The Truth About the 13th Amendment

Thomas J. DiLorenzo

by Thomas DiLorenzo: Why
the Totalitarians Among Us Love Lincoln

of scholars, meticulously investigating every aspect of [Lincoln’s]
life, have failed to find a single act of racial bigotry on his

~ Doris Kearns-Goodwin,
of Rivals: The Political Genius of
p. 207.

will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing
about in any way the social and political equality of the white
and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making
voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office,
nor to intermarry with white people . . . . I as much as any man
am in favor of the superior position assigned to the white race.”

~ Abraham Lincoln,
First Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Ottawa, Illinois, Sept. 18, 1858,
in The
Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln
vol.3, pp. 145-146.

    Steven Spielberg’s
    new movie, Lincoln, is said to be based on several chapters
    of the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns-Goodwin, who was
    a consultant to Spielberg. The main theme of the movie is how clever,
    manipulative, conniving, scheming, lying, and underhanded Lincoln
    supposedly was in using his “political skills” to get
    the Thirteenth Amendment that legally ended slavery through the
    U.S. House of Representatives in the last months of his life. This
    entire story is what Lerone Bennett, Jr. the longtime executive
    editor of Ebony magazine and author of Forced
    into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream
    calls a “pleasant
    fiction.” It never happened.

    It never happened
    according to the foremost authority on Lincoln among mainstream
    Lincoln scholars, Harvard University Professor David H. Donald,
    the recipient of several Pulitzer prizes for his historical writings,
    including a biography of Lincoln. David Donald is the preeminent
    Lincoln scholar of our time who began writing award-winning books
    on the subject in the early 1960s. On page 545 of his magnus opus,
    Lincoln, Donald notes that Lincoln did discuss the Thirteenth
    Amendment with two members of Congress – James M. Ashley of
    Ohio and James S. Rollins of Missouri. But if he used “means
    of persuading congressmen to vote for the Thirteeth Amendment,”
    the theme of the Spielberg movie, “his actions are not recorded.
    Conclusions about the President’s role rested on gossip . . .”

    Moreover, there
    is not a shred of evidence that even one Democratic member of Congress
    changed his vote on the Thirteenth Amendment (which had previously
    been defeated) because of Lincoln’s actions. Donald documents that
    Lincoln was told that some New Jersey Democrats could possibly be
    persuaded to vote for the amendment “if he could persuade [Senator]
    Charles Sumner to drop a bill to regulate the Camden Amboy
    [New Jersey] Railroad, but he declined to intervene
    (emphasis added). “One New Jersey Democrat,” writes David
    Donald, “well known as a lobbyist for the Camden Amboy,
    who had voted against the amendment in July, did abstain in the
    final vote, but it cannot be proved that Lincoln influenced his
    ” (emphasis added). Thus, according to the foremost
    authority on Lincoln, there is no evidence at all that Lincoln influenced
    even a single vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, in complete
    contradiction of the writings of the confessed plagiarist Doris
    Kearns-Goodwin and Steven Spielberg’s movie (See my review of Goodwin’s
    book, entitled “A Plagiarist’s Contribution to Lincoln Idolatry”).

    First Thirteenth Amendment Gambit

    There is no
    evidence that Lincoln provided any significant assistance in the
    passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in the House of Representatives
    in 1865, but there is evidence of his effectiveness in getting
    an earlier Thirteenth Amendment through the House and the Senate
    in 1861. This proposed amendment was known as the “Corwin
    Amendment,” named after Ohio Republican Congressman Thomas
    Corwin. It had passed both the Republican-controlled House and the
    Republican-dominated U.S. Senate on March 2, 1861, two days before
    Lincoln’s inauguration, and was sent to the states for ratification
    by Lincoln himself.

    The Corwin
    Amendment would have prohibited the federal government from ever
    interfering with Southern slavery. It read 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.”

    held to service” is how the Constitutional Convention referred
    to slaves, and “domestic institutions” referred to slavery.
    Lincoln announced to the world that he endorsed the Corwin Amendment
    in his first inaugural address:

    “I understand
    a proposed amendment to the Constitution – which amendment, however,
    I have not seen – has passed Congress to the effect that the Federal
    Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions
    of the States, including that of persons held to service . . . .
    [H]olding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law,
    I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable”
    (emphasis added).

    Believing that
    slavery was already constitutional, Lincoln had “no objection”
    to enshrining it explicitly in the text of the U.S. Constitution
    on the day that he took office. He then sent a letter to the governor
    of each state transmitting the approved amendment for what he hoped
    would be ratification and noting that his predecessor, President
    James Buchanan, had also endorsed it.

    played a much larger role in getting this first Thirteenth Amendment
    through Congress than merely endorsing it in his first inaugural
    address and in his letter to the governors. Even Doris Kearns-Goodwin
    knows this! On page 296 of Team of Rivals she explained how
    it was Lincoln who, after being elected but before the inauguration,
    instructed New York Senator William Seward, who would become his
    secretary of state, to get the amendment through the U.S. Senate.
    He also instructed Seward to get a federal law passed that would
    repeal the personal liberty laws in some of the Northern states
    that were used by those states to nullify the federal Fugitive Slave
    Act, which Lincoln strongly supported. (The Fugitive Slave Act forced
    Northerners to hunt down runaway slaves and return them to their

    As Goodwin
    writes: “He [Lincoln] instructed Seward to introduce these
    proposals in the Senate Committee of Thirteen without indicating
    they issued from Springfield [Illinois]. The first resolved that
    ‘the Constitution should never be altered so as to authorize Congress
    to abolish or interfere with slavery in the states.’” The second
    proposal was that “All state personal liberty laws in opposition
    to the Fugitive Slave Law be repealed.”

    So, go
    and see Spielberg’s Lincoln movie if you must, but keep in mind
    that it is just another left-wing Hollywood fantasy.

    30, 2012

    J. DiLorenzo [send him mail]
    is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the
    author of
    Real Lincoln;
    Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe
    Capitalism Saved America
    , and Hamilton’s
    Curse: How Jefferson’s Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution
    – And What It Means for America Today
    . His latest book is
    Crime: The Unvarnished Truth About Government

    © 2012 by Permission to reprint in whole or in
    part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

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