The 13th Amendment: Abolishing Slavery

The 13th Amendment: Abolishing Slavery

( – In the midst of the Civil War, Congress passed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. Pushing this through became a vital task for President Lincoln, consistent with his goal to end the war and reunite the Union.

Despite the president’s support, the amendment was difficult to pass — and not only because there was opposition to freeing the slaves. As we’ll discover below, other challenges arose, but ultimately, the 13th Amendment became the law of the land.

The Amendment Text

The 13th Amendment has two sections. The first section outlaws slavery. The second section allows Congress to make further laws to enforce the 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.

This amendment impacted another part of the Constitution. It revoked portions of Article IV, Section 2, which gave slave owners the right to collect fugitive slaves or travel with slaves or indentured servants.

The Road to the 13th Amendment

One of Lincoln’s primary motivation’s in pushing for the abolition of slavery was the hope that freed slaves would join union troops to bring an end to the war. He had already issued his executive order, the Emancipation Proclamation. However, it only applied to slavery in the Confederate states. Lincoln knew there had to be a bigger move, which was a constitutional amendment.

The Senate jumped on board with the president. Some ideas in the Senate were a little too extreme for it to pass. The first proposal wanted equality for everyone, which many senators objected to as it would open the door and extend rights to women.

With some wording changes, the Amendment passed the Senate relatively easily on April 8, 1864. The House of Representatives presented a greater challenge because there were fears about social issues and the potential mixing of races if slaves became free.

Subsequently, the amendment didn’t pass the House, prompting Lincoln to increase his efforts to make it law. Upon Lincoln’s reelection and various Union military victories, Republicans in the House tried passing the amendment again.

Predictably, negotiations in the House were still rocky, and there was some talk of Confederate peace commissioners meeting with Lincoln. A meeting occurred, but it was brief and didn’t result in the war’s end. Finally, on January 31, 1865, the House passed the amendment.

Ratification occurred on December 6, 1865, about eight months after President Lincoln’s assassination. Despite his efforts, he never got to see the fruits of his labors.

The Impact of the Amendment

The story of the 13th Amendment didn’t end with its ratification, however. Congress used it as a bargaining chip in restoring Confederate states to the union with full privileges after the end of the war. Reinstatement depended upon ratification of the 13th Amendment by each Confederate state.

Congress used this amendment to pass various civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1866. They also banned black codes, which were southern laws that worked to keep slaves dependent on owners.

There is no doubt the 13th amendment paved the way to ensure equal rights, freedoms, and opportunities for everyone in America. While there was still plenty of work to do, it started addressing civil rights in the country in a meaningful and significant way.

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