The Prayer of 100,000

In 1863, women in America could not vote, but every U.S. citizen had the Constitutional right to petition Congress for a “redress of grievances.” The Woman’s National Loyal League, at Lucy Stone’s urging, collected signatures on an Emancipation Petition requesting the U.S. Congress to abolish slavery by Constitutional Amendment.

Signed petitions from each state were rolled up separately in yellow paper, and tied with the red tape, with the number of men and women who had signed endorsed on the outside. On Feb. 9th, 1864, the first 100,000 signatures, in two trunks, were carried by two black men to Sen. Charles’ Sumner’s desk on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

At Sen. Sumner’s request in Jan. 1864, the Senate had established a Committee on Slavery and Freedmen. His remarks in accepting the first installment of the petitions came to be called “The Prayer of 100,000.”

From the Congressional Record:

Mr. SUMNER: Mr. President: I offer a petition which is now lying on the desk before me. It is too bulky for me to take up. I need not add that it is too bulky for any of the pages of this body to carry. This petition marks a stage of public opinion in the history of slavery, and also in the suppression of the rebellion. As it is short I will read it:

“To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States. The undersigned, women of the United States above the age of eighteen years, earnestly pray that your honorable body will pass at the earliest practicable day an act emancipating all persons of African descent held to involuntary service or labor in the United States.”

This petition is signed by one hundred thousand men and women, who unite in this unparalleled number to support its prayer. They are from all parts of the country and from every condition of life. They are from the sea-board, fanned by the free airs of the ocean, and from the Mississippi and the prairies of the West, fanned by the free airs which fertilize that extensive region. They are from the families of the educated and uneducated, rich and poor, of every profession, business, and calling in life, representing every sentiment, thought, hope, passion, activity, intelligence which inspires, strengthens, and adorns our social system. Here they are, a mighty army, one hundred thousand strong, without arms or banners; the advance-guard of a yet larger army.

But though memorable for their numbers, these petitioners axe more memorable still for the prayer in which they unite. They ask nothing less than universal emancipation; and this they ask directly at the bands of Congress. No reason is assigned. The prayer speaks for itself. There is no reason so strong as the reason of the heart. Do not all great thoughts come from the heart?

I ask the reference of the petition to the Select Committee on Slavery and Freedmen.

After earnest discussion, the measure was referred as Mr. Sumner proposed. The Thirteenth Amendment passed in the Senate on April 8, 1864 but did not pass the House of Representatives until Jan. 31, 1865. On Dec. 6, 1865, the amendment was approved by the necessary majority of 27 states and became law.

~ ~ ~ ~

Facts to fiction:

Read an excerpt of Jennifer Wilke’s historical novel-in-progress, The Color of Prayer,

inspired by these historical facts.

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