Frequently Asked Questions

Why should slavery be abolished?

Slavery is a deep moral wrong, a violation of our best values, and a stain on our nation and its history. No person should ever be enslaved or treated as a slave for any reason.

Does the U.S. Constitution still allow slavery?

Yes. The 13th Amendment reads, “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.”

Why is the 13th Amendment exception so problematic?
  • The exception in the 13th amendment allows actual slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States, as long as it can be described as a punishment for crime. This is a moral wrong.
  • The exception has been abused before and can always be abused until it is removed.
  • It means we have never fully abolished constitutional slavery in this nation, and it is past time for us to finish that task.
Why was this exception for slavery in the 13th Amendment and in state constitutions included in the first place?
  • The 13th Amendment was difficult to pass and the exception made it more palatable to slave states. Many states simply echo the same language in their state constitutions, or say nothing, allowing the 13th Amendment exception to stand.
  • The exception was immediately exploited by many states to continue slavery in another form. Formerly enslaved people were arrested for minor crimes such as vagrancy and then put to work in conditions not much different than slavery. In 1898, for example, the state of Alabama got more than 70% of its state revenue from convict leasing, essentially another form of slavery
Does slavery still exist today?
  • Slave-like conditions still exist in many prisons, including private prisons that profit off of forced labor or warehouse bodies for profit. Slavery in any form should not be tolerated, whether in prisons, through human trafficking, through forced labor or wage theft.
  • Laws allowing convict leasing were gradually phased out through the 1940s, but there is no constitutional barrier to that practice being revived. In fact, it would not clearly violate the Constitution for prisoners to be placed on an auction block and sold as slaves to the highest bidder, as long as it could be framed as punishment for crime. The abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude will never be complete until the 13th Amendment exception is gone.
Why abolish involuntary servitude?

Involuntary servitude is essentially slavery by another name, and it was included in the 13th Amendment for that reason. We should not allow back-door loopholes allowing slavery by calling it something else.

Can the 13th Amendment be amended?

No, not amended directly, but it can be repealed and replaced by a new amendment that has the same language without the exception allowing slavery and involuntary servitude.

Why focus on state constitutions?
  • The Abolish Slavery National Network supports repeal and replacement of the 13th Amendment with full abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude in all circumstances. We believe that abolition should occur in all state constitutions as well.
  • Amending the U.S. Constitution is not easy, and we can build awareness and momentum toward that goal with earlier impact by abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude in state constitutions, as happened in Colorado in 2018 and Utah and Nebraska in 2020.
What impact will abolition have? Is it simply symbolic?
  • Abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude will provide constitutional backing for addressing and preventing slavery and slave-like conditions in any circumstances where they occur. No one should be forced to work against their will, and no one should profit from the forced labor of others.
  • Changing the Constitution does not immediately create or eliminate state or federal laws, but it provides a new context for changes in law.
  • It would be worth abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude even if it were primarily symbolic, as a healing symbol in divided times, and as a protection for the future.
Would abolition put an end to prison work programs or community service?
  • No. Work programs and community service can be structured in ways that do not constitute slavery or involuntary servitude, and desirable work programs or job training would clearly not be prohibited.
  • Colorado abolished constitutional slavery and involuntary servitude in 2018, and it has not affected these sorts of programs.
  • Whatever our criminal justice system may be, it should not be slavery or involuntary servitude.
Is this a partisan issue?
  • No. Three states have voted to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude so far—Colorado, Utah, and Nebraska—and in all three cases the initiative was bipartisan and placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of legislators.
What do state constitutions say now?
  • Some states have language identical to or similar to the exception in the 13th Amendment, and they need to remove the exception from their state constitutions, as Colorado did in 2018. Some say nothing, and they would need to add abolition language with no exception. Some abolish slavery only, or have other language that would need to be replaced with full abolition.
  • Abolition ballot measures are on the ballot this November in Utah and Nebraska, and many other states are considering abolition.
  • See the Abolish Slavery National Network website at abolishslavery.us for more information.
How can I support the Abolish Slavery National Network?

Sign up below, donate, send a comment, ask your organization to endorse, follow us on social media, and support abolition in your state.

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