On 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.