On January 31, 1865, the United States House of Representatives passed what would become the Thirteenth Amendment. The Senate passed the bill in April 1864. While President Abraham Lincoln had announced in the Emancipation Proclamation that slavery would be abolished in the areas in rebellion against the Union during the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment made it the law of the land 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.”
In order to add the amendment to the Constitution, three-fourths of the states had to ratify it. At the time, there were thirty-six states so twenty-seven of them would have to ratify an amendment to ensure its passage.
The Thirteenth Amendment was the first of three “Reconstruction” amendments that dealt with the repercussions of the Civil War. Former Confederate states would have to ratify these as a condition of their readmission to the Union. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to all people born in the United States and attempted to prevent states from denying civil rights to freedmen, and the Fifteenth Amendment gave black men the right to vote. Georgia sealed the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865 and the remaining nine states were quick to follow. The next amendment to the Constitution was not ratified for another 43 years.
Why was the Emancipation Proclamation not enough to end slavery in the U.S.? Why was the Thirteenth Amendment necessary? Why do you think the Founders decided to require at least three-fourths of the states to ratify an amendment before it became law?