Beacon Hill: One of Boston's oldest communities, Beacon Hill gets its name from a beacon that once stood atop its hill to warn locals about foreign invasion. Approximately one square mile in size, Beacon Hill is bound by Beacon Street, Bowdoin Street, Cambridge Street and Storrow Drive. Its architecture and lay- out is reflective of old colonial Boston, consisting of brick row houses with beautiful doors, decorative iron work, brick sidewalks, narrow streets, and gas lamps. Beacon Hill is also home to the Massachusetts State House and America's first African Meeting House. Charles Street, the neighborhood's main thoroughfare, is lined with antique shops and restaurants. Beacon Hill has been home to many notable Americans, including Louisa May Alcott, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Daniel Webster, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, and Senator John Kerry.
The Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850 between Southern slave-holding interests and Northern Free-Soilers. This was one of the most controversial elements of the 1850 compromise and heightened Northern fears of a "slave power conspiracy". It required that all escaped slaves were, upon capture, to be returned to their masters and that officials and citizens of free states had to cooperate in this law. Abolitionists nicknamed it the "Bloodhound Law" for the dogs that were used to track down runaway slaves.
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), was a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court held that African Americans, whether enslaved or free, could not be American citizens and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court, and that the federal government had no power to regulate slavery in the federal territories acquired after the creation of the United States. Dred Scott, an enslaved African American man who had been taken by his owners to free states and territories, attempted to sue for his freedom. In a 7–2 decision written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Court denied Scott's request. Although Taney hoped that his ruling would finally settle the slavery question, the decision immediately spurred vehement dissent from anti-slavery elements in the North, especially Republicans. Many contemporary lawyers, and most modern legal scholars, consider the ruling regarding slavery in the territories to be dictum, not binding precedent. The decision proved to be an indirect catalyst for the American Civil War. It was functionally superseded by the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave African Americans full citizenship.
John Brown was born on May 9, 1800, in Torrington, Connecticut, in a Calvinist household and would go on to have a large family of his own. Facing much financial difficulty throughout his life, he was also an ardent abolitionist who worked with the Underground Railroad and the League of Gileadites, among other endeavors. He believed in using violent means to end slavery, and, with the intent of inspiring a slave insurrection, eventually led an unsuccessful raid on the Harpers Ferry federal armory. Brown went to trial and was executed on December 2, 1859.
VERSION A: Abraham Lincoln's position on slavery is one of the central issues in American history. Lincoln often expressed moral opposition to slavery in public and private. Initially, he expected to bring about the eventual extinction of slavery by stopping its further expansion into any U.S. territory, and by proposing compensated emancipation (an offer Congress applied to Washington, D.C.) in his early presidency. Lincoln stood by the Republican Party platform in 1860, which stated that slavery should not be allowed to expand into any more territories. Lincoln believed that the extension of slavery in the South, Mid-west, and Western lands would inhibit "free labor on free soil". In the 1850s, Lincoln was politically attacked as an abolitionist, but he did not consider himself one; he did not call for the immediate end of slavery everywhere in the U.S. until the proposed 13th Amendment became part of his party platform for the 1864 election. In 1842, Abraham Lincoln married Mary Todd, who was a daughter of a slave-owning family from Kentucky. Lincoln returned to the political stage as a result of the 1854 Kansas–Nebraska Act and soon became a leading opponent of the "Slaveocracy"—that is the political power of the southern slave owners. The Kansas–Nebraska Act, written to form the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, included language, designed by Stephen A. Douglas, which allowed the settlers to decide whether they would or would not accept slavery in their region. Lincoln saw this as a repeal of the 1820 Missouri Compromise which had outlawed slavery above the 36-30' parallel. During the American Civil War, Lincoln used the war powers of the presidency to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared "all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free" but exempted border states and those areas of slave states already under Union control. As a practical matter, at first the Proclamation could only be enforced to free those slaves who had already escaped to the Union side. However, millions more were freed as more areas of the South came under Union control. Lincoln pursued various plans to colonize free blacks outside the United States, but none of these had a major effect.
VERSION B: Abraham Lincoln’s position on slavery: From roughly late 1861 onward, Lincoln was involved in some very serious policy discussions about what the post-slavery United States would look like, and one of his solutions that he offered, drawing on something that had long been a part of his political advocacy, was to colonize the slaves abroad. Historically, the most famous example of this is Liberia, which was founded in 1816 and over the course of the next 50 or 60 years, several thousand former slaves migrated to Liberia and colonized it. Lincoln liked this model, but wanted to expand upon it, and he was willing to look in Central and South America, and across the Caribbean. He pursued this policy for the better part of his presidency, secured funding from Congress in 1862, and carried it out in conjunction with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Did any of the colonization efforts actually come to fruition? One of them actually did come to fruition in addition to Liberia. Lincoln signed a contract with a proprietor of an island off the coast of Haiti called the Ile à Vache. The Ile à Vache was a small, uninhabited island just off the southern coast of Haiti, part of Haiti’s possessions and territory. This contractor, a former merchant, had been in Haiti and secured a paper from the Haitian government giving him ownership of this island. On December 31, 1862, the evening before he issues the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln met with this contractor and they drafted terms to get federal subsidized transit and supplies to move up to 5,000 colonists to this island.
Robert Smalls (April 5, 1839 – February 23, 1915) was an enslaved African American who, during and after the American Civil War, became a ship's pilot, sea captain, and politician. He freed himself, his crew and their families from slavery on May 13, 1862, by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, CSS Planter, in Charleston harbor, and sailing it from Confederate controlled waters to the U.S. blockade. His example and persuasion helped convince President Lincoln to accept African-American soldiers into the U.S. Army.
The Port Royal Experiment was a program begun during the American Civil War in which former slaves successfully worked on the land abandoned by plantation owners. In 1861 the Union liberated the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and their main harbor, Port Royal. The white residents fled, leaving behind 10,000 black slaves. Several private Northern charity organizations stepped in to help the former slaves become self-sufficient. The result was a model of what Reconstruction could have been. The African Americans demonstrated their ability to work the land efficiently and live independently of white control. They assigned themselves daily tasks for cotton growing and spent their extra time cultivating their own crops, fishing and hunting. By selling their surplus crops, the locals acquired small amounts of property. In 1862, General Ormsby M. Mitchel allowed African Americans to found the town of Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island. In 1865 President Andrew Johnson ended the experiment, returning the land to its previous white owners.
The Emancipation Proclamation, was issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory. Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war. After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.
PART TWO: THE MASSACHUSETTS 54th
From the beginning of the Civil War, President Lincoln argued that the Union forces were not fighting to end slavery but to prevent the disintegration of the United States. For abolitionists, however, ending slavery was the reason for the war, and they argued that black people should be able to join the fight for their freedom. However, African Americans were not allowed to serve as soldiers in the Union Army until January 1, 1863. On that day, the Emancipation Proclamation decreed that “such persons [that is, African-American men] of suitable condition, will be received into the armed services of the United States.”
Early in February 1863, the abolitionist Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts issued the Civil War’s first call for black soldiers. Massachusetts did not have many African-American residents, but by the time 54th Infantry regiment headed off to training camp two weeks later more than 1,000 men had volunteered. Many came from other states, such as New York, Indiana and Ohio; some even came from Canada. One-quarter of the volunteers came from slave states and the Caribbean. Fathers and sons (some as young as 16) enlisted together. The most famous enlistees were Charles and Lewis Douglass, two sons of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
To lead the 54th Massachusetts, Governor Andrew chose a young white officer named Robert Gould Shaw. Shaw’s parents were wealthy and prominent abolitionist activists. Shaw himself had dropped out of Harvard to join the Union Army and had been injured in battle at Antietam. He was just 25 years old.
At nine o’clock on the morning on May 28, 1863, the 54th’s 1,007 black soldiers and 37 white officers gathered in the Boston Common and prepared to head to the battlefields of the South. They did so in spite of an announcement by the Confederate Congress that every captured black soldier would be sold into slavery and every white officer in command of black troops would be executed. Cheering well-wishers, including the anti-slavery advocates William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass, lined Boston’s streets. “I know not,” Governor Andrew said at the close of the parade, “where in all human history to any given thousand men in arms there has been committed a work at once so proud, so precious, so full of hope and glory as the work committed to you.” That evening, the 54th Infantry boarded a transport ship bound for Charleston.
Colonel Shaw and his troops landed at Hilton Head on June 3. The next week, they were forced by Shaw’s superiors to participate in a particularly destructive raid on the town of Darien, Georgia. The colonel was furious: His troops had come South to fight for freedom and justice, he argued, not to destroy undefended towns with no military significance. He wrote to General George Strong and asked if the 54th might lead the next Union charge on the battlefield.
Even as they fought to end slavery in the Confederacy, the African-American soldiers of the 54th were fighting against another injustice as well. The U.S. Army paid black soldiers $10 a week; white soldiers got $3 more. To protest against this insult, the entire regiment–soldiers and officers alike–refused to accept their wages until black and white soldiers earned equal pay for equal work. This did not happen until the war was almost over.
On July 18, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts prepared to storm Fort Wagner, which guarded the Port of Charleston. At dusk, Shaw gathered 600 of his men on a narrow strip of sand just outside Wagner’s fortified walls and readied them for action. “I want you to prove yourselves,” he said. “The eyes of thousands will look on what you do tonight.”
As night fell, Shaw led his men over the walls of the fort. (This was unusual; typically, officers followed their soldiers into battle.) Unfortunately, the Union generals had miscalculated: 1,700 Confederate soldiers waited inside the fort, ready for battle. The men of the 54th were outgunned and outnumbered. Two hundred and eighty-one of the 600 charging soldiers were killed, wounded or captured. Shaw himself was shot in the chest on his way over the wall and died instantly.
To show their contempt for the soldiers of the 54th, the Confederates dumped all of their bodies in a single unmarked trench and cabled Union leaders that “we have buried [Shaw] with his niggers.” The Southerners expected that this would be such an insult that white officers would no longer be willing to fight with black troops. In fact, the opposite was true: Shaw’s parents replied that there could be “no holier place” to be buried than “surrounded by…brave and devoted soldiers.”
The 54th lost the battle at Fort Wagner, but they did a great deal of damage there. Confederate troops abandoned the fort soon afterward. For the next two years, the regiment participated in a series of successful siege operations in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The 54th Massachusetts returned to Boston in September 1865.
On Memorial Day 1897, the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens unveiled a memorial to the 54th Massachusetts at the same spot on the Boston Common where the regiment had begun its march to war 34 years before. The statue, a three-dimensional bronze frieze, depicts Robert Gould Shaw and the men of the 54th as they marched heroically off to war. Above them floats an angel holding an olive branch, a symbol of peace, and a bouquet of poppies, a symbol of remembrance. The Shaw Memorial still stands today.
The Thirteenth Amendment (Amendment XIII) to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. In Congress, it was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, and by the House on January 31, 1865. The amendment was ratified by the required number of states on December 6, 1865. On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William H. Seward proclaimed its adoption. It was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments adopted following the American Civil War.