From Slave South to New South: Public Policy in Nineteenth-Century Georgia

By Peter Wallenstein | Go to book overview

13

FREED MEN AND CITIZENS

Though He Attain to the Age of Methuselah

In 1853 the chief justice of Georgia's supreme court, Joseph H. Lumpkin, declared that, unlike a white child, "a free person of color never ceases to be a ward, though he attain to the age of Methuselah. His legal existence is forever merged in that of his [white) guardian." A free black in pre-Civil WarGeorgia differed from a slave only in that he lived "without a domestic master to control his movements; but to be civilly and politically free, to be the peer and equal of the white man -- to enjoy the offices, trusts, and privileges our institutions confer upon the white man -- is not now, never has been, and never will be the condition of this degraded race."1

Ten years later, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the emancipation of slaves to be one of his government's central war aims. When General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, it became inevitable that Methuselah would know a different life in his later years. How different remained to be discovered. As federal mandates transformed social policy in the South, differences in state treatment of blacks and whites grew less pronounced; differences in policy toward former slaves and former free blacks vanished.

Nearly one-half million Georgians journeyed from slavery to citizenship in the 1860s. Changes in social policy evolved as the federal government first decreed black freedom and then black citizenship. Immediately following the war, whites responded to emancipation by creating institutional substitutes for the social control features of slavery; they made space for blacks in the insane asylum and the penitentiary, and they instituted the chain gang. A second generation of changes, focusing on social welfare, followed the advent of Congressional Reconstruction, as citizenship brought blacks certain social and political rights, particularly education and the vote. By the mid-1870s, the state was regularly supplying public funds for elementary and higher education for blacks. By the mid-1880s, both races could also be found in the schools for the deaf and blind.


Slavery Is with the Days beyond the Flood

By transforming slaves into freedmen, emancipation loosened both the coercive and the protective features of slavery's paternalism.

-140-

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