This film shows very clearly that racial equality was not a central theme to the discussions around slavery, and that very few in Washington or anywhere in the country in fact believed that black people were the equal to white people in any real way. This shows that the evolution of race was in fact a slow one, and that the thirteenth amendment might not represent a watershed as many believed (Lincoln). Even though blacks in the north were free, for instance, they still did not have the vote until the Fifteenth Amendment was passed. Furthermore, “Radical Republicans” such as Thaddeus Stevens were in a significant minority during the Civil War, even among the north and among those pushing to end slavery. The show spends a great deal of time depicting the ways in which Lincoln had to convince Stevens to tamper down his rhetoric, because he knew the Thirteenth Amendment would never pass if people thought it was a step towards racial equality.
This, I think, shows that the Thirteenth Amendment was more about codifying existing racial conditions, especially in the North, rather than marching away from racial inequality. The central idea of the Thirteenth Amendment seems to be not that it is wrong to treat black people differently – in fact, there are many ways in which society still systematically discriminates today. Rather, it was about defining black people as human (not groundbreaking even in the Civil War) and arguing that it should be illegal for one human to own another – even if some humans are worse than others. Furthermore, white plantation owners continued to put massive political pressure on Washington even after the close of the Civil War, and in some ways during the process. This is why Jim Crow laws could spring up and were not made illegal until the Civil Rights Act – those laws simply said that one had to have a