When Abraham Lincoln used his executive authority to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, he expanded the United States’s war effort from one exclusively to preserve the Union to include the abolition of slavery. An incredibly astute mind, Lincoln knew that if something more permanent was not done to guarantee the end of slavery, future legal challenges to the proclamation could result in its nullification and re-enslavement of thousands of people. Because slavery was allowed in the United States Constitution, the only way to abolish slavery forever was by amendment.
Interestingly, a last-ditch effort to avert war was made in the Congress the day before Lincoln was inaugurated president in 1861. This proposed Thirteenth Amendment would have preserved the institution of slavery; however, even though it passed both houses of Congress, it failed to be ratified. In late spring, 1864, another Thirteenth Amendment was proposed – this time to abolish the scourge of slavery.
The Senate passed the amendment in early April, 1864, but a vote taken in the House of Representatives two months later failed. That December, Lincoln announced that he would again push for passage of the amendment in the House. Using swift political maneuvering, promises of patronage, and other necessary means, enough members of the lame duck Congress were persuaded to change their votes. When the roll was called for the final vote on January 31, 1865, the result was 119 yea, 56 nay – passing with only a two-vote margin. The Congressional Globe recorded that “The announcement was received by the House and by the spectators with an outburst of enthusiasm. The members on the Republican side of the House instantly sprung to their feet, and, regardless of parliamentary rules, applauded with cheers and clapping of hands. The example was followed by the male spectators in the galleries, which were crowded to excess, who waved their hats and cheered loud and long, while the ladies, hundreds of whom were present, rose in their seats and waved their handkerchiefs, participating in and adding to the general excitement and intense interest of the scene. This lasted for several minutes.” The joyous scene was memorialized just two weeks later on the cover of this Harper’s Weekly magazine from the Shrine’s newspaper collection.
Secretary of State William Seward declared that the required approval of three-fourths of the state legislatures was reached in December, 1865, forever declaring that slavery “shall not exist within the United States.”