13th Amendment Summary: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Heather Jenkins

Heather has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in special education. She was a public school teacher and administrator for 11 years.

The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution changed the lives of everyone in America, especially African Americans. In this lesson, you'll learn about what the 13th Amendment means and why it is important.

Slaves and Slavery

Imagine while you are asleep one night, someone suddenly appears, takes you from your home and puts you on a boat. When you arrive in a new land, you are sold, like property, to another person who controls everything about your life and makes you work for them forever. Sound scary? Maybe even unbelievable? Unfortunately, this was the reality for some people in the United States until the passage of the 13th Amendment.

Early on in our country's history, people from Africa were taken from their homes, brought to America and sold as slaves to work on farms and plantations. Slavery happens when a person is forced to become the property of another person and isn't free to make his or her own decisions. Slaves are required to do whatever their owners tell them to do, including where to live, what to wear and what to say.

Africa American slaves were bought and sold. Just like you would go to the store and pay money to buy an ice cream, slave owners paid money to buy humans. If slaves had children, their children were born as slaves and could even be sold to other landowners and separated from their families. Can you imagine being sold for money and separated from your family forever?

Slave auction advertisement
handbill

The 13th Amendment

Following the Civil War, the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on December 6, 1865 and officially made slavery illegal in all states. African Americans could no longer be held as slaves and were free to live their lives as people and not as property. The 13th Amendment states:

  • 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.

Slaves forced to pick cotton.
Cotton field

Involuntary Servitude

The 13th Amendment also made involuntary servitude illegal, unless it is given as a punishment for a crime. Involuntary servitude is when people are made to work for someone else without agreeing to do so. This could include being threatened with a certain punishment, like physical harm, if they do not cooperate.

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