No Easy Walk to Freedom: Reconstruction and the Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment

No Easy Walk to Freedom: Reconstruction and the Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment

No Easy Walk to Freedom: Reconstruction and the Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment

No Easy Walk to Freedom: Reconstruction and the Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment

Synopsis

A major study of the ratification of the 14th Amendment, shedding new light on the meaning of the amendment.

Excerpt

If half a nigger can do so well, what would a whole one do?

--Mulatto lawyer from Washington, D.C., exhorting a group of black Tennesseans in early 1865 to demand their rights

The last of the Confederate states to secede, Tennessee was the first to be restored to the Union. Alone among the Southern states, it ratified the Fourteenth Amendment immediately; it alone escaped congressional Reconstruction. From the beginning, the Joint Committee on Reconstruction had recognized that Tennessee occupied a position different from all the other Confederate states.

What made Tennessee different? When the war ended, it already had an effectively functioning, popularly elected government that supported the Union. In early January 1865, Union loyalists, meeting in Nashville, proposed amendments to the state constitution that abolished slavery, declared secession treason, and invalidated all other rebel legislation. Voters overwhelmingly approved these amendments in February; the following month they elected a legislature and governor. Former Whigs dominated the legislature. The governor-- "Parson" Brownlow--advocated such proscriptive policies that Southern conservatives came to view him, along with "Beast" Butler and Thad Stevens, as the unholy trinity of radicalism.

Additionally, the Brownlow government adopted policies and made decisions that impressed Congress. That was their purpose, and they shrewdly anticipated Congress's sentiment on conditions for restoration. They also cemented Republican control of the government and extended basic civil rights to the freedmen in a state where a majority of whites remained attached to the "lost cause," where blacks constituted only a quarter of the population, and where the Unionists were as negrophobic as the former slaveholders. . .

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