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December 18, 2015

18 Dec 1865: Thirteenth Amendment certified

On this day in 1865, Secretary of State William Seward announced that the requisite number of states had approved the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, enshrining the abolition of slavery in the highest law of the land.

From Abraham Lincoln’s papers, Library of Congress

In one of my early Fact Primers, I showed you how to remember the first twelve amendments. Amendments XIII through XV are known as the “Civil War” or the “Reconstruction” amendments.

The Thirteenth Amendment (1865) abolished slavery and “involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime”

The Fourteenth Amendment (1868) was much longer; the most important aspects are:

  • The phrase “equal protection under the law”, which has been the subject of several landmark Supreme Court cases, including
    • Roe v. Wade (1973), which established a woman’s right to an abortion
    • Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which legalized same-sex marriage nationally
  • A broad definition of citizenship, designed to counteract the disastrous Dred Scott decision

The Fifteenth Amendment (1870) said that voting rights could not be denied “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”

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