Portraits of American History: A Vote that Mattered & The Rev. Henry Highland Garnet

At the close of the American Civil War, both exhaustion and tension rose high and traveled deep into the hearts of men. Yet for some, exuberant expectations ran just as high and deep!

To bring the Emancipation Proclamation into it’s full strength and power, the people knew that more change was necessary. In order to keep slavery out of our country, we needed an Amendment to the Constitution to clearly spell out plainly that it’s evils will no longer prevail – more intentional spilling of ink rather than blood. Thus, the 13th Amendment was drafted, refined and it was proposed in 1863 – the same year the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect. It was subsequently voted on in 1865. Let’s go to that moment:

Returning to 1865, while there were numerous celebrations by black Americans and others at the end of the Civil War, even before the war had come to an end, a vote had been held in Congress on the constitutional amendment and a poster was quickly issued to honor the 137 members of Congress who had voted to end slavery. 

At the time of the vote, there were 118 Republicans in Congress and 82 northern Democrats. Of the 118 Republicans, all 118 voted to abolish slavery; of the 82 Democrats, only 19 voted to end slavery – only 23 percent of Democrats – and those were the northern Democrats! … 

When the vote was taken in Congress on the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery, the chambers were packed from wall to wall with expectant observers. After the numbers were counted and it was announced that the amendment passed, a roar erupted from the thousands in the chamber; hats were thrown and voices were raised in exuberant cheers. Congress had voted to end slavery! How should something that profound be celebrated? 

Members of the House asked that a sermon be preached to commemorate the event. And whom did they ask to preach the sermon? The Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, who became the first African American to speak in the halls of Congress.

Barton, David, Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White, WallBuilders Press: Aledo, 2004, pgs. 37-39

This is the account from Wikipedia:

In mid-January 1865, Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax estimated the amendment to be five votes short of passage. Ashley postponed the vote.[57] At this point, Lincoln intensified his push for the amendment, making direct emotional appeals to particular members of Congress.[58] On January 31, 1865, the House called another vote on the amendment, with neither side being certain of the outcome. With 183 House members present, 122 would have to vote “aye” to secure passage of the resolution; however, eight Democrats abstained, reducing the number to 117. Every Republican (84), Independent Republican (2), and Unconditional Unionist (16) supported the measure, as well as fourteen Democrats, almost all of them lame ducks, and three Unionists. The amendment finally passed by a vote of 119 to 56,[59] narrowly reaching the required two-thirds majority.[60] The House exploded into celebration, with some members openly weeping.[61] Black onlookers, who had only been allowed to attend Congressional sessions since the previous year, cheered from the galleries.[62]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitutio
Barton, David, Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White, WallBuilders Press: Aledo, 2004, pgs. 42

You can read the original sermon here.

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