When talking about freedom as a word, many connotations emerge in one’s different and own imaginations. From the revolution to the Reconstruction period, the freedom concept has gone through many phases in American history, making it synonymous with the emancipation of slavery. On one hand, it has been seen as a strong cultural bond and a birthright for most Americans while, on the other hand, it has been viewed as an impediment or mockery for some. Freedom is a value but not a timeless truth whose true meaning and scope are in a continuously contested sphere in American history (Rusert, 2017). Denotatively, freedom is an individual independent state where one acts as he or she likes without being restricted by another person. This paper analyzes the meaning of freedom from the context of the freedmen and the slave masters in the United States.
After attaining freedom, it still took African Americans a longer period to gain full independence from the Whites in the South. Arenson and Greybill (2015) argue that there are two groups when one looks at freedom and its meaning in the American context. In 1863, during the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves were declared unrestricted people. However, it took more than two years for the freedmen to learn of their liberty from their slave masters, other slaves, and Union soldiers after the Confederacy was defeated. It was a defining moment for more than four million emancipated people (Arenson & Greybill, 2015). There were many unanswered questions for these people regarding what freedom predestined to them. For the freedmen, it meant that they could leave the plantations, pursue education, and decide on their new names (Ager, Boustan, & Eriksson, 2019). For example, months after the war in 1865, African Americans met at numerous annual conventions of colored persons across the country and addressed the United States citizens affirming their freedom and status as individuals, hence, imploring the support of the white people. Again, in the 1860s, the ratification of the Civil War Amendments banned slavery and granted the freedmen citizenry, thus, giving them equal rights as other citizens had. As a result, many settled far from the plantations they had labored as slaves hoping to run businesses and own land.
Inevitably, for the slaveholders, freedom had different meanings. The end of slavery meant freedom to the slaves and this had far-reaching consequences for the former slave owners. Many conflicts arose between the two groups as blacks asserted their independence from their masters while the whites clung to their authority seeking to retain their old power. For many masters, this meant a loss of revenue due to the workforce shortage in their plantations. Again, it led to the destruction of properties and the loss of loved ones. Loewen (2018) asserts that freedom became a conflict during the Reconstruction period. Many southern slaveholders wanted to leave the region and retreated to a more favorable southerly interior region where they established monuments and Confederate cemeteries. Others resulted in violence as they refused to accept the new order (Byrd, 2020). An example is the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan by the whites whose members unleashed terror on former slaves with impunity. Therefore, this was a blow and an impediment to the slave masters.
In conclusion, freedom was enacted according to the wishes of the blacks in the South. After the reconstruction, approximately 4 million African Americans had been freed. They were bound to claim their independence from slavery. Freedom happened because of the civil war that had claimed many lives and losses. Consequently, the Confederates were defeated resulting at the end of slavery. However, their freedom was curtailed as the white southerners enacted laws known as black codes that denied blacks from voting, their movements, and general residency. Lastly, it is prudent to note that freedom in the U.S. has embraced great success due to the past ordeals of slavery and racism, and it has been defined from the context of freedmen.
Ager, P., Boustan, L. P., & Eriksson, K. (2019). The intergenerational effects of a large wealth shock: White southerners after the civil war (No. w25700). National Bureau of Economic Research. Web.
Arenson, A., & Graybill, A. R. (2015). Civil War wests: Testing the limits of the United States. University of California Press.
Byrd, B. R. (2020). The rise of African American intellectual history. Modern Intellectual History, 1-32.
Loewen, J. W. (2018). Sundown towns: A hidden dimension of American racism. The New Press.
Rusert, B. (2017). Fugitive science: Empiricism and freedom in early African American culture (Vol. 10). NYU Press.