Stephanie Cogdill Dr. Caddell HI252 April 25, 2010 The End of Slavery: A Promising Future?

Since the Civil War, African Americans have worked to become equals with the whites that were once their formers masters. From slavery, to freedmen, to the civil rights movement, there has been a steady progression to form equal rights. As a country founded on the principle that all men are created equal, the Civil War had profound results on the equality of African Americans and their position in American society. With the end of the Civil War bringing about the emancipation of slaves, the question arises as to whether or not Reconstruction and the results of the Civil War actually benefited those who were enslaved. The fact that the slaves were now in a sense free, lends to the argument that the results were beneficiary to them and allowed them to begin a new life. Others see it as a harsh awakening for the now former slaves, as many “were cast out and left to find their own. It was often times described as a period of intense struggle to begin anew.” This paper will look at both sides of this argument, and based on the information each argument presents, decide which has the more stable claim as to whether or not the slaves were benefited by their new found freedom, or if it was more of a tragic loss for southern landowners.

To begin with, we will look at the argument that the end of slavery was not as gratifying as history often portrays it to be. John Smith looks at the struggle blacks went

Cogdill 2 through when released from their masters. “…most blacks described it [the period after emancipation] as a period of intense struggle. Confronted by resentful, vindictive, and often violent white southerners, and in Andrew Johnson an unsympathetic president, the freedpeople desperately needed support, guidance, and protection” (Smith 62). From this argument, Smith shows that once freed, the blacks had no support in order to begin their new lives, and that they desperately needed it in order to make the most of their situation. In this, they found hope in the Freedmen’s Bureau. “Never before had a branch of the U.S. government taken on such a social and humanitarian function. Significantly, it assisted the freedmen in arranging labor contracts between themselves and white landowners, who often were their former masters. In addition, the agency arbitrated disputes between the two parties over wages, hours and conditions of labor (Smith 62). Here Smith shows that the freedmen found some hope in the Freedmen’s Bureau in helping them make the rough transition from slavery to a free life. “In many cases the Freedmen’s Bureau offered the former slaves the first real protection ever allowed them before the law” (Smith 62).

Continuing with Smith’s argument, he brings up next the fact of how blacks were constantly mistreated after their newly received freedom. “No matter how hard they worked, during Reconstruction most blacks remained landless, poor, undereducated, and subject to white control. Over time freedpeople became trapped in perpetual debt by what became known as the sharecropping and farm tenantry systems. Under both systems of labor whites held title to the land” (Smith 76). Smith argues that even though the blacks were now free, whites still had the upper hand in day-to-day dealings. Was this actual

Cogdill 3 freedom then? How was this any better, let alone fair? “Blacks frequently were overcharged for what they purchased and underpaid for the crops they produced. Accumulating ongoing debt to the owners of the land they worked, generations of blacks became tied to the land” (Smith 77). Smith states that not only were blacks treated unfairly, but they were up against harsh consequences if they went against “the rules.” “If blacks failed to do so, they were liable to arrest and imprisonment. Whites thus controlled not only the land but also gradually regained control of the South’s black work force” (Smith 77).

Lastly, Smith argues that on top of all these circumstances, blacks also had to deal with racial terrorism. This came mainly in the form of the Ku Klux Klan. “The Ku Klux Klan began in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, as a social group. During Congressional Reconstruction the Klan changed from a social group to a terrorist political organization. At first Klansmen hoped to frighten the freedmen and their white Republican supports, to discourage them from voting and holding office. When this tactic failed, however, they used violence” (Smith 122) Smith’s argument upholds that blacks were met with violence whenever they tried to exercise their rights as freedmen.

On the same point as John Smith is Stephen Ash. Ash’s argument upholds the same beliefs as Smith’s: that blacks were met with a series of obstacles with their new freedom. “Whether the Yankees were near or far, and whether they were welcoming or not, slaves were hindered from seeking freedom by the rigid restrictions and supervision imposed by the white community and government authorities in 1860-61. To these were

Cogdill 4 added the increasingly strict oversight of the slaveowners themselves” (Ash 6). Ash is able to elaborate on the harsh environment imposed on the black community. The idea of freedom is there, but they are unable to fully obtain it with the white community still having the upper hand. “Even as masters insisted, as many did, that their own slaves were perfectly loyal, they began watching them more closely. Many tried to deter potential fugitives by spreading horror stories about the Yankees. The enemy has come not to free the slaves, masters said, but to ravage the South and abuse its inhabitants, black and white alike” (Ash 6). This elaboration by Ash on how the blacks were deceived by their owners elaborates greatly on the troubles that plagued the black population.

Ash also manages to give great insight at the period when blacks realized they were free. “Hundreds of thousands of enslaved people became free before the Civil War ended. Many gained freedom through their own daring and cunning, combined with a measure of luck and assistance from the Yankees; others did so purely through the force of Union arms. Still other were freed by state or federal legal action, and some were simply abandoned or cast out by their masters” (Ash 61). Ash’s argument states that the emancipation of the slaves was no great celebration, and that it happened in very different ways that were often unsatisfying. “The people who gained freedom during the war experienced it in many different ways. For some it was a joyful, fruitful freedom that smashed literal and figurative shackles and opened doors to opportunity; for others it was grim and barren, hardly better than bondage” (Ash 77). Freedom was not always a glorious occasion according to Ash. For many it was just a break in the cycle. “A few, tragically, tasted freedom for a time only to be dragged back into slavery” (Ash 77).

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Ash lastly argues, like Smith, about the hardships facing blacks and their new freedom. “Labor was a primary and immediate point of dispute. The freed people demanded, in the very least, fair compensation for their work…” (Ash 77). Ash’s argument on this subject directly coincides with the one made earlier by John Smith. The idea that blacks had immediate freedom and it was all for the best is greatly argued against by both of these authors. “It was clear to many black Southerners that the expansive freedom and autonomy they sought would be enormously difficult to achieve” (Ash 97).

On the other side of this argument lie those who overlook the hardships that blacks faced, and instead look in sympathy to the former white slaveowners. To begin this argument there is Lacy Ford. “…rural freedpeople aspired to economic independence through land-ownership, failing which they rented land, found supervisory employment, or worked for wages. Like their urban (and frequently freeborn) counterparts, the rural folk desired to enjoy citizenship rights without discrimination and took active part in public affairs during Reconstruction. In short, they defied the stereotypes of political buffoons and lazy dependents that had been the hallmark of hostile interpretations from Reconstruction to the mid twentieth century” (Ford 280). At first Ford’s argument looks as though it is prepared to side with the blacks. Rather, it is setting the stage for the argument to come: that the active role blacks tried to have was upstaging the role whites were trying to have over them. Ford’s argument continues with stating how it was unfair to the whites how they achieved their freedom. “The war drew thousands of slaveowners

Cogdill 6 and overseers into the Confederate army and navy, leaving many plantations and farms without a significant white male presence. The result was that plantation discipline gradually but inexorably disintegrated, with the result that ‘slavery eroded, plantation by plantation, often slave by slave, like slabs of earth slipping into a Southern stream.’ The penetration of the South by invading Union armies simply exacerbated an already unstable situation” (Ford 367). The argument that Ford just made states that the only reason blacks received their freedom was due to unstable situations on plantations that could not be helped. It is as though the argument leans towards saying that had the incoming army not have been, slavery would have lasted longer and that would be just fine.

Ford’s next argument goes in to how the idea of losing slaves was an unacceptable idea to the white southerners, and how they looked to continue their way of life. “By and large, former slaveowners- and landowning whites generally- recoiled from the idea of a free labor system in which they would negotiate as equals with black employees” (Ford 368). Ford openly states here that the idea of working equally with the black race was unacceptable. “A tiny percentage fled the country for Mexico or Brazil, lands where slavery, or some approximate facsimile, was still legal. Larger numbers hoped to attract to the South reliable alternatives to black labor, looking to the North or outside of the United States for European immigrants or Chinese ‘coolies’ who might constitute a submissive and docile labor force. Most eventually dismissed these hopes as unrealistic and accepted the necessity of dependence on the former slaves, but this pragmatic majority generally determined to maximize their control over black workers by

Cogdill 7 creating a labor system as closely akin to slavery as possible” (Ford 368). Ford states a lot of information in that argument. First and foremost, that whites were preoccupied with finding ways to continue slavery rather than work with those who had been freed. When they realized that this was not possible, they looked for ways to control the freed population as much as possible so that their control was similar to what they had with slaves.

While not as deliberate in the claims made by Ford, but still overlooking the hardships the black race faced is DigitalHistory. “…many white Southerners…unwilling to accept a new relationship to former slaves, resorted to violent opposition to the new world being created around them (DigitalHistory). This source admits to whites still trying to keep their control while showing that the blacks were trying move forward with their new lives. The source makes it look like and easy transition though, instead of the hardships that the first arguments showed. “Many former slaves believed that their years of unrequited labor gave them a claim to land” (DigitalHistory).

Between the two arguments given, there is a lot to be said. The first argument, being that former slaves had many hardships to face along with their new freedom, has many substantial points to give for its case. From lack of government help, to the whites trying to remain in control, it gives strong support for itself. The second argument, that it was whites who now faced the hardships, and that the blacks were free to do as they pleased, lacks much of the stability the first argument has. While it is probably true that many people at the time felt they were the ones facing hardships, this was not the overall

Cogdill 8 consensus of the time period. Also, while many blacks may have found it easy to carry on after they left their masters, there is not much support for this “easy life” they were able to find. I find that the first argument has much more value than the second, and relates more to the overall feel of that time period. The second argument seems to come from a resentful mindset or one that is not fully aware of the happenings of that time period.

Overall, you have the idea that blacks either had a difficult time finding a good life after their emancipation, or that they did not and were able to carry on carefree. The argument for a difficult time had very strong points for racial terrorism and trying to find jobs. The arguments for an easy time had a good point in showing that whites were facing the end of a way of life, and that regrouping would be difficult and take some time. I do think that the first argument has the better claim and support though. It has all of the necessary points to prove in the various aspects how life was extremely difficult for the newly freed blacks. The second argument lacks that substantial evidence that blacks just took off on their new way of life and that the whites actually were the ones who faced the difficulties.

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Bibliography "America's Reconstruction: People and Politics After the Civil War." Digital History. Ilder Lehrman Institute of American History, 2003. Web. 01 Feb. 2011. <http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/reconstruction/index.html>. Ash, Stephen V. The Black Experience in the Civil War South. Santa Barbara, CA: CA: Praeger, 2010. Burner, David, Virginia Bernhard, and Stanley I. Kutler. Firsthand America A History of the United States. 8th ed. Vol. II. St. James, NY: Brandywine, 2005. Print. Ford, Lacy K. A Companion to the Civil War and Reconstruction. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005. Print. Smith, John David. Black Voices from Reconstruction, 1865-1877. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook, 1996. Print. Vetting: The first source on the list is an internet site. I referenced this site due to the fact that it is based off of a textbook published by Louisiana State University. It is also from a “.edu” website. Due to this, I consider it a reliable and accurate source to use in this paper.