The Corwin Amendment. The Forgotten Amendment
By Samuel Ashwood | October 1, 2008
Not every amendment ever proposed for the Constitution of the United States has passed. However, even those that fail of ratification (e.g., the Equal Rights Amendment) tell us a lot about the general drift of society. For any issue to gain such national prominence that it would gain even a proposition for constitutional amendment means that issue is a major one in the society of that day.
Many Americans remember the Equal Rights Amendment, but none alive today remember the Corwin Amendment. Very few Americans are even aware of its existence, because the writers of history have found it convenient to ignore anything that does not fit into the historical paradigms they have created. The Corwin Amendment destroys many of the historical elite’s fancies about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.
The Corwin Amendment was proposed by Congressman Thomas Corwin of Ohio when the Cotton States began to secede from the Union in late 1860, early 1861. It read:
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.
In short, the amendment would have forbidden the Federal government to interfere with the institution of slavery. It was the hope of Corwin and the amendment’s supporters that, with slavery absolutely guaranteed by the Constitution itself, the Southern states would immediately return to the Union, averting the threat of civil war. The amendment gained great initial support. It was passed by both houses of Congress. Henry Adams noted that the 24-12 victory for the amendment in the senate was due largely to the lobbying of president-elect Abraham Lincoln. The amendment was then signed by lame duck president James Buchanan, although a presidential signature has no effect on whether or not an amendment is approved.
When one considers some of the prevalent historical myths treasured in America, it is easy to see why the Corwin Amendment is completely ignored by mainstream historians. First, it destroys the myth that the Southern states seceded for no other reason than to protect slavery. The odds of passing the Corwin Amendment would likely have been very favorable, with only the New England states guaranteed to defeat it. Abraham Lincoln endorsed the amendment in his first inaugural address. But no Southern state ever gave a hint that they would return to the Union, even if the Corwin Amendment were approved. Shortly thereafter, Abraham Lincoln kept another promise he had made in his first inaugural address, that he would use armed force to collect tariffs and protect federal property in the Southern states. Needless to say, these bare historical facts also destroy the myth of Abraham Lincoln as the great Abolitionist crusader, and friend of the bondman. His support of the Corwin Amendment make it plain he was perfectly willing for the Negro to remain in bondage forever, if it kept the Union together.
The Corwin Amendment, of course, failed, because the Southern states were disinterested in rejoining a Union where authority was shifting irrevocably to Washington, and away from the state capitals. Abraham Lincoln would call for volunteers to suppress “the rebellion,” and ensure that final power forever in the United States would rest in Washington.
The Corwin Amendment is technically still pending. However, it does not seem due to pass any time soon.