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ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY

The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution

The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution

The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery in the United States.

Grades

6 - 8

Subjects

Social Studies, U.S. History

Image

Couple at Cabin in 1890s

The 13th Amendment ended enslavement in the United States. Here, a formerly enslaved African-American couple is shown at their cabin in the 1890s.

Photograph by Underwood Archives

The 13th Amendment was the first amendment to the United States Constitution during the period of Reconstruction. The amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865, and ended the argument about whether slavery was legal in the United States. The amendment reads, “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.”

The 13th Amendment was necessary because the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln in January of 1863, did not end slavery entirely; those ensllaved in border states had not been freed. The proclamation also did not address the issue of slavery in territories that would become states in the future. Lincoln and other leaders realized amending the Constitution was the only way to officially end slavery. The 13th Amendment forever abolished slavery as an institution in all U.S. states and territories.

In addition to banning slavery, the amendment outlawed the practice of involuntary servitude and peonage. Involuntary servitude or peonage occurs when a person is coerced to work in order to pay off debts. The 13th Amendment exempts from the involuntary servitude clause persons convicted of a crime, and persons drafted to serve in the military.

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution did not end discrimination against those who had been enslaved and blacks. However, it ended slavery and began the long-term goal of achieving equality for all Americans.

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Director
Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Author
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Producer
Clint Parks
other
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

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