On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all enslaved people in the states that were then in rebellion. Partly out of fear that the proclamation might be overturned by the Supreme Court in the future, the president and others believed that a constitutional amendment was required to rid the nation of slavery once and for all. While the Civil War still raged, the Thirteenth Amendment was drafted and passed by the United States Senate on April 8, 1864. After it failed in the House of Representatives, the issue was added to the Republican Party's platform for the 1864 election. Lincoln was reelected with a Republican majority in both houses of Congress in November 1864. The Thirteenth Amendment passed the House on January 31, 1865, and was submitted to the states for ratification.
That joint resolution of the House of Representatives and the Senate was signed by Lincoln on February 1, 1865, giving it his approval and endorsement. The amendment was ratified by the requisite three fourths of the states by December 6, 1865, seven months after General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox. On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William H. Seward announced the ratification of the amendment.
The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery throughout the United States, but it did not provide for the rights of the newly freed African Americans. The first amendment to the constitution in more than sixty years, it opened the door for the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to define the rights of citizenship and equality in voting to African Americans in 1868 and 1870. These three amendments, sometimes known as the Reconstruction amendments, made great steps toward providing for all Americans the promises for liberty and equality made by the founders. Since their passage these amendments have been regularly cited by civil rights activists in the fights for the freedoms and rights they promise.
1. Which United States president signed this document?
2. What does abolition mean?
3. Which amendment to the United States Constitution is this?
1. Consider this document with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. The proclamation stated that the slaves of the Confederacy were emancipated, though in practice they were not. Likewise, this document officially ended slavery, though it did not end racism or discrimination. In what ways were African Americans discriminated against? With the ratification of this amendment what other issues were raised?
Abraham Lincoln signed this Congressional Joint Resolution showing his approval for its action even though his signature was not required by any law and made no change to the process of ratification.
Vorenberg, Michael. Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Holzer, Harold, and Sara Vaughn Gabbard, eds. Lincoln and Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Thirteenth Amendment?. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2007.