A reader asked: Why wasn't an amendment to abolish slavery voted on before the American Civil War started? The following answer is from my upcoming book, "A Promise of American Liberty."
The ratio between Slave States, and States in which slavery had been abolished, would not have allowed for a successful proposal or ratification of an amendment to abolish slavery. To propose an amendment the U.S. Constitution requires two-thirds of the States in convention, or two-thirds of both Houses of Congress to approve the proposal, and to ratify the requirement is three-quarters of the States by State legislature or by convention. After the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were ratified, the Slave States outnumbered the free States. When New York in 1799, and New Jersey in 1804, became Free States, the number was even, as it was during most of the years spanning the early 1800s. At the time just prior to the secession of eleven Slave States to form the confederacy, of the 34 U.S. States, nineteen were Free States, and fifteen were Slave States.
At the time of secession, not all of the Slave States seceded. Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina did not secede until after the Battle of Fort Sumter, and two of those States had gone to John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party in the 1860 Election (Tennessee and Virginia), rather than a Democrat. Four other Slave States, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware, never seceded. Missouri, during the war, was split on the issue of secession, and though the State never technically seceded from The Union, Missouri had representatives in both the U.S. Congress, and Confederate States of America (C.S.A.) Congress. Tennessee, while the State did secede, was politically split internally on the issue of secession, and was under Union control during most of the war. West Virginia, when it was formed, was admitted as a slave state to the union. They were not against slavery, they were against secession, and voted to separate from the rest of Virginia, which had decided to secede from the union. The State of West Virginia wound up abolishing slavery 18 months later and also ratified the 13th Amendment in 1865. The New Mexico territory and the Indian territories (Oklahoma) were also Pro slave. In the Kansas territory the internal split between pro-slavery and anti-slavery resulted in a civil war in the territory before it became a State. Discord also emerged in other Southern States during the War. Newton Knight led a band of Confederate Army deserters as an opposition force against the Confederacy during the war in Mississippi. Local legends tell of Knight forming the “Free State of Jones,” an area encompassing Jones County and some surrounding areas in southeast Mississippi. After the war, Knight joined the Republican Party,serving in Mississippi’s post-war government during the Reconstruction Period as deputy U.S. Marshal.
The abolition of slavery was not a yet a firm political issue during the years approaching the War Between the States. Abraham Lincoln of the Republican Party ran on containing slavery, John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party ran on neither abolition, nor the expansion of slavery, and wanted the issue to work itself out through the States, Stephen A. Douglas (the official Democrat Party nominee) was more popular among northern Democrats and called for “popular sovereignty” (pure democracy). Like Bell, he also believed slavery should be decided upon locally by States and territories without interference by the Northerners. He was popular among Democrats in the free States who didn't want to take sides over the slavery issue. It was famously said of Douglas that he didn't care "whether slavery was voted up or voted down," as long as it was voted on by the people. John C. Breckinridge represented Southern Democrats who walked out of the 1860 Democratic National Convention, and formed their own political party to make sure he was on the ballot. Breckinridge had been Vice President of the United States under President James Buchanan from 1857 to 1861. Breckinridge took a “States’ Rights” position on slavery, repeatedly standing against northern interference while serving in Congress from 1849 until he took office as Vice President in 1857. Breckinridge carried most of the Southern States in the 1860 Presidential Election.
As new President of the United States, Lincoln's primary goal was to hold together the union of States. Lincoln did not believe, early on, that blacks and whites could live together peacefully. The Southern States desired to simply be left alone by The Union and not be told what they could or could not do by the federal government regarding what they considered to be an internal issue, especially when it came to slavery. While Lincoln had campaigned on containing slavery, not abolishing the institution, the concept of outlawing slavery was raised shortly after he took office. Outlawing slavery early on in his presidency, it was determined, would have created a greater divide, and increased the level of difficulty of the task at hand of holding together the union.
In the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Lincoln argued in favor of containing slavery. Lincoln also argued that blacks should not have the same rights as whites, and suggested creating colonies in Central America, the Caribbean, and Africa for them. He delivered the Emancipation Proclamation January 1, 1863 reluctantly, but knew it was necessary for political and military reasons (largely in order to convince European countries to cease their support for the Confederate States and withdraw from the war). Unfortunately, along with Lincoln's primary original goal of holding together the union, he also sought to strengthen the grip of the federal government over the States. Politically, Lincoln was a progressive.
Thomas Jefferson in 1814 said, “There is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity,” and understood (1815) that “where the disease [of slavery] is most deeply seated, there it will be slowest in eradication.” Jefferson, however, also warned against slavery being abolished all at once. Despite his own ardent views that slavery was immoral, Jefferson believed that slavery had to be done away with bit by bit in order to prevent trouble between the races.
-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary