13th Amendment

One of the most important amendments to the United States Constitution is the 13th. It ended centuries of slavery in the United States, which dated back to the early 1600s when Africans were kidnapped from their home country and forced to work on the tobacco plantations of the southern colonies.

When the Constitution was ratified in 1788, it protected the system of slavery. Even those who were opposed to slavery believed this was necessary because they were worried that if slavery was abolished, the southern states would not ratify the Constitution. There was a debate, though, about how to count slaves in the population. It was an important decision because population determines representation in Congress. The 3/5 Compromise was approved, stating that a slave could count as "3/5 of a person."

In the early 19th century, abolitionists began to organize and call for an end to slavery. This sparked a serious debate in the country as the southern states felt that attacking slavery was unconstitutional. Southerners were convinced that slavery was necessary for their economy and began to threaten to leave the U.S. and form their own country. That is what happened after the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860. Even though Lincoln never said that he would abolish slavery, he was viewed as enough of a threat to southerners that they felt he was hostile to their needs. Meanwhile, abolitionists did not feel that Lincoln was taking a strong enough stand against slavery.

After the Civil War began, abolitionists continued to put pressure on Lincoln and Congress to bring slavery to an end. It was a bitter battle in the House of Representatives, but the 13th Amendment passed the House on January 31, 1865, winning approval by only seven votes. Of course, the amendment would have mattered very little if the Union lost the war but after five brutal years, Robert E. Lee's Army of Virginia surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, 1865. On December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment was ratified.


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