Abraham Lincoln, as sixteenth President
- An extremely rare manuscript copy of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, signed and endorsed by Abraham Lincoln ("Abraham Lincoln"; "Approved. February 1, 1865.")
- Paper, Ink
"Article XIII. 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."
Engrossed document on vellum (21 5/8 x 15 5/8 in.; 549 x 397 mm) ruled in blue and printed with the long-form variant of the Congressional Resolution form, text engrossed by two clerks, Washington, D.C., ca. February 1, 1865, co-signed by Hannibal Hamlin as Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate, Schuyler Colfax as Speaker of the House, John W. Forney as Secretary of the Senate, and 36 (of the 38) Senators who voted for passage (lacking only William P. Fessenden and B. F. Harding), with certification prepared for Secretary of the Senate Forney ("I certify that this Resolution originated in the Senate [blank] Secretary") though not signed by him, marked "Duplicate"; some scuffing and fading and flaking of ink, scuffing, mostly affecting the senatorial signatures.
Sotheby's thanks Seth Kaller for providing the census and assistance in cataloguing this lot. Additional information on Lincoln-signed manuscript copies of the Thirteenth Amendment can be found at www.Freedomdocuments.org.
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This document was clearly signed by the Senators at the same time as the other two Senate copies (owned by the Lincoln Financial Collection, Indiana State Museum, and St. Mary College).
Lincoln, Slavery and the Declaration of Independence: Toward Resolution
The Emancipation Proclamation, by ushering in full abolition, helped fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence, rescuing the nation’s founding philosophy of human liberty from the charge of hypocrisy. As historians James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton note, the history of African Americans “both illustrates and contradicts the promise of America—the principles embodied in the nation’s founding documents” (Horton, ix). Lincoln himself noted in 1855,
“Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics [sic].” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy” (Peterson, 10).
Lincoln credibly believed that, although the Founders did not accord black people social and political equality, they did not expect blacks’ position in society to remain static. He argued that in the Declaration of Independence, “They simply meant to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances would permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for a free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all;…constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. The assertion that “all men are created equal” was of no practical use to our effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration, not for that, but for future use” (Peterson, 11).
The decision to emancipate had not come easily. Lincoln doubtless saw the war years as a time of particularly rapid transition toward this “free society,” and his Emancipation Proclamation displays a degree of caution. Like most men of his time, he had doubts about how African Americans would fit into society as free citizens, though free blacks had lived in both the North and the South since colonial days, with a limited range of rights that sometimes included suffrage. Lincoln enjoined “upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.”
Abolishing Slavery in all of America
While the Emancipation Proclamation was taking its effect in the field as the Union army advanced, Lincoln also advocated a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery everywhere in the United States. On December 14, 1863, Ohio Congressman James M. Ashley introduced such an amendment in the House of Representatives. Senator John Brooks Henderson of Missouri, a border state that still sanctioned slavery, followed suit on January 11, 1864, courageously submitting a joint resolution for an amendment abolishing slavery.
The proposal passed in the Senate on April 8, 1864, with a vote of 38 to 6. Two months later, however, it was defeated in the House of Representatives, 95 to 66 (or by another account, 93-65), shy of the 2/3 necessary for approval. Lincoln, not about to give up, made abolition a central plank of the National Union platform during his re-election campaign. He argued,
“When the people in revolt, with a hundred days of explicit notice, that they could, within those days, resume their allegiance, without the overthrow of their institution, and that they could not so resume it afterwards, elected to stand out, such [an] amendment of the Constitution as [is] now proposed, became a fitting, and necessary conclusion to the final success of the Union cause. Such alone can meet and cover all cavils…” (Basler, Collected Works, 7, 380).
Lincoln’s victory over McClellan in 1864 gave him a new mandate and enough seats in the House to eventually guarantee passage of the stalled amendment. Not content to wait until the new Congress met in March, the amendment’s supporters brought the measure to another vote in the House on January 31, 1865.
On being informed that the amendment was still two votes short, Lincoln is reported to have told the Republican Congressmen: “I am President of the United States, clothed with great power. The abolition of slavery by Constitutional provisions settles the fate, for all … time, not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come – a measure of such importance that those two votes must be procured. I leave it to you to determine how it shall be done, but remember that I am President of the United States, clothed with immense power, and I expect you to procure those two votes ...” (John B. Alley, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, ed., Rice, 1886 ed., p 585-6).
The outcome was in doubt until the final hour. A Pennsylvania Democrat, Archibald McAllister, opened the debate by explaining why he had changed his vote from a “Nay” to an “Aye.” He had been in favor of exhausting all means of conciliation, but was now satisfied that nothing short of independence would satisfy the Southern Confederacy, and that therefore it must be destroyed, and he must cast his vote against its cornerstone, and declare eternal war with the enemies of the country. Fellow Pennsylvania Democrat Alexander Hamilton Coffroth also changed his vote, and gave a speech advocating passage. Arguments continued until, finally, the votes were tallied. This time it passed, by a vote of 119 to 56, with 8 abstentions. When Speaker Colfax declared the results, “a moment of silence succeeded, and then, from floor and galleries, burst a simultaneous shout of joy and triumph, spontaneous, irrepressible and uncontrollable, swelling and prolonged in one vast volume of reverberating thunder…” (Report of the special committee on the passage by the House of Representatives of the constitutional amendment for the abolition of slavery. January 31st, 1865: The Action of the Union League Club on the Amendment, February 9, 1865, in “From Slavery to Freedom.” American Memory, Library of Congress).
Despite the celebrations, three-fourths of the state legislatures needed to ratify the amendment before it could be considered part of the Constitution. Accordingly, Secretary of State William H. Seward immediately sent certified printed copies of the resolution to each governor. In a show of support, Lincoln’s home state of Illinois ratified the 13th amendment on February 1, the same day Lincoln signed the measure. Governor Richard J. Oglesby telegraphed the news to Lincoln at 7:25 that evening, informing him: “[T]he Legislature has by a large majority ratified the amendment to the Constitution. All suppose you had signed the Joint resolution of Congress. Great enthusiasm” (Oglesby to Lincoln, 1 February 1865, AL Papers at the Library of Congress). Five minutes later, Ward H. Lamon, the president’s old law partner, and Edward L. Baker, editor of the Illinois State Journal, relayed the same news. The amendment had passed, they exclaimed triumphantly, “with a great hurrah” (Lamon and Baker to Lincoln, 1 February 1865, AL Papers at the Library of Congress).
Addressing a Washington, D.C. crowd celebrating the historic event, Lincoln offered congratulations on the nation’s great moral victory, but noted that there was still work to be done, state by state. Illinois, he informed them, had already done its part. Maryland was about half through, Lincoln added, but he felt proud that Illinois was “a little ahead” (contemporary newspaper accounts of Lincoln’s speech, Basler 8:255).
By the time General Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, twenty states had ratified the amendment, including Louisiana and Tennessee. Their state governments had already been reconstructed under Lincoln’s so-called “Ten Percent Plan.” On December 8, 1863, Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction promised recognition of new state governments once the number of persons swearing allegiance to the United States equaled ten percent of the number of votes cast in that state in the 1860 election.
Tragically, Lincoln did not live to see the amendment become law. Over time, his understanding of the status of black Americans had evolved. He now supported giving the vote to literate black men and to black veterans, as he made clear in a speech from a White House balcony on April 11, 1865. On hearing it, John Wilkes Booth angrily told a companion, “Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make” (McPherson, 852).
On 14 April 1865, when Arkansas became the 21st state to adopt the 13th amendment, only six more states were needed for ratification. That evening, Lincoln was fatally shot by Booth at Ford’s Theatre, and died the next morning. With Georgia’s ratification on December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment became part of the Constitution.
When the amendment went into effect twelve days later, it freed nearly a million slaves still held in bondage. By the end of January 1866, though no longer required for implementation, five more states had added their votes of approval. The remaining states – Texas, Delaware, Kentucky and Mississippi – finally ratified the amendment in 1870, 1901, 1976 and 1995, respectively.
The Senate’s Withholding Resolution
Having already been approved by the Senate the previous April, the amendment passed in the House on 31 January 1865. The engrossed manuscript was prepared, and Lincoln signed it on February 1st. There does not appear to be any record of the number of “souvenir” copies of the Amendment prepared for Lincoln to sign. Twelve to fifteen are known with Lincoln’s signature. Several additional manuscript copies are known signed by Senators, Congressmen and other officials, but with the space for the President’s name blank. On February 7th, the Senate, anxious not to set a precedent, resolved that the president’s signature had been “unnecessary” on a joint amendment resolution. The Senate secretary, John W. Forney, was directed to “withhold from the House of Representatives the message of the President informing the Senate that he had approved and signed the same....” (Senate Journal) Thus, all of the Lincoln-signed copies were almost certainly signed by him before February 7th. After the resolution, it is probable that the president would have thought it impolitic to sign any additional copies.
Slavery and the Civil War
Growing antislavery sentiments helped Lincoln’s Republican Party rise to prominence in the 1850s. Although the party attracted abolitionists, it mostly championed the “free soil” argument that slavery limited opportunity for the common white man. National tensions came to a head when Lincoln was elected president in 1860 without the support of a single Southern state. Southerners believed he and his party were bent on ending slavery. Historians will never cease to debate exactly what Lincoln wanted to do about slavery and when he wanted to do it, but several points are clear: he was morally opposed to the institution; he resolutely opposed its expansion into the West; he believed it would die out if confined to its current borders; he believed Congress, not the president, had the constitutional right to end it; and he entered the war to preserve the Union, not to end slavery.
Ironically, Southern fears that Lincoln would abolish slavery proved true, but only after a combination of developments, starting with the South’s secession and attack on Fort Sumter. Slaves themselves forced the Union’s hand when they fled to Federal lines at every opportunity, hoping for freedom. The Union’s response ranged from returning them to their masters to on-the-spot emancipation. Generals John C. Frémont (August 1861) and David Hunter (May 1862) independently declared emancipation in areas of the South under their respective commands. Lincoln is still criticized for reversing their orders, but his reasons were clear. He believed that such decisions at the time hurt the overall war effort: Northerners were not ready for emancipation, and the loyalty of the crucial border states, including Kentucky, was not yet assured. Further, he thought that such decisions belonged to the commander-in-chief. Over the course of the war, Lincoln saw the practical benefits of emancipation: employing black laborers and soldiers, harming the Confederate war effort, and appealing to antislavery European governments that otherwise would have supported the Confederacy for economic reasons.
The question of slavery’s role in bringing on the Civil War has provoked one of the most vehement debates in American history. Many Southerners then and now argue that Confederates went to war not to defend slavery but to protect states’ rights, which they saw as being threatened by the federal government. However, from the founding of the nation through the outbreak of war, recurrent clashes over states’ rights mainly concerned the protection of slavery, and the framers of secession understood this. Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens called slavery the “cornerstone” of the Confederacy. The Confederate Constitution’s only major revision of the U.S. Constitution concerned slavery: “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed” (Article I, Section 9). In all new territory, “the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the territorial government” (Article IV, Section 3).
The “peculiar institution” dominated Southern politics and the Southern economy. Wealthy slaveholders formed the majority of state and national legislators, and slaves were crucial to both the agricultural and industrial labor forces. In addition to the slaveholding class, many white Southerners whose names were never entered in the census as slave-owners regularly depended on hiring or borrowing slaves. Moreover, most white Southerners feared the potential social consequences of emancipation, predicting everything from crime waves to the loss of their cheap labor force to black demands for citizenship. The threat of ending slavery therefore posed a significant threat to the wealthy and commoners alike, a total reordering of Southern society. Southerners of the time might well have been surprised by modern descendants who dismiss that fact.
In a telling measure of slavery’s importance to both sides during the war, the Confederacy debated emancipation as well. Slavery caused class tensions even within the Southern union, notably when a law exempted owners of twenty or more slaves from the draft. But the major issue forcing the South to consider freeing slaves was the need for soldiers. As the Confederacy’s fortunes grew more desperate in the second half of the war, Southerners debated arming slaves, with emancipation and land as potential rewards. The proposal even attracted Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. However, the concept of arming black men, and rewarding them with freedom for themselves and their families, was too fundamental a challenge to Southern ideas of manhood, citizenship, and race.
In ending slavery, America took its place in a worldwide movement that began in the late eighteenth century. Western European nations first abolished the slave trade – though enforcement was usually weak – and then slavery itself, out of a combination of economic inducements (such as the Industrial Revolution, which created a market for wage labor) and ideological arguments. As early as 1794, during the French Revolution, France abolished slavery in its American colonies. Britain ended the slave trade in 1807, and abolished slavery in all of its colonies in 1833. In 1861, Russia emancipation its serfs, and in 1863, the Netherlands abolished slavery in its colonies. By the middle of the nineteenth century, industrializing nations formed a consensus that slavery had no economic or social place in their future.
In antebellum America, many Northerners reached the same conclusion, but focused their efforts on keeping slavery out of new territories in the West, believing that slavery would eventually die out if confined to its current borders. The Civil War was the necessary catalyst for more direct action.
A Census of Manuscript Copies of the Thirteenth Amendment Signed by Lincoln
National Archives, Washington, D.C. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin and Colfax. The official record copy of the resolution of both Houses of Congress effective on January 31, 1865, with its passage by the House. (unique type)
University of Delaware, Newark, DE. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin, Colfax, Forney and McPherson.
Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin, Colfax and Forney.
David Rubenstein. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin, Colfax and Forney. Speaker of the House Colfax's copy.
The present example. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin, Colfax and 36 Senators.
Lincoln Financial Collection, Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis, IN. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin, Colfax and 36 Senators.
De Paul Library, St. Mary College, Leavenworth, KS. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin, Colfax, and 36 Senators. With 1870 presentation from John P. Usher, Lincoln’s Secretary of the Interior, to the Governor of Indiana.
The Gilder Lehrman Collection at The New-York Historical Society, New York, NY. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin, Colfax, Forney and McPherson, 38 Senators and 114 Representatives.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, IL. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin and Colfax, and 141 members of Congress.
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin, Colfax, Forney and McPherson, 36 Senators and 109 Representatives.
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin, Colfax, Forney and McPherson, 37 Senators and 120 Representatives (including 3 duplicate signatures).
The Henry Ford, Dearborn, MI. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin, Colfax and Forney, 36 Senators and 110 Representatives.
Princeton University, Princeton, NJ. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin, Colfax and McPherson, 37 Senators and 116 Representatives.
Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, N.Y. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin, Colfax and McPherson, and various Senators and Representatives
Private Collector. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin, Colfax, Forney and McPherson, 37 Senators and 114 Representatives.
Private Collector. Signed by Lincoln, Hamlin, Colfax and Forney, 36 Senators and 110 Representatives.
N.B.Additional copies signed by various officials exist, some of which bear Lincoln’s name but not his genuine signature, including examples in the Chicago Historical Society and the Lilly Library.