“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 its jurisdiction.” — 13th amendment, U.S. constitution.
On this day in 1865, the 13th amendment to the United States constitution was officially adopted, banning slavery.
It has been said that the U.S. founding fathers left a timebomb ticking when they failed to address the issue of slavery in the constitution. They left the issue for others to deal with another day. The bomb exploded, literally, in 1861 when Fort Sumter fell; and for four years, during the American Civil War, the land was filled with bombs, bullets and bayonets as the two sides fought over slavery– that most fundemental and baneful issue. All other issues derived from slavery. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which freed existing slaves. Word of the Proclamation reached Texas on June 19 (Juneteenth) of that year. However, the Proclamation did not change the constitution. The constitution had to be amended. In 1864, the 13th amdendment was proposed and on this day, December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William Seward officially declared the adoption of the amendment banning slavery.
In 1836, when Texas became an independent nation, slaves were allowed to be imported from the United States, but not from Africa. Slavery in Texas was sometimes referred to as a “peculiar institution”, as though ownership of humans was merely a cultural quirk, not a fundamental evil. In 1860, slaves in Texas (by now, a state) made up 30% of the population. To this day, there is still a town or two in Texas where the residents are mostly African-American descendants of slaves. One such town is Neylandville, in northeast Texas. You can see my photographs of Neylandville in the June 20, 2010 entry of “We’ll See!” http://www.wewillsee.us/?p=5162
The 13th Amendment was one step toward the U.S. constitution’s purpose of creating a “more perfect union”.