When Congress Officially Declared that the Civil War was Not About Slavery
It was July of 1861, and things were looking bad for the United States. The December before, South Carolina had seceded, and the gulf states followed in quick succession throughout January, with Texas joining on February 1. Then, as it became unmistakable that the United States intended to invade the seceded states, and force all other states to take up arms against them, the mid-Southern states had no choice but to secede as well, starting with Virginia’s departure from the Union in April, and concluding with Tennessee’s secession on June 8.
Already the situation was dire, but it was by no means clear that other states would remain. Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri were all popularly inclined to join the seceded states, and Maryland’s secession in particular would have been disastrous, causing Washington to be surrounded by states of the Confederacy.
It was against this backdrop that a resolution was introduced in the House, called the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution, which declared that the War was not fought for slavery, and that the United States Government had no desire or aim to end slavery. The measure was not a divisive one, passing the House 119-2.
The text read:
That in this national emergency, Congress, banishing all feelings of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; that this war is not waged on their part in any spirit of oppression, or for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, or purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.
Perhaps even more telling as to the aims of the Union was the Corwin Amendment, enshrining slavery into the Constitution, introduced prior to the War’s outbreak. It passed easily, and was approved of by President Lincoln. However, it had no impact on the South’s desire to secede.