On December 6, 1865, the U.S. ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution: the abolition of slavery. It was a long overdue step in the long road we continue to walk in our efforts to address and uproot the systemic injustices embedded into our society.
Standing in the United States Capitol today, President Obama reflected on the history of our progress — hard-fought, hard-won, incomplete, but always possible. Watch his remarks here:
As many made clear at the time of its ratification, the 13th Amendment was not a final step, but rather the first step in making real the promise that all men are created equal. Read the letter that Annie Davis, an enslaved woman living in Maryland, wrote to President Lincoln asking if she was free after he had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. He never replied, but the answer was no. It would take an amendment to Maryland’s constitution — and the 13th Amendment — to ensure that she and all enslaved people in the U.S. were free in the eyes of the law.
Drafted December 22, 1862 The 13th amendment, which formally abolished slavery in the United States, passed the Senate on April 8, 1864, and the House/Congress on January 31, 1865. The National Consensus of the Proclamation/Bill/Amendment happened after end of Civil War December 6th, 1865. The 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States and provides 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.”.
Transcript of Emancipation Proclamation (1863)
September 22, 1862:
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
“That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States.”
Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.
By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.
On August 25, 1864, Annie Davis, an enslaved woman living in Maryland, wrote this letter to President Lincoln asking if she was free. No reply from President Lincoln has been located, but the answer to her question would have been: “No.”
President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, freeing slaves in states that had seceded from the Union. But it excused slave-holding border states like Maryland that had remained loyal to the Union, as well as parts of the Confederacy already under Northern control. And further the Emancipation Proclamation ultimately depended on a Union military victory.
That means slavery continued to exist in Annie’s Maryland until a rewritten Maryland Constitution freeing slaves came into effect on November 1, 1864. And the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States finally finished the work of freeing the slaves nationwide when ratified after the end of the Civil War on December 6th, 1865—150 years ago this week.
It is my Desire to be free. To go to see my people on the eastern shore. My mistress won’t let me. You will please let me know if we are free. And what I can do. I write to you for advice. Please send me word this week. Or as soon as possible. And oblige.
“Our freedom is bound up with the freedom of others—regardless of what they look like, or where they come from, or what their last name is, or what faith they practice.” —President Obama
“Verily, the work does not end with the abolition of slavery, but only begins.” Frederick Douglass