The comments to this post – and the subject of the post itself – reminded me of something I wondered about some years back when I was thinking of the different ways different countries have approached dramatic transitions from one type of regime to another, such as the transition from authoritarianism to some form of democracy, or from a slave society to a free* society.

After the American Civil War, a number of legal restrictions were placed – at least temporarily – on people who served the Confederacy, but was anyone post-13th Amendment ever prosecuted or sued for the crime of slavery** committed before passage of the amendment? I suspect the answer if no, but I’m not asking rhetorically. I’m curious if suits were filed but thrown out of court.

*Recognizing that the failure of Reconstruction limited just how free that former slave society became.

**I’m not sure if one could literally sue someone for slavery or if it technically would have had to have been a suit against something like “unlawful imprisonment.” But you know what I mean.


  1. Nope, nobody was prosecuted for slavery, as it was legal before the war and up to the period of the 13th Amendment. That said, slaves did sometimes sue for their freedom (Dred Scott v. Sanford). But that was rare and not a criminal proceeding.

  2. Right, I get that it was legal before, which is why I figured any suit would be thrown out. But I was curious if anyone actually tried some creative interpretation of the law – some kind of civil suit, maybe – in light of the U.S. not offering compensation to former slaves. Thanks for confirming my suspicion that no one did.

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