OTD in 1860 – the Crittenden Compromise is introduced

It was on this date in 1860 that Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden introduced the famous compromise legislation he and others hoped would head off a civil war.

Too much, too late

Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden was a founding member of the Constitutional Unionist Party.

The doomed Crittenden Compromise called for six new amendments to the Constitution that would essentially revive the Missouri Compromise borders for slavery, strip Congress of most powers to regulate slavery, bolster the Fugitive Slave Law, and guarantee the institution of slavery for the South.

South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens owned 276 slaves in 1860.

The impetus for the proposed legislation was the imminent vote of secession by South Carolina as well as the likely actions by a number of other slave states. Following the election of Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln on November 6, South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens called for a state secession convention on the very day Crittenden offered his compromise in the U.S. Senate.

The previous day, Pickens penned a request to President James Buchanan proposing that federal troops stationed at Charleston Harbor’s Fort Sumter be replaced by South Carolina militia already staged nearby. Buchanan sidestepped the issue, no doubt sending what was, perhaps, the unintended message that such a proposal might be accomplished with more negotiations.

Two days later, on December 20, 1860, in spite of the Crittenden Compromise, South Carolina

became the first state that voted to secede from the Union.

Still, Crittenden’s bill received lackluster attention as seven other states voted to secede by February 1, 1861.

Lincoln took the oath of office on March 4, 1861, and on April 12, Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter, essentially making the Crittenden Compromise a dead issue.


Bigelow’s Detroit deserves a second look

Have you seen the film, Detroit? Few have – and that’s a problem.

CREDIT: The Guardian

At a time when the Whitehouse is occupied by a lunatic whose power is largely derived from his impulsive willingness to stoke the fires of racism, one would think director Kathryn Bigelow’s account of the 1967 Detroit conflagration would be welcomed.

At a time when all-blue American flags with a mourning stripe mock Black Lives Matter, one would think a film with such great potential to spark meaningful dialogue among whites who have no idea of the very real issue of police violence in predominantly black neighborhoods would be used as a teachable moment.

At a time when so many families either don’t know or fail to pass along to their children the history and personal significance of the turbulent period of the late civil rights era, one would think a movie, even with its imperfections, would be widely seen as an entry point to a past largely ignored and forgotten.

In all three instances, you’d be wrong to harbor such hopeful thoughts.

The film, which I watched last night, (along with only two other movie patrons), has been savaged by movie critics, and therefore, poorly attended at a time when no one else is making major-release films on topics that deal with that soon-to-be-unknown period.

The criticism falls into two overlapping camps. One is that the, (two-hour and twenty-three-minute long), movie doesn’t bother to inform the viewer of the active political movement within the black community prior to the riot. The other, predictably, is that both the writer and director are white, which both acknowledge limits the depth of experience brought to the script and the film.

My counter to the first criticism is that Detroit is not a PBS documentary in which context and richer character development can be constructed in four to six hours.

As to the second criticism, the pretentious charge that Detroit¬†“made by whites for whites” may be, in part, true. Are critics unaware that a helluva a lot of whites have no idea that un-impugned police misconduct, let alone the myriad causes of urban uprisings, actually occurred during the 1960s?

I left the theatre feeling both helpless and hopeless, last night. The film’s gripping content clearly spoke to the contemporary relevance of the themes, something few damning critics bothered to notice. That accounted for my feelings of helplessness.

As for hopelessness, I know I’ll return to my students on Tuesday knowing they’ll have no prior knowledge of their grandparent’s experiences, much less Reconstruction, the period I’m now teaching. Of course, it’s my job to introduce them to this history, but without a dialogue at home and in the community in general, I fear, and with good reason, that any fruit borne from studying the past will merely rot.

Perhaps just as tragic, my own neighbors will dismiss the message of Black Lives Matter as they hoist their Blue Lives Matter banners, never once considering they’ve been conned by racists whose new ascendancy might be tempered by a film that dared to give treatment to an important set of relevant ideas.