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Thirteenth Amendment

Thirteenth Amendment

Just a few sentences written on paper changed the lives of millions of Black Americans in 1865. Although the Civil War was largely about the issue of slavery, it wasn't just the Confederate states holding on to the practice. Even some states that remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War still allowed slavery. President Abraham Lincoln had freed those people enslaved in the Confederacy with the Emancipation Proclamation, but it did not apply to states who had remained loyal to the Union. The Thirteenth Amendment was a change to the United States constitution that finally made human enslavement illegal in the entire United States and therefor is of high significance.

Thirteenth Amendment Human Enslavement StudySmarterFig.1 - People Subjected to the Brutality of Human Enslavement

Slavery in the United States Before the Civil War

Slavery had been a difficult issue for the United States from the beginning. Some of the Founding Fathers owned enslaved people, while others opposed the practice. As the United States progressed, the issue finally came to a head with the Civil War. Still, there were some important stops along the way.

Thirteenth Amendment: United States Constitution and Slavery

When Thomas Jefferson submitted his original draft of the United States constitution, it strongly condemned human enslavement. To preserve the Union, the Constitutional Convention cut the statements from the document because the Southern states were heavily invested in human enslavement. Two major compromises on slavery were made during the Constitutional Convention. One was that an enslaved person would count as three-fifths of a person when counting the population to determine representation and another that the slave trade would continue for at least another twenty years. As President, Jefferson would sign a law banning the importation of new slaves from Africa in 1807.

While some abolitionist Founding Fathers did believe in racial equality, others held more complicated views on the slavery debate. Alexander Hamilton and John Jay belonged to a group that created a school to educate freed black people. Thomas Jefferson opposed human enslavement, yet still believed that Black people were inferior and could not coexist equally with White people. He supported moving all Black people enslaved in the United States to another physical location where they could have their own society.

America still wrestles with the complicated legacy of the constitution and equality. The founding fathers were not a uniform group that all believed the same things. The constitution itself was built more on compromise than principle by all of the parties involved.

State Level Banning of Slavery

In the 1780s, Northern states had already begun to abolish slavery. By 1804, all Northern states had ended the practice. As more states joined the Union, the pressure became fierce on whether the state would allow human enslavement.

Thirteenth Amendment,  An 1862 political cartoon about the Emancipation Proclamation from Harper's Weekly, StudySmarterFig.2 - Emancipation Proclamation Political Cartoon

Thirteenth Amendment: The Emancipation Proclamation

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, there were four million people enslaved across fifteen states. Eleven of those states aligned as the Confederate States of America. By 1862, Lincoln had come to believe that freeing the enslaved people within the Confederacy would help the Union win the Civil War. On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued an executive order that came to be known as the Emancipation Proclamation. The order liberated all enslaved persons within the Confederate states.

I think the Negro is included in the word men used in the Declaration of Independence - Abraham Lincoln1

Thirteenth Amendment Importance: Slavery in the Union

Ironically, slavery was not illegal in the Union until well after the Emancipation Proclamation freed people enslaved in the Confederacy. Despite slavery being a major factor in the Civil War, several slave states remained loyal to the Union. The military positions of the Union and some political factors kept these states from joining the Confederacy in whole or in part. Some of these states like Missouri were divided with rival governments claiming control of the state and were home to units that fought on both sides of the war, while others like Delaware remained strongly committed to the Union despite differences on human enslavement.

Slave States Loyal to the Union

  • Delaware
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Missouri

Thirteenth Amendment House of Representatives StudySmarterFig.3 - House of Representatives Passes the Thirteenth Amendment

Thirteenth Amendment Significance

The path of the Thirteenth Amendment through Congress was not guaranteed. Although conflicts over human enslavement had played a large part in the Civil War, and the Northern states had banned it individually, passing a constitutional amendment was not easy. Passage of the amendment to the constitution would require Lincoln's direct involvement. Prior to this, he had not been as directly involved with the legislative work of Congress.

Thirteenth Amendment in the Senate

Senator John Henderson introduced the resolution creating the amendment in January 1864. There was strong support for quick passage in the Senate. In April 1864, the bill passed the Senate with the two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional amendment. The vote was 38 to 6.

Thirteenth Amendment in the House

Democrats in the Senate were initially very hesitant to support the bill and it didn't pass its first vote in June 1864. It was an election year and the Democratic party tended to be pro-slavery, later supporting White supremacy in the South. The Republican Party put its passage as their highest priority when Congress reconvened after the 1864 election. President Lincoln hosted Representatives at the White House to convince or pressure them for support. Eventually, the House passed the bill on January 31, 1865, with the required two-thirds majority, 116 to 56.

Text of the Thirteenth Amendment

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.

Such rejoicing I never before witnessed - Charles Douglass2

Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

The day after the House passed the Thirteenth Amendment, President Lincoln signed the joint resolution and sent the amendment to the states for ratification on February 1, 1865. On December 6, 1865, the required three-fourths of the Union states ratified the amendment. Union slave states Delaware and Kentucky refused to ratify the amendment but where overruled by the three-fourths majority. The constitution was now changed, and slavery was not legal anywhere in the United States.

Effect of the Thirteenth Amendment

With the end of the Civil War in 1865, the Southern states which made up the Confederacy began to rejoin the Union. They returned to a constitution amended without them that outlawed the human enslavement their economy and society had been built upon. The Thirteenth Amendment was an important step, but the South would challenge its spirit with things like the Black Codes and Ku Klux Klan. Further amendments such as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments would be required to continue the struggle for liberty and equality that the Thirteenth Amendment began.

Thirteenth Amendment - Key takeaways

  • The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed human enslavement in the United States except as a punishment for a crime
  • The amendment was passed in Congress and ratified in 1865
  • Confederate states returning to the Union after the Civil War had to abide by the amendment
  • It was only a step in a struggle for the freedom of Black Americans that would continue on


References

  1. Abraham Lincoln. Letter to David Davis, August 3, 1858.
  2. Charles Douglass. Letter to Frederick Douglass, February 9, 1865

Frequently Asked Questions about Thirteenth Amendment

The Thirteenth Amendment was a constitutional amendment outlawing human enslavement in the United States

The Thirteenth Amendment changed the United States constitution to outlaw human enslavement 

The Thirteenth Amendment accomplished the abolition of human enslavement in the United States 

The Thireenth Amendment says that human enslavement is no longer allowed in the United States and this will be enforced by Congress 

The main purpose of the thirteenth Amendment was to abolish slavery

Final Thirteenth Amendment Quiz

Question

What did the Thirteenth Amendment do?

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Answer

Outlawed human enslavement 

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Question

Who was president when the Thirteenth Amendment passed?

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Answer

Abraham Lincoln 

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Question

The Thirteenth Amendment was the most involved Abraham Lincoln ever got with the affairs of Congress 


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Answer

True 

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Question

The Emancipation Proclamation freed all of the slaves in the United States

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Answer

False, it only freed the slaves in the Confederate states but the Union had four slave states still 

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Question

Who has the power to enforce the Thirteenth Amendment?


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Answer

Congress 

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Question

Which Union states did not ratify the Thirteenth Amendment?

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Answer

Delaware and Kentucky 

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Question

Passing the Thirteenth Amendment was easy


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Answer

False, the bill had a hard time in the House 

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Question

What majority was required to pass a constitutional amendment in Congress?

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Answer

Two-thirds

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Question

What majority of states were required to ratify a constitutional amendment?


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Answer

Three-fourths

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Question

Human enslavement in America had been an issue debated going back to drafting the United States constitution 

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Answer

True 

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