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Did You Know? . . . The 13th Amendment that Almost was

“Is not this the fast that l choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” -Isaiah 58:6

Abraham Lincoln was elected on November 6th 1860 and inaugurated on March 4th 1861. In those four months, the following seven states seceded, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. President Buchanan wanted Congress to enact a federal guarantee that might keep more states from leaving the Union and maybe persuade some or all of the seven to return. 

Representative Thomas Corwin of Ohio introduced a resolution that would forbid any amendment to the Constitution that allowed the federal government to interfere with, or abolish, state programs. To amend the Constitution the resolution would have to receive 2/3rd of approval in both houses of Congress, and then 3/4th of the state legislatures would have to approve it. 

“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.”

Although everyone knew the resolution was about preserving slavery, the legislators would not use that word.

The House passed the resolution on February 28th 1861th and the Senate did the same on March 2nd, only two days before the inauguration. It was already being called the 13th amendment and was sent to the states for ratification by President Lincoln, who didn’t endorse it but didn’t oppose it. Maryland and Ohio ratified it, and the Illinois legislature endorsed it but didn’t vote on it. 

On April 12th 1861, the attack on Fort Sumter began the Civil War. The southern states were viewed to be in rebellion, and all legislative actions regarding the proposed amendment were put aside.