Thomas Corwin

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The world has contempt for the man who amuses it. You must be solemn, solemn as an ass. All the great monuments on earth have been erected over the graves of solemn asses.

BEP portrait of Corwin as Secretary of the Treasury CORWIN, Thomas-Treasury (BEP engraved portrait).jpg
BEP portrait of Corwin as Secretary of the Treasury

He resigned from the Senate to become President Millard Fillmore's Secretary of the Treasury shortly after the death of President Zachary Taylor. Like his immediate predecessor, William M. Meredith, Corwin believed in a protective tariff. Still, he did not want to make sudden or drastic changes in the free-trade tariff law of 1846. He objected to that law's provisions, which taxed some imported raw materials at a higher rate than the imported manufactured goods made from those materials, stating in a report to Congress that "such provisions certainly take from the manufacturer and artisan that encouragement which the present law was intended to afford." As a longtime Whig, however, Corwin was unsuccessful in passing any tariff legislation in a Congress controlled by Democrats. He retired as Secretary shortly after the end of Filmore's administration.

In 1857, former Ohio Governor William Bebb shot a man and was tried in 1858 for manslaughter in Winnebago County, Illinois, where he lived. Corwin and co-council Judge William Johnston obtained an acquittal with an argument of self-defense. [11]

He was again elected to the House of Representatives in 1858, this time as a Republican and a member of the 36th Congress. In 1860, he was chairman of the House "Committee of Thirty-three", consisting of one member from each state, and appointed to consider the condition of the nation and, if possible, to devise some scheme for reconciling the North and the South in the secessionist crisis following the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency. [10] To that end, he sponsored a proposed Constitutional Amendment, which later became known as the Corwin Amendment, which forbade the Federal Government from outlawing slavery. It read:

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. [12]

Corwin's amendment restated what most Americans already believed, that under the Constitution the Congress had no power to interfere with slavery in the states where it existed.

This doctrine is known as the Federal Consensus, and it was subscribed to by everyone from proslavery radicals like John C. Calhoun and abolitionist radicals like William Lloyd Garrison. Abraham Lincoln, like most Republicans, agreed that in peacetime the federal government could not abolish slavery in a state. The 1860 Republican Party platform restated the familiar doctrine. Prohibited by the Constitution from abolishing slavery in the southern states, antislavery politicians instead aimed at weakening slavery by other means—banning slavery in the territories, denying admission to new slave states, inhibiting the rendition of fugitive slaves in the North, suppressing slavery on the high seas, and abolishing slavery in Washington, D.C. For this reason, southerners had long discounted repeated northern promises not to abolish slavery in a state, and they were unimpressed when Corwin introduced his proposed amendment.

The Corwin amendment passed the Senate on March 2. However, only five states ratified it, [13] and war began anyway. Thus, the initiative failed in its goal of preventing the outbreak of the American Civil War.

Corwin was reelected to the House of Representatives in 1860 but resigned on March 12, 1861, after being appointed by the newly inaugurated President Lincoln to become Minister to Mexico, where he served until 1864. Corwin, well regarded among the Mexican public for his opposition to the Mexican–American War while in the Senate, helped keep relations with the Mexicans friendly throughout the course of the Civil War, despite Confederate efforts to sway their allegiances. [14]

Death and legacy

After resigning from his post as Minister, Corwin settled in Washington, D.C. in 1864, and practiced law until his death on December 18, 1865, at age 71.

He is interred in Lebanon Cemetery, Lebanon, Ohio. [15]

Corwin is remembered chiefly as an orator. [10] His speeches both on the stump and in debate were examples of remarkable eloquence. [16]

He acquired the nickname Black Tom not because he was African–American in ancestry, but because of his dark, swarthy complexion.

In 1876 the United States Revenue Cutter Service commissioned a cutter named USRC Thomas Corwin.

In 1898, the village of Corwin, Ohio was named after him, which is located in Wayne Township, Warren County, Ohio.

Corwin was the namesake of the Tom Corwin Coal Company. The associated company town Tom Corwin is an unincorporated community in Jackson County, Ohio.

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  1. Morrow, p. 5.
  2. Cox, Samuel Sullivan (1887). "Chapter XVI – Characteristics Of Races and Classes in Turkey". Diversions of a Diplomat in Turkey. New York: C.L. Webster. p. 182.
  3. "Thomas Corwin". Ohio Historical Society. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
  4. Corwin Speeches: 15
  5. "Ohio Governor Thomas Corwin". National Governors Association. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
  6. Corwin Speeches: 19
  7. "Past Grand Masters – 1828 Thomas Corwin". Grand Lodge of Ohio . Retrieved December 21, 2012.
  8. Alexander K. McClure, ed. (1902). Famous American Statesmen & Orators. Vol. VI. New York: F. F. Lovell Publishing Company. p. 43.
  9. Taylor 1899: 255
  10. 1 2 3 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Corwin, Thomas". Encyclopædia Britannica . Vol. 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 211.
  11. Johnston, William (1887). Arguments to courts and juries, 1846–1874. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke and Company. pp. 114–115.
  12. A proposed Thirteenth Amendment to prevent secession, 1861 The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Retrieved April 23, 2016.
  13. Crofts, Daniel W. (2016). Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery: The Other Thirteenth Amendment and the Struggle to Save the Union. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. p. 15. ISBN   9781469627328.
  14. Berbusse, Edward J. (1975). "Two Kentuckians Evaluate the Mexican Scene from Vera Cruz, 1853-1861". The Americas. 31 (4): 501–512. doi:10.2307/980016. ISSN   0003-1615. JSTOR   980016. S2CID   147539911.
  15. "Corwin, Thomas". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved October 27, 2017.
  16. Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Corwin, Thomas"  . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.


Thomas Corwin
20th United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office
July 23, 1850 March 6, 1853