The 13th Amendment

Contributor: Nathan Murphy. Lesson ID: 13552

The 13th Amendment was the first modification to the Constitution to deal with slavery. As the Civil War was coming to a close, it was clear that slavery could no longer exist in a reunified U.S.A.


United States, United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start

Thaddeus Stevens quote

The most outspoken Republican Congressman of the time is saying something incredibly interesting here.

  • The greatest measure is the 13th Amendment, and the purest man is Abraham Lincoln, but what does he mean by aided and abetted?

Election of 1864

lincolns election

Unlike Abraham Lincoln's first presidential campaign, there was no doubt that the South would not vote for him in the 1864 election because the United States was still at war with the Confederacy.

Lincoln's major challenge during this election was whether to support the complete abolition of slavery. His Emancipation Proclamation likely would not have held up in a lawsuit if taken to the Supreme Court because Lincoln may have been overstepping his authority.


The Radical Republicans began to challenge him, and John C. Fremont started running as a third-party candidate on a platform calling for the abolition of slavery. President Lincoln pushed for the 13th Amendment to maintain order inside the Republican Party.

If Fremont could gain much support from Republicans, Lincoln might lose to his Democratic competitor during a war. This risk was not worth it.

Lincoln also realized that the nation would not be able to function if slavery still existed peacefully. Once the South was re-admitted to the union, the country needed a fresh start to maintain that unity.

The Text

slavery crossed out

The 13th Amendment states the following.

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.

This specifically eliminated the sale of all human beings.

Lincoln began to champion this Amendment, and it passed the Senate almost immediately in 1864. However, it would take almost a year to pass by the required 2/3 majority in the House of Representatives.

Many Americans in the North were still Democrats and not very sympathetic to the abolitionist cause. The Senate was only 20% Democratic at the time, but the House was nearly 40%.

Because the Amendment had to pass by 66% in both chambers of Congress, Democrats in the House had to cross party lines.

Passed By Corruption

Thaddeus Stevens, circa 1860s

  • What did Thaddeus Stevens mean when he said the amendment passed by corruption?

Lincoln became committed to this cause and, as a result, was willing to do anything necessary.

Watch this exchange from the movie Lincoln where three men are being hired to convince Democrats to vote in favor of the bill. Pay attention to the different ways the men want to get the votes.

Image - Video

  • Why is one strategy favored over another?

Lincoln allowed for government jobs to be offered to Democratic Congressmen who were on their way out of office and needed a means of income.

This doesn't seem right, and Thaddeus Stevens, along with other radical Republicans, knew this. However, it was a means to a positive end in their eyes.


andrew johnson

Slavery was never explicitly permitted in the Constitution, but the 13th Amendment would destroy any ambiguity.

On January 31, 1865, the Amendment was finally sent to the states for ratification.

Less than three months later, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and the task of getting 3/4 of the states to ratify the Amendment fell to Vice President Andrew Johnson, who was a former Democrat.

To see how he differed from Lincoln, watch the video below.

Image - Video

The major issue for Johnson was protecting the rights of white Southern farmers who had been stifled by large plantations in the Southern states.

To protect these people as much as possible, he raced to get the state governments in the South to ratify the 13th Amendment while Congress wasn't in session.

If the Southern states rapidly outlawed slavery as the radical Republicans wanted, Johnson thought he could avoid any action from the North because the South would have shown they were reformed and did not need to be occupied by Northern forces.

Trying to force his views on Reconstruction of the South was a miscalculation. Johnson was impeached and almost removed from office for his handling of the situation.


The 13th Amendment immediately stopped the sale of people; however, it did not eliminate the subordination of African Americans in the United States.

The 14th and 15th Amendments were even more progressive regarding African American rights. Still, it was not until the middle of the 20th century that these amendments began to be properly enforced.

Continue to the Got It? section to further explore the concept of slavery in the United States.

Image - Button Next