The Original 13th Amendment Legalized Slavery?

April 28th, 2010

There is a new exhibit at the National Archives, that includes an original draft of a never-ratified amendment, that would have actually constitutionalized the institution of slavery. The Original Constitution was largely silent on the issue of slavery and never actually used the word “slavery”–a fact that led many abolitionists to conclude that the Constitution did not authorize slavery.

From the Washington Post:

Although never ratified, it read: “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will . . . abolish or interfere, within any state, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said state.” This was a 13th Amendment that would have protected slavery, instead of abolishing it, archives historians say.


Though the amendment is kind of pointless. Adding an amendment saying no amendment shall be made has no meaning. If another amendment is added banning slavery (as the actual 13th amendment did), wouldn’t that implicitly supersede this previous amendment? Anyway, thankfully it was never ratified.

And I definitely intend on visiting this exhibit.

H/T Stephen R.