March 12, 1947 – Truman Addresses Congress on Necessity of Supporting Global Freedom

On this day in history, President Harry Truman addressed Congress to request $400 million in emergency aid for Turkey and Greece, which faced internal and external communist threats. In his speech, the president stated:

One of the primary objectives of the foreign policy of the United States is the creation of conditions in which we and other nations will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion. This was a fundamental issue in the war with Germany and Japan. Our victory was won over countries which sought to impose their will, and their way of life, upon other nations.

To ensure the peaceful development of nations, free from coercion, the United States has taken a leading part in establishing the United Nations; the United Nations is designed to make possible lasting freedom and independence for all its members. We shall not realize our objectives, however, unless we are willing to help free peoples to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes. This is no more than a frank recognition that totalitarian regimes imposed on free peoples, by direct or indirect aggression, undermine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States.”

Truman delivering his Truman Doctrine speech

Truman delivering his Truman Doctrine speech

He further averred:

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.”

The policy came to be known as the Truman Doctrine.

You can read Truman’s entire speech here.

March 10, 1863 – The Supreme Court Decides Prize Cases as Reported by “Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation: Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War” by Mark E. Neely Jr.

The subtitle of this book on Lincoln, “Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War,” is much more descriptive of its content than the main title. Only the first third of the book deals with Lincoln’s actions, and even then, much of the constitutional analysis applies to the writings of Lincoln’s contemporaries like Horace Binney, William Whiting, and Sidney George Fisher. In any event, the book’s focus is on the constitutional issues faced by not only the North, but also the issues faced by the Confederate States under their own constitution. It gives considerable coverage to the major constitutional issue adjudicated by the Supreme Court during the Civil War, i.e., Prize Cases, as explained below.

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The first important question faced by both the North and the South was whether the Southern states could constitutionally withdraw from the Union. Unfortunately, the Constitution itself had nothing to say on the matter. By contrast, even the “feeble” Articles of Confederation had claimed the Union was perpetual. In his inaugural address, Lincoln skirted the constitutional issue, and relied instead on a legal argument: if the Union was merely a contractual arrangement among the states, the South could not unilaterally rescind that contract by secession—it required the assent of the other parties to the contract. Lincoln also contended that the nation antedated the Constitution:

Having never been states, either in substance or in name, outside of the Union, whence this magical omnipotence of “state rights,” asserting a claim of power to lawfully destroy the Union itself?…The states have their status in the Union, and they have no other legal status. If they break from this, they can only do so against law, and by revolution. The Union, and not themselves separately, procured their independence and their liberty. By conquest or purchase the Union gave each of them whatever of independence and liberty it has. The Union is older than any of the states, and, in fact, it created them as states.”

This claim had the advantage of adopting the Declaration of Independence, with its expression that all men were created equal, as a founding document. Famously, Lincoln solidified this vision at Gettysburg, declaring that the nation was created “four score and seven years ago” (the time of the Declaration of Independence) rather than “three score and sixteen years ago” (the time of the adoption of the Constitution).

Lincoln’s construction was not without precedent. In fact, the first Supreme Court Justice, James Wilson, wrote in Chisholm v. Georgia (2 US 419, 465, 1793):

Whoever considers, in a combined and comprehensive view, the general texture of the Constitution will be satisfied that the people of the United states intended to form themselves into a nation for national purposes. They instituted for such purposes a national government, complete in all its parts, with powers legislative, executive and judicial, and in all those powers extending over the whole nation. Is it congruous that, with regard to such purposes, any man or body of men, any person natural or artificial, should be permitted to claim successfully an entire exemption from the jurisdiction of the national government?”

Lincoln also was savvy enough to be aware of the cultural negotiation of both history and memory, and that he could use his facility with words to reframe both of them.

Lincoln deliberately avoided subjecting the question of secession to any court rulings. Instead, the constitutionality of secession was to be decided in presidential speeches, spirited newspaper editorials, widely read pamphlets, and on the battlefield.

1861 tribute to commander of Union forces Gen. Winfield Scott, shown as the mythical Hercules slaying the many-headed dragon or hydra, here symbolizing the secession of the Confederate states.

1861 tribute to commander of Union forces Gen. Winfield Scott, shown as the mythical Hercules slaying the many-headed dragon or hydra, here symbolizing the secession of the Confederate states.

Lincoln did not trust the Supreme Court at that time. The Court was led by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the architect of the infamous Dred Scott decision, about which Lincoln had bruited powerful critiques. Lincoln wanted to avoid giving Taney the opportunity to turn the Court’s authority against him, because the constitutionality of other important issues loomed as well, such as the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the power to emancipate the slaves, and the power of the federal government to conscript members of the state militias. Taney had expended significant thought on some of these issues, and Neely says he was “itching to weigh in” on them. He never had the chance, however, because none of them ever reached the Supreme Court during the war.

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney

During the Civil War, the writ of habeas corpus was used to attempt to free two groups of prisoners: (1) “political prisoners,” those jailed for inciting desertion by troops or otherwise “hurting the [Union] army” and (2) underage soldiers who changed their minds about serving in the army. Article I, section 9, clause 2 of the Constitution stated: “The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” It does not, however, say who or which branch of government (e.g. Congress, the President, Courts) is authorized to do the suspending. Lincoln simply arrogated the power. In the process, he ignored the opinion of Chief Justice Taney in the Ex parte Merryman case, in which Taney opined that only Congress, not the President, could suspend the writ. [Note that Merryman was not an opinion of the full Supreme Court; rather it was simply a writ issued by Taney pursuant to the Court’s original jurisdiction in habeas corpus cases for federal prisoners.] Lincoln’s decision to ignore Taney’s opinion was never tested in court. It became moot at the end of the war.

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Lincoln believed emancipation of the slaves was important for the war effort. However, the Constitution seemed to recognize slaveholders’ property rights in their slaves, and the 5th amendment guaranteed those rights could not be abridged without due process of law. Arguably, the war powers clause authorized the president to commandeer the property of the nation’s opponents, but that right was thought to be limited to actions necessary for victory or the safety of the soldiers. Lincoln could not prove that emancipation was necessary—only that it was useful. Nonetheless, the Proclamation was issued as soon as Lincoln thought it was politically feasible, and it was never challenged in court.

Interestingly, Lincoln feared that the racism of his own troops might render the Proclamation a disadvantage to the Union cause. In the event, the nationalism of the troops trumped (temporarily, at least) whatever racism was prevalent, and the Proclamation did not sow significant dissension in the ranks.

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The Union’s power to confiscate Confederate ships pursuant to its blockade was the constitutional issue that was ruled upon by the Supreme Court during the war. Prize Cases of 1863 (67 U.S. (2 Black) 635) questioned whether Lincoln acted within his presidential power when he ordered the blockade of Southern ports in April of 1861, authorizing the seizure of vessels from which revenues could not be collected on account of the “insurrection.” The owners of merchant vessels affected by the blockade sued for the restoration of their property on the ground that blockades were only legal in wartime, but no war had been declared by Congress, as mandated by the Constitution. Lincoln himself refused to recognize the conflict as a “war” (with its implication of two sovereign nations in dispute) rather than a “rebellion” or “insurrection.” In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the hecatomb taking place could not be ignored. It was just too massive. War may not have been formally declared, but the Court claimed to know a war when it saw one. In the words of Justice Robert C. Grier, “As a civil war is never publicly proclaimed eo nomine against insurgents, its actual existence is a fact in our domestic history which the court is bound to notice and to know.”

Justice Robert Cooper Grier

Justice Robert Cooper Grier

Neely calls this decision “the most important Supreme Court decision of the Civil War.” Not only did the Court opine that the war could not be ignored as a fact, but it also disagreed on whether a civil war had to be publicly declared by Congress. James M. Carlisle, representing the ship-owners, insisted that “a war was something declared by Congress, period.” He averred:

The matter then comes back necessarily to the pure question of the power of the President under the Constitution. And this is, perhaps, the most extraordinary part of the argument for the United States. It is founded upon a figure of speech, which is repugnant to the genius of republican institutions, and above all, to our written Constitution.”

Richard Henry Dana, Jr., for the government, countered with the winning argument that war was “a state of things” and “not an act of legislative will.”

It’s a fascinating case, and still is relevant today. [For example, does the current threat by terrorists trigger the president’s war powers?]

The Democrats also mounted an attack on the government’s war measures in state courts, where they expected a friendlier reaction than in federal courts. Their effort was unsuccessful, according to Neely, because the war ended before the cases could be resolved. He states, “[T]he nation was saved from violent confrontation with willful judges by the slowness with which the wheels of justice turned in the middle of the nineteenth century.”

More than 30% of the book is devoted to the issues faced by the Confederate states under their constitution. The Confederacy was formed by a process nearly identical to the process that formed the original United States. Each rebellious state held a “constitutional convention” that was outside of and in addition to its established state government. Neely asserts that the elections for the secession conventions were especially clean by the standard of the time, with a distinct absence of fraud or strong-arm tactics. The movement to secede, in Neely’s words, was “profoundly democratic.” [It might be suggested that because of the near unanimity of the sentiments of those attending the conventions, there was no need for fraud. However, fraud returned to southern elections in full flower after the war ended, especially with the prospect of freed black men and other republicans gaining political office.]

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Although the Confederate constitution borrowed heavily from the federal constitution, each seceding state retained more autonomy under it than it had under the federal constitution—no surprise there. The government that resulted was not highly authoritarian, as one might expect from one led by slaveholders. Rather, it was very democratic in the sense the modern Israeli government is democratic: its constitution speaks of giving all its adult citizens equal rights [the Confederacy limited those rights to males], yet it blithely ignores the presence of a large minority who live within its jurisdiction, but who are accorded few if any rights.

The secession conventions produced constitutional crises of their own. Both the formerly legitimate state governments and the secession conventions continued to act, each ostensibly the sovereign power. Thus, every southern state had two separate governments claiming ultimate authority. Nevertheless, with the exception of South Carolina, the states resolved the problem pretty much without rancor and never with violence. Neely writes,

…some states simply enjoyed the fruits of the emergency actions of the conventions, including the democratization of war by ensuring that the men who fought for the slaveholding republic…could vote in [military] camp….Had the Confederacy prevailed…it would doubtless celebrate that period of government by secession conventions as the United States does today the 1787 Philadelphia constitutional convention.”

Neely raises interesting questions in comparing the Confederate and federal constitutions. For example, why did the Confederacy chose to emulate the federal form so closely? (The President even had a “white house” of his own.) He also notes that Jefferson Davis, like Lincoln, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, and even (near the end of the war) – out of desperation – considered arming at least some of the slaves.

White House of the Confederacy in Richmond

White House of the Confederacy in Richmond

Part of Davis’s problem was that the central government of the Confederacy was not as strong or centralized as that of the Union. Although there were Confederate national courts, there was no Supreme Court. The founders of the Confederacy were always troubled by their need to accommodate state rights with an expanded federal authority necessary to fight a war. Southern governors jealously guarded their state militias, and did not necessarily want them subject to conscription into the national army. The issue of conscription was tested in several state courts. Some lower courts found conscription illegal, but all the state supreme courts upheld its legality on appeal. Curiously, the Confederate national courts seem never to have organized a reporting system; thus their national courts never could exert their proper influence on state decisions.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Neely observes that the Confederacy faced issues remarkably similar to those faced by the United States in the War of 1812. There, the New England states opposed the use by the federal government of New England militias to launch an invasion of Canada.

He concludes by exhorting his fellow historians to begin a “series of titles, beginning with ‘Constitutional Problems under Madison’ and stretching through all of our wars until we have accumulated a shelf of volumes that reconsider the role of the Constitution in America’s wars.”

Evaluation: In only 349 pages, this book contains some very meaty legal analysis. Moreover, even though there is a paucity of case law during the relevant time period, the book also contains some very thoughtful constitutional analysis of issues faced by both the Union and the Confederacy. Interestingly, much of the contemporary analysis came from newspaper editorials and impressively trenchant political pamphlets. Neely’s scholarly prose is readable despite the density of his subject matter, and he avoids sounding too lawyerly. I highly recommend this book for anyone with a serious interest in our constitutional history.

Rating: 4/5

Note: The author won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for his book The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. This book was awarded the Lincoln Group of New York Award of Achievement for 2011.

Published by The University of North Carolina Press, 2011

Women’s History Month Notable Women Series: Dorothy Vaughan

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan, born September 20, 1910, was an African American mathematician who worked at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor agency to NASA.

Prior to arriving at NACA’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1943, Vaughan worked as a mathematics teacher at R.R. Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia. During the 1940s, Langley began recruiting African-American women with college degrees. Vaughan was hired by Langley to be part of the “Computer Pool.” Prior to the development of electronic computers, the term “computer” referred to people who performed mathematical equations and calculations by hand.

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan

As Sarah McLennan, writing for NASA’s website, observed:

Working as a computer, despite its subprofessional status, paid much better than the majority of jobs available to women in the 1940s-1950s. It also provided an entry for women into the field of aeronautical research at a time when most simply were not being hired as engineers, and offered another career option besides teaching for those with degrees in the sciences.”

In 1949, Vaughan became the head of the West Area Computers, a work group composed entirely of African-American female mathematicians. She moved into the area of electronic computing when the first (non-human) computers were introduced at NACA. Vaughan did computer programming, becoming proficient in coding languages such as FORTRAN, and simultaneously raised a family; one of her children went on to also be employed at NASA. Vaughan spent twenty-eight years at Langley. She retired from NASA in 1971, and died November 10, 2008.

Margot Lee Shetterly writes about the African-American women who worked at NASA in her book Hidden Figures (recently made into a movie starring Octavia Spencer, Taraji P Henson and Janelle Monae.) The author reports in her book that in 1940, just 2% of black women got a university degree and more than half became teachers. The women who joined NACA (and later NASA), however, did work underpinning some of the biggest advances in aeronautics.

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Women’s History Month: Or, Women’s Non-History

As Henry A. Giroux observed in his 1994 book, Disturbing Pleasures, the determination of what is to be removed from the sphere of exchange and declared significant and permanent is linked to power relations in society. He proposed that cultural representations are selected in such a way as “to sustain certain myths and ideologies. . . .” Eliminating certain voices from dominant narratives helps reinforce the interests of those whose hegemonic representations are advanced.

To that end we find, even in 2015, that women are still largely absent from dominant narratives.

For example, a 2015 survey commissioned by the National Women’s History Museum of more than 1,000 Americans revealed that:

– more Americans feel more knowledgeable about sports and celebrity gossip than women’s history.
– Less than 1 percent of Americans know how many women currently serve in Congress or how many women are currently a CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
– Only a third of millennials believe they are knowledgeable about women’s history, and just 10 percent of adults over age 55 feel the same way.”

Why? One study of American high-school history textbooks found that “in one that contains 819 pages, the text allotted to references to women added up to less than one page. A closer look at another publisher’s offering showed that in more than 1,000 pages, there were four illustrations of men for every one of women and that less than three percent of the text was about women.”

This trend continues outside of formal education. Slate Magazine looked at author gender and subject matter among history books published for general readers in 2015. They reported:

We examined a set of 614 works of popular history from 80 houses, which either published books we defined as trade history or landed books we defined as trade history on the New York Times Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction best-seller list in 2015. We found that 75.8 percent of the total titles had male authors. Interestingly, the effect was slightly less pronounced among titles that made the New York Times best-seller list—but only slightly (70.4 percent of those authors were male). University press and trade imprints had roughly the same proportion of male to female authors.”

Furthermore:

Biographies represented 21 percent of the total number of books published. Their subjects were 71.7 percent male, with the list dominated by big names like Richard Nixon, Winston Churchill, and Napoleon Bonaparte. While some of the biographies of men were written by women (13 percent), female authors were far more likely than male writers to write biographies about women. Sixty-nine percent of female biography authors wrote about female subjects, and there was a huge gap between this number and the 6 percent of male biography authors who wrote about women. Clearly, there is some relationship between the gender of authors of biographies and the gender of their subjects.”

Lara Heimert, the publisher of Basic Books, stated that in history publishing, schedules are “organized around gift-giving seasons—Christmas and ‘dads and grads’ (Fathers’ Day and graduation)—which is to say that we assume many of our big history books are bought as gifts, and specifically as gifts for men.” 

An article on bustle.com (an e-magazine totally by women) noted that many histories are written by women, but:

It isn’t that women aren’t writing history books, then; it’s that people don’t seem to buy them as much as they do men’s titles. It’s possible that, because of our silly, yet entrenched, cultural belief that history is a man’s subject, readers overlook history books written by women.”

As James Young, in his 1994 book on Holocaust memorials The Texture of Memory, observed: The motives of history are never pure.” History books say more about the people who write them and the societies that support them than actual events. Commemorative narrative, especially having the imprimatur of “history” helps fashion the landscape of “accepted truth.”

It appears that the moment of deconstructing practices of memorialization may have passed. The ubiquity of the internet and the tendency of users to gravitate toward views with which they already agree and that make them feel comfortable does not help the need for exposure to multiple points of view.

What, then, can be done? An awareness of how hegemonic narratives are politically-informed constructions will help. One can only hope that the continued drumbeat of groups affected by the style and content of historical representation will push these issues onto social and political agendas.

March 4, 1861 – Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address

As the clock struck noon on March 4, 1861, President James Buchanan and President-elect Abraham Lincoln left the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., in a horse-drawn carriage bound for the Capitol and Lincoln’s first inauguration. Buchanan then took his seat in the front row along with Senator Stephen Douglas and Chief Justice Roger Taney. Lincoln’s friend Senator Edward Baker introduced Lincoln, who spoke prior to being sworn in as President.

Photo from Lincoln's first inauguration

Photo from Lincoln’s first inauguration

In his inaugural address, Lincoln focused on shoring up his support in the North without further alienating the South, where he was almost universally hated or feared. He tried to calm the anxieties of Southerners, denying any plan on the part of the Lincoln administration to interfere with the institution of slavery in states where it existed. He also distanced himself from the Republican Party’s rejection of the Fugitive Slave Law, averring that he felt compelled, under the Constitution, to enforce all laws.

Initially, Lincoln’s address had been bellicose. His Secretary of State, William Seward, urged Lincoln to soften its tone. As Doris Kearns Goodwin observes in Team of Rivals, “Seward’s revisions are evident in nearly every paragraph. He qualified some, removed rough edges in others.”

William Seward

William Seward

For the concluding paragraph, Seward suggested “some words of affection – some of calm and cheerful confidence.” Seward proposed the following paragraph:

I close. We are not we must not be aliens or enemies but fellow countrymen and brethren. Although passion has strained our bonds of affection too hardly they must not, I am sure they will not be broken. The mystic chords which proceeding from so many battle fields and so many patriot graves pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation.”

Lincoln polished it up, and as Goodwin opines, “proceeded to recast and sharpen Seward’s patriotic sentiments into a concise and powerful poetry.” He words were:

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

At the end of Lincoln’s address, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney administered the presidential oath of office, swearing in Abraham Lincoln as the sixteenth president of the United States. Lincoln was fifty-two years old.

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March 3, 1910 – Birthday of Lawrence Dunbar Reddick

Lawrence Reddick was a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago who conducted path-breaking research on the attitudinal effects of African-American stereotyping in various media including textbooks, television, literature, and film.

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His study of the American history textbooks of sixteen Southern states in 1934 concluded that, through a combination of misrepresentation and omission, the typical Southern textbook portrayed African Americans overwhelmingly negatively, depicting them as docile and content in slavery, and unruly and unworthy of freedom following the Civil War. He also critiqued the prevailing mindset of historians of black history, who valorized submissive and accommodating attitudes and behavior by blacks.

As head curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature at the New York Public Library from 1938 to 1948, Reddick oversaw the compilation and preservation of materials related to black life. He also wrote and spoke extensively about race relations in American, especially as they were impacted by negative stereotypes.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Reddick worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), traveling with him to India in 1959, and to Oslo in 1964 for the Nobel Prize ceremony. In 1959, he published the first biography of King, Crusader Without Violence: A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Reddick was also the author of Our Cause Speeds On (1957), and a co-author of The Southerner as American (1960) and Worth Fighting For: The History of the Negro in the United States During the Civil War and Reconstruction (1965).

Reddick held academic positions at various universities, including Temple University, City College, the New School for Social Research, and Harvard University, where he was a visiting professor in the African American Studies Department during the 1977-1978 academic year. He taught Afro-American history at Dillard University in New Orleans from 1978 to 1987, when he retired. He died in 1995.

March 2, 1861 – President Buchanan Signs the Corwin Amendment

On this date in history, President James Buchanan affixed his signature to a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution passed by the 36th Congress. If ratified, the amendment – to be the 13th – would have shielded “domestic institutions of the states” (i.e., slavery) from the constitutional amendment process and from abolition or interference by Congress. Specifically, it read:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”

Over 200 resolutions dealing with slavery were proposed in the 36th Congress, most having the intent of averting a Civil War. This particular amendment was introduced by Representative Thomas Corwin of Ohio in the House of Representatives and Senator William H. Seward of New York in the Senate. The House approved Corwin’s text on February 28, 1861, and the Senate adopted it with no changes on March 2, 1861. Outgoing President James Buchanan signed it the same day.

Representative Thomas Corwin, 1831-1840 and 1859-1862

Representative Thomas Corwin, 1831-1840 and 1859-1862

Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, said of the Corwin Amendment:

I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service….holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

Although we like to pretend this particular 13th Amendment never was passed, and/or never endorsed by Lincoln, in fact both events occurred. History professor Daniel Crofts has argued that Lincoln wished, in his inaugural address, to challenge the key Southern claim that the North was bent on destroying slavery.

Abraham Lincoln delivered his first Inaugural Address on the East Portico of the Capitol

Abraham Lincoln delivered his first Inaugural Address on the East Portico of the Capitol

Ohio and Maryland’s legislatures ratified the amendment and Illinois’ state constitutional convention did the same. Had the Civil War not intervened, the proposed 13th Amendment would likely have been ratified by the required three-quarters of the states.