How Free were Freed Blacks after the Civil War? Essay Example
How Free were Freed Blacks after the Civil War? Essay Example

How Free were Freed Blacks after the Civil War? Essay Example

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  • Pages: 17 (4401 words)
  • Published: August 27, 2017
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Prior to and during the Civil War, it is crucial to understand the circumstances African Americans faced. The majority of black slaves resided in Southern US states, whereas Northern states had already abolished slavery and declared themselves free.

President Abraham Lincoln expressed the purpose of abolishing slavery in the United States, acknowledging God's opposition to oppression and bondage. He warned of an approaching storm during the 1860 presidential election and saw divine intervention in it. The workings of the US constitution made a conflict between free states and slave states inevitable, with victory for either the Union or slave-free states seeming likely. In 1865, the Union achieved ultimate victory, officially emancipating all black slaves. However, it will be argued that their freedom and rights remained limited until 1900 and well into the 20th century. If Lincoln had lived to see how freed


black slaves exercised their actual rights, he might have been disappointed that they did not meet their legal entitlements.

Despite being freed from slavery, African Americans did not fully experience the expected freedoms. It is crucial to consider the number and circumstances of slaves before emancipation. In comparison to countries like the West Indies or Brazil, the United States had a smaller slave population. From 1619 until the late 1850s, approximately 400,000 black slaves were brought to the US, while other parts of the Americas had a larger population of 9.5 million who endured harsher conditions. Nevertheless, despite this disparity, the United States managed to provide sufficient resources for its entire population, including newly liberated slaves and immigrants.

Abundant food availability led to a significant population increase, including the black slave population. The growth rate of

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black slaves was equal to the overall population, resulting in a tenfold rise over time. By 1860, there were four million slaves. Unlike the West Indies and Brazil, the Southern region did not import new slaves after 1807. Despite this, the slave population continued to grow due to its crucial role in cotton production and domestic service for the South.

The economic and industrial growth in the Northern provinces surpassed that of the South, and this growth was achieved without relying on slaves. However, slavery continued to be practiced in four provinces (Maryland, Kentucky, Delaware, and Missouri) that were adjacent to the Southern provinces. The expansion of United States territories posed a challenge to the compromise regarding slavery, as opinions about it varied. Many people in the North considered slavery morally unacceptable, whereas those in the South believed it was crucial for the success of cotton plantations. Additionally, the Southern provinces resented being under federal government control, especially since they initially opposed Abraham Lincoln. The issue of whether to maintain or abolish slavery played a significant role in triggering the American Civil War.

The secession of the Southern provinces, strong proponents of slavery, from the United States triggered the American Civil War. This occurred following President Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860 and led to the establishment of the Confederate provinces. However, it became evident over time that a civil war was unavoidable due to both sides' unwillingness to compromise. Driven by his strong spiritual beliefs and personal experiences with poverty, Lincoln aimed to emancipate enslaved black individuals and grant them full citizenship rights. He had long advocated for abolition and even opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act favoring slave

states during western or southern expansion. Despite his determination since 1860, Lincoln lacked sufficient support from Congress or the Supreme Court to eliminate slavery.

President Lincoln's objective during the American Civil War was to prevent the permanent breakup of the United States, while also avoiding angering the four states in the Union that still practiced slavery. These states' departure would have significantly strengthened the industrial and military power of the Confederacy. While openly fighting for slavery, the Southern states claimed to defend the constitution and seek justice, just as the Northern states did. However, President Lincoln, being a shrewd politician, did not openly declare abolition as a stated goal of the war.

The enslaved African Americans had a preference for the Union to emerge victorious in order to achieve their freedom. In September 1862, Abraham Lincoln finally issued an emancipation proclamation, which stated that all slaves in Confederate territories would be liberated. Lincoln declared "That ... all individuals held as slaves within any province or designated portion of a State, the people whereof shall so be in rebellion against the United States, shall be forever free." Although this announcement did not grant freedom to the already enslaved individuals in Northern states, it was a strategic move by Lincoln to make it harder for Southern states to gain foreign backing. The Confederacy had hoped primarily for support from Britain or France.

The announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation during the American Civil War not only provided flexibility to the brotherhood ground forces, but also transformed their pursuit for victory into a moral cause. This proclamation allowed escaped slaves in the Southern states to secure their freedom and even join the

brotherhood forces. However, it is important to note that any black Union troops who were captured by the Confederates would be enslaved again. In the end, this war concluded with triumph for the northern states, ensuring both the preservation of the United States and nationwide abolition of slavery. Abraham Lincoln and his Union forces effectively utilized their military and economic advantage to ultimately achieve success.

The authorities of Abraham Lincoln fulfilled their commitment and emancipated all the slaves in the United States upon the conclusion of the war. In order to secure freedom for African Americans nationwide, 200,000 individuals of African descent fought alongside Union forces during the conflict. Despite gaining their freedom, these people did not witness an immediate improvement in their quality of life. Slavery had not only stripped them of their liberty and legal entitlements but also sought to suppress their cultural identity and impede access to education. However, being enslaved also ensured that they had essential necessities such as sustenance, shelter, clothing, and potentially acquired some occupational skills.

The degree of captivity experienced by slaves differed based on their owners, but overall, they were regarded as valuable property to be traded. The granting of emancipation provided freedom to formerly enslaved African Americans; however, they encountered obstacles like poverty and a lack of guidance. Regrettably, following their liberation, white individuals in Southern states began perceiving them differently. No longer considered diligent commodities, the now freed black individuals were perceived as potential rivals for employment opportunities and access to education. Despite possessing newfound freedoms that could enhance their societal and economic conditions, those who remained in the South struggled to find adequate paid employment for

sustaining themselves.

Limited federal aid was available to individuals affected by the American Civil War in the immediate post-war years. The economic impact of the war resulted in a lack of employment opportunities. Southern states heavily depended on exporting raw cotton from their plantations, mainly to Great Britain. However, as the British market became saturated, there was no longer a demand for additional cotton. As a result, they turned to countries like India and Egypt as alternative sources during the war.

The war led to a decrease in food and cotton production, as slaves left the plantations and farms. Many white farmers were enlisted in the Confederate army. Numerous freed black individuals faced poverty, limiting their freedom. However, the Southern whites wanted to see the freed slaves improve their situation, without causing harm to themselves. The United States constitution provided legal and political rights for freed black American slaves through amendments made right after the Civil War. However, these amendments were only effectively enforced in the Northern states, where a minority of freed slaves resided. Discrimination against black individuals still existed even in the Northern regions.

The implementation of constitutional changes such as the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments was left to individual provinces rather than the federal authorities. This allowed the Southern provinces to have significant freedom in their discriminatory and restrictive policies. However, for some black slaves, this freedom was deadly as they were unable to provide themselves with enough food and medicine. Abraham Lincoln aimed to readmit the defeated Southern provinces back into the United States as quickly as possible, but only if they accepted the end of slavery. The period following the American Civil

War, known as "reconstruction," saw divisions among the victorious union side regarding how much cleansing the Southern provinces needed, including former Confederates and slave-owners. In the Southern provinces, there was a strong desire to strip freed slaves of their rights, even if they could no longer be kept enslaved.

Andrew Johnson, a Southern native, assumed the presidency in April 1865 following Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Johnson pardoned numerous ex-Confederate soldiers, officers, and state officials as part of his mercy campaign. However, he did not strongly advocate for granting voting rights to black men (and women of any race were also excluded from voting at that time). Consequently, the pardoned Confederates who evaded punishment held onto positions of power. This meant that former slaves obtained freedom but lacked rights or a fair future. Nonetheless, many influential ex-Confederates successfully secured seats in the 1865 congressional elections but were barred from taking office by representatives from the northern provinces. If Reconstruction aimed to reintegrate the former Rebel states into the United States, it could be considered successful.

The outcome would have been different if the standard ensured that all freed black slaves in the Southern states received their full rights. However, these rights, granted by the presidency, amended constitution, and Congress, wouldn't remain intact. Thus, it was a missed opportunity or sacrifice for self-serving short-term political gain. Andrew Johnson and Congress clashed over readmitting Southern states and extending rights to free slaves. Some Republican Party members envisioned a future United States as a land of farmers with limited possessions. They idealized a United States whose greatness relied on efforts of free farmers regardless of race.

The expansion of industrial cities in the

North would undoubtedly be a driving force for significant growth and development. Despite the implementation of the Homestead Act in 1862, the anticipated future never materialized on the expected scale. In order to obtain land, families had to either farm their allotted portion for five years or purchase it at a discounted rate after six months. However, very few freed slaves had the means to afford $1.25 per acre. In total, the Homestead Act of 1862 provided grants or sold land at significantly reduced prices to over 400,000 households. In contrast, the equivalent act in 1866 for Southern states allowed only 4,000 freed slaves and their families to acquire land.

Former slave plantations provided slaves with work, regardless of the prevailing economic situation. However, replacing these plantations with the widespread practice of sharecropping only substituted their chains with poverty. In addition to the problem of low wages, seasonal unemployment, and underemployment, freed slaves also faced the impact of the 1873 recession, which affected both the United States and Europe. After the American Civil War, there appeared to be brief opportunities for genuine advancement for freed slaves. Immediately following the end of the war, the Freedman’s Bureau began providing freed slaves with basic education and healthcare services, as well as food, shelter, and clothing.

Despite the severe economic disruption and devastation in certain parts of the Southern states, the Freedman's Bureau provided assistance not only to impoverished Whites. However, the economic prosperity of freed slaves and other black individuals was hindered because many of them stayed in the Southern states where cotton and crop prices were low, while industrial cities in the Northern states experienced a prolonged

period of growth and profits. As a result, decreased agriculture prices caused income across the Southern states to drastically decline. This led Whites to increasingly discriminate in order to protect their own status. Although the American Civil War clearly favored the Northern states as victors, significant power and influence remained with former ruling elites from the Southern states.

The freed black slaves initially believed they were gaining from their newfound freedom and influence, but they quickly discovered that the Southern states stripped away any advantages they had. Life before the American Civil War and emancipation was actually more comfortable for many slaves in comparison to what it became after their liberation. By 1877, when government officials and military forces departed from the Southern states, the former white elites regained control at the state level.

The United States fully re-established itself as a functioning political entity. In exchange for the Southern states rejoining the Union, their elites were allowed to govern as they pleased. However, the legacy of the American Civil War in the South was that it remained an agricultural region characterized by poverty and resentment. The White population resented the humiliating defeat they suffered, while Black individuals endured disenfranchisement and cruel subjugation imposed by Whites. Freed slaves continued to face rampant racism that asserted the superiority of all Whites, regardless of their social status, over even the most educated and talented Black individuals. This racism was institutionalized through the "black code," which stripped freed Blacks of everything except their nominal freedom. Any attempts by Black individuals to assert their rights were met with physical violence and the real danger of intimidation and assault.

Violence against African Americans

in Southern states by hoodlums and vigilantes resulted in a high number of murders, potentially reaching up to 2,000 in and around Shreveport, Louisiana during 1865 alone. This mistreatment of black citizens persisted beyond 1900 and continued into the 1960s. However, under President Lyndon Johnson, African Americans eventually gained the ability to exercise their full democratic rights nationwide. This was a significant improvement compared to a century earlier when President Andrew Johnson's strained relationship with Congress led to disagreements regarding the extent and duration of the rehabilitation needed for Southern states before being readmitted to the Union.

Andrew Johnson vetoed the more extreme statute law, but Congress had enough support to override his veto (which requires a two-thirds majority). Congress attempted to impeach him in response to their dissatisfaction, but they were unable to secure the majority needed for success. Johnson opposed the expansion of the Freedman's Bureau's operations, specifically its provision of basic education. The Freedman's Bureau Act of 1866 allowed for the establishment of black schools, with additional funding coming from church groups, charity organizations, and primarily from the Northern states.

In terms of reducing illiteracy among freed slaves, the combination of education providers succeeded in lowering the rate from 95% at the end of the American Civil War to 64% in 1890. The establishment of Howard and Fisk universities within two years of the war's end was intended to allow the most intelligent freed slaves to become professionals and improve their social and economic status through self-help. It was also intended to fight against racial discrimination in the Southern states where military courts were able to prosecute racists in order to protect freed slaves.

However, this limited measure to protect black individuals only lasted during the Reconstruction period, after which cases of racial discrimination or violations of civil rights had to be heard in civil court. This proved to be a lengthy and often inefficient process that did not significantly improve the situation or reduce discrimination.

Freed slaves initially gained full citizenship in March 1866 with the Civil Rights Act, once again passed against the wishes of Andrew Johnson. The Civil Rights Act, combined with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, officially granted former slaves their freedom, rights, and legal protection. The 13th amendment officially ended slavery, a victory for the Union states. The 14th amendment provided full and equal protection under the law (although this was often violated). The 15th amendment gave all citizens, regardless of color or past enslavement, the right to vote. Congress even attempted to protect black voters from violence and harassment by white racists like the Ku Klux Klan.

Between 1870 and 1872, Congress approved three enforcement Acts aimed at addressing the mistreatment of freed slaves. Regrettably, these Acts only eradicated the use of force and intimidation, but did not address the presence of the Klu Klux Klan in the Southern states. Consequently, once the military forces departed, very few white individuals were willing to oppose the Klan, and instead, many even supported their unlawful actions. Unfortunately, there was a lack of interest from county, state, and federal levels in safeguarding the rights and well-being of the freed slaves.

The extremist Republicans believed that implementing constitutional amendments and other legislation would grant permanent rights to the free slaves. One political consequence of granting voting rights to the

slaves was increased representation for the Southern states at the federal level, resulting in more electoral college votes to elect presidents. Southern Whites predominantly supported the Democratic Party, while the Republican Party aimed to gain the support of the newly enfranchised black voters. The freed slaves actively exercised their right to vote, and their support played a crucial role in winning elections at all levels.

Freed African Americans recognized the significance of being able to vote in order to safeguard their newfound liberties. Opposition to the voting rights of freed slaves also acknowledged the potential importance of their participation in elections, leading to repeated attempts to prevent them from exercising that right. In addition to being elected to state and local legislative bodies, black activists were even elected to the United States Congress. However, the election of African Americans was met with strong resentment from whites in the Southern states who sought to establish racially exclusive electorates and legislatures. On the surface, the election of black representatives appeared to be a step forward.

However, the number of black members in the South Carolina State legislative assembly, specifically the 14 in the House of Representatives and the two senators, represented the highest level of black representation. Their enfranchisement and opportunities for election were only possible because the federal government was committed to protecting it. These black individuals who had been elected worked hard and were a source of pride for themselves and other black people. In fact, many of them displayed more honesty and personal integrity compared to their white counterparts.

It is unfortunate that numerous Southern Whites were committed to upholding their racist policies instead of supporting the

further progress of their black Compatriots. Similarly disappointing was the full cooperation of the federal authorities in denying freed slaves and other black individuals their freedoms and rights. Although the provision of basic education to liberated slaves was beneficial in the long run, it only heightened their awareness of the injustices and discrimination they endured without many solutions. The American Civil War and the short-lived Reconstruction period provided freed slaves with a glimpse into a more liberated and optimistic future.

Many of them sought a freer and brighter future, but it proved elusive to a large portion. Theoretically, the rights granted to freed slaves meant that those living in the Southern provinces could choose to migrate to the Northern provinces where their rights would likely be respected. However, due to poverty, habit, or a desire to stay in their home provinces, 90% of the black population remained in the South. Nonetheless, the growth of education and independent black churches provided freed African Americans with a broader perspective on life. Tom Watson, a white supremacist from Georgia, warned that there was no place in the country for ambitious and educated African Americans who wished to live without manual labor.

Stereotypes like those were used as justification for violating the rights of freed slaves and other black Americans, while also promoting racism and favoritism. Although the former slaves were no longer enslaved, they still faced poverty, hatred, and discrimination. In addition to being discriminated against compared to white residents of the Southern states, they also faced competition and disadvantage from white immigrants. Even self-taught individuals like Booker T Washington encountered frustration in their efforts to find employment, as jobs

were often given to less educated immigrants with fewer qualifications. However, Washington and other African Americans discovered that the biggest obstacle they faced was the color of their skin - which they had no control over.

When it came to hiring, many employers prioritized a person's race over their accomplishments, experience, and education. White individuals were often chosen, regardless of their abilities or lack thereof. This bias limited opportunities for black individuals to find employment that matched their skills, experience, and education. The freedom to choose a career path was rarely available to them.

"The majority of former black slaves had no choice but to continue working for white men, on their land and for their profit."

"Blacks were trapped in a difficult situation. To have any chance at a good job, they needed to acquire skills and education. However, as they progressed, they faced even more discrimination. The best jobs were reserved for Whites, while lower-paying jobs were taken away from black people and given to immigrants."

"Freed slaves struggled immensely to break free from the cycle of poverty that limited their freedom as much as the denial of their constitutional rights."

The majority of freed slaves who couldn't afford to buy their own land were compelled to work as sharecroppers or in other low-paying jobs that Whites considered beneath them. The Southern states suppressed the rights of freed slaves as soon as they could and enforced segregation and second-class citizenship through 'Jim Crow' laws. The Northern states, who claimed to have fought the American Civil War to free black slaves and maintain the United States, did nothing to intervene and protect their black citizens. The Republicans, led by

Abraham Lincoln and the Radicals, betrayed the black community in the Southern states for a few Electoral College votes.

Even though the Supreme Court, which was supposed to protect the legal rights of every individual American citizen, approved the curtailment of black rights by the segregator Southern states. They made a ridiculous legal argument by claiming that none of the Southern states had violated the 14th amendment and that individuals were not obligated to adhere to its provisions. To further exacerbate the suffering of the black population, the Plessy V Ferguson case declared that segregation was legal as long as the provided services were equal in quality but separate. In reality, the services provided to free slaves and other black Americans were almost always inferior in terms of quality.

From the 1890’s onwards, freed slaves and other black individuals faced further restrictions on their rights, surpassing the limitations established by the end of the 1870’s. In Southern states, laws were implemented to strengthen segregation to an extreme degree. Not only were black individuals prohibited from sharing coaches, schools, and restaurants with white individuals, but they were also forbidden from participating in sports or games together. Furthermore, even school books used in segregated educational institutions had to be stored separately, regardless of whether they contained identical content. The white population in Southern states openly expressed their belief that the end of slavery had demonstrated the immoral tendencies of black individuals and therefore they needed to be restrained. Such discriminatory attitudes persisted well into the 20th century.

Despite President Woodrow Wilson's reputation for supporting the right to self-determination for all countries, he advocated for further segregation in the national civil

service by insisting on separate facilities for Whites and Blacks. Wilson even defended these new regulations to civil rights activists, stating that segregation was not demeaning, but actually beneficial. The racist language used by white supremacists inevitably led to violent attacks against Blacks, similar to the violence seen at the end of the American Civil War.

Black civic leaders, like R. R. Wright, attempted to highlight the pervasive violence against black people in the Southern states. In these states, vigilantes had unrestricted authority to kill black individuals without consequence. Shockingly, many black people were killed solely because of their race between 1890 and 1917, averaging one death every other day. In the Christian Recorder, Wright expressed, "we are lynched, we are hanged, riddled with bullets, and burned." According to official records, 2,734 black people were murdered between 1887 and 1917.

[ 30 ] The Southern provinces employed questionable methods to strip freed slaves and other black individuals of their voting rights. Recognizing that many freed slaves and other black individuals were impoverished, illiterate, and owned no property, these methods were used as a guise to disenfranchise them. Tests for literacy, residency requirements, and poll taxes were particularly effective in denying blacks the right to vote. Louisiana went so far as to pass a provision that limited voting rights to only those men whose grandfathers had been eligible to vote.

Of course, almost every ancestor of black voters had been enslaved, rendering their descendants ineligible. This disenfranchisement of black voters was evident. By 1900, only 5,300 black voters remained, whereas just four years prior there had been approximately 130,000 eligible black voters. The situation would worsen after 1900.


the black slaves who were freed after the American Civil War did not experience true freedom. Although they gained their freedom constitutionally, their rights were largely denied to them. As a result, their freedom was empty and vulnerable. In other words, they were not significantly freer than they had been under slavery, but rather more physically, socially, and economically insecure. Approximately 200,000 black individuals, including previously freed slaves, fought for the union forces during the war. Prior to the war, there were already free black individuals in northern states who began making progress in society, economy, and politics.

Unfortunately, the emancipation of slaves in the Southern states after the union's victory only granted them basic constitutional rights as long as the union's forces remained in the South. Even with military presence, racist vigilantes like the Ku Klux Klan engaged in violence and harassment against freed slaves. The Southern police and court system were lenient in addressing the frequent killings of black individuals. Although the Southern states reluctantly acknowledged some rights for freed slaves during the Reconstruction period, the enactment of Black Codes and Jim Crow laws demonstrated white supremacists' mockery of civil rights for black people. This mockery meant that freed individuals had less to eat, drink, and wear than they did under slavery. It is a disgrace that the US federal government was able to allow this situation to persist so easily and quickly after 1877, marking the official end of the Reconstruction period.

During the Reconstruction era, black individuals began making societal, economic, and political advancements. Black members were elected to local and state legislative assemblies.

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