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Did You Know? . . . The 13th Amendment

God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? -Micah 6:8

Following the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, resolutions were introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to create an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery. The amendment passed in the Senate in April 1864 but not in the House until January 1865. Finally, in December 1865, the necessary number of states (27 of 36) ratified the 13th amendment abolishing slavery in the United States and places subject to its jurisdiction.

But the 13th amendment didn’t end slavery.  It ended the right of one person to own another.  However, it also expanded, to every state and US jurisdiction, the possibility of slavery and involuntary servitude. It did this through the punishment clause, which reads, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

Without their former slaves, southern states immediately passed a number of laws that set limitations on Black people. Any violation could result in conviction and imprisonment. This created a large potential labor force that could be leased to work outside the prison for private interests with minimal or no compensation. Prison officials were handsomely compensated.

In order to amend the 13th amendment, eliminating the punishment clause, a resolution would need to be passed by two thirds majority in both houses of Congress and then ratified by three quarters of the states.