On this date 145 years ago, the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, officially abolishing slavery in the United States, was adopted.
Introduced by Representative James Mitchell Ashley (R-Ohio), the amendment was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, and the House on Jan. 31, 1865.
President Abraham Lincoln took an active role in working for its passage through the House by ensuring the amendment was added to the Republican Party platform for the 1864 Presidential elections.
The Thirteenth Amendment completed the abolition of slavery, which had begun with the Emancipation Proclamation issued by Lincoln in 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery in seceded states, but not the slave states that had remained in the Union.
Interestingly, there were two earlier amendments proposed by Congress that would have become the Thirteenth Amendment if they’d been ratified.
The first, proposed in 1810, would have revoked the citizenship of anyone either accepting a foreign title of nobility or accepting any foreign payment without Congressional authorization. It didn’t receive the necessary approval of three-fourths of all US states.
The second proposed amendment, five decades later, would have actually ensured that slavery remained the law of the land in perpetuity.
Called the Corwin Amendment, it would have forbidden the adoption of any constitutional amendment that would have abolished or restricted slavery, or permitted Congress to do so.
The proposal was an unsuccessful attempt to convince the Southern states not to secede from the Union.
It was passed by the House on March 1, 1861, and the Senate on March 3, 1861. President Buchanan signed it on his last day in office, and it was later ratified by Ohio, Maryland and Illinois.
Lincoln specifically referred to the proposed amendment in his first inaugural address in early March 1861:
“I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution … has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”