African Americans In 1865

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Following the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War, many assumed that black Americans in the south were granted their freedoms and the rights believed to belong to all men. Southerners were especially vocal about the expanded rights of black Americans as they attempted to prevent further involvement in southern politics by the northern Republican government, but many white northerners were also critical of northern involvement. William Dunning, author of Reconstruction, Political and Economic, 1865-1877 (1907), lived during the time of Jim Crow laws and discrimination against black Americans. Dunning argued that the Republican government used black suffrage as a tool to expand Republican political power and established the “Dunning …show more content…
and] that the former owner of said minors shall have the preference” (9). The southern states not only allowed former owners to continue a sort of pseudo-slavery by signing freedmen to year-long work contracts, but actively encouraged it by allowing minor freedmen to be indentured to their former owners. The state passed another law, the Mississippi Vagrant Law of 1865, that similarly worked to return freedmen to labor. The law stated that freedmen and white men who associated with freedmen without lawful employment or business or who gathered unlawfully should be fined ($50 for freedmen and $200 for white men); if a feedman were unable to pay his fine, the sheriff was supposed to “hire out said freedman, free negro or mulatto, to any person who [would], for the shortest period of service, pay said fine and forfeiture and all costs” (9). The law, put simply, allowed for freedmen to be forced into labor for attempting to enjoy many of the rights given to white men such as assembling in groups or being in an area without a specific reason to be there. This was the type of behavior that, Foner argued, necessitated the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

Clearly, there was support for Foner’s argument that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was necessary, despite Dunning’s claim that the law was really passed to increase Republican power in the south. Was there support for Dunning’s claim? In the primary sources collected for this assignment, two sources indicate support for Dunning’s claims. In “The Avantage of Negro Suffrage,” Thaddeus Stevens

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