Tuesdays with Torrey: The Corwin Amendment

Do you know who Thomas Corwin is? Neither did I until I decided to do some studying up on the history of this great nation. 

In 1860, after Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election, President James Buchanan fearing secession by the south challenged Congress to come up with a way to ease fears of outlawing slavery. Asked for an actual explanatory amendment to prevent this, Corwin (head of the committee) and two other members of the house set their sights on accomplishing this task.

During this time there were 57 different drafts that were rejected before Corwin’s slavery protection version was quickly accepted by a narrow vote. On February 1, 1861 the House passed it with 133 votes, one more than two thirds, and just two days later the Senate passed it with 24, exactly two thirds at the time. And for good measure, President Buchanan also signed it to show support. 

At this point the federal legislature had done what was needed to make the Corwin Amendment the 13th amendment. The actual verbiage of the Corwin Amendment read as follows: “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.” 

So why isn’t the Corwin Amendment the 13th amendment? Because that wasn’t the end of the process. Once the legislative branch passes an amendment with its two-thirds vote, three- fourths of the states need to ratify it through either a convention or through state legislation. Fortunately only five states ratified it. Those five were; Kentucky, Illinois, Rhode Island, Maryland, and Ohio (Maryland and Ohio later rescinded their ratification). 

Once the south seceded and the Civil War started, states did not see the validity in ratifying the amendment. However, this document does not have an expiration date, so at any time it could be ratified. On February 8, 1864, U.S. Senator Henry B. Anthony of Rhode Island (who was also the state’s 21st governor) introduced Senate (Joint) Resolution No. 25 to withdraw the amendment from further consideration but it didn’t succeed, and no further action was taken on it. 

The last attempt at ratification was in 1963 by Texas State Rep. Henry Stollenwerck on March 7 of that year, more than a century after the Corwin Amendment was first proposed. 

So ask yourself, why hasn’t this amendment been removed from possible ratification? Why are we not doing anything about it? 

Torrey Brown is a loving husband, father, and son, and also an outspoken champion for the black cause and all social injustices.

Any views or opinions expressed in “Tuesdays with Torrey” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.