Colorado Territory, A New Amendment and Putting the ‘North’ in North Carolina

Thursday, February 28, 1861

In the late 1850s, the United States territories in the west were proving to be too large to govern. With the acquisition of the former Mexican land as well as Oregon Territory, the United States stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific. People were heading west in greater volume than ever. Most were settling on the west coast, but many were hunting for gold in the valley of the South Platte River. Denver City was quickly established, and though, technically, it was in Kansas Territory, the people wanted a government closer to their homes.

They wished to carve our a parcel of land for themselves, taking remote bits of Washington, Nebraska, Utah, New Mexico and Kansas Territories. They wanted to call it Jefferson Territory.

A provisional Jefferson Territorial government was elected in 1859 and a representative was sent to Washington in an attempt to secure official territorial status. At first, it went nowhere. The slavery question took center stage. However, in the January 1861 session of Congress, Kansas’s statehood and borders were being discussed and the Territory, concerning the Pike’s Peak area, came back into the light.

The name “Jefferson” was dropped and “Colorado” substituted. It passed the Senate and then the House and then was submitted to President Buchanan to sign.

On this date, in 1861 the Territory of Colorado became an official United States Territory.

Thanks to the Dred Scott decision, Colorado was technically a slave territory, but being very pro-Union, slavery would be rare.

Since Buchanan’s time was nearly up, the details would have to be worked out under the Lincoln administration.1


Somehow or another, Representative Thomas Corwin, former Senator and Governor of Ohio, managed to get his proposed Constitutional amendment to the floor of the House. It needed a two-thirds majority vote and, after two tries and some fancy Republican footwork, it passed.

The Corwin 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.”

Basically, it barred the Federal government from outlawing slavery. This was, of course, a last ditch effort to get the seceded states, which were now under their own government, to come back into the Union. Similar ideas were put forward before, but it was Corwin’s that finally passed the House.

Now it was on to the Senate.2


North Carolina, though invited by the Confederate government, had declined to send official delegates to Montgomery. They were still in the Union and felt that they had no right to do so. They did, however, send unofficial representatives to observe and see if a Crittenden-style compromise couldn’t be worked out.

They also decided to hold a public election to see whether or not the state’s population favored holding a Secession Convention. On this date, a vote was held and the pro-Union sentiment won out, defeating the calls for a Convention by a mere 651 votes.3

  1. The Territory of Colorado by Frederic Logan Paxson, 1907. []
  2. Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. []
  3. State Rights and Political Parties in North Carolina 1776-1861 by Henry McGilbert Wagstaff, Johns Hopkins Press, 1906. []
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3 thoughts on “Colorado Territory, A New Amendment and Putting the ‘North’ in North Carolina

  1. The Corwin Amendment stated: “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere…”

    I will be interested to see in the coming days if anyone bites on this little bit of bait. I have not spent a great deal of time digging into attempts to derail the secession. I would suppose this, if anything, would be the best ploy.

    – Sean

    1. Spoiler Alert!

      Nobody bites. At all.

      When looking into attempts to derail secession, I’m sure there were some (especially in North Carolina and western Virginia, Maryland, too – heck, even Delaware), but, as is the case so often, the best stories come from Missouri!

      Also, I’ve recommended this book quite a bunch, and I think you’d really enjoy it (if you can get over the “it’s a book written for fellow academics” thing – which isn’t so easy to overcome).

      Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859 by Elizabeth R. Varon. It can be sort of dry here and there, but so very worth it as it shows how the cries of “disunion!” were tossed around by pretty much everybody.

      1. Actually I can quite easily get over the “written for academics” thing! I’m quite an egghead when it comes to history. I read textbooks for fun if they are the best sources. The question is: If I fit it into my growing library will there ever be time to read it?

        I’ll look for it! Thanks!

        – Sean

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