The Freedmen as Comic/Heroic
The Freedmen as Comic/Grotesque
The Freedmen as the Solution to a Problem
The Freedmen as a Solved Problem
“The First Vote,” Harper's Weekly, Nov. 16, 1867, 721
The Freedmen as Not-A-Problem
A story published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper a few months after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect gave the impression that some slaves were happy in bondage. “The Governess: A Tale of the Times” featured a chivalrous Southern gentleman who was fighting on the side of the Union, his Northern sweetheart, and the scheming Fitzhugh, a Confederate. An illustration accompanying the story showed the slave "Uncle Joe," rescuing the a "contraband" rescuing the Massachusetts maiden from the depredations of Fitzhugh. While this show of heroism might seem to contradict stereotypes of African-Americans, the most important element in the story's representation of race comes in the conclusion in which the slave declares his affection for "Massa Clem." The final lines of the story are as follows:
"A letter was sent Col Claybun by the hands of good old Uncle Joe, who would not leave Massa Clem for freedom. "He was too ole, too ole, and massa Clem was a mighty good massa, an' a real Norf Car'lina gen'lman, as Miss Lennox knowed!"
--"The Governess: A Tale of the Times," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 18, 1863
The setting of the story in the wartime South, and the fact that two of the main characters were in the military is one way of explaining why the story was called "A Tale of the Times," but the fact that the story ends with Uncle Joe's declaration of fealty to his master suggests that this story was contributing to the debate over slavery by reinforcing the old stereotype of the "happy slave," a stereotype that was dramatically contradicted by the testimony of the freedmen themselves.
For a depiction of "happy slaves" in an image published at the end of the war, see "Before Secession, After Secession: The South as Secession Found It, The South as Secesion Leaves It," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspapers, December 12, 1863, 183. Notice, in particular, the depiction of the slaves dancing in the days before secession.
Hatchie, the guardian slave, or, The heiress of Bellevue. A tale of the Mississippi and the South-west / by Warren T. Ashton
Savannah Febry 17 1842
Anthony Chase Esq.
I must confess that I have not forgotten to write to you. I have put it off from time to time, under the privilege of the place where I am, to do nothing that I can avoid. This is one of the most valued privileges of the “Institution” yet I do not think that I am or any one is more happy for it. You will probably first wish to know what are my impressions of this same “Institution” which is justly considered the foundation of Southern wealth – and of the whole social structure at the South. The evils of the institution are even greater than I had supposed but I rejoice to see that the probability of their continuance is less. I am more and more convinced that the action of Northern abolitionists for the removal of slavery does nothing to effect their object and I do not see that their effects hinder the accomplishment of their object except as they give the slaveholders the advantage of taking the attitudes of defence [sic] against persecution, which is worth much to them. When a man can persuade himself or others that he is a martyr, his zeal and perseverance will increase, especially when he can allege false statements and unfair treatment on the part of his sufferers. But a process of abolition is going on, of which the result is inevitable and not far distant. I alluded to the tendency of the unprofitableness of slave labour. I am told that the present prices of cotton do not pay the interest of themoney invested in the culture and slaves are very few. The price of cotton is regularly declining and a still greater depreciation is expected from the competition of the East-India cotton. The planters feel very poor and very much depressed at their prospects. Yet slave labour is very expensive. For male and female house servants and for laborers one hundred Dollars per annum is paid to their masters and in addition clothes and board and often presents are provided and for this not more than half of a white mans labour is obtained and often less. Moreover some Southerners expect the abolition of slavery from the increase of the intelligence of the Slaves which as one of them told me, in a few generations will place them on a level with their masters and they their equality cannot be denied. The law prohibits teaching slaves to read under a heavy penalty -- $500 fine I think. Yet many of the Slaves can read and more are anxious to learn. But this is a large subject I cannot pursue further.
P.S. As far fetched opinions are often painted without regard to their value, I will say that the publication of my remarks on Slavery would give me much discomfort – in my residence here. I therefore ask that you will not do it. (Box 2 folder 20)
--The Freedmen's Record, October, 1865
We call attention to this fact because it illustrates a very important feature in the re-adjustment of the South. This section can become prosperous only through the products of its labor united' with capital. To reach the desired result, cotton, tobacco, sugar, and rice must be grown. The emancipation of the slaves has made labor free. How do the manufacturers at Lowell and Lawrence proceed now that they are great stress for hands'? They offer every inducement to operatives. Besides liberal wage care is taken that they have comfortable boarding-houses; schools are established for the children, and various provisions made for their comfort. Will it be any different on the hanks the James, Savannah, or Mississippi, than on the Merrimack? Suppose Maryland, starting with a liberal and sagacious policy, should offer higher wages to the freedman, allow him testify in court, and grant him more privileges than he has in Virginia: the consequence can easily be seen. The laborers of the Old Dominion would at once cross the Potomac, 'he same rule would apply if Georgia or Florida should thus offer the black man better terms than the Carolinas. The laws of supply and demand are inexorable. South Carolina cannot rise from her prostration without turning her wasted and desolate lands into fruit-bearing fields. She must raise cotton and rice. As the lash and the chain are not allowed on the plantation, new motives and inducements must be offered. For years to come, the crops of the South must be raised to a great extent by the black man. He has done this for centuries. He is there on the spot; and desires, if well treated, to remain. What can the Northern cotton-manufacturer do to-day without operatives? The planter's needs are no less imperative; and the practical question will soon arise in each of the Southern States, How shall we keep the freedman at home? The idea of eliminating from a community its whole laboring population is a monstrous delusion, which no wise practical business-man would seriously entertain unless he lets his passions override his judgment. The whole South will not commit financial suicide, and doom themselves to perpetual poverty. The large number of Northern men who will go there with thrift, industry, and business foresight, will solve the problem. Already many of the plantations under the direction of Northern men are the most profitable. The planters, to compete with him on equal terms, must follow his example. The case seems to us very plain. When society settles down into its normal condition of peace, there will be a great demand for labor; and each State will be vitally interested to keep all it has and to get more, just as now the cotton-manufacturer is compassing sea and land for operatives. Soon the merchant in Charleston and Richmond, the farmer on James river, the planters in the Carolinas, in their stress will ask the practical question, Will this narrow and unjust policy towards the negro pay?
We here recognize one of the most impressive lessons of the wisdom and goodness of God in the arrangements of the world. The rights which many would not grant on the plea of justice, are conferred from motives of self-interest; and, though the good accomplished does not have for those who do it the sancity and flavor of virtue, let us rejoice, and thank God in behalf of those who are benefited. We also think a deeper insight into the great laws on which political economy is based would increase our reverence for God. We would then recognize the profound religious meaning of toil, and discern those moral results which follow from the great industrial arrangements of society.—[ Christian Register.
--The Freedmen's Record, October, 1865
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, December 24th, 1864
Emancipation: A Temporary or Permanent Measure?
At the last session of Congress a proposed amendment of the Constitution abolishing slavery throughout the United States passed the Senate, but failed for lack of the requisite two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives. Although the present is the same Congress and nearly the same members, and without questioning the wisdom or patriotism of those who stood in opposition, I venture to recommend the reconsideration and passage of the measure at the present session. Of course the abstract question is not changed; but in intervening election shows almost certainly that the next Congress will pass the measure if this does not. Hence there is only a question of time as to when the proposed amendment will go to the States for their action. And as it is to so go at all events, may we not agree that the sooner the better? It is not claimed that the election has imposed a duty on members to change their views or their votes any further than, as an additional element to be considered, their judgment may be affected by it. It is the voice of the people now for the first time heard upon the question. In a great national crisis like ours unanimity of action among those seeking a common end is very desirable--almost indispensable. And yet no approach to such unanimity is attainable unless some deference shall be paid to the will of the majority simply because it is the will of the majority. In this case the common end is the maintenance of the Union, and among the means to secure that end such will, through the election, is most dearly declared in favor of such constitutional amendment. ***
In presenting the abandonment of armed resistance to the national authority on the part of the insurgents as the only indispensable condition to ending the war on the part of the Government, I retract nothing heretofore said as to slavery. I repeat the declaration made a year a ago, that "while I remain in my present position I shall not attempt to retract or modify the emancipation proclamation, nor shall I return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation or by any of the acts of Congress." If the people should, by whatever mode or means, make it an Executive duty to re-enslave such persons, another, and not I, must be their instrument to perform it. In stating a single condition of peace I mean simply to say that the war will cease on the part of the Government whenever it shall have ceased on the part of those who began it.
--Abraham Lincoln, State of the Union Address, December 6, 1864
In General Butler’s department, there were, in the beginning of April, sixty-eight thousand eight hundred and forty-seven negroes. Of these, eight thousand three hundred and forty-four were soldiers, who had voluntarily enlisted into the service of the United States. These men enlisted with no bounty but what the General so well named as the “great boon awarded to each of them, the result of the war, — Freedom for himself and his race forever.” They enlisted, knowing that at that time the Government promised them but ten dollars a month. In view of these facts, we consider the proportion of soldiers, nearly one in eight, extraordinary,— though we are aware that the number includes many who had not lived in those counties, who came into our lines with the purpose of enlisting. These simple figures involve the first feature of the true policy in the “Four-Million question.” The war offers the negroes this priceless bounty. Let them fight for it.
Let it be remembered that these people — slaves by our concurrence—came forward in the nation's trial-hour, and, by their bravery, helped to turn the tide of battle in our favor. Shall we repay such generosity with neglect and indifference ? The thought of such baseness is not for a moment to be endured!
A petition signed by upwards of 200 colored men of North Carolina has been sent to President Johnson. In it the signers say:
“As you were once a citizen of North Carolina, we need not remind you that up to 1835 free colored men voted in this State, never, as we have heard, with any detriment to its interests. It seems to us that men who are willing on the field of danger to carry the musket of a Republic, in the days of peace ought to be permitted the justice to carry its ballots; and certainly we cannot understand the justice of denying the elective franhise to men who have been fighting for the country, while it is freely given to men who have just returned from four years’ fighting against it.”
--Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 24, 1865, 210.
The policy that emancipated and armed the negro--now seen to have been wise and proper by the dullest--was not certainly more sternly demanded than is now the policy of enfranchisement. If with the negro was success in war, and without him failure, so in peace it will be found that the nation must fall or flourish with the negro.
You can read a short biographical sketch of Thomas Waterman Wood at Virtual American Biographies. A brief commentary on this and other works by Wood is included in Charles C. Eldredge's Tales from the Easel: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century American Narrative Paintings, circa 1800-1950, in Resource Library Magazine.
"The Greater the Inferiority,
Perhaps the most common form of doubt in relation to the efforts of Freedmen's Aid Societies, is expressed in this question often put; viz., do those who have watched their progress and labored in their behalf find that they are equal to the Anglo-Saxon races? The reply is obvious. In order to justify our enterprise and our hopes it is not needful to prove this.
The peoples who belong to the. Asiatic, the Polynesian, the Esquimaux races are not viewed as shut out from all attempts to civilize them, because they are inferior in most respects to the Anglo-Saxon race. On the contrary, the greater the inferiority, the stronger is the claim on those who can help to elevate. Who shall define the minimum of endowment, which bars the claim of a human being to such help as the strong can give to the weak, the instructed can give to the ignorant?
And further, may there not be, in this wide world, something to do, even by those to whom God has given, not the ten talents, but the one talent of natural endowment?
But we are justified in resting our appeal not solely on these grounds. We affirm that the negro has afforded abundant evidence; to say the least, of susceptibility to, and capacity for, improvement and progress.
Doubters of the feasibility of our aims pay us and our clients "the compliment of high expectation." In their criticisms of the negroes's short-comings, they require that a. people who have been slaves for centuries should, at one bound, spring into ,the civilization which it has taken centuries for the white races to attain. They have not done this. They have as yet shown themselves inferior as respects many of the traits which characterize some of the white races. Yet on the other hand, it is not too much to say, and this is a truth we would emphasize, that they have brought about results which promise well for their future, and which would be creditable to any people, subjected to the same drawbacks, with the same history. Slavery is not a good field in which to raise men. If it trained them to become as industrious, and thrifty, as energetic and self-relying, as they become under free institutions, then it might be queried whether, at least for peoples imperfectly civilized, slavery to a superior race is not better than freedom. If the negro race has been subjected to all the crushing influences of slavery for centuries without receiving hurt therefrom, then it is not merely equal but superior to all other races.
The questions raised about African-Americans before and during the war reflected both the prejudices of white Americans and the value they placed on education, work, and civilized citizenship. As the war came to a close, these same issues shaped discussions about "what should be done" about the freedmen after the war.
Unfortunately, these same issues continued to frame the discussion in the years after the war, as you can hear in Andrew Johnson's "State of the Union Address" of 1866:It is the glory of white men to know that they have had these qualities in sufficient measure to build upon this continent a great political fabric and to preserve its stability for more than ninety years, while in every other part of the world all similar experiments have failed. But if anything can be proved by known facts, if all reasoning upon evidence is not abandoned, it must be acknowledged that in the progress of nations Negroes have shown less capacity for government than any other race of people. No independent government of any form has ever been successful in their hands. On the contrary, wherever they have been left to their own devices they have shown a constant tendency to relapse into barbarism.
Benjaming Butler, who had been the first general to declare fugitive slaves "contrabands," helped lead the fight in the Congress for Civil Rights for African-Americans. The conclusion of his 1871 "Defence of the Colored Man Against All Accusers" makes it clear that the same questions continued to frame the debate.
We are told that the negro is not fit to govern himself because there is no negro orator, no negro poet, no negro statesman, no negro philosopher. Poets, philosophers, statesmen, are the growth of centuries of civilization and refinement; and the colored man has but to-day come forth from slavery, with all its ignorance and degradations, and has hardly yet enjoyed six years of freedom, and in no country has ever received the advantages of education.
Let us not expect too much and too soon. Wait and see if the providence of the Almighty will not yet demonstrate the equality , at least in right, of his creatures. How many years ago was it since the English press taunted us, notwithstanding all our boasted ancestry and culture, with, Who reads an American book? Where is the American Newton? Where is the American Milton? Where is the American Shakespeare? to this taunt then there was no answer by an agricultural people--an infant people. But a few years, less than half a century, have silenced that reproach, and we point to our authors, philosophers and poets, quite the equal of the Old World.
So, too, the negro has falsified and set at naught another class of grave accusations against his race. When his freedom was proclaimed, it was asserted, nay, indeed believed, by his former master that he would not labor because of any of the incentives which impel the white man; that he would only work when driven to his task by the lash; that, as a race, he would not try to surround himself with the comforts of civilization; that he would lead an idle and vicious life in dreamy laziness, only broken by stealthy efforts to plunder a precarious subsistence from the means of others.
Let the facts taught by experience answer the absurd falsity of all this. Instead of crowding into cities, where employment could not be found and his services were not needed, as a rule when undisturbed, attached to his hearth-stone and roof-tree, however humble, he has preferred to remain upon the soil which gave him birth. He has become the willing, industrious laborer for wages. He has endeavored by patient industry to accumulate property. The agricultural products of the South, where he is almost the only laborer--and certainly the sole one, if the declaration of the former slave-master were correct, that the white an could not labor under a southern sun--have increased since his freedom in an astonishing degree, notwithstanding the wrongs, oppressions and interruptions to which as a workingman he has there been subjected. In fact, so great has been that production that its very abundance is now cited by his oppressors as evidence that there can be nothing but peace and quiet where the returns of labor are so great. He rears churches, builds school-houses, and fills both, while his white neighbors avoid both save to burn them, kill the pastor and whip the teacher. The statistics of the commerce of the South abundantly show that he seeks to surround himself with all the conveniences.
There came to the knowledge of the Commission in New Orleans a fact which, more strikingly perhaps than any other they have met with, bears testimony to the ability of the colored population, when emancipated, to take care of themselves.
The Commission ascertained that the free colored people of Louisiana, in the year 1860, paid taxes on an assessment of $13,000,000. But by the census of 1860 the free colored population of that State is put at 18,647. This would give an average for each person of about $700 of property.
It is probable, however, that the actual average is considerably less than this. Those best informed on the subject expressed to a member of the Commission who visited New Orleans the opinion that the census return was below the truth, and that in 1860 there were probably in Louisiana 25,000 free colored persons. Assuming this to be the actual number, then the average wealth of each is $520. But the average amount of property to each person throughout the loyal free States is estimated at $484 only. It follows that the free colored people of Louisiana are, on the average, richer by 7 ½ per cent. than the people of the Northern States. And this occurs, it should be remembered, under many civil disabilities, which are a great pecuniary injury--seriously restricting the means of accumulating property.
It is not only as individuals, but, so far as they have had opportunity to show it, in a collective capacity, that these people appear to manage well. We have the following testimony from a well-known and respected citizen of Louisville:
Upon the whole, no fear is more groundless than that the result of emancipation will be to throw the negroes as a burden on the community.
--From "Chapter Three-- The Future in the United States of the African Race," Final report of the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission to the Secretary of War, May 15, 1864.
After the war it would prove difficult for African-Americans to escape the stereotypes which had for so long shaped the way they were viewed by white Americans. Despite the efforts of the freedmen and the their teachers to demonstrate the ability of blacks to learn, work, and live as moral citizens, images like the one below which was published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper the year the Civil War came to an end continued to represent African-Americans as barbaric, superstitious, and child-like, and distinctly not like other Americans.
THE FREEDMEN AS A VANISHING RACE? (Alvoord--and other myths: go south, etc. see final freedmen's commission inquiry report: http://www.civilwarhome.com/commissionreportchapt3.htm)
An American Antiquarian Society Online Resource
Curated by Lucia Z. Knoles, Professor of English, Assumption College