Passage of the Thirteenth Amendment

At the same time that Confederate lawmakers debated about using slaves in their army, President Lincoln pushed for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This amendment abolished slavery all across the nation.

Lincoln knew that passing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution required a great deal of work. For any amendment to become law, it has to be approved by both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. It then has to be ratified (approved) by three-fourths of the states before it can become law. Despite these obstacles, however, Lincoln offered strong support for the amendment after his 1864 reelection.

The U.S. Senate had passed the amendment back in December 1863, but it had stalled in the House of Representatives. Lincoln and other amendment supporters worked hard to send the bill back to the House, and on January 31, 1865, the U.S. House of Representatives passed it despite opposition from many Democrats. After the vote, representatives who had supported the amendment burst into celebration. "Some [members] embraced one another, others wept like children," recalled Indiana congressman George W. Julian (1817-1899). "I have felt, ever since the vote, as if I were in a new country."

The House's passage of the amendment cleared the way for individual states to vote on the bill. Ten months later, on December 18, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment became law, ending slavery on American land forever.

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