Emancipation: 13th Amendment


Figure 1.--.

President Lincoln knew that emancipation by presidential order was highly tenuous given the composition of the Taney Court. Emancipation by legislative action was constitytionally more sound, but even this was not court proff. The only sure way of achieving permanent emancipation was amending the Constitution. This was a very difficult process. After the Bill of Rights, by the time of the Civil War there had only been two amendments approved to the Constitution. It proved to be a difficult effort. Despiite the absence of the slave states, there was considerable opposition. Almost all the Democrats opposed the proposed amendment. It took all of Lincoln's political skills to guide the Amendment through Congress and send it to the state legislatures for ratification. It is one of the shortest and most terse of the amendments. Several hundred thousand men died to get those few words added to the Constitution.

Slavery

One of the most significant institution in United States history was slavery. Slavery helped build America. It is a major reason why America developed differently than Europe. It is also a major cause of the disparities that now exist among Americas (much greater than in Europe), and the roots of major social problems are rooted in slvevery. Two historians write that the legacy os slavery, "... remains in the history and heritage of the South that it shaped, in the culture of the North, where its memory was long denied, in the national economy for which it provided much of the foundation, and in the political and social system it prfoundly influenced." [Horton and Horton] Despite the importance of slavery in the Americam epoch, slavery until recently has been a subjected avoided by American historians. To the extent that slavery was addressed, it tended to be discussed in terms that accepted the southern myth of idelic plantation life and benign white masters struggling to deal with lazy, workers ith a child-like mentality. This has changed in recent years as historians produce more realistic treement of slavery. One area in which progress has been disappointing is school textbooks. The egregiously racist treatment has been removed from textboks, but for the most part school rextbooks still give little attention to slavery and the discussion presented is usually not illuuminating. One problem here is the economics of school textbooks and the need to meet the editorial demands of large states. Here Texas is a particular problem. American schools have attempted to deal with the racial issue bu designating February as Black History Month. Unfortunately rarely does Black History Month address slavery. Rather it generally amounts to an innoucous effort to point out Blacks who have contributed to America which do little to explain social inequities in America. The avoidance of slavery is not just a matter of white unwillingness to address slavery, but many Black educators also seem reluctant.

Original 13th Amendment (February 1861)

Lincoln's election was greeted with rage throughout the South (November 1860). South Carolina almost immediately secceeded from the Union (December 1860). Desperate Congressional leaders seeking to avoid national dissaster conceived the idea of placating the South. the result was the original 13th Amendment. This measure was very different than the 13th Amendment that we now know. Congress with most of the Southern delegations still in Washington passed the measure (February 1861). This Amendment guaranteed the legality and perpetuity of the institution of slavery in any state that allowed it. The votes were close in both houses, but it passed. The outbreak of Civil War (April 1861) occurred before any state acted on it. With the Southern states secceeding the measure became a moot point.

Civil War (April 1861)

The effort to pass the original 13th Amendment was rendered moot by the outbreak of the Civil War. With most of the slave states withdrawing from the Union, there was no longer any substantial support for reviving the slave trade. There were a variety of issues that had varying sectional appeal. All of these, however, were amenable to political copromise. It was slavery that inflamed passions making political compromise impossible. Thus the South led by South Carolina decided on secession to create an independent Confederacy. With te approval of Confederate officials, militia forces in South Carolina fired on Fourt Sumter, launching the Civil War (April 1861) and a military campaign to ensure Southern independence. Ironically the Federal Consitution backed with the considerable Congressional strength of the slaves states (in effect increased by partially counting the slaves) would have made it virtually impossible to abloish slavery,

Emancipation Proclamation (January 1863)

President Lincoln on January 1, 1863 declared that all "... slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, ... then ... in rebellion ... forever free." Totally lacking in the Emancipation Proclamation was any attempt at retoric or moral justification. Rather the justification was military necessity. Buried in the text was authorization for balcks to enlist in the military. As one observer notes, the Emancipation Proclamation was as notable for what it did not say as for what it did say. There was not mention of citzenship and the right to vote. No mention of civil rights. [Guelzo, "Seven-Score"] One of the interesting aspects of the Emancipation Proclamation is its very legalistic tone, in sharp contrast to the soaring retoric of his Gettysburg Address or the eloquent plea for national reconciliation of the Second Inagural. The Emancipation Proclamation was very plainly written. In fact all the whereases, therefores, and aforesaids make it sound more like a contarct for a used car. Historian Richard Hofstadter commented that the Emancipation Proclamation "has all the moral grandeur of a bill of landing". Why did Lincoln draft a document that was so legalistic. Seeminly if ever a proclamtion cried out for soaring retoric it was the Emancipation Proclamation and few presidents were capable of the retoric that the occassions demanded. It was Lincoln's decission to draft such a plain if not flat, legalistic document. And the reason was the Supreme Court

Taney Court

President Lincoln knew that emancipation by presidential order was highly tenuous given the composition of the Taney Court. Emancipation by legislative action was constitytionally more sound, but even this was not court proff.

Constitutional Amendment

After issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln was keenly aware that emancipation could only be made fool proof by a constitutional amendment. The only sure way of achieving permanent emancipation was amending the Constitution. This was a very difficult process. A prospective amendment had to be passed by a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress. Than ratification required approval of three-fourths of the states. After the Bill of Rights, by the time of the Civil War there had only been two amendments approved to the Constitution.

Political Opposition

Amending the Constitution proved to be a difficult effort. Despiite the absence of the slave states, there was considerable opposition in Congress. The War from the beginning had been a war to save the Union. There was strong support throughout the North on this issue. Lincoln had tirned the War into a waragainst slavery, but here support was not nearly as strong. Almost all the Democrats in Congress opposed the proposed amendment. It took all of Lincoln's political skills to guide the Amendment through Congress and send it to the state legislatures for ratification. It was one of the smplist amendments

Congressional Action (1864-65)

The Senate passed the 13 Amendment on April 8, 1864. Passage in the House of Representatives was, however, more difficult. Senate passage had been unanimous . The vote was 38 to 6. The effort to pass the measure was much more difficvult. The vote in the House was 93 to 65, far short of a two-thirds majority. The vote over party lines. The Republicans voted for it, but only four Democrats. This clearly shows that while preservation of the Union was stronly heald by northern voters while emancipation was a less firnly held view. Of course without public opinion polls, actual public opinion is difficult to assess with any accuracy. These votes of course were taken without the Southern delegations present. f course if they had been present, Lincoln could not even had mustered a simple majority.

Election of 1864

The Democrats nominated former General George B. McClelan for president. McClelan would have ended the War and would have rescended the Emancipation Proclamation. The terrible war losses were telling. Anti-war feeling grew in the north. There were draft riots in New York in which the rioters attacked Blacks, including orphans. Lincoln was sure that he would the electiion. The costly Wilderness campaihn (1864) did not help the situation. One telling incident into Lincoln's soul was in the dark days of mid 1864 when it looked like his re-election was lost, he called in Stephen Douglas to organize a secret mission behind Southern lines to encourage slaves to escape to the North while it was still possible. Finally Federal victories moved public opinion in the North. Sherman at long last took Atlanta (September 3). Lincoln's reelection sealed emancipation.

Lincoln's Efforts

President Lincoln is strongly associated with the Emancipation Proclmation. Less well know is the role he plyed in the passage of the 13th Amendment. Lincoln had help deliver the Republican vote in the House. But he began promoting the Amendment. It was at Lincoln's initiative that the 13th Amendment was made a part of the Republican party platform in the 1864 presidential elections. He did this knowing that abolition was not popular among many northern voters. He then set about trying to gain the support of more Democratic representaives. He finally succeeded after his impressive 1864 election victory. The House passed the Amendment with a vote of 119-56 (January 31, 1865). One wonders why so many Democrats changed their mind about the Amendment. It is unlikely that they changed their opinion on the issue. More likely President Lincoln's victory changed some minds. They were now dealing with reelected president rathan an unpopular lame-duck president. Certainly the course of the war had changed after the fall of Atlanta (September 1864). Another factor is that the Republican victory may have changed some mines concerning the acceptance of northern voters toward emancipation.

Ratification (December 1865)

Lincoln after working exhaustively to obtain Congressional passage of the 13th Amendment, next began working on state ratifications. This was a very difficult process. Ratification required the approval of thre-fourts of the states. He lent his support to the Republicans in Congress who insisted that southern state legislatures adopt the 13th Amendment before their states would be readmitted to the Union and allowed to return to Congress. The dates of ratification were: Illinois, February 1, 1865; Rhode Island, February 2, 1865; Michigan, February 2, 1865; Maryland, February 3, 1865; New York, February 3, 1865; Pennsylvania, February 3, 1865; West Virginia, February 3, 1865; Missouri, February 6, 1865; Maine, February 7, 1865; Kansas, February 7, 1865; Massachusetts, February 7, 1865; Virginia, February 9, 1865; Ohio, February 10, 1865; Indiana, February 13, 1865; Nevada, February 16, 1865; Louisiana, February 17, 1865; Minnesota, February 23, 1865; Wisconsin, February 24, 1865; Vermont, March 9, 1865; Tennessee, April 7, 1865; Arkansas, April 14, 1865; Connecticut, May 4, 1865; New Hampshire, July 1, 1865; South Carolina, November 13, 1865; Alabama, December 2, 1865; North Carolina, December 4, 1865; Georgia, December 6, 1865. The approval in Georgia meant that the required 27 of the 36 states had been achieved. The Secretary of State certified the ratification of the Amendment (December 18, 1865). The amendment was subsequently ratified by Oregon, December 8, 1865; California, December 19, 1865; Florida, December 28, 1865 (Florida again ratified on June 9, 1868, upon its adoption of a new constitution); Iowa, January 15, 1866; New Jersey, January 23, 1866 (after having rejected the amendment on March 16, 1865); Texas, February 18, 1870; Delaware, February 12, 1901 (after having rejected the amendment on February 8, 1865); Kentucky, March 18, 1976 (after having rejected it on February 24, 1865). The amendment was rejected by Mississippi).

Text

The 13th Amendment finally abolished slavery as a legal institution in the United States, ending the debate which had dominatedc American political life during the 19th century. The Constitution itself never mentioned slavery because of oposition to the institution in the Constitutional Convention. Rather allusions to it appear n the document. There is a reference to "such persons"(Article I, Section 9 ) and “a person held to service or labor” (Article IV, Section 2). The 13th Amendment was one of the simplest of all the amendments and does refer to slavery by name. The text read: "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." It is one of the shortest and most terse of the amendments. Several hundred thousand men died to get those few words added to the Constitution.

Reconstruction

After President Lincoln's assasination (April 1865) conflict developed between Democratic President Andrew Johnson and the Republican majority in Congress. Johnson believed in a soft peace and that by simply ratifying the 13th Amendment and afirming loyalty that the Southern states could resume sebding their delegations to Congress. This was quickly accomplished, a factor in the speedy ratification process. The Republicans in Congress, however, wanted a more demanding Reconstruction process. While the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, it did not address the issue of citizenship and voting rights. The Republicans in Congress wanted to ensure the civl rights of the liberated slaves. President Johnson believed that such actions under the Constitution were state perogatives.

Jim Crow

AfterReconstruction, whites gained controll of state legislatures and passed Jim Crow laws. These were essentially the same as the Black Codes that they had tried to enact in the aftermath of the Civil War. These laws as well as extra-legal violence effectively denied blacks their civil rights and reasonable access to public services and the judicial system. They were essentially made second-class citizens. The Jim Crow system was endorsed by the Supreme Court Plessy vs. Fergusson decession (1896) establishing the legal principle of "separate but equal".








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Created: January 1, 2003
Last updated: 12:40 AM 3/12/2006