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Constitution Day 2011: Delaware and the Civil War Amendments

Possible Research Topics

There are many topics to investigate in understanding the proposal and ratification of the Civil War amendments. There are questions concerning the constitutionality of the amendments. 1 Questions were raised about the validity of the ratification process, especially for the Fourteenth Amendment, including what states should be counted and can a state withdraw its ratification? 2 There were those who believed the amendments were drafted by secret groups with hidden motives.3 The nation had endured a devastating war and now had defeated states which had not regained their status in the union and thousands of emancipated people who needed assistance. Also in those years there had been the death of a president, the transition of power to a new president, and an impeachment of that president.

In addition to those widely experienced stresses, Delaware had conditions and situations that set the state apart from the other states. Delaware (just as Maryland, Kentucky, and Tennessee) was a border state, never seceding from the union, yet southern in much of its culture. It was a state where people owned slaves, but the small number of slaves was far exceeded by the number of free blacks (in the 1860 census there were 19,829 free blacks and 1,798 slaves.) But even with such a small number of slaves, the state did not approve the compensated emancipation plan that Lincoln proposed in 1861. 4 Politics in Delaware in Reconstruction was dominated by the Democratic party and the Democratic party was dominated by two families, the Bayard family in New Castle County (U.S. Senator James Bayard was followed in that office by his son Thomas) and the Saulsbury brothers downstate (Governor Gove Saulsbury, U.S. Senator Willard Saulsbury, and brother Eli, who was also Senator.) 5 Racism was powerful motivator for rejecting the amendments and for later situations, such as, preventing blacks from voting. Racism operated on different levels, sometimes subtle and at other times violent. Common themes included inferiority of the black race and a desire for race separation, including colonization/relocation plans for the freedmen. Many opposed the amendments because they feared the centralization of power at the federal level and the diminishment of the powers of the states. 6 These factors and others played a part in Delaware's rejection of the amendments.

The following guide presents resources for researching the many topics concerning the amendments nationally and in Delaware.


Reference Books and E-reference Books

Reference books can give an overview of a topic and are useful for finding dates and basic facts. Topics such as "Constitutional Amendments," "African Americans," "Reconstruction," "Black Codes," or " 14th Amendment," etc., provide useful background information. Examples: Encyclopedia of the United States in the Nineteenth Century (eBook) and Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History: The Black Experience in the Americas (print book).


General history and law books are useful for context, such as: A History of Delaware, 1609-1888, by John Thomas Scharf (1888). 9

Online books -- some older general history books are no longer in copyright and are available full text online. There are two ways to find this out. 1) If you find the book in DELCAT Discovery, there may be ebooks listed.  2) Search for a book in Google books or in a web search engine.


Statistics and social characteristics of a population are a valuable part of research. A demographic profile can be useful in understanding the social context.

Delaware: County-Level Results for 1860 10







STATE TOTALS 112,216110,41890,58919,8295870.52
NEW CASTLE54,79754,54346,3558,188860.16


1: Adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. By Horace Edgar Flack. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1908.

2: "Book Review." By Willard Hurst. Harvard Law Review 52, no. 5 (Mar. 1939): pp. 851-860; The Fourteenth Amendment and the States: A Study of the Operation of the Restraint Clauses of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. By Charles Wallace Collins. New York: Da Capo Press, 1974 [©1912]; Legislative and Judicial History of the Fifteenth Amendment. By John Mabry Mathews. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1909; Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. By Joseph Bliss James. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1984.

3: Adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, Flack; "Book Review" Hurst; The Fourteenth Amendment and the States, Collins. There is a good review of conspiracy theories in the book review by Hurst.

4: History of Delaware. By John A. Munroe. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2001; A House Divided: Slavery and Emancipation in Delaware, 1638-1865. By Patience Essah. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996; “Lincoln’s Compensated Emancipation Plan and its Relation to Delaware,” by H. Clay Reed. Delaware Notes 7, (1931): 27-78. Lincoln proposed paying Delaware slaveholders for the value of their slaves, thus freeing all the slaves.

5: Many researchers have commented on the dynastic politics in Delaware. Among these are History of Delaware, Munroe; A House Divided, Essah; "Reconstruction in Delaware," By Harold B. Hancock. In Radicalism, Racism, and Party Realignment; the Border States during Reconstruction, edited by Richard Orr Curry. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1969.

6:The Fourteenth Amendment and the States, Collins; "Reconstruction in Delaware," Hancock; Segregation and the Fourteenth Amendment in the States: A Survey of State Segregation Laws, 1865-1953: Prepared for United States Supreme Court in Re, Brown Vs. Board of Education of Topeka. By Bernard D. Reams and Paul E. Wilson. Buffalo: W. S. Hein, 1975; “Lincoln’s Compensated Emancipation Plan and its Relation to Delaware,” Reed; Gebhart v. Belton, United States Supreme Court oral argument, (December 9, 1952); A House Divided: Slavery and Emancipation in Delaware, 1638-1865, Essah.