Ever hear of the “Corwin Amendment”?
I learned about it in an opinion piece by Jon Grinspan in this New York Times piece.
The so-called Corwin Amendment is a proposed constitutional amendment that would forever protect the right of states to legalize slavery. In fact, it was passed by Congress on March 2, 1861 (before the shooting started at Fort Sumter), with the approval of President Lincoln, and technically it’s still on the books, waiting for possible ratification by the states.
It would have been the 13th Amendment if two-thirds of the states had ratified it in the early 1860s.
The official 13th Amendment, finally ratified on December 6, 1865, abolished slavery and “involuntary servitude,” except as punishment for a crime.
The Corwin Amendment was sponsored by Rep. Thomas Corwin (OH) and Sen. William Seward (NY), who became Secretary of State as one of Lincoln’s “team of rivals.”
The proposed amendment stated:
“No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”
In other words, it would have forever prohibited any amendment to the Constitution that would outlaw slavery.
The supporters of the Corwin Amendment hoped that it and other measures might forestall the impending outbreak of hostilities that became the bloody Civil War.
This historical dead-end reinforces my general view that, at least at the outset, the dynamics that created the Civil War were not primarily focused on “keeping or abolishing slavery,” I believe there was a complex dynamic of personal, commercial, state and sectional power issues (including the “peculiar institution” and the hotly disputed extension of slavery to new states) that fostered states’ rights talk, and secession, and the shooting war.
The proposal was approved by bare two-thirds majorities in both the House and the Senate—and note: seven states had already seceded, and the elected congressmen from those states did NOT vote on the amendment.
Wrong on so many levels.
Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015