“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation) These words issued by President Abraham Lincoln in the Emancipation Proclamation set out to free all slaves in the Confederate territories; to give blacks a chance to acquire the rights afforded to all persons. Although President Lincoln issued this proclamation freeing the slaves, post Civil War blacks would find it hard to obtain true freedom because racism would become the new slavery.
The first Africans had arrived to a Virginian colony in 1619. By the 1800’s, Europeans had traveled to the shores of West Africa to trade with gold and other valuables in return for slaves captured. Most Africans knew slavery, since slavery was an ancient institution that had been established in North and West Africa before European involvement in the trade. (Horton) The Africans captured and traded to the Europeans however, could never imagine the harsh treatment they would soon endure. From the shores of Senegambia, slaves would travel an average of six-to-eight weeks on what was known as, “The Middle Passage”.
The slaves were forced below deck, chained together in spaces so tight; in unbearable conditions. One British surgeon, hired to protest the Europeans investment, described the slave ship from West Africa as, “being forced to step on chained bodies, as slaves covered the entire floor.” (Horton) The slaves came to shore in Virginia and would soon become an important part of the laboring society. The colonists of Virginia were taught by the Powhatan confederacy of Algonquian tribe to grow tobacco. It became the region’s most promising cash export but the shortage in labor posed a potential problem. The colonist tried to get the Indians as laborers but the retaliation from others in their tribe made it impossible. Indentured servants from Europe were unreliable and could not satisfy the needs of the colonist. The Africans shipped in from West Africa were an irresistible labor supply for the colonist.
In the early colonial days, Americans had not yet formed an opinion about race, slavery and the standards for race relations. This was still being decided and would not become fixed until the 18th century. By the Revolution, slavery was set in the law of all the colonies. (Horton) Slaves accounted for 17 percent of the colonies population by 1680 and soared to 70 percent by 1720. One European described it as, “more like a negro country then like a country settled by white people.” Newly arrived slaves from western and central Africa were known their rice-growing and soon began to be put to work in that labor field in South Carolina. Although the major slave produced crops were tobacco in Virginia and rice in South Carolina, slaves were also utilized in other areas as domestic slaves in New England, North America and Rhode Island. African American and American slaves were given their first opportunity for freedom during the Revolutionary War. The British had issued a proclamation offering freedom to all slaves and indentured servants willing to serve for the British cause. Slaves came in droves to obtain the freedom they sought for decades. By the end of the war freedom was brought to thousands of slaves. Although the Revolution had not begun as an anti-slavery crusade, it had nonetheless brought freedom to vast numbers of slaves. No other event in American history until the Civil War-almost a century later-would result in freedom for more slaves. (Horton)
Due to the increased amount of freed slaves, some prominent whites who were concerned about possible retaliation formed the American Colonization Society. Their goal was to resettle freed American blacks in West Africa. Another concern of this group was the cohabitation of blacks and whites or a term called “race mixing”. Thomas Jefferson was quoted as writing in the Notes of Virginia in 1780, “the separation was necessary to preserve the “dignity” and the “beauty” of the white race”. Free slaves that had settled in the North were suspicious of the intentions of the American Colonization Society. They felt that it rejected any interest in working on the rights of blacks in America. While this event seemed like a step in the right direction, slaves were still being imported and sold throughout the south.
New Orleans became one of the major slave depots. After Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama gained their statehood; slaves were migrated to assist with expanding cotton and sugar production. Slave-trading became a big business for many whites who saw an opportunity to get rich. The slave population increased in areas of Tennessee from 3,000 to 140,000 and in Mississippi from 3,000 to 66,000. Both women and men were forced to work the plantations in the Deep South. Slavery became focal point in the 1858 election between Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln and Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. The Democrats argued that slavery issues should be handled locally within each state stating, “The Declaration of Independence made no reference to the Negro when they declared that all men were created equal.” Additionally he argued that, “America was made by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever.” (Horton) Republican Lincoln did believe slavery was morally wrong but would tolerate it in the states where it was sanctioned by law. Although free blacks were skeptical about siding with Republicans due to Lincoln’s non belief in racial equality, they knew it was better than the openly proslavery Democrats.
Lincoln was hesitant to take a side on his position on slavery because he did not want to affect the relationship with the states that had not been involved with the north and south. Although Lincoln tried to remain neutral, slaveholders in the south believed that Lincoln was an abolitionist and South Carolina took steps toward dissolving their union with the United States of America. The convention issued an Ordinance of Secession on December 20, 1860. (Horton) In February of 1861, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas joined South Carolina in withdrawing from the United States. The Confederate Congress issued their own constitution including that Negro slavery be protected by Congress and the territorial government. It further protected slaveholders’ rights to transport their human property to any other state under Confederate control. The Confederate States of America had sworn in U.S. secretary of war Jefferson Davis as its president. By then Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States of America.
To avoid a possible Confederate attack, President Lincoln had promised the southern leaders that he had no intention, direct or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it existed. By the summer of 1861, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina had joined the Confederate States of America. Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky and Missouri, although slave states as well, remained loyal to the U.S. government. The Civil War between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America would highlight the antislavery issue. By April 1862, Congress had already abolished slavery in the District of Columbia. With this abolishment former slaveholders were compensated $300 by the federal government for each slave freed. When free blacks started enlisting in the armed forces in support of the government, President Lincoln took a second look at his position on slavery and by September of 1862 the Emancipation Proclamation was issued freeing all slaves under control of the people still in rebellion against the United States. This however did not apply to slaves that were with slaveholders that were loyal to the United States.
Lincoln’s decision to free the black slaves was the cause of his death on April 14 1865, by John Wilkes Booth who was against the idea of blacks becoming citizens. By December 1865, Congress had adopted the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution with the total abolishment of American slavery. As blacks came into their new freedom and made efforts to find lost family sold into slavery; Congress had issued pardons to the Confederates that had held positions and as they returned to political power they started passing new laws to continue control over black people. Many southern states enacted black codes, limiting the freedom of former slaves and returning them to near slavery. (Horton) When slavery ended freed blacks found themselves destitute, not able to take care of themselves or their families. Many were uneducated and could only find work as agricultural workers and depended on white landowners for work. After the war cash was in short supply and blacks were made to rely on credit to purchase seeds, tools, food and clothing keeping them in debt the white land owners. Essentially, the bonds of debt peonage replaced the chains of slavery; and planters could control their labor force almost as completely as slaveholders had controlled theirs. (Horton)
Although the Republican controlled Congress tried to protect African American rights, President Johnson (vice president at the time of President Lincoln’s assassination) fought those efforts by nullifying citizenship right to black people. The Republican Congress eventually limited President Johnson’s power and authority and after Johnson violated the Tenure of Office Act; he was impeached. When the time for voting came around, the ratio of blacks to whites were almost equivalent. Some whites however, were not able to vote due to the rebellion against the United States. This made the blacks a majority in five southern states setting a foundation for the Republican Party.
White supremacy groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, The Pale Face Brotherhood, and the Knights of the White Camilla used intimidation and violence to discourage blacks from voting. In the following years the Democrats regained control and removed federal protections for black rights and placed the responsibility for enforcing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments on the states. This meant that blacks were denied the rights to vote or lacked any legal protection because their only recourse was to deal with the state authority. Racial segregation was implemented in public accommodations, transportation and almost every aspect of life. Every southern state and many border states as well followed the Jim Crow system, an extensive racial segregation system. By the mid-1890’s it was clear that Reconstruction’s promise of real freedom was coming to an end, and there seemed little blacks could do about it. (Horton)
From the slave trade to racial injustice blacks constantly fought to be recognized as equal. The Emancipation Proclamation brought hope that freedom and equality would be in sight but governmental laws and individual opinion created something worse than slavery. The idea that one can be free but still treated with disrespect and at times violence was discouraging. The South could not reinstate slavery, but it did re-create many of the mechanisms for racial control that the slave system had provided in the old South. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, racism became the new slavery because blacks were not afforded their civil rights.
Holzer, Harold. Emanicipating Lincoln. massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2012. Horton, James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Slavery and the Making of America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. “http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation.” 19 December 2012. U.S. National Archives & Records Administration. Oshinsky, David. Worse Than Slavery. New York: First Free Press, 1996.