It is said that if the Crittenden Compromise of December, 1861 had been submitted to the people, it would have had far-reaching effect in arresting the secession movement except for the already-departed South Carolina. By January, the opportunity had passed though the Republicans showed by their support of the proposed 13th Amendment that slavery was truly not an issue, and that their coming war against the American South was expressly for other reasons.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Driving the South to Secession
“From Buffalo, on January 18, 1861, he [Horatio Seymour] wrote Senator Crittenden of Kentucky in support of his scheme of compromise. It was in his opinion that this “great measure of reconciliation” struck “the popular heart.” [Senator William] Bigler of Pennsylvania had proposed that the Crittenden Compromise be submitted to popular vote, and Seymour assured the senator that Bigler’s suggestion was “here regarded as vastly important.”
He thought the measure would carry New York by 150,000 votes in a referendum . . . [and] Republican congressmen who feared to support the compromise would be glad of the chance to throw the responsibility on their constituents.
[Author] James Ford Rhodes fortified one’s belief in the good judgment of Seymour when he studied the defeat of Senator Crittenden’s proposals. In view of the appalling consequences the responsibility of both Lincoln and Seward for the defeat is heavy, if not dark — in spite of all that historians of the inevitable have written of “this best of all possible worlds.” The committee to which Crittenden’s bill for compromise was referred consisted of thirteen men. Crittenden himself was the most prominent of the three representatives from the Border States.
Of three Northern Democrats, Douglas, of Illinois was the leader; of five Republicans, [William] Seward was the moving spirit. Only two men sat from the Cotton States, [Jefferson] Davis and [Robert] Toombs. Commenting on the fateful vote of the committee, Rhodes observed:
“No fact is clearer than that the Republicans in December defeated the Crittenden compromise; few historic probabilities have better evidence to support them than the one which asserts that the adoption of this measure would have prevented the secession of the Cotton States, other than South Carolina, and the beginning of the civil war in 1861 . . . It is unquestionable, as I have previously shown, that in December the Republicans defeated the Crittenden proposition; and it seems to me likewise clear that, of all the influences tending to this result, the influence of Lincoln was the most potent.”
In January the House refused, by a vote of 113 to 80, to submit the Crittenden Compromise to the people. About the same time the Senate joined this action by a vote of 20 to 19. Two-thirds of each House, however, recommended to the States a compromise thirteenth amendment to the Constitution, as follows: “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give 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.”
Conservative Republicans voted with the Democrats to carry this measure of which Lincoln approved in his inaugural address.”
(Horatio Seymour of New York, Stewart Mitchell, Harvard University Press, 1938, pp 222-224)