Abolition of Slavery

Thirteenth Amendment

The effect of the Emancipation Proclamation on slaves was more emotional than physical. Many slaves were free in theory but had been convinced to remain working for their former owners out of loyalty or a lack of alternatives. Many simply did not believe that the Emancipation Proclamation guaranteed their freedom, and those who did understand the Proclamation realized that it did not guarantee their safety if they left their masters.

Those doubts would finally be laid to rest after the war’s conclusion with the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. With these words, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the U.S. or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” Congress completely and finally abolished slavery. The Amendment was approved in December of 1865 with a two-thirds vote in Congress, and went in effect fully when three-fourths of the states ratified it.

Although Lincoln’s proclamation had put abolition in motion, he was not able to see it through to completion. Attending Ford’s Theater in Washington on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, less than a week after General Lee’s surrender, he was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth, a radical pro-Southern actor.

Lincoln’s assassination actually served to improve his reputation as a powerful historical figure. Despite his numerous positive attributes, Lincoln, a product of the most divisive period in U.S. history, made many political enemies and garnered limited popular support. However, his sudden and dramatic death blurred the edges of his shortcomings from the memories of his detractors and promoted him to legendary status. He is remembered for his vision of a nation where all people “are created equal,” as he stated in his Gettysburg Address delivered during the Civil War near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1863.

Lincoln’s Vice President, Andrew Johnson, was never quite comfortable filling Lincoln’s shoes. Nonetheless, Johnson attempted to follow Lincoln’s plan for abolition and urged the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. Undoubtedly, both men had a hand in ending slavery but ultimately, victory on the battlefield was the true emancipator.