The fallacy of the Corwin Amendment

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NedBaldwin

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Riffing off discussion in a closed thread.....


The Corwin amendment is often brought forth with the claim that it would resolve the slavery issues that were causing conflict in 1860-1861. The amendment could have restricted future amendments giving additional power to Congress and thus kept Congress from messing with slavery. The fallacy with this argument is that there was enough concern about the power Congress and the President already had that focusing on some theoretical-not-yet-granted-power is irrelevant.

Look at some of the secession declarations.

South Carolina was concerned that "On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States" http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_scarsec.asp

Texas was concerned "they have elected as president and vice-president of the whole confederacy two men whose chief claims to such high positions are their approval of these long continued wrongs, and their pledges to continue them to the final consummation of these schemes for the ruin of the slave-holding States."
https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ref/abouttx/secession/2feb1861.html

These are not concerns about some possible power Congress might get if there was an amendment in the future; these are concerns about what the Republicans might do now with the existing set of powers.
 

DanF

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There was nothing that was going to satisfy the slave states.

The slaveholder elites had been plotting and scheming for over 30 years. And their goal was disunion. In 1861 they finally acheived critical mass. They were not going to be denied their prize.
 

KeyserSoze

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The Corwin Amendment only protected slavery where it existed. It did not protect the expansion of slavery into the territories. Having announced their secession and having adopted a constitution that protected slavery to an extent never imagined by Thomas Corwin why would the Southern states care about the Corwin Amendment.
 
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John Winn

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As with many legal actions of the period I've often wondered 'what were they thinking' concerning Corwin. Congress may use the amendment process to enact something that would be immune from future amendment or actions of Congress ? It's absurdly unconstitutional. One Congress can disempower all others to come ? I don't think it would have survived even if somehow ratified.
 

Kenneth Almquist

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As with many legal actions of the period I've often wondered 'what were they thinking' concerning Corwin. Congress may use the amendment process to enact something that would be immune from future amendment or actions of Congress ? It's absurdly unconstitutional. One Congress can disempower all others to come ? I don't think it would have survived even if somehow ratified.
I think such an amendment would be Constitutional. Article 5 limits what can be changed by amendment:

...no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.​

Nothing here says that an amendment can't place further limitations on what can be changed via the amendment.

Note that Congress is only one of the actors in the amendment process, so it cannot, by itself, bind future Congresses via the amendment process.
 

John Winn

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I think such an amendment would be Constitutional. Article 5 limits what can be changed by amendment:

...no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.​

Nothing here says that an amendment can't place further limitations on what can be changed via the amendment.

Note that Congress is only one of the actors in the amendment process, so it cannot, by itself, bind future Congresses via the amendment process.
I'll have to ponder that for a while. For now, I'm still of the notion that limiting the amendment process is, in itself, changing a constitutional process without first amending to do so. I'll give your idea some thought.
 
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The Corwin Amendment did not prevent the government from abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia.
The Corwin Amendment did not prevent the government from outlawing slavery in Federal forts, armories, and other facilities.
The Corwin Amendment did not prevent the government from outlawing slavery on Federal ships and vessels.
The Corwin Amendment did not prevent the government from prohibiting the extension of slavery into the territories.
The Corwin Amendment did not prevent the President from appointing antislavery postmasters who would allow abolitionist literature free flow through the mails.
The Corwin Amendment did not prevent the President from appointing antislavery marshals who might not be zealous in assisting slave owners pursuing runaway slaves.
The Corwin Amendment did not prevent the President from appointing antislavery judges who would rule against slave owners.
The Corwin Amendment did not force the repeal of Personal Liberty Laws passed by some Northern states.
The Corwin Amendment did not force Abolitionists to stop denouncing slavery and slave states.
The Corwin Amendment would not prevent a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery.
The Corwin Amendment would not prevent a state from abolishing slavery on its own.

The Corwin Amendment would only prevent Congress from passing a law to abolish or interfere with the domestic institutions in a state. That's it. Nothing more.

If, as Ned has done, you compare the complaints the slavers had with the Corwin Amendment, you find that those who claim it proves slavery had nothing to do with the war simply have no clue what they're talking about, no clue about the Corwin Amendment, and no clue about what the slave states were complaining about.
 

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As with many legal actions of the period I've often wondered 'what were they thinking' concerning Corwin. Congress may use the amendment process to enact something that would be immune from future amendment or actions of Congress ? It's absurdly unconstitutional. One Congress can disempower all others to come ? I don't think it would have survived even if somehow ratified.
Anything can be amended. All they need to do is first amend the Corwin Amendment to remove the part that prohibits amendments.
 

NedBaldwin

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Another fallacy about the amendment is that it was the product of a "Northern Congress". It just barely passed the Senate and the House with the support of several southern states; the northern states were divided on it and it would not have passed it if it had been just a "Northern Congress".
 
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Slaveowners were not mollified by the apparent offer of the Corwin Amendment because they were already determined to secede. (Opinion.)
 

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The Corwin Amendment was in ink blot. Slavery was already protected in the Constitution.
I disagree that slavery was protected in the Constitution. Slavery was a state issue, not a national issue, thus the Constitution didn't protect it but rather left it up to individual states to either allow it or abolish it at their will. If it protected slavery, no state could have abolished it.
 
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Another fallacy about the amendment is that it was the product of a "Northern Congress". It just barely passed the Senate and the House with the support of several southern states; the northern states were divided on it and it would not have passed it if it had been just a "Northern Congress".
That's true but none of the seven states that had seceded voted for it in Congress and none of the states that ratified it ever seceded i.e. Ohio, Maryland and Illinois (disputed)

Lincoln accepted it in his inaugural address and sent copies to the governors along with Buchanan's endorsement. It was hoped to stem the tide of secession. The amendment was one of many efforts in the new Congress to hammer a compromise to preserve the union. There were also bills and resolutions from seceding states calling for conventions/negotiations to facilitate their leaving. Both sides failed to prevent the war.
 

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That's true but none of the seven states that had seceded voted for it in Congress and none of the states that ratified it ever seceded i.e. Ohio, Maryland and Illinois (disputed)

Lincoln accepted it in his inaugural address and sent copies to the governors along with Buchanan's endorsement. It was hoped to stem the tide of secession. The amendment was one of many efforts in the new Congress to hammer a compromise to preserve the union. There were also bills and resolutions from seceding states calling for conventions/negotiations to facilitate their leaving. Both sides failed to prevent the war.
Don't make too much of Lincoln's sending copies to the governors. When he became President it became his duty to send that amendment to the governors.
 
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Some scholars have speculated that Lincoln may have co-authored the amendment with Seward. There is correspondence between Lincoln, Seward, Thurlow Weed, Hannibal Hamlin and others that while not definitive certainly place Lincoln in some role in its development. I don't think Lincoln wanted war but he was unwilling to compromise on the expansion of slavery. This made compromise on secession with the deep south impossible. The Corwin amendment along with all of the other failed attempts at avoiding war are moot because they indeed failed. Some may argue that it did help Lincoln in buying time in the border states.
 
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NedBaldwin

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That's true but none of the seven states that had seceded voted for it in Congress ...
1 Congressman from Louisiana (John Bouligny) and 1 from Texas (AJ Hamilton) voted for it; otherwise yes those 7 did not show up to vote. The representatives of other States that did later attempt secession (Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee) did vote for it.
 
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1 Congressman from Louisiana (John Bouligny) and 1 from Texas (AJ Hamilton) voted for it; otherwise yes those 7 did not show up to vote. The representatives of other States that did later attempt secession (Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee) did vote for it.
Of course you are right and I am corrected. John Edward Bouligny was a unionist who made an strong anti secessionist speech in Congress when his state attempted to recall their representatives. He had been defeated in the election by Benjamin Flanders but did not vacate his seat and voted for the amendment. Later he opposed the suppression of the rebellion by force. He remained in Washington and never returned to Louisiana.

"Colossal Jack" Hamilton was also a strong unionist who did not resign when his state seceded even though he was a lame duck as well. After the war he was appointed governor of Texas.

The amendment needed 2/3 of the votes of both houses of Congress to pass and barely made it. It had strong support in the border states and in the north but it was not enough to influence the deep south states to repeal secession.
 

OpnCoronet

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Riffing off discussion in a closed thread.....
The Corwin amendment is often brought forth with the claim that it would resolve the slavery issues that were causing conflict in 1860-1861. The amendment could have restricted future amendments giving additional power to Congress and thus kept Congress from messing with slavery. The fallacy with this argument is that there was enough concern about the power Congress and the President already had that focusing on some theoretical-not-yet-granted-power is irrelevant.
Look at some of the secession declarations.
South Carolina was concerned that "On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States" http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_scarsec.asp
Texas was concerned "they have elected as president and vice-president of the whole confederacy two men whose chief claims to such high positions are their approval of these long continued wrongs, and their pledges to continue them to the final consummation of these schemes for the ruin of the slave-holding States."
https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ref/abouttx/secession/2feb1861.html

These are not concerns about some possible power Congress might get if there was an amendment in the future; these are concerns about what the Republicans might do now with the existing set of powers.[/QUOTE]





Very true. In Southern secessionist eyes the damage had already been done with the Compromise of 1850. Lincoln had retired from public life after the passage of that compromise, because(even though he saw many faults of the agreements) he believed that the main issue that had drawn him into opposition to slavery, Expansion of slavery into new territories where it had never existed before, had been settled once and for all (imperfectly though it might be). Because, the Compromised prescribed how the issue of slavery in all the remaining public lands remaining under the National trust.
The expansion of slavery was effectively restricted and the Southern leadership viewed the issue of expansion exactly as Lincoln and the Republican Party, the power to restrict the expansion of slavery was, in effect, the power to destroy it.
 
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