June 6, 2011 – Amendment XIII of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: Hadley Heath, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Amendment XIII

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

The Declaration of Independence, penned in 1776, proclaimed that “All men are created equal,” and “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

God gives rights; government serves God and the people by protecting rights.  America’s Founding Fathers recognized this principle, but our young country failed to protect the God-given rights of some Americans.  In the U.S., the practice of slavery continued throughout the Revolutionary War and the birth of our new country, and for nearly 100 years afterward.

It was not until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, in 1865, that our government established a protection of liberty for all Americans, specifically liberty from slavery or forced labor.

For centuries, slavery was a worldwide phenomenon, legal and socially acceptable in many empires, countries, and colonies.  From their early development, the southern American colonies relied on slavery as integral to their agricultural economy.  But opposition to slavery – in the colonies and abroad – was growing stronger throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

In America, religious groups including the Quakers strongly opposed slavery and advocated for its abolition. Pressure from Quakers in Pennsylvania led to the passage of the state’s “Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery” in 1780, only four years after the establishment of the United States as a country.

The British government put an end to slavery in its empire in 1833 with the Slavery Abolition Act.  The French colonies abolished it 15 years later in 1848.  These worldwide events added fuel to the anti-slavery movement in the U.S.

Some American Abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison, called for the immediate emancipation of all slaves.  Other Americans who opposed slavery did not call for immediate emancipation, but instead hoped that the containment of slavery to the southern states would lead to its eventual end.

The American Civil War broke out in 1861 when several of the southern slave states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America.  This dark chapter of America’s history ultimately decided the fate of slavery when the nation came back together after the defeat of the Confederate States.

President Lincoln dreamt of an America where all people were free.  In fact, he declared all slaves to be free in his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.  An amendment to our Constitution followed as the next step to make the end of slavery a permanent part of our nation’s governing document.

Together, at the end of the Civil War, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments greatly expanded the civil rights of many Americans.

While the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery, it did not grant voting rights or equal rights to all Americans.  Nearly a century after the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed racial discrimination and segregation.

Sadly, the Thirteenth Amendment did not bring about an immediate or total end to slavery in the U.S.  Today, it is estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 people, mostly women and children, are trafficked into our borders for commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor each year.  This is in clear violation of the Thirteenth Amendment, and Americans should work toward a swift end to human trafficking in the U.S. and all over the world.

Before our Declaration of Independence was written, English philosopher thinker John Locke developed the idea that individuals have the natural right to defend their life, health, liberty, and possessions (or property).  While the United States has always and should always protect the property rights of individuals, the Thirteenth Amendment makes it clear that owning “property” in the United States cannot mean owning another person.

Individual liberty for all and the God-given right to pursue happiness are not compatible with slavery.  The end of slavery with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment is one of the most “American” of all of our historical events, because this event brought our country closer in line with the principles upon which it was founded.

Hadley Heath is a senior policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum. (www.iwf.org)

2 replies
  1. Barb Zakszewski
    Barb Zakszewski says:

    Excellent analysis!! Thank you for putting this amendment into an historical perspective. It is amazing how a Nation that started with the Declaration of Independence and formed its early years with the Constitution including the Bill of Rights could, in good conscious, tolerate slavery. Hadley Heath is correct in concluding that the ratification of Amendment XII brought our Nation closer in line with the principles on which it was found..

    Reply
  2. TruthInAction
    TruthInAction says:

    Your sentiments are correct and agreed to by me regarding the spirit of your essay. However, your statement about the Emancipation is inaccurate. The EP only declared slaves free in states/counties that seceded from the Union:

    “…Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:

    “Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

    “And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.”

    The 13th amendment declared slavery and involuntary servitude could no longer exist in all the USA.

    The 15th amendment granted voting rights to former slaves: “…on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude–“. It did not grant voting rights based upon gender, so females deservedly and finally got that right with ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

    Moreover, John Locke’s statements regarding “property” had a different meaning than today. “Property” meant unalienable (Creator given) rights as well as possession of real assets.

    Again, just adding some clarification and context to your remarks. I enjoyed your essay.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *