Henry Wilson: Cobbler of the Frayed Constitution, Strategist of the Thirteenth Amendment

93 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2017 Last revised: 17 Jan 2019

Date Written: April 3, 2017


This article explores the extraordinary but rarely recognized contribution of Senator Henry Wilson in accomplishing the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, motivated as he was by free labor ideology. Wilson played a key role in directing the strategic moves made by Congress to prepare the ground for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment and for its implementation. Born into poverty, Wilson worked his way up as a cobbler, developing along the way a strong commitment to the work ethic and the Republican ‘free labor’ ideology. Free labor ideology informed his opposition to slavery and advocacy on behalf of oppressed workers. Understanding Wilson’s free labor ideology has important implications for understanding the Thirteenth Amendment as a broader and more profound enactment designed to eliminate caste, class, and racial distinctions beyond simply banning chattel slavery. A deeper understanding of Wilson’s thoughts and deeds is valuable to our contemporary debates regarding the amendment and its continuing role in our republic.

Keywords: 13th Amendment, U.S. Constitution, Labor Vision, Radical Republicans, Reconstruction, Labor

Suggested Citation

VanderVelde, Lea S., Henry Wilson: Cobbler of the Frayed Constitution, Strategist of the Thirteenth Amendment (April 3, 2017). Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 15, pp. 173-264, 2017, U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2017-24, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2945681

Lea S. VanderVelde (Contact Author)

University of Iowa - College of Law ( email )

Melrose and Byington
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States

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