On January 31, 1865, the House of Representatives had its final debate about the 13th amendment, which would abolish slavery, passing it late in the day. (The recent movie “Lincoln,”one of the better Civil War movies, in my view, depicted that event relatively realistically).
General Jacob Cox, who had been active in the Western campaign which destroyed the Confederate Army of Tennessee under John Bell Hood, was in Washington that day on his way to his final campaign in North Carolina. He was also consulting with Ohio’s Republican congressional leaders about his running for Governor of Ohio later that year — an election which he would win.
Cox was in the House gallery as the debate and vote took place. He wrote to his wife that the bill “finally passed amid the most tremendous excitement.” As a graduate of the intensely-antislavery Oberlin College and a staunch opponent of slavery, Cox was likely among those applauding the loudest, as were the blacks who were allowed to sit in a separate section of the gallery for the first time in 1864. He met with Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase and Henry Ward Beecher, and commented later, “the great historical event was, of course, the central subject of conversation. The forecast by such men of the effect upon the country and upon the world made a blending of solid wisdom with brilliant eloquence not to be forgotten….[throughout Washington] there was something almost unreal, though fascinating in the contrast of the excitement of the field with the totally different but scarcely less absorbing excitement which I saw in every face. ”
Below is an image of the House when it voted for the 13th amendment.
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