The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” This provision guarantees that each American has the right to be free.
W. Cleon Skousen explained, “Congress had previously abolished slavery in the District of Columbia and in the territories. It had also repealed a fugitive slave law and had given freedom to Negroes who had served in the Union armies.
“The Emancipation Proclamation had not liberated all of the slaves. It had freed the slaves in the seceding states of the Confederation but it had provided for exceptions in certain parishes (counties) in Louisiana, a few counties in Virginia, and the entire state of Tennessee. Furthermore, the slaves were not liberated in Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri, which had remained in the Union. In addition to this, the validity of this proclamation under the war powers of the President was seriously questioned.
“To remove any possible doubt as to the liberation of slaves everywhere within the United States, this amendment was adopted.
“It is interesting that in the history of the United States not all of the slaves have been black. In the early settlements in America many of the colonies had white slaves or persons who had been sold into peonage. In fact, English felons were sold to the colonists to work out their terms of imprisonment in servitude.” (See The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p. 720.)
Herman Belz of The Heritage Foundation explained, “The Thirteenth Amendment was intended to establish a positive guarantee of personal liberty, expressed in the negative form of a proscription of slavery or involuntary servitude. Viewed in historical context and in the traditions of American political thought, the amendment is an affirmation of the idea that liberty, in the most fundamental sense, consists in the right of individuals not to be interfered with in the exercise of their natural rights. As a guarantee of personal liberty for all persons in the United States, the amendment established a minimum national standard of equality.” (See The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, p. 380.)