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The Civil War was a battle between the northern and southern states from 1861 to 1865 and initially began with the north attempting to prevent the south from becoming a separate union. With the years to follow rooted in conflict from the Civil War. Slavery became a central theme during the Civil War and as the war raged on, African Americans throughout the United States began cultivating the path of the war. Their involvement was due to an accumulation of their opposition to slavery, their participation in the war itself and even the way that they were affected as they tried to rebuild their lives after slavery. Inevitably, African Americans proved to be a chief factor in the direction, outcome, and consequences that arose from the American Civil War. In 1861, the Civil War began because the southern states didn’t want to join the north to become one union. Many Northerners were opposed to maintaining the institution of slavery, while many Southerners wanted to uphold it. Those in favor of abolishing slavery wanted equality for everyone and African Americans to obtain human rights. This was because the atrocities of slavery were well known throughout the United States, as African Americans endured hardships as slaves.
On March 7, 1864, the New York Times newspaper ran an article that explained that during slavery, African Americans were not only poorly treated but dehumanized as slaves. African Americans who were desperate to flee those circumstances found themselves fighting in the Civil War, which was away to build their confidence and status in the country. Those opportunities included being able to enlist in the war. African Americans that fought in the Civil War were either freed slaves or runaway slaves that sought refuge from their slave masters.
However, they attained a sense of pride and dignity from being able to participate in the Civil War. African Americans involved in the war helped to depict the way that the country would be at its best. This depiction also helped shift the focus of the Civil War from the south rebelling against being a collective union, to the demoralization of slavery itself and the topic of equality. The New York Times article continues that the African American slaves that were once dehumanized were now being saluted for their service and they had influenced the potential: “of a new epoch” and hinted that because of such a dramatic change in attitude in such a short time, proof of a social revolution could be seen (Document F).
However, this revolution would not come without resistance. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln responded to a White letter-writer, apparently from the North, who opposed equality for African Americans. There were people in opposition to equality from both north and south and people for equality in both the north and south. While Lincoln realized his racial views were not universally popular, he wondered why the letter-writer would not support freedom for African Americans when they had expressed a willingness to fight for Whites in the Civil War. He argued in the 1863 published letter that people opposing the freeing of the slaves was being irrational because for so long the slaves fought for those same people.
Lincoln pointed to human life instead of just black and white and insisted that African Americans should do anything for whites since white was so unwilling to do anything for them. Lincoln observed the freedom that had been promised to African Americans and he expressed that he intended to honor that commitment (Document C). Less than a month after this letter appeared, Lincoln issued a carefully worded proclamation declaring the freedom of enslaved Africans in Confederate territory. African Americans undoubtedly influenced this decision especially since Lincoln had previously come up with a colonization plan. President Abraham Lincoln’s proposed for Black resettlement in a foreign land, particularly the Caribbean or Latin America. In 1862, a group of African Americans met during the Civil War to consider his proposal in what history notes asThe Resolution of African Americans in Newtown New York on August 20th, 1862. African Americans responded to Lincoln’s Proposal of removal by reminding the country of their backbreaking work in the war and as slaves and their blood, sweat, and tears they experienced in slavery.
Experiences that left slave families torn apart and slaves unequipped to function in society with no education or money. Experiences like what Rebecca Parsons and her children faced when Rebecca was freed from slavery. When Rebecca Parsons, who had been enslaved by T. A. Parsons, declared her intention to leave his plantation and live with her extended family, T.A. Parsons consented because he had no other choice. The Thirteenth Amendment allowed her the right to her freedom, but he demanded Rebecca to pay him $4,000 if she wanted to leave with her children. She did not have such a large sum and was forced to leave without her children, as they wailed behind her. This document illustrates the great difficulty that African Americans had in becoming free validated the African Americans claim that they had no human rights but should be equals (Document K). Being removed would not give then equality but only would satisfy the people who were opposed to ending slavery and disliked African Americans (Document B). Although Lincoln did not think colonizing millions of African Americans was possible, his proposal came from the idea that the profound differences between white and black races made resettlement desirable. It was the African Americans responses that helped him to understand that they had a right to stay in the United States after they earned the right to do so. African Africans spent much time defending their human rights and breaking down the idea that they were mere property. During the Republican Party Platform in 1864, slavery was used as a scapegoat for the Civil War’s ignition. The Republican Party felt slavery was the backbone of the Civil War. Conveniently, the Republican Party forgot that the war began because they wanted to remain as a separate union. In remaining separate they knew that they had a better chance at becoming powerful in politics, economy and even upholding slavery (Document D).
Contrary to the Republican Party’s ideas, the Civil War’s conflicts were rooted in the erroneous thinking of those who opposed equality and human rights for African Americans. For instance, early in the Civil War, Union general Benjamin Butler wrote to Secretary of War Simon Cameron on the chaotic conditions he found in Virginia. Butler reported that many desperate enslaved African Americans sought protection from Confederates who wanted to force them to build river fortifications. These freedom seekers forced Butler and the Lincoln administration to decide whether fugitive slaves entering Union lines would be returned to their slave masters in accordance with the law or taken into custody, with the government assuming a degree of responsibility for their welfare. General Butler raised questions that challenged the humanity of African Americans fleeing slavery and perhaps everywhere. Butler’s own answers to his questions were that these freedom seekers were “contraband of war” who could serve the Union army in useful capacities, such as digging trenches. His thinking labeled the former slaves as mere property and seemed to imply the desire to exploit them. There was no respect in the way he addressed the situation. This document thus points to the pressure that Union forces faced in handling the many escaped slaves who came their way and the temptation to make strategic use of this suddenly available labor source. Other Union generals would have similar questions about freedom seekers and would handle the question of enslavement to their advantage, at least until President Abraham Lincoln made abundantly clear who held the powers of commander-in-chief. Having President Lincoln fully committed to the emancipation of slaves was a victory for African Americans and when given the chance to be free they sought opportunities that were never afforded to them while they were slaves. According to the political map in Document L, the racial makeup of the constitutional conventions of the 10 former Confederate states was still awaiting full reconstruction into the Union.
Far from showing what many White southerners then believed, Whites controlled the delegate slate of every constitutional convention except for South Carolina. This racial imbalance prevailed even though Black men constituted much of the voting public in five southern states—Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. This information was collected after the Civil War during the reconstruction period (Document L). The Reconstruction period was supposed to be the era in where the country rebuilt its foundation and helped African Americans become independent, functioning citizens. Abraham Lincoln strategies began developing during the Civil War as Union soldiers began living in the South.
Although the Reconstruction Era ultimately failed because African Americans did not get to obtain equality, it did have successes. Not only were the states united but a new Constitution was drafted, and African Americans were no longer in slaves and begun to prove that they were capable of being independent citizens. African Americans avidly sought employment and education opportunities. Charlotte Forten, who came from a prominent abolitionist family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was the first northern Black teacher to instruct former slaves in the South in 1862. She saw that the freed slaves didn’t mind sacrificing leisure time to attain an education. They were steadfast and determined to make something of their lives. In what was later called the Port Royal Experiment on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, the cultured, idealistic, and driven 24-year-old, Forten, was amazed by the hunger for learning that African American children and adults exhibited. Forten documented that their thirst for an education was not slowed by youthful distractions, grueling field work under a hot sun, or a lifetime of oppression (Document E). This influenced those that were for equality to support black education and employment. However, it also caused fear in many white communities and ultimately led to a rebellion by whites in the form of the Ku Klux Klan and black codes. This behavior from anti-equal citizens led to the failure of the Reconstruction period. The Ku Klux Klan was a group of white men dressed in white robes and hats and they moved around black neighborhoods terrorizing its residents. They didn’t want blacks to become as educated or as wealthy as them and, so they used scare tactics to keep blacks from succeeding. Black codes went alongside the Ku Klux Klan because they were a set of laws that not only kept black and white separate, but they upheld white supremacy as did the Ku Klux Klan. African Americans began shaping the Civil War before it began and as it took place, in their attempts to flee their cruel masters and later by responding to proposals for them to be relocated. Their actions influenced the Civil War to be less about whether the south would be a separate union and more about the inhumane way that they were being treated.
The outcome of the Civil War eventually led to the union being established as one entity and slaves gaining their freedom. Not only did African Americans influence that outcome by fighting in the Civil War but they also influenced it by declaring their human rights. They made valid arguments that depicted their hard work in the United States and the hardships that they experienced during slavery backed those claims. African Americans responded to the country in a way that explained that their experiences earned them the right to stay in the United States and they were entitled to human rights. African Americans also influenced the consequences of the Civil War because during the Reconstruction Era they were able to go after educational and employment opportunities in an effort to build communities of their own. Although the consequences of African American freedom would be rooted in a continual battle for equality, it also reveals the African American community as resilient and enduring, because they continue on in the fight.
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