Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution | Wikipedia audio article
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Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution | Wikipedia audio article

The Thirteenth Amendment (Amendment XIII)
to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except
as punishment for a crime. In Congress, it was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864,
and by the House on January 31, 1865. The amendment was ratified by the required number
of states on December 6, 1865. On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William H. Seward
proclaimed its adoption. It was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments adopted
following the American Civil War. Since the American Revolution, states had
divided into states that allowed or states that prohibited slavery. Slavery was implicitly
permitted in the original Constitution through provisions such as Article I, Section 2, Clause
3, commonly known as the Three-Fifths Compromise, which detailed how each slave state’s enslaved
population would be factored into its total population count for the purposes of apportioning
seats in the United States House of Representatives and direct taxes among the states. Though
many slaves had been declared free by President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation,
their post-war status was uncertain. On April 8, 1864, the Senate passed an amendment to
abolish slavery. After one unsuccessful vote and extensive legislative maneuvering by the
Lincoln administration, the House followed suit on January 31, 1865. The measure was
swiftly ratified by nearly all Northern states, along with a sufficient number of border states
up to the death of Lincoln, but approval came with President Andrew Johnson, who encouraged
the “reconstructed” Southern states of Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia to agree, which
brought the count to 27 states, and caused it to be adopted before the end of 1865.
Though the amendment formally abolished slavery throughout the United States, factors such
as Black Codes, white supremacist violence, and selective enforcement of statutes continued
to subject some black Americans to involuntary labor, particularly in the South. In contrast
to the other Reconstruction Amendments, the Thirteenth Amendment was rarely cited in later
case law, but has been used to strike down peonage and some race-based discrimination
as “badges and incidents of slavery.” The Thirteenth Amendment applies to the actions
of private citizens, while the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments apply only to state
actors. The Thirteenth Amendment also enables Congress to pass laws against sex trafficking
and other modern forms of slavery.==Text==
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.==Slavery in the United States==Slavery existed in all of the original thirteen
British North American colonies. Prior to the Thirteenth Amendment, the United States
Constitution did not expressly use the words slave or slavery but included several provisions
about unfree persons. The Three-Fifths Compromise, Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution,
allocated Congressional representation based “on the whole Number of free Persons” and
“three fifths of all other Persons”. This clause was a compromise between Southerners
who wished slaves to be counted as ‘persons’ for congressional representation and northerners
rejecting these out of concern of too much power for the South, because representation
in the new Congress would be based on population in contrast to the one-vote-for-one-state
principle in the earlier Continental Congress. Under the Fugitive Slave Clause, Article IV,
Section 2, Clause 3, “No person held to Service or Labour in one State” would be freed by
escaping to another. Article I, Section 9, Clause 1 allowed Congress to pass legislation
outlawing the “Importation of Persons”, but not until 1808. However, for purposes of the
Fifth Amendment—which states that, “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty,
or property, without due process of law”—slaves were understood as property. Although abolitionists
used the Fifth Amendment to argue against slavery, it became part of the legal basis
in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) for treating slaves as property.Stimulated by the philosophy
of the Declaration of Independence, between 1777 and 1804 every Northern state provided
for the immediate or gradual abolition of slavery. Most of the slaves involved were
household servants. No Southern state did so, and the slave population of the South
continued to grow, peaking at almost 4 million people in 1861. An abolitionist movement headed
by such figures as William Lloyd Garrison grew in strength in the North, calling for
the end of slavery nationwide and exacerbating tensions between North and South. The American
Colonization Society, an alliance between abolitionists who felt the races should be
kept separated and slaveholders who feared the presence of freed blacks would encourage
slave rebellions, called for the emigration and colonization of both free blacks and slaves
to Africa. Its views were endorsed by politicians such as Henry Clay, who feared that the main
abolitionist movement would provoke a civil war. Proposals to eliminate slavery by constitutional
amendment were introduced by Representative Arthur Livermore in 1818 and by John Quincy
Adams in 1839, but failed to gain significant traction.As the country continued to expand,
the issue of slavery in its new territories became the dominant national issue. The Southern
position was that slaves were property and therefore could be moved to the territories
like all other forms of property. The 1820 Missouri Compromise provided for the admission
of Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, preserving the Senate’s equality
between the regions. In 1846, the Wilmot Proviso was introduced to a war appropriations bill
to ban slavery in all territories acquired in the Mexican–American War; the Proviso
repeatedly passed the House, but not the Senate. The Compromise of 1850 temporarily defused
the issue by admitting California as a free state, instituting a stronger Fugitive Slave
Act, banning the slave trade in Washington, D.C., and allowing New Mexico and Utah self-determination
on the slavery issue.Despite the compromise, tensions between North and South continued
to rise over the subsequent decade, inflamed by, amongst other things, the publication
of the 1852 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin; fighting between pro-slavery and abolitionist
forces in Kansas, beginning in 1854; the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which struck down provisions
of the Compromise of 1850; abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 attempt to start a slave revolt
at Harpers Ferry and the 1860 election of slavery critic Abraham Lincoln to the presidency.
The Southern states seceded from the Union in the months following Lincoln’s election,
forming the Confederate States of America, and beginning the American Civil War.==Proposal and ratification=====
Crafting the amendment===Acting under presidential war powers, Lincoln
issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which proclaimed the freedom of slaves
in the ten states that were still in rebellion. However, it did not affect the status of slaves
in the border states that had remained loyal to the Union. That December, Lincoln again
used his war powers and issued a “Proclamation for Amnesty and Reconstruction”, which offered
Southern states a chance to peacefully rejoin the Union if they abolished slavery and collected
loyalty oaths from 10% of their voting population. Southern states did not readily accept the
deal, and the status of slavery remained uncertain. In the final years of the Civil War, Union
lawmakers debated various proposals for Reconstruction. Some of these called for a constitutional
amendment to abolish slavery nationally and permanently. On December 14, 1863, a bill
proposing such an amendment was introduced by Representative James Mitchell Ashley of
Ohio. Representative James F. Wilson of Iowa soon followed with a similar proposal. On
January 11, 1864, Senator John B. Henderson of Missouri submitted a joint resolution for
a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by
Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, became involved in merging different proposals for an amendment.
Radical Republicans led by Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner and Pennsylvania Representative
Thaddeus Stevens sought a more expansive version of the amendment. On February 8, 1864, Sumner
submitted a constitutional amendment stating: All persons are equal before the law, so that
no person can hold another as a slave; and the Congress shall have power to make all
laws necessary and proper to carry this declaration into effect everywhere in the United States.
Sumner tried to promote his own more expansive wording by circumventing the Trumbull-controlled
Judiciary Committee, but failed. On February 10, the Senate Judiciary Committee presented
the Senate with an amendment proposal based on drafts of Ashley, Wilson and Henderson.The
Committee’s version used text from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which stipulates, “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.” Though using Henderson’s
proposed amendment as the basis for its new draft, the Judiciary Committee removed language
that would have allowed a constitutional amendment to be adopted with only a majority vote in
each House of Congress and ratification by two-thirds of the states (instead of two-thirds
and three-fourths, respectively).===Passage by Congress===The Senate passed the amendment on April 8,
1864, by a vote of 38 to 6; two Democrats, Reverdy Johnson of Maryland and James Nesmith
of Oregon voted “aye.” However, just over two months later on June 15, the House failed
to do so, with 93 in favor and 65 against, thirteen votes short of the two-thirds vote
needed for passage; the vote split largely along party lines, with Republicans supporting
and Democrats opposing. In the 1864 presidential race, former Free Soil Party candidate John
C. Frémont threatened a third-party run opposing Lincoln, this time on a platform endorsing
an anti-slavery amendment. The Republican Party platform had, as yet, failed to include
a similar plank, though Lincoln endorsed the amendment in a letter accepting his nomination.
Fremont withdrew from the race on September 22, 1864 and endorsed Lincoln.With no Southern
states represented, few members of Congress pushed moral and religious arguments in favor
of slavery. Democrats who opposed the amendment generally made arguments based on federalism
and states’ rights. Some argued that the proposed change so violated the spirit of the Constitution
that it would not be a valid “amendment” but would instead constitute “revolution.” Representative
White, among other opponents, warned that the amendment would lead to full citizenship
for blacks.Republicans portrayed slavery as uncivilized and argued for abolition as a
necessary step in national progress. Amendment supporters also argued that the slave system
had negative effects on white people. These included the lower wages resulting from competition
with forced labor, as well as repression of abolitionist whites in the South. Advocates
said ending slavery would restore the First Amendment and other constitutional rights
violated by censorship and intimidation in slave states.White, Northern Republicans and
some Democrats became excited about an abolition amendment, holding meetings and issuing resolutions.
Many blacks though, particularly in the South, focused more on land ownership and education
as the key to liberation. As slavery began to seem politically untenable, an array of
Northern Democrats successively announced their support for the amendment, including
Representative James Brooks, Senator Reverdy Johnson, and the powerful New York political
machine known as Tammany Hall. President Lincoln had had concerns that the
Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 might be reversed or found invalid by the judiciary
after the war. He saw constitutional amendment as a more permanent solution. He had remained
outwardly neutral on the amendment because he considered it politically too dangerous.
Nonetheless, Lincoln’s 1864 party platform resolved to abolish slavery by constitutional
amendment. After winning reelection in the election of 1864, Lincoln made the passage
of the Thirteenth Amendment his top legislative priority, beginning with his efforts in Congress
during its “lame duck” session. Popular support for the amendment mounted and Lincoln urged
Congress on in his December 6, 1864 State of the Union Address: “there is only a question
of time as to when the proposed amendment will go to the States for their action. And
as it is to so go, at all events, may we not agree that the sooner the better?”Lincoln
instructed Secretary of State William H. Seward, Representative John B. Alley and others to
procure votes by any means necessary, and they promised government posts and campaign
contributions to outgoing Democrats willing to switch sides. Seward had a large fund for
direct bribes. Ashley, who reintroduced the measure into the House, also lobbied several
Democrats to vote in favor of the measure. Representative Thaddeus Stevens later commented
that “the greatest measure of the nineteenth century was passed by corruption aided and
abetted by the purest man in America”; however, Lincoln’s precise role in making deals for
votes remains unknown.Republicans in Congress claimed a mandate for abolition, having gained
in the elections for Senate and House. The 1864 Democratic vice-presidential nominee,
Representative George H. Pendleton, led opposition to the measure. Republicans toned down their
language of radical equality in order to broaden the amendment’s coalition of supporters. In
order to reassure critics worried that the amendment would tear apart the social fabric,
some Republicans explicitly promised that the amendment would leave patriarchy intact.In
mid-January 1865, Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax estimated the amendment to be five
votes short of passage. Ashley postponed the vote. At this point, Lincoln intensified his
push for the amendment, making direct emotional appeals to particular members of Congress.
On January 31, 1865, the House called another vote on the amendment, with neither side being
certain of the outcome. With 183 House members present, 122 would have to vote “aye” to secure
passage of the resolution; however eight Democrats abstained, reducing the number to 117. Every
Republican (84), Independent Republican (2) and Unconditional Unionist (16) supported
the measure, as well as 14 Democrats, almost all of them lame ducks, and 3 Unionists. The
amendment finally passed by a vote of 119 to 56, narrowly reaching the required two-thirds
majority. The House exploded into celebration, with some members openly weeping. Black onlookers,
who had only been allowed to attend Congressional sessions since the previous year, cheered
from the galleries.While the Constitution does not provide the President any formal
role in the amendment process, the joint resolution was sent to Lincoln for his signature. Under
the usual signatures of the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, President
Lincoln wrote the word “Approved” and added his signature to the joint resolution on February
1, 1865. On February 7, Congress passed a resolution affirming that the Presidential
signature was unnecessary. The Thirteenth Amendment is the only ratified amendment signed
by a President, although James Buchanan had signed the Corwin Amendment that the 36th
Congress had adopted and sent to the states in March 1861.===Ratification by the states===When the Thirteenth Amendment was submitted
to the states on February 1, 1865, it was quickly taken up by several legislatures.
By the end of the month, it had been ratified by eighteen states. Among them were the ex-Confederate
states of Virginia and Louisiana, where ratifications were submitted by Reconstruction governments.
These, along with subsequent ratifications from Arkansas and Tennessee raised the issues
of how many seceded states had legally valid legislatures; and if there were fewer legislatures
than states, if Article V required ratification by three-fourths of the states or three-fourths
of the legally valid state legislatures. President Lincoln in his last speech, on April 11, 1865,
called the question about whether the Southern states were in or out of the Union a “pernicious
abstraction.” Obviously, he declared, they were not “in their proper practical relation
with the Union”; whence everyone’s object should be to restore that relation. Lincoln
was assassinated three days later. With Congress out of session, the new President,
Andrew Johnson, began a period known as “Presidential Reconstruction”, in which he personally oversaw
the creation of new state governments throughout the South. He oversaw the convening of state
political conventions populated by delegates whom he deemed to be loyal. Three leading
issues came before the conventions: secession itself, the abolition of slavery, and the
Confederate war debt. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina
held conventions in 1865, while Texas’ convention did not organize until March 1866. Johnson
hoped to prevent deliberation over whether to re-admit the Southern states by accomplishing
full ratification before Congress reconvened in December. He believed he could silence
those who wished to deny the Southern states their place in the Union by pointing to how
essential their assent had been to the successful ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Direct negotiations between state governments and the Johnson administration ensued. As
the summer wore on, administration officials began including assurances of the measure’s
limited scope with their demands for ratification. Johnson himself suggested directly to the
governors of Mississippi and North Carolina that they could proactively control the allocation
of rights to freedmen. Though Johnson obviously expected the freed people to enjoy at least
some civil rights, including, as he specified, the right to testify in court, he wanted state
lawmakers to know that the power to confer such rights would remain with the states.
When South Carolina provisional governor Benjamin Franklin Perry objected to the scope of the
amendment’s enforcement clause, Secretary of State Seward responded by telegraph that
in fact the second clause “is really restraining in its effect, instead of enlarging the powers
of Congress”. White politicians throughout the South were concerned that Congress might
cite the amendment’s enforcement powers as a way to authorize black suffrage.When South
Carolina ratified the amendment in November 1865, it issued its own interpretive declaration
that “any attempt by Congress toward legislating upon the political status of former slaves,
or their civil relations, would be contrary to the Constitution of the United States”.
Alabama and Louisiana also declared that their ratification did not imply federal power to
legislate on the status of former slaves. During the first week of December, North Carolina
and Georgia gave the amendment the final votes needed for it to become part of the Constitution.
The Thirteenth Amendment became part of the Constitution on December 6, 1865, based on
the following ratifications: Illinois — February 1, 1865
Rhode Island — February 2, 1865 Michigan — February 3, 1865
Maryland — February 3, 1865 New York — February 3, 1865
Pennsylvania — February 3, 1865 West Virginia — February 3, 1865
Missouri — February 6, 1865 Maine — February 7, 1865
Kansas — February 7, 1865 Massachusetts — February 7, 1865
Virginia — February 9, 1865 Ohio — February 10, 1865
Indiana — February 13, 1865 Nevada — February 16, 1865
Louisiana — February 17, 1865 Minnesota — February 23, 1865
Wisconsin — February 24, 1865 Vermont — March 9, 1865
Tennessee — April 7, 1865 Arkansas — April 14, 1865
Connecticut — May 4, 1865 New Hampshire — July 1, 1865
South Carolina — November 13, 1865 Alabama — December 2, 1865
North Carolina — December 4, 1865 Georgia — December 6, 1865Having been ratified
by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states (27 of the 36 states, including
those that had been in rebellion), Secretary of State Seward, on December 18, 1865, certified
that the Thirteenth Amendment had become valid, to all intents and purposes, as a part of
the Constitution. Included on the enrolled list of ratifying states were the three ex-Confederate
states that had given their assent, but with strings attached. Seward accepted their affirmative
votes and brushed aside their interpretive declarations without comment, challenge or
acknowledgment.The Thirteenth Amendment was subsequently ratified by: The Thirteenth Amendment became part of the
Constitution 61 years after the Twelfth Amendment. This is the longest interval between constitutional
amendments.==Effects==The impact of the abolition of slavery was
felt quickly. When the Thirteenth Amendment became operational, the scope of Lincoln’s
1863 Emancipation Proclamation was widened to include the entire nation. Although the
majority of Kentucky’s slaves had been emancipated, 65,000–100,000 people remained to be legally
freed when the amendment went into effect on December 18. In Delaware, where a large
number of slaves had escaped during the war, nine hundred people became legally free.In
addition to abolishing slavery and prohibiting involuntary servitude, except as a punishment
for crime, the Thirteenth Amendment nullified the Fugitive Slave Clause and the Three-Fifths
Compromise. The population of a state originally included (for congressional apportionment
purposes) all “free persons”, three-fifths of “other persons” (i.e., slaves) and excluded
untaxed Native Americans. The Three-Fifths Compromise was a provision in the Constitution
that required three-fifths of the population of slaves be counted for purposes of apportionment
of seats in the House of Representatives and taxes among the states. This compromise had
the effect of increasing the political power of slave-holding states by increasing their
share of seats in the House of Representatives, and consequently their share in the Electoral
College (where a state’s influence over the election of the President is tied to the size
of its congressional delegation).Even as the Thirteenth Amendment was working its way through
the ratification process, Republicans in Congress grew increasingly concerned about the potential
for there to be a large increase in the congressional representation of the Democratic-dominated
Southern states. Because the full population of freed slaves would be counted rather than
three-fifths, the Southern states would dramatically increase their power in the population-based
House of Representatives. Republicans hoped to offset this advantage by attracting and
protecting votes of the newly enfranchised black population.===Political and economic change in the South
===Southern culture remained deeply racist, and
those blacks who remained faced a dangerous situation. J. J. Gries reported to the Joint
Committee on Reconstruction: “There is a kind of innate feeling, a lingering hope among
many in the South that slavery will be regalvanized in some shape or other. They tried by their
laws to make a worse slavery than there was before, for the freedman has not the protection
which the master from interest gave him before.” W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in 1935: Slavery was not abolished even after the Thirteenth
Amendment. There were four million freedmen and most of them on the same plantation, doing
the same work that they did before emancipation, except as their work had been interrupted
and changed by the upheaval of war. Moreover, they were getting about the same wages and
apparently were going to be subject to slave codes modified only in name. There were among
them thousands of fugitives in the camps of the soldiers or on the streets of the cities,
homeless, sick, and impoverished. They had been freed practically with no land nor money,
and, save in exceptional cases, without legal status, and without protection.
Official emancipation did not substantially alter the economic situation of most blacks
who remained in the south.As the amendment still permitted labor as punishment for convicted
criminals, Southern states responded with what historian Douglas A. Blackmon called
“an array of interlocking laws essentially intended to criminalize black life”. These
laws, passed or updated after emancipation, were known as Black Codes. Mississippi was
the first state to pass such codes, with an 1865 law titled “An Act to confer Civil Rights
on Freedmen”. The Mississippi law required black workers to contract with white farmers
by January 1 of each year or face punishment for vagrancy. Blacks could be sentenced to
forced labor for crimes including petty theft, using obscene language, or selling cotton
after sunset. States passed new, strict vagrancy laws that were selectively enforced against
blacks without white protectors. The labor of these convicts was then sold to farms,
factories, lumber camps, quarries, and mines.After its ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment
in November 1865, the South Carolina legislature immediately began to legislate Black Codes.
The Black Codes created a separate set of laws, punishments, and acceptable behaviors
for anyone with more than one black great-grandparent. Under these Codes, Blacks could only work
as farmers or servants and had few Constitutional rights. Restrictions on black land ownership
threatened to make economic subservience permanent.Some states mandated indefinitely long periods
of child “apprenticeship”. Some laws did not target blacks specifically, but instead affected
farm workers, most of whom were black. At the same time, many states passed laws to
actively prevent blacks from acquiring property.==Congressional and executive enforcement
==As its first enforcement legislation, Congress
passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, guaranteeing black Americans citizenship and equal protection
of the law, though not the right to vote. The amendment was also used as authorizing
several Freedmen’s Bureau bills. President Andrew Johnson vetoed these bills, but Congress
overrode his vetoes to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Second Freedmen’s Bureau Bill.Proponents
of the Act, including Trumbull and Wilson, argued that Section 2 of the Thirteenth Amendment
authorized the federal government to legislate civil rights for the States. Others disagreed,
maintaining that inequality conditions were distinct from slavery. Seeking more substantial
justification, and fearing that future opponents would again seek to overturn the legislation,
Congress and the states added additional protections to the Constitution: the Fourteenth Amendment
(1868) defining citizenship and mandating equal protection under the law, and the Fifteenth
Amendment (1870) banning racial voting restrictions.The Freedmen’s Bureau enforced the amendment locally,
providing a degree of support for people subject to the Black Codes. Reciprocally, the Thirteenth
Amendment established the Bureau’s legal basis to operate in Kentucky. The Civil Rights Act
circumvented racism in local jurisdictions by allowing blacks access to the federal courts.
The Enforcement Acts of 1870–1871 and the Civil Rights Act of 1875, in combating the
violence and intimidation of white supremacy, were also part of the effort to end slave
conditions for Southern blacks. However, the effect of these laws waned as political will
diminished and the federal government lost authority in the South, particularly after
the Compromise of 1877 ended Reconstruction in exchange for a Republican presidency.===Peonage law===
Southern business owners sought to reproduce the profitable arrangement of slavery with
a system called peonage, in which disproportionately black workers were entrapped by loans and
compelled to work indefinitely due to the resulting debt. Peonage continued well through
Reconstruction and ensnared a large proportion of black workers in the South. These workers
remained destitute and persecuted, forced to work dangerous jobs and further confined
legally by the racist Jim Crow laws that governed the South. Peonage differed from chattel slavery
because it was not strictly hereditary and did not allow the sale of people in exactly
the same fashion. However, a person’s debt—and by extension a person—could still be sold,
and the system resembled antebellum slavery in many ways.With the Peonage Act of 1867,
Congress abolished “the holding of any person to service or labor under the system known
as peonage”, specifically banning “the voluntary or involuntary service or labor of any persons
as peons, in liquidation of any debt or obligation, or otherwise.”In 1939, the Department of Justice
created the Civil Rights Section, which focused primarily on First Amendment and labor rights.
The increasing scrutiny of totalitarianism in the lead-up to World War II brought increased
attention to issues of slavery and involuntary servitude, abroad and at home. The U.S. sought
to counter foreign propaganda and increase its credibility on the race issue by combatting
the Southern peonage system. Under the leadership of Attorney General Francis Biddle, the Civil
Rights Section invoked the constitutional amendments and legislation of the Reconstruction
Era as the basis for its actions.In 1947, the DOJ successfully prosecuted Elizabeth
Ingalls for keeping domestic servant Dora L. Jones in conditions of slavery. The court
found that Jones “was a person wholly subject to the will of defendant; that she was one
who had no freedom of action and whose person and services were wholly under the control
of defendant and who was in a state of enforced compulsory service to the defendant.” The
Thirteenth Amendment enjoyed a swell of attention during this period, but from Brown v. Board
of Education (1954) until Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. (1968) it was again eclipsed
by the Fourteenth Amendment.==Penal labor exemption==The Thirteenth Amendment exempts penal labor
from its prohibition of forced labor. This allows prisoners who have been convicted of
crimes (not those merely awaiting trial) to be required to perform labor or else face
punishment while in custody.Few records of the committee’s deliberations during the drafting
of the Thirteenth Amendment survived, and the debate in both Congress and the state
legislatures that followed featured almost no discussion of this provision. It was apparently
considered noncontroversial at the time, or at least legislators gave it little thought.
The drafters based the amendment’s phrasing on the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which
features an identical exception. Thomas Jefferson authored an early version of that ordinance’s
anti-slavery clause, including the exception of punishment for a crime, and also sought
to prohibit slavery in general after 1800. Jefferson was an admirer of the works of Italian
criminologist Cesare Beccaria. Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments suggested that the
death penalty should be abolished and replaced with a lifetime of enslavement for the worst
criminals; Jefferson likely included the clause due to his agreement with Beccaria. Beccaria,
while attempting to reduce “legal barbarism” of the 1700s, considered forced labor one
of the few harsh punishments acceptable; for example, he advocated slave labor as a just
punishment for robbery, so that the thief’s labor could be used to pay recompense to their
victims and to society. Penal “hard labor” has ancient origins, and was adopted early
in American history (as in Europe) often as a substitute for capital or corporal punishment.Various
commentators have accused states of abusing this provision to re-establish systems similar
to slavery, or of otherwise exploiting such labor in a manner unfair to local labor. The
Black Codes in the South criminalized “vagrancy”, which was largely enforced against freed slaves.
Later, convict lease programs in the South allowed local plantations to rent inexpensive
prisoner labor. While many of these programs have been phased out (leasing of convicts
was forbidden by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1941), prison labor continues in the U.S.
under a variety of justifications. Prison labor programs vary widely; some are uncompensated
prison maintenance tasks, some are for local government maintenance tasks, some are for
local businesses, and others are closer to internships. Modern rationales for prison
labor programs often include reduction of recidivism and re-acclimation to society;
the idea is that such labor programs will make it easier for the prisoner upon release
to find gainful employment rather than relapse to criminality. However, this topic is not
well-studied, and much of the work offered is so menial as to be unlikely to improve
employment prospects. As of 2017, most prison labor programs do compensate prisoners, but
generally with very low wages. What wages they do earn are often heavily garnished,
with as much as 80% of a prisoner’s paycheck withheld in the harshest cases.In 2018, entertainer
Kanye West advocated for repealing the Thirteenth Amendment’s exception for penal labor in a
meeting with President Donald Trump, calling the exception a “trap door.”==Judicial interpretation==
In contrast to the other “Reconstruction Amendments”, the Thirteenth Amendment was rarely cited
in later case law. As historian Amy Dru Stanley summarizes, “beyond a handful of landmark
rulings striking down debt peonage, flagrant involuntary servitude, and some instances
of race-based violence and discrimination, the Thirteenth Amendment has never been a
potent source of rights claims”.===Black slaves and their descendants===
United States v. Rhodes (1866), one of the first Thirteenth Amendment cases, tested the
constitutionality of provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that granted blacks redress
in the federal courts. Kentucky law prohibited blacks from testifying against whites—an
arrangement which compromised the ability of Nancy Talbot (“a citizen of the United
States of the African race”) to reach justice against a white person accused of robbing
her. After Talbot attempted to try the case in federal court, the Kentucky Supreme Court
ruled this federal option unconstitutional. Noah Swayne (a Supreme Court justice sitting
on the Kentucky Circuit Court) overturned the Kentucky decision, holding that without
the material enforcement provided by the Civil Rights Act, slavery would not truly be abolished.
With In Re Turner (1867), Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase ordered freedom for Elizabeth Turner,
a former slave in Maryland who became indentured to her former master.In Blyew v. United States,
(1872) the Supreme Court heard another Civil Rights Act case relating to federal courts
in Kentucky. John Blyew and George Kennard were white men visiting the cabin of a black
family, the Fosters. Blyew apparently became angry with sixteen-year-old Richard Foster
and hit him twice in the head with an ax. Blyew and Kennard killed Richard’s parents,
Sallie and Jack Foster, and his blind grandmother, Lucy Armstrong. They severely wounded the
Fosters’ two young daughters. Kentucky courts would not allow the Foster children to testify
against Blyew and Kennard. Federal courts, authorized by the Civil Rights Act, found
Blyew and Kennard guilty of murder. The Supreme Court ruled that the Foster children did not
have standing in federal courts because only living people could take advantage of the
Act. In doing so, the Courts effectively ruled that Thirteenth Amendment did not permit a
federal remedy in murder cases. Swayne and Joseph P. Bradley dissented, maintaining that
in order to have meaningful effects, the Thirteenth Amendment would have to address systemic racial
oppression.The Blyew case set a precedent in state and federal courts that led to the
erosion of Congress’s Thirteenth Amendment powers. The Supreme Court continued along
this path in the Slaughter-House Cases (1873), which upheld a state-sanctioned monopoly of
white butchers. In United States v. Cruikshank (1876), the Court ignored Thirteenth Amendment
dicta from a circuit court decision to exonerate perpetrators of the Colfax massacre and invalidate
the Enforcement Act of 1870. The Thirteenth Amendment was not solely a
ban on chattel slavery, but also covers a much broader array of labor arrangements and
social deprivations. As the U.S. Supreme Court explicated in the Slaughter-House Cases with
respect to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment and the Thirteenth Amendment in special: Undoubtedly while negro slavery alone was
in the mind of the Congress which proposed the thirteenth article, it forbids any other
kind of slavery, now or hereafter. If Mexican peonage or the Chinese coolie labor system
shall develop slavery of the Mexican or Chinese race within our territory, this amendment
may safely be trusted to make it void. And so if other rights are assailed by the States
which properly and necessarily fall within the protection of these articles, that protection
will apply, though the party interested may not be of African descent. But what we do
say, and what we wish to be understood is, that in any fair and just construction of
any section or phrase of these amendments, it is necessary to look to the purpose which
we have said was the pervading spirit of them all, the evil which they were designed to
remedy, and the process of continued addition to the Constitution, until that purpose was
supposed to be accomplished, as far as constitutional law can accomplish it.
In the Civil Rights Cases (1883), the Supreme Court reviewed five consolidated cases dealing
with the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which outlawed racial discrimination at “inns, public conveyances
on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement”. The Court ruled that
the Thirteenth Amendment did not ban most forms of racial discrimination by non-government
actors. In the majority decision, Bradley wrote (again in non-binding dicta) that the
Thirteenth Amendment empowered Congress to attack “badges and incidents of slavery”.
However, he distinguished between “fundamental rights” of citizenship, protected by the Thirteenth
Amendment, and the “social rights of men and races in the community”. The majority opinion
held that “it would be running the slavery argument into the ground to make it apply
to every act of discrimination which a person may see fit to make as to guests he will entertain,
or as to the people he will take into his coach or cab or car; or admit to his concert
or theatre, or deal with in other matters of intercourse or business.” In his solitary
dissent, John Marshall Harlan (a Kentucky lawyer who changed his mind about civil rights
law after witnessing organized racist violence) argued that “such discrimination practiced
by corporations and individuals in the exercise of their public or quasi-public functions
is a badge of servitude, the imposition of which congress may prevent under its power.”The
Court in the Civil Rights Cases also held that appropriate legislation under the amendment
could go beyond nullifying state laws establishing or upholding slavery, because the amendment
“has a reflex character also, establishing and decreeing universal civil and political
freedom throughout the United States” and thus Congress was empowered “to pass all laws
necessary and proper for abolishing all badges and incidents of slavery in the United States.”
The Court stated about the scope the amendment: This amendment, as well as the Fourteenth,
is undoubtedly self-executing, without any ancillary legislation, so far as its terms
are applicable to any existing state of circumstances. By its own unaided force and effect, it abolished
slavery and established universal freedom. Still, legislation may be necessary and proper
to meet all the various cases and circumstances to be affected by it, and to prescribe proper
modes of redress for its violation in letter or spirit. And such legislation may be primary
and direct in its character, for the amendment is not a mere prohibition of State laws establishing
or upholding slavery, but an absolute declaration that slavery or involuntary servitude shall
not exist in any part of the United States. Attorneys in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) argued
that racial segregation involved “observances of a servile character coincident with the
incidents of slavery”, in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. In their brief to the
Supreme Court, Plessy’s lawyers wrote that “distinction of race and caste” was inherently
unconstitutional. The Supreme Court rejected this reasoning and upheld state laws enforcing
segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine. In the (7–1) majority decision,
the Court found that “a statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white
and colored races—a distinction which is founded on the color of the two races and
which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color—has
no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races, or reestablish a state of
involuntary servitude.” Harlan dissented, writing: “The thin disguise of ‘equal’ accommodations
for passengers in railroad coaches will not mislead any one, nor, atone for the wrong
this day done.”In Hodges v. United States (1906), the Court struck down a federal statute
providing for the punishment of two or more people who “conspire to injure, oppress, threaten
or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured
to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States”. A group of white men in Arkansas
conspired to violently prevent eight black workers from performing their jobs at a lumber
mill; the group was convicted by a federal grand jury. The Supreme Court ruled that the
federal statute, which outlawed conspiracies to deprive citizens of their liberty, was
not authorized by the Thirteenth Amendment. It held that “no mere personal assault or
trespass or appropriation operates to reduce the individual to a condition of slavery”.
Harlan dissented, maintaining his opinion that the Thirteenth Amendment should protect
freedom beyond “physical restraint”. Corrigan v. Buckley (1922) reaffirmed the interpretation
from Hodges, finding that the amendment does not apply to restrictive covenants.
Enforcement of federal civil rights law in the South created numerous peonage cases,
which slowly traveled up through the judiciary. The Supreme Court ruled in Clyatt v. United
States (1905) that peonage was involuntary servitude. It held that although employers
sometimes described their workers’ entry into contract as voluntary, the servitude of peonage
was always (by definition) involuntary.In Bailey v. Alabama the U.S. Supreme Court again
reaffirmed its holding that Thirteenth Amendment was not solely a ban on chattel slavery, but
also covers a much broader array of labor arrangements and social deprivations In addition
to the aforesaid the Court also ruled on Congress enforcement power under the Thirteenth Amendment.
The Court said: The plain intention [of the amendment] was
to abolish slavery of whatever name and form and all its badges and incidents; to render
impossible any state of bondage; to make labor free, by prohibiting that control by which
the personal service of one man is disposed of or coerced for another’s benefit, which
is the essence of involuntary servitude. While the Amendment was self-executing, so far as
its terms were applicable to any existing condition, Congress was authorized to secure
its complete enforcement by appropriate legislation.====Jones and beyond====
Legal histories cite Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. (1968) as a turning point of Thirteen
Amendment jurisprudence. The Supreme Court confirmed in Jones that Congress may act “rationally”
to prevent private actors from imposing “badges and incidents of servitude”. The Joneses were
a black couple in St. Louis County, Missouri who sued a real estate company for refusing
to sell them a house. The Court held: Congress has the power under the Thirteenth
Amendment rationally to determine what are the badges and the incidents of slavery, and
the authority to translate that determination into effective legislation. … this Court
recognized long ago that, whatever else they may have encompassed, the badges and incidents
of slavery – its “burdens and disabilities” – included restraints upon “those fundamental
rights which are the essence of civil freedom, namely, the same right … to inherit, purchase,
lease, sell and convey property, as is enjoyed by white citizens.” Civil Rights Cases, 109
U. S. 3, 109 U. S. 22. Just as the Black Codes, enacted after the
Civil War to restrict the free exercise of those rights, were substitutes for the slave
system, so the exclusion of Negroes from white communities became a substitute for the Black
Codes. And when racial discrimination herds men into ghettos and makes their ability to
buy property turn on the color of their skin, then it too is a relic of slavery.
Negro citizens, North and South, who saw in the Thirteenth Amendment a promise of freedom—freedom
to “go and come at pleasure” and to “buy and sell when they please”—would be left with
“a mere paper guarantee” if Congress were powerless to assure that a dollar in the hands
of a Negro will purchase the same thing as a dollar in the hands of a white man. At the
very least, the freedom that Congress is empowered to secure under the Thirteenth Amendment includes
the freedom to buy whatever a white man can buy, the right to live wherever a white man
can live. If Congress cannot say that being a free man means at least this much, then
the Thirteenth Amendment made a promise the Nation cannot keep.
The Court in Jones reopened the issue of linking racism in contemporary society to the history
of slavery in the United States.The Jones precedent has been used to justify Congressional
action to protect migrant workers and target sex trafficking. The direct enforcement power
found in the Thirteenth Amendment contrasts with that of the Fourteenth, which allows
only responses to institutional discrimination of state actors.===Other cases of involuntary servitude===
The Supreme Court has taken an especially narrow view of involuntary servitude claims
made by people not descended from black (African) slaves. In Robertson v. Baldwin (1897), a
group of merchant seamen challenged federal statutes which criminalized a seaman’s failure
to complete their contractual term of service. The Court ruled that seamen’s contracts had
been considered unique from time immemorial, and that “the amendment was not intended to
introduce any novel doctrine with respect to certain descriptions of service which have
always been treated as exceptional”. In this case, as in numerous “badges and incidents”
cases, Justice Harlan authored a dissent favoring broader Thirteenth Amendment protections.In
Selective Draft Law Cases, the Supreme Court ruled that the military draft was not “involuntary
servitude”. In United States v. Kozminski, the Supreme Court ruled that the Thirteenth
Amendment did not prohibit compulsion of servitude through psychological coercion. Kozminski
defined involuntary servitude for purposes of criminal prosecution as “a condition of
servitude in which the victim is forced to work for the defendant by the use or threat
of physical restraint or physical injury or by the use or threat of coercion through law
or the legal process. This definition encompasses cases in which the defendant holds the victim
in servitude by placing him or her in fear of such physical restraint or injury or legal
coercion.”The U.S. Courts of Appeals, in Immediato v. Rye Neck School District, Herndon v. Chapel
Hill, and Steirer v. Bethlehem School District, have ruled that the use of community service
as a high school graduation requirement did not violate the Thirteenth Amendment.==Prior proposed Thirteenth Amendments==
During the six decades following the 1804 ratification of the Twelfth Amendment two
proposals to amend the Constitution were adopted by Congress and sent to the states for ratification.
Neither has been ratified by the number of states necessary to become part of the Constitution.
Commonly known as the Titles of Nobility Amendment and the Corwin Amendment, both are referred
to as Article Thirteen, as was the successful Thirteenth Amendment, in the joint resolution
passed by Congress. The Titles of Nobility Amendment (pending
before the states since May 1, 1810) would, if ratified, strip citizenship from any United
States citizen who accepts a title of nobility or honor from a foreign country without the
consent of Congress. The Corwin Amendment (pending before the states
since March 2, 1861) would, if ratified, shield “domestic institutions” of the states (in
1861 this was a common euphemism for slavery) from the constitutional amendment process
and from abolition or interference by Congress.==See also==
13th, a 2016 documentary on the Thirteenth Amendment
Crittenden Compromise History of unfree labor in the United States
List of amendments to the United States Constitution National Freedom Day
Slave Trade Acts Slavery Abolition Act 1833
United States labor law

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