Section #22 - The Southern States secede and the attack on Ft. Sumter signals the start of the Civil War

Chapter 279: Two Last Second Bills Gain Congressional Approval

February 26, 1861

The Morrill Tariff Further Angers The South

Justin Morrill
Justin Morrill (1810-1898)

As usual, legislators scrambles to complete left-over bills before the 36th Congress ends its second and final session on Monday, March 4.

With many Southerners already having withdrawn, the path is open for the Northern Republicans to pass several pieces of legislation.

On February 26, they vote to create the Territory of Colorado without reference one way or the other to slavery. On March 2 they add the Dakota and Nevada Territories the same way.

On the same day, they pass the Morrill Tariff, a sop to manufacturing interests in the state of Pennsylvania which has previously been blocked by Southerners in the Senate. The bill calls for a dramatic 70% jump in duties on foreign imports, from the 21% level in effect since 1857 to a new 36% rate. It passes this time by 25-14 in the depleted Senate, with 24 Republican votes and one from Democratic Senator William Bigler of the Keystone state.

While Southerners hope the Morrill Tariff with provoke Britain and France into formally recognizing the CSA government, its embrace of slavery will ultimately block such a move.

March 4, 1861

The Corwin Amendment Seeks To Assure The South

The final piece of business plays out in the Senate where John Crittenden and Stephen Douglas unite behind trying to pass the “Corwin Amendment,” named after the Ohio congressman, and aimed at assuring worried Southerners that slavery will never be abolished in states where it currently exists.

After a flurry of bickering the body agrees to an unusual Sunday session, which begins with one more emotional plea from Crittenden, witnessed by Lincoln who secretly enters the gallery:

We see the danger, we acknowledge our duty; and yet, with all this before us, we are acknowledging before the world that we can do nothing.

Incredibly the debate continues until 4:00am on Monday, inauguration day, when the senators, many in a drunken state, finally decide to vote. After three substitutes are turned back, Corwin’s bill finally passes with the 2/3rds majority required, and eight Republican supporters.

Final Voting On The “Corwin Amendment” In The Senate: March 4, 1861 
By Senator:ProposalYea & Nays
George Pugh (OH)Substitute Crittenden bill for Corwin bill14-25
Kinsley Bingham (MI)The Constitution needs no more amendments13-25
Robert Johnson (Ark)Substitute Peace Conference bill for Corwin3-34
John Crittenden (Ky)The Corwin bill24-12

To become law, the “Corwin Amendment” would be required to go to the states for ratification, a step that never occurs. But as a symbolic gesture it seems to be the single concrete accomplishment by the Congress to reduce the odds of warfare.

It is also consistent with what Lincoln has said all along: he has neither the right, nor the intention, to abolish slavery in the old South.

Sidebar: Roll Call Of Departing Southern Senators

Robert Toombs 1 Cropped
Robert Toombs (1810-1885)

In all, twenty-five U.S. Senators will exit their seats, all Southerners except for Jesse Bright of Indiana, a so-called Copperhead Democrat opposed to possible warfare. Bright has been three times President Pro Tempore of the chamber, and is expelled on February 5, 1861, for officially acknowledging Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy and for accusations that he helped direct arms to the Southern cause. No other senator has been expelled since Bright, as on 2108.

SenatorStateExit DateHow
James ChestnutSCNov 10, ‘60Withdrew ***
James HammondSCNov 11, ‘60Withdrew *
John BreckinridgeKyDec 4, ‘60Expelled
Waldo JohnsonMOJan 10Expelled
Trustan PolkMOJan 10Expelled
Albert BrownMissJan 12, ‘61Withdrew **
Jefferson DavisMissJan 21, ‘61Withdrew **
David YuleeFlaJan 21, ‘61Withdrew **
Stephen MalloryFlaJan 21, ‘61Withdrew **
Alfred IversonGaJan 28, ‘61Withdrew *
Robert ToombsGaFeb 4, ‘61Withdrew **
Judah BenjaminLaFeb 4, ‘61Withdrew **
John SlidellLaFeb 4, ‘61Withdrew *
Jesse BrightIndFeb 5, ‘61Expelled
Ben Fitzpatrick (D)AlaMar 3, 1861Term expires *
Alfred NicholsonTennMar 3, ‘61Withdrew ***
John HemphillTexMar 4Did not appear ***
Thomas BraggNCMar 8Withdrew ***
Thomas ClingmanNCMar 11Withdrew ***
Clement Clay (D)AlaMar 14, 1861Did not appear**
Louis WigfallTexMar 23Withdrew ***
James MasonVaMar 28Withdrew*
Robert HunterVaMar 28Withdrew*
William SebastianArkJuly 11, ‘61Expelled
Charles MitchelArkJuly 11, ‘61Expelled
* Term expires on Mar 3, 1861, ** Seat declared vacant on Mar 14, ’61, *** Expelled July 11, 1861