On this day in 1861, the Crittenden Compromise, the last chance to keep North and South united, dies in the U.S. Senate.
Proposed by Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, the compromise was a series of constitutional amendments. The amendments would continue the old Missouri Compromise provisions of 1820, which divided the West along the latitude of 36 30'. North of this line, slavery was prohibited. The Missouri Compromise was negated by the Compromise of 1850, which allowed a vote by territorial residents (popular sovereignty) to decide the issue of slavery. Other amendments protected slavery in the District of Columbia, forbade federal interference with the interstate slave trade, and compensated owners whose slaves escaped to the free states.
Essentially, the Crittenden Compromise sought to alleviate all concerns of the Southern states. Four states had already left the Union when it was proposed, but Crittenden hoped the compromise would lure them back. Crittenden thought he could muster support from both South and North and avert either a split of the nation or a civil war. The major problem with the plan was that it called for a complete compromise by the Republicans with virtually no concessions on the part of the South. The Republican Party formed in 1854 for the main purpose of opposing the expansion of slavery into the Western territories, particularly the areas north of the Missouri Compromise line. Just six years later, the party elected a president, Abraham Lincoln, over the opposition of the slave states. Crittenden was asking the Republicans to abandon their most key issues.
The vote was 25 against the compromise and 23 in favor of it. All 25 votes against it were cast by Republicans, and six senators from states that were in the process of seceding abstained. One Republican editorial insisted that the party "cannot be made to surrender the fruits of its recent victory." There would be no compromise; with the secession of states continuing, America marched inexorably towards civil war.