13th Amendment Frees Slaves

U.S. #902 – The 13th Amendment declared, “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude” would be allowed in the U.S.

13th Amendment Frees Slaves

Almost two years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment was passed, ending legal slavery in the United States.

When the Civil War began in 1861, the North fought to maintain the Union, rather than to end slavery. Lincoln didn’t enter office planning to outlaw slavery, even though he personally opposed it. But as the war passed into its second year and the fighting grew more violent, Lincoln realized that he would need to put an end to slavery. In September 1862, he warned the South of his Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves in the Confederacy to be free on January 1, 1863. However, the Confederacy didn’t recognize the proclamation – as they considered themselves their own nation – and it went largely ignored in the South.

U.S. #1233 – The Emancipation Proclamation was a stepping stone toward the 13th Amendment.

Lincoln’s proclamation had little effect in the South and didn’t apply to the border states that remained loyal to the Union. And so the war continued. In December 1863, Lincoln used his war powers to issue a “Proclamation for Amnesty and Reconstruction,” giving Southern states the chance to rejoin the Union if they abolished slavery. The Confederate States refused. Also in December, James Mitchell Ashley introduced the first bill calling for an amendment to outlaw slavery. Other representatives issued similar bills, and they were eventually combined into one joint resolution. The resolution passed the Senate on April 8, 1864 by a vote of 38 to 6.

U.S. #122 – Lincoln is the only President to sign a ratified amendment.

The amendment became a hot topic, in part because 1864 was an election year. Lincoln endorsed the amendment when he accepted his party’s nomination, though he didn’t often speak in support of it. It was so controversial that some even believed it was unconstitutional.

Once Lincoln won the 1864 election, he made passage of the amendment one of his major priorities. In his State of the Union speech on December 6, he told Congress, “there is only a question of time as to when the proposed amendment will go to the States for their action. And as it is to so go, at all events, may we not agree that the sooner the better?”

U.S. #370 – Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, helped the amendment get votes in the House.

Lincoln then tasked his Secretary of State, William Seward, with acquiring votes in any way necessary. Seward had extensive funds at his disposal to convince potential opponents to change their votes. According to Thaddeus Stevens, “the greatest measure of the nineteenth century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.”

The House called for a vote on January 31, 1865, and it passed by a vote of 119 to 56. The room erupted in celebration, with some members crying with joy and African American onlookers cheering wildly. The 13th Amendment was then submitted to the states the next day. Illinois was the first to ratify it, and was followed by 17 other states by the end of the month. These included two former Confederate states, Virginia and Louisiana.

U.S. #822 – Johnson carried on Lincon’s push for he amendment following his assassination.

Following Lincoln’s shocking assassination that April, his successor, Andrew Johnson, pursued the cause. He joined in negotiations with Southern states to convince them to pass the amendment. Finally, on December 6, Georgia became the 27th state to ratify the amendment, earning the three-fourths majority required for it to become law. On December 18, Seward certified that the 13th Amendment was officially passed and part of the United States Constitution. Though the law legally freed all slaves, many Southern states imposed their own interpretations that essentially kept their workers enslaved. In response, Johnson issued America’s first Civil Rights Act in 1866, giving African Americans citizenship and equal protection, though it would still be another century before true equal rights were established.

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17 responses to "13th Amendment Frees Slaves"

17 thoughts on “13th Amendment Frees Slaves”

  1. I believe that Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 without Johnson’s support. He was not a big fan of giving blacks, especially former slaves, equal status with whites. Congress overrode his veto of that law.

    Reply
  2. The first sentence of the second paragraph is incorrect. Many apologists of the southern states want us to believe that secession was about states rights, but the reality is it was all about slavery. Read the secession documents of the seceding states and the Confederate constitution and you will see repeated references to slavery. The Confederate constitution forbid any state to abolish slavery or to secede from the Confederacy. So much for states rights.

    Reply
    • Freeing the slaves WAS NOT the reason for the war. The South feared the growing
      Government and its growing power. The North (and Lincoln) determined that secession
      was illegal and would fight to keep the Union together. The South’s position was that
      they joined voluntarily and they could leave the same way. The South did not fear that
      Slavery would be abolished because it would take a Constitutional Amendment to do
      so and there were more than enough slave holding states to defeat any attempt at
      such an Amendment. Lincoln made it partially about Slavery when he signed the
      Emancipation Proclamation.

      Reply
    • Slavery was the issue, not the reason, much like the revolution was not about tea taxes, though it was re issue that called them to action.

      Reply
    • I detest it when people attempt to rewrite history. The Southern states seceded because of the issue of states’ rights. The federal government had passed laws that placed high tariffs on the cotton goods southern farmers sold in Europe. Those laws steered them toward selling those goods only to the northern states. The doctrine of states’ rights proclaimed that the southern states had the right to self determination and were not subject to punishing laws passed by the federal government. The Civil War was primarily about states’ rights, not slavery.

      Reply
  3. “In September 1862, he warned the South of his Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all slaves in the Confederacy to be free on January 1, 1863.” TRUE, but what about the 4 slave states not in the Confederacy, or those parts of of the Confederacy occupied by Federal troops? Why the “Map”? I have my opinion, and I’m asking these questions to see what others may think. I enjoy History, but only when is true and factual.

    Reply
    • If he had freed ALL Slaves the Border States would have joined the Confederacy
      and it would have tied down troops in those states and would have weakened
      the Union forces elsewhere.

      Reply
      • Didn’t Lincoln send troops into Maryland and Delaware before they could join the Confederacy? Look at the map and see Virgina and Maryland position. Do you see the position of Washington D. C. ? The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves within the territory controlled by the Confederacy. Not one slave was freed in Federal controlled territory. In short, Lincoln freed those he had no control over, and did not free those he did have control over! The Emancipation Proclamation was just a piece of paper to warn England not to support the Confederacy.

        Reply
  4. I look forward daily to “THIS DAY IN HISTORY”, not that I am History buff, but to learn and see how much our school ssystem lacked in my education.
    I served two (2) tours in Vietnam. Very little even today is taught about it let alone, World War II, or Korean War. Our current school system truely lacks our nation’s history in the classroom.
    Please continue to ssend these “THIS DAY IN HISTORY”, as I even print, and send them to my grandchildren. GOD bless everyone associated the Mystic Stamp Company.
    MERRY CHRISTMAS, and your Company and Employees have the BEST OF “NEW YEAR”

    Reply
    • Carlyle – thank you for your service! While I am a generation younger than you are, I too enjoy the series and eagerly read the daily email when I get home from work each night. I enjoy learning something “new” every day and most days Mystic teaches me something “new” and meaningful.
      Kind regards,
      Tim

      Reply
  5. Lincoln could not afford politically for the war effort to alienate the four border slave holding states who were remaining loyal to the union. He knew that to end all slavery would require congressional action would be necessary.

    Reply
  6. Unfortunately that issue of economics and states rights was tied in very closely with slavery. Slaves were the economic issue. The south could not have economic success without that vast unpaid labor force that they had come to depend on. The states right aspect was their right to have slaves. It is correct that Lincoln used the Emancipation Proclamation to keep England from supporting the South. They had outlawed slavery and could not be seen defending it in the United States.

    Reply
  7. Regarding Duncan Teague’s comment above, if you read about the debates in the southern states, succession conventions and the editorial comments in southern newspapers, they repeatedly stress the danger to southern slavery. If states rights was their primary concern, why did the Confederate constitution expressly forbid and Confederate state from abolishing slavery? The North’s primary motive at the beginning of the war was to preserve the Union. The South’s primary motive was to preserve slavery. The idea that the South fought to protect states rights really began in the late nineteenth century when the prevailing mood was to heal old wounds and not fight old battles.

    Reply

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