Tag Archives: U.S. Constitution

Remembering History: : Congress Approves 13th Amendment (31 Jan 1865)

Celebration in the House of Representatives after adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Harpers Weekly/Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain

On 31 Jan 1865, the U.S. Congress approved the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude for the entire country. The wording was simple:

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.

While President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Confederate states, it did not apply to the entire country. To do that required federal law but merely enacting a statute, which could be rescinded or altered by Congress or a court, meant that the Constitution itself had to be amended. In April 1864 the amendment was passed in the U.S. Senate but faced difficulties in House of Representatives as many Democrats (due it being an election year) did not support it. And President Lincoln’s reelection did not look assured either. However with more Union military victories taking place and Lincoln soundly defeating General George McClellan in the November election, it emboldened Republicans to pass the amendment in the House in December 1864.

Lincoln got personally involved in the process by inviting individual representatives to meet with him. And he put pressure on representatives from border-states to change their votes to pass it. He authorized his supporters in the House to offer plum positions and other inducements to get their vote (a time-honored tradition in Washington politics). He left it up to his allies on how to do it. Some drama ensued when word of a Confederate peace commission having been dispatched to Washington, but it turned out to be false. And the vote for the amendment took place on 31 January 1865. It passed by 119-56 receiving the required two-thirds required by the Constitution. Then with a joint resolution of Congress the following day, the 13th Amendment was sent to the state legislatures for ratification.

Ratification

The ratification process began immediately but sadly President Lincoln, who was assassinated on 14 April 1865, did not see it ratified in December. Here is a list of the states that ratified, which does include former Confederate states who ratified after rejoining the Union.

 

1           Illinois                                                Feb 1, 1865

2          Rhode Island                                   Feb 2, 1865

3          Michigan                                            Feb 3, 1865

4          Maryland                                           Feb 3, 1865

5          New York                                           Feb 3, 1865

6          Pennsylvania                                   Feb 3, 1865

7          West Virginia                                  Feb 3, 1865

8          Missouri                                             Feb 6, 1865

9          Maine                                                   Feb 7, 1865

10         Kansas                                               Feb 7, 1865

11         Massachusetts                             Feb 7, 1865

12         Virginia                                             Feb 9, 1865

13         Ohio                                                    Feb 10, 1865

14         Indiana                                               Feb 13, 1865

15         Nevada                                               Feb 16, 1865

16         Louisiana                                           Feb 17, 1865

17         Minnesota                                         Feb 23, 1865

18         Wisconsin                                          Feb 24, 1865

19         Vermont                                             Mar 8, 1865

20        Tennessee                                           Apr 7, 1865

21         Arkansas                                             Apr 14, 1865

22        Connecticut                                        May 4, 1865

23         New Hampshire                              Jul 1, 1865

24        South Carolina                                 Nov 13, 1865

25         Alabama                                             Dec 2, 1865

26        North Carolina                                Dec 4, 1865

27        Georgia                                               Dec 6, 1865      *

28        Oregon                                               Dec 8, 1865

29        California                                          Dec 19, 1865

30        Florida                                                Dec 28, 1865

31         Iowa                                                    Jan 15, 1866

32         New Jersey                                    Jan 23, 1866

33         Texas                                                  Feb 18, 1870

34        Delaware                                          Feb 12, 1901

35         Kentucky                                         Mar 18, 1976

36        Mississippi                                      Mar 16, 1995 *

The amendment was ratified in 309 days with Georgia giving it the required number of votes to formally amend the Constitution. Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey and Mississippi initially rejected it (but approved it later). However, Mississippi did approve it on 16 Mar 1995 but failed to notify the U.S. Archivist. It became official in 2012.

Sources:

Britannica.com: Thirteenth Amendment
History.com: 13th Amendment
Constitution Annotated: Thirteenth Amendment
Ratification of Constitutional Amendments

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Remembering History: Prohibition Ratified

On 16 January 1919, the 18th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution was formally ratified. Under the 18th Amendment, the manufacture and distribution of alcohol in the United States (outside of industrial and sacramental use) was prohibited beginning a year later on 17 January 1920. Congress passed the Volstead Act to provide teeth to the law by allowing for enforcement of this law by the federal government, specifically a special unit of the Treasury Department. President Wilson vetoed the Volstead Act but overrode by Congress.

In the 19th century, temperance movements arose to address the growing problem of families being damaged when a husband or relative became addicted to alcohol. Also it was a means of curtailing acts of public drunkenness and related problems with people gathering to drink (gambling, prostitution etc.) The movement, religiously based in many cases, gathered steam and became a political one where it campaigned the state level for abstinence laws. In December 1917 Congress passed the amendment and sent it to the states for ratification.

All but two states ratified, a few after it had met the requisite number needed to amend the Constitution. Connecticut and Rhode Island were the two that rejected the amendment. Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin all ratified after 17 Jan 1919.

Aftermath

Enforcement at national and state levels became an issue right away. Neither Canada or Mexico were dry and illegal importation was an issue. Also with Cuba 90 miles away from Florida, it would provide another avenue for rum and other alcohols to be smuggled in. Breweries switched to making non-alcoholic beverages during this time. Wineries could only produce wine for sacramental (religious use), so they too had to turn to things like grape juice or apple cider. The law was not popular in a lot of cities, resulting in the rise of illegal places (called speakeasies) where you could drink alcohol.

To meet this need, many organized crime syndicates and gangs would supply the alcohol either by owning their own breweries and/or smuggling it in from outside the country. These crime syndicates would become enormously wealthy and corrupt local governments (police, politicians, judges) in order to stay in business. Competing gangs would sometimes duke it out on the streets leaving bodies of their enemies (and sometimes the innocent as well). Chicago became particularly notorious, both for its gangs and the depth of corruption. This prompted the federal government to target the Chicago Gang run by Al Capone. While they would raid his operations (done by the famous Elliott Ness), the financial investigation would lead to a successful conviction of tax fraud.

By the end of the decade, support for Prohibition had ebbed considerably. The rise of the organized crime, the fact many flouted the laws in large and small ways, and the difficulties encountered in enforcing the law all led to is eventual demise. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, many argued the alcohol industry could provide jobs. Franklin Roosevelt added it to his campaign plank in 1932. In 1933, the U.S. Congress passed the 21st Amendment to repeal the 18th (the first such Amendment to do this) which was swiftly passed by most states. A few remained dry (under the provisions of the 21st Amendment, a state could decide to stay dry) after that but today states no longer ban its sale. There are still some counties that are dry, including the one where the Jim Beam distillery is located in Kentucky.

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BILL OF RIGHTS RATIFIED in 1789

Bill of Rights
Public Domain

On 25 September 1789, the first Congress approved 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution sending them to the states for ratification. Under the Constitution, 2/3 of the states must approve before they can become legal. These amendments, often called the Bill of Rights, were designed to protect the basic rights of citizens that included freedom of speech, press, right to assemble, the free exercise of religion, limiting the government from unlawful entry into your home without a warrant, bearing arms, the right against self-incrimination in criminal trials and that you could not be tried for the same crime twice.

These amendments were influenced by the English Bill of Rights (1689) and by Virginia’s Declaration of Rights written by George Mason. As part of the original ratification of the Constitution, it was agreed that these would be the first amendments to be immediately adopted. These amendments were very important to the American colonists who had rebelled against England. They reflect the wrongs of the English government inflicted on its citizens and sought to make sure no U.S. government would ever do the same to its citizens. Mason and others were concerned that unless such limits were put into place, the temptation to misuse government would arise.

And history has largely proved this thinking correct. Unless you have a written constitution (not one that can be easily amended or changed as some parliamentary countries can do) the temptation to misuse government power can lead to tyranny being imposed. By limiting the powers of government, dividing it into separate branches, the U.S Constitution makes it impossible for one person to have all three powers: legislative, executive and judicial. The Bill of Rights ensures that citizens given basic freedoms that the government cannot take away.

Ten of the twelve amendments were ratified by December 1791. One was defeated and another went into limbo.

27th Amendment

“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

Originally proposed on 25 September 1789 as part of the original Bill of Rights. Since it did not pass the 2/3 requirement but had no expiration date, it sat in a form of constitutional limbo for 80 years then was ratified by Ohio. It then went back into limbo again until 1978 when Wyoming, angry at a Congressional pay hike, passed it but then again it went into limbo until the 1980’s.

Gregory Watson, who had noticed it was still alive as an undergraduate at Austin State University, took up the cause as an aide to a Texas legislator. From 1983-1992 other states, angry at Congress for their pay hikes, also ratified it. It was declared ratified on 7 May 1992. Many states would also post-ratify the amendment as well. Of all the amendments, it took the longest to get ratified at 74,003 days.

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