• Exploring American History

13th Amendment is the first of three from the Civil War

On January 31, 1865, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would later become the first of three “Civil War” amendments. The 13th Amendment helped to reinforce President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863. In April 1864, the amendment passed in the Senate.





The 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads:


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 following day, an article in The New York Times offered a description of the scene which had taken place in the House following the vote: “When the presiding officer announced that the resolution was agreed to by ‘yeas 119’ and ‘nays 56’, the enthusiasm of all present, save a few disappointed politicians, knew no bounds, and for several moments the scene was grand and impressive beyond description. No attempt was made to suppress the applause which came from all sides, everyone feeling that the occasion justified the fullest expression of approbation and joy.”


When the Amendment was sent to the states for ratification, four Confederate states submitted their approval prior to the end of the Civil War. The governments of Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee had been put in place under Lincoln’s Reconstruction policy. Virginia, the fourth state, ratified the amendment through a minor legislature which was created subsequent to the state’s secession. On December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment became official when Georgia, the 27th state, ratified it.


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