In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted, a historic document in which the British colonies in North America declared independence from Great Britain. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence, introduced a clause in the document providing for the abolition of slavery. Nevertheless, wealthy planters succeeded in removing this clause from the final text – thus, slavery remained in the young free state.
However, slavery was soon banned in the northern United States. In the south, the exploitation of slaves reached the peak of its sophistication – the planters “bred” black slaves for subsequent sale. In 1808, the United States banned the importation of slaves from outside. At the same time, the domestic slave trade became one of the most prestigious professions – it brought in more profit than, for example, the production and export of cotton. The leading cause of the conflict was slavery and the desire of the southern states to extend it to the northern states, against the wishes of the latter. Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States, realized that the country would be either complete slave or completely free. If earlier, the politician advocated the gradual emancipation of slaves, now he concluded that slavery should be abolished once and for all. Thus, the American Civil War, which began in 1861, turned into a war to abolish slavery.
On December 18, 1865, 150 years ago after the end of the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, abolishing slavery, entered into force. The text of the Thirteenth Amendment reads as follows: “There shall be no slavery or servitude in the United States, or anywhere under its jurisdiction unless it constitutes a punishment for a crime for which the person has been duly convicted” (Sinha, 254). Aimed primarily at African-American people, it prohibited slavery and forced labour in the United States “or anywhere under their jurisdiction” other than punishing a crime “for which the person was duly convicted” (Sinha, 310) True, some states delayed its ratification for over 100 years. In Kentucky, for example, the amendment was ratified only in 1976, in Mississippi – in 1995 (Sinha, 405). In the latter state, the procedure was not followed, and slavery was not officially prohibited there until February 7, 2013. Thus, despite adopting a normative legal act prohibiting slavery, many regions of the country deliberately delayed the process of adopting the new law due to disagreement with the principle of equality for all US citizens.
The next important step in the institutional abolition of slavery, which did not significantly affect the perception of this phenomenon by then society, was the 14th amendment to the US Constitution, adopted in July 1868. It guaranteed the granting of citizenship to any person born in the United States, and a ban on deprivation of citizenship rights except by court order. This amendment proclaimed equality for all citizens, regardless of skin colour, and also punished states for violating these regulations. Claims for the loss or release of slaves were declared null and void. Nevertheless, racial segregation remained a severe problem for American society throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Lynching Courts emerged, and there was a systematic infringement of the civil rights of African-American, especially to education. The US Supreme Court in 1883 and 1896 ruled unconstitutional the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and found state laws that “separate but equal opportunities” for whites and blacks to be constitutionally compliant (Sinha, 340).
To sum up, despite the formal abolition of slavery after the end of the American Civil War, the problem of racial and ethnic discrimination continued to exist. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution for the first time declared slavery illegal in the entire state. The new law’s consequence was the emergence of radical groups that did not recognize people of different ethnic groups as equal. Many African-American people were forced to live in unfair living conditions and continue to fight for their rights.
Sinha, M. (2019). The slave’s cause. A history of abolition. Yale university press.