Student Blogger - #13Amend Live Blog: History and Legal History
Legal historians focus almost exclusively on original intent, particularly by focusing on the statements of legislators. Professor Eric Foner described himself as merely a historian who sometimes poses as a legal historian. As a pure historian, he thinks this focus is decontextualized. The national changes leading to the Thirteenth Amendment did not stop in 1865; they continued forward through the whole of Reconstruction. Taking a conservative reading of these acts goes against the tenor of the times. Passing the Thirteenth Amendment was not a conservative measure; a newspaper at the time viewed the passage of the Amendment by the Senate as a rebuke to the less aggressive actions put forward by the Lincoln Administration. The Amendment operated immediately and nationwide and said nothing about colonization of former slaves to Africa or a period of apprenticeship for the freemen. Furthermore, the abolition movement envisioned a national state with single citizenship, and free labor ideology fed into the movements at the time as well. A multiplicity of views emerged outside of the halls of Congress. The Thirteenth Amendment seems like a promising area of research because it has not been narrowed by subsequent conservative legal history and interpretation.