The Postbellum South: From Slavery, Through Unfree Labour to Wage Labour

  • Terence J. Byres


Just as Prussia’s crushing defeat by Napoleon in 1806 was followed by the edict of 1807, which brought serfdom to an end in Prussia, so the South’s surrender in the American Civil War spelt the demise of slavery. That surrender came effectively on 9 April, 1865, when General Robert E. Lee handed his sword over to General Ulysses Simpson Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia (although it was not until July, 1865 that the final skirmishing was over and it was brought entirely to a completion). Having erupted on 12 April, 1861, it had lasted almost exactly four years.1 Its ostensible cause had been the existence of slavery in the South, the determination of the South to maintain slavery, and the desire of the North lo see it eradicated. Its causes are, of course, more complex than can be so briefly represented, but in 1865 slavery, assuredly, was abolished:

In 1864 the Republican Party had endorsed a constitutional amendment that would end slavery in America forever. On January 31, 1865, Congress finally passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude in any lands within the jurisdiction of the United States. [Levine et al, 1989:463]

This was ratified in December, 1865. Slavery was dead.


Planter Class Slave Labour Black Labour Dominant Party Cotton Picker 
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Copyright information

© Terence J. Byres 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Terence J. Byres
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Oriental and African StudiesUniversity of LondonUK

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