
James Craig (Missouri - D)
Horace Maynard (TN - O)
Eli Thayer (MA - R)
Burton Craige (NC - D)
John A. McClernand (IL – D)
Thomas C. Theaker (OH - R)
H. Winter Davis (MD - A)
Jacob K. McKenty (PA - D)
James H. Thomas (TN - D)
John G. Davis (IN - ALD)
Robert McKnight (PA - R)
Carey A. Trimble (OH - R)
Daniel C. De Jarnette (VA - ID)
Edward McPherson (PA - R)
Clement L.Vallandigham (OH - D)
Charles Delano (MA - R)
John S. Millson (VA - D)
Zebulon B. Vance (NC - D)
William H. Dimmick (PA - D)
William Montgomery (PA - D)
John P. Verree (PA - R)
W. McKee Dunn (IN - R)
Laban T. Moore (KT - O)
Edwin H. Webster (MD - A)
Henry A. Edmundson (VA - D)
James K. Moorhead (VT - R)
William G. Whiteley (DE - D)
William H. English (IL - D)
William Windom (MN - R)
Emerson Etheridge (TN - O)
Edward Joy Morris (PA - R)
Warren Winslow (NC - D)
Thomas B. Florence (PA - D)
Isaac N. Morris (ILL - D)
John Wood (PA - R)
Philip B. Fouke (IL - D)
Freeman H. Morse (ME - R)
Samuel H. Woodson (MS - A)
Ezra B. French (ME - R)
Thomas A. R. Nelson (TN - O)
John V. Wright (TN - D)
Muscoe R H Garnett (NJ - ALD)
William E. Niblack (IN - D)
John A. Gilmer (NC - O)
John T. Nixon (NJ - R)

Those who voted in the negative are:

Mr John B. Alley (MA - R)
 John F. Farnsworth (IL - R)
Emory B. Pottle (NY - R)
James M. Ashley (OH - R)
Reuben E. Fenton (NY - R)
Edwin R. Reynolds (NY - ALD)
Charles L. Beale (NY - R)
Orris S. Ferry (CT - R)
Homer E. Royce (VT - R)
John A. Bingham (OH - R)
Stephen C. Foster (ME - R)
Charles B. Sedgwick (NY - R)
Samuel S. Blair (PA - R)
Augustus Frank (NY - R)
Daniel E. Somes (ME - R)
Harrison G. Blake (OH - R)
Francis E. Spinner (NY - R)
William D. Brayton (RI - R)
Galusha A. Grow (PA - R)
Thaddeus Stevens (PA - R)
James Buffington (MA - R)
John A. Gurley (OH - R)
William Stewart (MD - D)
Anson Burlingame (MA - R)
John Hickman (PA - ALD)
Mason W. Tappan (NH - R)
Alfred A. Burnham (CT - R)
Thomas C. Hindman (AK - D)
Cydnor B. Tompkins (OH - R)
John Carey (OH - R)
John Hutchins (OH - R)
Charles R. Train (MA - R)
Luther C. Carter (NY - R)
William Irvine (NY - R)
William Vandever (IA - R)
Charles Case (IN - R)
Francis W. Kellogg (IL - R)
Charles H. Van Wyck (NY - R)
Stephen Coburn (Maine - R)
DeWitt C. Leach (MI - R)
Edward Wade (OH - R)
Roscoe Conkling (NY - R)
M. Lindley Lee (NY - R)
Henry Waldron (Mich - R)
Martin F. Conway (KS - R)
Henry C. Longnecker (PA - R)
 E. P. Walton (VT - R)
Henry L. Dawes (MA - R)
Dwight Loomis (CT - R)
Cadwalader C. Washburn (WI - R)
R. Holland Duell (NY - R)
Owen Lovejoy (IL - R)
Ellihu B. Washburne  (IL - R)
Sidney Edgerton (OH - R)
Gilman Marston (NH - R)
Alfred Wells (NY - R)
Thomas M. Edwards (NH - R)
James B. McKean (NY - R)
James Wilson (IL - R)
Thomas D. Eliot (MA - R)
John U. Pettit (IN - R)
John Woodruff (CT - R)
Alfred Ely (NY - R)
John F. Potter (WI - R)

So the resolution was passed.  Ordered, That the Clerk request the concurrence of the Senate therein

Gooch, Daniel W, Any Compromise A Surrender, Speech of Hon. D.W. Gooch, of Mass., in the House of Representatives February 23, 1861, Printed At The National Republican Office, Washington D.C. 1861

HR 80 was then delivered to the Senate just four days before Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration.  On March 2, 1861, after attempts to amend the resolution failed, the Senate voted and approved the amendment with no alterations by a 24 to 12 margin.

US Senate Journal: Saturday, March 2, 1861:     
Ordered, That "No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State." pass to a third reading.  The said resolution was read the third time.

On the question, Shall the resolution pass?  It was determined in the affirmative,   Yeas ... 24   Nays ... 12.  On motion by William Bigler, The yeas and nays being desired by one fifth of the senators present, Those who voted in the affirmative are:

Statue of  Andrew Johnson  at the Tennessee State Capitol  

Henry B. Anthony (RI - R)
Edward D. Baker (OR - R)
Anthony Kennedy (MD - A)
William Bigler (PA - D)
Milton Latham (CA - D)
Jesse D. Bright (IN - D)
James M. Mason (VA-D)
Lot M. Morrill (ME – R)
James Dixon (CT- R)
Alfred O. P. Nicholson (TN - D)
Trusten Polk (MO - D)
George E. Pugh (OH - D)
James W. Grimes (IA - R)
Henry M. Rice (MI - D)
William M. Gwin (CA - D)
William K. Sebastian (AK - D)
John C. Ten Eyck ( NJ - R)
Robert M. T. Hunter (VA - D)
John R. Thomson (NJ - D)

Those who voted in the negative are:

Kinsley S. Bingham (MI - R)
Preston King (NY - R)
Zachariah Chandler (MI - R)
Daniel Clark (NH - R)
James R. Doolittle (WI - R)
Benjamin Wade (OH - R)
Charles Durkee (WI - R)
Morton S. Wilkinson (MN - R)
Solomon Foot (VT - R)

The President (Trusten Polk in the chair) announced that the joint resolution was passed.

The proposed constitutional amendment met the two-thirds majority with its 133 votes in the House and 24 in the Senate.  In a last ditch effort to quash the amendment in the Senate,  Lyman Trumbull called a question of order seeking passage with an affirmative vote of 2/3rds of all 52 Senators currently serving in Congress as opposed to 2/3rds of the 36 Senators present:     

Whether, the joint resolution being a proposition to amend the Constitution of the United States, it did not require an affirmative vote of two thirds of the members composing the Senate, to pass the same.  The President decided that it required an affirmative vote of two thirds of the senators present, only.  From this decision Mr. Trumbull appealed; and  On the question, Shall the decision of the Chair stand as the judgment of the Senate?  It was determined in the affirmative, Yeas ... 33  Nays ... 1  So the decision of the Chair was sustained. 

The amendment (12 Stat. 251) was upheld with only 36 of the 52 Senators present and 24 or 23rds of the 36 voting yes. The 66 Senators, two from each of the 33 States that served in the beginning of the 36th  Congress were not at issue because by March 2, 1861, seven of the Southern states had already declared their secession:

South Carolina seceded on December 20, 1860
Mississippi seceded on January 9th, 1861
Florida seceded on January 10th, 1861
Alabama seceded on January 11th, 1861
Georgia seceded on January 19th, 1861
Louisiana seceded on January 26th, 1861
Texas seceded on February 1st, 1861

Notably absent for the vote was William Seward (NY – R), who had proposed language that was incorporated into the Amendment.  Seward explained his rationale on January 12, 1861, stating on the Senate floor that "Discontented citizens have obtained political power in certain States, and they are using this authority to overthrow the Federal Government." Disunion would be an unspeakable calamity. It "would not only arrest, but extinguish the greatness of our country."   Seward made it clear in the speech that slavery was a matter exclusively within the concern of each State; that the Fugitive Slave Act must be enforced; and that, if necessary in order to save the Union, he would agree to a constitutional amendment to that effect.  Seward would later be appointed by Abraham Lincoln as the Secretary of State.

On March 2, 1861, President James Buchanan endorsed the proposed 13th Amendment by taking the unusual step of signing it. His signature on the Congressional joint resolution was not required because the U.S. Constitution does not provide for Presidential authority in the constitutional amendment process.   

Two days later, on March 4th, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was installed as President.  In his inaugural address Lincoln stated:

I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution -- which amendment, however, I have not seen -- has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.

On March 16, 1861, the New York Times article, “The Proposed Amendment to the Constitution” concluded:

The amendment offered is eminently proper in itself, is as necessary to the interests of Freedom as of Slavery, and at the same time, its adoption would go far to soothe the excited public feeling of the South, strengthen the hands of the friends of Union, and restore peace and harmony to the country. We cannot imagine a solid objection to it, and it may be hoped that it will be ratified by all the States.

A month prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln transmitted the amendment to each state's governor, noting in his March 16th letter that President Buchanan had approved it. 

To His Excellency, The Governor of the State of North Carolina, Raleigh\
Washington, March 16, 1861
I transmit an authenticate copy of a Joint Resolution to amend the Constitution of the United States, adopted by Congress and approved on the 2d of March, 1861, by James Buchanan, President. 
I have the honor to be, 
Your Excellency's obedient servant,
By the President:  Abraham Lincoln
William H Seward, Secretary of State

This final attempt to salvage the union without bloodshed failed with the firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. The remaining southern states, despite Kentucky’s ratification on April 4, 1861, chose secession over the amendment’s pending adoption.

Virginia seceded on April 17th, 1861
Arkansas seceded on May 6th, 1861
North Carolina seceded on May 20th, 1861
Tennessee seceded on June 8th, 1861

Five States, despite the outbreak of war, followed suit and ratified the proposed 13th amendment:

Kentucky ratified April 4, 1861
Ohio ratified May 13, 1861
Rhode Island ratified May 31, 1861
Maryland ratified  January 10, 1862
Virginia ratified  February 13, 1862*
Illinois ratified February 14, 1862

*Known as "Restored Government of Virginia" this state was comprised of counties in Northern Virginia and those that later became West Virginia in 1863. 

To this day, I still wonder why CSA scholars that maintain slavery was not the primary cause of secession do not pose these two questions to their detractors:  Why did the Southern States choose to secede and wage a civil war when the ratification of the proposed 13th Amendment in 1861 would have institutionalized slavery and indentured servitude?  Was secession really just about slavery? 

The current “social justice” inoculation of the journalists, community leaders, presidents, vice presidents, congressional and state officials who proposed and/or supported this most deplorable constitutional amendment should be examined.   In the current national debate, it is important that all sides of this question be addressed including the character of those do called “abolitionists” who sought to preserve the institution of slavery with the ratification of the original Thirteenth Amendment.    

Stanley Yavneh Klos, Assistant  Director & Visiting Professor
University Honors Program, Special Projects
Loyola University New Orleans
6363 St. Charles Ave.
Campus Box 75
New Orleans, LA 70118-6195  

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