13th Amendment


The Thirteenth Amendment was passed by the United States Congress in January, 1865.

It abolished slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States except as punishment of a crime. Since the American Revolution, there were states that allowed and disallowed slavery.

Before the Thirteenth Amendment, slavery was allowed in the original constitution in article 1, section 2 and clause 3. These provisions detailed the enslaved population over the total population for purpose of apportioning seats in the united House of Representatives.

Although almost 3.5 million slaves were declared free by the President Abraham Lincoln, their status was uncertain until the thirteenth amendment was passed.

History of Slavery in the United States

Slavery was prominent in many states prior to the Thirteenth Amendment. In the American constitution, the term used instead of slavery was unfree persons. The three-fifths compromise was eventually reached by the states which detailed that slaves were considered when determining state’s legal representation and taxing purposes.

Between 1777 and 1807, every Northern state was provided with the immediate abolition of slavery. This was the time when keeping slaves as a household servant was very common in the south. Most of the slaves were household servants and slaved population reached 4 million people in 1861.

The issue of slavery remained the dominant political issue.

Emancipation Proclamation

William Lioyd Garrison was the American abolitionist and reformer who took reforms for ending slavery nationwide. The southerners treated slaves as their property. The Missouri Compromise in 1820 declared Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. However, disagreements eventually flared up into the Civil War.

President Abraham Lincoln thought that freeing the slaves in the North would help win the war. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 which declared freedom for slaves in ten rebellious states. This changed the legal status of more than 3.5 million African Americans from slaves to free citizens. Since it was applied to the areas of Confederate States only, it was not sufficient to end slavery in the United States. When the Thirteenth Amendment was submitted, it was ratified by eighteen states within one month.

Implementation of 13th Amendment

The 13th Amendment was legalized and immediately implemented in all Northern states. After the death of Abraham Lincoln, President Andrew Johnson encouraged southern states like Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina to use their prerogative to implement the Amendment. Although it abolished slavery all over America, other factors like racism, white supremacist violence and black codes remained.

It resulted in enforced labor in America, particularly in the South. The 13th Amendment cut down peonage and provided laws against sex trafficking and other forms of slavery. When the 13th Amendment became operational, the Emancipation Proclamation given by Lincoln spread nationwide. It declared Fugitive slave clause and Three-Fifth compromise as invalid.

Political and Social Effects

The southern half of the country was deeply racist and slaves here remained vulnerable. The slavery remained there in its worse form and they tried to make their own laws regarding slavery. The economic conditions of slaves did not change and the southern states introduced their own law known as black codes. They were passed by the southern states after the American Civil war to allow enforced labor and compelled African Americans to work at low wages.

These codes were defined by white supremacists to remain dominant over the freed black men. According to these codes, blacks could only work as farmers or servants. Restrictions on the black community caused a big hurdle in the economic development.

Importance of 13th Amendment

The 13th Amendment abolished slavery except as the punishment of a crime in 1865. This amendment gave black people freedom of economic independence and voting rights. To protect the rights of the freed people, Congress made two additional amendments. The 14th Amendment guaranteed the citizenship rights of African Americans and ensured that federal government would implement equal protection of the laws.

The 15th Amendment implemented that no one could be denied the voting rights on the basis of color or race. The section II of the Thirteenth Amendment authorized the federal government in providing equal civil rights.

Impacts of 13th Amendment

After the implementation of the 13th amendment, the impacts of abolition of slavery were seen quickly. The impact of the Emancipation Proclamation given by President Abraham Lincoln also widened. As soon as the war ended, many whites started opposing black freedom. Using terrorism, they forced African Americans away from the voting booths.

States passed laws segregating black and white people. The fight over civil rights was not just the issue of the South as it was evidently seen when African Americans moved North and West after the civil war. In 1866, Congress passed Civil Rights Act of 1866 in which black people were given American citizenship and equal protection of law. However, this legislation did not give them the voting right.

Ratification by States

When the 13th Amendment was submitted in 1865, it was taken up by several legislatures and ratified by 27 states in all. It was ratified by the required number of states by December 6, 1865. It was one of the few amendments that were adopted during the American Civil War. Previously, there were states where slavery was allowed and states where it was illegal.

The subsequent ratification raised the issue whether the states had legally valid legislatures. South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana declared that the ratification did not imply federal power to legislate status of former slaves.


After the 13th Amendment, although slavery was abolished but other racist discrimination against the black people remained. The black codes and Jim Crow laws showed the dominance and extremism of white supremacists against African Americans. These laws continued to force black Americans to work involuntary and to suffer physical abuse.

The efforts of 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to give civil rights and equality to the black Americans greatly expanded the civil rights of the African Americans. However, the abolishment of slavery did not ensure the African American freedom wholly.