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13: Slavery abolished

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

13TH AMENDMENT (1865)

By 1854, it had become clear that a portion of the Constitution no longer functioned as a moral document. Written in coded language that referred only to "such persons" who were counted in the census as "three-fifths" of a human and legalizing the return of escaped slaves to their owners, the enshrinement of slavery was a moral stain.

So dubious were reformers about the document that anti-slavery champion William Lloyd Garrison held up a copy of the Constitution and declared it "source and parent of all other atrocities -- a covenant with death and an agreement with hell." Then he burned it in a public meeting a few years before the Civil War. In January 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery and, 11 months later, it was ratified by the states.

By the end of the Civil War, the congregations that had harbored fugitive slaves, such as the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, could abandon their role in the Underground Railroad that smuggled escaped slaves to Canada. Winning full rights of citizenship for the descendants of those slaves would be the new battle. At prayer on Oct. 27 at the Hill District church are the Rev. Dr. James H. McLemore, pastor, and parishioner Carolyn Williams.


Amendment XIII:

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.


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