Case 6


Forever Free

Although the extension and survival of American slavery was the root cause of the Civil War, the federal government’s military efforts were initially limited to only preventing the seceded states from leaving the United States. Due to the efforts of African Americans and their allies on the ground—along with the Confederacy’s stubborn defense—the military, Congress, and the Lincoln administration eventually embraced the idea of attacking slavery.

Abraham Lincoln was an important player in this process, first issuing the Emancipation Proclamation as a means of suppressing the rebellion. Later, he threw his political weight behind ensuring the 13th Amendment—which forever abolished slavery in America except as punishment for crime—passed Congress and went to the states for ratification. In his last speech, Lincoln advocated for voting rights for African Americans—something no previous president had done. Lincoln’s assassination a few days later tragically removed him from the postwar Reconstruction of the South, leaving his vision incomplete.

Label Audio


Abraham Lincoln is most famous for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, but it was the 13th Amendment that permanently destroyed slavery and he probably saw it as the greater achievement. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library holds an edition of the 13th Amendment signed by Lincoln, along with the congressmen who voted for it.

Label Audio


The Civil War transformed the very idea of American freedom—revitalizing the republic as one without slavery. Its aftermath inspired three constitutional amendments that ended slavery, expanded American citizenship rights, and eliminated race as a barrier to voting. The following decades would see a new fight over civic and racial equality.

Label Audio


From the outset of the Civil War, many African Americans understood its potential to end slavery and began exerting pressure. Elizabeth Keckly worked to help Black refugees while serving as Mary Lincoln’s seamstress and Andrew Jackson Smith posthumously earned a Congressional Medal of Honor fighting for the United States.

Label Audio

Social Links