Sunday, February 24, 2013

Civil War Sunday - Slavery is Finally Officially Banned in the U.S.

Newspapers in the United States have been reporting this news of the week:

The constitutional amendment that banned slavery in the United States was officially ratified by all applicable states as of....1865? 1870?  1875?  No, no and no.  The correct answer is:  February 7, 2013.

But first, I need to back up.

The causes and events that led to the Civil War here in the United States (1861-1865) were varied and are a lot more complex than most people realize.  The "facts" are still disputed based on whether you are sympathetic to the North or to the cause of the 11 states in the South that seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America (CSA).  In my blog, which is written by a Northerner who lived some of her life in the former Confederate states of Florida and Arkansas, I stay away from those arguments.

In each Confederate state slavery was legal.  It is important to note several things:
1. Slavery was legal in most states at the time of the founding of the United States (including my native New York State), but, by the time of the Civil War, many states had outlawed slavery and
2.  Slavery remained legal in several states that chose to remain in the Union during the Civil War: Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware and Maryland.

Therefore, Federal officials had to tiptoe carefully around the issue of slavery -although, with the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the path of freeing the slaves was more or less set. 

3. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in states in rebellion - and, of course, the people living in the CSA were not about to free their slaves just because the United States issued a document freeing their slaves!
4. Therefore, the Proclamation was mainly symbolic - an important symbol, but symbolic.  It did NOT abolish slavery.  It did NOT free slaves in the slaves states that chose to remain in the Union.
5. The Emancipation Proclamation was able to come into existence on the basis of certain war powers granted to President Lincoln  (a story worth blogging about at a later time.)

Abraham Lincoln knew this full well, and knew that there was a good chance the Emancipation Proclamation would be overturned after the war. Therefore, he and others came to feel a Constitutional Amendment was needed to abolish slavery.  That became the 13th amendment, which was adopted in December of 1865, eight months after the Civil War ended, after Georgia, a former Confederate state, ratified it.  (Ironically, Lincoln was dead by then - and the President in December of 1865, Andrew Johnson, was a native of a former Confederate state, North Carolina.  He is associated with Tennessee, another former Confederate state. Did I mention history can be complex?)

But Mississippi, another former Confederate states, didn't ratify the 13th amendment in 1865.  In fact, it did not ratify the amendment until 1995.  And even then, Mississippi didn't file the correct paperwork.  Thanks belong to an immigrant to the United States who saw the recent movie Lincoln and wondered if there was more to the story. He saw a footnote about Mississippi's ratification being "unofficial" online, because the proper official was never notified.  This was publicized,  and Mississippi finally officially ratified the 13th amendment a little more than two weeks ago.

By then, of course, the ratification was purely symbolic.


  1. How interesting! This is the second time this last week a run across a blogpost within UBC talking about slavery!

    My paternal grandmothers grandparents where born slaves, if I've understood it all correctly. I does't feel that far away, but this post made it "freezingly" close. Thanks for the information!

  2. Thank you. I learned something new today.

  3. Another level of freedom kicked in with the Civil Rights movement. Matters are more gray now, but it does seem that despite the February 7th event, that we still have further work to do. Old ways die hard and so do the hatreds, animosities and brutalities. We still have many labels that divide and keep us at odds with each other in our human family. Now is the time to push on to the next level of acceptance of one another. Time to dig even deeper.

  4. Fascinating. And it took a movie to bring it to someone's attention. it's hard to believe that slavery was actually legal right up until two weeks ago. Thank you for an interesting post.

  5. I never knew that! Thank you for helping me to learn something new today!


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