13th Amendment To The U.S. Constitution: What It Looked Like When Slavery Ended

By Grace Taylor
13th Amendment of the United States Constitution. (National Archives of the Unites States/Wikimedia Commons)

On January 31, 1865, Congress ratified the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, formally abolishing the institution of slavery and involuntary servitude across all states. Despite the major impact it had on the country, the amendment itself is fairy simple. "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," it reads.

"But wait," you might be thinking. "Didn't the Emancipation Proclamation free the slaves?"  Well, yes and no. The Emancipation Proclamation of June 1, 1863 wasn't a law so much as a presidential order, and it only applied to those slaves living in states that were rebelling at the time. However, Southern slave owners saw no reason to heed President Lincoln's words, what with the whole secession thing, and continued exploiting their slaves while those in the North and West were left out completely. In reality, the Emancipation Proclamation freed almost nobody, but it did have major positive impacts on the war effort, including allowing black soldiers into Union forces and creating safety for fleeing slaves.