Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery: The Other Thirteenth Amendment and the Struggle to Save the Union

Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery: The Other Thirteenth Amendment and the Struggle to Save the Union

Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery: The Other Thirteenth Amendment and the Struggle to Save the Union

Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery: The Other Thirteenth Amendment and the Struggle to Save the Union

Synopsis

In this landmark book, Daniel Crofts examines a little-known episode in the most celebrated aspect of Abraham Lincoln's life: his role as the "Great Emancipator." Lincoln always hated slavery, but he also believed it to be legal where it already existed, and he never imagined fighting a war to end it. In 1861, as part of a last-ditch effort to preserve the Union and prevent war, the new president even offered to accept a constitutional amendment that barred Congress from interfering with slavery in the slave states. Lincoln made this key overture in his first inaugural address.

Crofts unearths the hidden history and political maneuvering behind the stillborn attempt to enact this amendment, the polar opposite of the actual Thirteenth Amendment of 1865 that ended slavery. This compelling book sheds light on an overlooked element of Lincoln's statecraft and presents a relentlessly honest portrayal of America's most admired president. Crofts rejects the view advanced by some Lincoln scholars that the wartime momentum toward emancipation originated well before the first shots were fired. Lincoln did indeed become the "Great Emancipator," but he had no such intention when he first took office. Only amid the crucible of combat did the war to save the Union become a war for freedom.

Excerpt

Most Americans were sound asleep during the wee hours after midnight. It was already Inauguration Day—Monday, March 4, 1861. But the United States Senate struggled on through the night, paralyzed by a filibuster. The session had only hours to run. Congress would expire no later than noon, and Abraham Lincoln was about to become president. The issue at hand was a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifying that Congress could not interfere with slavery in the states where it existed. The amendment was designed to reassure white Southerners that they could safely remain in the Union. Lincoln’s election four months before on the Republican Party’s antislavery platform had stirred an uproar in the South. Seven slave states in the Deep South, from South Carolina west to Texas, already had seceded and begun to form a separate government, the Confederate States of America. They would not tolerate Lincoln, a “Black Republican.” But eight slave states in the Upper South, home to two- thirds of white Southerners, clung uneasily to the Union, and no shots had yet been exchanged.

Just days before, the House of Representatives had narrowly mustered a two- thirds majority in favor of the amendment. The Senate would need the same margin to send it to the states for ratification. If the Senate did not act during the next few hours, the amendment would die. Secessionists wanted the amendment stopped. Were ordinary white Southerners to get the idea that slavery would be safe in the Union, the case for an independent South would unravel. Hard- line Republicans had their own reasons for wanting the amendment stopped. They demanded that the Constitution be “obeyed rather than amended.” Any seeming concession would condone the South’s outrageous behavior. So Louis Wigfall, the Texas duelist and Confederate agent, droned on into the night, as did “Bluff Ben” Wade, the bluntly antiSouthern senator from Ohio. Anxious conciliators, who saw the amendment as a possible means of bringing about peaceful reunion, sat tight and hoped to outlast its opponents.

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