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Vocapedia > USA > U.S. Constitution


Thirteenth Amendment    1865


Abolition of slavery











thirteenth Amendment


Ratified in 1865,

the amendment states in full:


“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.”






Approval in the House on Jan. 31, 1865,

trailed the amendment’s passage in the Senate

on April 8, 1864, by almost 10 months.


Its adoption by 27 states the following December

introduced the word “slavery” into the Constitution

for the first time.








The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

officially abolished slavery in America,

and was ratified on December 6, 1865,

after the conclusion of the American Civil War.


The amendment states:

“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.”


When the American Civil War (1861-65) began,

President Abraham Lincoln (1809-65)

carefully framed the conflict

as concerning the preservation of the Union

rather than the abolition of slavery.


Although he personally found

the practice of slavery abhorrent,

he knew that neither Northerners

nor the residents of the border slave states

would support abolition as a war aim.


However, by mid-1862,

as thousands of slaves

fled to join the invading Northern armies,

Lincoln was convinced

that abolition had become

a sound military strategy,

as well as the morally correct path.


On September 22,

soon after the Union victory

at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland,

he issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation,

declaring that as of January 1, 1863,

all slaves in the rebellious states

“shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”


While the Emancipation Proclamation

did not free a single slave

(there were an estimated 800,000 slaves in border states

and some 3 million more in Confederate states),

it was an important turning point in the war,

transforming the fight to preserve the nation

into a battle for human freedom.





The citizenship portion of the 14th Amendment

was tied together with the idea of suffrage for all men.


If Black men were made citizens, for the most part,

they could also be made voters.


(This didn’t work as smoothly as some had thought.

It would require the adoption of the 15th Amendment

two years later, in 1870,

to guarantee that right, as it read:


“The right of citizens of the United States to vote

shall not be denied or abridged

by the United States or by any State

on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”)


One of the heroes of the 14th Amendment

as well as the 13th Amendment,

which abolished slavery

 was Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania.


He badgered Lincoln on abolishing slavery

and he helped to write the 13th Amendment.



he gave the closing remarks on the debate of the amendment.


As the National Endowment for the Humanities has noted,

when the House passed the bill that authorized the 13th Amendment,

Stevens said,


“I will be satisfied if my epitaph shall be written thus,

‘Here lies one who never rose to any eminence,

and who only courted the low ambition to have it said

that he had striven to ameliorate the condition of the poor, the lowly,

the downtrodden of every race and language and color.’ ”


Stevens would also help write the 14th Amendment,

and in the lead-up to it

he was quite prescient on “universal enfranchisement,”

offering words then that we would do well to heed today.


In January of 1868,

Stevens wrote in The New York Times:


So far as I took any position with regard to Negro suffrage,

it was and is that universal suffrage is an inalienable right,

and that since the amendments to the Constitution,

to deprive the Negroes of it

would be a violation of the Constitution

as well as of a natural right.


True, I deemed the hastening of the bestowal of the franchise

as very essential to the welfare of the nation,

because without it I believe

that the Government will pass

into the hands of rebels and their friends,

and that such an event

would be disastrous to the whole country.


With universal suffrage,

I believe the true men of the nation can maintain their position.


Without it,

whether that suffrage be impartial, or in any way qualified,

I look upon this Republic as likely to relapse into an oligarchy,

which will be ruled by coarse copperheadism and proud conservatism.


Copperheads were Northern Democrats, mostly in the Midwest,

who opposed the Civil War and emancipation

and wanted to negotiate a compromise

with the South to preserve the Union.


The name comes from the copperhead snake,

a notoriously sneaky serpent.


But the 14th Amendment would go on

to be passed and ratified,

and it signified the birth of Black citizenship.


The day is such an important marker of citizenship that

when the first Black senator, Hiram Revels of Mississippi,

arrived in Washington to be seated in 1870,

his being seated was objected to by conservative congressmen,

some arguing that he had only been a citizen

since the ratification of the 14th Amendment two years earlier

and thus didn’t meet the citizenship requirements for a senator.


(By the way,

Revels was born in America and fought in the Civil War.)












































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