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The “Other” 13th Amendment

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.



“Events Have Controlled Me”

In late 1862 and early 1863 Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  He was reelected in November 1864.  In December 1864 he appointed as Chief Justice the man who had coined the slogan of the old Free Soil Party.  In January 1865 he worked tirelessly to get the 13th Amendment passed by the House, and in February he signed the Congressional Resolution which sent the Amendment to the states for ratification.  Lincoln’s first term was a solid record of antislavery accomplishment.

But Lincoln had not planned it that way from the start.  In his 2nd Inaugural Address he explained the previous four years by stating: “The Almighty has His own purposes.”  This sentiment was not mere rhetoric.  Lincoln knew that the Civil War had forced him to face the slavery issue in ways he had not previously imagined.  In an 1864 letter Lincoln had written: “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”

He was always antislavery.  He always believed slavery to be wrong and had said so in the 1860 campaign.  But he also believed he could not do much about it.  He had even promised to uphold it in the South so long as it did not expand into the territories.  To be antislavery was not to be an abolitionist, but to be opposed to its extension into new locations.  In order to accomplish that goal, the Union had to be preserved, and in order to preserve the Union, Lincoln was willing to accept what has come to be known as the “Other” 13th Amendment.


Henry Clay and the 13th Amendment

Henry Clay died in June 1852.  In a eulogy Lincoln said: “[Clay] ever was on principle and in feeling, opposed to slavery.”  Unfortunately, neither Clay nor Lincoln lived to see the 13th Amendment ratified.  Lincoln died in April 1865 and the amendment was not ratified by the states until December of that year.  However, both Clay and Lincoln had a part in getting the 13th Amendment passed by Congress.

First, let’s review the text of the 13th Amendment.

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 went far beyond the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed only those slaves in the seceding states.  Lincoln demonstrated his skill as a politician when he persuaded the House to pass the Amendment in January 1865.  The Senate had already passed it in early 1864.  In the meantime Lincoln had won re-election.  He already had the support of many Congressmen, but he still needed to speak with some key individuals.

Congressman James S. Rollins of Missouri had been elected in 1860 running on the Constitutional Union ticket.  Although he strongly supported Lincoln’s anti-secessionist measures, he was slow to embrace emancipation.  Lincoln reminded him that back in the 1840’s they had both been Whigs and followers of the antislavery Henry Clay.  Rollins became convinced, and Lincoln encouraged him to use his influence so others would support the Amendment.

When Henry Clay died, Lincoln eulogized him.  When Lincoln debated Stephen Douglas, he found it advantageous to quote Clay.  Finally, in 1865 Lincoln invoked the memory of this great statesman in order to get the 13th Amendment passed.

Lincoln’s Eulogy of Henry Clay

Henry Clay died on June 29, 1852 having reached the age of 75 in April of that year.  On July 6 Abraham Lincoln, age 43, gave a eulogy in the Illinois statehouse.  Lincoln mentioned how Clay had run for President three times and lost.  “With other men, to be defeated, was to be forgotten; but to him, defeat was but a trifling incident, neither changing him, or the world’s estimate of him.”

A couple paragraphs later Lincoln said:  “Mr. Clay’s predominant sentiment, from first to last, was a deep devotion to the cause of human liberty — a strong sympathy with the oppressed everywhere, and an ardent wish for their elevation. With him, this was a primary and all controlling passion.”  Although Clay had been a slaveholder, Lincoln did not believe that to be incompatible with “a strong sympathy with the oppressed everywhere.”

“He ever was on principle and in feeling, opposed to slavery. The very earliest, and one of the latest public efforts of his life, separated by a period of more than fifty years, were both made in favor of gradual emancipation of the slaves in Kentucky. He did not perceive, that on a question of human right, the negroes were to be excepted from the human race. And yet Mr. Clay was the owner of slaves. Cast into life where slavery was already widely spread and deeply seated, he did not perceive, as I think no wise man has perceived, how it could be at once eradicated, without producing a greater evil, even to the cause of human liberty itself. His feeling and his judgment, therefore, ever led him to oppose both extremes of opinion on the subject.”



…of a Statesman

In the 21st century we may refer to someone we admire as a shining example or a paragon, but never a beau ideal.  In popular parlance “beau” has become associated with the antebellum courting of belles, making the phrase “beau ideal” sound more like a romantic sentiment than an expression of the esteem one might have for a great historical figure.  But almost three years prior to the Civil War Abraham Lincoln used the phrase “beau ideal” to describe the late Senator Henry Clay.

On August 21, 1858, during the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, Lincoln said: “Henry Clay, my beau ideal of a statesman, the man for whom I fought all my humble life, — Henry Clay once said of a class of men who would repress all tendencies to liberty and ultimate emancipation, that they must, if they would do this, go back to the era of our Independence, and muzzle the cannon which thunders its annual joyous return; they must blow out the moral lights around us; they must penetrate the human soul, and eradicate there the love of liberty; and then, and not till then, could they perpetuate slavery in this country!”

The implication is that the founders knew slavery could not last indefinitely, and Henry Clay, Lincoln’s “beau ideal of a statesman,” agreed with them.  Therefore, Lincoln, who opposed the extension of slavery into the territories, was in line with the founders.  In the 21st century it has become popular to regard the founders as irrelevant and to see Lincoln as someone who established the American republic on new ground, but Lincoln often invoked the founders when he argued against slavery.

The first time Lincoln cast a ballot in a Presidential election he voted for Henry Clay.  Twenty-six years later he was able to make his point by quoting Clay in the first Lincoln-Douglas debate.

My Beau Ideal…

When the story of the 1824 election is told from Andrew Jackson’s perspective, Henry Clay is the villain.  Jackson received the most Electoral votes in 1824, but since no one had received a majority, the final outcome was determined by the House of Representatives.  Clay, who had received the fewest Electoral votes, threw his support to the second place candidate and denied Jackson the Presidency.

When the story of the 2nd Bank of the United States (B.U.S.) is told from Andrew Jackson’s perspective, Henry Clay is again the villain.  Not only did Clay support the B.U.S. in principle, he also derived significant financial reward from the institution.  After Jackson destroyed the B.U.S., Clay had Jackson censured by the Senate.

In the Presidential pantheon Jackson is a larger-than-life figure.  Jackson ran for President three times and won twice.  He would have said that he won all three times.  Clay was a three-time loser.  We have already mentioned his fourth-place finish in 1824.  He also suffered a humiliating defeat when “Old Hickory,” i.e. Jackson, was re-elected in 1832.  In 1844, despite the popular notion that he would win easily, Clay was defeated by James Knox Polk, who had already been nicknamed “Young Hickory.”

But Henry Clay was much more than a Presidential also-ran.  He too had a nickname: “The Great Compromiser.”  In the 21st century such an appellation might be regarded as less than complimentary, but Clay’s compromises were political arrangements that prevented the onset of the Civil War by a decade or more.

One famous politician of the Civil War era had another nickname for Henry Clay.  He called him “My Beau Ideal.”  What sort of a man would offer such lavish praise?  None other than Abraham Lincoln.



January 8 Times Two

Two significant things happened on January 8.  The occurrences were twenty years apart, but the same man was involved both times.  On the earlier date a singular victory was won.  On the second, a unique milestone was achieved.  In each case success was due to the vision, determination, and leadership of the aforementioned individual.

The first January 8 event was a military battle, and our subject was the General who planned and executed the victory.  The enemy lost almost 300 men.  One thousand two hundred of the enemy were wounded, and hundreds more were either taken prisoner or went missing.  The victor lost 13 men with 39 wounded.  That’s how General Andrew Jackson fared at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815.

Twenty years later Jackson was President.  On January 8, 1835 he accomplished something which no President before or since has ever accomplished.  It is extremely unlikely to be repeated.  On that date Jackson paid off the National Debt.

Neither accomplishment was a fluke.  Jackson was no victim of circumstance.  He created the circumstances needed to accomplish the goals that were set before him.  In both the military and the financial victory Jackson had to overcome the opposition of those who allegedly “knew better.”  He was not popular with the Senate or the banking establishment.  The late President Jefferson did not care for him.  President Madison had been wary of him.  In 1833 when Jackson had already been reelected, former President John Quincy Adams characterized Jackson as “a barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name.”  None of this mattered because Jackson spoke in an idiom that appealed to the common people of that era.