Scene in the House on the Passage of the Proposition to Amend the Constitution, January 31, 1865.

Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished and permanently prohibited the reintroduction of slavery throughout the country. Congress submitted it to the states on January 31, 1865, and it was ratified on December 6, 1865. It was the first of three amendments adopted during Reconstruction that profoundly altered American society, government, and politics. The Fourteenth Amendment that defined citizenship and guaranteed the rights of citizens was ratified in July 1868, and the Fifteenth Amendment that granted the vote to African American men was ratified in February 1870. MORE...

 

The Thirteenth Amendment did not free any of the approximately half a million Virginia men, women, and children who had lived in slavery when the American Civil War (1861–1865) began because they had all become free before the ratification of the amendment. The Virginia Constitution of 1864, which went into effect on April 7, abolished slavery in the parts of the state that the Restored government of Virginia administered during the war. With the collapse and disappearance of the government of the Confederate State of Virginia in April 1865, that constitution legally terminated the enslavement of all Virginians. That same month, the Union army enforced the Emancipation Proclamation throughout the state.

On April 8, 1864, the U.S. Senate approved the proposed amendment by the required two-thirds majority and sent it to the House of Representatives. Protracted negotiations in which the president participated eventually convinced two-thirds of the members to vote for the amendment. It passed the House of Representatives on January 31, 1865, and went to the states for ratification. No Virginians voted either for or against the Thirteenth Amendment in Congress. The three men who won election to the House of Representatives for the Thirty-Eighth Congress arrived to take their seats after Congress had approved the amendment, but the House refused to seat them. The General Assembly never elected a successor to Senator Lemuel J. Bowden, who died early in January 1864. Senator John S. Carlile, who had represented Virginia since before West Virginia statehood, opposed abolishing slavery but was not present on the day the Senate approved the amendment.

Many state legislatures were in session when Congress submitted the proposed amendment to the states, and several of them speedily adopted ratification resolutions. The assembly of the Restored government of Virginia was one of them. On February 8, 1865, the six-member Senate, with one member absent, voted 5 to 0 to ratify the amendment. The following day, February 9, the thirteen-member House of Delegates voted 9 to 2 to ratify the amendment. Both houses adopted resolutions at the time of ratification to allow the absent members to record their votes on the amendment. Both delegates recorded their votes in favor on March 1, but the absent senator did not return for the remainder of the session and during the special session in June of that year did not take advantage of the opportunity to record his vote. It is possible that he did not know about the resolution that permitted him to do so. Secretary of State William H. Seward officially counted Virginia's ratification as the twelfth of the requisite twenty-seven state legislative ratifications required to make the amendment part of the Constitution as of December 6, 1865.

Time Line

  • April 8, 1864 - The U.S. Senate approves the proposed Thirteenth Amendment, which would abolish slavery.
  • January 31, 1865 - The U.S. House of Representatives approves the proposed Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would abolish slavery.
  • February 8, 1865 - The Senate of Virginia of the Restored government votes 5 to 0 to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolishes slavery.
  • February 9, 1865 - The House of Delegates of the Restored government votes 9 to 2 to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolishes slavery. Virginia becomes the twelfth state to ratify the amendment.
  • December 6, 1865 - Georgia becomes the twenty-seventh state to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, completing the ratification process.
  • July 9, 1868 - South Carolina becomes the twenty-eighth state to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, completing the ratification process.
  • October 8, 1869 - Both houses of the General Assembly of Virginia ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
  • February 3, 1870 - Iowa becomes the twenty-eighth state to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, completing the ratification process.

References

Further Reading
Vorenberg, Michael. Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Tarter, B. Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (2014, December 3). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Thirteenth_Amendment_to_the_U_S_Constitution_The.

  • MLA Citation:

    Tarter, Brent. "Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 3 Dec. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: October 29, 2014 | Last modified: December 3, 2014


Contributed by Brent Tarter, founding editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography.