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
Seventy-five years ago on January 27, 1945, Soviet forces liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp complex in German-occupied Poland. Russian soldiers discovered thousands of sick, dying, and dead prisoners when they entered the complex of concentration camps, forced labor camps, and a killing center abandoned by the... Read more
To mark the 50th anniversary of the end of Project Blue Book, the National Archives will display records from the Air Force’s unidentified flying objects (UFOs) investigations.
Report of a “flying saucer” over U.S. airspace in 1947 caused a wave of “UFO hysteria” and sparked... Read more
Visit the National Archives to see exclusive, featured documents from the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. From transcripts to flight plans, the museum will highlight some of the most important pieces of the monumental occasion. Documents will be on display through August 7, 2019 in the Rotunda... Read more
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