The Thirteenth Amendment

Lincoln knew that only a constitutional amendment could permanently abolish slavery in the United States. He called for such an amendment as a central component of his 1864 campaign platform. Had Lincoln lost his bid for reelection that year, Congress probably would not have passed the 13th Amendment. A resolution calling for the Amendment passed the Senate on April 8, 1864, but it would not pass in the House until January 31, 1865—after Lincoln’s November 1864 election victory, and two years after his Emancipation Proclamation. It was December 1865 before enough states endorsed the Amendment to reach the three-quarters majority required to ratify it. By that time, Abraham Lincoln was dead.

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.

The Thirteenth Amendment. Signed by Abraham Lincoln and Members of Congress. January, 1865.

Cornell’s Thirteenth Amendment manuscript is one of 14 known copies of the Amendment that Lincoln is believed to have signed. These manuscripts are frequently called “souvenir” or “commemorative” copies. In addition to Lincoln’s signature, this manuscript preserves the autographs of many of the senators and representatives who voted for the Amendment.

Lincoln signed copies of the Amendment to show his support and to underscore its importance. But because the Constitution does not give presidents any official role in the passing of Constitutional amendments, the Senate rebuked Lincoln by passing a motion declaring his act of signing the document unnecessary and inappropriate.

Gift of Nicholas H. and Marguerite Lilly Noyes

View an image of this exhibition case: 1

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