On this day in 1861, the U.S. Congress passes the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution, declaring that the war is being waged for the reunion of the states and not to interfere with the institutions of the South, namely slavery. The measure was important in keeping the pivotal states of Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland in the Union.
This resolution is not to be confused with an earlier plan, the Crittenden Compromise, which proposed protecting slavery as an enticement to keep Southern states from seceding; the plan was defeated in Congress. Many Northerners initially supported a war to keep the Union together, but had no interest in advancing the cause of abolition. The Crittenden-Johnson Resolution was passed in 1861 to distinguish the issue of emancipation from the war’s purpose.
The common denominator of the two plans was Senator John Crittenden from Kentucky. Crittenden carried the torch of compromise borne so ably by another Kentucky senator, Henry Clay, who brokered such important deals as the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850 to keep the nation together. Clay died in 1852, but Crittenden carried on the spirit befitting the representative of a state deeply divided over the issue of slavery.
Although the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution was passed in Congress, it meant little when, just two weeks later, President Abraham Lincoln signed a confiscation act, allowing for the seizure of property—including slaves—from rebellious citizens. Still, for the first year and a half of the Civil War, reunification of the United States was the official goal of the North. It was not until Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of September 1862 that slavery became a goal.