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A different 13th Amendment?
August 1, 2006 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Most people know that Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860. However, not many people know that a man named John J. Crittenden made a last-ditch effort to amend the Constitution, as a compromise between the north and south. How would have American history have progressed if this was the 13th Amendment as opposed to this?
posted by JoshTeeters (39 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
There'd be two Americas, divided by a political line. So, really, not a lot of difference.


*slaps thigh*
posted by cheaily at 3:58 PM on August 1, 2006


It's like a Sliders episode where you just don't go anywhere.
posted by odinsdream at 4:07 PM on August 1, 2006


There's no way in hell that Article six (from the second-to-last-link Wikipedia article) would have survived the amendment process.
Article 6: No future amendment of the Constitution shall affect the five preceding articles; nor the third paragraph of the second section of the first article of the Constitution; nor the third paragraph of the second section of the fourth article of said Constitution; and no amendment will be made to the Constitution which shall authorize or give to Congress any power to abolish or interfere with slavery in any of the States by whose laws it is, or may be, allowed or permitted.
This amendment disallows any future amendment to undo it. Because I say so. Hmph.
posted by chimaera at 4:11 PM on August 1, 2006


How would have American history have progressed if this was the 13th Amendment as opposed to this?

Well, the slavery that exists in the US would be literal instead of simply economic, as it currently stands. Is that what you meant?
posted by dersins at 4:25 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


Sometimes the best way to make people of one mind is to smash their heads together.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:28 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


The sub-amendment which interests me most is the perpetuity clause; that no future amendment to the Constitution could repeal it. I suspect that language was one of the key obstacles to its passage, since it would have enshrined the "freedom" to impose slavery beyond any remedy short of armed revolt... that is, if such a clause is even enforceable; I don't think the original framework of our Constitution provided for complete irrevocability.
posted by The Confessor at 4:28 PM on August 1, 2006


Well, the slavery that exists in the US would be literal instead of simply economic, as it currently stands. Is that what you meant?

No, not really, but that is a good point. However, I think that the slavery of the 19th century isn't quite as bad as the slavery of the 21st. Last time I checked, corporations weren't beating people to death and selling their employee's children.
posted by JoshTeeters at 4:29 PM on August 1, 2006


Oh, by the way. In regards to "there's no way in hell this would pass..." It was actually only barely voted down in the Senate. It was voted down, 20 to 19. It failed by a bit more in the House: 113 to 80.

I suspect that language was one of the key obstacles to its passage, since it would have enshrined the "freedom" to impose slavery beyond any remedy short of armed revolt...

Another factor that contributed to it being shot down was Lincoln condemning it as a compromise that did not deal with the future of slavery.
posted by JoshTeeters at 4:36 PM on August 1, 2006


How would have American history have progressed if this was the 13th Amendment as opposed to this

Maybe the American Civil War starts at the dawn of the 20th century? It is more likely that political and economic pressure from Europe and elsewhere would force a (violent?) change. By that time slavery would have become even more unpopular in the USA.
posted by batou_ at 4:39 PM on August 1, 2006


By that time slavery would have become even more unpopular in the USA.

In the north, yeah, but probably not in the south. If the Compromise had passed, most of the south would have continued developing based on a slavery foundation: their society, their economy, etc.

So if anything were to happen, slavery would have become even more popular in the south than it already was.

Interesting idea about the Civil War sparking up at the beginning of the 20th century.
posted by JoshTeeters at 4:43 PM on August 1, 2006


I wonder if Article 6 could be treated like the immutable rules in Nomic -- a future amendment deletes Article 6, at which point the five preceding Articles become amendable.
posted by infidelpants at 4:44 PM on August 1, 2006


what is the "compromise" part of this? It seems to just establish what the south wanted...
posted by mdn at 4:44 PM on August 1, 2006


what is the "compromise" part of this? It seems to just establish what the south wanted...

The south got what they wanted. In return, they would remain part of the Union and not secede.
posted by JoshTeeters at 4:47 PM on August 1, 2006


mdn: it doesn't force people in the north to own slaves too!
posted by aubilenon at 4:51 PM on August 1, 2006


It is a compromise in that it ignores the main demands of the southern "fire-eaters": that they be able to bring their slaves anywhere, even to free states, that slavery spread through all the western territotries.

What would have happened? Lincoln saw the future clearly. If the compromise passed, Southern planters would try to regain control of the country by adding new territory (and Senators and Congressmen). They would support filibustering expeditions to Cuba, Nicaragua, parts of Mexico, etc., in an attempt to create new slave states. As Lincoln said, it "would amount to a perpetual covenant of war against every people, tribe, and state owning a foot of land between here and Tierra del Fuego."
posted by LarryC at 5:05 PM on August 1, 2006


JoshTeeters

"Passing" threshold for an amendment in the US Congress is 66% of each chamber. Following that, the amendment is submitted to the legislature(s) of the individual states for approval. The amendment takes force when three-quarters of the states have ratified it.

So the amendment wasn't that close to passing.

Continuing the Alternate History thread: What if tensions had held until the beginning of the second World War, and the Northern states had been forced to succeed due to the perpetuity clause? America would have been too embroiled in its own dissolution to threaten Germany's westward march. Would the southern states have made a deal with the Devil (Hitler) to counterbalance the north's might? Would the north have then allied with Canada, Churchill's 'empire across the sea?'

An interesting subject, but I suspect it's already been covered in Alternate History fiction...

posted by The Confessor at 5:20 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


"Passing" threshold for an amendment in the US Congress is 66% of each chamber. Following that, the amendment is submitted to the legislature(s) of the individual states for approval. The amendment takes force when three-quarters of the states have ratified it.

So the amendment wasn't that close to passing.


Thanks for clarifying that, I didn't know that (obviously!)
posted by JoshTeeters at 5:24 PM on August 1, 2006


The south got what they wanted. In return, they would remain part of the Union and not secede.

!

"give us what we want, or we'll secede! Oh, okay, we'll make a compromise: if you give us what we want, we won't secede."

It is a compromise in that it ignores the main demands of the southern "fire-eaters": that they be able to bring their slaves anywhere, even to free states, that slavery spread through all the western territotries.

it specifically addresses the fact that those western territories can be slave owning states if they decide to, and cannot be denied acceptance to the union on that basis. And what southerners wanted to bring their slaves to the north? But that aside, it doesn't even say they can't; it reinforces the fugitive slave laws and claims the right to transport slaves across land, river or sea so long as the destination was a slave owning area.

The federal fugitive slave laws, and the fact that they are reinforced here, really blow the "hey, it's just about small government" argument out the water...
posted by mdn at 5:58 PM on August 1, 2006


It's interesting that violence against slavery was so prevalent that it had to be addressed in the constitution (specifically the part about paying slave owners when federal officers were prevented by force from returning them) in order to appease the southerners.
posted by delmoi at 5:59 PM on August 1, 2006


Southerners wanted the state right to allow slavery, but didn't want the state right to abolish slavery in it's own borders.
posted by delmoi at 6:01 PM on August 1, 2006


it specifically addresses the fact that those western territories can be slave owning states if they decide to, and cannot be denied acceptance to the union on that basis. And what southerners wanted to bring their slaves to the north?

No, the Crittenden Compromise allowed slavery in the territories only south of the Missouri Compromise line. By 1860 the more adamant southerners were politically ascendant and emboldened by the Dred Scot decision. They demanded their constitutional rights to bring slaves wherever they wanted, to expand slavery into all the territories, and to reopen the slave markets in Washington D.C. The first and third point were largely symbolic, but no less fiercely insisted on for that. Really the fire eaters were making demands they knew to be impossible to the North, because they no longer felt slavery would be safe in any sort of union. The right to bring slaves to Boston was insisted on for that reason.
posted by LarryC at 6:36 PM on August 1, 2006


This amendment disallows any future amendment to undo it. Because I say so. Hmph.
"Our consideration is limited to the present circumstances." -- The Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, 2000

posted by kirkaracha at 6:48 PM on August 1, 2006


No, the Crittenden Compromise allowed slavery in the territories only south of the Missouri Compromise line

but those territories can become slave-owning states and can't be denied access to the union due to that. I dunno, maybe you're right that some of the southerners had become so emboldened that they thought not forcing the north to institute slavery was a compromise, but it looks to me like a "if you want 10, ask for 15" type of thing to me - it's hard to imagine southerners would have voted against this, nor that any northerner would have voted for it... though, now that I look at it again, that last clause is interesting and seems a bit out of place - seems to call for the suppression of the slave trade? Was the plan to rely on home-grown slaves rather than importing more or was this an effort to phase out the institution?
posted by mdn at 7:16 PM on August 1, 2006


From the last link:

Ratified: Kentucky, March 18, 1976 (after having rejected it on February 24, 1865)


WTF? Kentuckians still thoguht slavery was in principle a good idea until the 1970s??
posted by wilful at 7:53 PM on August 1, 2006


wilful

Nonsense.

Once ratified by 3/4 of the states, it was as binding upon Kentucky as on any of the states that had ratified it. Once it had passed that threshold, there was no substantive reason for any state to keep it on their legislative agenda. I suspect Kentucky's late ratification was a publicity stunt combined with a belated apology.

A contemporary parallel would be if the government of modern Japan passed a resolution saying "Dude, Hitler sucked."

By the way, according to Wikipedia the final state to ratify #13 was Mississippi... in 1995!
posted by The Confessor at 8:11 PM on August 1, 2006


By the way, according to Wikipedia the final state to ratify #13 was Mississippi... in 1995!

Talk about showing up at the party late.
posted by JoshTeeters at 9:06 PM on August 1, 2006


that last clause is interesting and seems a bit out of place - seems to call for the suppression of the slave trade? Was the plan to rely on home-grown slaves rather than importing more or was this an effort to phase out the institution?


the idea behind not importing more slaves, is that slaves that are born (not captured and imported) are much more docile and easy to control. The process of "seasoning" slaves (generally carried out in the carribean) was a difficult and costly process.

captured slaves were more likely to rebel, cause damage, commit suicide and other counterproductive (for the slave owner) actions. This is not to say that blacks born as slaves did not commit these acts, but it was not perceived to be as high of a risk.
posted by anansi at 10:17 PM on August 1, 2006


MDN: By 1860 the price of slaves was so high that for most planters the bulk of their wealth was in slaves rather than land. Further, many of these planters carried a lot of debt. Reopening the slave trade would increase supply and drive down the value of their property. Many would have been made bankrupt.

The anger and mistrust that many slave owners felt towards the North was enormous by 1860. The South had given up the balance between free and slave states in the Compromise of 1850, in return for a Fugitive Slave Law that the North then flaunted. The South won the Dred Scott case, but couldn't get the North to really acknowledge it. As the planters saw it, Northerners lacked honor. And their population and economy were growing more quickly than that in the South, as was abolitionist sentiment. Staying in the same government was growing untenable.
posted by LarryC at 10:27 PM on August 1, 2006


Anasi is also correct, African-born slaves were seen as dangerous, and planers worried constantly about slave uprisings.
posted by LarryC at 10:28 PM on August 1, 2006


Also, the more northern sothern states depended on the domestic slave trade for a large part of their economy.
posted by null terminated at 11:52 PM on August 1, 2006


It's interesting that violence against slavery was so prevalent that it had to be addressed in the constitution (specifically the part about paying slave owners when federal officers were prevented by force from returning them) in order to appease the southerners.

In my hometown, 1850s, an escaped slave was working as a blacksmith's apprentice. His aggrieved former master found out and came up here to collect him, with the assistance of a Justice of the Peace and a few local friends. Word of his arrival got out, and the blacksmith and his friends formed a mob that surrounded the hotel and ran the man and his pals out of town. He never came back, either -- the Sheriff advised him not to, for his own safety.

God, I wish I could have been there. (Biggest house in town was built by a pro-abolition lawyer who brought Lincoln to town in 1858, and my church's parsonage was a stop on the Underground Railroad, too.)

Southern revisionism emphasizes the "labor rights" aspect of the Free Soil movement -- it was very similar to today's Tancredo-type anti-immigration agitation, i.e. if plantations (contextually, corporate farms) can use slaves, regular farmers and farm workers will be out-competed on labor costs. But that doesn't explain this kind of activity by a long shot.

That is an interesting clause -- note also the issue of slave transportation being protected, and slaveholders in DC. This suggests how many different areas of slavery were under attack. I wonder how often ships on the high seas or in free-state ports had little Amistad replays? Enough, it would appear.

So you can read this both as the last gasp of the peculiar institution, or as indirect evidence of its opposition.

that last clause is interesting and seems a bit out of place - seems to call for the suppression of the slave trade? Was the plan to rely on home-grown slaves rather than importing more or was this an effort to phase out the institution?

The slave trade issue was in parallel to Free Soil. Importing slaves reduced the value of existing slaves. By this point, the existing demand could be met by the existing supply. Also, there was a high-minded argument that low-value slaves would be treated more poorly (worked to death, etc. -- see early Haiti) and thus the slave trade was an impediment to those who wished to see slavery reformed -- for its own good. So even slavery supporters could oppose the slave trade.

I suspect it's already been covered in Alternate History fiction

I'll mention here again Mackinlay Kantor's If the South Had Won the Civil War -- basically it has Gettysburg as the turning point, as Lee had hoped, that would demoralize the North. A peace treaty was signed (cutely, at Appomattox) and eventually there were three republics, the USA, the CSA (plus Cuba), and Texas (plus some of Mexico). Slavery was abolished in the latter two by the 20th century. Kantor was writing a commemorative volume, so he pulled his punches at the end and had all three nations improbably working together to fight World War I and II and then improbably agreeing to settle their differences and reunite. It's interesting, but in a "gosh if only we could have settled this issue of the lifelong enslavement of living human beings without all that gosh-darn bloodshed" sort of way.

Personally, if it had happened that way, I think the North and South would have fought another war before long (a la 1776 and 1812). If they had developed an uneasy truce, the CSA would have expanded to Central America (filibusters supported by a government, rather than actively hindered, would have been more successful). But the South would have had trouble maintaining its little bailiwick of an empire on an agrarian economy (as did so many European colonies). The division would have been exploited during the world wars, and the US would not have become a superpower, even collectively. We might have stayed out of the wars completely. It's an open question whose side Britain would have been on by then. A mess, in other words.

I suspect Kentucky's late ratification was a publicity stunt combined with a belated apology.

I suspect Kentucky's late ratification had everything to do with the Voting Rights Act.
posted by dhartung at 12:34 AM on August 2, 2006


There was another pro-south alt-history novel where the nazis actually teamed up with the Union, a team-up which finally trouced the south...
posted by delmoi at 1:00 AM on August 2, 2006


The division would have been exploited during the world wars, and the US would not have become a superpower, even collectively. We might have stayed out of the wars completely. It's an open question whose side Britain would have been on by then. A mess, in other words

Turtledove spent approximately a billion words doing this, and hasn't stopped yet. The CSA fights on the UK side because the UK recognized the CSA after a failed Gettysburg, and the US on the German to reclaim its rightful place in the sun.

I got bored with them pretty quickly -- there's an awful damn lot of our-timeline-history with the identifying marks not even fully filed off, which gets dull -- but I gather that they've progressed on and are currently having WW2 complete with a black holocaust.

And Turtledove is one of those alt-history types who consistently has the CSA very promptly give up the slavery that they'd just fought and died to preserve, which seems very silly and whitewashy. He also does this in Guns of the South, in which modern South Africans send AKs back through time so the CSA can win, and it gives up slavery because it was never really about owning slaves, it was only about deciding not to on their own or some rot like that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:26 AM on August 2, 2006


dhartung -- "God, I wish I could have been there." Actually, the fight goes on.

From the Anti-Slavery website:
Millions of men, women and children around the world are forced to lead lives as slaves. Although this exploitation is often not called slavery, the conditions are the same. People are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their 'employers'.

You think it all happens in obscure foreign countries? From a 2002 news-story on the same site:
The US Government estimates some 50,000 people are trafficked annually into the US from countries in Latin America, eastern Europe, South-East Asia and beyond.
posted by Idcoytco at 2:26 AM on August 2, 2006


Slavery was already on its way out for purely economic reasons. The U.S. was one of the last countries in the Western world to give up slavery, but with no civil war, slavery would've ended just the same, just like it did in all those other countries where it had once been fundamental to the economy before the Industrial Revolution completely changed the economy.

But, without a civil war, you'd probably have a much stronger integration of north and south today, since you also wouldn't have had Reconstruction, the KKK, or the lingering resentment from things like Sherman's March to the Sea.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:08 AM on August 2, 2006


Those of you wondering whether the "this can't be amended" clause would hold may be interested in Peter Suber's book (out of print, but now online) The Paradox of Self-Amendment: A Study of Law, Logic, Omnipotence, and Change where that sort of issue is addressed. And tying in with infidelpants's comment above, Nomic was first introduced to the world in an appendix in this book.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:23 AM on August 2, 2006


Slavery was already on its way out for purely economic reasons.

It was? As I understand it, slavery was on its way out in the north, since there was a great deal of industrialization going on there. However, in the south, the level of industrialization was much, much lower. If anything, slavery was just ramping up more and more in the south.

So how was slavery on its way out due to economics?

See here:

Between 1820 and 1860 world demand grows at 5 percent per year. South produces 10,410 bales of cotton in 1793; 177,824 in 1810 after invention of cotton gin; 7,000,000 in 1860. Sugar production rises in Mississippi Delta between Red River and Mississippi River. Sugar industry reaches its height in 1849, with 1,536 plantations, 100,000 slaves, and 450,000 hogsheads of sugar per year.

That doesn't sound to me like it was on its way out...
posted by JoshTeeters at 9:45 AM on August 2, 2006


Slavery was already on its way out for purely economic reasons.

No, slavery was becoming more profitable with the booming world demand for cotton. And some slave owners were experimenting quite successfully with slave labor industrialization at places like the Tredegar Iron Works in Virginia. Without the Civil War it is hard to imagine what would have ended slavery in the South, short of a moral awakening of the white southern population.
posted by LarryC at 11:24 AM on August 2, 2006


Yeah, that's kind of where I was leaning LarryC. Thanks for clarifying.
posted by JoshTeeters at 11:51 AM on August 2, 2006


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