Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
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Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution


The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime.
It was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, by the House on January 31, 1865, and adopted
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. Slavery had been tacitly protected in the
original Constitution through clauses such as the Three-Fifths Compromise, by which three-fifths
of the slave population was counted for representation in the United States House of Representatives.
Though many slaves had been declared free by 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 and
“reconstructed” Southern states, to cause it to be adopted before the end of the year.
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”. While the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments apply
only to state actors, the Thirteenth applies also to private citizens. The 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 was introduced to the American colonies
by Great Britain who worked in concert with African tribal chiefs who captured entire
tribes in sub Sahara Africa which were transported by slavers to the new world and eventually
the institution of 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 Clause 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 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, “No person
held to Service or Labour in one State” would be freed by escaping to another. Article I,
Section 9 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 for treating slaves as property with Dred
Scott v. Sandford. 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-slave
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. Representative
James F. Wilson 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, became involved
in merging different proposals for an amendment. Radical Republicans led by Senator Charles
Sumner and 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. Passage by Congress The Senate passed the amendment on April 8,
1864, by a vote of 38 to 6. 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 state’s 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”. Some opponents warned that the amendment would lead to full citizenship for
blacks. Republicans argued that slavery was uncivilized
and that abolition was 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, particularly in the South, focused
more on landownership and education as the key to liberation. As slavery began to seem
politically untenable, an array of Northern Democrats gradually announced their support
for the amendment, including Representative James Brooks, Senator Reverdy Johnson, and
Tammany Hall, a powerful New York political machine. Lincoln had been concerned that the Emancipation
Proclamation might be reversed or found invalid after the war and 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 the election of 1864,
Lincoln made the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment his top legislative priority, beginning
his efforts while the “lame duck” session was still in office. Popular support for the
amendment was mounting and Lincoln urged Congress on in his December 6 State of the Union speech:
“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?” Secretary of State William H. Seward, Representative
John B. Alley and others were instructed by Lincoln to procure votes by any means necessary,
and 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 commented later 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. Opposition to the measure was led by the 1864 Democratic vice presidential
nominee, Representative George H. Pendleton. 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, 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. Every Republican supported the measure, as well as 16 Democrats, almost
all of them lame ducks. 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.
President Lincoln signed the amendment on February 1, 1865. The Thirteenth Amendment
is the only ratified amendment signed by a President, although James Buchanan had signed
the pro-slavery Corwin Amendment, which the 36th Congress had adopted and sent to the
states in March 1861. The Thirteenth Amendment’s archival copy bears Lincoln’s signature, under
the usual signatures of the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, after
the date. On February 7, Congress passed a resolution affirming that the Presidential
signature was unnecessary. 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, did Article V require 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 convention: 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 8, 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, 1865 Having been ratified by the legislatures of
three-fourths of the several states—27 of the 36 states, 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, brushed aside their interpretive declarations
without comment, challenge or any acknowledgment at all.
The Thirteenth Amendment was subsequently ratified by:
Oregon — December 8, 1865 California — December 19, 1865
Florida — December 28, 1865 Iowa — January 15, 1866
New Jersey — January 23, 1866 Texas — February 18, 1870
Delaware — February 12, 1901 Kentucky — March 18, 1976
Mississippi — March 16, 1995; Certified – February 7, 2013
The Thirteenth Amendment became part of the Constitution 61½ years after the Twelfth
Amendment. To date, this is the longest interval of time 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 also nullified the Fugitive Slave Clause and the Three-Fifths
Compromise. The population of a state originally included all “free persons”, three-fifths
of “other persons” 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.
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 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.
Southern business owners sought to reproduce the profitable arrangement of slavery with
a system called peonage, in which workers were entrapped by loans and compelled to work
indefinitely because of their 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. Congressional and executive enforcement
As its first enforcement legislation, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which
guaranteed black Americans citizenship and equal protection of the law, though not the
right to vote. The Amendment was also used as authorization for several Freedmen’s Bureau
bills. President Andrew Johnson vetoed these bills, but a Congressional supermajoirty overrode
his veto 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, which defined citizenship and mandated equal protection
under the law, and the Fifteenth Amendment, which banned racial voting restrictions.
The Freedmen’s Bureau enforced the Amendment locally, providing a degree of support for
people subject to the Black Codes. 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
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
until Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. it was again eclipsed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Human trafficking Victims of human trafficking and other conditions
of forced labor are commonly coerced by threat of legal actions to their detriment. Victims
of forced labor and trafficking are protected by Title 18 of the U.S. Code.
Title 18, U.S.C., Section 241 – Conspiracy Against Rights: Conspiracy to injure, oppress, threaten, or
intimidate any person’s rights or privileges secured by the Constitution or the laws of
the United States Title 18, U.S.C., Section 242 – Deprivation
of Rights Under Color of Law: It is a crime for any person acting under
color of law to willfully deprive or cause to be deprived the rights, privileges, or
immunities of any person secured or protected by the Constitution and laws of the U.S. This
includes willfully subjecting or causing to be subjected any person to different punishments,
pains, or penalties, than those prescribed for punishment of citizens on account of such
person being an alien or by reason of his/her color or race. Department of Justice definitions
Peonage Refers to a person in “debt servitude,” or
involuntary servitude tied to the payment of a debt. Compulsion to servitude includes
the use of force, the threat of force, or the threat of legal coercion to compel a person
to work. Involuntary servitude
Refers to a person held by actual force, threats of force, or threats of legal coercion in
a condition of slavery – compulsory service or labor against his or her will. This includes
the condition in which people are compelled to work by a “climate of fear” evoked by the
use of force, the threat of force, or the threat of legal coercion which is sufficient
to compel service. In Bailey v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that peonage laws
violated the amendment’s ban on involuntary servitude.
Requiring specific performance as a remedy for breach of personal services contracts
has been viewed as a form of involuntary servitude by some scholars and courts, though other
jurisdictions and scholars have rejected this argument; it is a popular rule in academia
and many local jurisdictions, but has never been upheld by higher courts.
Forced labor Labor or service obtained by:
threats of serious harm or physical restraint; any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause
a person to believe he would suffer serious harm or physical restraint if he did not perform
such labor or services: the abuse or threatened abuse of law or the
legal process. 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
U. S. v. Rhodes, 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 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 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, 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. U.S., the Supreme Court heard another Civil Rights Act case relating to
federal courts in Kentucky. John Bylew and George Kennard were white men visiting the
cabin of a black family, the Fosters. Bylew apparently became angry with sixteen-year-old
Richard Foster and hit him twice in the head with an ax. Bylew 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. But federal courts, authorized by the Civil
Rights Act, found Blyew and Kennard guilty of murder. When the Supreme Court took the
case, they 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.
Though based on a technicality, 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, which upheld a state-sanctioned monopoly
of white butchers. In United States v. Cruikshank, 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:
In the Civil Rights Cases, 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 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
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:
Attorneys in Plessy v. Ferguson 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 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, 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 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 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 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: Jones and beyond
Legal histories cite Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. 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 slaves. In Robertson v. Baldwin, a sailor challenged
federal rules mandating the capture and return of deserters. The Court ruled 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.”
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 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 would, if ratified, shield
“domestic institutions” of the states from the constitutional amendment process and from
abolition or interference by Congress. See also
Crittenden Compromise National Freedom Day
Slavery Abolition Act 1833 Slave Trade Acts
List of amendments to the United States Constitution References
Notes Citations Bibliography
Benedict, Michael Les. “Constitutional Politics, Constitutional Law, and the Thirteenth Amendment”.
Maryland Law Review 71, October 31, 2012. Blackmon, Douglas A.. Slavery by Another Name:
The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. Knopf Doubleday
Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-385-50625-0.  Colbert, Douglas L. “Liberating the Thirteenth
Amendment”, Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Law Review 30, 1995; pp. 1 – 55.
Cramer, Clayton E.. Black Demographic Data, 1790-1860: A Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing
Group. ISBN 9780313302435.  Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. Simon & Schuster.
ISBN 978-0-684-82535-9. Retrieved June 5, 2013. 
Du Bois, W.E.B.. Black Reconstruction: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black
Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880′. New York:
Russell & Russell.  Foner, Eric. The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln
and American Slavery. W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-06618-0. Retrieved June 4, 2013. 
Forehand, Beverly. Striking Resemblance: Kentucky, Tennessee, Black Codes and Readjustment, 1865–1866.
Western Kentucky University, Masters Thesis.  Goluboff, Risa L. “The Thirteenth Amendment
and the Lost Origins of Civil Rights”. Duke Law Journal 50, 2001; pp. 1609–1685.
Goldstone, Lawrence. Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court,
1865-1903. Walker & Company. ISBN 978-0-8027-1792-4.  Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals: The
Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-7075-5. Retrieved
June 2, 2013.  Harrison, John. “The Lawfulness of the Reconstruction
Amendments”. University of Chicago Law Review 68; Spring, 2001; pp. 375–462. Accessed
via JStor, June 8, 2013. McAward, Jennifer Mason. “McCulloch and the
Thirteenth Amendment”, Columbia Law Review 112, 2012, pp. 1769–1809.
McPherson, James M.. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford University Press.
ISBN 978-0-19-503863-7. Retrieved June 5, 2013. 
Novak, Daniel A. The Wheel of Servitude: Black Forced Labor after Slavery. University Press
of Kentucky, 1978. ISBN 0813113717 Stanley, Amy Dru. “Instead of Waiting for
the Thirteenth Amendment: The War Power, Slave Marriage, and Inviolate Human Rights”. American
Historical Review 113, June 2010; pp. 732 –765.
Stromberg, Joseph R. “A Plain Folk Perspective on Reconstruction, State-Building, Ideology,
and Economic Spoils”. Journal of Libertarian Studies 16, Spring 2002; pp. 103–137.
TenBroek, Jacobus. “Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:
Consummation to Abolition and Key to the Fourteenth Amendment”. California Law Review 39, June
1951; pp. 171–203. Thorpe, Francis Newton. The Constitutional
History of the United States, vol. 3: 1861 – 1895. Chicago: Callaghan, 1901.
Trelease, Allen W. White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction.
New York: Harper & Row, 1971. ISBN Tsesis, Alexander. The Thirteenth Amendment
and American Freedom: A Legal History. New York University Press, 2004. ISBN 0814782760
Vicino, Thomas J.; Hanlon, Bernadette. Global Migration The Basics. Routledge, 190 pages.
ISBN 9781134696871.  Vorenberg, Michael. Final Freedom: The Civil
War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment. Cambridge University Press, 2001.
ISBN 9781139428002 Wolff, Tobias Barrington. “The Thirteenth
Amendment and Slavery in the Global Economy”. Columbia Law Review 102(4); May 2002; pp.
973–1050. Wood, Gordon S. Empire of Liberty: A History
of the Early Republic, 1789–1815. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-503914-6. ,
Book Further reading
Belz, Herman. Emancipation and Equal Rights: Politics and Constitutionalism in the Civil
War Era online Holzer, Harold, et al. eds. Lincoln and Freedom:
Slavery, Emancipation, and the Thirteenth Amendment excerpt and text search
Kachun, Mitch. Festivals of Freedom: Memory and Meaning in African American Emancipation
Celebrations, 1808–1915 online Ripley, C. Peter et al. eds. Witness for Freedom:
African American Voices on Race, Slavery, and Emancipation online
External links Thirteenth Amendment and related resources
at the Library of Congress National Archives: Thirteenth Amendment
CRS Annotated Constitution: Thirteenth Amendment Original Document Proposing Abolition of Slavery
Model State Anti-trafficking Criminal Statute – U.S. Dept of Justice
“Abolishing Slavery: The Thirteenth Amendment Signed by Abraham Lincoln”; website of Seth
Kaller, a dealer who has sold six Lincoln-signed copies of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Seward certificate announcing the Amendment’s passage and affirming the existence of 36
States Analysis of court decisions giving December
18, 1865, as the date of ratification

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