Abolishing Slavery

1 January 2017

The American civil war had a profound effect on the lives of slaves. It ultimately resulted in the abolition of slavery. Slaves first arrived in America in Virginia in 1619. The Underground Railway was a way by which slaves could find freedom. This was a method for northerners to help escaped slaves to find a place to live in free states or Canada. Free black Americans were usually the ones to plan and helped with the Underground Railroad. It is believed about 50,000 to 100,000 people used the Underground Railroad to escape to their freedom.

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The Civil War was fought partly over the issue of slavery. The people that lived in the North opposed the slavery more than the people in the South. The people in the North did not need slavery as much as the South did. The people living in the North owned, operated, and worked in factories and mills. The South required slavery. In the South they grew cotton and needed a lot of people to work in the farms for extremely little or no money. Slavery was not the single cause of the Civil war. The many differences arising from the slavery issue provoked the Southern States to secede.

Abraham Lincoln was elected as president of the United States in 1860. Not a single Southern State had voted for him. Lincoln and his Republican party had the goal of only stopping the expansion of slavery not abolishing it. White Southerners were not convinced by Lincoln’s promise to protect slavery where it existed. South Carolina had declared it would secede from the Union if Abraham Lincoln was elected, and it did so in December 1861. It was followed shortly by the other lower South states of Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Florida.

In February 1861, a month before Lincoln was inaugurated, these states formed a new nation, the Confederate States of America. After Lincoln’s call for volunteers to suppress the rebellion and the firing on Fort Sumter, the other slave states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas joined the Confederacy. The main cause of secession for the White South was the right to preserve African American slavery within their borders. But in retrospect its decision to secede proved to be the worst possible choice it could have made in order to preserve that right.

There was huge antislavery sentiment in the North, but such sentiment was also strongly anti-Black. White Northerners did not want slavery to expand into new areas of the nation, which they believed should be preserved for white non-slave-holding settlers. The North went to war to preserve the American Union, and the White South went to war for independence so that it might protect slavery. Initially the Northern goal in the war was the speedy restoration of the Union under the Constitution and the laws of 1861, all of which recognized slavery as legitimate. Opposing slavery would make reunion more difficult.

So Union generals like George B McClellan in Virginia and Henry W Halleck in the West were ordered not only to defeat the Southern armies but also to prevent slave rebellions. In the beginning months of the war, slaves who escaped to Union lines were returned to their masters in conformity with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The White South used slaves in the war effort. They were used to build fortifications, dig latrines, and haul supplies. Because of the possibility of escape through Union lines, slaves at the front were watched more closely than on their home farms.

The slave owners were reluctant to send their slaves to the front for two reasons. First, they risked the loss of their most valuable property, and, second, because the men were overworked and mistreated, they frequently returned to their homes in very poor physical condition. Thus, the owners often contrived to send only their most unmanageable slaves to the army. The shortage of white manpower left the South with no choice but to put slaves to work in its factories and mines. The use of slaves in industry and on the battlefield enabled the South to fight on longer than would have been possible otherwise.

In the final days of the war, the Confederacy even considered using blacks as soldiers, offering freedom as a reward. When given the choice, slaves made it very clear that they wanted emancipation. The overwhelming majority of slaves, however, remained on their plantations in the countryside. Even then these slaves in the Southern interior found ways to demonstrate their desire for freedom. They did not stop working, but they did considerably less work than they had before the war. Lincoln detested slavery, but he doubted whether blacks and whites could ever live in America n a condition of equality.

The slaves ran away in massive numbers during the spring and summer of 1862, freeing themselves. Abolitionists who insisted that the war should be one for the freedom of the slaves confronted Lincoln at home. The Emancipation proclamation in January 1863 did not legally free a single slave. Through the proclamation Lincoln silenced his abolitionist critics in the North, defused interventionist sentiment abroad, and invigorated black slave resisters to continue their efforts in the South.

Near the end of the war, abolitionists were concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation would be construed solely as a war act and no longer apply once fighting ended. They were also increasingly anxious to secure the freedom of all slaves, not just those freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Thus pressed, Lincoln staked a large part of his 1864 presidential campaign on a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery uniformly throughout the United States. Lincoln’s campaign was bolstered by separate votes in both Maryland and Missouri to abolish slavery in those states.

Maryland’s new constitution abolishing slavery took effect in November 1864. Slavery in Missouri was ended by executive proclamation of its governor, Thomas C. Fletcher, on January 11, 1865. Winning re-election, Lincoln pressed the lame duck 38th Congress to pass the proposed amendment immediately rather than wait for the incoming 39th Congress to convene. In January 1865, Congress sent to the state legislatures for ratification what became the Thirteenth Amendment, banning slavery in all U. S. states and territories.

The amendment was ratified by the legislatures of enough states by December 6, 1865 and proclaimed 12 days later. There were about 40,000 slaves in Kentucky and 1,000 in Delaware who were liberated then. In the South plantations and homes were burned during the war. The fields were left unattended. The Confederate money was worthless. The Southerners felt very beaten. Because of this Lincoln wanted to make it easy for the Southern states to rejoin the Union. Many Northerners were angry over this.

Lincoln asked only four things of the Southerners; to free the slaves, Confederate government disband, new state governments for each Southern state be formed, and no former leaders of the Confederate or high ranking officers could be a part of the new government. Many Northerners thought Lincoln was being too easy on the South. On April 14, 1865 only five days after the Confederate army surrendered, Lincoln was killed at Ford’s Theater in Washington by John Wilkes Booth. The Vice President Andrew Johnson became President.

He tried to go ahead with Lincoln’s Plans in Congress. A group called the Radical Republicans in Congress wanted to punish slave states and passed many laws that were hard on the South. Lincoln probably could have changed this because he was a Republican and well respected. Johnson was unable to. The 13th Amendment was passed in December 1865. It said that slavery was unconstitutional. Slave states made laws called the Black Codes. These were to keep Black people from voting, serving on juries, getting jobs, owning land, or going to school.

The federal government set up the Freedmen’s Bureaus to work against the Black Codes. They gave food, clothing, medical care, and set up schools for the Blacks. The 14th Amendment was passed. It said all Blacks were citizens of the United States and all laws against Blacks were unconstitutional. Congress also divided the South into five military districts. Each of these had a general in charge of the region. The general sent troops out into the district to make sure the Blacks were given fair rights.

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