December 6, 1865: 13th Amendment

We are now on a new round of "150th" anniversaries--the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War. At a National Archives program earlier this week, the presenters focused on on "The 13th Amendment at 150." Judge James Wynn called Nov. 6, 1865 the most significant date in African American history: the date of the ratification of the Amendment to abolish slavery.

Ratification of an amendment means at least-quarters of the state legislatures had to vote for it; the 27th out of 36 did so on December 6. Several Southern states ratified it as the lesser of many evils (to them)--The end of slavery was a fait accompli, and President Johnson reassured them the states they could still keep other powers to basically continue to make the lives of their black populations miserable.

Because of the fundamental changes contained within the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, the panelists (three judges and a lawyer with the NAACP in the first session, three historians in the second) referred to the period as the "Second Founding" of the country, with the Civil Rights era the "Third Founding." Perhaps a Fourth and subsequent will be needed for true equality.





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