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HarpWeek is pleased to present “The End of Slavery:  The Creation of the Thirteenth Amendment” as a public service for students, teachers, and interested citizens who wish to explore the nation’s transition from slavery to freedom.  The narrative begins with unsuccessful efforts to reach a compromise on the slavery issue in the winter of 1860-1861 in order to avoid secession of the Southern slave states and a clash of arms between the sections.  It continues through the various plans offered or enacted by President Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Congress, and Union generals during the Civil War, including Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation declaring slaves in Confederate-held territory to be “thenceforward, and forever free.”  Although there was much opposition, more white Americans in the Northern and Border States (slave states loyal to the Union) became increasingly supportive of emancipation as the war progressed.   

Out of all the different methods suggested for ending slavery—presidential proclamation, federal law, state law, gradualism, compensation, and colonization—the final settled-upon course was a constitutional amendment that immediately abolished the institution of slavery in the entire United States.  It had taken time for Americans to adjust to the idea because no amendment had been added to the U.S. Constitution since 1804.  The Thirteenth Amendment was passed by two-thirds majorities in the U.S. Senate on April 8, 1864, and the U.S. House on January 31, 1865, and was ratified by three-quarters of the states (including former Confederate states) on December 6, 1865.  Twelve days later, Secretary of State William Henry Seward declared the Thirteenth Amendment officially part of the United States Constitution.

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.

The primary source materials for this website are taken from the pages of Harper’s Weekly, the leading American illustrated newspaper in the second-half of the nineteenth century.  The items include editorials, feature stories, news items, illustrations, cartoons, a poem, and an advertisement.  Of special interest are the documents printed in Harper’s Weekly from the key political and military figures themselves:  proclamations, correspondence, and congressional messages from President Abraham Lincoln; proclamations from Union military generals; a letter from a prominent Confederate; and an illustration and correspondence from a Union soldier in the field.  In addition, HarpWeek has added an annotated timeline, beginning with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and continuing through ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865; biographical sketches of significant players in the emancipation drama; and a glossary of terms. 

Historian Robert C. Kennedy selected, organized, and wrote commentary for this website.  Greg Weber and Richard Roy provided the technical skills to make it function effectively on the Internet. 

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact Robert Kennedy at 

John Adler, Publisher


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