Professor celebrates Toledo’s historic politician

February 21, 2018

Rebecca Zietlow, a professor with UT’s College of Law since 1995, recently published “The Forgotten Emancipator: James Mitchell Ashley and The Ideological Origins of Reconstruction,” a book about the 13th Amendment and the Toledo native who pushed for its ratification.


The book focuses on the historic era of Reconstruction in America, through the life and work of James Mitchell Ashley, a member of the House of Representatives from 1858 to 1868 and a Toledo native.


“The book is about the anti-slavery movement and the labor movement in the early 19th century in the U.S. and how political activists in those movements developed a theory of rights they thought were being violated by the institution of slavery and also a theory of rights for working people in general,” Zietlow said.


These movements greatly influenced Ashley, who became a leader in Congress and spearheaded the campaign to approve the 13th Amendment along with other legislation to end slavery and establish rights for freed slaves and workers, Zietlow said.


Zietlow said she first became interested in researching Ashley at a Constitution Day celebration at UT in the early 2000s where there was a presentation about Ashley.


The lack of public knowledge and research about him immediately drew her to him, and “his ideas were sort of exactly what I was interested in, which was being both very supportive of race equality rights and workers’ rights,” Zietlow said.


A relatively small amount of scholarly research focuses on the 13th Amendment, Zietlow said, partly due to the lack of court cases surrounding the measure.


“Professor Zietlow is one of the nation’s leading scholars of the Reconstruction Era, and her new book is a great contribution to the literature on the 13th Amendment,” said Benjamin Barros, dean of the College of Law.


Zietlow began piecing together the now completed book after a UT conference in 2006 that she organized to discuss the 13th Amendment.


Another factor that motivated her in this research was that a close friend of hers from Yale Law School is Ashley’s great-great-great-grandson. He and his family also attended and spoke at the conference.


In one of the reviews for Zietlow’s novel, Eric Foner of Columbia University said, “Thanks to Zietlow, we can now appreciate Ashley's pivotal role in the pre-Civil War struggle against slavery, abolition during the war and the battle for black rights during Reconstruction.”


Zietlow also developed the 13th Amendment Project in cohesion with the development of her book. A group of scholars devoted themselves to researching the “Emancipation Amendment” — how it came to be, how it was passed and its effects throughout American history.


They will host their inaugural event as part of a conference at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas next month. They plan to focus the conference on economic inequality within the 13th Amendment, Zietlow said.


The 13th Amendment Project will unveil its website at the conference, which Zietlow explained will be a “repository of research on the 13th Amendment.”


Zietlow also hosts a website of her own,, which features other articles and books she has written, including “Enforcing Equality: Congress, The Constitution and The Protection of Individual Rights.”


Zietlow will talk about her novel in the Law Center’s McQuade Auditorium on March 22 at 12 p.m.



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