Wells A. Hutchins and the Thirteenth Amendment

How Portsmouth, Ohio, helped Abolish Slavery

In February 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment passed the US House of Representatives with a very slim margin of votes, thanks to a few northern Democrats who just happened to be absent at the time of the vote, and a handful of other northern Democrats who bucked the party line and voted with the Republican majority to abolish slavery in the United States. One of those Democrats who did the right thing was Wells A. Hutchins of Portsmouth, Ohio.

James M. Ashley, the author of the Thirteenth Amendment who also once called Portsmouth home, would include Hutchins among the twenty-four Congressmen who “with unfaltering faith marched to their political death" when they cast their votes for the amendment." According to Ashley, Hutchins was among those "whom our future historians will honor, and to whom this nation owes a debt of eternal gratitude."

Hutchins would run for Congress again in 1880. During the campaign, he gave a speech from the balcony of the Biggs House on Front Streeet, in downtown Portsmouth.

He told the gathered crowd:

“When the war broke out I took ground in favor of its vigorous prosecution, and was elected to Congress, and while in that position I voted for such supplies and measures as were thought calculated to bring the war to a successful and speedy termination. In connection with my service in Congress one important question arose in which I differed with my own party. That was in regard to an amendment to the Constitution of the United States abolishing slavery in all the states of the Union. For this proposition I voted, and I have never regretted that vote. I trusted to time for my vindication, and that time has already come."

James Ashley was right. Hutchins lost his bid to return to Congress.


“Meeting of Congressional Committee. The Serenade. Mr. Hutchins’ Remarks,” PDT (11 September 1880).