What Was Freedom's Price? Essays

By Willie Lee Rose; Joel Williamson et al. | Go to book overview

Jubilee & Beyond: What Was Freedom?

WILLIE LEE ROSE

Now no larger than a human hand on the horizon of our labors, a new question is forming for historians of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Bluntly put, it asks whether the Reconstruction constituted in any real sense a social revolution. This should not be confused with the older question that Charles Beard investigated, whether the Civil War and its aftermath brought on a victory for the industrial and commercial interests of the North over the plantation system and its interests, for one might answer that question either way and still fail to address the issue of what emancipation meant for the four million slaves released in the course of the Civil War. Legally, the changes wrought by emancipation and the war amendments were colossal: when in history have so many people been so abruptly transformed from chattel property to a constitutionally equal status; from the objects of contracts among their owners to responsible agents able to make contracts of their own and to be held to them; from the subjects of police regulation of the sort associated with the control of criminal elements in an uneasy population to free soldiers and militiamen of the Republic; from a people denied education because it was held to be dangerous for them to have it to possessors of the elective franchise?

Perhaps because our own United States history offers no swift

-3-

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