American Civil War Reconstruction Era

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Yvonne Craig
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“Freedmen has nothing but their freedom”. Discuss the treatment of ex slaves in the South during Reconstruction.

Freedmen itself is the term used to describe slaves who became free men after the US Congress passed the Confiscation Act of 1862. Previously, at the outset of was in Tinkell and Shi’s text ‘America, A Narrative History’ one is made aware that at the beginning of war, then President Lincoln, whom was later assassinated had promised to restore the union but “maintain slavery where it existed”. It must also be noted that Congress also took up this position. With the onslaught of fighting brought new issues to a head. Lincoln found himself in the middle of a melting pot of racial prejudice. The war was forcing the issue of emancipation for slaves and in April 1862 Lincoln signed an Act which abolished slavery in the District of Columbia and subsequently in July 1862 the Confiscation Act was passed. Essentially, freedom was indeed the perfect ideology for slaves but the question one must pose is that did these slaves ever truly envisage a life away from the plantations and entrapment of their masters, or was it all a form of fairytale for them. Freedom came at a cost to these ex slaves. Frightening uncertainties emerged for ex slaves n the South during the process of Reconstruction. Uncertainty arose around homelessness, education, health and work, not to mention the treatment of these ex slaves, particularly by the Acts being passed, and the emergence of not only the Ku Klux Klan, but other organizations of the same nature. One shall be discussing during this essay the process of reconstruction in the South and discuss the way in which the ex slaves were treated.

In Kenneth Stampp’s text ‘The Era of Revolution 1865-1877’ he tells us that Lincoln hoped that with reconstruction the nation’s wounds would heal and to achieve a long and lasting peace. Throughout this period however it became apparent that this was never going to be the case. Many historians have alluded to this phase as “The Tragic Era”, “The Dreadful Decade” and the “Age of Hate”. Reconstruction in the South represented the shame of the American people. After Lincoln’s assassination, Andrew Johnson became the successor to the Presidency. He was described as being somewhat of a “Lone Wolf” (Mckitrick, E, Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction, Page 85). He was also said to be battling against all odds when it came to Reconstruction. Importantly, one must ass that Johnson himself was indeed a slave owner. Being a Democrat, Johnson showed a lack of willingness to cooperate with political parties and in Congress even seemed to wage “a guerilla warfare” (McKitrick, E, Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction, Page 88). One would argue that with such a leader the process of Reconstruction and treatment of ex slaves was never going to be a smooth transition. One must also describe the ways in which slaves were treated in the South before Reconstruction to fully understand the plight they faced later. Joseph Holmes. A former slave recollected that during his time as a slave, his Mistress would not allow her slaves to be mistreated as she saw it as “poor business”. Another ex slave, Tempe Durham recalled how her white Mistress threw a massive party for her and her husband on their wedding day. Although these narratives seem to hold slave owners as decent, this was not always the case, especially not during Reconstruction. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution indeed abolished slavery, however, after this all former slave States adopted so called ‘Black Codes’ enhancing the view that Freedmen indeed did have nothing but their freedom.

With reference back to these new black codes one will be focusing on the States of Mississippi and South Carolina. These Southern States gave freedmen next to no civil rights and no voting rights during Reconstruction. Plantation owners in the South...
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