Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution abolishes slavery

by | Dec 5, 2016 | On This Day |

The Thirteenth Amendment (Amendment XIII) to the United States Constitution abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude was ratified by the required number of states on December 6, 1865. Secretary of StateWilliam H. Seward proclaimed its adoption. The amendment was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments adopted following the American Civil War.

Since the American Revolution, slavery was rife in some states. The practice had been tacitly enshrined in the original constitution through provisions such as Article I, Section 2, Clause 3, commonly known as the Three-Fifths Compromise, which detailed how each slave state’s enslaved population would be factored into its total population count for the purposes of apportioning seats in the United States House of Representatives and direct taxes among the states.

Though many slaves had been declared free by President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, their post-war status was uncertain. On April 8, 1864, the Senate passed an amendment to abolish slavery. After one unsuccessful vote and extensive legislative maneuvering by the Lincoln administration, the House followed suit on January 31, 1865.

The measure was swiftly ratified by nearly all northern states, along with a sufficient number of border and “reconstructed” southern states, to cause it to be adopted before the end of the year.

Though the amendment formally abolished slavery throughout the United States, factors such as Black Codes, white supremacist violence, and selective enforcement of statutes continued to subject some black Americans to involuntary labor, particularly in the south.

In contrast to the other Reconstruction Amendments, the Thirteenth Amendment was rarely cited in later case law, but has been used to strike down peonage and some race-based discrimination as “badges and incidents of slavery”. The Thirteenth Amendment applies to the actions of private citizens, while the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments apply only to state actors. The amendment also enables Congress to pass laws against sex trafficking and other modern forms of slavery.


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Featured image: Wikipedia/Public Domain/George N. Barnard





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