Anniversary Post: Thirteenth Amendment

Number 13On this day exactly 150 years ago — 6 December 1865 — the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. It abolished slavery, except as punishment for a crime — a loophole the south would use against African Americans in very clear ways. And thanks to the “war on drugs,” it has come back in a big way. Still, this was an important amendment. But it’s odd that it is more symbolic than anything else.

It is, of course, the Fourteenth Amendment that created the modern United States. This is something that I find conservatives just don’t understand. The United States was founded. It was pretty screwed up. But we had an amendment process. The Fourteenth was part of that. They might want to wish it away so they can go back to the good ol’ days of a weak federal government. But this is what America is, based upon its founding documents; if you don’t like it, you don’t like America. It’s as simple as that.

Perhaps the reason that the Thirteenth Amendment is not more important is that the Constitution never directly claimed that slavery was legal. Again, conservatives may be unhappy that Obama issues executive orders (though they didn’t have a problem when Bush did so). But they too are part of the government, and because of the way the Constitution was originally set up, Lincoln was able to free all the slaves in the Confederacy with the Emancipation Proclamation. But again, it was good to clarify that slavery was done. Plus, there were still slaves in Union states.

The whole thing is nicely ironic — and I think entirely typical of conservatives — that if the Confederate states had not been so pigheaded, the should would have been able to keep it’s “peculiar institution” for a lot longer. I know I’m rambling, but I keep remembering this line from Ken Burns: The Civil War. When poor southern soldiers were asked why they were fighting, they replied that it was because the northern soldiers were there. Well, first: they weren’t northern soldiers, but the soldiers of all of them. Second: isn’t that typical that the elites could convince poor southern whites to fight and die for an institution that doubtless made them poorer than they would have been? Nothing changes.

18 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Thirteenth Amendment

  1. Desertion rates were way higher for Confederate soldiers than Union soldiers. Both of them wore very uncomfortable wool uniforms. And nerds wear their uniforms all over the country as “Civil War re-enactors.” At least the ones playing Union soldiers are fairly classifiable as nerds, in the good sense of the word. I’m not sure what the ones playing Confederates are up to.

    • Someone has to play the bad guys. Once I was at a geek speed dating thing-shut up, I was there for a friend-anyway, said friend is Jewish and it turned out there was a German immigrant who cosplayed as a Hydra lieutenant because he was the ideal as imagined by Hitler. Slim, blonde, blue eyed and looked great in the uniform.

      He and my Jewish friend hit it off immediately because he also was really sweet, nice, and was merely playing it so his friends could have a target in their cosplay. He was willing to be snarled at for four days by people who truly take their cosplaying seriously just to make his friends happy. She also was the only one he gave his number to despite his page being covered with every number of all the women who drooled over him. Sadly she is super lazy and never called him. Oh well.

    • That’s interesting. It’s also true, however, the the Union had a more competent government than the Confederacy, and so could more easily punish deserters. But it certainly was clear on the Confederate side it was, “Rich man’s war; poor man’s fight.”

    • Ah, yes. Enforcement is a critical issue. That was the primary flaw with the Articles of Confederation. As I think you can tell in the article, I really wanted to talk about the 14th…

  2. I have used the 13th as an argument as to why abortion should be legal but my lawyer friends always think I am wrong. Except one who got very quiet when I pointed out how that means a woman is being subjected to state control of her body and is in essence being subjected to involuntary servitude of said state without having committed a crime first. Well unless getting pregnant is a crime.

    The 13th also comes up in court when you have sovereign citizens (constitutionalists) running around. They often believe that the Titles of Nobility Amendment was secretly passed and therefore the use of esquire by attorneys is illegal and/or means that the state’s prosecutor is actually a citizen of the United Kingdom and therefore that means they cannot bring charges against the Defendant. Their “reasoning” gets sillier from there.

    • It’s ironic that the Civil War was just fought overwhelmingly with conscripts, which is clearly a violation of the 13th. I like your reproductive rights argument. But the issue has always been at which point the fetus is going to be granted rights. The fact that large numbers of people think that a zygote has equal rights to an adult woman shows how far we’ve gone off track. We aren’t even near the realm of reasonable debate on the issue. It really does come down to one of my most hated bumper stickers, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Of course, what it really means is, “My pastor told me this is what the Bible means, and I accept that because I don’t have a fully functioning brain.”

      • Luckily for the Union the 13th hadn’t been passed yet.

        Yeah, the reproductive rights fight is going to keep going as long as people in the US are squicky about sex and women having brains in general. Then again, since many men refuse to use theirs, maybe it is projection.

        • I’m afraid you are right about men. But if they weren’t around, all the worst women would rise to the top.

          The 13th had passed when Holmes wrote, “Shouting fire in a crowded theater.” Not that I am necessarily against the draft. I think there are responsibilities of citizenship. It’s just that more and more, I do not see a war any rational person could support.

          • This may be a bit arrogant to say but…most women are willing to step on the truly awful women trying to run for office. So actually, most of the female leaders would be pretty good at their jobs and that is why women should run everything.


            • Okay. It couldn’t be worse. But I’m skeptical of your claim about stepping on awful women. Would women have stopped Thatcher. I’d like to think that.

                • But that’s just it! I’m quite down on manhood. But generally speaking, men don’t like war or hurting kids or being friends with Reagan. Yet as a group we allow leaders who like all those things. But it is a partitioning thing. In terms of what I can put up with (as opposed being truly vile), 70% of men are awful and 30% of women are awful. In those rat experiments where they tested to see if the rats would leave chocolate for the other (tapped) rat, most of them did. But interestingly, it was only males who didn’t leave any at all. Am I saying that female rats are better than female humans relative to their species? No. But it would be interesting to look at testosterone level distributions in the females of both species.

                  • That could be interesting.

                    Having looked at the numbers-single women or women who are not married to white males often vote very progressively. It is only when they are married to white males do you see them voting for horrible people like Thatcher.

                    The truth, though, is that other demographic characteristics have considerably more significance. A widely reported example is marital status. Fifty-three percent of married female voters went for Romney. Among single women, by contrast, Romney was about as popular as an extra 20 pounds; a mere 31 percent supported him. The gap between married and single women, then, is wider than the male-female gap that the media have been touting. And it isn’t new; married women have voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980, with the one exception of 1996, when they preferred President Clinton by 4 percentage points.

                    Analysts offer a number of theories about the marriage gap: married women are more financially stable and therefore less reliant on government assistance; they care less about reproductive issues than about their pocketbooks and security; when they marry, they adopt their husbands’ political preferences. But the obvious reason for the marriage gap is that for several decades now, married women have become likelier to be white, educated, affluent, and older—demographic groups that leaned Republican in this election. Romney lost the black, Hispanic, and Asian vote, while he won the college-educated vote (though not post-grads), the votes of those making over $50,000 a year, and the votes of older Generation X-ers, Baby Boomers, and voters over 65. In other words, married women voted less as part of a sisterhood than as part of a cohort of white people holding college diplomas, earning more than $50,000 a year, and wearing reading glasses.


                    Interestingly, according to the article, it seems that one of the top predictors if a person-male or female-will vote Republican is if they are married to a person of the opposite gender.

                    • As I was reading that, I was thinking, “Married women are richer.” That’s really what it’s all about. I was watching a documentary about Sparta. The reason their city state fell was they allowed too much inequality. At its height, the ruling elite numbered 10,000; by the end: 1,000. This is something that the rich just don’t seem to get. The more exclusive their club, the better they feel. But they shouldn’t. The more exclusive their club, the easier it is for other classes to turn on you. But I know they will never learn, because they never have. I remember a great article I found a few years ago by (I think) Chad Stanton, where he pointed out that the power elite’s ignoring global warming shows their lack of impulse control — the very thing we are always hearing is the cause of poverty.

                    • Apparently they forgot that the poor have access to much better weapons these days. Heck even when they didn’t have access to these horrible weapons they still could do pretty awful things during revolutions.

                      As I am writing that article I said I would for you I am struck by how Anonymous could really throw a monkey wrench into the finance industry by attaching a virus to one of the data files that seek out the account information and destroy it in the computers that it hits as the debt is passed from company to company. Could you imagine the massive shift if millions of Americans no longer had to pay their credit card debt?

                    • Okay. So that is for me. Good. I’ll work on it tomorrow.

                      Another issue, as happened in Sparta, is not so much that the other classes turned on the elites, but they didn’t back the elites when trouble came.

                      I think it would be a great thing if we just settled all credit card debt right now. The article is extremely interesting, but I’m still cynical. It seems akin to copyright. Why has the length gotten longer and longer? Certainly not because life has gotten slower and slower.

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