Research Proposal: Federal Government (Both the Executive and Legislative

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¶ … federal government (both the executive and legislative branches) did and did not do for the freed slaves, and why;

Following the Civil War, the United States still found itself grappling with the cultural divides on racial orientation that were a basis for the war -- along with economic realities of course. In the years immediately following unification and the initiation of reconstruction, these two issues of economic reformation anticipated abolition would be categorically dominant as President Lincoln attempted to balance a severe division of priorities. Naturally, the South would enact an immediate response at the state level to its defeat by beginning to adopt what were known as 'black codes.' These state-based laws proliferated in the south as a precursor to the Jim Crow laws that would be dominant there for the next century.

Northerners and unionists acts at the executive and legislative branches to counteract this reactionary form of resistance. President Lincoln took several steps to establish a policy precedent on the subject, issuing the executive orders which would include the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery in all of its forms and creating the Freedmen's Bureau designed to assist in all affairs concerning the transition of slaves into free citizens of the United States.

The South resisted these efforts in all forms, both by abiding only state-wide laws preserving the abuses visited upon black Americans and by manning aggressive political efforts to retain state-based independence even after unification. This would invoke the response of Republican leaders in Congress. The legislative form of this effort would take particular pains in the initiative called 'radical reconstruction', where white northerners would take up residence in the south and man political campaigns promoting a return to the union and its laws and conditions. Though this would not undermine the bitter culture founded on racism and anti-federalism, it would set in motion the legislative forces which would gradually form legitimate protections for the rights of former slaves in the south.

b) How the status of African-Americans in society was affected by other priorities, problems and issues faced by the President and Congress.

The focus in our discussions on the relevance of industrial development in the United States to the pains stimulating the war and the reconstruction efforts plays a significant part in the conclusion that growing pains of a financial nature would catastrophically incite already widening cultural differences between north and south. For the African-Americans, racism and their resultant status would be hinged to the economic differences left to be sorted by the President and Congress. Thus, with the invention of the cotton gin, the interest in tobacco as a prime agricultural product would be eclipsed, causing a real shift in the geographical focus of the nation's crop economy. And as the north would speed forward in terms of industrial development, so too would many of the states closest to its borders begin feel a gradual shift in the popular disposition toward slavery, allowing for the emphasis on this issue in the years immediately following the war.

This is of course, not to suggest that the racist pretext to slavery was not in some manner a prominent effecter in matters throughout the nation. In fact, for the North, it was rather a matter of market forces which had diminished its need for slavery and its capacity to yank the South violently out of these same patterns. To a large part, its public facilities, stations of power and occupational opportunities remained extremely closed off to 'freedmen,' even following the war. Indeed, the Murrin (2007) text makes the argument that the approach which Northern politicians would take in trying to build an alliance with moderate southern whites would require them to take a purposefully undefined stance on the idea of slavery's abolition.

As point of fact, Freehling (2001) contends that "by rejecting federally imposed emancipation, the early Civil War president maneuvered to hold Border South neutrals in the Union and to lure Union supporters from the Confederacy's Middle South white belts." (Freehling, 47) This is a fact which helps to clarify the pointedly amoral and decisively political manner in which President Lincoln manipulated the process of reconstruction. Such is to note that it was not necessarily the shared view of the immortality of slavery which inclined so many, either in the north or in the border south to finally concede to the change in African-American status after the war. Instead, it was the economic preservation of the nation itself which was of prime importance, with a diverse spectrum of racial perspectives harbored within the cross-section. Though it is easy in retrospect to suggest that the post-war emancipation was a matter of inevitability, it is clear that for President Lincoln, retaining the integrity and solidarity of the union far overshadowed the interests of slavery, upon which divided perspectives cut through states, communities and households.

Thus, when we consider the implications of reconstruction, we can see that emancipation would be a mere inevitability of economic and political determination. And in fact, there appeared to be little in the way of a political will prior to the war for the emancipation to actually occur. Instead, we find through our reading that this would by function of the reconstruction and the cultural and economic changes it would necessarily precipitate. For many of its most powerful 'advocates,' this would be an outcome of reconstruction deemed necessary for reconciliation of the economic break between sides, while simultaneously disrupting the core 'peculiar institution' floating a secessionist economy.

c) what gains blacks made and what obstacles there were to those gains;

Though the most apparent of gains for the African-American population would be those related to the ascendance from slavery in all its forms, the cultural proclivities toward racism were nonetheless dominant in the South. Its law enforcement, judicial, political and public contexts all remained steeped in a sentiment of racial prejudice which precipitated all manner of abuse and disenfranchisement. From the realities that prevented African-Americans entry into certain establishments, access to occupational opportunities and residence in white neighborhoods to the police forces, courts and politicians who resisted in all forms the pressures imposed by the nation to revise their treatment freed slaves, life for African-Americans remaining in the south after the war was filled with hardship.

The economic devastation which followed the war would fall upon those of the least means, which were most predominantly those who had only newly gained their freedom. This would be compounded by a hostility over the outcome of the war, which southern whites vented upon freed slaves through intimidation, violence and murder.

d) how blacks themselves felt about and responded to post-abolition problems (e.g. Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois);

The era which followed the Civil War would, as described above, show new trials to the African-American population. In addition to the practical conditions afflicting them, this would be a newly emergent population of the world now in search of its own identity and its own culture outside the bounds of slavery. Figures such as Dubois and Washington, a writer and an educator respectively, would introduce the world to the idea of African-American pride. The newly emergent culture would be framed by such figures as an opportunity to impose their own freedoms and equality through self-betterment. This would take the form of ideals supporting political activism, literacy and the assertion of a unified and positive identity.

e) to what extent blacks benefited from or participated in the economy of the New South or in America's post-war economic development from the 1860s into the 20th century.

The post-war economy would be a shaky one, as the United States navigated the inevitable recession that was to characterize reconstruction. The result was a real need for a labor class, a title which would inevitably fall to the African-Americans now populating both north and south in search of wage opportunities. In the south, the federal conditions would require that such opportunities be availed, at least insofar as slave labor could no longer be relied upon for the manual labor inherently tied to reconstruction. This is not to sugarcoat the conditions and meager wages availed to African-Americans, but it would at least tie the goals of reconstruction in the New South to the opportunity for African-Americans to for the first time participate in the economy.

Part II:

3) Chinese Exclusion Act

Several decades before the turn to the 20th century, the United States continued to be a nation governed in its culture and legislation by a deep-seeded European racism. Its policies on Chinese expatriates -- who were becoming more prominent in number with the inception of America's West Coast wave of foreign immigration -- reflected this ethnically driven prejudice. With regard both to citizenship and to labor, the United States government responded directly to public pressure when it took up the cause in 1880 of composing exclusionary legislation in order to 'protect' American labor integrity from the invasion of statistically significant numbers of Asian… [END OF PREVIEW]

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