The Crittenden Compromise: Summary & Significance

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  • 0:04 What Was the…
  • 0:59 Elements of the Compromise
  • 2:20 Reception of the Compromise
  • 3:00 Importance of the Compromise
  • 3:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Through this lesson, you'll learn about the 1860 proposal to prevent the American Civil War, known as the Crittenden Compromise, and gain insight into how its proposed changes to the Constitution would have dramatically altered the future of the nation.

What Was the Crittenden Compromise?

Americans are taught from a very early age that in 1865, the Union Army defeated the Confederates in the Civil War, which re-unified the states and brought an end to the practice of slavery. What most people are either not taught or don't remember, is that in the year prior to the beginning of the Civil War (1860), the Southerners proposed a compromise to Congress that could have avoided succession and prevented the war altogether.

In an effort to address the growing frustrations over the federal government's interference in the operations of the states, Kentucky Senator John Crittenden drafted a proposal that offered a solution to the problem of secession, which would have meant that eleven states were no longer a part of the United States. The Crittenden Compromise, as it came to be known, suggested six amendments to the Constitution and was a sort of middle ground between the agendas of the North and the South.

Elements of the Compromise

Broadly speaking, the secession of the southern states, and the subsequent Civil War, were about states' rights to choose how to run their governments, with as little interference from the federal government as was possible. Of course, the biggest issue was that the Republicans in the North wanted to abolish slavery, which would devastate the Southern economy. Given that, Crittenden's compromise focused heavily on the practice of slavery, particularly in the following proposals:

1) Congress could not abolish slavery in any slave state, which referred to any Southern state in which slavery had previously been legal prior to the debates leading up to the war.

2) Congress could not interfere with the practice of the interstate slave trade. This means that slaves could be bought, sold, and transported across state lines without violating any federal laws.

3) No future amendments to the Constitution could reverse these laws, or give Congress the power to interfere at any time in the rights of slave states. This is one of the most important pieces of Crittenden's proposal, because it would have prevented the federal government from ever putting an end to the practice of slavery.

In return, the Southern states would stop the secession process and accept the condition that slavery would be outlawed in any new territories acquired after the point of time that both sides agreed to this compromise.

Reception of the Compromise

Many Southern Democrats liked the compromise because they felt that it would allow them to maintain their standard of living, free from federal interference, while still supporting Congress's plans to abolish slavery in any new territories. From their perspective, this was a middle ground that should have made everyone happy.

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