by Michael Powelson, Ph.D.
“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.”
Ratified on Dec. 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and all forced servitude with the exception of convicted criminals. The amendment was initially ratified by 27 states after being enacted seven months after the end of the American Civil War. Nine additional states later ratified the amendment, with Mississippi only ratifying the amendment in 1995.
The 13th Amendment did not grant freed slaves citizenship, constitutional protections or the right to vote. Citizenship and constitutional protections were established with the 14th Amendment, while the right to vote was guaranteed with the passage of the 15th Amendment.
In fact, the 13th Amendment only confirmed the reality that slavery had already come to an end. By 1865 slaves were either in open insurrection or had fled their enslavement, and so President Lincoln and Congress simply gave legal approval to the abolition of slavery that had already occurred in fact.
While the 13th Amendment abolished the formal institution of slavery, a series of laws passed by post-war Southern states re-established slavery in all but name. “Black Codes” were enacted that prohibited former slaves from voting, owning property or serving on juries. Additional Black Codes prohibited former slaves from leaving their places of employment and ordered them to sign contracts with their employers, often their former masters, agreeing to work at set salaries and not to leave their employ.
The abolition of slavery was followed by “reconstruction” in which blacks and anti-racist whites attempted to create a multiracial, democratic society in the face of whites who continued to believe that blacks should not enjoy legal equality.
Michael Powelson, Ph.D., is a CSU, Channel Islands, history lecturer.