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Petition of 106 members of Union Fire Company No. 1, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, February 6, 1861

One of the nation’s oldest volunteer fire companies petitioned Congress with this watercolor of the American flag. Likening a civil war to devouring flames, the firefighters implored Congress to pass the Crittenden Compromise or similar legislation to preserve national peace and unity. In the petition they declared their devotion to the welfare of their fellow citizens.

Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

Petition of 106 members of Union Fire Company No. 1, Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1861

Compromise and Conflict

In the mid-19th century, as the volatile issue of slavery grew increasingly divisive, Congress struggled with legislation to preserve the Union. For example, in 1860 Kentucky Senator John Crittenden proposed a series of resolutions and constitutional amendments aimed at preventing the secession of Southern states. His proposals included the reinstatement of the Missouri Compromise's boundary between free and slave territory at latitude 36'30". Both houses ultimately rejected the Crittenden Compromise, and Congress failed to prevent Southern secession and civil war.