1865 One Hundred And Twenty-five Years Ago

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Almost nine months following General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, the Thirty-ninth Congress assembled on December 4 and voted to create a Committee of Fifteen on Reconstruction. Drawn from both houses, the committee was charged with inquiring “into the condition of the States which formed the so-called Confederate States of America, and [to] report whether they, or any of them, are entitled to be represented in either House of Congress, with leave to report at any time, by bill or otherwise.”

As the House clerk went through the roll call, he skipped the names of new representatives of Southern states, many of whom had been Confederate officers only months before, thus giving a hint of the years of sectional rancor to follow.

Secretary of State Seward, having himself survived a brutal beating the day of Lincoln’s assassination, announced to the Senate the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 18. The Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier had been a war act, not the final legal settlement the country needed on the slavery matter. The Thirteenth Amendment, banishing slavery and “involuntary servitude,” was therefore passed by the Senate in April 1864 and later by the House on its second attempt. Following Lincoln’s signature on February 1, the amendment went to the state legislatures. President Johnson eventually made passage a requirement for readmission to the Union.