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6. Aurora, 20 February, 1801.

7. Writings of Thomas Jefferson, VII: 474, 478, 490, 491.

8. Annals of the Congress, 1802, XI: 603.

9. Ibid., II: 1285-1295.

10. Ibid., II: 303.

11. Ibid., XII: 304, 481-486.

12. These proposals were an outgrowth of the election of 1800 when the Republican candidates for President and Vice-President each received one vote from every Republican elector, throwing the election into the House of Representatives.

13. Annals of the Congress, 1802, XII; 372.

14. Ibid., 374-377, 380-381.

15. Ibid., 383.

16. Ibid., 420-431, 490-495.

17. Ibid., 496-497.

18. Ibid., 515–545.

19. Ibid., 16-17.

20. Ibid., 19-20. 21. Ibid., 22-25. 22. Ibid., 27-78. 23. Ibid., 81–90. 24. Ibid., 91-210. 25. Ibid.

26. Ibid., 646-776.

27. Ibid., 776–777.

28. Ibid., 663-686.

29. Ibid., 1803, XIII: 214.

30. John Bach McMaster, History of the People of the United States, (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1883-1913), III: 187.

31. Journal of the House of Representatives of Delaware, (13 January, 1804), 27; National Intelligencer, (1 February, 1804); Ibid., 6 June, 1804.

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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.


The Thirteenth Amendment was the first of the constitutional amendments to increase the jurisdiction of the Federal Government in discriminatory issues by overruling State law. This amendment was to become the first step in a lengthy series of constitutional expansions of power, ensuring that the inalienable rights of man, as stated by the Founding Fathers, “be not withheld from any person on account of race, color, or creed."

The institution of slavery had been a source for heated debate both as a moral and an economic issue since its advent in the colonial era. Despite strong opposition to slavery by many groups, few propositions to abolish it by_constitutional amendment appeared before 1860. In 1818, Arthur Levermore introduced one of the few early resolutions attempting to prohibit slavery. The measure failed to receive even initial consideration in the House of Representatives.1 In 1839, John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts tried unsuccessfully to introduce three separate amendments that would have abolished hereditary slavery after 1842, restricted admittance of slave States into the Union, and abolished slavery in the District of Columbia after 1845.2

The years immediately preceding the Civil War brought a change in the Nation's political attitudes and social conditions. Slavery was no exception. Over 200 amendments relating to the issue of slavery were introduced in the first session of the 36th Congress in 1860-61. Many of these proposals were attempts to protect slavery, while others were compromise measures designed primarily to prevent a permanent division of the States. These amendments ranged in scope from the returning of fugitive slaves to their owners to restricting Congress from passing legislation against slavery. The latter of these two, introduced as H.J. Res. 80 in the 36th Congress, passed both Houses of Congress but failed to receive the required State ratifications.3

With the secession of the Southern States from the Union and the subsequent outbreak of the Civil War in April of 1861, the controversy over slavery intensified. A necessary consequence of the Southern State's secession was their forfeiture of representation in Congress. As a result, Congressmen advocating the abolition of slavery faced little opposition, and they were quick to act. On April 16, 1862, Congress abolished slavery in the District of Columbia.*

In June, the law was extended to include all of the Nation's territories. 5

In September of 1862, President Lincoln, acting as Commander in Chief during a time of war, issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which was to become effective on January 1, 1863.6 The Proclamation declared that all people held in slavery "are, and henceforth shall be, free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said power."

The Emancipation Proclamation was contested on several grounds. Opponents of emancipation strongly questioned the President's constitutional authority to issue such a decree. Others argued that while the Proclamation had freed the slaves in the seceded States, it had not, in effect, made slavery illegal. This left the status of border States and the already defeated Confederate States in question with regard to slavery.

In an attempt to quell the controversy surrounding the constitutionality of the Emancipation Proclamation, many advocated a nationwide, anti-slavery amendment to the Constitution. Even before the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, President Lincoln used his annual address to Congress on December 1, 1862 to urge the adoption of an amendment granting compensation to any State that undertook to abolish slavery by 1900.8 By 1863, abolitionist groups were redirecting their efforts for statutory legislation to support of a constitutional amendment.9


In response to these presidential and public calls for an amendment, several Joint Resolutions were introduced in the House of Representatives during the 38th Congress. 10 On the Senate side, John P. Henderson of Missouri introduced, on January 11, 1864, S.J. Res. 16-a proposal for two amendments to the Constitution. The amendment proposals, which were referred to the Committee on the Judiciary,11 called for an abolition of slavery and a reduction in the majorities required both for Congress to adopt and for the States to ratify amendments to the Constitution. A few days later, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts introduced S.J. Res. 24, which stated that "all persons are equal before the law, so that no person can hold another as a slave." Sumner's resolution was also referred to the Judiciary Committee.12

On February 1, 1864, the Judiciary Committee reported adversely on the Sumner resolution. At the same time, they proposed, as a substitute measure, the article that ultimately became the Thirteenth Amendment. 13

Several amendments to the Judiciary Committee substitute, which retained the title of S.J. Res. 16, were offered on the floor of the Senate and the House. All, however, were rejected. Among the amendments offered in the Senate were (1) an amendment that would have denied citizenship to Negroes and consolidated the New England States into two States; 14 (2) a provision requiring that in any State denying residence to free Negroes, slaves could not be emancipated until they were removed from the State by the U.S. Government; 15 (3) an amendment calling for equal distribution of

freed slaves among the States in proportion to the white population; 16 (4) an amendment to provide compensation to slave owners as a prerequisite to emancipation; 17 and (5) an amendment to limit Presidents to one term in office. 18 In addition, the House rejected a proposal that would have exempted the States of Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware, and Maryland from compliance with the amendment for 10 years.19

On April 8, 1864, the Senate approved S.J. Res. 16, by a vote of 38 to 6.20 The House initially defeated the measure on June 15, 1864 when it failed to receive the necessary two-thirds vote. Ninety-three Representatives favored the Resolution, 65 opposed it, and 23 didn't vote. On January 31, 1865, the House reconsidered the measure and adopted it 119 to 56, with 8 not voting.21


At the time Congress approved the Thirteenth Amendment, the Nation had grown to 36 States. Consequently, 27 States needed to ratify the Amendment before it would become part of the Constitution. The ratification process proceeded rapidly, and within 1 year, Georgia became the necessary 27th State. Below are the ratification dates for each State that ratified the Thirteenth Amendment:

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On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William Seward issued the Certificate of Adoption, which stated that the Thirteenth Amendment was "valid, to all intents and purposes as part of this Constitution."

Once the requisite number of State ratifications had been achieved, seven other States ratified the Thirteenth Amendment: Oregon on December 8, 1865; California on December 19, 1865; Florida on December 28, 1865; Iowa on January 15, 1866; New Jersey on January 23, 1866; Texas on February 18, 1870; and Delaware on February 12, 1901. Only two States voted to reject the Amendment: Kentucky on February 24, 1865; and Mississippi on December 4, 1865.22

The Thirteenth Amendment appears officially as 13 Stat. 774.


1. Annals of the Congress of the United States, 1818, (Washington, D.C.: Gales & Seaton, 1854), 32: 1675-1676.

2. Congressional Globe, 26th Congress, 1st Session, 1939-40, 8:220-224.

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