In honor of Black History Month and Abraham Lincoln's birthday, the New-York Historical Society is proud to display a rare handwritten copy of the Thirteenth Amendment—signed by Lincoln himself—in our Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History. The document, which was recently acquired by David Rubenstein, managing director of The Carlyle Group, is on loan to the New-York Historical Society through April 1.
One of about thirteen manuscripts Lincoln signed in addition to the original, this copy belonged to Schuyler Colfax, House Speaker in 1863 and later Vice President under Ulysses S. Grant. According to Seth Kaller, president of Seth Kaller, Inc., who acquired the document for Mr. Rubenstein in a private transaction, and arranged its loan to New-York Historical, “this is the one that is directly traceable to a leader instrumental in the amendment’s passage. It has not been displayed in New York for more than forty years."
The Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on January 1, 1863, was a major step towards the abolition of slavery, helping to fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence and renew the nation’s founding philosophy of human liberty. Yet as the Civil War raged on, Lincoln realized that the issue of slavery could only be settled permanently by changing the Constitution itself. By the end of 1864, the Senate had approved the abolition amendment, although it was still two votes short of the two-thirds necessary for passage in the House of Representatives. At Lincoln’s urging, the amendment was re-introduced. “The abolition of slavery by Constitutional provisions settles the fate,” Lincoln implored Republican congressmen, “not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come—a measure of such importance that those two votes must be procured.” When it finally passed on January 1, 1865, and Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax announced the results, a moment of silence was followed by an uncontrollable eruption of joy and triumph sounding like "reverberating thunder." As President James Buchanan before him had signed a proposed amendment to protect slavery, Lincoln took the extra measure on February 1, 1865 to sign the official joint resolution to abolish it.