A Review of Who Freed The Slaves? The Fight Over the Thirteenth Amendment

Paper Type:  Book review
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1361 Words
Date:  2022-05-09

In American society, most Civil War milestone celebrations are done but often leave out the Thirteenth Amendment in them. Most remembrances have been staged of numerous battles, the firing on Fort Sumter, the surrender at Appomattox, and President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, but jubilations of the constitutional amendment that brought an end to slavery are mostly left out. Leonard L. Richards in his latest book, who Freed the Slaves? The Fight over the Thirteenth Amendment focuses on placing the Thirteenth Amendment at the helm of remembrance.

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Majority of the previous studies done such as, James Oake's Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861 - 1865, Michael Vorenberg's Final Freedom: The Thirteenth Amendment, The Abolition of Slavery, and The Civil War, mainly emphasized on Lincoln's role and party politics in the process. Leonard's study shows skillfully the various inner workings of the legislative process and the challenges encountered by the amendment's head advocate, Republican congressman James M. Ashley. Richard complains about the credit that is given to the Emancipation Proclamation that it ended slavery and he believes it is a mistaken belief. After interviews with educators, he concluded that most people knew little about the Thirteenth Amendment, and few people understood of the difficult task of getting the bill through Congress. In describing this battle, he models Ashley a radical republican from Ohio who from the beginning was a staunch early opponent of slavery. In the book, Ashley's story is told, including the core values pertinent to him that he upheld (also his consequential regrets in his failure when he was unable to sustain them). Also, the political challenges he encountered back at home, and his management and unwavering support of the Thirteenth Amendment in the House of Representatives.

In 1864, which was the fourth year of civil war, when Congress for the first time voted on an amendment to stop slavery, at the time only 13 % of the country's four million slaves had been granted their freedom. Slavery was still legal in four Border States which were Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland; in New Orleans, and other 12 Louisiana parishes; in the new state of West Virginia; and in seven counties and two more cities in Virginia. Still, the Emancipation Proclamation which relied on the president's war-making powers. Emancipation Proclamation had been crafted by Lincoln to counter the Confederates. Confederates used slaves to build tunnels, cook for them, and thus were aiding them in the battlefield. It seemed like an act of desperation when he wanted to implement it and was advised against by the then secretary of state who recommended on its implementation after they had acquired a victory. It freed slaves in those states who were against the union. However, slaves in the states that in support of the union were not free at all. Furthermore, when the civil war began, Abraham had made the fight to be about the preservation of the union rather than the abolition of slave trade. Although Lincoln was against the slave trade, he was more concerned about winning the war and had said that if it is getting the Border States to join the course or it is freeing the slaves to emerge, victors, he would choose any of the circumstances. He crafted the war to be about the southerners, where slavery was mostly practiced, and the slave trade was a significant issue, returning to the union. It was a strategy to ensure that both the Border States residents and the Northerners would support . However, in the mid-1862 thousands of slaves ran to join the invading Northerners army, it was when he was persuaded that ending slavery was the correct military strategy, and also the moral path to follow. In the win at Antietam, he gave a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation that all slaves in the rebellious states were free. It was a turning point for the war as it changed from being about a fight to preserve the nation but to a battle with the main agenda as human freedom. It depicts clearly that Abraham main agenda was not ending slavery but was however pushed by circumstances in that direction.

Emancipation Proclamation was thus a strategy to win the war, and it meant that after the war was over slavery would lapse back. It was thus paramount the constitution to be amended and declare slavery to be abolished completely. In 1864, the Senate the Upper House approved Ashley abolition amendment by the required minimum threshold of a two-thirds vote, but the count fell short in the House of Representatives thus it did not pass. Ashley then decided to preserve his right his constitutional right to bring the issue back again in the 'lame duck' session of Congress after the 1864 fall elections. In the autumn the voters overwhelmingly voted for the pro-amendment Republicans. However, the newly elected Congress would only convene after 12 months. Due to Ashley anxiousness, he could not wait; he pressed the House to approve the amendment in early 1865. Leonard's narrative can wander, moving back and forth between the backstory about politics during the war and the amendment process. Departure from the main topic may undermine the forward motion. However, he uses a structure that promises a crackling drama.

After the House declined the amendment, Ashley became more strategic. Richard devotes two chapters to the radical congressman's endeavors to garner votes give a priceless lesson in politics. Leonard concentrates on the congressman's quest for border state support from two political arch enemies, Henry Winter Davis of Maryland and Frank Bair of Missouri, giving life to this "odd couple" as he describes them, with the same vigor and spirit with which Richard portrays Ashley. Members of Congress from the Border States included lame ducks whose dislike for emancipation could easily be overcome with patronage and persuasion. Most of them were leaving Congress in few weeks to come. They were also the best candidates who would not fear party discipline and would easily follow their consciences on the abolition amendment. Some would easily trade their votes for government jobs or for other treats in an era where corruption was the norm of the day. Richards simply states that "Ashley got the [Page 291] support of eighteen of the nineteen men that Blair and Davis helped him line up. Had three of those men voted no, the amendment would have gone down to defeat." Ashley went further to seek support from northern Democrats and got it if they did not vote or voted yes.

Leonard is merciless in his explanation of their party's readiness to play the racial card, and his scrutiny makes it clear that northern Democrats were essential to passage although they had little genuine interest in the abolition of slavery. Blair was very loyal to Lincoln, and Leonard is thoughtful and judicious in dissecting the president's role. He lets Lincoln's shortcomings speak for themselves, cleverly criticizing Lincoln for sticking to colonization and Border States for their inflexibility. He also shows that these plans were not Abraham's original ideas. He is however fair in explaining Abraham emphasis on safeguarding Kentucky at the expense of proceeding faster against slavery, as Ashley and his companions wished (Green, 292). Richard also evaluates the accounts of corruption that were used to ensure the amendment's passage. However, there is no direct linkage of Lincoln to the charges, but he was being told that he intends to fulfill any promises made. Richard also shows Lincoln was slow to support the amendment until the last minute. Even as emancipation became the law of the land, Richards shows, its opponents were already regrouping, beginning what would become a decades-long, and mostly successful, fight to limit the amendment's impact.


Benjamins, Ira Lee. 2016. "Who Freed the Slaves?: The Fight over the Thirteenth Amendment by Leonard L. Richards."." Journal of Southern History 82 (2): 446-447.

Green, Michael S. 2016. "Who Freed the Slaves? The Fight over the Thirteenth Amendment by Leonard L. Richards."." The Journal of the Civil War Era 6 (2): 291-293.

Richards, Leonard L. 2015. Who Freed the Slaves?: The Fight Over the Thirteenth Amendment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Stewart, O, David. 2015. "Who Freed The Slaves? The Fight Over the Thirteenth Amendment." Washington Independent Review of Books. March 133. Accessed April 17, 2018.

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A Review of Who Freed The Slaves? The Fight Over the Thirteenth Amendment. (2022, May 09). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/a-review-of-who-freed-the-slaves-the-fight-over-the-thirteenth-amendment

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