On December 6, 1865, slavery throughout the United States became illegal when Georgia ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Four years earlier, however, Congress had passed a different 13th Amendment, stating, “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.” Fortunately, only two states ratified it, and in the meantime, 11 states seceded from the Union.
Two years later, the nation moved in the opposite direction, towards abolishing slavery, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. However, its effect was limited as it didn’t extend emancipation to those in the border states or in those parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Union control.
Finally, on January 31, 1865, Congress passed a new 13th Amendment, which stated, “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.” This new version was approved by President Lincoln the following day and quickly ratified by 18 of the necessary 27 states within a month, but stalled with the assassination of President Lincoln in April of that year.
Finally, in December 1865, Georgia became the 27th state to ratify the amendment, fulfilling the requirement that three-quarters of the states approve of a Constitutional amendment.
In celebration of the anniversary of the enactment of the 13th Amendment, California’s Certificate of Ratification was on display in the “Featured Documents” exhibit in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives in Washington, DC, from December 3, 2015, through January 6, 2016.
Past Featured Records
On June 6, 1944, Allied forces launched the greatest amphibious invasion the world has ever seen. The historic D-day invasion of Normandy, France, was a turning point in World War II, but it was just the initial assault in a massive operation that liberated Western Europe... Read more
Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman to serve in Congress when she took office in January of 1969. During her seven Congressional terms, “Fighting Shirley” was an outspoken champion for racial and gender equality, and economic justice. To mark the 50th anniversary of Chisholm’s... Read more
Watch telecast footage of the 1968 Apollo 8 Mission, the first manned spacecraft to reach the Moon and safely return. This multimedia presentation features photos of the Moon’s surface taken from the spacecraft and an audio recording of the astronauts’ description of the lunar surface.
On display... Read more
The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest operation of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I and the deadliest military campaign in American history. Fought from September 26 – November 11, 1918, by over a million American soldiers, the Meuse-Argonne operation was part of the final Allied offensive... Read more
In celebration of Alexander Hamilton and the Broadway musical inspired by his extraordinary story, the National Archives will showcase original records from the Founder’s life and legacy, paired with related Hamilton lyrics.
On display in the East Rotunda Gallery through September 18, 2018.