A King’s Cure for All the Evils

Ceremonial copy of the Thirteenth Amendment signed by Lincoln, February 1, 1865

As president, Lincoln did not have the authority to propose a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery but he fully supported the effort to make black freedom permanent. In late 1863, Republican leaders in the Senate introduced the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery throughout the United States. The following April, the Senate passed the amendment but it failed in the House. To ensure its survival, Lincoln worked behind the scenes to insert the amendment into his party’s political platform. After his re-election in November, Lincoln worked with more radical members of the Republican Party to ensure its passage on January 31, 1865.

The briefly worded amendment states: “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.” Lincoln declared the amendment “a king’s cure for all the evils” and proudly signed his name on several commemorative copies before Secretary of State Seward reminded him presidents are not supposed to sign amendments. More significant, Lincoln insisted that returning southern states be included in the ratification process, despite objections from advisors who thought that only northern states had to be involved. Lincoln believed southern participation would make ratification “unquestioned and unquestionable.”