Ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment, 1866
A Spotlight on a Primary Source by Iowa General Assembly
President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves only in Confederate states still at war with the Union on January 1, 1863, and as a wartime order, it could be reversed by subsequent presidential proclamation, congressional legislation, or court ruling. Through a constitutional amendment, the abolition of slavery could be made permanent throughout the United States.
In April 1864, the Senate, responding in part to an active abolitionist petition campaign, passed the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery in the United States. Opposition from Democrats in the House of Representatives prevented the amendment from receiving the required two-thirds majority, and the bill failed.
Following his re-election in November 1864, Lincoln threw his weight behind the amendment. He persuaded eight House Democrats to switch their votes and encouraged several other Representatives who had missed the previous vote to support the amendment, which was finally passed on January 31, 1865. The Constitution does not require presidential signatures on amendments, but Lincoln added his, making it the only constitutional amendment to be later ratified that was signed by a president.
The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865, when Georgia became the twenty-seventh state to approve it out of the then-total thirty-six states. Iowa was the thirty-first state, voting for ratification on January 15, 1866. The document shown here is the joint resolution passed by Iowa’s House and Senate and printed on March 30. It lists the names of all the Iowa legislators in the general assembly who voted for ratification, and includes a few small engravings depicting allegorical symbols of liberty and other patriotic images.
With the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, four million African Americans—almost a third of the population of the South—became permanently free and slavery was abolished in the United States:
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.
A high resolution scan is available here.
Questions for Discussion
Read the document and apply your knowledge of American history in order to answer the following questions.
- Research which state was the first to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment only one day after it was formally proposed. Explain the significance of this action.
- Carefully examine the images and the format of the Iowa document. In what ways does the document indicate evident pride by the members of the Iowa general assembly in their decision to support the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment?
- How can you explain the decision by the Iowa legislature to still ratify the Thirteenth Amendment when it had already been adopted by the required three-fourths of the states?
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13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution declared that "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." Formally abolishing slavery in the United States, the 13th Amendment was passed by the Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified by the states on December 6, 1865.
Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography
A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation
This collection contains congressional publications from 1774 to 1875, including debates, bills, laws, and journals.
References to debate on the 13th Amendment (S.J. Res. 16) can be found in the Congressional Globe on the following dates:
- March 31, 1864 - Debated in the Senate (S.J. Res. 16).
- April 4, 1864 - Debated in the Senate.
- April 5, 1864 - Debated in the Senate.
- April 6, 1864 - Debated in the Senate.
- April 7, 1864 - Debated in the Senate.
- April 8, 1864 - The Senate passed the 13th Amendment (S.J. Res. 16) by a vote of 38 to 6.
- June 14, 1864 - Debated in the House of Representatives.
- June 15, 1864 - The House of Representatives initially defeated the 13th Amendment (S.J. Res. 16) by a vote of 93 in favor, 65 opposed, and 23 not voting, which is less than the two-thirds majority needed to pass a Constitutional Amendment.
- December 6, 1864 - Abraham Lincoln's Fourth Annual Message to Congress was printed in the Congressional Globe: "At the last session of Congress a proposed amendment of the Constitution, abolishing slavery throughout the United States, passed the Senate, but failed for lack of the requisite two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives. Although the present is the same Congress, and nearly the same members, and without questioning the wisdom or patriotism of those who stood in opposition, I venture to recommend the reconsideration and passage of the measure at the present session."
- January 6, 1865 - Debated in the House of Representatives (S.J. Res. 16).
- January 7, 1865 - Debated in the House of Representatives.
- January 9, 1865 - Debated in the House of Representatives.
- January 10, 1865 - Debated in the House of Representatives.
- January 11, 1865 - Debated in the House of Representatives.
- January 12, 1865 - Debated in the House of Representatives.
- January 13, 1865 - Debated in the House of Representatives.
- January 28, 1865 - Debated in the House of Representatives.
- January 31, 1865 - The House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment (S.J. Res. 16) by a vote of 119 to 56.
- February 1, 1865 - President Abraham Lincoln signed a Joint Resolution submitting the proposed 13th Amendment to the states.
- December 18, 1865 - Secretary of State William Seward issued a statement verifying the ratification of the 13th Amendment.
Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress
The complete Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 20,000 documents. The collection is organized into three "General Correspondence" series which include incoming and outgoing correspondence and enclosures, drafts of speeches, and notes and printed material. Most of the 20,000 items are from the 1850s through Lincoln's presidential years, 1860-65.
A selection of highlights from this collection includes:
Search the Abraham Lincoln Papers using the phrase "13th amendment" to locate additional documents on this topic.
The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana
This collection documents the life of Abraham Lincoln both through writings by and about Lincoln as well as a large body of publications concerning the issues of the times including slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and related topics.
From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1822-1909
This collection presents 396 pamphlets from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, published from 1822 through 1909, by African-American authors and others who wrote about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics.
- Report of special committee on the passage by the House of Representatives of the constitutional amendment for the abolition of slavery. January 31st, 1865.
- Speech of Gen. Hiram Walbridge, on the proposed amendment to the federal Constitution forever prohibiting slavery in the United States : delivered before the Committee on Federal Relations, in the Assembly Chamber of New York, at Albany, Jan. 27, 1865.
- Speech of Hon. T.B. Van Buren, on the bill to ratify the amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibiting slavery : in the New York House of Assembly, March 15, 1865.
This site allows you to search and view millions of historic American newspaper pages from 1836 to 1922. Search this collection to find newspaper articles about the 13th Amendment.
A selection of articles on the 13th Amendment includes:
- "Freedom Triumphant," New-York Daily Tribune. (New York, NY), February 1, 1865.
- "Glory to God! The Constitutional Amendment Passed the House by a Vote of 119 to 56," Fremont Journal. (Fremont, OH), February 3, 1865.
- "The Constitutional Amendment," The Daily Phoenix. (Columbia, SC), December 14, 1865.
- "The Official Announcement of the Adoption of the Constitutional Amendment--Opinions of the Leading Press," Daily National Republican. (Washington, D.C.), December 21, 1865.
Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation
The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (popularly known as the Constitution Annotated) contains legal analysis and interpretation of the United States Constitution, based primarily on Supreme Court case law. This regularly updated resource is especially useful when researching the constitutional implications of a specific issue or topic. It includes a chapter on the 13th Amendment.
The African-American Mosaic
This exhibit marks the publication of The African-American Mosaic: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History and Culture. This exhibit is a sampler of the kinds of materials and themes covered by this publication. Includes a section on the abolition movement and the end of slavery.
African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship
This exhibition showcases the African American collections of the Library of Congress. Displays more than 240 items, including books, government documents, manuscripts, maps, musical scores, plays, films, and recordings. Includes a brochure from an exhibit at the Library of Congress to mark the 75th Anniversary of the 13th Amendment.
American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Abolition of Slavery
An online exhibit of the engrossed copy of the 13th Amendment as signed by Abraham Lincoln and members of Congress.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom
This exhibition, which commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, explores the events that shaped the civil rights movement, as well as the far-reaching impact the act had on a changing society.
American Memory Timeline: The Freedmen
The Emancipation Proclamation and Thirteenth Amendment freed all slaves in the United States. This page links to related primary source documents.
The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln Association
Documents from Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, University of Maryland
End of Slavery: The Creation of the 13th Amendment, HarpWeek
“I Will Be Heard!” Abolitionism in America, Cornell University Library, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
Landmark Legislation: Thirteenth, Fourteenth, & Fifteenth Amendments, U.S. Senate
Mr. Lincoln and Freedom, The Lincoln Institute
Our Documents, 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, National Archives and Records Administration
Joint Resolution Proposing the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, National Archives and Records Administration
The Thirteenth Amendment, National Constitution Center
Avins, Alfred, comp. The Reconstruction Amendments' Debates: The Legislative History and Contemporary Debates in Congress on the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Richmond: Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government, 1967. [Catalog Record]
Hoemann, George H. What God Hath Wrought: The Embodiment of Freedom in the Thirteenth Amendment. New York: Garland Pub., 1987. [Catalog Record]
Holzer, Harold, and Sara Vaughn Gabbard, eds. Lincoln and Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Thirteenth Amendment. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2007. [Catalog Record]
Maltz, Earl M. Civil Rights, the Constitution, and Congress, 1863-1869. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 1990. [Catalog Record]
Richards, Leonard L. Who Freed the Slaves?: The Fight Over the Thirteenth Amendment. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015. [Catalog Record]
Tsesis, Alexander, ed. The Promises of Liberty: The History and Contemporary Relevance of the Thirteenth Amendment. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. [Catalog Record]
-----. The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom: A Legal History. New York: New York University Press, 2004. [Catalog Record]
Vorenberg, Michael. Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. [Catalog Record]
Biscontini, Tracey and Rebecca Sparling, eds. Amendment XIII: Abolishing Slavery. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2009. [Catalog Record]
Burgan, Michael. The Reconstruction Amendments. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2006. [Catalog Record]
Schleichert, Elizabeth. The Thirteenth Amendment: Ending Slavery. Springfield, N.J.: Enslow Publishers, 1998. [Catalog Record]