Rare Lincoln Document Identified In State Archives
( RALEIGH—Oct. 24) – In the unsettled political climate on the eve of the Civil War, many attempts were made to save the Union. A document signed by President Abraham Lincoln to North Carolina Gov. John Ellis reflects one such attempt. In March 1861, Congress passed a 13 th amendment that would have forbidden Congress from outlawing slavery. The North Carolina State Archives holds a letter signed by Lincoln to Ellis transmitting the proposed amendment for possible ratification by the North Carolina General Assembly. This rare document will be displayed with other treasures from the State Archives on Wednesday, Oct. 25, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., as part of Archives Week.
The letter was discovered during a search by Daniel Stowell and Kelly Boston of the Lincoln Papers Project in Springfield, Ill. They are searching papers in various states to find the letters sent by Lincoln about the amendment and secure copies for the Lincoln Papers collection. They have located letters sent to governors of Florida, Michigan, Rhode Island, Vermont and North Carolina.
The 13 th amendment that never was became one of the forgotten stories of history with the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861. The 13 th amendment outlawing slavery that became part of the U.S. Constitution in 1865 was the polar opposite of the amendment passed in 1861.
“We are surprised and delighted that this document in the state archives is so rare,” said Dr. Jeffrey Crow, Deputy Secretary of the N.C. Office of Archives and History. “We are equally bemused that this is the ‘evil twin’ of the amendment that passed in 1865. This transmittal now is probably worth millions.”
“This letter shows an eleventh hour attempt to stop secession, especially by the Upper South states of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee,” Stowell explained. “ Lincoln’s position was consistent with that of the Republican platform of 1860, which was not to prohibit slavery in states where it already existed, but to stop its spread into the western territories.”
Stowell and Crow concur that Lincoln was carrying out his constitutional duty as president to distribute the letter to the states for action on ratification. Before the necessary 3/4 of states could ratify the amendment, however, the Civil War erupted and the 13 th amendment of 1861 became irrelevant. It was after the Battle of Antietam in 1862 that Lincoln made emancipation of slaves a goal of the Civil War.
The Lincoln letter requesting action on ratification will be displayed in the State Archives along with other valuable documents on Wednesday, Oct. 25, as part of Archives Week. Other documents will include the original 1663 Carolina Charter granted by King Charles to wealthy supporters, a petition to the General Court (1703-04) seeking restitution for slander, and the final letter of Confederate Col. I.E. Avery to his family as he lay dying on the Gettysburg battlefield.