The Crittenden Compromise--An Argument for a Territorial Division

Rochester Daily Union and Advertiser, February 11, 1861

Free institutions and Slave institutions have come to be regarded as two Opposites or Antagonistic Facts, which cannot coëxist in the same State or Territory. A State is classed as a Free State or a Slave State. As these terms are understood, it is simply impossible that a State can be a Free State and a Slave State at the same time—though it may be composed of Slaveholders and non-Slaveholders. It will be universally admitted that the same proposition applies to Territories precisely as it does to States—a Territory cannot in the sense in which we use these terms, be at the same time a Slave Territory and a Free Territory.

Now let us proceed one step further: The South claim that under the Federal Constitution they have a right to hold Slaves as property in all the Territories of the United States; and however unreasonable or unjust we may regard that claim, it has unquestionably been sanctioned by the Supreme Court of the United States. An acquiescence in or the assertion of this claim or pretension, would exclude Northern or Free institutions from all the Territories of the United States.

On the other hand, the North (as represented by the dominant party in November last,) claim that under the Federal Constitution Congress possesses and should unhesitatingly exercise the power to prevent the establishment of any other than Free institutions in any and all the Territories of the United States. An acquiescence in or the assertion of this claim or pretension, would exclude Southern or Slave institutions from all the Territories of the United States.

—Thus we see that the assertion of the extreme claims or pretensions of either the North or the South, would effectually exclude the other from the enjoyment of its "equal rights" in the common Territories—using the terms which occur in this article in the sense in which they are used by the respective parties to this great controversy.

It necessarily follows then, from what precedes—that whereas both parties have common rights in the Territories; and whereas the institutions of either necessarily excludes the institutions of the other, so as to render it utterly impossible that both should occupy, possess, or enjoy the same Territory:—we say it necessarily follows from these premises, that the only practicable mode of reconciling their conflicting claims, is to agree upon a division of the Territories between the two parties contestant. To state these several propositions thus briefly—and we trust with sufficient clearness to, render them easily understood by every class of readers—is to PROVE them. At least we should find it extremely difficult to make them clearer to any class of minds by additional arguments.—But we may properly say here, that it is a matter of no consequence whatever that we and many others dissent more or less from the theories of both the parties above represented. The position of the parties whose disagreements must be compromised or reconciled if Disunion and Civil War are to be averted, is here fairly set forth; but not our position nor the position of thousands of others who, agreeing with neither of the contending parties, are endeavoring to seek out a basis of adjustment between them, which, by mutual concessions dishonorable to neither, shall compose our sectional strifes and reestablish the Union as it came to us from our Fathers.

—Well then, if we approach this great question in the proper spirit; if we admit that each of the contending parties sincerely believes in the justice of its own pretensions; if we reach the conclusion (as we necessarily must) that to grant to EITHER all its claims, is to grant nothing to its ANTAGONIST; if we recognize the fact that the only practicable Compromise consists in a DIVISION OF THE TERRITORIES of which each claims the whole, the only question which remains to be considered is this: is the proposed division on the line of 36° 3o' a fair and equitable one? Or rather, is it a division to which two parties—each of whom claims THE WHOLE as its right—may consent without dishonor and without humiliation?

We beseech every Northern man to look at the map of his country before he answers this question. He will see that the Territory North of 36° 30' is several times larger than the Territory South of that line. Yet the Moderate, Conservative, Union-loving men of the South, notwithstanding they claim the right to hold their Slaves in all the Territories, and the Supreme Court has said that they possess that right, are willing to divide on that line. They are as firmly convinced of their rights as we are of ours; and their "conscience" affirms the righteousness of their claim not less authoritatively than our "conscience" affirms the righteousness of ours. Shall we then, in view of the apparent impossibility of any other adjustment or reconciliation than one based on a division of Territory—shall we in a spirit of magnanimity, of expansive patriotism, of true Christian brotherhood, give in our adhesion to this plan of settlement? Or shall we 'stiffen our backs,' and harden our hearts, and endeavor to persuade ourselves that our duty to our fellow men and our duty to God, bid us say, 'let our fields be saturated with fraternal blood—let our wives be widows and our children orphans, rather than consent to this thing?' Of those who heard Dr. Robinson's able discourse yesterday afternoon, we would like to inquire—is not this fanaticism? And yet it is the voice of perhaps a million of Northern men to-day, whose honesty and patriotism we would not impugn; but whose error of judgment we profoundly deplore.

—We shall doubtless be met with the objection to the Crittenden Compromise, that it applies to future Territory. That is an objection in our estimation as well as others'; and we should indulge a strong hope, in case the North should approach this vexed question in a proper spirit, that its appeal to the South to strike out this feature, and to leave the status of future Territorial acquisitions to be fixed by those who make them, would not be made in vain. But even though in the present excited state of the Southern mind—when a fierce "fanaticism" bewilders the judgments of Statesmen and renders the masses deaf to the voice of patriotism and reason—even though under these circumstances it should be deemed expedient not to strike it out lest the measure thus modified should prove ineffectual to stay the tide of Revolution, we should counsel its acceptance by the North. Under the new census nearly two-thirds of the House and a decided majority of the Senate will be of the North. Henceforward it must wield the power of this country. The question for us to decide is whether our country shall consist of the North alone; or whether it shall embrace all that vast Empire which hitherto all Americans have been proud to call their own. We may with safety to all interests—to the interests of Freedom and Free States and Free institutions as well as all others—leave the question of acquiring more Territory to our children, or to ourselves when the present excitement shall have subsided. If such Territory when acquired must be appropriated by the South exclusively, it will remain for the North to decide whether any Territory shall be acquired. And surely the North will not be afraid to trust itself to determine whether it will or will not acquire Territory for a given purpose.

But should this great and free and enlightened and hitherto happy confederated nation, be torn into fragments, and become the theatre of never-ending wars between people of the same lineage, the same language, the same religion and the same general views of Civil Government, merely because we cannot agree whether one feature of a Compromise or Peace measure shall or shall not contingently apply to Territory, which we do not own and may never acquire, what will other nations say of us?—what will History say of us?—what will our own Posterity say [of] us?—what, speaking through His providences—what will the Sovereign Ruler of Nations say to us?