13th Amendment, U.S. Constitution: A History

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13th Amendment to the Constitution

Slavery and 13th Amendment

13th Amendment

"No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State." Text of the original 13th Amendment, also known as the Corwin Amendment, to the U.S. Constitution as passed by the United States Congress on March 2, 1861, passed by the U.S. Senate on March 3, 1861, and signed by President Buchanan on March 3, 1861. (The Three-Fifths Compromise, aka Three-fifths Clause.)
President James Buchanan publicly endorsed and applauded the Corwin Amendment. President Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, furthermore, did not oppose the Corwin Amendment: "[H]olding such a provision to now be implied Constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable." Just weeks prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, moreover, Lincoln penned a letter to each governor asking for them to support the Corwin Amendment. (President Abraham Lincoln and Southern Secession: Why did the South Secede and what Caused the Civil War?.)

President Abraham Lincoln on Slavery
President Abraham Lincoln on Slavery.gif
(13th Amendment)

(Right) President Lincoln on slavery and the Union: Lincoln stated that the emancipation of slaves was not his focus or goal. Why? Because his priority was the preservation of the Union; addressing Southern secession, therefore, was his principal objective. (Civil War and Slavery: The South, Slave Trade, Slaves and Slavery, 13th Amendment, Constitution, Slavery: What Caused the Civil War, and Civil War Causes: States Rights & Secession.)

Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural address on March 4, 1861, specifically referred to this amendment:
    "I understand a proposed amendment [Corwin Amendment] to the Constitution...has passed Congress [March 2, 1861], to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable."

Lincoln, Slavery, and Civil War

It was only when Lincoln feared losing the Civil War (1861-1865) that he freed slaves in the South. "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it," wrote Lincoln in 1862. "What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union." (President Abraham Lincoln on Race and President Lincoln, Slaves, Abolition, Emancipation, Black Colonization and the Black Colony.)
President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 did not free a single slave, and, issued only after the Confederacy seemed to be winning the war, Lincoln hoped to transform a disagreement over Secession into a crusade against slavery.

The Emancipation Proclamation, which also permitted and kept slavery intact in the border states, was a political decision to block the South from gaining recognition from England and France (The Trent Affair, Preventing Diplomatic Recognition of the Confederacy, and American Civil War and International Diplomacy). Whether slavery was intact or abolished, he stated that either was completely acceptable in order to preserve the Union. (Civil War Causes: States Rights & Secession.)


Lincoln, who had previously obstructed the U.S. Supreme Court from conducting a hearing or ruling on secession, merely invoked "freeing the slaves" as justification to preserve the Union. As president, he was completely and unequivocally pro-Union. So, was the war about freeing the slaves or denying Southern Secession? (Southern States Secede: Secession of the South History and Civil War Causes: States Rights & Secession.)


Almost thirty years before the Civil War, South Carolina threatened to secede from the Union. Why? Because of High Tariffs and not because of slavery (Nullification Crisis). Later, when the South desired to secede, this was President Lincoln's response to secession, not slavery, in his First Inaugural Address on March 4, 1861: "No State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union." Lincoln was adamantly concerned about secession and not about slavery.
Lincoln had never sought a U.S. Supreme Court decision stating whether or not Southern Secession was constitutional; the nation’s highest court was its only judicial and lawful arbiter. Lincoln also suspended the writ of habeas corpus, and when approached by the Chief Justice, Lincoln threatened to imprison him. (Ex Parte Milligan, President Abraham Lincoln and the Supreme Court, President Abraham Lincoln and the Chief Justice, and President Abraham Lincoln and Ex Parte Merryman.)

13th Amendment

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibits slavery:

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution declared that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude...shall exist within the United States." Formally abolishing slavery in the United States, the 13th Amendment was passed by the Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified by the states on December 6, 1865.

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.

Proposal and Ratification

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was proposed to the legislatures of the several states by the Thirty-eighth United States Congress, on January 31, 1865. The amendment was ratified by the legislatures of twenty-seven of the thirty-six states on December 6, 1865. (It was ratified by the necessary three-quarters of the states within one year of its proposal.) Mississippi, however, which was the last of the thirty-six states in existence in 1865, ratified it in 1995. The dates of ratification were: 

# State Date
1 Illinois Feb 1, 1865
2 Rhode Island Feb 2, 1865
3 Michigan Feb 3, 1865
4 Maryland Feb 3, 1865
5 New York Feb 3, 1865
6 Pennsylvania Feb 3, 1865
7 West Virginia Feb 3, 1865
8 Missouri Feb 6, 1865
9 Maine Feb 7, 1865
10 Kansas Feb 7, 1865
11 Massachusetts Feb 7, 1865
12 Virginia Feb 9, 1865
13 Ohio Feb 10, 1865
14 Indiana Feb 13, 1865
15 Nevada Feb 16, 1865
16 Louisiana Feb 17, 1865
17 Minnesota Feb 23, 1865
18 Wisconsin Feb 24, 1865
19 Vermont Mar 8, 1865
20 Tennessee Apr 7, 1865
21 Arkansas Apr 14, 1865
22 Connecticut May 4, 1865
23 New Hampshire Jul 1, 1865
24 South Carolina Nov 13, 1865
25 Alabama Dec 2, 1865
26 North Carolina Dec 4, 1865
27 Georgia Dec 6, 1865
28 Oregon Dec 8, 1865
29 California Dec 19, 1865
30 Florida Dec 28, 1865
31 Iowa Jan 15, 1866
32 New Jersey Jan 23, 1866
33 Texas Feb 18, 1870
34 Delaware Feb 12, 1901
35 Kentucky Mar 18, 1976
36 Mississippi Mar 16, 1995


Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States.
The 13th amendment, which formally abolished slavery in the United States, passed the Senate on April 8, 1864, and the House on January 31, 1865. On February 1, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln approved the Joint Resolution of Congress submitting the proposed amendment to the state legislatures. The necessary number of states ratified it by December 6, 1865. The 13th amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "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."
In 1863 President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Nonetheless, the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation. Lincoln recognized that the Emancipation Proclamation would have to be followed by a constitutional amendment in order to guarantee the abolishment of slavery.
The 13th amendment was passed at the end of the Civil War before the Southern states had been restored to the Union and should have easily passed the Congress. Although the Senate passed it in April 1864, the House did not. At that point, Lincoln took an active role to ensure passage through congress. He insisted that passage of the 13th amendment be added to the Republican Party platform for the upcoming Presidential elections. His efforts met with success when the House passed the bill in January 1865 with a vote of 119–56.
With the adoption of the 13th amendment, the United States found a final constitutional solution to the issue of slavery. The 13th amendment, along with the 14th and 15th, is one of the trio of Civil War amendments that greatly expanded the civil rights of Americans.

(Sources listed at bottom of page.)

Recommended Reading: Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney: Slavery, Secession, and the President's War Powers, by James F. Simon (Simon & Schuster) (Hardcover). Publishers Weekly: This surprisingly taut and gripping book by NYU law professor Simon (What Kind of Nation) examines the limits of presidential prerogative during the Civil War. Lincoln and Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney saw eye to eye on certain matters; both, for example, disliked slavery. But beginning in 1857, when Lincoln criticized Taney's decision in the Dred Scott case, the pair began to spar. They diverged further once Lincoln became president when Taney insisted that secession was constitutional and preferable to bloodshed, and blamed the Civil War on Lincoln. Continued below...

In 1861, Taney argued that Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus was illegal. This holding was, Simon argues, "a clarion call for the president to respect the civil liberties of American citizens." In an 1862 group of cases, Taney joined a minority opinion that Lincoln lacked the authority to order the seizure of Southern ships. Had Taney had the chance, suggests Simon, he would have declared the Emancipation Proclamation unconstitutional; he and Lincoln agreed that the Constitution left slavery up to individual states, but Lincoln argued that the president's war powers trumped states' rights. Simon's focus on Lincoln and Taney makes for a dramatic, charged narrative—and the focus on presidential war powers makes this historical study extremely timely.

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Related Reading:

Recommended Reading: The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War. Description: It hardly seems possible that there is more to say about someone who has been subjected to such minute scrutiny in thousands of books and articles. Yet, Thomas J. DiLorenzo’s The Real Lincoln manages to raise fresh and morally probing questions, challenging the image of the martyred 16th president that has been fashioned carefully in marble and bronze, sentimentalism and myth. In doing so, DiLorenzo does not follow the lead of M. E. Bradford or other Southern agrarians. He writes primarily not as a defender of the Old South and its institutions, culture, and traditions, but as a libertarian enemy of the Leviathan state. Continued below...

DiLorenzo holds Lincoln and his war responsible for the triumph of "big government" and the birth of the ubiquitous, suffocating modern U.S. state. He seeks to replace the nation’s memory of Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator” with the record of Lincoln as the “Great Centralizer.”


Recommended Reading: Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe. Description: While many view our 16th president as the nation’s greatest president and hero, Tom Dilorenzo, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, through his scholarly research, exposes the many unconstitutional decisions of Abraham Lincoln. Continued below...

Lincoln Unmasked, a best-seller, reveals that ‘other side’ – the inglorious character – of the nation’s greatest tyrant and totalitarian. A controversial book that is hailed by many and harshly criticized by others, Lincoln Unmasked, nevertheless, is a thought-provoking study and view of Lincoln that was not taught in our public school system. (Also available in hardcover: Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe.)
Recommended Reading: Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (Simon & Schuster) (2008) (Hardcover). Description: In 1858, Abraham Lincoln was known as a successful Illinois lawyer who had achieved some prominence in state politics as a leader in the new Republican Party. Two years later, he was elected president and was on his way to becoming the greatest chief executive in American history. What carried this one-term congressman from obscurity to fame was the campaign he mounted for the United States Senate against the country's most formidable politician, Stephen A. Douglas, in the summer and fall of 1858. Lincoln challenged Douglas directly in one of his greatest speeches -- "A house divided against itself cannot stand" -- and confronted Douglas on the questions of slavery and the inviolability of the Union in seven fierce debates. As this brilliant narrative by the prize-winning Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo dramatizes, Lincoln would emerge a predominant national figure, the leader of his party, the man who would bear the burden of the national confrontation. Continued below...
Of course, the great issue between Lincoln and Douglas was slavery. Douglas was the champion of "popular sovereignty," of letting states and territories decide for themselves whether to legalize slavery. Lincoln drew a moral line, arguing that slavery was a violation both of natural law and of the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence. No majority could ever make slavery right, he argued. Lincoln lost that Senate race to Douglas, though he came close to toppling the "Little Giant," whom almost everyone thought was unbeatable. Guelzo's Lincoln and Douglas brings alive their debates and this whole year of campaigns and underscores their centrality in the greatest conflict in American history. The encounters between Lincoln and Douglas engage a key question in American political life: What is democracy's purpose? Is it to satisfy the desires of the majority? Or is it to achieve a just and moral public order? These were the real questions in 1858 that led to the Civil War. They remain questions for Americans today.
Recommended Reading: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (944 pages) (Simon & Schuster). Description: The life and times of Abraham Lincoln have been analyzed and dissected in countless books. Do we need another Lincoln biography? In Team of Rivals, esteemed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin proves that we do. Though she can't help but cover some familiar territory, her perspective is focused enough to offer fresh insights into Lincoln's leadership style and his deep understanding of human behavior and motivation. Goodwin makes the case for Lincoln's political genius by examining his relationships with three men he selected for his cabinet, all of whom were opponents for the Republican nomination in 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. Continued below...
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation dispels the myths and mistakes surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation and skillfully reconstructs how America's greatest president wrote the greatest American proclamation of freedom. About the Author: Allen C. Guelzo is the Grace Ferguson Kea Professor of American History at Eastern University (St. David's, Pennsylvania), where he also directs the Templeton Honors College. He is the author of five books, most recently the highly acclaimed Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, which won the Lincoln Prize for 2000.
Recommended Reading: The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics. Review From Publishers Weekly: The perennial tension between principle and pragmatism in politics frames this engaging account of two Civil War Era icons. Historian Oakes (Slavery and Freedom) charts the course by which Douglass and Lincoln, initially far apart on the antislavery spectrum, gravitated toward each other. Lincoln began as a moderate who advocated banning slavery in the territories while tolerating it in the South, rejected social equality for blacks and wanted to send freedmen overseas—and wound up abolishing slavery outright and increasingly supporting black voting rights. Conversely, the abolitionist firebrand Douglass moved from an impatient, self-marginalizing moral rectitude to a recognition of compromise, coalition building and incremental goals as necessary steps forward in a democracy. Continued below...
Douglass's views on race were essentially modern; the book is really a study through his eyes of the more complex figure of Lincoln. Oakes lucidly explores how political realities and military necessity influenced Lincoln's tortuous path to emancipation, and asks whether his often bigoted pronouncements represented real conviction or strategic concessions to white racism. As Douglass shifts from denouncing Lincoln's foot-dragging to revering his achievements, Oakes vividly conveys both the immense distance America traveled to arrive at a more enlightened place and the fraught politics that brought it there. AWARDED FIVE STARS by americancivilwarhistory.org
Recommended Reading: Lincoln and Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Thirteenth Amendment (Hardcover). Description: Lincoln’s reelection in 1864 was a pivotal moment in the history of the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation had officially gone into effect on January 1, 1863, and the proposed Thirteenth Amendment had become a campaign issue. Lincoln and Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Thirteenth Amendment captures these historic times, profiling the individuals, events, and enactments that led to slavery’s abolition. Fifteen leading Lincoln scholars contribute to this collection, covering slavery from its roots in 1619 Jamestown, through the adoption of the Constitution, to Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. Continued below…
This comprehensive volume, edited by Harold Holzer and Sara Vaughn Gabbard, presents Abraham Lincoln’s response to the issue of slavery as politician, president, writer, orator, and commander-in-chief. Topics include the history of slavery in North America, the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, the evolution of Lincoln’s view of presidential powers, the influence of religion on Lincoln, and the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation. This collection effectively explores slavery as a Constitutional issue, both from the viewpoint of the original intent of the nation’s founders as they failed to deal with slavery, and as a study of the Constitutional authority of the commander-in-chief as Lincoln interpreted it. Addressed are the timing of Lincoln’s decision for emancipation and its effect on the public, the military, and the slaves themselves. Other topics covered include the role of the U.S. Colored Troops, the election campaign of 1864, and the legislative debate over the Thirteenth Amendment. The volume concludes with a heavily illustrated essay on the role that iconography played in forming and informing public opinion about emancipation and the amendments that officially granted freedom and civil rights to African Americans. Lincoln and Freedom provides a comprehensive political history of slavery in America and offers a rare look at how Lincoln’s views, statements, and actions played a vital role in the story of emancipation.

Sources: Alexander Tsesis, The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom: A Legal History (2004); Christopher A. Bryant (2003). "Stopping Time: The Pro-Slavery and ‘Irrevocable’ Thirteenth Amendment". Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 26: 501. ISSN 01934872; Alton R. Lee (1961). "The Corwin Amendment in the Secession Crisis". Ohio Historical Quarterly 70 (1): 1–26; Michael Vorenberg, Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment (2001); Herman Belz, Emancipation and Equal Rights: Politics and Constitutionalism in the Civil War Era (1978); Mitch Kachun, Festivals of Freedom: Memory and Meaning in African American Emancipation Celebrations, 1808-1915 (2003); C. Peter Ripley, Roy E. Finkenbine, Michael F. Hembree, Donald Yacovone, Witness for Freedom: African American Voices on Race, Slavery, and Emancipation (1993); Library of Congress; National Park Service; National Archives; Canfield, Leon H. & Wilder, Howard B. The Making of modern America, 1956; Adams, Charles. When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005; Hawes, Robert, One Nation, Indivisible? A Study of Secession and the Constitution, 2006;  Nichols, Roy F. "United States vs. Jefferson Davis, 1865–1869." American Historical Review 31 (1926): 266–284; Watson, David K. "The Trial of Jefferson Davis: An Interesting Constitutional Question." Yale Law Journal 24 (1915): 669–676; Blackford, Charles M. "The Trials and Trial of Jefferson Davis." Southern Historical Society Papers 29 (1901): 45–81; Bradley, Chester. "Was Jefferson Davis Disguised As a Woman When Captured?" Journal of Mississippi History vol. 36 (Aug. 1974): 243–268; Fairman, Charles. Reconstruction and Reunion 1864–88. Part I. New York: Macmillan, 1971; Hagan, Horace Henry. "United States vs. Jefferson Davis." Sewanee Review 25 (1917): 220–225; William C. Davis, Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour, 1991; The Papers of Jefferson Davis at Rice University; Cooper, William J. Jefferson Davis, Jefferson Davis: The Essential Writings ed. by William J. Cooper, 2003; Dunbar Rowland, ed., Jefferson Davis: Constitutionalist; His Letters, Papers, and Speeches (10 vols., 1923); Jefferson Davis. The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1881; numerous reprints).


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