The Abolition of Slavery in the United States: Historical Context and Its Contemporary Application
In The Legal Understanding of Slavery: From the Historical to the Contemporary (Jean Allain, ed., Oxford Univ. Press, 2012)
21 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2015
Date Written: 2012
The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America marked the legal end of slavery in the United States. By declaring that ‘neither slavery nor involuntary servitude . . . shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction’, the Amendment enshrined freedom in the country’s fundamental charter. As this chapter will demonstrate, the Thirteenth Amendment’s Framers intended to eliminate both chattel slavery and the ‘the badges and incidents’ of slavery. Those Framers, whose worldview was grounded in natural rights and abolitionist theory, knew that abolishing the property relationship of owner and owned would not by itself be sufficient to create enduring freedom. Rather, they believed that the legal practices and social customs surrounding and supporting the system of slavery must also be abolished if the freedmen were to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship.
This chapter discusses those badges and incidents of slavery in American history and suggests lessons that can be drawn from that history to inform the movement to abolish contemporary slavery. In so doing, this chapter suggests that just as the Thirteenth Amendment’s Framers realized that slavery constituted a system of interlocking forms of subordination, so too should modern-day advocates, lawmakers, and judges recognize that abolishing slavery requires a broad and evolving understanding of the conditions that support or arise out of enslavement.
Keywords: Thirteenth Amendment, slavery, abolition, civil war, badges and incidents of slavery, race, civil rights, racial discrimination, Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., Fourteenth Amendment, equal protection, Equal Protection Clause, Constitutional interpretation, original intent, critical race theory
JEL Classification: K00, K19, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation