What Is Freedom?

This racist cartoon (which you can click on to enlarge) is from the 1866 Pennsylvania governor’s race, in which the position of the Republican candidate, John W. Geary, is being attacked by Hiester Clymer, his Democratic opponent. Clymer was in favor of white supremacist policies and the defunding of the Freedman’s Bureau, which attempted to look after the affairs of newly freed blacks. Geary stood in favor of tax dollars being used to fund the bureau. Geary ultimately won the election.

In your web comment, contrast this depiction of the black dependency on a federal agency to this 1865 letter written by a recently freed slave, Jourdan Anderson, who is replying to his former master who wants Anderson to come back and work for him. Put these two sources in dialogue with each other. What are the different ideas of black freedom that are conveyed by these two sources?

For a sophisticated overview of how historians currently think about what freedom really meant for emancipated slaves, check out this essay on the New York Times excellent DISUNION blog by City College history professor, Greg Downs.

Published in: on December 16, 2011 at 1:51 pm  Comments (12)