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Thirteenth Amendment

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noun
an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1865, abolishing slavery.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022

MORE ABOUT THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT

What is the Thirteenth Amendment?

The Thirteenth Amendment is an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that abolished slavery in the United States.

The Constitution of the United States is the document that serves as the  fundamental law of the country. An amendment is a change to something. An amendment to the Constitution is any text added to the original document since its ratification in 1788. The Constitution has been amended 27 times in American history.

There are two sections to the Thirteenth Amendment. The first 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 second reads:

“Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

The first section abolishes slavery, while the second gives Congress the power to pass laws to ensure it is never practiced again. The passing of the Thirteenth Amendment is seen as one of the most historically important actions Congress has ever performed.

It is often mistakenly believed that slavery ended in the United States when President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863. However, the proclamation only outlawed slavery in the Confederacy. Slavery was only abolished everywhere in the United States with the Thirteenth Amendment.

The Thirteenth Amendment has been involved in a number of Supreme Court cases, focusing on interpreting “involuntary servitude.” The court has interpreted the amendment to mean that the practice of peonage (forced labor to work off debt) is also forbidden. It has also ruled that forcing someone to perform labor to settle a contract and forcing someone to perform labor by taking away their passport are also illegal. But the Supreme Court has also ruled that no form of prison labor violates the Thirteenth Amendment and is therefore constitutional.

Why is the Thirteenth Amendment important?

The Thirteenth Amendment was needed to finish the job the Emancipation Proclamation started. Congress passed the amendment on January 31,1865, and Lincoln signed it in February. However, Lincoln didn’t live to see the amendment’s ratification. The president was assassinated in April, and the amendment became fully ratified in December.

While many of the Founding Fathers might have been aware that they couldn’t create a truly free country if slavery was allowed, they didn’t address the issue. After the Civil War, Congress was finally able to end slavery in the United States forever with the Thirteenth Amendment.

The Thirteenth Amendment is a rare instance of the Constitution specifically banning all citizens, not just the government, from doing something.

Did you know … ?

The Thirteenth Amendment is the first appearance of the word slavery in the Constitution. While slavery is mentioned earlier in the text, it is mentioned without using the actual word.

What are real-life examples of Thirteenth Amendment?

Due to its historical significance, the Thirteenth Amendment is one of the most famous of the Constitutional amendments.

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

The Thirteenth Amendment made slavery illegal in the United States.

How to use Thirteenth Amendment in a sentence

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