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The Story of Virginia

The Paradoxical Emancipator: Abraham Lincoln and the Other Thirteenth Amendment by Daniel W. Crofts


On September 22 at noon, Daniel W. Crofts delivered a Banner Lecture entitled "The Paradoxical Emancipator: Abraham Lincoln and the Other Thirteenth Amendment."

When Abraham Lincoln spoke so memorably at Gettysburg about “a nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” he was looking more toward a hoped-for future rather than accurately describing the American past. The slave system before the Civil War was deeply rooted, protected by the Constitution, and it spread rapidly. Even those Americans who disliked it felt powerless to do anything about slavery in the states where it already existed. They would instead try to stop its expansion. Without doubt, Lincoln abhorred slavery and looked forward to its “ultimate extinction.” Yet he hardly expected anything to happen soon. And he repeatedly vowed that he never would interfere with slavery in the slave states. During his first inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1861, Lincoln even agreed to accept a constitutional amendment that would have barred Congress from legislating against slavery. Had it been ratified by the states, the other thirteenth amendment would have been the polar opposite to the real Thirteenth Amendment—enacted four years and one war later.

Daniel W. Crofts is a professor of history at The College of New Jersey. He is the author of Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis; A Secession Crisis Enigma: William Henry Hurlbert and “The Diary of a Public Man”; and Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery: The Other Thirteenth Amendment and the Struggle to Save the Union. (Introduction Andrew Talkov)