Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

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Summary

Resolution Submitting the Thirteenth Amendment to the States

The issue of slavery divided the United States for the first century of its history. When the nation’s founding documents were drafted in the late 1700s, the Southern states made it clear that slavery was an economic necessity. The Northern states uneasily complied, and the new Constitution condoned slavery. The question of slavery festered until 1861, when war erupted between the North and South. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing a significant portion of slaves across the South. However, Congress sought a means to codify the eradication of slavery. Late in 1863, Republican congressmen drafted a bill that prohibited slavery and indentured servitude. That bill transformed into a proposal for the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment was passed by the Senate in April of 1864 and by the House in January of 1865, marking one of Lincoln’s final achievements. The Resolution Submitting the Thirteenth Amendment to the States was drafted and approved on February 1, 1865, sending the passed amendment to the states for ratification. The final ratification required was inked by Georgia on December 6, 1865, cementing one of the most important pieces of American legislation.

Summary of the Thirteenth Amendment

The introductory text of the Resolution Submitting the Thirteenth Amendment to the States discusses the requirements which the amendment must fulfill to become law. It cites the amendment’s legislative context: the amendment has been “resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives.” The amendment is offered to the “several States” to be “ratified by three-fourths of said Legislatures.”

Section 1 of the Thirteenth Amendment states that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist in the United States.” The only exception withheld is “as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

Section 2 simply grants Congress the “power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

The Thirteenth Amendment in Action

Although Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation took the first step towards liberation, the Thirteenth Amendment completed and codified that liberation. No longer could Confederates and slaveholders ignore the orders of the White House. During the war, Lincoln was the South’s chief adversary, but by early 1865, the war was ending and Lincoln was returning to the helm of a unified nation. For those reasons, the Thirteenth Amendment carried more weight than the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Thirteenth Amendment also overrode all previous laws that upheld slavery in any fashion. The amendment nullified federal laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act—which protected slaveholders in runaway slave cases—and the Three-Fifths...

(The entire section is 640 words.)