The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. But the amendment that ended forced labor very nearly became the amendment that made it legal forever. How can this be?
By the end of 1860, the United States was barely holding together. Issues of slavery and states' rights led southern legislatures to discuss secession, a threat South Carolina made good on in December of that year. That's when New York Sen. William Seward and his colleague in the House, Thomas Corwin of Ohio, introduced what became known as the Corwin Amendment. Not only did it propose to give states the right to regulate "domestic institutions" like slavery, but it promised to keep Congress from ever abolishing it. And if that wasn't enough, the Corwin Amendment also nixed the possibility that another constitutional amendment could ever undo it.
The idea of the amendment was to give southern states, and border states in the North, a reason to stay in the Union. It was a plan that even enjoyed support from the Great Emancipator himself, Abraham Lincoln. That's right — the president known for freeing the slaves almost ensured their bondage for generations. And frighteningly, it almost worked: The Corwin Amendment passed both the House and Senate and was ratified by three states before the process was interrupted by the Civil War [source: Albert].