We, The People 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery


Section 1.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Passed by Congress January 31, 1865. Ratified December 6, 1865.

In 1863 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring, “All persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Nonetheless, the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the Northern states. Lincoln realized that a constitutional amendment would be needed to guarantee the abolition of slavery.

The 13th Amendment was taken up in Congress before the end of the Civil War, when the Southern states were not represented. It might seem that passage should have been easy, but such was not the case. Although the Senate approved on April 8, 1864, the House balked. Lincoln then took a more active role, insisting that passage of the 13th Amendment be added to the Republican Party platform for the upcoming presidential election. His efforts met with success when the House passed the bill in January 1865, by a vote of 119 to 56. President Abraham Lincoln approved a Joint Resolution of Congress submitting the proposed amendment to the state legislatures. The necessary number of states ratified it by December 6, 1865.

With the adoption of the 13th Amendment, the United States found a final constitutional solution to the issue of slavery. The 13th Amendment, along with the 14th and 15th, greatly expanded the civil rights of Americans and provided some measure of compensation for the unspeakable tragedy of civil war.

U.S. National Archives & Records Administration

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