7. Civil War, Emancipation and Reconstruction

The Civil War divided the U.S. over the highly debated issue of slavery. Most Northerners supported abolition, while the majority of Southerners pushed for the continuation of slavery. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, stating that all African Americans “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Many freed and escaped slaves fought for the North. In 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment in 1865, officially disbanding the institution of slavery.

Following the Civil War, Congress tried to diversify as a representative body for all people. The era of Reconstruction gave free African-American men equality in political offices and ushered in the 14th Amendment, thereby granting citizenship to former slaves and “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” In 1870, Congress ratified the 15th Amendment declaring that the right to vote cannot be denied on the basis of a male citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Two years before war broke out, a former slave from North Carolina named Harriet Jacobs wrote a slave narrative, titled Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Jacobs wrote about her horrific experiences in slavery and personal abuses prior to her escape in 1842. This was one of the earliest books describing the lives of children under rule of slavery.