Congress Passes 13th Amendment

Harper's Weekly - 13th Amendment Celebration

An illustration of the House of Representatives on the passage of the 13th Amendment. (Newseum Collection)

On this day in 1865, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment, forcing the issue of slavery on the states.

A year earlier, the amendment passed in the Senate but was struck down in the Democratically-dominated House of Representatives. However, the election of 1864 not only put Abraham Lincoln back in the White House, but it also created Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. The bill passed in the House 119-56, seven votes over the required two-thirds majority, creating a bipartisan victory for Lincoln. After a successful vote in the House, the amendment was sent to the states for ratification.

In December 1865, the amendment was officially ratified. The amendment not only ended slavery nationwide, but it also invalidated the “Three-Fifths Compromise” in the Constitution, which defined enslaved individuals as three-fifths of a person.

The 13th Amendment reads:

Section 1. 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.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Other amendments added to the Constitution in the years following the Civil War were the 14th Amendment and the 15th Amendment. The 14th Amendment gives equal protection to all citizens and the 15th Amendment grants all races the right to vote.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

  1. President Lincoln knew that bipartisan support for the 13th Amendment was important. Today, the term “bipartisanship” is a word used by many politicians. What is bipartisanship and why is it so important? Why was it important for the 13th Amendment?
  2. The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments are known as the Civil War or Reconstruction amendments. Historically speaking, why were they so important and how did the people of the United States respond to them? How do they relate to the civil rights movement?

You can read more about the 13th Amendment and the civil rights movement in our Digital Classroom’s “Making A Change” Module. The Newseum Digital Classroom is a free resource featuring primary sources, interactives, historic newsreels, videos and lesson plans that bring history, journalism and the First Amendment to life for students. Registration is free. 

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