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Primary Documents in American History

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Thomas Nast's celebration of the emancipation of Southern slaves with the end of the Civil War.
Thomas Nast.
Emancipation.
Philadelphia: S. Bott, 1865.
Wood engraving.
Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:
LC-USZ62-2573

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

Digital Collections

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation

This collection contains congressional publications from 1774 to 1875, including debates, bills, laws, and journals.

  • April 8, 1864 - The Senate passed the 13th Amendment (S.J. Res. 16) by a vote of 38 to 6.
  • 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 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.

The text of the 13th Amendment can be found the United States Statutes at Large, volume 13, page 567 (13 Stat. 567).

Search in the 38th Congress to find additional legislative information on the 13th Amendment.

Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress

John Nicolay sent Lincoln a telegram reporting passage of the 13th Amendment by Congress on January 31, 1865.

Search the Abraham Lincoln Papers using the phrase "13th amendment" to locate additional documents on this topic, including a copy of the 13th Amendment submitted to the states that was signed by Abraham Lincoln and members of Congress.

The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana

This collection documents the life of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) 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

Includes speeches by T.B. Van Buren and Gen. Hiram Walbridge given during the ratification process of the 13th Amendment in the New York House of Assembly. Also found within this collection is a report issued by the Union League Club of New York recommending the approval of the 13th Amendment.

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

Chronicling America

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:

Congress.gov

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.

Exhibitions

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.

Link disclaimerExternal Web Sites

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

Mr. Lincoln and Freedom, The Lincoln Institute

Our Documents, 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, National Archives and Records Administration

Selected Bibliography

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]

Younger Readers

Biscontini, Tracey and Rebecca Sparling, eds. Amendment XIII: Abolishing Slavery. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2009. [Catalog Record]

Schleichert, Elizabeth. The Thirteenth Amendment: Ending Slavery. Springfield, N.J.: Enslow Publishers, 1998. [Catalog Record]

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  February 5, 2015
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