The ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, making it official to abolish slavery as an institution, occurred on December 6th, 1865. From the Constitution’s own words, “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.” The meaning behind these words signals the single most important change as a result of the Civil War was noted officially in the Constitution.
Although this was a symbol of the culmination of the battle against slavery, it took eight months after the conclusion of the war before ratification occurred. The start of the war made it apparent that some individuals in the North were against getting involved in what appeared to be a crusade to stop slavery. While many conservative Republicans and northern Democrats were against the expansion of slavery, they were uncertain about entirely outlawing it. Many began to reconsider the role that slavery was a reason for going to was after the conflict’s escalation in July of 1861 at the conclusion in Virginia of the First Battle of Bull Run.
Lincoln recognized in 1862 the folly to partake in such a horrific war without having ideas to eliminate slavery. Lincoln’s opportunity came in September of 1862 by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation following Maryland’s Battle of Antietam Union’s victory; this signified that every slave in the territory still part of the revolt on January 1st, 1863 would be acknowledged as being free forever. While the decision was considered as largely symbolic, it only referred to slaves being free in parts outside of control by the Union; but, it renamed the conflict to being a war whose goals included the end of slavery from originally being the reunification of states.
Lincoln knew that to solidify the end to slavery, a constitutional amendment was necessary to have. Congress would begin debating several plans in 1864 where some were emphatic on adding provisions to stop discrimination toward blacks; however, the eventual language would ultimately be provided by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It referred to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 that contained language regarding the banning of slavery from the land north of the Ohio River; the amendment was passed in April of 1864 by the Senate.
The guarantee of the success of the amendment was secured due to the 1864 Republican victory in the election for president. Although the platform for the Democrats was for states’ rights being restored that would include a remote possibility for states to keep slavery alive, the Republican mantra demanded the “utter and complete destruction” of slavery. The overwhelming victory that Lincoln accomplished set into motion events that would ultimately lead to the ratification of the amendment. The measure was passed by the House in January of 1865 and then the amendment was passed along to the states for it to be ratified. The concept and institution of slavery became officially non-existent in the United States when the amendment was officially ratified by the state of Georgia on December 6th, 1865.