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13th Amendment

  • 13th Amendment
13th Amendment

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.

Download a high-resolution version of the 13th Amendment from the National Archives’ online catalog.

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.

Click here to read all 27 ratified amendments to the Constitution.

Past Featured Records
  • The Purple Heart Battalion
    The Purple Heart Battalion

    Tuesday, April 16, 2024 – Wednesday, May 15, 2024
    East Rotunda Gallery

    The 442nd Regimental Combat Team

    None of us thought we were coming home alive. —Lawson Sakai

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  • Frances Perkins: Champion of Workers’ Rights
    Frances Perkins: Champion of Workers’ Rights

    Thursday, February 29, 2024 – Monday, April 15, 2024
    East Rotunda Gallery

    “I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten plain common workingmen.” —Frances Perkins

    Chances are you benefit from the legacy of Frances Perkins,... Read more

  • 70th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
    70th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

    Thursday, February 1, 2024 – Wednesday, February 28, 2024
    East Rotunda Gallery

    Equity in Education: 70 Years Later

    On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court delivered a unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional in... Read more

  • 250th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party
    250th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party
    Thursday, December 14, 2023 – Wednesday, January 31, 2024
    East Rotunda Gallery

    The Destruction of the Tea

    It wouldn’t be known as the “Boston Tea Party” for another 50 years, but the destruction... Read more

  • Diseños: An Impact of Mexican Cession
    Diseños: An Impact of Mexican Cession
    Tuesday, June 20, 2023 – Wednesday, October 18, 2023
    East Rotunda Gallery

     

    At the end of the Mexican-American War, the United States annexed more than half of Mexico’s territory under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Under its terms, the U.S. promised to... Read more