Diving into the Constitution: Amendments XIII through XV

More than 60 years passed between the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. The three Amendments discussed in this post were all passed within a 5-year period following the conclusion of the American Civil War. These three Amendments had to do with a variety of issues relating to the official end of slavery in America.

BRIEF HISTORY, 1805 through 1864 (expansion, debt, and slavery)

Exploration of the huge North American continent reached a new milestone in November 1805, when the Lewis and Clark expedition sighted the Pacific Ocean and constructed a fort, where they lived through that winter. Ultimately, with the help of their female native guide Sacagawea, the team mapped out the entire Northwest Territory.

On January 1, 1808, an act took effect which prohibited the importation of slaves into any port within the confines of the United States from any foreign land. Despite this, more than 250,000 slaves were illegally imported between 1808 and 1860.

By 1810, four thousand naturalized American sailors had been seized by British forces to serve on British ships, which forced trade between England and the United States to grind to a halt. Meanwhile the charter for the First Bank of the United States expired in 1811. Seventy percent of the investors were European, primarily Bank of England and other British banks dominated by the Rothschild family. Some historians say that Nathan Rothschild threated to start a war of the charter was not renewed by 1811. The charter was not renewed. Besides the impressment of U.S. citizens into the British Navy, other reasons for war included: England’s desire to keep the United States from helping Napoleonic France, restrictions on trade, and British affronts to U.S. autonomy, especially the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair. In June of 1812, British ships raised a blockade against the United States and Congress narrowly approved President Madison’s declaration of war. Western states generally favored the action while New England states disapproved. This included the state of Rhode Island, which would refuse to participate in the War of 1812. The war led to the burning of the White House and the writing of the “Star Spangled Banner”. A peace treaty was signed in Ghent in 1814 but some final battles continued into 1815.

The Second Bank of the United States was finally chartered in 1816. A private corporation with public duties, the bank handled all fiscal transactions for the U.S. Government, and was accountable to Congress and the U.S. Treasury. Twenty percent of its capital was owned by the federal government, the bank’s single largest stockholder. Four thousand private investors held 80% of the bank’s capital, including three thousand Europeans. The bulk of the stocks were held by a few hundred wealthy Americans. In its time, the institution was the largest monied corporation in the world. The essential function of the bank was to regulate the public credit issued by private banking institutions through the fiscal duties it performed for the U.S. Treasury, and to establish a sound and stable national currency. The federal deposits endowed the Bank with its regulatory capacity. Modeled on Alexander Hamilton’s First Bank of the United States, the Second Bank began operations at its main branch in Philadelphia on January 7, 1817, managing twenty-five branch offices nationwide by 1832.

The first financial crises in the United States, the Panic of 1819, lead to foreclosures, bank failures, and unemployment. Several causes have been identified, including the heavy amount of borrowing by the government to finance the War of 1812, as well as the tightening of credit by the Second Bank of the U.S. in response to risky lending practices by wildcat banks in the west.

In February, 1820, the United States had taken possession of the territory of Florida after its purchase from Spain. No money exchanged hands between Spain and the U.S. in this purchase; the U.S. had agreed to pay five million dollars to citizens for property damage.

On March 3, 1820 the Missouri Compromise bill, sponsored by Henry Clay, was passed by the United States Congress. This legislation allowed slavery in the Missouri territory, but not in any other location west of the Mississippi River that was north of 36 degrees 30 minutes latitude, the current southern line of the state of Missouri. The state of Missouri was admitted to the Union under this compromise on August 10, 1821. In early 1822, the first group of freed American slaves settled a black colony known as the Republic of Liberia when they arrived on African soil at Providence Island. The capital, Monrovia, was named after President James Monroe.

Congress passed a law in 1822 prohibiting the sale of alcohol to Indians, causing a disruption in the fur trade pattern that relied on the Indians to trap and hunt for the furs in exchange for alcohol and other goods. This led to conflicts with native tribes starting in 1823 and the establishment of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1824. Democrat and slave owner Andrew Jackson won the presidency against John Quincy Adams in 1828 and continued that party’s strong quest to take the continent for white Americans. In 1830, the United States Congress approved the Indian Removal Act, which facilitated the relocation of Indian tribes from east of the Mississippi River. The Act was strongly supported by southern and northeastern populations, but was opposed by native tribes and the Whig Party (the other major party at that time). Although this Act did not order their removal, it paved the way for increased pressure on Indian tribes to accept land-exchange treaties with the U.S. government and helped lead the way to the Trail of Tears (1832-1838). Wars between the United States and the native tribes continued even during the years in which the Civil War was also being fought. The history of relations between the United States and the native tribes has remained a unique and sometimes contentious one. Unlike slaves who were imported as property and then granted freedom, members of native tribes had been completely free and gradually saw their homelands and way of life eroded by government actions.

Late in 1826, a group of Texas settlers declared the Republic of Fredonia, a first attempt to secede from Mexico. The Republic lasted one month, caused Mexican government to curb immigration from the U.S. to that region, and increased dissatisfaction that eventually led to the Texas Revolution (1835-1836) and statehood (1845).

In 1834, the U.S. Senate censured President Andrew Jackson for de-funding the Second Bank of the United States. The efforts to renew the Second Bank’s charter put the institution at the center of the general election of 1832, in which the bank’s president Nicholas Biddle and pro-bank National Republicans led by Henry Clay clashed with the “hard-money” Andrew Jackson administration and eastern banking interests in the Bank War. Failing to secure recharter, the Second Bank of the United States became a private corporation in 1836 and underwent liquidation in 1841. This was due in large part to Jackson’s Specie Circular (executive order) of 1836 that required all purchases of public lands be made only in gold or silver to quash rampant speculation. This resulted in a global economic crisis – the Panic of 1837 –that began with the failure of New York City banks and led to record levels of unemployment.

Can you see a pattern when private central banking controls the economy? Here’s a great animated short to review AND point forward to today.

In 1841, The Supreme Court of the U.S. stated in the case of the slave ship Amistad that the Africans who had wrested control of the ship had been bound into slavery illegally. During that same year, the first wagon train left Missouri for California; and the President vetoed the re-establishment of the Second Bank of the United States, leading to huge riots by the newly formed Whig Party on the White House lawn. On the international front, the United States signed its first treaty with China in 1844.

In 1845, President Polk invoked the concept of “Manifest Destiny”, announcing to Congress that the Monroe Doctrine (opposed European colonialism in the Americas) should be strictly enforced and that the settlement of the Western United States should be aggressively pursued. In 1846, a treaty was signed with Britain to fix the border with Canada at the 49th parallel, The Republic of California declared independence from Mexico, and the Army of the West was dispatched to conquer New Mexico. In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican War with Mexico relinquishing its rights to Texas above the Rio Grande River and ceding New Mexico and California to the United States. The United States also gained claims to Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and part of Colorado. In exchange, the United States assumed $3 million in American claims and paid Mexico $15 million. The Department of the Interior was established in 1849.

The Compromise of 1850, pushed by Senator Henry Clay, admitted California as the 31st state, without slavery, and added Utah and New Mexico as territories with no decision on the topic. The Fugitive Slave Law was strengthened under the Compromise, which also ended the slave trade in the District of Columbia. Despite continuing efforts, the probability of war on the issue of slavery continued to loom.

The Gadsden Purchase was consummated on December 30, 1853, with the United States buying a 29,640 square mile tract of land in present-day Arizona and New Mexico (approximately from Yuma to Las Cruces) for $10 million from Mexico to allow railroad building in the southwest and settle continued border disputes after the Mexican-American War. This act finalized the borders of the Continental United States. This happened within only 77 years from the signing of the Declaration of Independence and 64 years from when George Washington became the first President.

The question of slavery continued to cause dissension and even violence in the States and territories. In 1857, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in the Dred Scott decision that a slave did not become free when transported into a free state. It also ruled that slavery could not be banned by the U.S. Congress in a territory, and that blacks were not eligible to be awarded citizenship.


In February 1860, Abraham Lincoln, who was not widely known in the East, traveled to New York City and spoke at Cooper Union. In his speech he argued that the federal government had a role to play in regulating enslavement, and had, indeed, always played such a role. He based this claim in part on the provisions of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 that had given citizens of newly formed States in the Northwest Territory basic rights before these rights were ever included as Amendments to the Constitution. It was this speech that began his successful election campaign.

In November 1860, the Abraham Lincoln was elected President as the Republican Party (formed specifically to abolish slavery) candidate. He ran on an anti-slavery platform and defeated three opponents, leading to ardent cries of potential rebellion in southern slave States. Although Lincoln won the Electoral College by a large majority – 180 to 123 for all other candidates – the popular vote showed just how split the nation was. Lincoln garnered 1.9 million votes to the 2.8 million spread among his opponents. The following month, South Carolina became the first southern State to secede from the Union. The Confederated States of America was set up in February,1861 with Jefferson Davis as the President.

Lincoln took office as President of the United States in March of 1861, and the 37th Congress took their seats. Some States made the decision to support the CSA but also sent whole or partial delegations to Congress. The Confederacy fielded armies and sustained the rebellion into a second Congress (38th), but the Union did not accept secession and secessionists were not eligible for Congress. Elections held in Missouri and Kentucky seated all members to the House and Senate for the 38th Congress. Elections held among Unionists in Virginia, Tennessee and Louisiana were marred by disruption resulting in turnouts that were so low compared with 1860, that Congress did not reseat the candidates with a majority of the votes cast.

According to the Emancipation Proclamation, the following States were in rebellion during the years 1862–64: Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (parts), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia (parts). Tennessee was not held to be in rebellion as of the end of 1862.

A tax on personal incomes was first imposed by the Revenue Act of 1861 to raise money to fund the Union’s war efforts; it was repealed in 1868 after the war ended and expenses decreased. In 1864, Congress imposed a direct flat rate income tax, but the Supreme Court declared that income tax unconstitutional in 1865 because it was not proportional to each state’s population. Since the days of the founders, it had been commonly understood that direct taxes were an undue burden on working people.

POST-WAR YEARS, 1865 to 1870

In April 1865 – after 4 years of bloody fighting – the CSA surrendered, and President Lincoln was assassinated. The southern States were in ruins and under military occupation. The northern States were bankrupt. President Andrew Johnson declared peace on the land three times: May 10, 1865; April 2, 1866; and August 20, 1866. Yet, despite these declarations by the President and the Armistice negotiated by General Grant, it took some time for the States and their delegates to Congress to be readmitted. The Reconstruction Acts of 1866 and 1867 forced the States that had been in rebellion to accept a variety of changes to their State governmental structures and required each one to accept the Fourteenth Amendment before readmission. These steps were believed to be necessary to assure that the States in question would be loyal to the laws and Constitution of the United States of America, but some argue that the federal government violated the Constitution by actions such as:

      • Imposing martial law on States no longer in rebellion, with judges and special courts not allowed under any provisions of the Constitution
      • Denying representation in Congress and a republican form of self-government to States until they had redrawn their State Constitutions, had elected new officials, and had accepted what would become the Fourteenth Amendment
      • Passing Federal legislation affecting non-Federal property outside of the District of Columbia

Some students of history hold that Congress itself has not been properly constituted since 1860 and that States admitted after that time have not been properly created and empowered. They invoke the Northwest Ordinance and the “equal footing” doctrine implied by Article IV of the Constitution as well as the Act of 1871 that set up a completely new government in the District of Columbia. More on that in the next post.


Thirteenth Amendment

By 1862, President Lincoln had become convinced that emancipating enslaved people in the South would help the Union crush the Confederate rebellion and win the Civil War. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect in 1863, announced that all enslaved people held in the states “then in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” The Emancipation Proclamation it itself did not end slavery in the United States, as it only applied to the 11 Confederate states then at war against the Union, and only to the portion of those states not already under Union control. To make emancipation permanent would take a constitutional amendment abolishing the institution of slavery itself.

The Thirteenth Amendment was passed by 94% of Republicans and 33% of Democrats in Congress and ratified on December 6, 1865. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to enforce this Amendment including an end to the “black codes” that were put in place to limit rights of former slaves in the South. It eliminated the runaway slave provisions of Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution.

Section 1

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.

Section 2

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Fourteenth Amendment

This Amendment granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” (in other words, not subject to a foreign jurisdiction), and assured due process and equal protection of the laws to any person within the jurisdiction of a State. Sections 2 and 3 cover representation in Congress and the holding of office for former rebels and criminals. Section 4 covers which debts related to insurrections and rebellions will and will not be assumed by the Federal government. This Amendment changed Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution.

The Fourteenth Amendment was passed by 100% of Republicans and 0% of Democrats and ratified on July 9, 1868.

Section 1

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5

The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Fifteenth Amendment

This Amendment granted African American men the right to vote (women would not be allowed by law to vote until ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920). Although ratified on February 3, 1870, the promise of the Fifteenth Amendment would not be fully realized for almost a century. Through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means (“Jim Crow“), Democrat governors and legislatures in southern States effectively disenfranchised African Americans. As with the Fourteenth Amendment, 100% of Republicans and 0% of Democrats voted to pass this Amendment. It was ratified on February 3, 1870.

Passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally cleared the way for the majority of African Americans in the South to register to vote. Congressional Democrats attempted to stop the vote by filibuster but finally relented and the bill was passed.

Section 1

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2

The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


The causes and effects of slavery, abolition, and emancipation should be understood and appreciated by all Americans. We have come a long way, and we clearly have more work to do.  I invite you to dig into the links in this post and to do your own research to understand more about the history summarized here. The wounds from slavery, the Confederacy, and Reconstruction cannot be healed by the southern States alone. Every day offers a new opportunity for us to come together to claim the natural and legal rights that our Creator and our Constitution grant to all Americans.

Wellness Made Simple helps you to simplify the way YOU do well…for life!


https://www.thoughtco.com/northwest-ordinance-of-1787-4177006 (Northwest Ordinance and its effect on slavery)
https://www.loc.gov/rr/business/hottopic/irs_history.html (early income taxes)
https://americaninquiry.com/2015/08/31/dream-emancipation (featured image: Thomas Nast’s “Emancipation: The Past and the Future”, published in 1865)


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