Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Abraham Lincoln; Henry Louis Gates Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

67

Resolution Submitting the Thirteenth
Amendment to the States:
CW, 8:253

Although Lincoln believed in the necessity of a constitutional amendment to end slavery, he treated it largely as he handled all things that did not come under the authority of his office. As in the case of equal pay for black troops, the president refused to intervene in the matter—notwithstanding the crisis in the field and the pleas of many Union commanders and soldiers. Congress, he held, had sole authority in the matter. Similarly, Lincoln said nothing publicly about the Thirteenth Amendment throughout most of 1864 since the Constitution gave the presidency no role in the process. He may also have been worried about the upcoming election, one that seemed increasingly hopeless as the summer progressed. The president remained “indifferent” to the effort until December, although the Senate held a final vote approving the legislation on April 8, 1864. He then began lobbying for it in the House of Representatives, expressing his wish that Congress approve a resolution for a Thirteenth Amendment before he delivered his second inaugural address in March. Democrats tried to bargain with Lincoln, offering their support for the legislation in exchange for the administration's extending more serious peace feelers to the Confederate government. Senator Sumner pressured Lincoln, and mammoth petitions poured into the Congress demanding an amendment to end slavery once and for all time, an amendment that the House of Representatives finally approved on January 31, 1865. Although his signature was unnecessary, Lincoln signed the resolution, undoubtedly wanting his name on such a historic document. For Lincoln's role in adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment, see: Michael Vorenberg, Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 113–117, 125–127, 174–178, 206–210, 223–224.

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