Tuesday, January 24, 2012
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13th Amendment goes on display Feb. 1 at presidential museum

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[January 24, 2012]  SPRINGFIELD -- It officially started the process to free the slaves, and now you'll be free to see it starting Feb. 1 through May 31 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield.

A fully signed and recently restored copy of the congressional resolution for a 13th Amendment to the Constitution, the official act that would abolish slavery in the United States, will be on display in the museum's Treasures Gallery starting Feb. 1, the 147th anniversary of the signing of the resolution. The vellum document, 20 by 16 inches, bears Abraham Lincoln's original signature plus those of Vice President Hannibal Hamlin and 139 members of Congress who voted for the resolution. Lincoln and the others had signed this and a few other commemorative copies on Feb. 1, 1865, after the House passed the resolution in a tight vote the night before.

The document was carefully restored free of charge by Graphic Conservation Co. of Chicago and returned to presidential library and museum officials in December.

There are 15 remaining original copies signed by Lincoln of the resolution for a 13th Amendment. Only eight of these also include the congressional signatures, including Illinois' copy, and only three of these eight also have Lincoln's note "Approved, February 1, 1865" on it. Moreover, the Illinois copy is unique in having the signatures in four columns instead of five, making them a little easier to read and suggesting that this was the first one made.

The state of Illinois purchased its copy in June 1941, and it has since been part of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum's collection.

The 13th Amendment will be part of a Treasures Gallery display that includes other original artifacts pertaining to slavery -- a reward notice that was posted in Springfield in 1841 for a family of escaped slaves from Missouri, and an 1859 slave sale document from Lincoln's birth county in Kentucky.

"These documents tell the three-part story of slavery in Lincoln's life," said James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln Collection at the presidential library and museum. "He was born surrounded by it in Kentucky, and it continued in his home county. In Springfield, freedom-seekers hid out just four blocks from his rented room. And finally, his and Congress' final great action of his presidency ended the national travesty."

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There was no legal reason for the 13th Amendment copies to be created, but the signers wanted to capture the historic change permanently in ink for friends in either chamber of Congress. When the vote passed, joyful congressmen had "wept like children," and women in the observer's gallery "rose in their seats and waved their handkerchiefs," according to the Congressional Globe. The next morning, the Washington Daily Morning Chronicle vowed that the signers' names would go into history with those who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Two of the principal architects of the 13th Amendment were U.S. Sen. Lyman Trumbull from Alton, who suggested the final wording, and President Lincoln.

Under the U.S. Constitution, any such resolution from Congress has to be approved by three-quarters of the state legislatures. The Illinois General Assembly was proud to be the first to ratify the 13th Amendment, within minutes of the passage of the House resolution in Washington, since they were following its progress by telegraph from the Old State Capitol in Springfield.

President Lincoln did not live to see the amendment officially enacted, though there was little doubt that the states would agree. When Georgia's newly reorganized state government ratified it on Dec. 9, 1865, the amendment cleared the final hurdle, and slavery was forever dead in the United States.

For more information about the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, visit www.presidentlincoln.org.

[Text from Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum file received from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency]

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