If your students have not previously read and analyzed the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, and the Thirteenth Amendment, approved by Congress in January 1865 (and ratified by the states the following December), it will be important to briefly review both before watching Defining Freedom.
As the class reads the excerpts below, ask them to answer the following questions:
- What words and phrases does each use to address the status of those who were enslaved in the United States before 1863?
- What questions are left unanswered?
- Whose responsibility is it to answer those questions?
Excerpt from the Emancipation Proclamation:
That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, 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; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
The Thirteenth Amendment:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
In the video that students will watch in the next step, historian Eric Foner points out that the Thirteenth Amendment does not use the word freedom. He then names two questions that were at the core of the debates and conflicts during the Reconstruction era: “What is freedom anyway? What does it mean to be a free person?” Wrap up your discussion about the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment by sharing these two questions with students.