The Other Thirteenth Amendment

The original proposed text for the Thirteenth Amendment that would have granted American women equal citizenship under the law.

Document Text

All persons are equal before the law, so that no person can hold another as a slave; and the Congress shall have the power to make all laws necessary and proper to carry this declaration into effect everywhere in the U.S.

Excerpt from Congressional Globe, 38th Congress, 1st session. December 7, 1863 to July 4, 1864. Library of Congress, American Memory collections.


By fall of 1864, the United States government anticipated that it would win the Civil War. Knowing the Southern states would soon reenter the Union, Congress worked to pass a Constitutional amendment that would permanently abolish slavery in the United States. On January 31, 1865, Congress passed the version of the amendment that all Americans are familiar with:

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

However, before voting on this version of the amendment, the Senate considered a different draft. The alternate draft was proposed by Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner. Senators voted against it because the wording would have allowed women to claim equal citizenship status.

About the Resources

This is Charles Sumner’s proposed text for the Thirteenth Amendment. The opening statement, “all persons are equal before the law,” would have granted American women equal status as citizens of the United States. It would be another 55 years before the Nineteenth Amendment finally granted women full citizenship status.


  • amendment: A section added to the U.S. Constitution.
  • Union: The name for the states that remained a part of the United States during the Civil War.   

Discussion Questions

  • What is the significance of the opening statement of Sumner’s draft of the Thirteenth amendment?
  • What are other key differences between Sumner’s proposed amendment and the final version?
  • Why did the Senate decide to go with the amendment we have today? What affect did this decision have on American women? On American history?

Suggested Activities

  • Include Sumner’s draft of the Thirteenth Amendment in any lesson about the passage of that significant piece of legislation. 
  • To help students better understand the legal norms that the Senate was trying to maintain, explore the concept of coverture together.
  • The debate over establishing the freedom and citizenship of formerly enslaved people caused an enormous schism in the ranks of white women abolitionists and women’s rights advocates. Ask students to research how prominent activists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt about the choices made by the Senate, and hold a discussion about how this schism still affects women’s rights activism today.
  • Charles Sumner’s draft of the Thirteenth Amendment did not include the exception of involuntary servitude being allowed as punishment for a crime. Invite students to watch the documentary 13th, and then write an essay reflecting on how the passage of this draft would have altered the course of history in the United States.
  • To learn about how women continued to agitate for political causes without equal recognition under the law, explore any of the following: Claiming Political Power“All Bound Up Together,” and Laundry Worker’s Strike.



Source Notes