When looking at the Civil War and Reconstruction, what's ambiguous about freedom?When looking at the Civil War and Reconstruction, what's ambiguous about freedom?

Expert Answers
bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In addition to the "black codes" and Jim Crow laws that were established in the post-Reconstruction South to restrict the rights of the newly freed black men and women, the defeated white Southerners also had many restrictions placed upon them after the war. President Andrew Johnson (a native of Tennessee) attempted to enact lenient terms upon the seceding states, but Northern Republicans--angered by Lincoln's assassination--determined to further punish the Southern states and its citizens. Congress abolished the newly elected Southern governments, placing the seceding states under control of the U.S. Army in what became known as the Radical Reconstruction. It was then determined that former slaves could vote, while former Confederate leaders were denied this right. (Estimates are that 10,000 to 15,000 former Confederate officers and politicians were denied the right to vote or hold office.) Full amnesty to the Southern states was not established until 1872. The corruption of the Republican governments in both the North and the South further denied Southerners their true rights as free men until the Panic of 1873 and the later Compromise of 1877 eventually led to Democratic control. Reconstruction ended, and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan (which had already gained great power following the war) and Jim Crow laws began.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What is ambiguous about freedom is its meaning.  In other words, what does it really mean to be free?  African-Americans found out about this ambiguity during and after the Civil War.

During and after the Civil War, slaves were freed as the Union army conquered the areas in which the slaves lived.  This ostensibly meant that the slaves were free.  But what did that really mean?

After the Civil War, many southern states instituted "black codes" that limited the things that blacks could do.  They essentially tried to keep the freed slaves under white control.  Was this freedom?  Later on, as Reconstruction waned, the "redeemer" governments started to infringe on black rights as well.  Throughout, blacks were harassed by the KKK and similar organizations and were impoverished and forced into sharecropping as well.

This brought up the question of the definition of freedom.  Is freedom something on a piece of paper or does it have to do with the actual conditions in which a group lives?  Were blacks truly free after slavery ended?  These are ways in which freedom, as a concept, is ambiguous.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Freedom is easy to talk about as part of a political platform or speech, and very difficult to put into practice, particularly where there has been little or none before, and where the local population and government are against such ideas, as they were in the South after the Civil War when it came to freed slaves.  So the idea, while glorious to those who were in chains, was ambiguous because they had never experienced it before, and because, even when constitutionally granted, it was difficult to make it into a reality that changed slaves everyday lives.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the issues raised in #2 still are pertinent today when discussing issues such as freedom and race equality. It is clearly one thing to have "freedom" and "equality" on paper, but arguably you could say that concepts such as freedom are not able to be legislated immediately and will involve a process for such concepts to permeate throughout all of society. You could argue that we are still seeing this process of achieving freedom and equality in practice in American society today.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

How free was someone who was turned out from the only home he/she knew with no place to find food or work?  The promise of 40 acres and a mule was a myth created by those from the North who came mainly to exploit the South after the Civil War.  As mentioned in post #3 voting rights were certainly skewered so that the Northerners could be located strategically and manipulate the freed blacks who were elected as those who voted for them.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
I imagine you are talking about freedom for slaves. Even after the slaves were freed, they still did not have equal rights. They entered freedom with no property and often no skills. They also faced severe discrimination that prevented them from gaining financial and social footing. Many ended up as servants or sharecroppers on the very plantations where they had been enslaved. Conditions were not necessarily much better.
lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One issue of freedom for the slaves after the Civil War was that they were told they were free but you have the following restrictions. There also was no attempt to educate them on what to do as  free people.