The Thirteenth Amendment as a Conservative Counterrevolution

  In “If Slavery Is Not Wrong, Nothing Is Wrong,” I proposed that the Civil War was fought to restore the original unity of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and that the Thirteenth Amendment, adopted in 1865, was the culmination of that colorblind restoration. In the antebellum period, opponents of slavery could not specify what would result once slavery was ended. Would free blacks have equal rights? Vote? Intermarry with whites? Thus did Stephen Douglas mock Abraham Lincoln. The post-bellum answer of universal freedom nonetheless preserved much of the antebellum distinction between being anti-slavery and being anti-black. While Black Codes prevailed…

Read More

“Clothed with immense power”

Director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner’s Lincoln opens with a chaotic battle in a river, black and white soldiers struggling to kill each other in hand-to-hand combat.  We then see pairs of black and white soldiers reciting from memory the Gettysburg Address back to the President.

Lincoln concludes the movie by delivering the Second Inaugural. Most of the time in between is an elaboration of his wartime and Reconstruction strategy and thus a commentary on the purposes of the First Inaugural and the Emancipation Proclamation. These occasions are the rhetorical high points of Lincoln’s presidency, though most of the movie is focused on events in early 1865.

Read More