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Lincoln Loyalist Schuyler Colfax Gives Thanks
for a 13th Amendment Print and Pens an Eloquent Tribute to His Former Boss
Click to enlarge:

“those who stand together in that memorable vote, the most eventful and auspicious in our National History, must rejoice, as I do, that it is to be thus commemorated

Colfax thanks S.M. Powell, the publisher of an engraving of portraits of Congressional supporters of the 13th Amendment. After the war, Colfax lectured on the subject of Abraham Lincoln, and Powell likely used Colfax’s comments as a testimonial to promote the work. Here, Colfax humbly neglects to mention or comment on his own portrait in Powell’s engraving, which appears, enlarged, at the very center of the collection of images.

[THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT]. SCHUYLER COLFAX. Autograph Letter Signed, to S. M. Powell. South Bend, Ind., October 11, 1865. 1 p., 5 x 8 in.

Inventory #24351       Price: $2,500

Transcript

                                    South Bend, Ind. Oct 11, 1865

Dear Sir,

            Your beautiful picture of the Senators & Representatives who voted for the Constitutional Amendment abolishing and prohibiting Slavery throughout the Union is really a gem. I have never seen so many excellent and striking likenesses in a picture of that size; and those who stand together in that memorable vote, the most eventful and auspicious in our National History, must rejoice, as I do, that it is to be thus commemorated. The life like portraits of President Lincoln, who lived for us & at last died for us, and of Vice President Hamlin, also labored so earnestly for the passage of the Amendment, give an additional value to this admirable photograph.

                                                Yours truly / Schuyler Colfax

[To] S.M. Powell, Esq.

Historical Background

At the outset of the Civil War, four million African Americans were held in slavery. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but it only freed slaves in Union-controlled areas of the 11 Confederate states. Further, it did not free slaves in the loyal border states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri. Lincoln’s keen legal mind understood that a permanent end to slavery could only come through a constitutional means. Fearing his wartime executive order would be challenged with the potential of re-enslaving the freedmen, Lincoln pushed for a Constitutional Amendment, and worked powerfully behind the scene in Congress to get it passed. After a partisan bloodbath, the Thirteenth Amendment passed by a narrow margin on January 31, 1865.  Lincoln signed it the next day. It was ratified and became part of the Constitution on December 6, 1865 – eight months after his assassination.  

In advocating for the amendment, Lincoln invoked Thomas Jefferson’s iconic Declaration of Independence phrase: “all men are created equal.” Though Jefferson held slaves, he recognized it as a societal evil and realized it would be the task of a future generation to end slavery. Inspired by Jefferson’s words—he called them “the definitions and axioms of a free society”—Lincoln moved closer than any other president to ending injustice in America.

Schuyler Colfax (1823-1885), born in New York City, moved with his family to Indiana when he was an adolescent.  Colfax pursued a career in journalism, serving as legislative correspondent for the Indiana State Journal and becoming part-owner of the Whig organ of northern Indiana, the South Bend Free Press (renamed the St. Joseph Valley Register in 1845).  Colfax was a member of the 1850 state constitutional convention, and four years later was elected as a Republican to Congress, where he served until 1869.  An energetic opponent of slavery, Colfax’s speech attacking the Lecompton Legislature in Kansas became the most widely requested Republican campaign document in the 1858 mid-term election. 

In 1862, following the electoral defeat of Galusha Grow, Colfax was elected Speaker of the House.  In that capacity, Colfax announced the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment on January 31, 1865: “The constitutional majority of two thirds having voted in the affirmative, the Joint Resolution is passed.”  Colfax considered February 1, 1865, the day he signed the House resolution, the happiest day of his life.  “Fourteen years before, among a mere handful of kindred spirits in the Constitutional Convention of his State, he had said: ‘Wherever, within my sphere, be it narrow or wide, oppression treads its iron heel on human rights, I will raise my voice in earnest protest.’  He had kept his word, and well earned his share in the triumph.” (Hollister, 245).  Colfax next served as Vice President under Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1873).  He lost a re-nomination bid in 1872 as a result of his involvement in the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal.  [Hollister, Ovando James.  Life of Schuyler Colfax (1886).]


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