African-American History Month: Making Freedom the Law of the Land

To celebrate African-American History Month and the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday—Feb. 12, 1809—we are sharing an article from “Building Black History,” the January–February issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine, available in its entirety online.

Abraham Lincoln. Photograph by Matthew Brady, 1864.

The Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln understood, was a wartime measure that wouldn’t ensure the freedom of slaves once the Civil War ended and furthermore didn’t apply in slave states that remained in the Union. The only solution, he knew, was a constitutional amendment that permanently abolished slavery throughout the United States.

The Senate took an important step toward that end when it passed, by a 38-6 vote, a proposed amendment outlawing slavery on April 8, 1864.

Passage in the House proved more difficult. That June, the amendment fell 13 votes short of the two-thirds majority required for approval.

After winning re-election in November, Lincoln made passage in the House his top legislative priority. Following an intense lobbying campaign, the House finally passed the amendment, 119-56, on Jan. 31, 1865—cheered on by jubilant African-Americans watching from the gallery.

To celebrate the historic achievement, members of the House and Senate, Vice President Hannibal Hamlin and Lincoln signed several commemorative copies of the joint resolution.

The document shown in this post, held by the Library’s Manuscript Division, is one of them: “A resolution; Submitting to the Legislatures of the several States a proposition to amend the Constitution of the United States.”

Resolution submitting the 13th Amendment to the states, signed by Abraham Lincoln and Congress.

The document states the text of this 13th Amendment to the Constitution:

“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 commemorative copy was signed by 38 members of the Senate and 119 in the House—including a future president, James A. Garfield (last column, 13 lines from the bottom). Though he was not required to do so, Lincoln also signed the joint resolution as “approved,” on Feb. 1, 1865, along with Hamlin and House Speaker Schuyler Colfax.

Lincoln didn’t live to see the amendment become law; he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre only two months later.

Nevertheless, within a year of its passage by Congress, the amendment was ratified by the required three-fourths of the states—finally making freedom for all the law of the land.

African-American History Month: Happy Birthday, Frederick Douglass!

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass, and this month is African-American History Month. To celebrate, we are highlighting favorite items from the Library’s collections. This post is reprinted from “Building Black History,” the January–February issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine, available in its entirety online.   This […]

Technology at the Library: Long-Hidden Text Is Uncovered in Alexander Hamilton Letter

This is a guest post by Julie Miller, a historian in the Manuscript Division. It is published today to coincide with the anniversary of Alexander Hamilton’s birth: He was born on January 11, 1757. In the mid-19th century John Church Hamilton, a son of Alexander and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, published an edition of his father’s […]

Inquiring Minds: Performing the History of Musical Theater

Teachers and filmmakers have long relied on primary sources to make history come alive. Ben West, director, performer and musical theater historian, is also drawn to them—but with a novel purpose. He is using unpublished manuscripts, papers of Broadway authors, copyright records and more to tell the story of the American musical—through a musical. His […]

This Day in History: Wright Brothers Take Flight

On a dark and windy morning on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, 114 years ago this Sunday, Orville Wright took flight in a tiny airplane he and his brother Wilbur had painstakingly constructed. The 605-pound craft flew all of 120 feet and remained airborne only 12 seconds. After Orville’s first success, Wilbur set the […]

New Online: Abraham Lincoln Papers

This is a guest post by Michelle Krowl, a historian in the Manuscript Division. Regular visitors to the Library of Congress website may be scratching their heads right now, thinking, “Aren’t the Abraham Lincoln Papers already online?” It is true that the bulk of the Abraham Lincoln Papers have long been available through the Library’s […]

Free to Use and Reuse: The Story of Abraham Lincoln

Last week, the Library announced a new online presentation of Abraham Lincoln’s papers from his time as a lawyer, congressman and the 16th president. The refreshed digital collection follows a multiyear project to update the Library’s previous presentation with additional features, full-color images and new material. To celebrate, we’re highlighting items from the Library’s vast […]