Buchanan Needs It In Writing; No Crittenden Compromise

Wednesday, January 16, 1861

The day after his meeting with South Carolina’s Isaac Hayne, Alabama Senator Clement Clay met with President Buchanan. Clay, at first, gave reasons why Major Anderson should be withdrawn from Fort Sumter, giving the fort to South Carolina. Buchanan smartly told Clay that he couldn’t hold verbal communication on this. Clay understood, but told Buchanan that whatever was said would just be between them and nobody else.

That was apparently enough for the President and they continued the conversation.

Clay informed Buchanan of a meeting he had just had with those ten Southern senators and informed them that they were willing to share with him their plan to evade the effusion of blood.

Buchanan reminded Clay that something like this had to be in writing. Ignoring that, Clay told Buchanan of the truce in Charleston. Buchanan replied that he knew all about it, but that once Hayne returned to South Carolina, all bets were off.

Clay countered that what the Southern senators really wanted was for Hayne to “submit a proposition to the Government of South Carolina to agree that Major Anderson should be placed in his former position,—that the Government should have free access to him, that he should buy all the provisions he wanted in Charleston, & that he should not be disturbed if I would not send him additional reinforcements.”

That was all well and good, but it would still need to be put into writing.

Senator Clay said that he had talked with Senator Jefferson Davis from Mississippi and he said that the fort couldn’t be taken. Also, after a chat with Major Anderson’s brother, he had learned that Anderson didn’t need any reinforcements.

With that, Clay said that he would talk to the Southern senators again to finalize a proposition. Buchanan then requested that he and his Cabinet have a look at it for approval before it was sent. Clay agreed and said that he would have the proposition to him before the Friday Cabinet meeting.1

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No Compromise!

This was the date that the Senate was to vote upon the Crittenden Compromise. John J. Crittenden, Senator from Kentucky, had proposed a few changes to the Constitution that, he felt, everybody could agree upon. These proposals weren’t so much different than others.

It re-established the 36 degrees, 30 minutes line of the Missouri Compromise (north of it free, south of it slave). Basically, slavery would exist where it does and there would be an amendment that could not be repealed to strengthen it. Also, Fugitive Slave Laws would now be strictly enforced, though Northerners wouldn’t be legally obligated to help hunt down the escaped slaves.

The Senate voted 29 – 24 against the Compromise, killing it.2

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Lt. Slemmer at Fort Pickens, having been requested the surrender of the fort to the State of Florida was ready with his reply. “We have decided, after consultation with the Government officers in the harbor, that it is our duty to hold our position until such a force is brought against us as to render it impossible to defend it.” 3



  1. From The Works of James Buchanan: Comprising His Speeches, State Papers, and Private Correspondence, Volume 11 by James Buchanan, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1910. []
  2. From The Political History of the United States of America During the Great Rebellion by Edward MacPherson, Philp & Solomons, 1865. []
  3. Congressional Serial Set, Issue 3112 by United States Government Printing Office, 1893. []
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Buchanan Needs It In Writing; No Crittenden Compromise by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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