Wikipedia covers pretty extensively the political details surrounding the 13th Amendment, including difficulties in passing it in the House.

However, it doesn't note what the level of Congressional support was for the specific changes made by Lincoln in Emancipation Proclamation, in September 1862.

Assuming there's enough data (based on polls/surveys of congresscritters at the time, or their public statements/memoirs/letters), how would the House and the Senate have voted on a proposal which was identical in scope to the details of Emancipation Proclamation if that vote was held on the date of Lincoln's announcement?

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    Just to be clear - the question is explicitly confined to the scope of E.P and 1862. Projecting the 1865 votes for 13th Amendment by the same congresscritters is NOT a valid basis for an answer since the content of the two is very different.
    – DVK
    Nov 23, 2014 at 5:33
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    Thanks for asking this. I was starting to compose a similar question but struggled to find the wording. I like yours better than what I had. Nov 23, 2014 at 5:37
  • By "the content of the two is very different", you refer to the fact that there were two Congressional elections between September 1862 and January 1865? Nov 23, 2014 at 5:40
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    Of possible relevance is the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862, which freed slaves in the District and compensated their former owners. According to this document (PDF) (page 8), in April of 1862 it passed the House 92-38 and the Senate 29-14, and Lincoln signed it into law. Nov 23, 2014 at 5:48
  • @NateEldredge - nope, I meant the difference the content of the thing being voted on. Specifically, the fact that 13A was universal and permanent and E.P. ONLY applied to Confederate states AND IIRC was temporary.
    – DVK
    Nov 23, 2014 at 5:48

2 Answers 2


Lincoln first informed his cabinet in July of 1862 that he had decided to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in the rebellious states but which left slavery in tact in the border states, as a punitive measure to hurt the Confederate war effort.

Lincoln's cabinet was made up of more tenured leaders of the Republican party than himself, a party founded on the platform to abolish slavery. So these self proclaimed abolitionists should have welcomed Lincoln's impending executive order. At least one would have thought. None of Lincoln's cabinet supported the Presidential order and all argued strongly against it. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase was against, afraid Lincoln's punitive and limited abolition in the Southern rebellious states might lead to universal emancipation, saying that “it goes beyond anything that I have recommended.”

Secretary of State William H. Seward gave an impassioned speech warning that “foreign nations will intervene to prevent the abolition of slavery for sake of cotton.” Postmaster-General (yes that was a cabinet position back then) Montgomery Blair, was against it, saying that it would cost the administration the fall elections. Still others were against it because they believed Lincoln did not possess the authority.

In the end Lincoln's cabinet, particularly Secretary of State William Seward, persuaded him to postpone based upon a more pragmatic argument. “Postpone its issue, until you can give it to the country supported by military success, instead of issuing it, as would be the case now, upon the greatest disasters of the war! (McClellan’s failed Peninsula Campaign)”. Lincoln would wait for a battlefield victory and use the Emancipation Proclamation as a follow up blow – the first on the field of battle, the second on the fields of the plantations. ( from Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin).

September 1862, after the Union victory at Antietam, Lincoln announced his intent to the nation.... Lincoln then formalized and signed the presidential order the Emancipation Proclamation, Jan 1 1863.

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution was necessary firstly because The Emancipation Proclamation (executive order), was likely to be declared null and void if the rebellion ended and a Supreme Court in more settled times considered the ramifications of Lincoln's unilateral and unsanctioned by congress act, along with the rest of his usurped wartime powers. It was possible Emancipation Proclamation could be repealed by a stoke of a single pen by a future President elected potentially with Southern votes in a post war Union. Finally, because the Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln signed did not end slavery in the United States, but only in the rebellious Southern states. Slavery still existed at the end of the war in the border states which had not rebelled including: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and West Virginia. For those states the 13th amendment is what ended slavery, not the Emancipation Proclamation.


The reason no such bill was brought forward was that the sense of the country was that Congress did not have the power to do any such thing. Congress did not have the power to force the states to free slaves. It did have the power to free slaves it "its own" area of the District - with compensation, and of course it was a Republican plank that Congress had the power to limit slavery in the Federal Territories.

What Congress did in 1865 was entirely different - it started the process of creating an amendment that ended Slavery. The states would have to ratify that Amendment before it took effect.

Lincoln based his right to free slaves as a "War Powers" issue. He was given extended powers over the war zone as Commander in Chief. When his generals trod on the slavery question he overruled them for policy reasons rather than that of right. A general can, for example, break up a barn for wood to build a bridge for war purposes. So likewise the Commander in Chief might need to confiscate the slaves in the war area to win the war. This was the power that backed the Emancipation Proclamation.

As the war drew to a close, the 13th Amendment was pushed as a way to permanently solve any issue about the relevance of the EP to a post war nation, or the justification of this use of War Powers. Once this was passed then the issue was settled constitutionally and for good.

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    Pretty good answer. I quibble with "Lincoln was given extended war powers." Might be more accurate to say that he created them, or defined them. He was a in a unique position, without much precedent to guide him.
    – JimZipCode
    Dec 18, 2014 at 18:34
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    Maybe a fuller way to interpret is that "Lincoln considered his Constitutional role to give him extended war powers"
    – Oldcat
    Dec 18, 2014 at 18:48
  • Sure, I don't disagree. Lincoln felt that he needed extended war powers to fulfill his Constitutional responsibilities.
    – JimZipCode
    Dec 22, 2014 at 21:58

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