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Historical Highlights

The Thirteenth Amendment

January 31, 1865
The Thirteenth Amendment Image courtesy of Library of Congress The February 18, 1865, issue of Harper’s Weekly featured a jubilant House Chamber upon the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.
On this date, the House passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. After the House had failed to follow the Senate in mustering the two-thirds majority necessary to amend the Constitution the previous June, Representative James Ashley of Ohio revived the amendment. He noted that “the genius of history with iron pen is waiting to record our verdict…which shall declare that America is free.” The 119 to 56 vote sealed victory for abolitionists’ long battle against the “peculiar institution.” Despite rules dictating decorum in the House Chamber, the roll call vote instigated jubilant celebration. “The final announcement of the vote was the sequel for a whirlwind of applause wholly unprecedented in Congressional annals,” reported the Chicago Tribune. “The galleries led off, giving cheer after cheer. The members on the floor then joined in the shouting, throwing up their hats and clapping their hands.” The requisite three-quarters of the states ratified the amendment with the state of Georgia’s approval on December 6, 1865.

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