The abolition of slavery, the 13th amendment, was passed in 1865 after a long battle to end slavery in the USA. Before the Civil War in 1861, Abraham Lincoln, who was the leader of the anti-slavery Republican Party, wanted to stop the slave trades extension into new states in the USA, but didn’t want to stop it. However, soon after Lincoln was elected president, the Civil War broke out between the Confederate southern states and the Union northern states.
While Lincoln and the rest of the Republican Party focused on trying to stop the war, he realised the emancipation of slaves would help this, as it would weaken the confederate states, mainly the Southern states, as they would lose a lot of their labour force, as it came from slaves. With this thought, Lincoln fought for the freeing of the slaves in America (History.com, nd).In 1863, Lincoln officially issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves still in the war. However, this is where the first issue of the abolition of slavery derives.
The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the Southern states, as Lincoln knew it would mean the Union, the ‘free’ states that Lincoln supported, would have an advantage because the Confederate states would lose a majority of their labour force. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves who lived in states not under Union control and if they could escape their plantation and make it to a Union state, where they would then not be free but would have to join the Union army. William Seward (1863), Lincoln’s secretary of state, commented in response to the rules of the Emancipation by saying, “we show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free’ (Norton, 1983.p.
413). However, Lincoln felt that he would lose his loyal supporters in the Union states if he attempted to free their slaves. Lincoln cared about the abolition of slavery even saying that ‘the abolition of slavery had become a major purpose of the civil war’ (Downey, 1997.
p.461), but from the emancipation proclamation, it could be argued that Lincoln cared more about the Union states winning the Civil War against the Confederate States, hence the lack of freedom that the slaves were given. This is also argued using the evidence that any slave who escaped freedom in the South would have had to become a Union fighter in the North. Lincoln may have done this to persuade the Northerners that the abolition of slavery was a Civil War issues, but he could have had ulterior motives of just benefitting his own side in the war as Lincoln himself wrote in 1862 ‘my paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery’ (Lincoln, 1862).
In 1864, there was another election, in which Lincoln was re-elected. Vorenburg (2001.p.141) argued that ‘no matter how much Republicans might have wished election about emancipation, they knew that the most important issue for the northern people was the success of Union forces’ which Lincoln knew.
Before the election, the 13th amendment was passed through the senate in April 1864, before the election and after the civil war. However, it wasn’t passed through house until 1865. Klein (2015) believed that this was because of the ‘greater power of Democrats, who favoured states’ rights over federal action, and moderate Republicans who sought peace at any price, even if it meant the perpetuation of slavery’.
After the bill wasn’t passed the first time, Lincoln made it his goal to get congress to pass the amendment, which he eventually did. However, it was still implied that the reason for the Jessie Shorrock abolishment of slavery was more about the end of the Civil War, with a recognised Union victory, rather than the human rights of African Americans as ‘Lincoln has succeeded in fusing the ideal of maintaining the Union with the cause of emancipation’ (Förster, 1997.p.112). It can be argued that for Lincoln, the ulterior motive for the abolishment of slavery was the end of the civil war because he knew it would disadvantage the confederate states.
However, Lincoln did pass the abolishment of slavery, and whether it was purely about freeing the slaves or more to do with the successfulness of the Union, the abolition was successful as it was passed and to an extent, freed African Americans from plantations and slave owners.The 13th amendment itself states that ‘neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction’ (Lincoln, 1865). However, the issue with this statement is that it uses the phrase ‘except as a punishment’ as it could imply negative connotations of African American people, like they’re going to commit crimes. Alexander argues that the Jim Crow laws, the laws that legalised racial segregation, replaced slavery. She argues that ‘since the nation’s founding, African Americans have repeatedly been controlled through institutions like slavery and Jim Crow, which appear to die, but then are reborn in a new form, tailored to the needs and restraints at the time’ (Alexander, 2010.p.21). She develops the argument that because of the wide spread of slavery over the US and Europe developed, so did the racial caste system, which many people believed had ended at the end of the Civil War and with the 13th amendment.
However, after the 13th amendment was introduced, the Southerners felt like there needed to be a new social order, that restricted the lives of the newly freed African Americans. Therefore, a lot of states adopted the black codes which ‘were intended to establish systems of peonage resembling slavery and some foreshadowed Jim Crow laws by prohibiting …and… segregating’ (Alexander, 2010.p.
28). This indicates that slavery may have been illegal, but it was never really abolished, as African Americans still to this day are not treated equally to white Americans. As African American’s are still being incarcerated unfairly, the ‘punishment’ phrase is apt, as they are made to take part in unpaid labour in prison. Therefore, it can be argued that to an extent, slavery wasn’t as successful as it should have been for African Americans, due to the racist ideology that some Americans still adopt today. After the 13th amendment was passed, there was a period of reconstruction. This was a period where congress passed various laws which benefitted the civil rights of African Americans.
These included the 14th and 15th amendment, as well as the 13th. The 14th amendment granted citizenship to ‘all persons born or naturalized in the United States’ (Howard, 1868), which was a start to African American civil rights as it made them as equally American as white people. The 15th Amendment was also a major stepping stone with helping African American civil rights, as it gave African American men the ‘right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, colour, or previous condition of servitude’ (1870) which meant they got a voice and their opinion mattered. This then led to the Republican Party getting elected in the South because African American voters joined with white voters, which meant that by 1870, all confederate states had joined the Union and there was no more civil fighting (History.com, nd).
This then also led to the first African American being elected to sit in Jessie Shorrock congress, which was a huge progress in their civil rights. Therefore, the abolition of slavery was a successful policy because it led to more amendments which benefitted African Americans hugely. However, these laws were only a start to equality and it can be argued that African Americans still don’t have equality in the USA and didn’t get full rights until the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s when the Civil Rights Act was signed, by President Johnson. If the abolition of slavery was successful, then why didn’t African American receive full equal rights in the years following, during the reconstruction period, instead of centuries later? Lincolns abolition of slavery policy was successful in the literal sense that he got it through Congress without opposition eventually, and managed to abolish the law of slavery. However, it is more difficult to abolish the ideology of people, especially of those who relied on slaves and treated them badly because of their race. While the 13th amendment abolished slavery legally, it never abolished the racist ideology that came with people keeping slaves, which is shown by the fact that African Americans didn’t have equal rights to white people in the USA until 1968.
This raises the point that Lincoln wasn’t fully supportive of the abolition of slavery for the reason of equality and race, but because he knew it would benefit the Union side of the civil war, which benefitted him majorly. However, he was assassinated in 1865, so wasn’t able to promote his full thoughts on African American freedom during the reconstruction period, which was after his death, therefore it is hard to say what Lincolns motives were for the abolishment. However, all in all, it was a successful policy, to some extent, as slavery became illegal.