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The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution officially abolished and continues to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. It was adopted on December 6, 1865, and was then declared in a proclamation of Secretary of State William H. Seward on December 18.

President Abraham Lincoln and others were concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation would be seen as a temporary war measure and so, besides freeing slaves in those states where slavery was still legal, they supported the amendment as a means to guarantee the permanent abolition of slavery.

The Thirteenth Amendment is the first of the Reconstruction Amendments.



The first twelve amendments were adopted within fifteen years of the Constitution’s adoption. The first ten (the Bill of Rights) were adopted in 1791, the Eleventh Amendment in 1795 and the Twelfth Amendment in 1804. When the Thirteenth Amendment was proposed there had been no new amendments adopted in more than sixty years.

During the crisis of secession and prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, the majority of slavery-related bills had protected slavery. The United States had ceased slave importation and intervened militarily against the Atlantic slave trade, but had made few proposals to abolish domestic slavery. Representative John Quincy Adams had made a proposal in 1839, but there were no new proposals until December 14, 1863, when a bill to support an amendment to abolish slavery throughout the entire United States was introduced by Representative James Mitchell Ashley (Republican, Ohiomarker). This was soon followed by a similar proposal made by Representative James F. Wilson, (Republican, Iowamarker).

Eventually the Congress and the public began to take notice and a number of additional legislative proposals were brought forward. Senator John B. Henderson of Missourimarker submitted a joint resolution for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, January 11, 1864. The abolition of slavery had, historically, been associated with Republicans, but Henderson was one of the War Democrats. The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Lyman Trumbull (Republican, Illinoismarker), became involved in merging different proposals for an amendment. Another Republican, Senator Charles Sumner (Radical Republican, Massachusettsmarker), submitted a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery as well as guarantee equality on February 8 the same year. As the number of proposals and the extent of their scope began to grow, the Senate Judiciary Committee presented the Senate with an amendment proposal combining the drafts of Ashley, Wilson and Henderson.

Originally the amendment was co-authored and sponsored by Representatives James Mitchell Ashley (Republican, Ohiomarker) and James F. Wilson (Republican, Iowamarker) and Senator John B. Henderson (Democrat, Missourimarker).

While the Senate did pass the amendment in April 1864, by a vote of 38 to 6, the House declined to do so. After it was reintroduced by Representative James Mitchell Ashley, President Lincoln took an active role to ensure its passage through the House by ensuring the amendment was added to the Republican Party platform for the upcoming Presidential elections. His efforts came to fruition when the House passed the bill in January 1865, by a vote of 119 to 56. The Thirteenth Amendment's archival copy bears an apparent Presidential signature, under the usual ones of the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, after the words "Approved February 1, 1865".

The Thirteenth Amendment completed the abolition of slavery, which had begun with the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

The Thirteenth Amendment was followed by the Fourteenth Amendment (civil rights in the states), in 1868, and the Fifteenth Amendment (which bans racial voting restrictions), in 1870.


Involuntary servitude

In Selective Draft Law Cases, , the Supreme Courtmarker ruled that the military draft was not "involuntary servitude".

Offenses against the Thirteenth Amendment have not been prosecuted since 1947.

Prior to 1988, inflicting involuntary servitude through psychologically coercive means was included in the interpretation of the Thirteenth Amendment. In United States v. Kozminski, , the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Thirteenth Amendment did not prohibit compulsion of servitude through psychological coercion. Psychological coercion had been the primary means of forcing involuntary servitude in the case of Elizabeth Ingalls in 1947. However, the Court held that there are exceptions. The court decision circumscribed involuntary servitude to be limited to those situations when the master subjects the servant to
(1) threatened or actual physical force,
(2) threatened or actual state-imposed legal coercion or
(3) fraud or deceit where the servant is a minor, an immigrant or mentally incompetent.

The federal anti-slavery statutes were updated in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, P.L. 106-386, which expanded the federal statutes' coverage to cases in which victims are enslaved through psychological, as well as physical, coercion.

Federal Courts of Appeals, in Immediato v. Rye Neck School District, Herndon v. Chapel Hill, and Steirer v. Bethlehem School District, have upheld the using of community service as a high school graduation requirement against Thirteenth Amendment challenges.

Free versus unfree labor

Labor is defined as work of economic or financial value. Unfree labor or labor not willingly given, is obtained in a number of ways:
  • causing or threatening to cause serious harm to any person;
  • physically restraining or threatening to physically restrain another person;
  • abusing or threatening to abuse the law or legal process;
  • knowingly destroying, concealing, removing, confiscating or possessing any actual or purported passport or other immigration document, or any other actual or purported government identification document, of another person;
  • blackmail;
  • causing or threatening to cause financial harm [using financial control over] to any person.

Definitions of conditions addressed by Thirteenth Amendment

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 against his or her will.
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 also includes the condition in which people are compelled to work against their will by a "climate of fear" evoked by the use of force, the threat of force, or the threat of legal coercion (i.e., suffer legal consequences unless compliant with demands made upon them) which is sufficient to compel service against a person's will. The first U.S. Supreme Court case to uphold the ban against involuntary servitude was Bailey v. Alabama (1911).
Requiring specific performance as a remedy for breach of personal services contracts has been understood to be a form of involuntary servitude.
Forced Labor
Labor or service obtained by:
*by threats of serious harm or physical restraint;
*by means of any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause a person to believe they would suffer serious harm or physical restraint if they did not perform such labor or services:
*by means of the abuse or threatened abuse of law or the legal process.


Threat of legal consequences

Victims of human trafficking and other conditions of forced labor are commonly coerced by threat of legal actions to their detriment. A leading example is deportation of illegal immigrants. "The prospect of being forced to leave the United States, no matter how degrading the current living conditions, sometimes serves as a deterrent to reporting the situation to law enforcement." 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:

  • Title 18, U.S.C., Section 242 - Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law:

Proposal and ratification

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was proposed by the Thirty-Eighth United States Congress, on January 31, 1865. The amendment was adopted on December 6, 1865, when Georgiamarker ratified the amendment. In a proclamation of Secretary of State William Henry Seward, dated December 18, 1865, it was declared to have been ratified by the legislatures of twenty-seven of the then thirty-six states. The dates of ratification were:
  1. Illinois (February 1, 1865)
  2. Rhode Island (February 2, 1865)
  3. Michigan (February 3, 1865)
  4. Maryland (February 3, 1865)
  5. New York (February 3, 1865)
  6. Pennsylvania (February 3, 1865)
  7. West Virginia (February 3, 1865)
  8. Missouri (February 6, 1865)
  9. Maine (February 7, 1865)
  10. Kansas (February 7, 1865)
  11. Massachusetts (February 7, 1865)
  12. Virginia (February 9, 1865)
  13. Ohio (February 10, 1865)
  14. Indiana (February 13, 1865)
  15. Nevada (February 16, 1865)
  16. Louisiana (February 17, 1865)
  17. Minnesota (February 23, 1865)
  18. Wisconsin (February 24, 1865)
  19. Vermont (March 8, 1865)
  20. Tennessee (April 7, 1865)
  21. Arkansas (April 14, 1865)
  22. Connecticut (May 4, 1865)
  23. New Hampshire (July 1, 1865)
  24. South Carolina (November 13, 1865)
  25. Alabama (December 2, 1865)
  26. North Carolina (December 4, 1865)
  27. Georgia (December 6, 1865)
Ratification was completed on December 6, 1865. The amendment was subsequently ratified by the following states:
  1. Oregon (December 8, 1865)
  2. California (December 19, 1865)
  3. Florida (December 28, 1865, reaffirmed on June 9, 1869)
  4. Iowa (January 15, 1866)
  5. New Jersey (January 23, 1866, after having rejected it on March 16, 1865)
  6. Texas (February 18, 1870)
  7. Delaware (February 12, 1901, after having rejected it on February 8, 1865)
  8. Kentucky (March 18, 1976, after having rejected it on February 24, 1865)
  9. Mississippi (March 16, 1995, after having rejected it on December 5, 1865)

Earlier proposed Thirteenth Amendments

Each of two amendments proposed by the Congress would have become the Thirteenth Amendment if it had been ratified when originally proposed.

  • Titles of Nobility Amendment, proposed by the Congress in 1810 and ratified by twelve states, would have revoked the citizenship of anyone either (1) accepting a foreign title of nobility or (2) accepting any foreign payment without Congressional authorization.

  • Corwin Amendment, proposed by the Congress in 1861 and ratified by two states, would have forbidden any constitutional amendment that would have interfered with slavery or any "domestic institutions" of a state.

See also



  1. Congressional Proposals and Senate Passage Harper Weekly. The Creation of the 13th Amendment. Retrieved Feb. 15, 2007
  2. Charters of Freedom - The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, The Bill of Rights
  3. Primary Documents in American History: The Thirteenth Amendment Library of Congress. Retrieved Feb. 15, 2007
  4. "The 13th Amendment and the Lost Origins of Civil Rights" Risa Goluboff (2001) Duke Law Journal Vol 50 p. 1609. See section on Elizabeth Ingalls and Dora Jones. Refer to United States v. Ingalls, 73 F. Supp. 76, 77 (S.D. Cal. 1947) Southern District Court California
  5. U.S. v. Ingalls, 73 F.Supp. 76 (1947) as cited by
  6. "Thirteenth Amendment--Slavery and Involuntary Servitude" GPO Access, U.S. Government Printing Office, p. 1557
  7. "The 13th Amendment and the Lost Origins of Civil Rights" Risa Goluboff (2001) Duke Law Journal Vol 50 p. 1609, n. 228
  8. United States v. Ingalls, 73 F. Supp. 76, 77 (S.D. Cal. 1947)
  9. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Fact Sheet
  10. Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act 2000 U.S. Department of State
  11. Peonage Section 1581 of Title 18 U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division Involuntary servitude, forced labor and sex trafficking statutes enforced
  12. Involuntary Servitude Section 1584 of Title 18 U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division Involuntary servitude, forced labor and sex trafficking statutes enforced
  13. Oman, Nathan B.,Specific Performance and the Thirteenth Amendment. Minnesota Law Review, Forthcoming Available at SSRN: [1]
  14. Forced Labor Section 1589 of Title 18 U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division Involuntary servitude, forced labor and sex trafficking statutes enforced. NB According to the Dept. of Justice, "Congress enacted § 1589 in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Kozminski, , which interpreted § 1584 to require the use or threatened use of physical or legal coercion. Section 1589 broadens the definition of the kinds of coercion that might result in forced labor."
  15. The Color of Law FBI Miami Civil Rights Program
  16. Involuntary Servitude and Human Trafficking Initiatives National Workers Exploitation Task Force FBI Miami Civil Rights Program
  17. Title 18, U.S.C., Section 241 - Conspiracy Against Rights
  18. Title 18, U.S.C., Section 242 - Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law

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