End It

The Forgotten Amendment

by Bucky Elliott (Note: This post represents the author's personal opinion, not an official position of End Slavery TN as an organization.)

I watched the film Lincoln on Blu-ray this week and I loved it.* As you may know, the movie's plot centers around the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. That amendment was perhaps as controversial as it is powerful, but I fear the zeal pertaining to it has greatly waned to the point that it is all but forgotten.

The 13th Amendment seems antiquated since its immediate motivation and result was the abolition of the enslavement of Africans by Southern Plantation owners. However, as Lincoln expresses in one particular scene of the film, it was intended to do away with slavery within America's borders once and for all.

"The abolition of slavery by Constitutional provisions settles the fate, for all coming time, not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come" - Abraham Lincoln

The principle text of the amendment follows:

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.

This indicates that the United States government, not just private citizens and organizations, has a responsibility to maintain the abolition of slavery in America. It's more than a social justice issue; it is a Constitutional issue. And despite the words of Lincoln and this amendment, slavery does still exist in America.

Each year, between 18,000 and 20,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. from other countries. Eighty-three percent of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are citizens. [sources]

"How can this happen? Unfortunately, it’s quite simple. There are people motivated by greed and profit who are willing to use others for their financial gain, regardless of the hardship imposed on the person being used. The fact that few of us suspect—or even believe—that it is happening here gives the traffickers an unparalleled leg up. Even when trafficking is exposed, the proof required to bring the perpetrators to justice makes prosecution of traffickers very difficult." - Nita Belles, "In Our Backyard"

Great strides toward the legal protection of human trafficking victims have been made through legislation such as the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, but no offenses against the Thirteenth Amendment have been prosecuted since 1947. The truth is that modern slavery - or human trafficking - is a difficult crime to prove and prosecute for a variety of reasons. Among those are the reality that relevant law enforcement training is still in a young stage of growth, that evidence is difficult to procure, that crime rings can span several states, and that most victims do not self-identify,  are taught that police are untrustworthy, and are afraid to testify against their traffickers and sometimes show loyalty to them.  With that motivation, I'd encourage fellow freedom fighters to speak up - and more importantly, step up - to capitol hill, to their own communities, to their own churches, and to their own streets for the sake of abolition. We The People, working together, can put an end to slavery in our nation "for all coming time" as Lincoln dreamed.

[*One exception: I was slightly offended by one inaccuracy. In the movie, a "Chilton A. Elliott" votes no on the Thirteenth Amendment. According to my research, nobody by that name was recorded in the chamber that day, but  there was a Thomas Dawes Elliot and he voted "Yea"! Not a bad legacy for my Scots-Irish clan.]