The Meaning of Freedom

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Victoria Jory
Professor Adams
AMH 2010
28 November 12
The Meaning of Freedom
Abraham Lincoln’s primary goal during the Civil War was to save the Union. As
time progressed, it became clearer that something had to be done over the issue of
slavery. In July of 1862, Lincoln announced to his cabinet that he was “ready to take
some definitive steps in respect to military action and slavery.” On January 1, 1863
President Abraham Lincoln officially issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The edict
indicated, “All persons held as slaves” located in seceding states “are, and henceforward
shall be, free.”
Even before Lincoln announced that emancipation was to be an objective in the
war, many African Americans in the North had volunteered to fight. Although the
Emancipation Proclamation seemed promising at the time, Lincoln did not have the
authority to liberate the slaves. In response, the edict also gave the federal government
permission to employ African Americans to defeat the Confederate adversaries. Initially,
whites were reluctant to be fighting alongside African Americans. They eventually
realized they were fighting for black freedom, so it was only fair to share the danger.
While the Emancipation Proclamation did not officially free any slaves, it altered
the atmosphere surrounding the war. With their situations still unbearable, African
Americans continued to remain positive. They were able to endure because to the
possibility of their freedom. Unfortunately, slaves who were granted freedom were often

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penniless. Thus hindering their chance to even start a new life for themselves. In addition
to their minimal funds, newly freed slaves still feared the outside world. In reality, the
war was not over. In response, they frequently resorted to staying on the farms and
continuing their work.
Slaves were often separated from their family members. This was the case for
former slave John Q. A. Dennis of Maryland. Desperate to reunite his family, he
contacted Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. In the letter, he mentions that his wife was
taken from him four years prior, leaving him with three children. Being a slave at the
time, he was unable to care for them. His owner eventually moved him to a different
location 40 miles away.
Now that John Q. A. Dennis was no longer a slave, he wished to reunite with his
wife and children. In order to increase his chances of doing so, he contacted a man with
high authority. As mentioned before, he could not provide for his children as a slave.
Now that he was free, he interpreted his responsibility as a father by justifying that his
freedom would allow him to care and provide for his children. Dennis basically felt that
his ability to care for his children depended on whether or not he was a slave or a free
man. Truthfully, as a slave you have no work, so his conclusions seem reasonable.
Slave marriages were often looked down upon. Many people would curse them
for possessing such papers. Even though a number of slaves obtained marriage
certificates, they were either taken or destroyed when captured. With their newfound
freedom, former slaves pursued having their marriages legally recognized. For a variety
of reasons, this became a high priority for a former slaves. Luckily, primary documents
explaining such motives have been discovered.

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A. B. Randall was a white chaplain of a black regiment. In the document that he
composed, he goes on to affirm the importance of marriage for former slaves during their
journey of emancipation. Randall mentions that the colored people viewed the war was as
a form of exodus, or migration. It granted them the right to start over and move on.
Randall felt that marriage for former slaves established their “responsibility, competency,
and an honorable citizenship.”
Along with getting legally recognizing their marriages, former slaves and free
blacks pushed for political reconstruction. Efforts for such were driven with petitions
demanding civil and political rights. Early 1865, colored people from Tennessee
petitioned at a convention of white Unionists. There, they debated and demanded for the
reorganization of the state government. They asserted that freedom in general, was a
natural right. During the debate, blacks and former slaves respectfully provided numerous
reasons that supported their cause.
The leaders of the petition opened by stating how grateful they were to the
Federal Government for the gifting them their freedom. They mentioned that to live in a
democracy every man, whether colored or white, should have the right to live up to the
freedoms given. According to the petitioners to the Union Convention of Tennessee,
blacks felt that having the ability to enlist and fight in a war should justify their rights to
vote. If they can trust a black man with a bayonet, why can they not trust them to vote?
The Emancipation Proclamation may not have officially granted freedom to
slaves. However, it did strengthen the desire for freedom. Once their liberty was finally
established, it took former slaves some time to adjust to. As time progressed, former
slaves took advantage of this freedom to voice their demands for full equality. From

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marriage to suffrage, they did not back down. They wanted to move on and live their new
lives as official citizens of the Union.

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