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Compromises Fail

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  • Extract from Governor John Letcher to the Gentlemen of the Senate and House of Delegates, January 7, 1861, printed as Document No. 1 in the <em>Journal of the House of Delegates of the State of Virginia, for the Extra Session, 1861</em> (Richmond, 1861), xx–xxii.,
    Governor John Letcher's Message
  • George William Summers to John Letcher, January 25, 1861, Executive Papers of Governor John Letcher, Acc. 36787, State Government Records Collection, Record Group 3, Library of Virginia.,
    Peace Conference Commissioner
  • Excerpts from speech of George William Summers in the national Peace Conference in Washington, D.C., on February 19, 1861, printed in L. E. Chittenden, <em>A Report of the Debates and Proceedings in the Secret Sessions of the Conference Convention, for Proposing Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, Held at Washington, D.C., in February, A.D. 1861</em> (New York, 1864), 151, 153–154.,
    "This Conference must act"
  • Petition on behalf of John Tyler Janes, dated March 4, 1861, received by the House of Delegates on March 8, 1861, Harrison County, Legislative Petitions, Record Group 78, Library of Virginia.,
    John Tyler Janes desires to change his name
  • Editorial in the <em>Abingdon Democrat</em>, March 8, 1861,
    Humbug conferences and conventions
  • Extract from the speech of John Tyler, begun on March 13, 1861, and concluded the following day, printed in George H. Reese and William H. Gaines Jr., ed., <em>Proceedings of the Virginia Convention of 1861</em> (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1965), 1:638–639.,
    John Tyler reports
  • <em>Alexandria Gazette</em>, February 26, 1861,
    National Workingmen's Convention
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« Return to Secession Begins and Compromises Fail

Compromises Fail

On December 18, 1860, Senator John Jordan Crittenden, of Kentucky, introduced compromise proposals that he hoped would be agreeable to enough Northern and Southern leaders that the crisis could be ended peacefully and the Union preserved. Crittenden's proposals included a constitutional amendment that prohibited Congress from abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia without the consent of Maryland and from interfering with slavery in the states where it then existed. Many Northerners objected to that and to other proposals in what was called the Crittenden Compromise. Many political leaders in the lower South states and the upper South slave states, such as Virginia, rejected it because it did not go far enough to allow slavery legal protection in the western territories. The Senate tabled Crittenden's proposals late in December 1860, and the House of Representatives never took a final vote on any of the elements of Crittenden's plan.

On January 19, 1861, the General Assembly of Virginia issued a call for a national peace conference to meet in Washington to seek a compromise to end the crisis. Among the five men the assembly elected to represent Virginia in the conference, the two who were the most famous at the time and who both served in the Virginia Convention of 1861 were former president John Tyler and George William Summers, a highly respected former Whig from western Virginia. The Peace Conference elected Tyler as its president and during February 1861 labored to draft compromise proposals that would allow the states that had seceded to return peacefully to the Union. Like the Crittenden proposals, the Peace Conference's proposals were unacceptable to many leaders in both sections. John Tyler disavowed them because they did not adequately protect the rights of slave owners in the western territories and because they were not sufficient to bring the states that had seceded back into the Union. Summers and the other opponents of secession remained optimistic throughout the final weeks of winter in 1861 that they could enlist the upper South slave states that had not seceded to fashion a compromise that would save the Union.

Featured Biographies:

  • George William Summers (1804-1868)
  • John Tyler (1790-1862)
  • Mary Berkeley Minor Blackford (1802-1896)
  • Charles B. Coale (ca. 1807-1879)
  • James Andrew Cowardin (1811-1882)