Final Freedom

The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment

Final Freedom

Final Freedom looks at the struggle among legal thinkers, politicians, and ordinary Americans in the North and the border states to find a way to abolish slavery that would overcome the inadequacies of the Emancipation Proclamation. Michael Vorenberg tells the dramatic story of the creation of a constitutional amendment and argues that the crucial consideration of emancipation happened after, not before the Emancipation Proclamation; that the debate over final freedom was shaped by a level of volatility in party politics underestimated by previous historians, and that the abolition of slavery by constitutional amendment represented a novel method of reform that transformed attitudes toward the Constitution. Michael Vorenberg is an assistant professor of history at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He was a research assistant to David Herbert Donald for his prize-winning biography, Lincoln, and he is a contributor to the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association and the Reader's Companion to the American Presidency. This is his first book.


"A well-researched, gracefully written account of the final emancipation of slaves in the United States, Final Freedom is a must-read for scholars interested in the history of slavery and abolition, African American history, legal and constitutional history, and general U.S. history." The Journal of Southern History

"This study is a remarkable piece of historical research and writing...A short review can barely do justice to the virtues of this outstanding work. Subtly argued and elegantly written, almost every page brims with fresh insights. Besides breathing new life into the constitutional scholarship of the Civil War era, Final Freedom also provides a valuable starting point for future work on the politics of emancipation." The Historian

"Important, long-awaited, and complex..." North Carolina Historical Review

"This is a fine study of the troubled steps to end slavery." American Historical Review

"Professional historians will long appreciate Michael Vorenberg's close description of that era's coming to grips with the necessary constitutional outcome of the nation's most traumatic upheaval." Journal of American Ethnic History

"The strength of Vorenberg's study lies in its detailed analysis of the limitations of wartime emancipation and the debate that ensued over an emancipation amendment." Journal of American History

"Vorenberg's observations about the larger importance of the Thirteenth Amendment serve to enhance appreciation for what should no longer be the overlooked member of the trio of Civil War constitutional amendments." H-Net Reviews

"This innovative, well-written work focuses on the emancipation of American slaves subsequent to the Emancipation Proclamation and leading up to the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which constitutionalized the issue of slavery. Although Vorenberg (Brown Univ.) acknowledges the depth and breadth of scholarship addressing the progress of African Americans after the Civil War, he asserts that comparatively scant attention has been paid to the process by which emancipation was legalized. Personalities, famous and not so well known, on both sides of the emancipation issue are heard. The author's impressive research, which includes an extensive exploration of little-mined archival documents as well as quotations from the press and Congressional Record, gives a rich political, legal, and societal context to the crafting, progress, and implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment. Highly recommended..." Library Journal

"Final Freedom demonstrates that the Thirteenth Amendment was not an automatic sequel to the Emancipation Proclamation or an inevitable means of abolishing slavery. Instead, the Amendment's language, function, and meaning were contested. The story of its enactment and ratification, so well told here, is important and fascinating." James M. McPherson, Princeton University, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

"Vorenberg's compelling research...shows that the motivations of many participants [in the process of ratification] were diverse and complex." Journal of Illinois History


Finalist for 2002 Lincoln Prize