The 13th Amendment was ratified after the Civil War
The 13th Amendment was ratified after the Civil War

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution brought an end to slavery, something that the Founding Fathers were unable to reconcile when they wrote the original document more than 70 years earlier. The states that later became the Confederate States of America refused to accept language abolishing slavery in the original document. The 13th Amendment changed that, abolishing slavery throughout the United States.

Emancipation Proclamation Facts

After the decisive battle of Antietam in September 1862, when the Union beat the Confederate troops, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves in the rebelling states were free as of Jan.1, 1863. Lincoln realized that the Emancipation Proclamation was symbolic and began lobbying Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to end slavery.

Legislative Approval

The Senate passed the amendment in April 1864. Some in Congress insisted on including provisions to prevent discrimination against former slaves, but that language never made it to final drafts. The Republican platform called for the complete elimination of slavery. Congressional Democrats favored restoration of states’ rights, including the possibility of states retaining the right to keep slaves. The House of Representatives debated different versions but did not immediately pass an amendment. Lincoln added passage to the Republican Party platform for the 1864 elections and in January 1865, the House of Representatives passed the amendment.

What it Says

The Senate Judiciary Committee drafted the final language of the two-section 13th Amendment. Section 1 of the amendment states that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist in the United States. Section 2 states that Congress has the authority to enforce the article through legislation. The language was borrowed from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 that had banned slavery north of the Ohio River in the area that would become the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

The Ratification

Eighteen of the 27 states of the Union ratified the amendment in February 1865, the first month after Congress approved the change.The first to ratify the 13th Amendment was Illinois, on Feb. 1, a symbolic gesture given that Lincoln was from Illinois. Between March and July of 1865, five more states ratified. The last four states to ratify did so in November and December. Georgia was the last state to ratify, on Dec. 6, 1865.