The Truth About the 13th Amendment

LINCOLN MEME - Dishonest Abe

Excerpted from Lawrence “Mike” Scrugg’s book, The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths (Chapter 7: “The First Thirteenth Amendment”). 2011, Universal Media (Charlotte, NC) –  with some additions and commentary by Diane Rufino

Mike Scrugg’s book, THE UN-CIVIL WAR, is an excellent book – an excellent reflection on the causes, treatment, and aftermath of the Civil War. I am posting this excerpt, which is the entire seventh chapter of the book (“The First Thirteenth Amendment’) for the primary purpose of introducing you to this book and encouraging you to purchase it and read it.

Ludwell H. Johnson used the words The American Illiad in the subtitle for his comprehensive book on the American “civil war,” entitled NORTH AGAINST SOUTH. The Iliad analogy is very appropriate for two reasons. First, the war was a traumatic, bloody, and nation-changing event. The enormous casualties and destruction alone would sear its battles, personalities, and tales of heroism into America’s memory. Second, what most Americans know about the causes of the war is pious myth.

Most Americans are at least vaguely aware that the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution passed by Congress and approved by the States in December 1865 following the “civil war” abolished slavery. But this was actually the second 13th Amendment. The US House of Representatives had passed, with the required 2/3 majority, a 13th amendment on February 28, 1861. This same amendment was passed by the US Senate on March 2, 1861. It was then send to the States for final approval. As per Article V of the Constitution. 3/4 of the States must approve the amendment before it can officially become part of, and hence “amend,” the Constitution. Two days after the Senate’s approval of the amendment, the newly-elected president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, promised to support it in his inaugural speech.

But what was this first 13th Amendment and what became of it?  Here is the wording:

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 such State.”

The first 13th Amendment would have forever prohibited any Constitutional change that interfered with slavery in any state!

Lincoln endorsed this amendment, which would have permanently engraved slavery into the Constitution by two statements in his inaugural address:  First, self-quoting what he had written earlier to New York Tribune editor, Horace Greeley: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

Later in the speech, he specifically promised to support this first 13th Amendment with these words: “I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution 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. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose, not to speak of particular amendments, so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied Constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

In other words, Lincoln had no problem with an amendment which would have prohibited the federal government from interfering with slavery in the States!  In addition, he felt the Constitution already prohibited the federal government from interfering with slavery in the States !!!

The reason for this first 13th Amendment was, of course, to reassure the Southern States that were threatening to leave the Union that there was not and never would be any danger of Congressional or federal interference with slavery in the States. [Remember that by the time the Senate approved the amendment, seven Southern States had already seceded from the Union – South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas]. The slavery question was a concern to the Southern States, of course. The South had an agrarian society and its economy was supported by the exporting of its crops. The Northern States had gradually phased out slavery, but then again, there had been but a few slaves in the North. Phasing out slavery in the North was a much less daunting social and economic endeavor. It would be an enormous undertaking in the South. The calls of radical abolitionists in the North for immediate abolition of slavery regardless of the economic cost to the South and heedless of the hardship it would suddenly inflict on the slaves themselves, though not really a prevalent Northern sentiment, was a worry to the South. Slavery was by no means universally popular in the South, and many Southern States and individual Southerners were already struggling with how they might phase out the institution of slavery without devastating the Southern economy. But Southern States preferred to handle the slavery question when, if, and however they saw fit. Like Lincoln and many other political leaders in the North, the South considered how to handle the slavery question to be the Constitutional right of each State respectively.

Slavery was an issue that caused tensions between North and South, but it was by no means the only issue. If slavery was the only crucial issue, the South had no reason to secede. The first 13th Amendment would have guaranteed the question in their favor.

But there were other important issues to the South… more important ones.  One enormous issue was the question of the protective tariffs and in particular, the Morrill Tariff that had been passed by the predominantly Northern Congress with the support of only one Southern congressman. It was passed by the Senate and signed by President Buchanan only two days before Lincoln took office, and Lincoln pledged to support it. The Morrill Tariff, like others in the past, was a severe economic hardship to the agricultural South (in particular to South Carolina and the Gulf States), but a protective benefit for the industrial North – for its manufacturers. To make matters worse, most of the revenue was collected at Southern ports but subsequently used to the benefit of Northern States. In other words, the South was being plundered for the benefit of the North. To look at it a different way, the federal government, which was supposed to be a common government for ALL the States, to serve their interests equally, was effecting policy to benefit only one section of the country, while knowingly and intentionally harming another. Southern States were furious over this tariff, which had just been raised from an average under 20% to an average which would reach 47% (and would affect more items). The Morrill Tariff was part of Lincoln’s and the Republican Party’s campaign platform. In fact, Lincoln further endorsed the Tariff in his inaugural speech and strongly implied that even if the South seceded, the tax would be collected by the Union Navy at Southern ports.

There were other issues as well. North and South had developed different views of government. The South favored the limited and decentralized federal government of the Constitution, but the North was strongly tending towards a powerful centralized government. Early in the years of the American republic, the South and especially Virginia had dominated national politics. But massive waves of immigration to Northern manufacturing States now made them much more populous and politically dominant. Between 1845 and 1855 more than 1.5 million Irish adults and children alone emigrated to America (because of the great potato famine).  And then there was the outright hostility and even violence towards the South. John Brown and his sons butchered 5 pro-slavery settlers in Kansas and then led a raid on Harpers Ferry. The radical abolitionists exhibited unmitigated hatred of all things southern and continued to aggravate tensions.

The first 13th Amendment became a moot issue, though, after the firing on Fort Sumter and then Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops to invade the South. The outbreak of the “civil war” that would claim the lives of over 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers and as many as 50,000 Southern civilians effectively cancelled the first 13th Amendment.

On March 2, 1861, the same day the first 13th Amendment was passed by the Senate, another Amendment to the Constitution was also proposed. This amendment would have outlawed secession. This is a good indication that most of Congress indeed realized that the right of secession was implied when the Constitution was originally ratified by the States and effectively reinforced by the 10th Amendment. If that wasn’t so, why would they attempt to outlaw it?  In fact, textbooks used at West Point for years before the war had explained the validity of the right of secession.

Indeed,  most members of Congress understood each State had a fundamental right to secede (as the colonies did from Great Britain in declaring their independence). Lincoln himself, at one time, believed the same. As a junior representative from Illinois, Lincoln addressed Congress on the Mexican-American War, asserting that the US should take only that portion of the Texas territory that represents the desire of the people to secede from Mexico (and not the additional 500,000 square miles of land from Mexico it was seeking – territory comprising Arizona, New Mexico, and California; otherwise, the US would be imperialistic).  On January 1848, he spoke these words: “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable – a most sacred right – a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.”  [ ]

Yet, when the Southern States actually exercised this fundamental of sovereign states’ rights and left the Union, Lincoln had a change of heart. All of a sudden, he no longer recognized secession as an “inherent” or “natural” sovereign right. And this was a problem, because he was the president and as it always seems to be, the views of the president become the views of the government.  In his first Inaugural Address, he articulated his “new understanding” of the right of secession:

      “I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.

       Again: If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it–break it, so to speak–but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?   Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that in legal contemplation the Union is perpetual confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was “to form a more perfect Union.”  (First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861; ]

The notion of a States’ right of secession – to withdraw from the Union – HAD to be dispelled and de-legitimized if Lincoln was to be able to claim power to preserve the Union and then make good on that promise. There could be no rightful exercise of federal power to force the States to remain together when the States possessed (reserved) the supreme sovereign power, restated by the 10th Amendment, to withdraw from the Union.

On July 22, 1861, the now Northern only Congress passed a joint resolution (“The Crittenden-Johnson Resolutions on the Objects of the War, 1861”) defining the federal government’s goals in the war:

      “Resolved.. That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon the country by the dis-unionists of the Southern States now in revolt against the constitutional Government and in arms around the capital; that in this national emergency Congress, banishing all feelings of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; That this war is not being prosecuted upon our part in any spirit of oppression, not for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and all laws made in pursuance thereof and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.”

In other words, the Northern Congress stated in that resolution that preserving the Union and NOT interfering with the institution of slavery was the purpose of the war.

Later, on August 22, 1861, Lincoln explained his thinking on the war to editor, Horace Greeley, an abolitionist:

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some an leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps save the Union.”

Nearly two years into the war, in September 1862, Lincoln found it expedient to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. This proclamation actually freed no slaves in any territory under Union control. It was done primarily as a war measure. Lincoln hoped that the Proclamation would encourage slave uprisings in the South, thus causing Confederate troops to be diverted. The overwhelming majority of the slaves, however, proved remarkably loyal to the families of their Southern masters, most of which were away in the Confederate Army. Some say that it was also to please the anti-slavery British and thus keep them from coming into the war on the side of the South. The British did not come into the war on the side of the South, but they were also not so stupid as to be fooled by this ruse. The North, after all, imposed the protective tariffs on the South, which had harmed trade with Great Britain. Though the Proclamation had disappointing military results, and only made the British more skeptical of Northern intentions, it did please those radical abolitionists who did not seem to mind the hypocrisy of a document that did not free a single slave in Southern territory occupied by the Union Army. After a period of discontent in the North and in the Union Army over the Proclamation, the abolition of slavery began to be used to bolster the moral purpose of the war. Ever since then, it has been a prime propaganda tool justifying and glorifying the war as a just and noble and moral cause.

However, as can easily be seen in the first 13th Amendment, Lincoln’s speeches, and Congressional resolutions, slavery cannot be said to have been the cause of the war. It was an issue causing much tension, but it was not the cause of the war. These tensions are very much misunderstood today. Contrary to current misinformed public opinion, most Northern objections to slavery were not really of a high moral tone. Many Northern States, such as Lincoln’s Illinois, severely restricted the possibility of any Blacks, free or slave, taking up residence within their borders. Ohio and Indiana even prohibited free Blacks from even entering their states. Northern attitudes towards Blacks that drove much of the “Free State vs. Slave State” controversy can best be summarized by an October 16, 1854 quote by Abraham Lincoln himself:

“Whether slavery shall go into Nebraska, or other new territories, is not a matter of exclusive concern to the people who may go there. The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these territories. We want them for the homes of free white people. This they cannot be, to any considerable extent, if slavery shall be planted with them.”

A common, but practical solution of what to do with the emancipated slaves was colonization (repatriation). That meant sending them back to Africa or to Central America. Lincoln himself was strongly in favor of colonization. Lincoln was a great admirer of Senator Henry Clay, who first proposed the colonization solution in 1827. Lincoln frequently stated his advocacy of colonization and spoke to black pastors and leaders about it, and on December 1, 1862, in a message to Congress, stated: “I cannot make it better known than it already is, that I strongly favor colonization.”

This was undoubtedly spoken to reassure Northern politicians who were uneasy with the possible migratory consequences of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln opposed slavery and was in favor of gradual, compensated emancipation and colonization. But he obviously considered the Union (preserved) and Northern business interests a much higher priority than eliminating slavery. To his credit, he recognized and hated the dangerous fanaticism of the radical abolitionists. But all the current and post-war talk (propaganda) about the war being a noble crusade to free the slaves and of Lincoln being the great Emancipator is a shameless fraud.

Preserving the Union was the principal purpose stated by the North. That might be called noble – if using violence, killing 620,000 young men, killing women and children (civilians), starving families by killing livestock and scorching the land, and forcing states to bear a subservient and exploited status in an unwanted and, to them, an unprofitable Union at gunpoint can be called ‘noble.” The North had more than just territory in mind when it said it wanted to preserve the Union. Loss of the Southern States would mean loss of most of the tax revenue, of which over 90% came from the tariff duties that were paid by the South States and so burdened them. They would also have to compete with the South’s proposed free-trade policies, which would have wreaked economic havoc on the North, just as the protective tariff had wreaked economic havoc on the South. The South would have gained economically by independence, whereas the North would have lost considerably both in tax revenues and in trade.

The real reason Lincoln sought to preserve the Union was to preserve the ability of the federal government to continue collecting tariff revenue from the Southern States. He admitted as much when he was sworn in as president.  Referring back to the section of his first Inaugural Address above where he dispelled the right of the States to secede from the Union, he continued:

       “It follows from these views that no State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.

       I therefore consider that in view of the Constitution and the laws the Union is unbroken, and to the extent of my ability, I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my part, and I shall perform it……   I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend and maintain itself.  In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.”

Notice that when he spoke the words “the declared purpose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend and maintain itself” he is really declaring that the federal government has as its primary purpose the obligation to ensure its preservation. This is in absolute, direct contradiction to the cherished principles of the Declaration of Independence.

Despite the tension that divided the South from the North, beginning in 1828, over the protective tariffs (recall the Nullification Crisis which nearly precipitated secession in 1832) and the concerns of South Carolina over Lincoln’s (and the Republican Party’s) platform in the 1860 presidential election, Lincoln chose to ignore such concerns in his Inaugural Address. He said: “One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.”

The so-called “Civil War” was not really a civil war after all. A civil war implies that both sections of the “same country” were fighting for control of the same government. The South had seceded from that government; it wanted nothing more to do with it. Two names for the war are fare more appropriate:  For the South, it was the “War for Southern Independence” and for the North, it was the “War to Prevent Southern Independence.” It was not a glorious crusade to free slaves. Unfortunately, most Americans today accept the pious fraud that the “Civil War” was all about ending slavery. The first 13th Amendment, however, provides shattering documentary evidence disproving that cherished humbug.

BOOK - The Un-Civil War (Mike Scruggs)


To Purchase THE UN-CIVIL WAR:  Amazon –


About forloveofgodandcountry

I'm originally from New Jersey where I spent most of my life. I now live in North Carolina with my husband and 4 children. I'm an attorney
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