Isaac N. Arnold

”The Kings Cure-All for all Evils”

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”The Kings Cure-All for All Evils”
Wednesday, December 28[?], 1864

On January 31, 1865, the House — by a vote of 119 to 56 — passed a Constitutional amendment prohibiting involuntary servitude, except for crime, throughout the United States. To Lincoln, the measure was “a very fitting, if not an indispensable adjunct to the winding up of this great difficulty.” The Emancipation Proclamation fell short “of what the constitutional amendment will do when finally consummated,” he maintained. It would be “the king’s cure all for all evils.” ^

It was a hard pull to swing the required two-thirds majority in the House and Lincoln personally took a hand in the political maneuverings. He was a hardheaded, practical politician. He had to be in order to perpetuate himself and his party in power. “He handled and moved men remotely as we do pieces upon a chessboard,” Leonard Swett remembered. He was “a trimmer, and such a trimmer the world has never seen . . . yet Lincoln never trimmed in principles, it was only in his conduct with men.” He used patronage to “feed the hunger” of political factions. And when he set about procuring approval of the Thirteenth Amendment, he resorted “to almost any means” to achieve for “that down-trodden race such a boon.” 2

Lincoln began lobbying for the amendment in December. He called House members to the White House for conferences and apparently made a number of deals. James S. Rollins of Missouri was among those who answered Lincoln’s summons. After the war, Rollins wrote:
I was prompt in calling upon him and found him alone in his office. He received me in the most cordial manner, and said in his usual familiar way: “Rollins, I have been wanting to talk to you for sometime about the thirteenth amendment proposed to the Constitution of the United States, which will have to be voted on now, before a great while.” I said: “Well, I am here, and ready to talk upon that subject.” He said: “You and I were old whigs, both of us followers of that great statesman, Henry Clay, and I tell you I never had an opinion upon the subject of slavery in my life that I did not get from him. I am very anxious that the war should be brought to a close at the earliest possible date, and I don’t believe this can be accompUshed as long as those fellows down South can rely upon the border states to help them; but if the members from the border states would unite, at least enough of them to pass the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution, they would soon see that they could not expect much help from that quarter, and be willing to give up their opposition and quit their war upon the government; this is my chief hope and main reliance to bring the war to a speedy close, and I have sent for you as an old whig friend to come and see me, that I might make an appeal to you to vote for this amendment. It is going to be very close, a few votes one way or the other will decide it.”

To this I responded: “Mr. President, so far as I am concerned you need not have sent for me to ascertain my views on this subject, for although I represent perhaps the strongest slave district in Missouri, and have the misfortune to be one of the largest slaveowners in the county where I reside, I had already determined to vote for the thirteenth amendment.” He arose from his chair, and grasping me by the hand, gave it a hearty shake, and said: “I am most delighted to hear that.”

He asked me how many more of the Missouri delegates in the House would vote for it. I said I could not tell; the republicans of course would; General [Benjamin] Loan, Mr. [Henry T.] Blow, Mr. [Sempronius H.] Boyd, and Colonel [Joseph W.] McClurg. He said: “Won’t General [Thomas L.] Price vote for it? He is a good Union man.” I said I could not answer. “Well, what about Governor [Austin A.] King?” I told him I did not know. He then asked about Judges [William A.] Hall and [Elijah H.] Norton. I said they would both vote against it, I thought.

“Well,” he said, “are you on good terms with Price and King?” I responded in the affirmative, and that I was on easy terms with the entire delegation. He then asked me if I could not talk with those who might be persuaded to vote for the amendment, and report to him as soon as I could find out what the prospect was. I answered that I would do so with pleasure, and remarked at the same time, that when I was a young man, in 1848, I was the whig competitor of King for Governor of Missouri and as he beat me very badly, I thought now he should pay me back by voting as I desired him on this important question. I promised the President I would talk to this gentleman upon the subject. He said: “I would like you to talk to all the border state men whom you can approach properly, and tell them of my anxiety to have the measure pass; and let me know the prospect of the border state vote,” which I promised to do. He again said: “The passage of this amendment will clinch the whole subject; it will bring the war, I have no doubt, rapidly to a close.”

Quoted in “Conversations with Lincoln”, ed. Charles M. Segal (1961; New Brunswick, N.J., and London: Transaction Publishers, 2002), pp.363