Nothing But Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy

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LSU Press, 2007 - History - 167 pages
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Nothing But Freedom examines the aftermath of emancipation in the South and the restructuring of society by which the former slaves gained, beyond their freedom, a new relation to the land they worked on, to the men they worked for, and to the government they lived under. Taking a comparative approach, Eric Foner examines Reconstruction in the southern states against the experience of Haiti, where a violent slave revolt was followed by the establishment of an undemocratic government and the imposition of a system of forced labor; the British Caribbean, where the colonial government oversaw an orderly transition from slavery to the creation of an almost totally dependent work force; and early twentieth-century southern and eastern Africa, where a self-sufficient peasantry was dispossessed in order to create a dependent black work force. Measuring the progress of freedmen in the post--Civil War South against that of freedmen in other recently emancipated societies, Foner reveals Reconstruction to have been, despite its failings, a unique and dramatic experiment in interracial democracy in the aftermath of slavery. Steven Hahn's timely new foreword places Foner's analysis in the context of recent scholarship and assesses its enduring impact in the twenty-first century.


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Reviewed March 2007
Book is broken down into three long essays. The first one "The Anatomy of Emancipation" talks about the changes made with labor. First in Britian they felt that wages should
be kept low because laborers were lazy. Then Adam Smith explained that the poor will work hard if there are incentives.
This essay explains how emancipation worked or not worked in the Caribbean islands before the slaves were freed. The islands used various methods to control their black population, the biggest problem was to keep them working for the planters. Blacks did not want to work on plantations but started their own farms and lived off their land, selling extra produce to stores. They managed with so little before as slaves it took little to keep them as free men. Plantation owners who still had the power made laws forcing blacks to work on plantations, they passed laws taxing everything blacks owned and kept them out of politics by raising land ownership requirements for ability to vote. Blacks did not have, "an aversion to labor, but the desire to labor under circumstances o their own choosing." (p. 21)Some can argue that emancipation worked in the islands and some argue that the "colonists have the incontestable right not to be ruined by the Negroes freedom." (p. 36)
The next essay "The Politics of Freedom" deals more with the American South. Again the fight was over controlling black labor. Fences became important as livestock roamed private property which only inflamed tensions. Taxes rose for black property owners, "tools, mules, even furniture - while larger farmers had several thousand dollars exempted from levy." (p.70) "the U.s. was the only society where the freed slaves, within a few years of emancipation enjoyed full political rights and a real measure of political power." (p. 40) Mostly blacks were punished and taxed and the plantation system continued.
The last essay, "The Emancipated Worker" focuses on the rice plantations in South Carolina, many of the planters were completely surprised to find the slaves were resentful towards them. Once freed several of the plantation owners homes were stripped and burnt to the ground. Rice production is a very labor intensive project that runs year round. They found that Negroes were unhappy with wages and they learned all about striking.
What I learned about American emancipation was that it wasn't well thought out. If Lincoln had lived, it would have run much better and fairer. The plantation owners tried to hold control and Pres. Johnson did little to prevent them from enacting laws restricting blacks.



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