Freedom in Servitude

Topics: American Civil War, Slavery, Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution Pages: 7 (1658 words) Published: October 1, 2014
Dustin Grider
American Civ II
Dr. Anderson & Dr. Karjala
29 September 2014
Servitude in Freedom
In 1865, the Civil War had ended and the thirteenth amendment to the United States constitution was adopted. The purpose of this amendment was to abolish slavery, but not to establish equality. The thirteenth amendment also allowed for the continuation of slavery through indirect means. The amendment states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction” (Primary Documents in American History). To summarize, the amendment allows slavery and involuntary servitude to exist as long as it is punishment for a crime. At first, this may seem reasonable. After all, the idea of criminals being taken in to the penal system and put to work with little or no wages is a familiar one. However, the thirteenth amendment makes no distinction between different levels of crime such as misdemeanors and felonies. The only requirement for an individual to be put in to slavery is breaking a law. So, if you were a southern state or any state that advocated slavery, all you would need was a set of laws meant to discriminate against blacks that could be easily broken. In fact, a set of laws such of this did indeed exist in the south in the form of black codes. Black codes were the main means of keeping slavery alive and well through the use of the penal system in the southern states without contradicting the thirteenth amendment.

After the passage of the thirteenth amendment, blacks were left to fend for themselves and find their place in society. Blacks and whites alike faced a time of uncertainty about what role the newly freed men, women, and children would play. A common assumption among whites was that blacks would not be willing to work without compulsion (Klarman 71). As a result, the black codes came in to existence . There were many aspects of the black codes, but most of them were meant to provide a source of abundant, cheap labor. The black codes were made with two main goals in mind. The first was to create laws that would be guaranteed to be broken by most blacks. These laws came in many forms including special taxes, a requirement to be employed, and not being able to assemble in groups(Palmer 256). These laws were easily broken because of the initial condition blacks found themselves in immediately following the passage of the thirteenth amendment. Most blacks at the time found themselves broke and unemployed. The second goal of the black codes was to insure that after breaking one of the initiated laws that blacks would be placed in to a form of servitude under the supervision of whites. This second goal was accomplished through many methods including the convict-lease system, and labor contracts (Palmer 256). The penal system used in conjunction with these allowed for the re-institution of slavery.

Thomas Jefferson best expressed the common view among whites that free blacks were “as incapable as children of taking care of themselves” and that they were “pests in society by their idleness, and the depredations to which this leads them” (Moore 185). As a result, strict regulations were placed on blacks via the black codes. Some of the regulations included not being able to buy liquor, not being able to assemble in groups, a requirement to be employed, a requirement to pay a special tax, and not being able to own weapons (Moore 188). While some of these laws, such as not being able to buy liquor or own weapons may have been put in place to satisfy the idea that blacks needed to be looked after like children, some such as the requirement to be employed and pay a special tax were implemented to place blacks in a new form of slavery. There were 4 million free blacks after the passage of the thirteenth amendment. Some blacks migrated north after gaining their freedom, but...


Cited: Curtin, Mary E. "Black Prisoners and Their World: Alabama, 1865--1900." The Trouble They Saw: Approaches to the History of the Convict Lease System. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 395-96. Print.
Klarman, Michael J. From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. 71. Print.
Lisa Ennis. “Convict-Lease” The American Economy: A Historical Encyclopedia. Ed. Cynthia L. Clark. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Credo Reference. Web. 30 September 2014.
Moore, John H. Encyclopedia of Race and Racism. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA/Thomson Gale, 2008. 185-88. Print.
Palmer, Colin A. Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History: The Black Experience in the Americas. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. 256. Print.
"Primary Documents in American History." 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Primary
Documents of American History (Virtual Programs & Services, Library of Congress). The Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.
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