The Thirteenth Amendment did not free any of the approximately half a million Virginia men, women, and children who had lived inwhen the (1861–1865) began because they had all become free before the ratification of the amendment. The , which went into effect on April 7, abolished slavery in the parts of the state that the Restored government of Virginia administered during the war. With the collapse and disappearance of the government of the Confederate State of Virginia in April 1865, that constitution legally terminated the enslavement of all Virginians. That same month, the Union army enforced the Emancipation Proclamation throughout the state.
On April 8, 1864, the U.S. Senate approved the proposed amendment by the required two-thirds majority and sent it to the House of Representatives. Protracted negotiations in which the president participated eventually convinced two-thirds of the members to vote for the amendment. It passed the House of Representatives on January 31, 1865, and went to the states for ratification. No Virginians voted either for or against the Thirteenth Amendment in Congress. The three men who won election to the House of Representatives for the Thirty-Eighth Congress arrived to take their seats after Congress had approved the amendment, but the House refused to seat them. The General Assembly never elected a successor to Senator Lemuel J. Bowden, who died early in January 1864. Senator, who had represented Virginia since before , opposed abolishing slavery but was not present on the day the Senate approved the amendment.
Many state legislatures were in session when Congress submitted the proposed amendment to the states, and several of them speedily adopted ratification resolutions. The assembly of the Restored government of Virginia was one of them. On February 8, 1865, the six-member Senate, with one member absent, voted 5 to 0 to ratify the amendment. The following day, February 9, the thirteen-member House of Delegates voted 9 to 2 to ratify the amendment. Both houses adopted resolutions at the time of ratification to allow the absent members to record their votes on the amendment. Both delegates recorded their votes in favor on March 1, but the absent senator did not return for the remainder of the session and during the special session in June of that year did not take advantage of the opportunity to record his vote. It is possible that he did not know about the resolution that permitted him to do so. Secretary of State William H. Seward officially counted Virginia’s ratification as the twelfth of the requisite twenty-seven state legislative ratifications required to make the amendment part of the Constitution as of December 6, 1865.