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
Just in time for Halloween, the National Archives Museum shares a 1959 State Department memo about the Yeti, the long-feared Abominable Snowman (and relative of Bigfoot). Study this document carefully before planning a climbing expedition to find this creature!
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On June 13, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated distinguished civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall to be the first African American justice to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. Marshall had already made his mark in American law, having won 29 of the... Read more
On May 18, 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which authorized the Federal Government to temporarily expand the military through conscription. The act eventually required all men between the ages of 21 to 45 to register for military service. Under the act, approximately 24 million... Read more
On April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed this joint resolution, ending America’s neutral stance on the ongoing global conflict – later deemed a “World War” – and formally declaring war against Imperial German Government.
Nearly three years earlier, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria had been assassinated by... Read more
In 1916 – four years before before the 19th Amendment granted women across the country the right to vote – Jeannette Rankin was elected to Congress as a Representative from Montana.
Rankin was sworn into office on April 2, 1917, having presented this credential as evidence that she... Read more