They Gave to the Nation Undying Proof that Americans of African Descent Possess the Pride, Courage, and Devotion of the Patriot Soldier—One Hundred and Eighty Thousand Such Americans Enlisted under the Union Flag in MDCCCLXIII-MDCCCLXV.
THE ERA OF ENFRANCHISEMENT
1. The Problem
At the close of the Civil War the United States found itself face to face with one of the gravest social problems of modern times. More and more it became apparent that it was not only the technical question of the restoration of the states to the Union that had to be considered, but the whole adjustment for the future of the lives of three and a half million Negroes and five and a half million white people in the South. In its final analysis the question was one of race, and to add to the difficulties of this problem it is to be regretted that there should have been actually upon the scene politicians and speculators who sought to capitalize for their own gain the public distress.
The South was thoroughly demoralized, and the women who had borne the burden of the war at home were especially bitter. Slave property to the amount of two billions of dollars had been swept away; several of the chief cities had suffered bombardment; the railroads had largely run down; and the confiscation of property was such as to lead to the indemnification of thousands of claimants afterwards. The Negro was not yet settled in new places of abode, and his death rate was appalling. Throughout the first winter after the war the whole South was on the verge of starvation.
Here undoubtedly was a difficult situation—one calling for the highest quality of statesmanship, and of sportsmanship on the part of the vanquished. Many Negroes, freed from the tradition of two hundred and fifty years of slavery, took a holiday; some resolved not to work any more as long as they lived, and some even appropriated to their own use the produce of their neighbors. If they remained on the old plantations, they feared that they might still be considered slaves; on the other hand, if they took to the high road, they might be considered vagrants. If one returned from a Federal camp to claim his wife and children, he might be driven away. “Freedom cried out,” and undoubtedly some individuals did foolish things; but serious crime was noticeably absent. On the whole the race bore the blessing of emancipation with remarkable good sense and temper. Returning soldiers paraded, there were some meetings and processions, sometimes a little regalia—and even a little noise; then everybody went home. Unfortunately even so much the white South regarded as insolence.