Complete Works

Date: February 1, 1865

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Adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment (1865)


WASHINGTON, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 1865.

THE hour has come! The proposed Amendment to the Constitution immediately abolishing and forever prohibiting Slavery comes up for final decision. An anxious throng of witnesses pours into the galleries; there is an air of confidence rising almost to exultation on the Union side, while a sullen gloom settles over the pro-Slavery benches.

Archibald McAllister, Dem., of the XVIIIth Pennsylvania District, reads a beautiful paper, an which he justifies his change of vote, and casts his ballot against the corner-stone of the Rebellion. Alexander H. Coffroth, Dem., of Pennsylvania, XVIth District, follows in an unanswerable and manly argument, to show the power to amend and the policy to amend. Applause on the Republican side greeted these new accessions to Freedom.

12:45.—William H. Miller of Pennsylvania, XIVth District, (who was beaten at the last election by Geo. F. Miller, Union,) espouses pro-Slavery Democracy, and insists on keeping his party foot on the niggers.

The galleries are getting crowded, the floor of the House filling up.

Anson Herrick, Dem., IXth District of New-York, next gives frank and statesmanlike reasons why he has changed his views, and shall change his vote.

In the midst of the speaking, and that buzzing which always characterizes a critical vote upon a great question, it is whispered that three Rebel Peace Commissioners, Stevens, Hunter and Campbell, are on their way here—that they were at City Point last night. A few believe, but most people say "gold gamblers’ news."

1:30 p. m.—The crowd increases. Senators, Heads of Bureaus, prominent civilians and distinguished strangers, fill the spaces outside of the circle.

The interest becomes intense. The disruption of the Democratic party now going on is watched with satisfaction and joy upon the

Republican side of the House; anxiety and gloom cover the obstinate body-guard of Slavery, whose contracting lines break with the breaking up of their party.

James S. Brown, Democrat, of Wisconsin, spitefully indicates his intention to vote against freedom. Aaron Harding of Kentucky, a "Border State Unionist," bless the mark! makes a melancholy effort to poke fun at young Democratic converts, and rams the struggling nigger back under the protection of the sacred Constitution.

Martin Kalbfleisch, Democrat, of Brooklyn reads a long pro-Slavery composition which excites little attention and no interest.

3 p. m.—The hour for voting has arrived, and the fact is announced by the Speaker. Mr. Kalbfleisch is only at the 22d page of his composition, and begs to be endured through six pages more. This request is granted, with much reluctance.

The galleries are wonderfully crowded, and women are invading the reporters’ seats. The Supreme Court and the Senate appear to have been transferred bodily to the floor of the House.

3:20 p. m.—A motion to lay the motion to reconsider on the table assumes the character of a test vote. The most earnest attention is given to the calling of the roll. Division lists appear on all sides, and members, reporters, and spectators devote themselves to keeping tally.

Of course the attempt to table the amendment will fail; but there are not votes enough to pass the bill. Absentees drop in; one "aye," one "no." The roll is called over by the Reading Clerk, but the count has already been declared in whispers through the House—57 ayes, 111 noes. It is not tabled.

3:30 p. m.—Question is taken now on the motion to reconsider the vote of last session by which the proposed amendment was lost for want of two-thirds. The House vote to reconsider, Ayes 112, Nays 57.

Now commence efforts to stave off the final vote. Robert Mallory (Dem.) of Ky., with a menace as to what course he should decide to pursue, appeals to Mr. Ashley to let the vote go over till to-morrow. Other Democrats clamor for this delay.

Mr. Ashley refuses and stands firm, this being the accepted time and the day of salvation.

The final vote begins. Down the roll we go to James E. English (Dem.) of Conn., who votes "aye." A burst of applause greets this unexpected result, and the interest becomes thrilling. The Speaker’s hammer falls heavily, and restores silence.

Clerk—"John Ganson." "Aye." Applause again, repressed again by the Speaker. Angry calls among the Democrats and great irritation of feeling.

Clerk—"Wells A. Hutchins." "Aye." A stir of astonishment in the reporters’ gallery.

"William Radford." "Aye." A movement of satisfaction all over the House.

"John B. Steele." "Aye." Wonder and pleasure are manifested.

"Dwight Townsend." "No." "Ah, if Harry Stebbins had been well enough to stay that vote had not been given," said a Senator.

Clerk—"Schuyler Colfax." "Aye."

The voting is done. Swift pencils run up the division lists. "One hundred and nineteen to fifty-six!" Hurrah! Seven more than two-thirds!

The Clerk whispers the result to the Speaker. The Speaker announces to the House what the audience quickly interpreted to be THE MIGHTY FACT THAT THE XXXVIIITH AMERICAN CONGRESS HAD ABOLISHED AMERICAN SLAVERY.

The tumult of joy that broke out was vast, thundering, and uncontrollable. Representatives and Auditors on the floor, soldiers and spectators in the gallery, Senators and Supreme Court Judges, women and pages, gave way to the excitement of the most august and important event in American Legislation and American History since the Declaration of Independence.

God Bless the XXXVIIIth Congress!

The work done in securing the passage of this bill has been immense. It has taken the labor of an entire month, night and day, to secure the majority which to-day so delighted the friends of freedom and of humanity, and so astounded the allies of Slavery.

To two Republicans in particular does the nation owe a debt of gratitude—to James M. Ashley of Toledo, Ohio, and Augustus Frank of Warsaw, New-York. They held the laboring oars.

The Democrats were sure of defeating the measure by a large majority up to this noon; indeed, they felt sure of it up to the final voting. The Republicans were not sure of success till last night.

Three batteries of regular artillery have just saluted the grand result with a hundred guns, in the heart of the city.

New York Daily Tribune, February 1, 1865.


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Chicago: "Adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment (1865)," Complete Works in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed February 23, 2024,

MLA: . "Adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment (1865)." Complete Works, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 23 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: , 'Adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment (1865)' in Complete Works. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 February 2024, from