People: Civil War / Reconstruction
A supporter of slavery and a strong advocate of the rights of states against federal interference, he represented Mississippi in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. He supported the Fugitive Slave Act and proposed extending the line set by the Missouri Compromise to the Pacific Ocean. He also called for a reinstitution of the slave trade. As tensions grew and talk of southern secession grew, Davis gave speeches arguing against secession and appeared to oppose the idea. However, upon President Abraham Lincoln’s election, he yielded to the wishes of the citizens of Mississippi and announced the state’s secession in 1861. He described leaving the Union as “necessary.” Davis was soon after elected president of what was called the Confederate States of America.
Davis assigned Robert E. Lee to command the Army of Northern Virginia, and later appointed Lee Commanding General. After the Civil War, Davis was indicted for treason. While imprisoned, he sold his estate to one of his former slaves. The treason case against him was dropped after several years. He was later re-elected to the U.S. Senate, but was unable to take office because of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Threats from South Carolina slave owners prompted Grimke and her sister to move to New York. There, the Grimke sisters became the first women to lecture on behalf of the Anti-Slavery Society. Religious leaders who disapproved of public speaking by women condemned them. During the Civil War, Grimke spoke out in support of President Abraham Lincoln. She celebrated the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Years later, she tested the Fourteenth Amendment by attempting to cast a vote.
In later life, Grimke spoke out for women’s suffrage and the Biblical equality of men and women. She and her sister opened a private school, to which Elizabeth Cady Stanton sent her children.
Lee was personally devoted to the Constitution and privately denounced secession. However, when Virginia seceded, he turned down an offer to command the Union Army and instead took command of Virginia’s forces on behalf of the Confederacy. He was later made a General and then General-In-Chief by Jefferson Davis in January 1865. By that April, however, it was clear the South would be defeated. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865 rather than lose the lives of any more soldiers.
After the war, Lee supported President Andrew Johnson’s plans for a speedy rebuilding of the Southern states. He spoke out against equal rights for former slaves, saying it would “excite unfriendly feelings between the two races.”
Lincoln’s concerns about the Kansas-Nebraska Act lured him back into politics. Lincoln challenged its sponsor, Stephen Douglas, in the 1858 race for the Senate. Lincoln lost the election but his performance in debates with Douglas gained him national attention. In 1860 he was elected President of the United States. Upon his election, seven southern states seceded from the Union, and others followed suit. In his First Inaugural Address, he argued that secession was not proper under the Constitution. He cited the Articles of Confederation as creating a “perpetual Union,” furthered by the Preamble’s goal of a “more perfect Union.”
After the fighting began, Lincoln called for the suspension of writs of habeas corpus. This meant rebel fighters could be arrested and held without trial. The case of ex parte Milligan addressed the constitutionality of the suspension of habeas corpus.
As the war continued, Lincoln consulted with Frederick Douglass about conditions faced by Army soldiers. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 announcing that slaves in rebelling states were free and that the Union Army would enforce their freedom. Later that year Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, invoking the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and its promise of equality. At his Second Inaugural Address in March of 1865, the war was coming to an end. Lincoln urged his countrymen to “bind up the nation’s wounds” and called the war God’s punishment to a country that tolerated the evil of slavery. When the Confederate capital of Richmond was captured, Lincoln made the symbolic gesture of sitting at Jefferson Davis‘ desk.
Five days after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April of 1865, Lincoln was assassinated. His Vice President Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency. Later that year, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery throughout the nation.
Not content with securing her own freedom, Tubman then turned to helping others escape. Although she faced death or re-enslavement if caught, Tubman became a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad in the 1850’s. At first, she returned south to rescue her family. Over time, she saved hundreds of slaves. She was clever and gifted at avoiding capture, so successful that she was nicknamed “Moses.” Nineteen times, she made the dangerous 650-mile journey from Maryland to Canada. She was never caught, and “never lost a passenger.” During the Civil War, she became a scout, spy, nurse, and cook. She recruited freedmen to the Union cause, and helped lead raids that freed hundreds more slaves.
With unequaled courage, Tubman pursued liberty for every American, and in doing so became a legend. The Thirteenth Amendment, ratified in 1865, ended slavery forever in the United States.