The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was duly ratified on December 06, 1865. I ask my readers to give attention to the reality of ‘Involuntary Servitude’ and Modern-Day Slavery in the United States.
In my analysis, in modern times, Slavery is reintroduced into the US by compromising the property rights of alien workers who subscribe to the Old Age Retirement Income Insurance Benefit plans of the Social Security Act.
I hold President Bill Clinton responsible for this transgression on the Human Rights of Senior Aliens who reside in the country without access to their monthly retirement income benefit.
Rudra Narasimham Rebbapragada
1865, December 06
13th Amendment ratified
On December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, officially ending the institution of slavery, is ratified. “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.” With these words, the single greatest change wrought by the Civil War was officially noted in the Constitution.
The ratification came eight months after the end of the war, but it represented the culmination of the struggle against slavery. When the war began, some in the North were against fighting what they saw as a crusade to end slavery. Although many northern Democrats and conservative Republicans were opposed to slavery’s expansion, they were ambivalent about outlawing the institution entirely. The war’s escalation after the First Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, in July 1861 caused many to rethink the role that slavery played in creating the conflict. By 1862, Lincoln realized that it was folly to wage such a bloody war without plans to eliminate slavery. In September 1862, following the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all slaves in territory still in rebellion on January 1, 1863, would be declared forever free. The move was largely symbolic, as it only freed slaves in areas outside of Union control, but it changed the conflict from a war for the reunification of the states to a war whose objectives included the destruction of slavery.
Lincoln believed that a constitutional amendment was necessary to ensure the end of slavery. In 1864, Congress debated several proposals. Some insisted on including provisions to prevent discrimination against blacks, but the Senate Judiciary Committee provided the eventual language. It borrowed from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 when slavery was banned from the area north of the Ohio River. The Senate passed the amendment in April 1864.
A Republican victory in the 1864 presidential election would guarantee the success of the amendment. The Republican platform called for the “utter and complete destruction” of slavery, while the Democrats favored the restoration of states’ rights, which would include at least the possibility for the states to maintain slavery. Lincoln’s overwhelming victory set in motion the events leading to the ratification of the amendment. The House passed the measure in January 1865 and it was sent to the states for ratification. When Georgia ratified it on December 6, 1865, the institution of slavery officially ceased to exist in the United States.
Does an Exception Clause in the 13th Amendment Still Permit Slavery?
The amendment, which officially abolished slavery in the United States in 1865, includes a loophole regarding involuntary servitude.
The year the Civil War ended, the U.S. amended the Constitution to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude. But it purposefully left in one big loophole for people convicted of crimes.
The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, says: “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.” Scholars, activists, and prisoners have linked that exception clause to the rise of a prison system that incarcerates black people at more than five times the rate of white people, and profits off of their unpaid or underpaid labor.
“What we see after the passage of the 13th Amendment is a couple of different things converging,” says Andrea Armstrong, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. “First, the 13th Amendment text allows for involuntary servitude when convicted of a crime.” At the same time, “black codes” in the south created “new types of offenses, especially attitudinal offenses—not showing proper respect, those types of things.”
After the Civil War, new offenses like “malicious mischief” were vague, and could be a felony or misdemeanor depending on the supposed severity of the behavior. These laws sent more black people to prison than ever before, and by the late 19th century the country experienced its first “prison boom,” legal scholar Michelle Alexander writes in her book The New Jim Crow.
“After a brief period of progress during Reconstruction, African Americans found themselves, once again, virtually defenseless,” Alexander writes. “The criminal justice system was strategically employed to force African Americans back into a system of extreme repression and control, a tactic that would continue to prove successful for generations to come.”
States put prisoners to work through a practice called “convict-leasing,” whereby white planters and industrialists “leased” prisoners to work for them. States and private businesses made money doing this, but prisoners didn’t. This meant many black prisoners found themselves living and working on plantations against their will and for no pay decades after the Civil War.
Was this slavery by another name? Armstrong argues that the 13th Amendment makes an exception for “involuntary servitude,” not “slavery,” and that there are important historical and legal distinctions between the two. However, she says no court has formally dealt with this distinction, and many courts have used the two terms interchangeably. In 1871, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a convicted person was “a slave of the State.”
Like chattel slavery before it, convict-leasing was brutal and inhumane. Across the country, “tens of thousands of people, overwhelmingly black, were leased by the state to plantation owners, privately owned railroad yards, coal mines and road-building chain gangs and made to work under the whip from dusk till dawn—often as punishment for petty crimes such as vagrancy or theft,” reports The Washington Post.
Many prisoners died in these conditions. In July 2018, researcher Reginald Moore announced he’d found the remains of 95 black prisoners who’d died working in Sugar Land, Texas in the early 20th century. Experts estimate their ages ranged from 14 to 70, meaning some would’ve been born into pre-Civil War slavery, freed, incarcerated and then forced into unpaid labor again. More than 3,500 prisoners died in Texas between 1866 and 1912, the year Texas outlawed convict-leasing because the death toll was so high.
States also benefited and profited off of prison labor by forcing chain gangs to build roads and creating prison farms to grow crops like sugar and snap peas. Today, states and private companies still rely on prisoners performing free or extremely low-paid labor for them. For example, California saves up to $100 million a year, according to state corrections spokesman Bill Sessa, by recruiting incarcerated people as volunteer firefighters.
“[States] would not be able to incarcerate as many people as they do without this, in effect, a subsidy of the cost,” Armstrong says. “So it masks the true nature and the true cost of incarceration.”
Decades of prison and civil rights activism have sought to improve conditions and pay for incarcerated workers. In 1971, inmates at New York’s Attica Correctional Facility took control of the prison and issued a list of demands, including the right to join labor unions and earn a minimum wage. More recently, in the summer of 2018, prisoner laborers across the United States went on strike to protest what they called “modern-day slavery.”