Free Essay On American Freedom Before And After Civil War, The Reconstruction Period, The Second Great Awakening, And Revolutionary Period
The concept of freedom in the United States before the Civil War was that it is a right virtually exclusive for the Whites only; African-Americans, particularly the slaves had no rights but were treated as mere objects. However, as early as the War of the American Revolution, the abolitionist movements started to gain grounds, which culminated with the emancipation of the slaves following the Civil War. In this paper, the researcher posits the evolution of the concept of freedom spanning the different periods of the American History, from the War of the American Revolution and Second Great Awakening to the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era. The researcher postulates that before the Civil War started, the Second Great Awakening emphasized personal freedom and repudiated slavery. After the Civil War, slaves were emancipated, but they were nevertheless marginalized in American society and many of them still remained dependent on the Whites. Therefore, the thesis of this study provides a chronological discussion on how the concept of freedom changed through time, putting emphasis on the notion that discrimination against African Americans existed even after they were freed.
Freedom Before and After the Civil War
Freedom was a subjective and discriminating term during the pre-Civil War United States era. If you are white, you are free and are entitled to all the rights that the state affords you. Meanwhile, the colored, particularly the African-Americans, are bound to slavery, with virtually no right whatsoever. Worst, slaves are treated as mere objects--possessions that could be passed on from one person to another or even sold. They were owned as property by their masters. Cunliffe (4) noted that White slave owners profited heavily at the expense of African-Americans. “Slavery allowed propertied men the leisure to cultivate their talents and participate actively in government, thus, producing economic, social, and political progress. While the northerners believed that the non-whites should only be deprived from political freedom, the white South insisted that African Americans have no right at all.” (Cunliffe, 4).
Slaves did not have any right to own property, particularly land and they had to ask their master’s permission whenever going somewhere, least, they endure excruciating punishment, like getting whipped while working. They were deprived of the right to education, which favored their masters because they were bound to depend on them forever because they cannot decide for themselves. Whenever the White masters thought their slaves did something wrong, they cannot face trial or go through due to process; they were immediately deemed the culprit. Slaves were also not allowed to vote. Worst were the situation of female slaves who were victims of their masters’ sexual abuses. Freedom was not really what it was during this time. The abuses of slavery eventually triggered Civil War.
Following the Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves, African-American freemen were also considered as citizens of the lands, enjoying the rights (at least in theory) that white people also enjoyed. They were allowed to own property and make a living from it. They were also allowed given the right to vote. However, slavery was not totally abolished as only those who were slaves in the Union were given the freedom; those regions under union control remained as slaves.
Freedom During the Reconstruction
Only a few freed African-Americans, however, had the means to start a new life and they quickly slipped into dependency as tenant farmers and sharecroppers. New social barriers in the form of "Black Codes" were thrown up. These required freedmen to have employment contracts and passes to travel but denied them such basic rights as owning weapons and changing jobs. The Mississippi Black Code (1865) for example legalize marriage and allowed blacks to own properties but it also served to limit freed people's mobility and economic opportunities. New vagrancy laws required blacks to show proof of residency and employment or face arrest. Section 2 of the Amendment to the Vagrant Laws of the State, for example provides: "All freedmen, free negroes and mulattoes found on the second Monday in January, 1866, or thereafter, with no lawful employment or business, or found unlawfully assembling themselves together shall be deemed vagrants, and shall be fined" and faced imprisonment (Mississippi Legislature, 82). These codes were found outrageous that Congress declared them unlawful in 1867.
The Second Great Awakening
The Second Great Awakening, which began roughly in 1790s and lasted until roughly the 1850s. Rodriguez discussed that the Great Awakening influenced slavery in the United States in at least two vital ways: “First, the movement's revival created an atmosphere in which religious salvation became a means for social reform, including the eradication of slavery, and its ideals influenced white Northerners to organize for social reform. Second, Southern slaves adapted religious ideas from the revivals, or "camp meetings," which were prevalent during the Second Great Awakening.” (568).
Second Great Awakening began as a religious experience for most people because most of the revival preachers emphasized the conversion experience in attaining personal salvation. In time, converting others meant reforming their behavior and attempting to perfect human society through social reform. This led many white Northerners to join antislavery cause, which helped turn the tide of public opinion against slavery in the North by 1850.
Even women contributed efforts during the Second Great Awakening. Female activists believed that women have a "place in this Godlike work." Emery and Abbott reasoned that woman should use her tongue to speak on slavery. "Is it not a curse-a heaven-daring abomination? Let her employ that hand, to labor for the slave Women nothing to do with slavery! Abhorred the thought!!! We will pray to abhor it more and more." (Emery and Abbott, 138).
The female anti-slavery group from Andover, Massachusetts, Female Antislavery Society, called American slavery "a sin against God--at war with the dictates of humanity and subversive of the principles of freedom, because it regards rational beings as good thus, every slaveholder is bound instantly to cease from all participation in such a system." (Emery and Abbott, 138) However, the acts of these female abolitionists also met criticism: "We cannot therefore but regret the mistaken conduct of those who encourage females to bear an obtrusive and ostentatious part in measures of reform, and countenance that any of that sex who so far forget themselves as to incinerate in the character of public lecturers and teachers" (General Association of Massachusetts)
The Second Great Awakening profoundly influenced the social and cultural life of the United States before the Civil War in general and the course of slavery in that country in particular.
When Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence in 1776, a few people failed to see the troubling irony when Jefferson, a slave owner, wrote that men were created equal and that they should be given the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Decisions regarding the future status of slavery in the United States that were made when the American Revolution ended had profound implications for the institution and strongly influenced the direction and the practices that antislavery movement would follow in the 19th century. In many attempts, the U.S. attempt to half slave and half free made eventual emancipation almost inevitable, though the timing and circumstances of that decision were yet to be decided.
It could never be denied that African Americans gave significant contributions in the success of the American Revolution. Likewise, the American Revolution had its role in the fate of slavery. In fact, thousands of slaves were freed after they enlisted to serve in the War of Independence—either for the Americans or the British. Following the Revolution, these slaves were manumitted. Still, thousands more gained freedom after running away from their masters. (digitalhistory.uh.edu). However, these slaves knew nothing. They were illiterate and did not have any money for a brand new start. Blacks were usually not allowed to borrow by lenders, so kidnapping of children and even adults outside Connecticut became rampant during these years. The kidnapped Blacks were sold outside Connecticut and were forced.
The quest to free America from slavery and grant the African-Americans the emancipation they yearned for started even before the American Revolution until these slaves were freed resulting from the Civil War. While these slaves were given freedom from bondage, they nevertheless were not totally free, as they had to endure discrimination and harsh treatments from the society. They had limited opportunities and resources following their emancipation and were left with limited job opportunities. Until Martin Luther King, Jr., campaigned for anti-segregation in the 1960s, African-Americans were discriminated and forbidden to join the White dominated work. They had limited educational and career opportunities and marginalized in the society.
Cunliffe, Markus. Chattel Slavery and Wage Slavery: The Anglo-American Context, 1830-1860. The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 79, No. 2 (Spring 1981). Accessed: jstor.org
Emery, Elizabeth and Abbott, Mary P. "Letter to the Liberator," The Liberator, August 27, 1836. [Chapter 11 Source]
General Association of Massachusetts. "Pastoral Letter of the General Association of Massachusetts to the Congregational Churches under their Care," The Liberator, August 11, 1837. [Chapter 11 Source]
Laws of the State of Mississippi, Passed at Regular Session of Mississippi Legislature, Held in the City of Jackson, October, November, and December, 1865 ( Jackson, MS, 1866). [Chapter 14 Source]
Rodriguez, Junius P. The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery, Volume 1; Volume 7. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 1997. Accessed: jstor.org
The Reports of the Committees of the House of Representatives Made during the First Session, Thirty-ninth Congress, 1865-1866. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1866. [Chapter 14 Source]
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