Illinois Republicans nominate Abraham Lincoln for the U.S. Senate. In accepting, Lincoln delivers his “House Divided” speech in which he asserts that the nation can not endure permanently half-slave and half-free. Incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas agrees to an unprecedented series of debates held in towns across the state. Although the Democrats win control of the state legislature and reelect Douglas, Lincoln gains notoriety and becomes a contender for the 1860 presidential nomination.
John Brown, the radical abolitionist and veteran of “Bleeding Kansas,” fails in his attempt to capture the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) and to use the weapons to foment a slave rebellion. Brown and his co-conspirators are hanged, becoming martyrs to the anti-slavery cause.
Abraham Lincoln is elected president.
The Secretary of the Navy authorizes enlistment of contrabands (slaves) taken in Confederate territories.
President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the Confederate states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” The Presidential Order also authorizes the mustering of black men as federal regiments.
The 54th Massachusetts is organized at Camp Meigs, in Readville, Massachusetts. Free blacks from throughout the North enlist in the 54th. Other training stations, like Camp William Penn, outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are established for training black troops. Between 178,000 and 200,000 black enlisted men and white officers serve under the Bureau of Colored Troops.
Congress rules that black soldiers must receive equal pay.
The Civil War ends with a northern victory.
With their freedom, Southern blacks seek to reunite their families torn apart by slavery, as well as acquire education (particularly reading and writing). Many leave the South for the West and North.
President Lincoln speaks publicly about extending the franchise to black men, particularly “on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers.”
The Thirteenth Amendment abolishes slavery throughout the United States.
President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.
Andrew Johnson becomes President and begins to implement his own Reconstruction Plan that does not require the right to vote for black men in the former Confederate states.
Many northern states reject referendums to grant black men in their states the right to vote.
Mississippi becomes the first of the former Confederate states to enact laws which severely limit the rights and liberties of blacks. Other Southern states follow with similar legislation.
The Freedmen’s Bureau is established in the War Department. The Bureau supervises all relief and educational activities relating to refugees and freedmen, including issuing rations, clothing and medicine. The Bureau also assumes custody of confiscated lands or property in the former Confederate states, border states, District of Columbia, and Indian Territory.
The Ku Klux Klan is formed by ex-Confederates in Pulaski, Tennessee.
The Fourteenth Amendment is ratified making all African-Americans citizens.
The 15th Amendment is passed permitting black men the right to vote.
Although slavery had officially ended, the struggle for rights due to the oppressive “Jim Crow” laws enacted during reconstruction and throughout the late 1800’s and early 1900’s led to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and finally the passing of legislation abolishing such laws. (more in our article “African-Americans – From Slavery to Equality“)