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The “Other” 13th Amendment

February 20, 2019

The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution reads as follows:

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.

This Amendment was passed by the Senate in 1864 and by the House in early 1865.  It was finally ratified by the states in December 1865.  However, there was a proposed Amendment in 1861 that could have become the 13th Amendment.  It reads as follows:

“No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”

This “other” 13th Amendment was staring Lincoln in the face when he took office on March 4, 1861.  By that date seven states had already seceded from the Union.  Lincoln probably believed this was his last chance to bring them back peacefully.  On March 16 he wrote the following letter to the governor of North Carolina.


I transmit an authenticated copy of a Joint Resolution

to amend the Constitution of the United States, adopted by

Congress and approved on the 2d of March 1861, by

James Buchanan, President.

I have the honor to be,

Your Excellency’s obedient servant,

Abraham Lincoln

Similar letters were sent to the governors of each state, including all the seceded states.  Each letter was countersigned by Secretary of State William Seward.  Even though this proposed Amendment was intended to appease the slaveholders who controlled the South, none of the seceding states ever ratified it.


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