Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment

By Michael Vorenberg | Go to book overview

7
A King's Cure

With the impassioned and frenetic political campaign of 1864 at an end, Frederick Douglass reflected: “We have been living at an immense rate, and have hardly had time to take breath and review the ground over which we have travelled…. Only after-generations will be able to contemplate intelligently the events of to-day, and appreciate their grand significance. 1 Douglass was right-to a degree. With the conflict still raging, it was too soon to render final judgments, but Americans were nonetheless determined to make sense of the war, to understand its origins and survey its results. The renewed debate on the antislavery amendment, which followed soon after the election, became a forum for northerners to express for themselves and each other the way the war had transformed their world.

Over the course of the renewed debate, it became clear that the coalition in favor of the amendment was growing. Many came to support the measure out of newfound principle, others out of political opportunism. As before, the amendment's backers held diverse, sometimes competing notions about the measure's scope and meaning. Yet, even more striking than this division of opinion was the shared realization among the amendment's supporters-and even some of its opponents-that the amending process was a means not only of social reform but of making history. Americans of all stripes now came to appreciate the amending method as a way of announcing a new national identity, of defining the present for the “after-generations” described by Douglass.


The New Campaign for Constitutional Emancipation

In the first few weeks after his election, Lincoln made two bold strokes to secure black freedom. First, he replaced Chief Justice Roger Taney, who had died in October, with Salmon P. Chase, a renowned champion of African American freedom and equality. Second, he urged Congress to adopt the abolition amendment immediately.

The appointment of Chase was an obvious but painful choice for Lincoln. The former treasury secretary had angled to take Lincoln's place in

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1
“The Final Test of Self-Government: An Address Delivered in Rochester, New York, on 13 November 1864, in John W. Blassingame et al., eds., The Frederick Douglass Papers (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), ser. 1, 4:32–33.

-176-

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