In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution officially abolished slavery in the United States. Two years earlier, President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in states that had rebelled against the Union. He knew the proclamation would likely be viewed as a temporary war measure, insufficient to put an end to slavery in all states. A constitutional amendment would be necessary to do the job.
The 13th Amendment passed the Senate on April 8, 1864. After some political struggle, it made it through the House of Representatives on January 31, 1865. The amendment was ratified by the necessary number of states by December 6, 1865 and finally declared in a proclamation by Secretary of State William H. Seward on December 18, 1865. The 13th Amendment, along with the 14th and 15th that followed soon after, was one of a trio of constitutional amendmentsoften called the Reconstruction Amendmentsintended to expand the rights of former slaves after 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.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.