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Emancipation Proclamation: The 13th Amendment

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

Joint Resolution Proposing the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, 01/31/1865–01/31/1865; Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789–2008; General Records of the United States Government, 1778–2006, Record Group 11; National Archives (National Archives Identifier: 1408764)

The news of the Emancipation Proclamation was greeted with joy, even though it did not free all the slaves. Because of the limitations of the proclamation, and because it depended on a Union military victory, President Lincoln recognized that the Emancipation Proclamation would have to be followed by a constitutional amendment in order to abolish slavery.

After the Senate passed a bill for an amendment in April 1864, but the House of Representatives did not, Lincoln suggested that the bill be taken up by the Republican Party in its 1864 platform for the upcoming Presidential elections.

His efforts met with success when the House passed the bill in January 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 formally abolished slavery in the United States. It 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.”

The struggle for complete freedom was far from finished even with the 13th Amendment. Two more amendments were added to the Constitution. Ratified in 1868, the 14th Amendment increased the liberties and rights granted by the Bill of Rights to former slaves. Two years later the 15th Amendment was ratified, giving African American men the right to vote. The Emancipation Proclamation helped make these rights and liberties available for newly freed people, as it was one of the first steps towards freedom for former slaves.

The 13th Amendment and its history are featured in the online exhibit “Our Documents.”

The story of the creation of the 13th Amendment is featured in “The Meaning and Making of Emancipation,” a free eBook created by the National Archives. You can read it on your iPad, iPhone, Nook, or other electronic device.

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