LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph manuscript, constituting an 11-line fragment of his last Annual Message to Congress, delivered in Washington, D.C., 6 December 1864.
1 page, oblong 4to (6 7/8 x 8 3/8 in.), probably comprising the top portion of a folio sheet, numbered "39" in pencil at top, verso with contemporary ink inscription of John D. Defrees, Public Printer of the U.S.: "This is a portion of the last message if Mr. Lincoln in his own hand writing. To be given to Anthony Corwin Defrees..."; small repair to part of one fold, otherwise in excellent condition. Enclosed in a blue morocco gilt-lettered slipcase.
LINCOLN URGES PASSAGE OF THE RESOLUTION FOR THE THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT, PROHIBITING "SLAVERY OR INVOLUNTARY SERVITUDE": A KEY PASSAGE FROM HIS LAST ADDRESS TO CONGRESS, DECEMBER 1864
A highly important fragment--one of the key passages from this critical wartime Presidential address--delivered only a month after Lincoln won re-election to a second term as President. In this passage, Lincoln emphatically calls upon Congress to reconsider the resolution proposing the 13th Amendment, which had failed to pass at the first session of the 38th Congress. In the end, it was the war itself, James M. McPherson writes, "that transformed and expanded the concept of liberty to include abolition of slavery, and it was Lincoln who was the principal agent of this transformation" ("Lincoln and Liberty," in Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution , p.45).
Since the outset of the Civil War, the struggle for the universal and permanent abolition of slavery had rapidly evolved from the avowed goal of a small, highly vocal group of extremists--the dedicated abolitionists--to become, in January 1863, a crucial and revolutionary part of the Union's military strategy, by virtue of the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief issued the Emancipation Proclamation--theoretically freeing slaves in the territories in rebellion--as a military measure, recognizing that it was not within the power of his office to summarily abolish slavery. That definitive act, Lincoln believed, required a Constitutional amendment. But the Republican platform of 1864, adopted under pressure from the party's most radical elements, boldly proposed an Amendment that would "positively prohibit" slavery, a practice it branded as "hostile to the principles of republican government, justice and national safety." Such an amendment would elevate the abolition of slavery to the status of a clear objective of the entire Union war effort. If adopted, it would constitute the first amendment to the Constitution in 60 years (since the Twelfth Amendment, ratified in 1804, specified separate electoral vote tallies for President and Vice-President). "An amendment to end slavery was so dramatic that Democrats denied that amending the Constitution in such a fundamental way could be Constitutional" (Eric Paludan, The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, p.299).
Resolutions calling for such an amendment had been drafted in the Republican-controlled Senate as early as April 1864, and the final version, largely the work of Connecticut Senator Lyman Trumbull, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, adopted wording strikingly similar to that used by Jefferson in 1787 for the Northwest Ordinance, prohibiting slavery in the new territories of the northwest. Lincoln, as one historian points out, "may have felt a special satisfaction about this because he had been pointing to that ordinance since 1854 as a symbol of hostility to slavery by the Framers of the Constitution" (Paludan, p.300)." While the Senate passed the momentous resolution quickly, on a vote of 38 to 6, the House of Representatives, with tenacious opposition from the Democratic representatives, defeated it on June 15, 1864 by a vote of 95 to 66.
Here, Lincoln writes in a bold hand: "At the last session of Congress a proposed amendment of the Constitution abolishing slavery throughout the United States, passed the Senate but failed for lack of the requisite two thirds vote in the House of Representatives. Although the present is the same congress, and nearly the same members, and without questioning the wisdom or patriotism of those who stood in opposition, I venture to recommend the reconsideration and passage of the measure at the present session."
Lincoln had good reasons for urging Congress to reconsider the historic measure. In the November elections Lincoln was re-elected by a strong majority, and his party's candidates made a strong showing nationwide, winning enough new seats in Congress to virtually guarantee passage of the resolution when the new Congress reconvened in December 1865. Lincoln, later in the same address, pointed out that while the election result had not "imposed a duty" upon Congressmen to vote for the measure, "it is the voice of the people now, for the first time, heard upon the question" of slavery (Basler 8:149). The bill was resubmitted to the lame duck Congress but, but the Amendment's opponents again maneuvered to defeat it. When informed that the Amendment was only two votes short of passage, Lincoln reportedly told a delegation of Republicans: "I am the President of the United States, clothed with great power. The abolition of slavery by Constitutional provision settles the fate, for all coming time, not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come--a measure of such importance that those two votes must be procured. I leave it to you how it shall be done...." The new Congress re-convened and, with a Union victory on the battlefield looking more and more probable, coupled with with powerful behind-the-scenes advocacy from the Lincoln White House, the resolution finally passed by a vote of 119 to 56 on 31 January 1865. Its passage touched off frenzied celebrations across the nation. The final step in the Amendment's adoption, ratification by three-quarters of the states, began immediately: the day after passage of the joint resolution, Illinois became the first state to ratify, and over the next 10 months, ratification continued at a steady pace until 18 December 1865, with the assent of three-quarters of the states, the Thirteenth Amendment became an integral part of the Constitution. Ironically, the principal architect of this transforming act, Lincoln, was dead by the time it finally became law.
Published in Basler, 8:136-153, where a total of only eleven extant fragments from Lincoln's original manuscript (all from the latter pages of the Address) are enumerated.
Provenance: John D. Defrees, U.S. Superintendant of Public Printing, who prepared the text for publication and evidently retained at least a part of Lincoln's manuscript, which he afterwards cut up and gave away to friends and family; Anthony Corwin Defrees, gift of the preceding; Frank Lester Pleadwell of Hawaii, in 1953; Philip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 14 November 1978, lot 193).