We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is the 13th Amendment?

By Andy Josiah
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
America Explained is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At America Explained, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The 13th Amendment refers to an amendment to the United States Constitution, which is the supreme law of the U.S. It is significant for abolishing and prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude in the country. Additionally, it was the first amendment to the Constitution since the country’s earliest years; the first 12 had been ratified within the first three decades of the country's existence.

In 1808, the U.S. outlawed the international slave trade, which resulted in an unfree labor system in the country that mostly comprised black Africans. Although this meant an end to importing slaves, slavery was still practiced within the U.S. As early as 1839, John Adams, who would go on to become president but was then a representative from Massachusetts, made a legislative proposal to ban domestic slavery, and theorized that a U.S. president could do so, if a civil war should break out, by activating his powers under the War Powers Clause of the Constitution. It was a theory that future president Abraham Lincoln would fulfill during the American Civil War with the Emancipation Proclamation executive order in 1863, which outlawed slavery in the rebelling Confederate states. This eventually led to a number of amendment drafts in Congress by 1864.

The 13th Amendment comprises two sections. The first one concerns the banning of slavery and involuntary servitude in the U.S., unless in cases of a punishment for a crime. The second section contains the enforcement language of the amendment, granting Congress the power to implement the law.

The Senate passed the 13th Amendment on 8 April 1864 with a 38-to-6 vote. The House of Representatives did so on 31 January 1865 with a vote of 119 to 56. By the end of the year, 30 states had ratified the amendment. Three more followed within the next five years. The last state to ratify the 13th Amendment was Mississippi, which it did on 16 March 1995, after initially rejecting it on 5 December 1865.

The 13th Amendment was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments, which were implemented to specifically reconstruct the former Confederacy and heal the country in the aftermath of the American Civil War. It could not, however, prevent the rise of the Black Codes, unofficial laws that sought to severely limit the basic human rights and civil liberties gained by blacks after the war. The 14th Amendment followed in 1868 to establish state-wide civil rights. The 15th Amendment, the last of the Reconstruction Amendments, extended voting rights to the freed slaves.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
By jennythelib — On Dec 15, 2011

The bit about Mississippi was interesting to me, that the 13th amendment wasn't ratified there until, well, well into my lifetime. It doesn't seem like they ever considered it again after they rejected it, and of course it was law anyway since enough states had ratified it.

I looked into it and apparently, no one really thought of it in the years between; it's not like they considered it every year and decided against or anything. Evidently in 1994, a clerk working in the Texas statehouse happened to notice that Mississippi had never gone back and ratified the amendment. People were naturally a little embarrassed, but some lawmakers thought considering the issue was a waste of time. At any rate, I guess they decided it would somewhat less embarrassing to go ahead and ratify it than to let it remain un-ratified, so they went for it!

By ElizaBennett — On Dec 14, 2011

To me, the legacy of slavery in our constitution is one the most shameful aspects of American history. The sunsetting of the foreign slave trade was written into the Constitution, as was the three-fifths compromise for counting population and apportioning representation in Congress. And so was a requirement that free states should capture and return escaped slaves.

Thomas Jefferson apparently considered speaking out against slavery in the Declaration of Independence before he and his fellow Founding Fathers remembered that they owned slaves and that radical lifestyle change would be involved in freeing them.

Yes, they were visionaries, but I think it's still important to recognize the limits of their vision. Had their vision of freedom extended to all humankind, there would have been no need for the 13th amendment to the Constitution (or the 15th, 19th, etc.).

America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.