Brad Barket
Brad Barket

151 years ago, on January 31st, 1865, with the Civil War still a few months from ending, the House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The text of the amendment read (and still reads) as follows:

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.


It was actually the second attempt in the House to pass an amendment barring slavery. After a lengthy process in which—thanks to a combination of changing circumstances in the war, abolitionist activism and his own personal evolution—Abraham Lincoln had transformed from a man who had proposed sending slaves back to Africa to the man who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he and his Republican allies in Congress pushed an amendment in 1864. It passed the Senate, but failed to meet the necessary two-thirds threshold in the House. It took another try to bring the needed number of Democrats over to the abolitionist side.

The vote in the House was 119-56. Here's how the New York Times described the occasion the following morning:

It was an epoch in the history of the country, and will be remembered by the members of the House and spectators present as an event in their lives…when the presiding officer announced that the resolution was agreed to by yeas 119, 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, every one feeling that the occasion justified the fullest expression of approbation and joy.


The next day, February 1st, the amendment was officially sent to states.It was ratified on December 6, 1865.

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