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C R ITT END EN
John JORDON CRITTENDEN was born in Woodford County, Kentucky, in
1787. Afer graduating at William and Mary College he served in the War of 1812. In 1816 he became a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, and in the following year, having just attained the requisite age, he was sent to the United States Senate, and remained a member of that body until March, 1819. During the next sixteen years he practiced law in his native State, but again represented Kentucky in the United States Senate from 1835 to 1841. He was Attorney-General of the United States under President William Henry Harrison, but, resigning upon Tyler's accession to the Presidency, he re-entered the Senate, and kept a seat there from 1842 until 1848. He was Governor of Kentucky in the years 1848–50; Attorney-General of the United States under President Fillmore from 1850 to 1853; was once more United States Senator from 1855 to 1861, after which he was sent from Kentucky to the Federal House of Representatives. He died in July, 1863. The following speech was delivered by him in advocacy of the compromise by which he hoped to avert Secession.
ON THE CRITTENDEN COMPROMISE
UNited StateS SENATE, DECEMBER 18, 1860
AM gratified, Mr. President, to see in the various propositions which have been made, such a universal anxiety to save the country from the dangerous dissensions which now prevail; and I have, under a very serious view and without the least ambitious feeling whatever connected with it, prepared a series of constitutional amendments, which I desire to offer to the Senate, hoping that they may form, in part at least, some basis for measures that may settle the controverted questions which now so much agitate our country. Certainly, sir, I do not propose now any elaborate discussion of the subject. Before presenting these resolutions, however, to the Senate, I desire to make a few remarks explanatory of them, that the Senate may understand their general scope. The questions of an alarming character are those which have grown out of the controversy between the northern and southern sections of our country in relation to the rights of the slave-holding States in the Territories of the United States, and in relation to the rights of the citizens of the latter in their slaves. I have endeavored by these resolutions to meet all these questions and causes of discontent, and by amendments to the Constitution of the United States, so that the settlement, if we happily agree on any, may be permanent, and leave no cause for future controversy. These resolutions propose, then, in the first place, in substance, the restoration of the Missouri Compromise, extending the line throughout the Territories of the United States to the eastern border of California, recognizing slavery in all the territory south of that line, and prohibiting slavery in all the territory north of it; with a provision, however, that when any of those Territories, north or south, are formed into States, they shall then be at liberty to exclude or admit slavery as they please; and that, in the one case or the other, it shall be no objection to their admission into the Union. In this way, sir, I propose to settle the question, both as to territory and slavery, so far as it regards the Territories of the United States. I propose, sir, also, that the Constitution be so amended as to declare that Congress shall have no power to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia so long as slavery exists in the States of Maryland and Virginia; and that they shall have no power to abolish slavery in any of the places under their special jurisdiction within the Southern States. These are the constitutional amendments which I propose, and embrace the whole of them in regard to the questions of territory and slavery. There are other propositions in relation to grievances, and in relation to controversies which I suppose are within the jurisdiction of Congress, and may be removed by the action of Congress. I propose, in regard to legislative action, that the fugitive slave law, as it is commonly called, shall be declared by the Senate to be a constitutional act, in strict pursuance of the Constitution. I propose to declare that it has been decided by the Supreme Court of the United States to be constitutional, and that the Southern States are entitled to a faithful and complete execution of that law, and that no amendment shall be made hereafter to it which will impair its efficiency. But, thinking that it would not impair its efficiency, I have proposed amendments to it in two particulars. I have understood from gentlemen of the North that there is objection to the provision giving a different fee where the commissioner decides to deliver the slave to the claimant, from that which is given where he decides to discharge the alleged slave; the law declares that in the latter case he shall have but five dollars, while in the other he shall have ten dollars—twice the amount in one case than in the other. The reason for this was very obvious. In case he delivers the servant to his claimant he is required to draw out a lengthy certificate, stating the principle and substantial grounds on which his decision rests, and to return him either to the marshal or to the claimant to remove him to the State from which he escaped. It was for that reason that a larger fee was given