The Crittenden–Johnson Resolution (also called the Crittenden Resolution) was a measure passed by the 37th United States Congress on July 25, 1861 after the start of the American Civil War, which began on April 12, 1861. Also known as the War Aims Resolution, it was passed by both houses of Congress in July 1861 in an attempt to define limited conservative goals for the Union effort during the Civil War, especially the restoration of the Union as it was with no mention of slavery. The dual goal was to retain the loyalty of Unionists in the slave-holding border states and also to reassure Northerners who would fight to save the Union but not to free the slaves.
Although the resolution passed almost unanimously in July, sentiment shifted so much in the following months that the same resolution was defeated by a decisive majority in December.
The resolution is sometimes confused with the "Crittenden Compromise," a series of unsuccessful proposals to amend the United States Constitution, debated after slave states began seceding, in an attempt to prevent the South from leaving the Union.
Both measures are sometimes confused with the Corwin Amendment, a proposal to amend the U. S. Constitution adopted by the 36th Congress, which attempted to constitutionalize slavery. It was adopted by the necessary two-thirds in both Houses and submitted to the states for ratification. It was ratified by three states before the war pre-empted further debate.
During the war, President Abraham Lincoln was concerned that the slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland in the crucial upper south might leave the Union to join the Confederate States of America. If Maryland were lost, Washington, D.C. would be entirely surrounded by Confederate territory. Both Missouri and Kentucky were slave states of questionable loyalty to the Union that bordered on important Union territory; Lincoln was born in Kentucky and losing his birth state would be seen as a political failure. Also, the Ohio River marks the northern border of Kentucky and this strategically important waterway was the economic lifeline of Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana; each of these states had to ship goods down this river down to the Mississippi River. Delaware (the other slave state that remained in the Union) had so few slaves that its loyalty would not be questioned.
The resolution was introduced on July 19, 1861, two days before the Battle of Bull Run, and was passed with few dissenting votes the day after the battle, when Union forces were routed by the Confederate army, creating intense concern in Washington about southern soldiers “in arms around the capital.”
Components of the resolution
The resolution was voted upon in the House in two parts, or “branches”. The text of the first branch reads, “Resolved by the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States, That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon the country by the disunionists of the southern States now in revolt against the constitutional government, and in arms around the capital.”
This branch passed the House 121-2. Two congressmen voted against this branch, Henry C. Burnett (Kentucky) and John W. Reid (Missouri). Both were expelled at the next session of the 37th Congress for taking up arms against the United States.
The text of the second branch reads, “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."
The complete measure passed the House on July 22, 1861, and was introduced to the Senate on July 25, 1861. The Senate rejected division of the question into two branches, and voted on the entire resolution, passing it 30-5. The five senators voting against the resolution were: John C. Breckinridge (Kentucky), Waldo P. Johnson (Missouri), Trusten Polk (Missouri), Lazarus W. Powell (Kentucky), and Lyman Trumbull (Illinois). Breckinridge, Johnson, and Polk were expelled from the Senate at the next session of the 37th Congress for support for the Confederate Rebellion. A motion was brought to expel Powell, but was defeated, in part due to a defense given by Trumbull. 
Meaning and context
Introduced as the War Aims Resolution, the resolution became better known for its sponsors, Representative John J. Crittenden of Kentucky and Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee. The bill defined limited conservative goals for the Union effort during the Civil War. Although it made no mention of slavery, the resolution intended that the Union Government would take no actions against the peculiar institution of slavery. The war was fought not for "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."
The implication was that war would end when the seceding states returned to the Union, with slavery being intact. The political goals of the resolution were to retain the loyalty of Unionists in the slave-holding border states and also to reassure Northerners who would fight to save the Union but not to free the slaves. In addition, the measure forestalled other pending legislation, notably three amendments to the Constitution proposed by Tennessee Congressman Thomas Amos Rogers Nelson, who abandoned them in favor of the Crittenden – Johnson Resolution.
Thaddeus Stevens, a Pennsylvania Congressman, had opposed the bill when it was introduced on the grounds that, in war, Congress and the President had the right to take “any step which would subdue the enemy,” but abstained from voting on the measure. By December 1861, public opinion had shifted so dramatically that he was able to secure the repeal of the bill.
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- 36th Cong. 2d Sess. (1861). "United States Statutes at Large". Library of Congress. p. 251 (bottom).
- "37th Congress, House of Representatives". Journal of the House of Representatives (Library of Congress): 123–125. July 22, 1861.
- Maskell, Jack (January 25, 2005). "Expulsion, Censure, Reprimand, and Fine: Legislative Discipline in the House of Representatives". Congressional Research Service (Library of Congress): 8 (footnote 20), 27. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
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- Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein and Richard Zuczek (2001). Andrew Johnson: A Biographical Companion. ABC-CLIO. p. 207.