Today in History: The 13th Amendment is adopted in 1865

December 6th, 2013

On December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution was ratified by the states. The amendment formally abolished slavery, declaring “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as 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 idea for the legal abolishment of slavery had been put forward by Abraham Lincoln two years prior, while drafting his Emancipation Proclamation. Yet, Lincoln realized the proclamation itself could not end slavery. Therefore, a constitutional amendment guarantee was needed. While the Senate passed the bill in April 1864, it stalled in the House of Representatives because of a debate over states’ rights. Lincoln relentlessly campaigned for the bill’s passage, and added it to the Republican Party platform for the 1864 Presidential election. His efforts were successful, and Congress passed the 13th Amendment on January 31, 1865, before the Southern states rejoined the Union.

The landmark 13th Amendment vote was captured dramatically by Steven Spielberg’s award-winning film Lincoln. Watch WSPWH editor Leon Kass discuss the movie with constitutional scholar Walter Berns:

RELATED: Celebrate this historic occasion in your classroom through EDSITEment’s Emancipation Proclamation lesson plan. Consider slavery’s impact on both the beginning and end of the Civil War, and discuss the Proclamation as the nation’s first steps toward freedom.

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