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

By Michael Vorenberg | Go to book overview

5
The Key Note of Freedom

In the months after the Senate debate on the amendment, partisan lines on slavery, which already had begun to totter, seemed ready to crumble completely. In the New York legislature, for example, it was not a Republican but a Democrat, Carolan O'Brien Bryant, who sponsored a resolution instructing New York congressmen to back the antislavery amendment. Although many other state legislatures already had adopted similar resolutions, some Democrats in the New York Assembly, especially those belonging to Fernando Wood's “Mozart Hall” organization, refused to budge on slavery. One of Wood's men jabbed at Bryant by asking him what party he belonged to.1 Bryant shouted back, “Not to the rumhole, Copperhead party, at any rate. ” The assembly broke into tumultuous applause. It was strange enough that a Democrat sponsored the amendment, and stranger still that he called his fellow Democrats by the derisive “Copperhead” label created by Republicans.2

The incident revealed the unsteady state of politics, slavery, and the constitutional amendment. The Democratic party was badly split, and the Republicans were becoming increasingly so. The Republicans in the Senate had all voted for the measure, but some radical members of the party preferred an antislavery measure that explicitly granted equal rights to African Americans. Democrats in the meantime still struggled with the party's traditional stance against emancipation. As the reaction to Bryant's proposal in the New York Assembly had demonstrated, many Democrats still refused to back down on slavery. The president's continued silence on the amendment made it particularly difficult for people to understand the measure's place in the political landscape. Did Lincoln see the amendment as a threat to his reconstruction program? Or had he initiated the measure without showing his hand? With politics saturated by uncertainty, it was impossible to predict the future of the antislavery amendment or any other initiative concerning African Americans.

____________________
1
For a report on the state legislatures that had adopted such resolutions, see the New York Herald, May 3, 1864, p. 4.
2
New York Tribune, April 26, 1864, p. 4. See also ibid., March 15, 1864, p. 4, April 25, 1864, p. 4; Journal of the Assembly of the State of New York, 87th sess., 1864, pp. 496, 737, 1418; Phyllis F. Field, The Politics of Race in New York: The Struggle for Black Suffrage in the Civil War Era (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982), 156; and Sidney David Brummer, Political History of New York State during the Period of the Civil War (New York: Columbia University, 1911), 368.

-115-

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

Table of contents

  • Cambridge Historical Studies in American Law and Society *
  • Title Page *
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xi
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Abbreviations xvii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Slavery's Constitution 8
  • 2 - Freedom's Constitution 36
  • 3 - Facing Freedom 61
  • 4 - Debating Freedom 89
  • 5 - The Key Note of Freedom 115
  • 6 - The War Within a War: Emancipation and the Election of 1864 141
  • 7 - A King's Cure 176
  • 8 - The Contested Legacy of Constitutional Freedom 211
  • Appendix: Votes on Antislavery Amendment 251
  • Bibliography 253
  • Index 297
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