December 15, 1860: The committee of Thirty-Three

The Committee of Thirty-Three, comprising one House member from every state, had worked for a couple of weeks to find a compromise solution that would hold the union together. The Richmond Daily Dispatch of Dec. 17 printed this item from the Washington Star, dated Dec. 15, 1860:

The Committee of Thirty three.
The Washington Star, of Saturdayafternoon, speaking of the rumors about the Committee of Thirty-three, says:

We hear it said, and have confidence in the statement, that their deliberations yesterday made it apparent that they fail to harmonize upon but a single question, that of the protection of the right of the slaveholder in the United States Territories, having already arrived at what may be regarded a common understanding with reference to the disabilities of the South in connection with the non-observance and nullification of the fugitive slave law; and, indeed, as regards all other questions than that of the rights of the South in the Territories.

We have further to add that matters are believed to be tending rapidly in their sessions, to the adoption by an over whelming majority of a report that will initiate prompt movements in all the Northern States for their acceptance of the Supreme Court’s rulings concerning that vexed and vexatious question.–Thus do we look for its eventual peaceful settlement.

Two elaborate speeches are believed to have been made in the Committee room yesterday, where they sat from noon till near 5 P. M.–by Messrs. Corwin and Kellogg–and there was, doubtless, also much conversational debate upon many of the multitude of propositions before them. If we are not greatly mistaken, the end and aim of the two speeches above referred to was to disabuse the minds of the Southern members of the Committee of the idea that the great mass of the people of the North will not evince frank readiness to redress the grievances of the South so soon as they can be ascertained, and substantial, statesmen-like remedies, based on the true principles of the Constitution, can be arranged for them.

As was published recently in Daily Observations on the Civil War, the Southern representatives had already issued (on the 13th) a “Southern Manifesto”, giving up any hope that the committee would find an acceptable solution. The same issue of the Richmond Daily Dispatch also published that “Southern Manifesto”. It appears that, although the only sticking point (according to the Washington Star’s correspondent) was the extension of slavery into the territories, that was enough to kill any possible deal. And the President-elect had made it clear repeatedly that there was not going to be any compromise on that point.

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2 Responses to December 15, 1860: The committee of Thirty-Three

  1. Chris Moore says:

    In historical hindsight, this was all a moot point. While the above deliberations were going on, South Carolina was already meeting in convention to secede from the Union. No matter, I think, what the 33 came up with, by this point the wheels for conflict were well in motion and there would be no turning back. By Dec. 20th, the actual secession ordinance will have been debated, written, passed and issued by S. C. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, propogation of slavery in the unincorporated territories seems to have been the overriding concern of the plantation society. Previous concessions from the Missouri Compromise, Kansas/Nebraska Act, Fugitive Slave Laws and Dred Scott Decision were not enough. The South wanted carte blanche to take their slave economy wherever they saw fit. Nothing less would serve.

    Maybe I’m jumping the gun concerning dates, but the language they were writing in S. C. at this time is illustrative of Southerners’ reasoning.
    (from Wikipedia)
    The Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union was a legal proclamation issued on December 24, 1860, by the government of South Carolina, explaining its reasons for seceding from the United States. The actual ordinance of secession had been issued on December 20. The declaration was written by Christopher Memminger. (soon to be a cabinet Secretary in Confederate government.)

    While later claims have been made that the decision to secede was prompted by other issues such as tariffs, these issues were not mentioned in the declaration. The primary focus of the declaration is the perceived violation of the Constitution by northern states in not extraditing escaped slaves (as the Constitution required in Article IV Section 2) and actively working to abolish slavery (which they saw as Constitutionally guaranteed and protected). The main thrust of the argument was that since the Constitution, being a contract, had been violated by some parties (the northern abolitionist states), the other parties (the southern slave-holding states) were no longer bound by it.

    The declaration does not make a simple declaration of states’ rights. It asserts that South Carolina was a sovereign state that had delegated only particular powers to the federal government by means of the US Constitution. It furthermore protests other states’ failure to uphold their obligations under the Constitution. The declaration emphasizes that the Constitution explicitly requires states to deliver “person(s) held in service or labor” back to their state of origin.

    The declaration was one of three documents to be officially issued by the South Carolina Secession Convention. The first was the Ordinance of Secession of South Carolina itself. The third was The Address of the people of South Carolina, assembled in Convention, to the people of the Slaveholding States of the United States, written by Robert Barnwell Rhett, which called on other slave holding states to secede and join in forming a new nation.

    (Language from the actual “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union” stating their legal justifications for secession:)

    –In pursuance of this Declaration of Independence, each of the thirteen States proceeded to exercise its separate sovereignty; adopted for itself a Constitution, and appointed officers for the administration of government in all its departments– Legislative, Executive and Judicial. For purposes of defense, they united their arms and their counsels; and, in 1778, they entered into a League known as the Articles of Confederation, whereby they agreed to entrust the administration of their external relations to a common agent, known as the Congress of the United States, expressly declaring, in the first Article “that each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right which is not, by this Confederation, expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.”

    Under this Confederation the war of the Revolution was carried on, and on the 3rd of September, 1783, the contest ended, and a definite Treaty was signed by Great Britain, in which she acknowledged the independence of the Colonies in the following terms: “ARTICLE 1– His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz: New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that he treats with them as such; and for himself, his heirs and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.”

    Thus were established the two great principles asserted by the Colonies, namely: the right of a State to govern itself; and the right of a people to abolish a Government when it becomes destructive of the ends for which it was instituted. And concurrent with the establishment of these principles, was the fact, that each Colony became and was recognized by the mother Country a FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATE. —

    Links to actual documents:

  2. Chris Moore says:

    This all seems, in historical hindsight, to have been an exercise in futility. By this time, South Carolina was meeting in convention and issued their first ordinance of secession on Dec. 20th. The overriding concern of the plantation society was apparently their inability to propagate a slave economy in the unincorporated territories. Nothing the “33” might do could change their opinion about that, the Kansas/Nebraska Act, Fugitive Slave laws and Dred Scot decision notwithstanding.

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