American Slavery After the Civil Term Paper

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"I was made to drink the
bitterest dregs of slavery," wrote Frederick Douglas as he describes the
horrors in which he had to work in slavery. "We were worked in all
weathers... work, work, work, the longest days were too short for him, and
the shortest nights too long for him" (Bayliss 57), helping to show what
was expected of the slaves. Slaves had to work under horrid conditions as
much as possible, and they could not expect these conditions to change if
working for their former masters. The former slaves are acutely aware of
such risks as they write, "The man who tied me to a tree & gave me 39
lashes" is the man who they will now work for, and that there will be no
change. The oppressor, the elite white, will still be oppressing the poor
black. "In a Condition of Helplessness," the freed slaves will remain as
they will be in debt and under the complete control of their former masters
under the guise as free workers.
However, there is one threat which they no longer have to face and
that is the possibility of being bought and sold and separated from the
family. Slaves had "to see his own wife and children sold to the highest
bidder," and thus never see his or her family again (Bland 156). This
complete loss of freedom did not exist after emancipation, as slaves were
now free. But there are numerous reports of slaves being bought and sold
from their own family members that this must surely have been a welcomed
change. But gaining one small piece of freedom would not mean a change in
life, and the Civil War could not improve conditions for former slaves on
the much larger scale.
Former slaves considered themselves loyal to the Union side of the
war, and expect to be rewarded in the smallest form. "Have not for selfish
motives allied to us those who suffered like us from a common enemy," the
slaves write to O.O. Howard expressing their support for the Union and now
they expect to reap some rewards. However, they are excluded from any
political influence and appear to be nearing the same situation as prior to
the war. Conditions for former slaves are declining; the homesteads
immediately given to them are being revoked. With this reversal in the
political decision comes more dangers of political repression as perhaps to
the former slaves, being recaptured was an actual threat. Previously, even
free blacks were unable to be completely free from the possibility of re-
enslavement, so being forced to live and work under their old masters would
surely lead to a reversal of the positive fortune gained from the Civil
War. The former slaves do not have aspirations for equality, or taking
over politics, or reversing the social situation. They just want enough of
a homestead to make their own living farming and not be a servant to those
that were their former oppressors. They do not expect, nor desire much to
change; the free slaves just want the power to control their own work,
wages, and ultimately their own lives. Without their economic
independence, this will be impossible.
After the Civil War, former slaves did not have great expectations
for an improvement of life. Immediate benefits were to be retracted and
there was the looming threat that the white elite would maintain their hold
on the lives of the blacks. This is represented in the letter from the
former slaves to O.O. Howard as they maintain that they just need their own
land, they have done nothing wrong, and without their own land life will
become worse than prior to the war. The slaves feel slighted, particular
because they have done nothing wrong but continually are treated poorly.
Thus the slaves are on the outside of the political arena and it appears
although the war was fought largely over slavery, the slaves themselves are
of little consequence. "With consideration of esteem Your Obt Servts," they
sign the letter, reflecting their position in society as still lowly even
to Northerners. Slaves, and now freed Negro's are integral to the economy
for the whites, and they are aware of the risks without financial
independence. Nevertheless, as a vote less class, former slaves risk
falling into servitude again, and they are aware of it. It is in this
context, which they are aware of the dangers, that the slaves make their
plea to O.O. Howard. The former slaves want something positive to result
from the Civil War; they do not want to just fall through the cracks in the
political system. As "Landless, Homeless, Voteless," there is little the
former slaves can do in the American system, and they want little. They
want freedom from their former masters, freedom to farm their own farms,
and freedom to make their own life. They know they are of inconsequence to
the Union and the politicians in Washington D.C., and thus must accept the
very little that has been given to them, which now has been taken away.
Works Cited

Ball, Charles. Fifty Years in Chains. New York, NY: H. Dayton, Publisher,

Bayliss, John F. Black Slave Narratives. New York, NY: The Macmillan
Company, 1970.

Bland, Sterling Lecater, Ed. African American Slave Narratives. Westport,
CT: Greenwood
Press, 2001.

Bontemps, Arna, Ed. Great Slave Narratives. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1969.

Parent, Anthony S. The Formation of…[continue]

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