The End of Slavery in the U.S. Territories

President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law for present and future, which stated in part: “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the Territories of the United States now existing, or which may at any time hereafter be formed or acquired by the United States, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes…”

Stopping the expansion of slavery into the territories had been a key plank in the Republican platform ever since the party’s founding. This law renounced the Supreme Court ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) stating that Congress had no right to regulate slavery anywhere in the U.S. It also rejected the Democratic concept of “popular sovereignty,” under which the people of each territory had the right to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery. In effect, this law took the administration of territories from the territorial settlers and placed it under Federal power.

More importantly, the law paved the way toward ending slavery in the South, as some Republicans argued that those states, by seceding from the Union, no longer held statehood status but should instead be considered conquered territories that could be regulated by Congress.

In another step toward racial equality this month, Lincoln signed a bill into law formally recognizing the nations of Haiti and Liberia, and authorizing the president to appoint diplomatic envoys to those nations. This marked the first time the U.S. extended diplomatic recognition to predominantly black nations.


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