CHAPTER 28

Compromise Rejected

A double negative defined Lower South Cooperationists. First of all, anti-Separatists always deplored separate states’ quick secession, whether because several states’ united secession would be more effective or because no secession could yet be justified. Second, Cooperationists usually dismissed unconditional unionism. A few Lower South foes of Separatism opposed disunion under any conditions. Far more pledged to become disunionists if the Union coerced a seceding state. Many also pledged to go for secession unless Northern Republicans granted safeguards for slavery. Those conditions for remaining in the Union doomed Lower South Cooperationists to surrender if federal coercion and/or rejected compromises intervened.

– 1 –

Lower South Cooperationists almost always affirmed southern states’ natural right to switch consent to be governed to another government. Former U.S. senator Jeremiah Clemens, Alabama’s most important Cooperationist, explained that “some opinions … can not be changed.” Unless we “withdraw opposition” to the right of revolution, “we shall lose all.”1

Most Lower South Cooperationists also thought that they would lose all if they favored southern submission without northern concessions. We must secure “redress of grievances, which undoubtedly exist,” wrote Clemens. Cooperationists must also obtain “security against other oppressions which we can not fail to see are impending.”2

Those concessions shrank the distance between Lower South Cooperationists and Separatists. But Cooperationists still cherished the space, especially in order to secure their master panacea: delay. Delayers desired hesitations both before and after a state convention approved secession. Prior to any state’s convention, a Southwide convention should convene. After a state convention’s disunion decree, the state’s voters should approve the convention’s decision, in a special referendum.

There Cooperationists’ concurrence ended. At one extreme, some Cooperationists hoped the South would suspend resistance unless and until a Republican overt act against slavery demonstrated Lincoln’s menace. At the other extreme, some Cooperationists wished for southern conclaves that would arrange an immediate Southwide secession, or at least instant Lower Southwide secession, without even issuing an ultimatum to the North. In between these extremes, many Cooperationists wanted a southern convention to try an ultimatum to the North, before decreeing cooperative secession. Some of the ultimatum crowd favored sweeping demands. Others sought mild concessions. Some ultimatum fanciers expected the North to surrender. Others expected the North to stonewall. Others did not know what to expect.

Whatever a southern convention demanded and however the North responded, weeks would pass, cheered Cooperationists, before state conventions decided. More weeks would thankfully pass before the people of a state endorsed a state convention’s secession decree. During both cooling-off periods, resentment at Lincoln’s election might abate. Then a more measured southern response might unfold. “Time is everything to us,” wrote Jeremiah Clemens. “If we fail to gain that we are lost.”3

But would they gain enraged voters with pleas for delay? Nothing was seductive about the practicality of delay, or, as it turned out, practical. Separatists made Lincoln’s Inauguration Day, March 4, 1861, such a dreaded date that Cooperationist campaigns for redress of grievances had to be squeezed into four months. Otherwise, the South would “submit” to Lincoln’s control of southern patronage, without northern concessions in place. The need for much to happen in a very short time demanded as relentless a timetable as the Separatists’ schedule of state decisions. Cooperationists quickly had to specify deadlines for an early southern convention, for a swift northern response to a southern convention’s alternative, for timely southern state conventions to consider the northern response, and for speedy popular referendums to ratify state conventions’ decisions—all before March 4.

A practical Lower South Cooperationist alternative had to include not only a rushed calendar but also a plausible escape from Upper South “submissionists.” Did Lower South Cooperationists pledge to disown a compromising southern convention, controlled by the Upper South majority of southern whites, if the conclave endorsed an inadequate demand for redress of grievances? And would Lower South Cooperationists pledge to liberate themselves from Upper South snares, if the North rejected an ultimatum and the southern convention still dawdled on secession?

An acceptable ultimatum also had to be quickly defined. Would only northern concessions on territorial slavery be adequate? Or would concessions on fugitive slaves suffice? Or would some combination of these demands and/or others be mandatory? If Cooperationists had supplied plausible details about a hurried calendar, and about Lower South emancipation from Upper South unionism, and about the contents of a satisfactory ultimatum, Lower South voters would have had a clear choice between two campaigns for redress.

Cooperationists might then have piled greater prudence atop equal practicality. Our plan, they could have urged, will produce secession before Lincoln takes office, if ultimatums fail and after southern divisions have been bridged. If Cooperationists had also matched Separatists’ dozens of interstate commissioners and thousands of minutemen and millions of pamphlet pages, the Lower South campaign for secession convention delegates might have been a contest. A speedy, well-defined Cooperationist alternative, and especially a swiftly convened southern convention that met by mid-December, might also have delayed the fatal senatorial and military confrontations of late December, until after the Lower South’s mid-January secession decisions had transpired.

Those imaginary scenarios required that Cooperationists boldly act during the scant time remaining instead of begging for a time-out. The fantasy never came close to transpiring. Cooperationists never agreed on a date for a southern convention, much less an early date. No consensus on a southern ultimatum ever surfaced. No Lower South promises to defy an appeasing Upper South majority of Southerners, in southern convention assembled, ever won acceptance. No interstate Cooperationist campaign organization ever appeared, to match Charleston’s 1860 Association’s ocean of pamphlets and rivers of interstate correspondence. No Cooperationist network of interstate commissioners or legions of parading minutemen ever emerged. When Mississippi Cooperationists called a convention for their state’s party, all of four counties sent delegates.4 Ultimately, Alexander Stephens epitomized a crusade without crusaders.

In part, the Cooperationists’ weakness followed from their message’s strength. Dawdlers who dashed toward provocative alternatives might destroy their cardinal insight: delay’s soothing virtues. Their South Carolina antagonists concurred that a delay for second thoughts might devastate Separatism—indeed might undermine South Carolina’s shaky nerve. Cooperationists’ conviction that time could cure all was not necessarily wrong. But delay was necessarily irrelevant, after South Carolina’s rush impelled a swift decision.

To rush toward anti-Separatist alternatives, Cooperationists would also have had to overcome their most prized personality trait: prudence. In the black belts, neither percentages of blacks in the neighborhood nor numbers of slaves on the estate nor quantities of dollars in the wallet but instead character type of the voter established allegiances in the secessionist electoral showdown. Many rich Lower South planters chose to be Cooperationists, as befitted cautious entrepreneurs who feared that a failed revolution could wipe out their holdings. These careful calculators were not the likeliest to rush imprudently forward with alternate crusades.5

Nor could prudent Cooperationists match frenzied Separatists rush for rush, speed for speed, detail for detail without risking their unifying umbrella. The very vagueness of Cooperationism—its lack of specific dates and detailed plans and systematic alternatives—enabled it to be all things to all anti-Separatists. Moving beyond the unifying principle of delay might pit Separatists’ solidarity against Cooperationists’ disarray.

But while Cooperationists’ divisions, character traits, and message mitigated against reckless crusaders, Lower South political culture demanded crusading resistance. Because the Lower South was so intolerant of dissent and so quick to conflate disagreement with disloyalty, any massive proslavery movement had to be opposed by an equally massive, equally creditable alternative. Mere delay risked the fatal charge of “submission” to hateful Yankees.

Yet instead of forging a quick alternative to Separatists’ frenzy, Cooperationists kept emphasizing delay, time, a pause. But as Sam Houston had discovered in early December, South Carolina’s haste created such speed in states where Cooperationists could not compete that delay became irrelevant in states where Cooperationists might triumph. As the December days raced toward Christmas, hasty Separatists’ influence on Washington, D.C., showdowns left loitering Cooperationists ever more whipped by the clock.

– 2 –

When congressmen convened on December 2 in Washington’s Capitol building, two empty chairs in the U.S. Senate chamber epitomized a history speeding past delayers. South Carolina’s James Chesnut, Jr., and James Hammond had lately occupied the now vacant chairs. The two senators’ resignations, three weeks before the postelection Congress gathered, announced that their state would depart the Union three weeks after Congress met. Never had missing members so dominated a congressional session. It was as if ghosts sat in those chairs, mocking attempts to resuscitate an expired Union.

A void outside matched vacancies inside. The Capitol’s long central entrance hall served as an architectural hyphen. The extended passageway connected the House chamber on one side of the building with the Senate chamber on the other. In December 1860, the hyphen looked like a body missing a head. Above the connecting hall, workers had only begun to erect a giant dome. Sculptors had also only begun to chisel a statue of the Goddess Liberty, to rise atop the dome. Designers meant the doubled crown to epitomize the united Congress of a perpetual republic. But after Lincoln’s election, a connecting hall without a top might symbolize a Union without the South—a roofless relic of a ghost house.

Most northern congressmen refused to credit such ghosts. Hammond and Chesnut would be back in the Senate, Yankees scoffed, before other Southerners could leave. After threatening to exit, South Carolinians had always reappeared, to spout off again about departing.

But Lower South men in Washington knew that South Carolina would not automatically return. So Secretary of the Treasury Howell Cobb sought to lure South Carolina with a delayed secession strategy. In early December, he joined fellow southern members of Buchanan’s cabinet and some dominant Lower South congressmen in seeking a South Carolina pause, followed by four states’ simultaneous secession on February 1. This southern national establishment initiative remains as little known and as revealing as the Charleston and Savannah Railroad coincidence. The obscure story this time illustrated not South Carolina’s early jitters but its implacable momentum, once the front-loaded schedule began to crush ineffective delayers.

On December 3, 1860, South Carolina’s Congressman Milledge Bonham sent both an emergency telegram and an explanatory letter to Governor William Gist. Howell Cobb came to see me last night, reported Bonham, to ask, on behalf of his brother, Thomas R. R. Cobb, and Robert Toombs, that we should “wait ’till the 1st Feb, & let the four states Geo Ala Miss and So. Ca. go together.” Cobb, Jefferson Davis, Virginia’s Secretary of War John B. Floyd, Mississippi’s Secretary of the Interior Jacob Thompson, and probably Alabama’s U.S. Senator Benjamin Fitzpatrick, Bonham reported, “are at the head of the movement to induce” South Carolina to suspend secession for six weeks.

These Washington notables, Bonham continued, had recruited two lowcountry luminaries to urge a pause in South Carolina. Assistant Secretary of State William H. Trescot, the lowcountry’s most cultivated historian, essayist, and secessionist, plus Thomas Drayton, the elegant president of that Charleston and Savannah Railroad and currently a Washington visitor, had agreed to travel back to South Carolina as Cobb et al.’s advocates. Bonham begged Governor Gist to intercept Trescot and Drayton upon arrival. Alabama’s Congressman James E. Pugh warns us, Bonham reported, that “we must let nothing stop our action,” for our delay “would be ruinous.” Pugh here anticipated Alabama’s Governor Andrew Moore’s urgent intervention against delay, in his message to the South Carolina secession convention two weeks later. While no one can say whether Alabama would have leapt without South Carolina shoves, some crucial Alabama secessionists had their doubts.

Milledge Bonham worried more about delay’s impact on South Carolina. Cobb’s February 1 alternative, Bonham warned Gist, would “prevent that unanimity we hope for in our convention. … Whilst no human power could” stop secession after our state unanimously dares in mid-December, “an unfortunate division in our own state … would ruin the South.” The Cobb initiative, as Bonham summed up its alleged disasters, “means, I believe, submission”—submission not only to Northern Republicans but also to the Southwide antisecessionist majority and to South Carolinians’ edgy nerves.6

Bonham’s hyperbole may sound misplaced. Howell Cobb offered to trade, after all, four states’ simultaneous secession on February 1 for South Carolina’s lonely secession on December 20. So too, while the secretary of the treasury’s version of cooperation projected a six-week delay, he eliminated any need to cooperate with the Upper South southern majority. Only four of the seven Lower South states, under Cobb’s plan, would need to cooperate.

Yet the Georgian’s scheme, from the South Carolina perspective, allowed Lower South trimmers to wiggle out from under South Carolina’s thumb. Especially Cobb’s Georgians might not secede by February 1, if South Carolina allowed a free choice. Nor did fiery Alabamians wish to gamble on their state’s freedom to ignore South Carolina’s insistence. Nor did South Carolina ultras wish to gamble on their edgy state maintaining its nerve, as L. W. Spratt confessed to the Florida secession convention. “Just do it” had become South Carolina extremists’ ruling passion and the passionate insistence of Lower South Separatists elsewhere. Then laggards, ran the dominant strategy, will have to follow.

Governor William Gist had given this relentless minority tactic its most important early boosts. He had refused to bow down before other Lower South governors’ southern convention preference, in their answers to those October 5 letters, lest the southern majority control the South’s response to Lincoln. In early November, he had also ordered State’s Rights Gist to warn Mississippi’s Governor John Pettus away from southern conventionism. He now would allow no escape from the Separatist express that he had helped put on the fast track. Governor Gist meant to allow Trescot and Drayton only room to surrender to his South Carolina fragment of the southern minority, when they arrived in South Carolina.

I warned Trescot and Drayton, the governor wrote Bonham on December 6, that I will allow no delay. “If the convention postponed the ordinance,” I told Howell Cobb’s messengers, “I would go to Charleston, make a speech, & advise the taking of the forts at once and I will do it.” Join Trescot in telling the Washington delayers, Gist instructed Bonham, that their plan, unless instantly dropped, will “force us to do what we would prefer not doing before the ordinance is passed.”7

Gist’s plausible threat reemphasized that three, not two, alternatives faced the Southerners by this point: not just legal Separatism (as the South’s state’s rights creed defined legal), not just some form of Cooperationism, but also patently illegal revolution, with swarming vigilantes’ illegitimacy routing a state convention’s legitimacy. Illegal violence would throw away state’s rights’ persuasive power. The Lower South’s well-nigh unanimous belief in the right of (legal) revolution could no longer trump the culture’s divisions over the expediency of revolution. Rebellion by the mob would also toss slavery’s fate into exactly the uncontrollable maelstrom that made Cooperationists shudder.

Bonham conveyed Gist’s warning back to the South’s Washington establishment, as did Trescot upon his return to the capital on December 8. Secretary of the Treasury Howell Cobb still sought delay. Cobb attended the South Carolina secession convention in mid-December. He bore a note from Governor Joseph Brown, warning South Carolinians to secede immediately or “we are beaten and all is lost.” Cobb, however, came to plead against immediacy. He wanted his patron, President James Buchanan, to be spared the necessity to confront secession. He preferred that disunion be approved now but postponed until Lincoln’s March 4 Inauguration Day.8 Jefferson Davis and Albert Gallatin Brown had recommended a similar delay at the November 22 Pettus conference.

South Carolina Separatists loathed the strategy. The be-kind-to-our-pal-Buchanan gambit smacked to them of National Democratic Party compromising, long the source of southern extremists’ futility. Imagine, after secessionists had finally smashed the Democracy and dismissed Washington, D.C., antics, Howell Cobb still would base policy on James Buchanan’s tender feelings! While Cobb and Davis continued to savor James Buchanan’s White House hospitality, conceived South Carolinians, compromisers might try again to patch up the Union, with unreconstructed National Democrats such as Cobb as their Washington point men. Instead, South Carolinians meant to strike while the iron was steaming, lest second thoughts become cooler thoughts (even in South Carolina).

So South Carolina intransigents, in mid-December conferences with Cobb in Columbia, warned the secretary of the treasury to toe their straight and true Separatist line, just as State’s Rights Gist had pulled Governor Pettus away from southern convention waverings and William Gist had yanked the Washington establishment away from the February 1 delay. In all cases, Lower South hesitators felt Separatism’s relentless momentum and enlisted for the duration. South Carolinians had once again maneuvered all Cotton South Separatists onto the same page—their page.

Or to put their newfound relentlessness in the most revealing context, South Carolinians had become Preston Brooks writ large. Just as Brooks had rushed to the brink, then delayed the assault on Charles Sumner, then finally swung, then could not stop swinging, so South Carolinians had been ashamed of their shrinking after their charging and now would not, could not abort their exhilarating release. They would swing and swing and swing until far more Yankees than Charles Sumner collapsed, and no southern coward could make them pause.

– 3 –

Several days after Howell Cobb saw for himself in Columbia that this convulsive momentum could not be deflected, news of Gist’s threats to Trescot and Drayton helped brace a critical mass of Lower South congressmen for Armageddon. Five days after William Henry Trescot’s return to Washington, these congressmen publicly declared that “the argument is exhausted” and “all hope of relief in the Union … is extinguished.” Lower South constituents must not be “deceived,” this Southern Manifesto of December 13 urged, by “the pretense of new guarantees.” Only “speedy and absolute separation from an unnatural and hostile Union” can insure “the honor, safety, and independence of the Southern people.”9

The twenty-one signers of this death certificate for the Union swelled their numbers by claiming, in some cases dubiously, that seven more congressmen would have signed. Legend has boosted the twenty-one signers plus seven “would have signers” to thirty. The actual numbers did not require such inflations. Only three signers represented the Upper South. None hailed from South Carolina. The eighteen Lower South signers comprised almost half of the thirty-eight congressmen then in Washington from Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas—the very six states about to decide whether to join South Carolina’s imminent exodus.

Kentucky’s U.S. Senator John J. Crittenden led the mass of Upper South congressmen who strove to halt further departures. “It is certain, I suppose,” Crittenden lamented privately, “that South Carolina will secede.” But “conciliatory measures” may prevent “other states … from following her bad example.”10

Crittenden’s attempt to isolate the bad example began five days after the Southern Manifesto declared conciliation to be delusive. On December 18, the Senate approved a Committee of Thirteen, to investigate compromise possibilities. Crittenden, although not the chairman, set the agenda. Before the committee’s discussions began, the Kentuckian asked the Senate to consider a package of constitutional amendments. The omnibus package strategy emulated Henry Clay’s statecraft during Compromise of 1850 deliberations. Crittenden, long Clay’s lieutenant, now sat in Clay’s senatorial seat. Kentucky’s latest “Great Compromiser” arrived in the Senate’s Committee of Thirteen with his final test of the Union’s viability tucked under his arm.11

The other twelve committee members formed a jury of Crittenden’s peers, determining whether his omnibus—any compromise—could isolate South Carolina. Three members of the committee hailed from the Upper South, including Crittenden, his Kentucky colleague Lazarus Powell, and Virginia’s Robert M. T. Hunter. Two represented the Lower South: Georgia’s Robert Toombs and Mississippi’s Jefferson Davis. Five Northern Republicans and three Northern Democrats completed the panel.

The senatorial jury sped only one piece of Crittenden’s package toward congressional victory. This constitutional amendment declared that the federal government could never abolish slavery in a state and that the amendment could never be amended. On the eve of Lincoln’s March 4 inauguration, Congress would pass this unamendable constitutional amendment. The new president would endorse this perpetual barrier to federal emancipation in his Inaugural Address. Three states would ratify the amendment. Threefourths of the states would have doubtless affirmed this widely popular attempt at peacemaking, if war had not intervened.12

Another intriguing “what if” question here arises. If no civil war had ensued, how long would slavery have lasted, with this amendment forever tying federal hands? Some might argue that the institution would have lasted deep into the twentieth century, at least in the Lower South, if only Southerners had had power to emancipate. Some might even argue that slaveholders were fools to trade this safeguard for disunion risks.

So much for Monday morning quarterbacks. The Southerners who sped the contest toward secession saw scant value in a guarantee of no federal action. They feared state action after Lincoln’s Southern Republican appointees infiltrated a caged South. They focused on two words in another of Crittenden’s proposals, promising escape from a territorial cage.

Crittenden proposed that the Missouri Compromise’s 36° 30′ line be extended to the Pacific. The Kentucky senator would bar slavery north of the line in the nation’s territories but protect the institution south of the line, including in territories Hereafter Acquired. Crittenden trembled to include those two words, repulsive to Republicans because enticing to Caribbean expansionists. Later in the congressional session, after the more extremist Lower South had left the Union and Crittenden’s attention focused on retaining only the more moderate Upper South, the latest Great Compromiser would scotch the fatal two words.

But in December 1860, Crittenden strove to retain the more fiery Lower South. He knew that countervailing propositions from the Committee of Thirteen’s southern members went much further in southern directions than Hereafter Acquired. So he thought that nothing less than the two terrible words could appease the hotheads.

Jefferson Davis told the committee that he would settle for slavery’s protection in all U.S. territories. Robert M. T. Hunter would settle for Davis’s uncompromising “all,” plus a constitutional amendment prohibiting a federal “local appointment” without “the assent of a majority of the Senators from each section” (that, trumpeted the Virginia senator, would prevent “the abuse of patronage … so much feared from Lincoln”), plus another amendment that established two presidents, one northern, one southern, each with a veto on all legislation. Robert Toombs would settle for Davis’s allplus a constitutional amendment decreeing that a majority of each section’s representatives in each hall of Congress must approve all slavery legislation.13

Compared to those reincarnations of John C. Calhoun’s minority veto of majority decrees, Hereafter Acquired offered slaveholders slim protection. But the two words still proposed considerable relief from many Southwesterners’ twin menaces: claustrophobia and insult. Ever since the days of Robert Walker and Texas annexation, Southwesterners had demanded a territorial escape valve for excess slaves, lest whites be imprisoned with multiplying blacks. Ever since the days of David Wilmot and his post-Texasannexation Wilmot Proviso, the men from Dixie had scorned the insult of being declared too morally repulsive to expand beyond their supposedly disgusting domain. Hereafter Acquired would provide an escape valve for any future excess of blacks. By granting slaveholders the theoretical right to sprawl down to the Amazon, Lincoln’s party would also take back the slur that migrating slaveholders would pollute an expanding republic.

Crittenden especially hoped that Hereafter Acquired would tempt Robert Toombs. The Georgian loomed as the make-or-break southern committee member partly because the Empire State remained geographically pivotal in any southern republic and partly because Toombs’s recent utterances had made him a secessionist who just might compromise. In mid-November 1860, on the day of Stephens’s Cooperationist triumph before the Georgia legislature, Toombs had seemed uncompromising. He had demanded that lawmakers “give me the sword; for if you do not give it to me, as God lives, I will take it.”14 William Gist never said it better. Two days later, with interstate Separatist communication still in its brief conspiratorial phase, the would-be sword seizer had secretly telegraphed South Carolina’s Laurence Keitt to “act at once. … I will sustain South Carolina in secession.”15 Robert Barnwell Rhett had asked for precisely this clandestine reassurance.

Yet a month later, in Toombs’s notorious December 13 Danbury Public Letter, the Georgia senator seemed to counsel possible delay. Toombs suggested that Georgians should “offer in Congress such amendments of the Constitution as will give” their constituents “full and ample security.” If “a majority” of “the Black Republican party will vote for the amendments,” we should “postpone final action [on secession] until the legislatures of the Northern states could be conveniently called together” (which could be long after March 4).16

But if congressional Republicans reject our last offer, concluded Toombs’s December 13 Danbury Letter, Georgians “ought not to delay an hour after the fourth of March to secede from the Union.” Toombs’s Calhoun-like proposals for minority veto offered, in his mind, “full security.” But did Hereafter Acquired offer “ample security,” at least against the Republican insults that Georgia’s favorite knight desired to cut out of foul mouths with the sword?

The Committee of Thirteen’s most dramatic confrontation supplied the answer. The face-off featured arguably the two most different southern senatorial titans. John Crittenden, seventy-four years aged, had lived one and a half times longer than Robert Toombs, aged fifty. The Kentuckian had the tall, slim, ramrod-stiff body and the long, pale, rectangular face of a puritan. The Georgian had the portly body and the square red face of an imbiber. Crittenden’s snow-white, closely cropped, and meticulously combed hair signaled the cautious conservative. Toombs’s black, bushy, and wild locks, with the thick strand curling down his forehead, announced the reckless warrior. Crittenden owned the few slaves and the few hundred acres of a moderately successful borderland lawyer. Toombs possessed the hundreds of slaves and the thousands of acres of a fabulously successful tropical land speculator. Crittenden, long content to recline in Clay’s shadow, had won moderate renown as the borderland’s favorite post-Clay neutral. Toombs, always the man to cast the shadows, had secured immoderate fame as the slavocracy’s favorite political brawler.17

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Kentucky’s latest Great Compromiser, John Crittenden (left), and a secsssionist charger (for Georgia!), Robert Toombs (right), settling for a doomed compromise that would make the unfinished state of the U.S. Capitol building, site of their wary negotiations, all the more appropriate. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (all three images).

When the circumspect mediator faced the flamboyant aggressor across the Committee of Thirteen’s conference table, an epic exchange ensued. The reported words may be apocryphal. But the upshot remains indisputable.18 As the legend describes the language, when Crittenden asked, “Mr. Toombs, will my compromise, as a remedy for all wrongs and apprehensions, be acceptable to you?” Toombs shot back, “Not by a good deal; but my state will accept it, and I will follow my state.” Davis and Hunter (and of course Kentucky’s Powell) concurred. Crittenden had found the least concession that the southern half of his committee could abide.

The northern half could not bear Hereafter Acquired. Lincoln insisted that if Hereafter Acquired became law, “filibustering and extending slavery” will “immediately” recommence. “On that point, hold firm as with a chain of steel.”19 Republicans on the Committee of Thirteen held firm. They voted down 36° 30′ plus Hereafter Acquired, and therefore so did the Lower South senators, Toombs and Davis. In another example of the most basic split in the South, the Upper South senators, Powell, Hunter, and Crittenden, still voted for the compromise.

That December 22 evening, Toombs telegraphed his “Fellow-Citizens of Georgia,” reporting the results of the “test” that he had put “fairly and frankly.” He had come to Washington, ran the telegram, “to secure your constitutional rights or to demonstrate to you that you can get no guarantees.” His “Black Republican” foes had “treated” his “propositions … with either derision or contempt.” Our “enemies” had also unanimously rejected Crittenden’s diluted propositions. The Union has thus been proved “fraught with nothing but ruin to yourself and your posterity. Secession by the fourth of March next should be thundered” by a “unanimous vote” when Georgians elected state convention delegates on January 2.20

Perhaps Toombs had always plotted to send this incendiary telegram. Alexander Stephens thought that the senator cynically played the compromiser, both in the Danbury Letter and in Congress, seeking to manipulate Georgians into considering compromise impossible.21 The senator might have even gulled a reluctant Crittenden to press on with Hereafter Acquired, thereby plotting to make the Kentuckian’s compromise unworkable. Toombs had long proved himself wily enough to play such games, both as a crafty land speculator and as a posturing extremist. Yet this southern knight was also wild enough to act the erratic Southron, in the style of such flip-flopping warriors as Mississippi’s Henry Foote and Virginia’s Henry Wise. But whether a gyrating or a calculating Georgian had helped to dramatize Crittenden’s failure, Toombs correctly told his constituents that “if you are deceived … with delusive hopes” about compromise before you vote on January 2, “it shall not be my fault.”22

Nor can Toombs be faulted for spreading delusive hopes when he predicted that Georgia would have accepted Hereafter Acquired. Jefferson Davis, however, would have had less hope of spreading Georgia’s possible acceptance to Mississippi. The state’s establishment had narrowly rejected Davis’s objection to Separatism at the November 22, 1860, Pettus conference. So too, in early December, Mississippi’s Congressman Otho R. Singletary had told South Carolina’s Bonham that “we must go ahead” with secession, for “most” of Mississippi’s “delegation … will not be controlled by Davis.”23 Nor would South Carolina have likely ceased to crash ahead, just because a senatorial committee had allowed slaveholders a shot at Caribbean expansion—a pursuit that the South Carolina establishment often considered distractive or counterproductive. Crittenden had lost not a chance to save the whole Union but a chance to slow secessionists’ momentum in Lower South states that still wavered about disunion.

Only a very different Cooperationist campaign might have precluded Crittenden’s unintended demonstration, before the Lower South’s electorate even voted on Cooperationism, that an ultimatum to the North had already failed. If Lower South anti-Separatists had rushed to convene a mid-December southern convention instead of campaigning against rush itself, Crittenden might have waited to react to a southern convention’s imminent ultimatum. Perhaps that ultimatum would have demanded less than Hereafter Acquired, especially if the Upper South had massed behind Alexander Stephens’s sole demand that Personal Liberty Laws be repealed. But with no southern convention (or Alexander Stephens) remotely in sight, and with William Gist hurling Howell Cobb’s plea for a pause back in the southern Washington establishment’s face, Crittenden had felt compelled to appease Robert Toombs. And then before this senatorial disaster was a week old, a military disaster heaped further burdens upon lame Cooperationists.

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