Thirteenth Amendment | Definition, Significance, & Facts | Britannica

Source: Thirteenth Amendment | Definition, Significance, & Facts | Britannica

Thirteenth Amendmentamendment (1865) to the Constitution of the United States that formally abolished slavery. Although the words slavery and slave are never mentioned in the Constitution, the Thirteenth Amendment abrogated those sections of the Constitution which had tacitly codified the “peculiar institution”: Article I, Section 2, regarding apportionment of representation in the House of Representatives, which had been “determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons provided for the appointment,” with “all other persons” meaning slaves; Article I, Section 9, which had established 1807 as the end date for the importation of slaves, referred to in this case as “such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit”; and Article IV, Section 2, which mandated the return to their owners of fugitive slaves, here defined as persons “held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another.”

The Emancipation Proclamation, declared and promulgated by Pres. Abraham Lincoln in 1863 during the American Civil War, freed only those slaves held in the Confederate States of America. In depriving the South of its greatest economic resource—abundant free human labour—Lincoln’s proclamation was intended primarily as an instrument of military strategy. Only when emancipation was universally proposed through the Thirteenth Amendment did it become national policy. Moreover, the legality of abolition by presidential edict was questionable.

Sojourner Truth, c. 1870, photograph by Randall Studio. To earn a living, Truth sold her autobiography and portraits like this one. Here, her inscription, "I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance," emphasizes her financial acumen.
The full text of the amendment is:

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.

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

The amendment was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, but did not pass in the House until January 31, 1865. The joint resolution of both bodies that submitted the amendment to the states for approval was signed by Lincoln on February 1, 1865. However, he did not live to see its ratification. Assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, he died on April 15, 1865, and the amendment was not ratified by the required number of states until December 6, 1865.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia BritannicaThis article was most recently revised and updated by Brian Duignan.

This Day in History: Supreme Court Justice William Paterson

Source: This Day in History: Supreme Court Justice William Paterson

On this day in 1806, William Paterson passes away. If you’ve heard of Paterson, then you probably know him for his work at the Constitutional Convention or on the United States Supreme Court.

But he did far more than that.

As a young man, Paterson surely never thought that he would serve his country in a Revolution?! He once wrote a friend that he wanted to “live at ease and pass through life without much noise and bustle.” Paterson attended New Jersey College (now Princeton), and he studied law under the tutelage of a future signer of the Declaration of Independence.

From there, any pretense of a life of “ease” quickly evaporated.

As the Revolution began, Paterson soon jumped into the Patriot cause. He served in New Jersey’s Provincial Congress, and he helped to write the state’s constitution. He served on the state’s legislative council and its Council of Safety. As if all that were not enough, he was also the state’s Attorney General. He was elected to the Continental Congress, but he had too many duties at home and had to decline the seat.

After the war, Paterson returned to his private law practice for a time, but he was soon asked to serve as a delegate at both the Annapolis and Constitutional Conventions. Perhaps his greatest contribution was made during his time at the Constitutional Convention.

Paterson was a co-author of the New Jersey plan, an outline of government that was presented early in the Convention to counter the Virginia plan. The Virginia plan was the large state proposal, which placed a heavier emphasis on population. The New Jersey plan gave each state a more equal voice in the government. Ultimately, of course, our Constitution effectively blends these ideas.

After the Convention, Paterson supported ratification in New Jersey. He was a U.S. Senator and helped to draft the Judiciary Act of 1789. That Act provided the outlines of our federal judiciary system. Later, he served as New Jersey Governor.

Finally, in 1793, George Washington appointed Paterson as a Supreme Court Justice. Paterson would spend the remainder of his life as an associate Justice on the Supreme Court. Perhaps one of his most memorable lines as a judge came in a 1795 case. He wrote:

“What is a Constitution? It is the form of government, delineated by the mighty hand of the people, in which certain first principles of fundamental laws are established. The Constitution is certain and fixed; it contains the permanent will of the people, and is the supreme law of the land; it is paramount to the power of the Legislature, and can be revoked or altered only by the authority that made it.”

Ten years into his tenure as a judge, Paterson was injured in a carriage accident. He continued to serve on the bench, but he never fully regained his health and ultimately passed away on September 9, 1806.

A contemporary once said that Paterson was “one of those kind of Men whose powers break in upon you, and create wonder and astonishment. He is a man of great modesty whose looks bespeak talent of no great extent, but he is a Classic and a Lawyer, and an Orator-and of a disposition so favorable to his advancement that everyone seemed ready to exalt him with their praises.”

Yet another unsung hero from our country’s early years.

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This Day in History: Frederick Douglass, Slavery, & the Constitution

Source: This Day in History: Frederick Douglass, slavery, & the Constitution

On this day in 1838, Frederick Douglass makes his escape from slavery. He’d been a slave for about two decades, but that life was finally behind him. He would go on to become one of the most noted and respected leaders in the abolitionist movement.

Frederick Douglass (circa 1840s)

Indeed, Douglass has been called “one of the most eloquent orators as well as profound thinkers of his time.” He wrote several autobiographies. He worked for abolitionist causes—and for women’s suffrage. He gave numerous speeches.

Perhaps the greatest of these was delivered on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York. Douglass had been invited to speak on July 4, but he chose to speak the next day instead. He felt it was hypocritical to participate in 4th of July celebrations while some Americans remained enslaved.

But there may have been another reason, too.

That July 5th just happened to be the 25th anniversary of a milestone: In 1827, 4,000 black New Yorkers had marched in a parade down Broadway, celebrating the end of slavery in that state.

Douglas’s July 5th speech addressed the inconsistencies between July 4th celebrations and the institution of slavery. An early portion of Douglass’s speech is often quoted in this regard:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. . . . There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”

Douglass went on to detail some of the horrors of slavery, but then his speech took a surprising twist. It’s a twist that isn’t always fully reported upon.

“But I differ from those who charge this baseness on the framers of the Constitution of the United States,” Douglass told his audience. “It is a slander upon their memory, at least, so I believe.” He named several lawyers who “have, as I think, fully and clearly vindicated the Constitution from any design to support slavery . . . .”

Douglass expressed his belief that too many people had come to erroneous conclusions about the Constitution and its connections to slavery. “In that instrument,” he said, “I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither.”

Douglass was speaking more than a decade before slavery would finally be outlawed for good, but he remained hopeful.

“[N]otwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation,” he concluded. “I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. ‘The arm of the Lord is not shortened,’ and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.”

One has to wonder what Douglass would think if he could see us now.

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