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Freedpeople, Politics, and the State in Civil War America

Mathisen, Erik (2013) Freedpeople, Politics, and the State in Civil War America. In: Morgan, Iwan and Philip, Davies, eds. Reconfiguring the Union. Studies of the Americas . Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 59-76. ISBN 978-1-349-46350-3. E-ISBN 978-1-137-33648-4. (doi:10.1057/9781137336484_4) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:69578)

Language: English

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In early November 1863, Union Army officials gathered at Goodrich’s Landing, in northern Louisiana, to speak to an audience of soldiers and freedpeople. Since the war began, the small outpost on the Mississippi River had become a crucial base of operations for the Union, and a magnet for African Americans from all over the Mississippi Valley. The purpose of the event was, in many ways, to rectify the growing problem that freedpeople posed to Union operations. Officials sought to reaffirm the Lincoln government’s position regarding emancipation, while at the same time outlining the limits of what African Americans could expect from this. Before a colorfully dressed and overwhelmingly black audience—which included children from a local school, who were marched in front of the crowd, reciting sections of their grammar primer from memory—Union officials spoke with one voice about what the war would bring, and what emancipation demanded of African Americans. Bearing a message that would become all too familiar by the end of the Civil War, Lorenzo Thomas, Adjutant-General of the United States, asserted that emancipation had extended freedom to black slaves but nothing more: “You have none now on whom you can lay the burden of your cares. Your welfare depends solely on your own efforts. You have none who possess or assume the right to crush or oppress you. Your sorrows and trials will be the result of your own folly or incapacity.” After Thomas had finished speaking, a black preacher seemingly echoed his words on the challenges of freedom but gave them different meaning. The message he delivered was that emancipation had only replaced one authority with another because devotion to the rule of law was still necessary. “Everything must have a head,” he called out to the crowd, “the plantation, the house, the steamboat, the army, and to obey that head was to obey the law.”

Item Type: Book section
DOI/Identification number: 10.1057/9781137336484_4
Uncontrolled keywords: National Archive, Republican Party, Union Official, Union Policy, Free Labor
Subjects: F History United States, Canada, Latin America
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Erik Mathisen
Date Deposited: 15 Oct 2018 14:58 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:25 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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