The fact is, one of those indisputable facts, is that Lincoln, in an effort to ward off secession by southern states, actually came to office supporting a proposed constitutional amendment to make slavery permanent. The name of that proposal was the Corwin Amendment, which stated:
No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.The "domestic institutions" reference was to slavery. It not only would have stopped Congress from outlawing slavery, the language attempts to block future constitutional amendments to overturn the Corwin Amendment.
In early 1961, the amendment passed both the House and Senate by the 2/3 majority. Even though he had no say in the amendment process, then President James Buchanan took the unusual step of signing the amendment.
By the time Lincoln was being sworn in on March 4, 1861, the Corwin amendment was on its way to the states for ratification. Lincoln in his inauguration speech recognized the amendment and expressed support:
I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service....[H]olding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.It appears from some of the historical record, that Lincoln worked behind the scenes to try to get the Corwin Amendment passed. Ohio, Maryland and Illinois (although there is some debate over the legality of that state's action) ended up ratifying the Corwin Amendment. Although the Civil War rendered the issue moot, because there is no time limit on ratification of a constitutional amendment, technically the Corwin Amendment is still before the state legislatures. In 1963, a Texas legislator proposed a joint resolution for his state to ratify the Corwin Amendment. It went nowhere.
Despite the idolized view of Lincoln, it appears the President early in his term was more than willing to trade making slavery a permanent fixture, at least in the South, for keeping the union together. While he was clearly against an expansion of the institution of slavery into new territories, Lincoln's support of the Corwin Amendment no doubt leaves a tarnish on the Lincoln legacy.