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The Abolition of Slavery in the U.S.

written by: wahmbrenda • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 1/5/2012

Learn about when slavery was abolished and the important events that took place at that time in American history. This article should prove useful for anyone studying the abolition of slavery in the U.S.

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    There were approximately 12 million Africans sent to the United States between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Approximately four million of them had become slaves by the time slavery was abolished. This is according to the 1860 United States Census. So, when was slavery abolished and what events led to its abolition? In this article, we will take a look at both questions.

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    The Emancipation Proclamation

    The first mention of abolishing slavery was made on July 21, 1862, when President Lincoln brought it up in what has come to be known as the Emancipation Proclamation. While Secretary of State William H. Seward had told him to wait for a victory in the Civil War before issuing this proclamation, Lincoln paid no attention to him. Instead, Lincoln went ahead and made his point.

    In September of 1862, the Battle of Antietam provided backing of this proclamation - as did the War Governor’s Conference. So, when Lincoln finally delivered the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, he also encouraged the Border States to accept this proclamation in order to save the Union. Nevertheless, the issue of slavery led to the Civil War.

    The final Emancipation Proclamation was delivered on January 1, 1863. Herein, Lincoln explained that he truly believed that nothing was more wrong than slavery. He also admitted that he didn’t understand how just because he was the president he could judge others. This power actually only included the territory that was controlled by the Confederates at that time. Nevertheless, the Emancipation Proclamation did grow to symbolize a commitment to emancipation from the Union, whom they felt were putting an end to their freedom.

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    The Thirteenth Amendment

    Lincoln also played a major role in getting Congress to vote for the Thirteenth Amendment. This was the amendment that put a permanent end to slavery in the United States. The Senate passed it in April of 1864, and it was passed by the House in January of 1865. According to the Thirteenth Amendment:

    • Both slavery and involuntary servitude (except for if you are placed in jail for having committed a crime) were abolished not only in the United States but also in any place that is under the jurisdiction of the United States.
    • Congress has the power to enforce this amendment through appropriate legislation.

    This meant that the remaining 40,000 slaves had to be freed by December of 1865. As you can well imagine, this made a lot of people unhappy. One such person, R.R. Palmer (a famous American historian), actually spoke out in support of the previous slave owners. He said that they should be compensated for having their property taken away from them.

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    A Final Word About the Abolition of Slavery

    So, when was slavery abolished? Well, as you can clearly see, there were several things that led to the eventual abolition of slavery - the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment. It was because of this series of events that occurred around the time when slavery was abolished (all of which were of great importance) that we no longer have slaves today. Each event was important and thus must be understood if you truly want to understand what put an end to slavery.

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