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.

Passed by Congress January 31, 1865. Ratified December 6, 1865.

Note: A portion of Article IV, section 2, of the Constitution was superseded by the 13th amendment.

Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper, Senior Fellow with the Heartland Institute


Amendment XIII, Section 2

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

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution officially made all forms of slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime unlawful.

Introduced by Ohio Rep. James Ashley originally in 1863, it languished for over a year until companion legislation was introduced in the United States Senate. To give the resolution a final strong push, President Abraham Lincoln had pushed for its inclusion in the GOP platform in 1864 and personally persuaded Democrats from pro-union states to support the effort.

Ultimately, it was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, by the House on January 31, 1865, and adopted on December 6, 1865.

Historians record that when the House vote was announced the galleries cheered, congressmen embraced and wept, and Capitol cannons boomed a 100-gun salute.  One Representative, Congressmen George Julian of Indiana wrote in his diary, “I have felt, ever since the vote, as if I were in a new country.”

On December 18, Secretary of State William H. Seward declared that it had been officially ratified by the states.  It was the first such change to the Constitution in 61 years, and it happened just two and a half months before President Lincoln would be tragically assassinated.

Since our country’s founding the issue of slavery had bedeviled our nation.  At the Constitutional Convention good men like George Mason of Virginia argued vehemently against slavery, warning his fellow delegates:   “Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant.  They bring the judgment of heaven on a country.  As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this.  By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, providence punishes national sins by national calamities.”

While the Constitution that was ultimately adopted failed to completely resolve the slavery issue, it was neither completely silent nor neutral.

The oft-criticized 3/5th compromise specially limited the ability of southern slave-holding states to obtain equal representation in the House of Representatives with that of the non-slave-holding northern states.  Ultimately this would result in a pro-freedom tilt in the House of Representatives.  The Constitution also gave Congress the power to prohibit the importation of new slaves after 1808, which Congress promptly did once it was legally allowed to.

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

With the passage of the 13th Amendment (specifically clause 2) Congress was given full power to stamp out slavery in all its forms. The motivations of the Members of Congress give us a great degree of insight into the meanings and operations of clause 2 of the 13th Amendment.  While most discussions of the 13th amendment include the 14th and 15th, Congress’ treatment is quite different.  At the time of its introduction, its Republican supporters in Congress and abolitionists across the land saw this amendment and Section 2 in particular as a comprehensive tool to root out not just slavery, but all of its vestiges.

It is for this reason that they didn’t stop with just banning or ending slavery; they empowered Congress to root it out.  Their goal was to assure that the ending of slavery wasn’t a hollow victory, that passage lead to a national commitment to adopt whatever substantive changes were needed to eliminate all “badges and incidents of slavery.”

The men surrounding the introduction were very clear in their objectives.  Leaders like Senator James Harlan, Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, Sen. Charles Sumner, and Rep. Wilson were virulently anti-slavery.  They worked assiduously to draft language that would cover “every proposition regarding slavery.”   And they also saw the 13th amendment as the affirmation of the founder’s principles.  Rep. Godlove Orth (R-IN) said that the 13th Amendment to “be a practical application of that self-evident truth” of the Declaration of Independence “that all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

It was in this context that within days of passage of the 13th Amendment, Members of Congress began debating new statutes to achieve the Thirteenth Amendment’s purposes.  The first bill introduced roughly a week after the amendment was ratified was S. 427 by Senator Henry Wilson (R-MA).  This bill prohibited states, municipalities, corporations and all persons from excluding any person on account of race from travel on railroads or navigable waters.  Although this bill ultimately stalled in Congress, within 2 years four laws using the congress’ enforcement power would be enacted:  The Civil Rights Act of 1866, The Slave Kidnapping Act of 1866, the Peonage Act of 1867, and the Judiciary Act of 1867.  The Civil Rights Act of 1866 in particular set the pace for an aggressive intervention on the part of Congress on behalf of the newly freed slaves.   It provided litigants the right to transfer their legal disputes to federal court when the local and state court system failed to allow them an opportunity for relief.  Across the nation the new law aided families and individuals that had never had access to the court or to equal protection of the law.

Unfortunately for the abolitionists, subsequent elections and the deaths of key leaders would result in an ebbing of enthusiasm for use of the 13th amendment’s authority to remediate the wrongs of slavery.  The deaths of Salmon P. Chase, Thaddeus Stevens, and Edwin Stanton were huge losses for the freedom agenda.  And new President Andrew Johnson was particularly hostile to their efforts going so far as to veto many of the remaining anti-slavery measures that could pass Congress.  But the final death knell for robust authority arising under the 13th amendment came from the Supreme Court.

In a series of lawsuits groups together as the Civil Rights cases, the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 (18 Stat. 335) originally proposed by Senator Charles Sumner and Representative Benjamin F. Butler (both Republicans) in 1870, passed by Congress in February, 1875 and signed by President Grant on March 1, 1875.

The Act protected everyone, regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, to the same treatment in “public accommodations” (i.e. inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement).  Violators could face a penalty anywhere from $500 to $1,000 and/or 30 days to 1 year in prison. In a setback that the drafters of the 13th amendment would not have expected, the Supreme Court ruled that the 13th amendment like the 14th and 15th amendment didn’t authorize Congress to intervene in private non-government areas. The Court’s ruling would stifle Congress’ ability to exercise its Section 2 power for nearly a century.

It is ironic that many of the 1875 Act’s provisions were later enacted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act, this time using the federal power to regulate interstate commerce.

Eventually the Court would reverse itself.  In 1968, in a case called Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. the US Supreme Court case once again dealt with the Civil Rights Act of 1866.  In that case they held that Congress could regulate the sale of private property in order to prevent racial discrimination: “42 U.S.C. § 1982 bars all racial discrimination, private as well as public, in the sale or rental of property, and that the statute, thus construed, is a valid exercise of the power of Congress to enforce the Thirteenth Amendment.”

A long time coming, the view of the framers was finally validated.  Today as during Reconstruction, Congress, the President and the Courts recognize that Section 2 gives Congress the power to “determine what are the badges and incidents of slavery, and the authority to translate that determination into effective legislation” to prevent its effects.

Horace Cooper is the Director of the Institute for Liberty’s Center for Law and Regulation and is a legal commentator

April 24, 2012

Essay #47


Guest Essayist: W.B. Allen, Dean Emeritus, James Madison College; Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Michigan State University

Amendment 13 – Slavery Abolished, Ratified December 6, 1865.

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.

An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States, North- West of the River Ohio, known as the Northwest Ordinance or “The Ordinance of 1787,” an act of the Congress of the Confederation of the United States, passed July 13, 1787.
Article 6. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: Provided, always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid.

The 13th Amendment is often referred to as the first of the “Reconstruction Amendments.” While it is true that the abolition of slavery was certainly the first priority for the Congress that conducted the War for the Union, it is not exactly correct to pair the 13th Amendment with the 14th and 15th Amendments, which were literally debated in the context of the aftermath of the war and specifically adopted to extend the “privileges and immunities” of citizenship to the ex-slaves. The 13th Amendment, by contrast, was debated and adopted by the Congress while the war yet raged, and specifically as blow against the rebellion as well as an affirmation of the principle of equality at the heart of the Declaration of Independence. As such, the 13th Amendment represents the cashing of the promissory note that Lincoln issued at Gettysburg in 1863.

The best way to analyze the 13th Amendment, therefore, is to recognize that it was adopted before the Reconstruction Congress took office. Then one may review the dramatic debates in the House of the Representatives and the Senate over the period from early 1864 until spring of 1865, when the resolution sending the 13th Amendment to the States was adopted. The debates of that era opened with a reports and discussion on “equality before the law,” “emancipation in the District of Columbia,” employment rights for American blacks, streetcar discrimination, and similar issues before eventuating in the direct discussion of national abolition.

What makes this progression of interest is that it reveals the Congress tentatively, cautiously, approaching the tricky question of national emancipation, although having a firm grasp of the fundamental rights at stake. What all conceded the Congress had the authority to legislate for the District of Columbia, some doubted that the Congress could even propose to the nation at large. In the end the idea of the authority of the people as a whole — the ultimate ratification authority — trumped arguments about “dispossession of property” and interfering with the “police power” in the states. The matter was sensitive not so much on account of the attitudes of the states in rebellion; it was sensitive because several Border States still held slaves but had been loyal to the Union. The idea of an uncompensated emancipation seemed a hard blow to many of their advocates and was, besides, a departure from the precedent of British emancipation in the West Indies a generation earlier The argument was summed up by Senator Lazarus Powell, Democrat from Kentucky, April 8, 1864:

“We were told by the Government in every form in which it could speak, at the beginning of this revolution, that whatever might be the result, the institutions of the States would remain as they were. The President in his inaugural address, announced that he had no constitutional power to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States. The Secretary of State announced it in a communication which he sent abroad. Congress, by a resolution, announced virtually the same thing when they declared that the object of the war was to restore the Union as it was and to maintain the Constitution as it is.”

Senator Henry Wilson, Free Soiler and Republican from Massachusetts, however, would have none of it. The question for him was a matter of setting the nation “right” and removing a fundamental flaw in its fabric:

Throughout all the dominions of slavery republican government, constitutional liberty, the blessings of our free institutions were mere fables. An aristocracy enjoyed unlimited power while the people were pressed to earth and denied the inestimable privileges which by right they should have enjoyed in all the fullness designed by the Constitution.

Senator Charles Sumner, Republican from Massachusetts, summed the matter up with the observation that the proposed amendment was nothing less than the fulfillment of a promise first expressed at the founding and periodically renewed (as in the Missouri Compromise) only with great controversy. He pointed out, accordingly, that the proposed amendment was nothing less than “the idea of reproducing the Jeffersonian ordinance.”

A quick comparison of the text of the 13th Amendment with the language of Article 6 from the Northwest Ordinance will reveal the point of Sumner’s observation. What Jefferson authored and the Confederation Congress adopted and the new government under the Constitution of 1787 solemnly re-affirmed was, effectively, the incompatibility of republicanism and slavery. While that early declaration applied only to the Northwest Territory, and subsequently, the territorial division established by the Missouri Compromise (1820), its purpose and language were to declare the fundamentals of republican government, as the Northwest Ordinance on the whole does expansively (leading some to call it the “first national bill of rights”).

Although the 13th Amendment avoids the Ordinance’s language with regard to fugitive slaves, that omission is understandable where the objective is no longer to admit slavery anywhere, rather than to temporize with it where it already existed. It is safe to say, therefore, that the meaning of the 13th Amendment is authoritatively to be recovered from the intentions and meaning of the Northwest Ordinance — not a mere administrative regulation concerning slavery, but rather a dramatic recovery of the fundamental meaning of republican freedom.

W. B. Allen is Dean Emeritus, James Madison College; and Emeritus
Professor of Political Science, Michigan State University

Monday, April 23, 2012 

Essay #46 

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. (