What is the 13th amendment? - An easy explanation

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The thirteenth amendment in the United States called for the total abolishment of slavery in 1865. It was a piece of legislation that ended slavery in the US forever. While the seed for this was sown by Abraham Lincoln by declaring Emancipation Proclamation in 1963. But first, we need to understand the history of slavery and why this amendment was required in the first place.

Slavery was deeply rooted in early British colonies as well as United States. If we go back in time then United States of America was the land of slavery since its birth. People were bought and sold as slaves and commodities. Africans were brought to country and were sold to owners. They no longer were free and were forced to work on plantations and lands that were owned by their owners. They could not take any decisions about their life. Infact, their children were also separated from their families and bartered in the market. Slavery was almost like a marketplace in the US. The slaves were in a dastardly state in America.

The northern states in the US were primarily against slavery but the southern states wanted to keep the tradition of slavery alive. This was because the southern states had become largely dependant on slaves. In 1860, 1/8th of the US population were slaves.

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By 1861, USA was embroiled in the violent civil war. Many southern states in the USA were at the forefront of this practice and wanted slavery to continue. However, by 1862 President Abraham Lincoln understood that this was an issue that he wanted to address in his lifetime. He had to be politically very careful and not lose support of the war effort and ensure that the abolishment is done in the smoothest way possible, without losing support. His solution to the same was to issue Emancipation Proclamation in 1963. Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order that was passed by Lincoln as the President to free slaves who were residing in states that were rebelling during the civil war. This order however, did not free the slaves in most of the states that were not in rebellion or not controlled by the union. Yet, this was a big step by the President of US to start abolishment of slavery officially and set the groundwork for the 13th amendment. 

Lincoln knew that a constitutional amendment was necessary to end slavery forever. With all his will and might to abolish slavery he initiated the process to amend the constitution. The bill was brought to house and after much furore and debate it was finally passed in Congress by Senate in April 8, 1864. And it was further passed by the House on 31st January, 1865 with just above the required majority. The amendment was then ratified by the required number of states on 6th December, 1985.

As mentioned in the 13th Amendment -

“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.”

The 13th amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. Involuntary servitude is when people are forced to work for someone else against their will. It also bans peonage i.e. when someone is forced to work in order to pay off a debt.

The 13th amendment still allows for slavery as a punishable crime. It prosecutes people for forcing someone to work against their own will. Infact, it was the first explicit mention of slavery in the US constitution. Indeed, 13th amendment deserves an applause as a historic amendment to the US constitution. This amendment ended a barbaric time where one person could own another person, which is against all human rights and purely a inhuman practice.

- Tanya Kathpal

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