The United States Senate passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolishing the institution of slavery on April 8, 1864. The House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment over nine months later on January 31, 1865. The following day President Abraham Lincoln signed the Joint Resolution proposing the Thirteenth Amendment, which sent it to the states for ratification. That same day, Lincoln’s home state of Illinois became the first state to ratify the new amendment. Twenty-seven of the thirty-six American states would have to ratify the amendment before it could officially be an amendment to the Constitution. By Lincoln’s second inaugural on March 4, 1865, eighteen states had ratified the amendment. Unfortunately President Lincoln did not live to see the Thirteenth Amendment added to the Constitution. Georgia became the twenty-seventh state when its legislature ratified the Thirteenth Amendment on December 6, 1865.
The Post Office Department celebrated the seventy-fifth anniversary of the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment with a 3-cent stamp, issued October 20, 1940. The stamp features a representation of a Lincoln statue entitled “Emancipation.” The work, created by Thomas Ball, depicts Lincoln extending his arm over a kneeling slave escaping the bondage of slavery symbolized by broken chains. A total of 44,389,550 stamps of the 3-cent Thirteenth Amendment Issue were released by the Post Office Department.
In an address given to a predominantly African-American audience in Philadelphia in 1940, Third Assistant Postmaster General Ramsey Black spoke about this important commemorative stamp. He highlighted the sad history of slavery, from its origins in the 1600’s to its peak in United States during the nineteenth century. He also acknowledged how this institution so obviously violated the very principles upon which this nation was founded. Yet, despite the horrible institution of slavery, Black stated that African Americans had persevered and added to America’s culture heritage. Assistant Postmaster General Black closed his remarks with the sentiment that the Thirteenth Amendment stamp additionally honors the many African-Americans who achieved so much in America despite their disadvantaged start.