Corwin Amendment | Wikipedia audio article
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Corwin Amendment | Wikipedia audio article

The Corwin Amendment is a proposed amendment
to the United States Constitution that would shield “domestic institutions” of the states
(which in 1861 included slavery) from the constitutional amendment process and from
abolition or interference by Congress. It passed Congress but was never ratified
by the states and never took effect. One month after the initial Confederacy was
formed, the amendment was passed by the 36th Congress on March 2, 1861, and submitted to
the state legislatures for ratification. Senator William H. Seward of New York had
introduced the amendment in the Senate, and Representative Thomas Corwin of Ohio introduced
it in the House of Representatives. Prior to the American Civil War, the Corwin
Amendment was among several measures Congress considered in an effort to entice border slave
states not to secede and stay out of the Confederacy.==Text==
No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the
power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof,
including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State. The text refers to slavery with terms such
as “domestic institutions” and “persons held to labor or service” and avoids using the
word “slavery”, following the example set at the Constitutional Convention of 1787,
which referred to slavery in its draft of the Constitution with comparable descriptions
of legal status: “Person held to Service”, “the whole Number of free Persons …, three
fifths of all other Persons”, “The Migration and Importation of such Persons”.==Legislative history==
In the Congressional session that began in December 1860, more than 200 resolutions with
respect to slavery, including 57 resolutions proposing constitutional amendments, were
introduced in Congress. Most represented compromises designed to avert
military conflict. Senator Jefferson Davis, a Democrat from Mississippi,
proposed one that explicitly protected property rights in slaves. A group of House members proposed a national
convention to accomplish secession as a “dignified, peaceful, and fair separation” that could
settle questions like the equitable distribution of the federal government’s assets and rights
to navigate the Mississippi River.On February 27, 1861, the House of Representatives considered
the following text of a proposed constitutional amendment:
No amendment of this Constitution, having for its object any interference within the
States with the relations between their citizens and those described in second section of the
first article of the Constitution as “all other persons”, shall originate with any State
that does not recognize that relation within its own limits, or shall be valid without
the assent of every one of the States composing the Union. Corwin proposed his own text as a substitute
and those who opposed him failed on a vote of 68 to 121. The House then declined to give the resolution
the required two-thirds vote, with a tally of 120 to 61, and then of 123 to 71. On February 28, 1861, however, the House approved
Corwin’s version by a vote of 133 to 65. The contentious debate in the House was relieved
by abolitionist Republican Owen Lovejoy of Illinois, who questioned the amendment’s reach:
“Does that include polygamy, the other twin relic of barbarism?” Missouri Democrat John S. Phelps answered:
“Does the gentleman desire to know whether he shall be prohibited from committing that
crime?”On March 2, 1861, the United States Senate adopted it, with no changes, on a vote
of 24 to 12. Since proposed constitutional amendments require
a two-thirds majority, 132 votes were required in the House and 24 in the Senate. The Senators and Representatives from the
seven slave states that had already declared their secession from the Union did not vote
on the Corwin Amendment. The resolution called for the amendment to
be submitted to the state legislatures and to be adopted “when ratified by three-fourths
of said Legislatures.” Its supporters believed that the Corwin Amendment
had a greater chance of success in the legislatures of the Southern states than would have been
the case in state ratifying conventions, since state conventions were being conducted throughout
the South at which votes to secede from the Union were successful—just as Congress was
considering the Corwin Amendment. The Corwin Amendment was the second proposed
“Thirteenth Amendment” submitted to the states by Congress. The first was the similarly ill-fated Titles
of Nobility Amendment in 1810.==Presidential responses==Outgoing President James Buchanan endorsed
the Corwin Amendment by taking the unprecedented step of signing it. His signature on the Congressional joint resolution
was unnecessary, as the President has no formal role in the constitutional amendment process.Abraham
Lincoln, in his first inaugural address on March 4, said of the Corwin Amendment:
I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has
passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the
domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service … holding
such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made
express and irrevocable. Just weeks prior to the outbreak of the Civil
War, Lincoln sent a letter to each state’s governor transmitting the proposed amendment,
noting that Buchanan had approved it.==Ratification history==
The Corwin Amendment was ratified by: Kentucky: April 4, 1861
Ohio: May 13, 1861 (rescinded ratification – March 31, 1864)
Rhode Island: May 31, 1861 Maryland: January 10, 1862 (rescinded ratification
– April 7, 2014) Illinois: February 14, 1862 (questionable
validity)The Restored Government of Virginia, consisting mostly of representatives of what
would become West Virginia, voted to approve the amendment on February 13, 1862. However, West Virginia did not ratify the
amendment after it became a state in 1863. In 1963, more than a century after the Corwin
Amendment was submitted to the state legislatures by the Congress, a joint resolution to ratify
it was introduced in the Texas House of Representatives by Dallas Republican Henry Stollenwerck. The joint resolution was referred to the House’s
Committee on Constitutional Amendments on March 7, 1963, but received no further consideration.==Attempted withdrawal of amendment==
On February 8, 1864, during the 38th Congress, with the prospects for a Union victory improving,
Republican Senator Henry B. Anthony of Rhode Island introduced Senate (Joint) Resolution
No. 25 to withdraw the Corwin Amendment from further consideration by the state legislatures
and to halt the ratification process. That same day, Anthony’s joint resolution
was referred to the Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary. On May 11, 1864, Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull,
Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, received the Senate’s permission to discharge Senate
(Joint) Resolution No. 25 from the Committee, with no further action having been taken on
Anthony’s joint resolution.==Possible impact if adopted==The Corwin Amendment, when viewed through
the lens of the plain meaning rule (literal rule), would have, had it been ratified by
the required number of states prior to 1865, made institutionalized slavery immune to the
constitutional amendment procedures and to interference by Congress. As a result, the later Reconstruction Amendments
(Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth) would not have been permissible, as they abolish
or interfere with the domestic institution of the states.A competing theory, however,
suggests that a later amendment conflicting with an already-ratified Corwin Amendment
could either explicitly repeal the Corwin Amendment (as the Twenty-first Amendment explicitly
repealed the Eighteenth Amendment) or be inferred to have partially or completely repealed any
conflicting provisions of an already-adopted Corwin Amendment.==See also==List of amendments to the United States Constitution,
amendments sent to the states, both ratified and unratified
List of proposed amendments to the United States Constitution, amendments proposed in
Congress but never sent to the states for ratification
Slavery in the United States Peace Conference of 1861==Notes

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