Preserving the Constitution in the War for Emancipation

Susan Arnold Wallace, the wife of a Union commander, could see the future. Only eight months after the Civil War began, Wallace told her mother However we may go into this war, we shall come out of it abolitionists.46 For most northerners, the war that ended slavery began only as a war to restore the Union. Unforeseen events and influences ultimately drove the Union side to embrace emancipation as a war aim, but the progress toward that point was never steady, rarely clear, and always resisted....

Emancipation and Reconstruction Republicans and Democrats

Most Republicans shared Bates's preference for some method of emancipation that left the constitutional text untouched. Former senator Preston King of New York, though a conservative Republican, captured the feeling of many in his party when he wrote that he longed for the termination of Slavery whose existence will not permit a permanent peace but did not want a single word or letter of our constitution changed.15 Republicans generally looked outside of the amending process for ways to abolish...

The Key Note of Freedom

In the months after the Senate debate on the amendment, partisan lines on slavery, which already had begun to totter, seemed ready to crumble completely. In the New York legislature, for example, it was not a Republican but a Democrat, Carolan O'Brien Bryant, who sponsored a resolution instructing New York congressmen to back the antislavery amendment. Although many other state legislatures already had adopted similar resolutions, some Democrats in the New York Assembly, especially those...

Constitutional Freedom and Racial Equality

This Government was made by white men and for white men, Democratic Senator Lazarus Powell announced during his speech on the amendment, and if it is ever preserved it must be preserved by white men.33 Every Democrat in Congress who spoke on the amendment echoed Powell's contention that the measure threatened the racial order of the country. And as the opposition worked assiduously to keep visions of negro equality and amalgamation hanging over the congressional proceedings, the debate on the...

Slavery Union and the Meaning of the

The question that most dominated the Senate debate was whether the Civil War was about slavery. For the Republicans, who had long believed that slavery was at the root of the sectional conflict, the debate on the amendment provided yet another opportunity to repeat their diatribes against the Slave Power. Typical was the charge of Daniel Clark of New Hampshire She the Slave Power sent assassins to murder the ChiefMagistrate. . . . She shot down Union soldiers in the streets of Baltimore she has...

The Popular Origins of Universal Emancipation

As the new Congress prepared to convene, northerners were far from united on a single plan of emancipation, but they seemed more interested than ever in seeing slavery somehow abolished. In the Midwest, a Republican preacher who had complained in the fall of 1862 that nobody wants any lectures on the slavery question observed that audiences now clamored for antislavery speakers, especially those recently converted to the cause.1 Antislavery whisperings could even be heard from some...

Acknowledgments

This book exists in large part because of the generosity of friends, scholars, and institutions. Financial assistance was provided by fellowships from the Julian Park Fund of the State University of New York at Buffalo, the Indiana Historical Society, the Henry E. Huntington Library, the Everett M. Dirksen Congressional Research Center, the Mark DeWolfe Howe Fund of the Harvard Law School, the Graduate Student Council of Harvard University, the Charles Warren Center of Harvard University, and...

The Drafting of the Thirteenth Amendment

The Senate Judiciary Committee began meeting in January 1864 to draft an abolition amendment. It is difficult to reconstruct the committee's deliberations because no record of them survives.55 Whatever went on in those meetings, the committee had completed its task by February i0. On that day, Trumbull announced that he would report at an early day an amendment declaring that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof a party shall have been duly...

The Secession Crisis Amending the Constitution to Protect Slavery

The surge of proposed amendments during the secession crisis was staggering. Whereas only a handful of amendments concerning slavery was proposed in Congress between 1789 and December i860, roughly 150 slavery amendments were proposed between December i860 and March 1861, when Lincoln took office. Not only national leaders but ordinary citizens offered revisions. A Rochester man wrote to his local paper that the key doctrines of the Dred Scott decision should be added to the Constitution, while...

African Americans and the Inadequacy of Constitutional Emancipation

If neither the Republicans nor the Democrats united behind the amendment early on, who, then, were the real champions of the measure The slaves who had sought their own freedom certainly deserved much of the 57 Blair to Barlow, December 25, 1863, Samuel L. M. Barlow MSS, HEH. 58 Barlow to Blair, December 23, 1863, Samuel L. M. Barlow letter books, HEH. credit for the Union's emancipation policy so far.59 Perhaps then, as one legal scholar has suggested, the slaves were the real authors of the...

The Constitution Slavery and the Coming of the Civil

Americans of the nineteenth century, though often frustrated by the ambiguities of the Constitution, usually accepted the document's vagaries as the price of Union. Nothing has made me admire the good sense and practical intelligence of the Americans, wrote the French social theorist Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835, more than the way they avoid the innumerable difficulties deriving from their federal Constitution.3 In a sense, the Civil War erupted because the American people refused any longer...

The Democracy Divided

As Republicans fumbled the amendment, some Democrats thought about seizing the measure for themselves. In the early months of 1864, before it had become clear what course congressional Democrats would take on the amendment, some party members began to consider the advantages of 31 Washington Daily National Intelligencer, February 24, 1864, p. 3. 32 New York Times, February 11, 1864, p. 4. 33 Ibid., February 13, 1864, p. 6. 34 Chicago Tribune, February 17, 1864, p. 2. 35 Cincinnati Gazette,...

The Antislavery Amendment and Republican Unity

Prior to the first round of debates on the amendment, Republicans had not united behind a single, clear policy on emancipation. They had not yet rallied behind the antislavery amendment as the best method of achieving abolition. In fact, the constitutional amendment that would have preserved slavery forever, which Congress had passed in 1861, was still rattling around northern state legislatures. In February 1864 a proposal by Senator Henry B. Anthony of Rhode Island to rescind that amendment...

Legal Theory and Practical Politics

Senator Trumbull's announcement that he would bring the antislavery amendment up for debate set constitutional theorists to thinking anew about the founding charter and its mutability. One scholar in particular, Francis Lieber, who in December 1863 had advised his friend Charles Sumner not to propose an amendment granting all Americans equality before the law, now recognized the likelihood that Congress would soon propose revisions to the Constitution. Quickly he cobbled together a series of...