Historical background

Slavery in the United States (1776-1865)

Slavery was a common practice when the United States declared its independence from the British in 1776. The Declaration of Independence did not change the status of slaves (even if it stated that "all men are created equal"), 

However, between the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the American Civil War (1861-1865), several Northern states abolished slavery. The South, whose cotton industry was largely dependent on slave work, did not pass such abolitionist laws. On the contrary, it sought to strengthen slavery.

Because of anti-slavery laws in the North, African Americans were able to build a strong community and start advocating for their rights. As a result, anti-slavery activists – both white and black— formed the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833.

Their efforts to end slavery and promote African-American civil rights were met with rejection through an 1857 US Supreme Court decision which effectively rejected African-American citizenship claims. This led to a stronger anti-slavery reaction and contributed to Abraham Lincoln’s election as US President, representing the Republican Party – also known as the anti-slavery party at the time.

The Southern states refused to accept the abolitionist policies of the Republican Party, and this led to the start of the American Civil War. The South wanted to secede (separate) from the United States while the North aimed to preserve the union and eventually decided on a goal to end slavery in all states. This lead to the formation of the Union formed by 20 Northern free states and the Confederacy, formed by 11 Southern slave states.

Northern states depended on African-American soldiers during the war, aiding their eventual victory. This prompted Lincoln to pass the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, which stated "that all persons held as slaves" in the states that attempted to secede "are, and henceforward shall be free." The proclamation did not end slavery entirely, but it began the important process of eradicating it.

Textual perspective 1 - "The Declaration of Independence"

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Textual perspective 2 - "A House Divided" by Abraham Lincoln

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Textual perspective 3 - "The Gettysburg Address" by Abraham Lincoln

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Reconstruction and Emancipation laws (1865-1877)

The Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 was only the first of a series of acts that were meant to abolish slavery and give African Americans equal rights. The Proclamation established that enslaved African Americans in ten of the rebellious Southern states that were not under the Union's control were to be free.

Note that, in Texas, the Proclamation did not become l...

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