30 Aug
The Conference, held at Willard’s Hotel – Washington, DC, Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

February 1861. With seven States having left the Union, a war between the States inched closer. Americans on both sides accused the other of ‘oligarchy’. In a last effort to preserve peace, the General Assembly of Virginia, issued an invitation. It requested all the remaining States in the Union to meet in Washington, DC on February 4th. Delegates, from the remaining twenty-two States in the Union, met for nearly a month and discussed potential solutions. In the end, they all agreed to put forth Kentucky Senator John Crittenden’s ‘Compromise’ to Congress. Crittenden’s bill had been voted down by Congress a month before. ‘The people’, through their elected delegates, put the bill back into lap of Congress. Congress, under the control of the radical Republicans, voted again, against the desires of ‘the people’. A little more than thirty days later, the conflict which would lead to more than 650,000 American deaths and ultimately, redefine the General Government’s relationship with the States, began. All because a sectional political party put power ahead of peace. Elections, certainly, have consequences.

The proposed amendment did the following:

  • Reinstate the Missouri Compromise line protecting the status of persons held in ‘involuntary service or labor south of 36° 30′;
  • Guarantee property owners the right to take persons held in ‘involuntary service or labor’ in current and future US Territories;
  • Restrict Congress from regulating, abolishing, or controlling, within any state, the relation established or recognized by the laws thereof touching persons held to labor or involuntary service;
  • Restrict the States from interfering in the capture and return of fugitive slaves;
  • Prohibit the foreign slave-trade forever;
  • Protect the ‘Rule of Representation’ in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution;
  • Compensate owners for runaway slaves.


To the Congress of the United States:

The Convention assembled upon the invitation at the State of Virginia to adjust the unhappy differences which now disturb the peace of the union and threaten its continuance, make known to the Congress of the United States that their body convened in the city of Washington on the fourth instant, and continued in session until the 27th.

There were in the body, when action was taken upon that which is here submitted, one hundred and thirty-three commissioners, representing the following states: Maine New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas.

They have approved what is herewith submitted and respectfully request that your honorable body will submit it to conventions in the States as an article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Section 1.

In all the present territory of the United States north of the parallel of 36° 30′ of north latitude, involuntary servitude, except in punishment of crime, is prohibited. In all the present territory south of that line, the status of persons held to involuntary service or labor, as it now exists, shall not be changed; nor shall any law passed by Congress or the Territorial Legislation to hinder or prevent the taking of such persons from any of the States of this Union to said territory, nor to impair the rights arising from said relation; but the same shall be subject to judicial cognizance in the Federal courts, according to the course of the common law. When any Territory north or south of said line, within such boundary as Congress may prescribe, shall contain a population equal to that required for a member of Congress, it shall, if its form of government be republican, be admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original States, with or without involuntary servitude, as the Constitution of such State may provide.

Section 2.

No territory shall be acquired by the United States, except by discovery, and for naval and commercial stations, depots, and transit routes, without the concurrence of a majority of all the Senators from States which allow involuntary servitude, and a majority of all the Senators from States which prohibit that relation; nor shall territory be acquired by treaty, unless the votes of a majority of the Senators from each class of States hereinbefore mentioned be cast as a part of the two-thirds majority necessary to the ratification of such a treaty.

Section 3.

Neither the Constitution nor any amendment thereof shall be construed to give Congress power to regulate, abolish, or control, within any state, the relation established or recognized by the laws thereof touching persons held to labor or involuntary service therein, nor to interfere with or abolish involuntary service in the District of Columbia without the consent of Maryland and without the consent of the owners, or making the owners who do not consent just compensation; nor the power to interfere with or prohibit representatives and others from bringing with them to the District of Columbia, retaining and taking away, persons so held to labor or service; nor the power to interfere with or abolish involuntary service in places under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States within those States and Territories where the same is established or recognized; nor the power to prohibit the removal or transportation of persons held to labor or involuntary service in any State or Territory of the United States to any other State or Territory thereof, where it is established or recognized by law or usage; and the rate during transportation, by sea or river, of touching at ports, shores, and landings, and of landing in case of distress, shall exist; but not the right of transit in or through any State or Territory, or of sale or traffic, against the laws thereof. Nor shall Congress has the power to authorize any higher rate of taxation on persons held to labor or service than on land.

The bringing into the District of Columbia of persons held to labor or service for sale, or placing them in depots to be afterwards transferred to other places for sale as merchandise, is prohibited.

Section 4.

The third paragraph of the second section of the fourth article of the Constitution shall not be construed to prevent any of the States, by approximate legislation, and through the action of their judicial or ministerial officers, from enforcing the delivery of fugitives from labor to the person to whom such service or labor is due.

Section 5.

The foreign slave-trade is hereby forever prohibited; and it shall be the duty of Congress to pass laws to prevent the importation of slaves, coolies, or persons held to service or labor, into the United States and the Territories from places beyond the limits thereof.

Section 6.

The first, third, and fifth sections, together with this section of these amendments, and the third paragraph of the second section of the first article of the Constitution (Otherwise known as the 3/5s Clause), and the third paragraph of the second section of the fourth article thereof, shall not be amended or abolished without the consent of all the states.

Section 7.

Congress shall provide by law that the United States shall pay to the owner the full value of his fugitive from labor, in all cases where the marshal, or other officer, whose duty it was to arrest such fugitive, was prevented from doing so doing by violence or intimidation from mobs or riotous assemblages, or when, after arrest, such fugitive was rescued by like violence or intimidation, and the owner thereby deprived of the same; and the acceptance of such payment shall preclude the owner from further claim to such fugitive. Congress shall provide by law for securing to the citizens of each State the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.

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