What Was Freedom's Price? Essays

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

changes in status so dramatic as these, our scholars have fallen into the habit of assuming that the Civil War did indeed launch a social revolution. Allan Nevins entitled the volume of his monumental narrative history of the war that includes the Emancipotion quite simply War Becomes Revolution. David Brion Davis has referred to the "revolutionary implications of mass emancipation," and C. Vann Woodward has written about the change that took place during the war from "a pragmatic struggle for power" to "a crusade for ideals" that embraced "revolutionary aims." I could go on and on, and I should no doubt confess that my own typewriter had a tendency once to discourse perhaps too uncritically about social revolutions. 1 Professor Woodward has had reason to change the emphasis he once placed on the Radical Republicans' commitment to the goal of equality, and many other scholars (including Jacques Voegeli, Richard Curry, Forrest C. Wood, and William McFeely) have been so thoroughly impressed by the depth of northern prejudice against blacks in the period under question, as well as so overcome by the exploitative and rigid policies of the military authorities regarding freedmen during the occupation, that they have placed the whole conception of a revolution in jeopardy. 2 Even scholars who have used the concept of revolution have always been aware of the sharp reaction following the crest of political Reconstruction. Recognizing that freedmen were shortly forced back toward agricultural peonage, driven out of politics, and reduced to second-class citizenship in the courts as well as in bars and drugstores, historians have been inclined to refer to these events as an "aborted" revolution, an "unrealized" revolution, or one that "miscarried." 3

The sharpest recent statement of complete rejection comes from Louis Gerteis, whose book From Contraband to Freedom: Federal Policy Toward Southern Blacks, 1861-65 ( 1973) directly challenges the assumption that the war and Reconstruction "brought dramatic and fundamental changes in the society and

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