Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Abolitionist imagery focused on atrocities against slaves. (Photo of Gordon, 1863.)
Abraham Lincoln
Representative James Mitchell Ashley proposed an amendment abolishing slavery in 1863.
Celebration erupts after the Thirteenth Amendment is passed by the House of Representatives.
Amendment XIII in the National Archives, bearing the signature of Abraham Lincoln
John Marshall Harlan became known as "The Great Dissenter" for his minority opinions favoring powerful Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Thirteenth Amendment (Amendment XIII) to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime.

- Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

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Jim Crow laws

Jim Crow laws were state and local laws enforcing racial segregation in the Southern United States.

Cover of an early edition of "Jump Jim Crow" sheet music (c. 1832)
Freedmen voting in New Orleans, 1867
Sign for the "colored" waiting room at a bus station in Durham, North Carolina, May 1940
1904 caricature of "White" and "Jim Crow" rail cars by John T. McCutcheon. Despite Jim Crow's legal pretense that the races be "separate but equal" under the law, non-whites were given inferior facilities and treatment.
In the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren ruled unanimously that public school segregation was unconstitutional.
President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964
An African American man drinking at a "colored" drinking fountain in a streetcar terminal in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1939

In January 1865, an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery in the United States was proposed by Congress and ratified as the Thirteenth Amendment on December 18, 1865.

Northwest Ordinance

Organic act of the Congress of the Confederation of the United States.

Northwest Territory (1787)
Map of the states and territories of the United States as it was on August 7, 1789, when the Northwest Territory was organized

The Thirteenth Amendment, passed in 1865, outlawed slavery throughout the United States, quotes verbatim from Article 6 of the Northwest Ordinance.

Separate but equal

Legal doctrine in United States constitutional law, according to which racial segregation did not necessarily violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which nominally guaranteed "equal protection" under the law to all people.

"We cater to white trade only". A restaurant in Lancaster, Ohio, in 1938.
A "colored" drinking fountain in Oklahoma City, 1939.
1904 caricature of "White" and "Jim Crow" rail cars by John T. McCutcheon.

The American Civil War brought slavery in the United States to an end with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.

Plessy v. Ferguson

Landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that racial segregation laws did not violate the U.S. Constitution as long as the facilities for each race were equal in quality, a doctrine that came to be known as "separate but equal".

Justice Henry Billings Brown, author of the majority opinion in Plessy
John Marshall Harlan became known as the "Great Dissenter" for his fiery dissent in Plessy and other early civil rights cases.
An Oklahoma City streetcar terminal's "colored" drinking fountain, 1939.
1904 caricature of "White" and "Jim Crow" rail cars by John T. McCutcheon

Plessy petitioned the state district criminal court to throw out the case, State v. Homer Adolph Plessy, on the grounds that the state law requiring East Louisiana Railroad to segregate trains had denied him his rights under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution, which provided for equal treatment under the law.


Someone forbidden to quit their service for an enslaver, and who is treated by the enslaver as their property.

Relief depicting slaves in chains in the Roman Empire, at Smyrna, 200 CE
Flogging a slave fastened to the ground, illustration in an 1853 anti-slavery pamphlet
A poster for a slave auction in Georgia, U.S., 1860
Portrait of an older woman in New Orleans with her enslaved servant girl in the mid-19th century
The work of the Mercedarians was in ransoming Christian slaves held in North Africa (1637).
Sale and inspection of slaves
Branding of a female slave
Barefooted slaves depicted in David Roberts' Egypt and Nubia, issued between 1845 and 1849
Slave branding, c. 1853
Corinthian black-figure terra-cotta votive tablet of slaves working in a mine, dated to the late seventh century BC
Ishmaelites purchase Joseph, by Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1860
Slave Market in Ancient Rome, by Jean-Léon Gérôme
13th-century slave market in Yemen.
Adalbert of Prague pleads with Boleslaus II, Duke of Bohemia for the release of slaves
A British captain witnessing the miseries of slaves in Ottoman Algeria, 1815
Crimean Tatar raiders enslaved more than 1 million Eastern Europeans.
19th-century engraving depicting an Arab slave-trading caravan transporting black African slaves across the Sahara Desert.
Slave market in Algiers, 1684
Arab-Swahili slave traders and their captives on the Ruvuma River in East Africa, 19th century
A model showing a cross-section of a typical 1700s European slave ship on the Middle Passage, National Museum of American History.
Statue of Bussa, who led the largest slave rebellion in Barbadian history.
Public flogging of a slave in 19th-century Brazil, by Johann Moritz Rugendas
Slave punishment by Jacques Étienne Arago, 1839.
Slaves in Cuba unloading ice from Maine, 1832
Saint-Domingue slave revolt in 1791
Planting the sugar cane, British West Indies, 1823
On March 22, 1873, Spain abolished slavery in Puerto Rico. The owners were compensated.
Funeral at slave plantation, Dutch Suriname. 1840–1850.
A coffle of slaves being driven on foot from Staunton, Virginia to Tennessee in 1850.
Whipping keloid scars of escaped slave, Gordon, Baton Rouge, Louisiana (1863). This famous photo was distributed by abolitionists.
Slaves on a Virginia plantation (The Old Plantation, c. 1790).
A contract from the Tang dynasty recording the purchase of a 15-year-old slave for six bolts of plain silk and five coins.
Kisaeng, women from outcast or slave families who were trained to provide entertainment, conversation, and sexual services to men of the upper class.
Persian slave in the Khanate of Khiva, 19th century
Workers being forced to haul rocks up a hill in a Gulag
Forced slave labourers in a Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II
Modern incidence of slavery, as a percentage of the population, by country.
Tuareg society is traditionally feudal, ranging from nobles, through vassals, to dark-skinned slaves.
A world map showing countries by prevalence of female trafficking
Chinese Emperor Wang Mang abolished slavery in 17 CE but the ban was overturned after his assassination.
Olaudah Equiano, His autobiography, published in 1789, helped in the creation of the Slave Trade Act 1807 which ended the African slave trade for Britain and its colonies.
Joseph Jenkins Roberts, born in Virginia, was the first president of Liberia, which was founded in 1822 for freed American slaves.
Poster for Spartacus

In the southern United States prior to the extirpation of slavery in 1865, a proslavery legal treatise reported that slaves accused of crimes typically had a legal right to counsel, freedom from double jeopardy, a right to trial by jury in graver cases, and the right to grand jury indictment, but they lacked many other rights such as white adults’ ability to control their own lives.

Civil Rights Act of 1866

The first United States federal law to define citizenship and affirm that all citizens are equally protected by the law.

Mural of the passage of the act

In April 1866, Congress again passed the bill to support the Thirteenth Amendment, and Johnson again vetoed it, but a two-thirds majority in each chamber overrode the veto to allow it to become law without presidential signature.

Fugitive Slave Clause

Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3, which requires a "person held to service or labor" who flees to another state to be returned to their master in the state from which that person escaped.

Page one of the officially engrossed copy of the Constitution signed by delegates. A print run of 500 copies of the final version preceded this copy.

The enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery except as a punishment for criminal acts, has made the clause mostly irrelevant.

Thaddeus Stevens

Member of the United States House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.

Portrait of Stevens by Jacob Eichholtz now owned by Gettysburg College
Stevens's home on Queen Street, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Southern view of the proposed compromises of 1860 and 1861, with "Dr. North" (Stevens) proposing to cut the South's legs off using a constitutional amendment. Stevens actually opposed such measures.
Stevens in a thoughtful pose
Based on ill-considered exchanges between Johnson and hecklers during the Swing Around the Circle, this Thomas Nast cartoon excerpt shows Johnson delivering a pardon to Davis as Stevens and Wendell Phillips hang in the background.
Harper's Weekly woodcut of Stevens making his final argument to the House during March 2, 1868 debate on the articles of impeachment
Stevens (right) and John A. Bingham formally notify the Senate of Johnson's impeachment. From Harper's Weekly.
Stevens's grave in Lancaster
Stevens's casket lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda, guarded by black soldiers.
Lydia Hamilton Smith
Thaddeus Stevens School, also known as Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School, located at 1050 21st Street, NW in Washington, D.C. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Ralph Lewis as Austin Stoneman and Mary Alden as Lydia Brown, The Birth of a Nation, 1915

The Thirteenth Amendment – which outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude except as a punishment for crime – easily passed the Senate but failed in the House in June; fears that it might not pass delayed a renewed attempt there.

Reverdy Johnson

Statesman and jurist from Maryland.

Reverdy Johnson's house in Annapolis, Maryland, relocated onto the campus of St. John's College.
Mrs. Reverdy Johnson by Thomas Sully, ca. 1840, Princeton University Art Museum

At first he opposed wartime efforts to abolish slavery until 1864, and in 1865 supported the 13th Amendment banning slavery.

Five Civilized Tribes

Applied by European Americans in the colonial and early federal period in the history of the United States to the five major Native American nations in the Southeast—the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek , and Seminole.

Gallery of the Five Civilized Tribes: Sequoyah (Cherokee), Pushmataha (Choctaw), Selecta (Muscogee/Creek), a "Characteristic Chickasaw Head", and Osceola (Seminole). The portraits were drawn or painted between 1775 and 1850.
The Mississippian culture was a mound building Native American urban culture that flourished in the South and Eastern United States before the arrival of Europeans.
Routes of southern removals to the first Indian Territory of the Five Civilized Tribes
Cherokee Nation Historic Courthouse in Tahlequah, built in 1849, is the oldest public building standing in Oklahoma.

Slavery everywhere in the United States was abolished with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in December 1865.