The End of Slavery in America: The Aftermath

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What marked the end of slavery in America? What happened in its aftermath?

The end of the 246-year institution of slavery in America was officially marked by addition of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. But even after the abolition of slavery, its legacy continued to shape the landscape of America. 

Read about the end of slavery in America and what happened in its aftermath.

What Marked End of Slavery in America?

The end of slavery in America was marked by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on April 8, 1864, which abolished any kind of involuntary servitude except in punishment for a crime.

There was a brief moment of true freedom following the end of slavery the end of slavery after the Civil War, known as Reconstruction. For 12 years, blacks had the opportunity to rebuild their lives with the help of federal troops stationed in the South.But when a faction of Congress contested the presidential election of Rutherford Hayes in 1876, the House of Representatives came to a compromise, known as the Compromise of 1877, or the Great Betrayal. In exchange for his approval as president, Hayes agreed to withdraw troops from the last three southern states under federal rule. This move gave conservative political entities the ability to govern all the former Confederate states without northern interference, which essentially ended protections for southern black citizens. 

After Reconstruction, the dominant caste swiftly reclaimed the power they’d been forced to give up. Without federal interference, they created laws that instigated a new type of oppression of the subordinate caste. The laws dictated where blacks could live, what types of jobs they could hold, and how they could be educated. Any member of the subordinate caste believed to step outside these confines was punished without consequence. Even a simple infraction, like not stepping off a sidewalk for a dominant member, was punishable.

More European immigrants began to arrive at Ellis Island, and a new indoctrination into American society took shape. The caste hierarchy based on skin color was the leading principle of the nation, and if immigrants wanted to make it in America, they had to get on board. Irish, Polish, Hungarian, and other immigrants became lumped into the dominant caste of “white.” And this new designation was their passport into society, as long as they adopted a disdain for the subordinate class. 

The development of eugenics, a quasi-science said to demonstrate the biological inferiority of Africans, further supported the desired superiority of the dominant caste. The lines were further drawn and the relationship between the highest and lowest castes further distorted. 

Generation after generation grew up within this distorted system, and today, the continued suppression of the subordinated caste is normal. Their continued debasement helps justify their status as lesser humans, and those in the middle castes still understand that to curry favor with the dominant group, they must dehumanize the lowest. 

The End of Slavery in America: The Aftermath

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Isabel Wilkerson's "Caste" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Caste summary:

  • How a racial caste system exists in America today
  • How caste systems around the world are detrimental to everyone
  • How the infrastructure of the racial hierarchy can be traced back hundreds of years

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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