Congress Sends the Thirteenth Amendment Abolishing Slavery to the States for Ratification
On January 31, 1865, the proposed Thirteenth Amendment, having already been passed by the Senate, was passed by the House by a vote of 119 to 56, with 8 abstentions, and sent to the states for ratification.
Upon it being ratified by three-fourths of the states on December 6, 1865, it would become part of the Constitution. It reads
SECTION 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
SECTION 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
– Submitted by Beverly Palmer
Lincoln Speaks to an Assembled Crowd after Congress Recommends to the States the Constitutional Amendment that Would Abolish Slavery
February 1, 1865. When news spread of Congress’s passing the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, a group outside the White House serenaded the President. In response, Lincoln said that the occasion “was one of congratulation to the country and to the whole world. But there is a task yet before us—to go forward and consummate by the votes of the States that which Congress
so nobly began yesterday. [Applause and cries—’They will do it, ‘ &c.] He had the honor to inform those present that Illinois had already to-day done the work. [Applause.] Maryland was about half through; but he felt proud that Illinois was a little ahead. He thought this measure was a very fitting if not an indispensable adjunct to the winding up of the great difficulty. He wished the reunion of all the States perfected and so effected as to remove all causes of disturbance in the future; and to attain this end it was necessary that the original disturbing cause should, if possible, be rooted out. He thought all would bear him witness that he had never shrunk from doing all that he could to eradicate Slavery by issuing an emancipation proclamation. [Applause.] But that proclamation falls far short of what the amendment will be when fully consummated. A question might be raised whether the proclamation was legally valid. It might be added that it only aided those who came into our lines and that it was inoperative as to those who did not give themselves up, or that it would have no effect upon the children of the slaves born hereafter. In fact it would be urged that it did not meet the evil. But this amendment is a King’s cure for all the evils. [Applause.] It winds the whole thing up. . . . He could not but congratulate all present, himself, the country and the whole world upon this great moral victory.”
Abraham Lincoln, Speeches and Writings, 1859-1865. Library of America, p. 670
Lincoln and Seward Meet with the Vice President of the Confederacy and Two Others
February 3, 1865. As was depicted in the movie Lincoln, President Lincoln and Secretary of State Seward met informally on a steam transport at Hampton Roads, Virginia with Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens, John A. Campbell, and Robert M. T. Hunter to discuss possible peace terms. The February 3, 1865 meeting ended in failure. The war would continue. Seward summarized the discussion:
“. . . the conference was altogether informal. There was no attendance of secretaries, clerks, or other witnesses. Nothing was written or read. The conversation, although earnest and free, was calm and courteous, and kind on both sides. The Richmond party approached the discussion rather indirectly, and at no time did they either make categorical demands, or tender formal stipulations, or absolute refusals. . . . What the insurgent part seemed chiefly to favor was a postponement of the question of separation, upon which the war is waged, and a mutual direction of efforts of the government, as well as those of the insurgents, to some extrinsic policy or scheme for a season, during which passions might be expected to subside, and the armies reduced, and trade and intercourse between the people of both sections resumed. . . .
This suggestion, though deliberately considered, was nevertheless regarded by the President as one of armistice or truce, and he announced that we can agree to no cessation or suspension of hostilities, except on the basis of the disbandment of the insurgent forces, and the restoration of the national authority throughout all the States of the Union. . . . the anti-slavery policy of the United States was reviewed in all its bearings, and the President announced that he must not be expected to depart from the positions he had heretofore assumed in his proclamation of emancipation and other documents. . . . The President assured the other part that, while he must adhere to these positions, he would be prepared, so far as power is lodged with the Executive, to exercise liberality. His power, however, is limited by the Constitution; and when peace should be made, Congress must necessarily act in regard to appropriations of money and to the admission of representatives from the insurrectionary States. The Richmond party were then informed that Congress had, on the 31st ultimo, adopted by a constitutional majority a joint resolution submitting to the several States the proposition to abolish slavery throughout the Union, and that there is every reason to expect that it will be soon accepted by three-fourths of the States, so as to become a part of the national organic law.
The conference came to an end by mutual acquiescence. . . .”
The Union Reader (1958) pp. 325-30.
Lincoln on Confederate Vice President Stephens in Big Winter Coat: “the biggest shuck and the littlest ear that you ever did see”
Lincoln had served with the Confederate vice president, Alexander Stephens, during the Mexican War, and so it was for Lincoln an awkward reunion of sorts. In actuality as well as in Spielberg’s movie Lincoln, Stephens was a tiny man. Later Lincoln recalled seeing Stephens wrapped up in a huge winter coat and commented with a laugh, “Didn’t you think it was the biggest shuck and the littlest ear that ever you did see?”
Lincoln in the Times, The Life of Abraham Lincoln As Originally Reported in The New York Times, David Herbert Donald and Harold Holzer, ed., p. 217.
Union Soldier: “Slavery is dead, & that.s what we have been fighting about”
February 4, 1865. Private Henry E. Dunbar of Newbury, Vermont, wrote to his wife on February 4, the day after the Hampton Roads meeting:
“. . .The Papers say that [Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander] Stephens [Senator Robert] Hunter and [Assistant Secretary of War for the Confederacy John A.] Campbell from Richmond are now in Washington determined to make Peace if possible. Everybody here is anxiously waiting the result. ‘Can it be that Peace is so near. I dont dare to believe it, but cant help hoping that it may come & I dont see why we should not have now that the bone of contention is out of the way. Slavery is dead, & past resurrection, & that.s what we have been fighting about. . . .”
A War of the People, Vermont Civil War Letters, Jeffrey D. Marshall, ed., 287.
– All entries but the first were submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert