Today we celebrate one of the great milestones of American history, the abolition by law of our national “original sin” of slavery. Ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment followed soon after the end of the Civil War.
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.
It was the first of the Reconstruction Amendments, followed by the 14th Amendment, which affirmed equal protection under the law and citizenship, and the 15th Amendment, which affirmed the right to vote.
While the amendments were hindered in effect by white-supremacist vigilantes, such as the Ku Klux Klan, which disrupted black citizens’ exercise of their rights, and were flouted systematically by Jim Crow laws, the ratification of the 13th Amendment settled in law that the United States would not remain “half slave and half free.”
Indeed, from overruling the infamous Dred Scott decision to defeating school segregation in Brown v. Board, the Reconstruction Amendments would prove instrumental in the fight to ensure that the nation lived up to the self-evident truths proclaimed in 1776.