Freedom : Volume 2, Series 1: The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861 1867
Overview - As slavery collapsed during the American Civil War, former slaves struggled to secure their liberty, reconstitute their families, and create the institutions befitting a free people. But no problem loomed larger than finding a means of support. Read more...
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More About Freedom by Leslie S. Rowland; Joseph P. Reidy; Steven F. Miller
As slavery collapsed during the American Civil War, former slaves struggled to secure their liberty, reconstitute their families, and create the institutions befitting a free people. But no problem loomed larger than finding a means of support. How would freedpeople feed and clothe themselves? Would they be able to obtain land, draft animals, and tools? Would they or would others benefit from their labor? What, concretely, would freedom mean? This volume of Freedom presents a documentary history of the emergence of free-labor relations in a number of different settings in the Upper South: the Union-occupied parts of tidewater Virginia and North Carolina and of middle Tennessee and northern Alabama; the District of Columbia; and the slaveholding border states of Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky. Drawing from the unparalleled holdings of the National Archives of the United States, the editors describe - in documents and interpretive essays - the war-time effort to construct free labor on the ruins of slavery. At first, most federal officials hoped to mobilize former slaves without either transforming the conflict into a war of liberation or assuming responsibility for the young, the old, or others not suitable for military employment. But as the Union army came to depend upon black workers and as the number of destitute freedpeople mounted, authorities at all levels grappled with intertwined questions of freedom, labor, and welfare. Others took a hand as well. Northern clergymen and teachers saw an opportunity to purge the degradation of slavery, while ministering to the former slaves' material needs. Civilian employers, many of whom had never owned slaves, bid for the services of thenewly freed men and women. Former slaveholders sought to retain control over people whose labor they had previously commanded by right. Meanwhile, the former slaves pursued their own objectives, working within the constraints imposed by the war and Union occupation to fashion new lives as free people. The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South describes the experiences of former slaves as military laborers, as residents of federally sponsored "contraband camps", as wage laborers on farms and plantations and in towns, and, in some instances, as independent farmers and self-employed workers. Together with the editors' interpretive essays, the documents portray the different - and often conflicting - understandings of freedom advanced by the many participants in the wartime evolution of free labor. Owing more to immediate necessities than to carefully considered plans, the labor arrangements that took shape within Union lines were ad hoc responses, not systematic designs for the future. Nevertheless, they had far-reaching implications. The victorious North drew important lessons from wartime developments, and tens of thousands of former slaves and former slaveholders entered the postwar world experienced in the ways of free labor. By war's end, nearly half a million black people had traversed the path from slave to free laborer. The Civil War sealed the fate of slavery only to open a contest over the meaning of freedom. This volume of Freedom documents an important chapter of that contest.