New York Times editorial – February 14, 1861

On February 14, 1861, the New York Times published an editorial addressing the secession crisis.  The Times struck an optimistic tone that in retrospect seems misplaced and naive, but reflected the hopes raised in North at that moment by the Washington Convention that, with substantial constitutional concessions to protect slavery, it might halt secession in the Upper South and set the stage eventually to coax the Lower South states peacefully back into the Union.

The Times‘ editorial proposals reflected in broad outlines what the Washington Convention would present a day later.  In returning for the slaves states recognizing the authority of the federal government and repudiating secession, the following “Measures of Adjustment” should be implemented:

1. Congress shall never legislate for the abolition of Slavery in any State.

2. The Fugitive Slave law shall be so amended as to render its execution more feasible, and remove all State hostility to it, by depriving it of its harshest, least just and most repulsive features.

3. All our present territory north of the northern boundary of New-Mexico shall be admitted as one State, — and all south of that boundary as another State, — each with its present institutions, and each to be divided hereafter according to the provisions of the Constitution of the United States.

4. No foreign territory shall hereafter be acquired except with the consent of three-fourths of all the States.

The Times asserted, “If measures substantially like these could be adopted, we should have a solid, permanent and vigorous Union, — which could hold its forts, collect its revenues, and, in due course of time, convince the Gulf States that their only chance of safety, of growth, prosperity and continued existence, lay in their again placing themselves under the protection and cherishing care of the United States.”  The editorial did not reckon with the determination of Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party to stop the spread of slavery into the West, but it signaled the New York Times’ editorial support for the Washington Convention and the reality that appeasing slaveholders was the key to any compromise that might preserve the Union at that late date–and that slavery was at the heart of the sectional crisis.

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About Donald R. Shaffer

Donald R. Shaffer is the author of _After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans_ (Kansas, 2004), which won the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship in 2005. More recently he published (with Elizabeth Regosin), _Voices of Emancipation: Understanding Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction through the U.S. Pension Bureau Files_ (2008). Dr. Shaffer teaches online exclusively (i.e., a virtual professor). He lives in Arizona and can be contacted at donald_shaffer@yahoo.com
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