Washington D.C. (WHTM) On January 31, 1865, the U.S. Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which ended slavery in the United States, and sent it to states for ratification.
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The amendment reads as follows:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
This is a much shorter document than the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued by Abraham Lincoln in its second and final form on January 1, 1863. But the Emancipation Proclamation could not, by its nature, permanently abolish slavery. For one thing, it only abolished slavery in the Confederate states, which weren’t exactly acknowledging Lincoln’s authority at the time. (Lincoln wasn’t really aiming the proclamation at the slave states anyway; it was meant to energize Northern support for the war, and more importantly, act as a “poison pill” for European powers that might be contemplating giving help to the Confederacy.)
Also, it was a martial law document, issued under Lincoln’s authority as Commander in Chief. When the war ended, would it still be in force? And what about the future? What can be done by presidential proclamation can also be undone by presidential proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t enough; even new laws weren’t enough. The only thing that could permanently end the “peculiar institution” was a constitutional amendment.
On April 8, 1864, after months of work in committee and much debate on the floor, the Senate passed the 13th Amendment by a vote of 38-6 and sent it on to the House of Representatives- where it stalled, failing to attain the required two-thirds majority on two test votes. Then the national election sidelined work on the amendment.
After the election, which Lincoln won by a huge majority, the House of Representatives went back into session in January 1865, and after several weeks of debate (and a lot of behind-the-scenes horsetrading and arm twisting) the 13th Amendment passed the House by a vote of 119 to 56. The next day Lincoln signed the Joint Resolution, something not actually required by the Constitution, and it was sent on to the states for ratification. It is to this day the only ratified constitutional amendment signed by a president.