Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

The 13th Amendment: Slavery And Involuntary Servitude

December 5, 2013 by NCC Staff


Full Text of the 13th Amendment

Passed by Congress January 31, 1865. Ratified December 6, 1865.

Note: A portion of Article IV, section 2, of the Constitution was superseded by the 13th amendment.


Section 1. 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.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to slavery in the states that had not seceded. To abolish slavery entirely, Congress proposed this amendment, which also gave Congress specific authority to enforce the amendment by legislation. Under these provisions, Congress has legislated against slavery-like conditions, such as peonage. Source:  U.S. Senate


In 1863, based on his war powers (see Article II, Section 2), President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves held within any designated state and part of a state in rebellion against the United States. The Proclamation provided “all persons held as slaves...are, and henceforward shall be free....” Because the Proclamation did not address slaves held in the Northern states, there were questions about its validity.

Following the end of the fighting, on February 1, 1865, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment and forwarded it to the states. It was ratified on December 18, 1865. The Thirteenth Amendment was the first of three Reconstruction Era amendments (the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth) that eliminated slavery, guaranteed due process, equal protection and voting rights to all Americans.

By its adoption, Congress intended the Thirteenth Amendment to take the question of emancipation away from politics. The Supreme Court found in In Re Slaughter-House Cases, that the “word servitude is of larger meaning than slavery . . . and the obvious purpose was to forbid all shades and conditions of African slavery.”

In more recent cases, the Supreme Court has defined involuntary servitude broadly to forbid work forced by the use or threat of physical restraint or injury or through law. But the Supreme Court has rejected claims that define mandatory community service, taxation, and the draft as involuntary servitude.

Key Supreme Court and Legal Cases:

Bailey v. Alabama, 219 U.S. 219, 240 (1911)

Slaughter–House Cases, 83 U.S. (1872)

Hodges v. United States, 203 U.S.  (1906)

Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, (1883)

Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537

Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409, (1968)

Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1965)

Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U.S. 294

Research Papers from SSRN:

Whence Comes Section One? The Abolitionist Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 10-06, The Journal of Legal Analysis, Vol. 3, 2011 Randy E. Barnett

Georgetown University Law Center

The Reconstruction Power New York University Law Review, Vol. 85, December 2010, Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 207 Jack M. Balkin

Yale University - Law School

The Dangerous Thirteenth Amendment Columbia Law Review, Forthcoming, U of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 224, Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 258 Jack M. Balkin and Sanford Levinson

Yale University - Law School and University of Texas Law School

Can a Constitutional Amendment Overrule a Supreme Court Decision? Constitutional Commentary, Forthcoming, U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-05 Michael Stokes Paulsen

University of St. Thomas School of Law


Sign up for our email newsletter