The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research

By Robin Higham; Steven E. Woodworth | Go to book overview

slavery be abolished, but former slaves would be attending school, voting, and serving on juries.

The works mentioned in this piece represent the latest findings of scholars while raising almost all the questions that have been asked about emancipation during the last one hundred years. Hardly any suggest that all would have been well for the freedmen if the South had been left alone. But they do point to a growing impression: that while much more could have been done by the national government for the freedmen--economically, educationally, and legally--there were no cure-alls available. Freedmen were provided with limited welfare, opportunities for education, and citizenship and the vote, but their problems were far more complex than could be resolved within a generation. Almost everyone agrees that race was significant. But even if the freedmen had been white, as they were in Russia during this time, there still would have been monumental problems. Indeed the degree of economic and social progress among poor white Southern farmers during that era was very limited. Comparative studies indicate that Southern freedmen were in fact better off than those of other freedmen elsewhere. Of course, they were worse off when compared with other Americans. When compared with white Southerners of the same economic class, however, the difference narrows substantially, because both lived in an economically depressed area. Many recent works face the question of what was really possible for the freedmen given the total circumstances. Some, such as Peter Kolchin and Herman Belz, have gone so far as to suggest that despite almost universal agreement to the contrary among other scholars, for the freedmen emancipation and its aftermath was not a "Tragic Era." Despite drawbacks, largely caused by the nature of the nation, and to a degree of the Western world, emancipation in the American South, on the whole, was revolutionary because it brought both rapid legal and social benefits for blacks to establish their identity and their institutions.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Belz Herman. A New Birth of Freedom: The Republican Party and the Freedmen's Rights, 1861-1866. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1976.

-----. Emancipation and Equal Rights: Politics and Constitutionalism in the Civil War Era. New York: Norton, 1978.

Bentley George R. A History of the Freedmen's Bureau. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1955.

Berlin Era, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie Rowland, eds. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Selected from the Holdings of the National Archives of the United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982-.

Berry Mary Frances. Military Necessity and Civil Rights Policy: Black Citizenship and the Constitution, 1861-1868. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat, 1977.

Butchart Ronald E. Northern Schools, Southern Blacks, and Reconstruction: Freedmen's Education: 1862-1875. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980.

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