The Crittenden Amendment

Richmond Enquirer, January 29, 1861

This last hope of the timid has to encounter other difficulties than mere Black Republican opposition in Congress. If successful in that body it has to run the gauntlet in the States, and before the people, to become an amendment to the Constitution. How is it possible for it ever to be adopted? To become an amendment to the Constitution, it or any other proposition must be ratified by three-fourths of the States. Here, at the outset, appears a fatal difficulty. Does the “threefourths” apply to the thirty-four States, or to those only which have not seceded. The submission of any amendment to the States must be preceded by the settlement of the question of the right of secession. If the Black Republican doctrine against secession obtains, and the seceded States are held to still belong to the Union, then it will require twenty-six States to adopt the amendment. But eight of the States will have seceded and will not submit the proposed amendment to their Legislatures, and such action necessitates the concurrence of every State still in the Union to the proposed amendment. If any one State refused to adopt it, the amendment fails for want of the Constitutional number. Is it probable that every Black Republican State will adopt an amendment that is satisfactory to Virginia? Is it probable that Virginia will be satisfied with an amendment acceptable to every Black Republican State? Does not this show the folly of looking to the Crittenden amendment? Before that or any other amendment can become a part of the Constitution there has to be some of the tallest backing down done, either by the North or the South, that has ever been witnessed in this or any other country. If the Black Republicans are willing to acknowledge the secession of the Southern States, and to submit propositions of amendment to three-fourths of the remaining States, then there may be some probability of the adoption of the amendment. But will the Black Republicans, as preliminary to yielding what they have so steadfastly refused to grant, acknowledge the right of secession and then set about the work of re-construction upon principles that rob their recent victory of all benefits and place the rights of the South in unquestioned prominence upon the letter of the Constitution. We do not wish to be understood as admitting that the Crittenden amendment places the rights of the South thus patently upon the constitution, but that any amendment to which Virginia can agree must be so plain that he who runs may read, and the wayfaring politician, though a Black Republican and Abolitionist, cannot err therein. Can any man, not rendered ridiculously credulous by his love of Unionism, for one moment believe that the Black Republicans will surrender their principles, haul down their flag and acknowledge that, victorious at the popular election, they have ignominiously surrendered all to the demands of rebels and traitors? It is absurd to expect men, besotted by fanaticism, triumphantly installed in authority, clothed with the forms of law, and armed with the army and navy, would yield to the demands of those they hold to be traitors and rebels.—What, then, is the duty of the people of Virginia to themselves and.their posterity? To wait the eventuality of an amendment that must be lost, or to place the State in an attitude of defense? In our opinion the people of Virginia should, by their votes, put the “right men in the right place,” and, then, voting down the reference clause of the Convention bill, stand before the world in the proud attitude of determined resistance to persistent and shameful aggression.

Upon the Convention, about to assemble in Virginia,[1] will devolve the noble work of continuing the contest for freedom and liberty—a contest once triumphantly won, but which may be lost by ignominious submission to Northern aggression, or by truckling acquiescence in inefficient amendments. The vicissitudes of war may overtake us in resistance to Northern armies, we may be overrun by Northern enemies, our industrial resources ruined, our commerce confiscated; but if we cannot live the equal of a Yankee, a privilege low enough, we can, at least, fall fighting for freedom. Men of Virginia, your love of freedom and equality eighty years ago won the admiration of the wisest, the best and the purest statesmen of the world. Your possession of slaves enabled you to estimate the privilege of freedom and the right of equality more highly than those States of the North, who now deny your equality and will soon seek to conquer your liberty. Edmund Burke, in his great speech upon “conciliation with America” said:

There is, however, a circumstance attending these Colonies, which, in my opinion, fully counterbalances this difference, and makes the spirit of liberty still more high and haughty than in those to the Northward. It is that in Virginia and the Carolinas they have a vast multitude of slaves. Where this is the case in any part of the world, those who are free are by far the most proud and jealous of their freedom. Freedom is to them not only an enjoyment but a kind of rank and privilege. Not seeing there that freedom, as in countries where it is a common blessing, and as broad and general as the air, may be united with much abject toil, with great misery, with all the exterior of servitude, liberty looks among them, like something that is more noble and liberal. I do not mean, sir, to commend the superior morality of this sentiment, which has at least as much pride as virtue in it; but I cannot alter the nature of man. The fact is so and these people of the Southern Colonies are more strongly, and with a higher and more stubborn spirit, attached to liberty than those to the Northward. Such were all ancient commonwealths; such were our Gothic ancestors; and, in our days, were the Poles, and such will be all masters of slaves, who are not slaves themselves. In such a people the haughtiness of domination combined with the spirit of freedom fortifies it, and renders it invincible.

Such was Burke’s opinion of the slaveholders of ‘76, those sires of the Government, who won our first battle for freedom and equality, and bequeathed their blessings to us. Shall we transmit them unimpaired to our posterity, or shall we succumb to Yankee demands, and violate the Constitution by surrendering to Northern aggressions, either through cowardly submission or by shameful agreement to inefficient amendments? We demand for the manly courage of Virginia the privilege of fighting before being solicited to acknowledge ourselves cowards and to seek temporary protection under the aegis of the Crittenden amendment.

The example of our forefathers forbid their descendants to abate their just demands—their noble history teaches that when we have reached the point where forbearance ceases to be a virtue, that, so far from seeking compromise, the genius of liberty demands of us not to accept concessions. The denial by the Northern States of our “indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter or abolish” the government, is the assertion of their right to hold us in subjection.

To acquiesce in this denial or assertion is to subvert the freedom of the Federal Union into a “government against which a claim of liberty is tantamount to high treason”—a government submission to which is equivalent to slavery.

A compromise which does not recognize the secession of the Southern States must be adopted by all the remaining States, since onefourth of the States, holding themselves no longer members of the Union, will not consider the proposition of amendment. It is preposterous to suppose that the Republicans will yield what can satisfy Virginia, or that Virginia can accept what the Republicans will yield. Virginia may patch up a compromise which may become an amendment, and thus bound by her action, may find herself cut off by its rejection by the cotton States; and what would be her condition in that extremity—bound to the Northern Confederacy by the adoption of her amendment, and yet denied a market for her slaves by the self-protecting legislation of the cotton States? At the mercy of the dominant majority of the North, without the power of the South to aid her in future conflicts, Virginia would soon be over-run by the increase of her slaves, and forced, for the protection of the whites, to legalize the destruction of the blacks.

Virginia should demand that propositions of amendment be first adopted by the Northern States, and then submitted to the Cotton States so that the Border States may not be caught under the deadfall of an amendment adopted by the North, but rejected by the South. This may appear harsh, but Virginia and the border States must guard against being inveigled into an amendment which being rejected by the cotton States would leave Virginia bound by its adoption to the North.

We have no faith in amendments, since we have no reason to suppose that States which have proven themselves faithless to the present Constitution would be true to it when amended. The present Constitution guarantees the rights of the Southern States, and has never been complained of by them. It is the violation of the Constitution, in letter and spirit, that constitutes the grievances of the South. No amendments can provide against such violation since faithless confederates will disregard the amendment, as they despise the Constitution.

[1] The convention bill, passed by the legislature on January 14, provided for an election on February 4 of delegates to a state convention which was to assemble on February 13.