On December 18th 1865, the 13th amendment to the Constitution was officially ratified. This amendment stated that neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude could exist in the United States.
As the Civil War drew to a close a formal means of ending slavery was needed. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863 had freed the slaves in the South but had not impact on the slaves, who were in states loyal to the Union. It was clear that some sort of constitutional amendment would be needed to end slavery. The first to present one was Representative James Ashley of Ohio . The radical Republicans wanted to go further so Senator Charles Sumner and Representative Thaddeus Stevens jointly introduced an amendment in February 1864 stating:
“All persons are equal before the law, so that no person can hold another as a slave; and the Congress shall have power to make all laws necessary and proper to carry this declaration into effect everywhere in the United States”
This amendment failed to get enough support. The Senate Judiciary committee reported out an amendment with the following language :
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 amendment was passed by the Senate on April 8 by a vote of 38 to 6. Two months later the house failed to pass it by a 2/3 majority when it voted 93 in favor and 65 against. Lincoln pulled out all the stops to pass the amendment. In the November elections the Republicans had won an overwhelming mandate and Lincoln exerted as much pressure as he could on lame duck democrats. The House voted on January 31st 1865 and it passed the resolution by 119 to 56. While under the constitution the President does not sign constitutional amendments, this amendment was sent to Lincoln who affixed his signature to the bill. The amendment then went to the states to be ratified. Some of the states ratified the bill immediately, but the amendment was ratified on December 6,1865 when Georgia became the 27th state to ratify it.