The 13th Amendment

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution formally abolished slavery in the United States. It declared that: “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.” It was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865 and ratified by the states on December 6, 1865.

Cornell’s Thirteenth Amendment manuscript is one of 14 souvenir or commemorative copies of the Amendment signed by Lincoln and 150 of the senators and representatives who voted for it. The document consists of two pieces of vellum, a lined sheet that contains the signatures and an arched vellum headpiece bearing the words inscribed on the Liberty Bell, the Biblical verse: “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land, and unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25: 10). The original owner was Jay Cooke, an eminent financier who raised money for the Union, and it is believed this copy was a gift to him for his services.

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.

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