Reconstruction: A Scottish Socialist & A German General Work to Help Slaves Become Freedpeople

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freedmen-teachers
As the Civil War ended, teachers became agents of liberation.

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The Emancipation Proclamation began the process of ending slavery, but as slaves were liberated by the advance of the Union Army the Lincoln administration provided little more for the black refugees than what local military commanders allowed. In many areas, free blacks starved in miserable squalor once they were behind the lines of the conquering Union divisions.1

In the months after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863 the Lincoln administration looked for a policy protecting the newly free. It turned to a Scottish immigrant whose politics set him apart from his American home.2

Robert Dale Owen came to the United States at the age of 24. Arriving in New York with his well-known socialist father, Owen later recalled that “its first glimpse was beautiful even beyond my dreams.” It may have been love at first sight for Owen, but America did not always return his admiration. The father and son had come to export their socialist ideas to the New World.3

Owen might seem to have been out of sorts with the America he settled in. He was a Utopian socialist in the most capitalist country in the world. He believed in women’s equality with men, advocating that they enter the professions and skilled trades previously reserved to men. He insisted that women should be able to engage in sex before marriage and that they should be educated in contraception. His disdain for religion also set him in opposition to a nation swept by revivalism.4

In the late 1850s, slavery and not sexuality or socialism, was the issue of the day. The old radical turned out to be a conservative as the country moved towards armed conflict. More afraid of war than human bondage, he aligned with the Northern Peace Democrats at first, only migrating towards a pro-war stance after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter.5

For all of his radicalism, Owen believed in conciliation and negotiation with the South after Lincoln’s election rather than in taking the hard line on slavery that he thought would lead to war. Once Fort Sumter was attacked, however, Owen joined in the war effort.6

Freedmen-robertRobert Dale Owen

In 1862 Owen pioneered the War Democrat position on Emancipation. Owen said that while he always opposed slavery, it was only with the coming of war that the president gained the ability to end slavery as a war measure. Owen’s argument was the same one that Lincoln himself adopted as the legal justification for the Emancipation Proclamation.7

In March 1863 Secretary of War Edwin Stanton appointed Owen to a three person commission to look into the condition of blacks freed from slavery by the Union army. Owen and his colleagues interviewed Southerners, white and black, to find out how emancipation was implemented.8

The commission gave Lincoln and Congress recommendations based on what they learned from blacks themselves.

Writing most of the commission’s report, Owen argued that freed slaves serving in the army would help win the Union victory in the war. But, he said, regarding the blacks, “to give full scope to their energies in war we must not treat them as stepchildren.” 9

Owen opposed the administration’s plan to discriminate against black soldiers by paying them less than white soldiers. The commission argued that it “is so manifestly just, to say nothing of the evident expediency for the benefit of the service, that no discrimination should be made either as to wages or in any other respect, between the white and the colored soldier.”10

freedmen-soldierThe enlistment of black soldiers created an obligation on the part of the Federal government to care for and protect their families, argued Robert Owen.

Owen hoped that by immediately placing the black soldier on an equal plain with the white, a post—war society of equality could begin. He wrote:

Performing the same duties, subjected to the same fatigues, marshaled on the same battle-fields side by side with the white soldier, and exposing, like him, his life for his country, one would think that the innate sense of right would preclude the necessity of a single argument on the subject. What probability of future harmony between the races, if we begin our connection with the new-made freedmen by such an act of flagrant injustice?  Let us beware the temptation to treat the colored people with less than even justice, because they have been, and still are, lowly and feeble. Let us bear in mind that, with governments as with individuals, the crucial test of civilization and sense of justice is their treatment of the weak and the dependent.11

The past inhumanity of the condition of the slaves also argued for better treatment now, Owen wrote. “God is offering to us an opportunity of atoning, in some measure, to the African for our former complicity in his wrongs,” he opined.12

Owen next turned to the immediate needs of the slave refugees arriving daily behind Union army lines. They were starving and neglected by many of the military men charged with aiding them. Owen called for the creation of a Freedmen’s Bureau to sustain blacks in their new freedom. At a time when the Federal government provided little in the way of education of relief assistance, 13

Owen proposed:

The refugees from slavery, when they first cross our lines, need temporary aid, but not more than indigent Southern whites fleeing from secessionism, both being sufferers from the disturbance of labor and the destruction of its products incident to war. The families of colored men, hired as military laborers or enlisted as soldiers, need protection and assistance… Forcibly deprived of education in a state of slavery, the freedmen have a claim upon us to lend a helping hand until they can organize schools for their children. But they will soon take the labor and expense out of our hands, for these people pay no charge more willingly than that which assures them that their children shall reap those advantages of instruction which were denied to themselves.14

freedmen-educationTeachers would be courageous allies of freed slaves during Reconstruction.

Owen made sure to point out that he advocated a Freedmen’s Bureau, not because he thought the blacks were inferior and incapable of caring for themselves, but because whites had viciously enslaved them and deprived them of land and education. Owen wrote that “For a time we need a freedman’s bureau, but not because these people are negroes, only because they are men who have been, for generations, despoiled of their rights.”15

Owen warned that there would be schemes floated in the name of benevolence to keep blacks in dependence on whites in conditions called “apprenticeships”, but which would in reality be new forms of slavery. In these apprenticeships, blacks would be forced to work for whites in order to “train” them to be free. “Extensive experience in the West Indies,” he wrote, “has proved that emancipation, when it takes place, should be unconditional and absolute. The experiment of a few years’ apprenticeship, plausible in theory, proved, in practice, a failure…”16

Owen also opposed the efforts by some Union generals to compel newly liberated slaves to continue laboring on their old plantations for subsistence wages. “The freedman should be treated at once as any other free man,” he argued, and he “should be subjected to no compulsory contracts as to labor.” Owen also opposed the collusion of Union generals and white planters in imposing wage scales on blacks, writing that there “should not be, directly or indirectly, any statutory rates of wages.”17

Rather than force blacks to stay on plantations after liberation, the Federal government should insure their rights to freely bargain for wages. It should help them, through the Freedmen’s Bureau, to reduce the labor contracts to writing. Finally, he said the Federal government should insure that the “freedmen do not suffer from ill-treatment or failure of contract on the part of their employers.” 18

Owen said that the Federal government should abandon the idea that whites would be the guardians of blacks, and instead, that the government should work to protect the rights of freed people to bargain and trade on the same footing as whites. Only if blacks and whites were immediately treated as legal equals could the role of the Federal government in race relations ever foreseeably come to an end. 19

Congress dragged through months of argument over the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau. It was only in March, 1865, just a month before Lincoln’s assassination that the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Land was legislatively enacted. When the Confederate armies collapsed a few weeks later, the Bureau, charged with immediate relief for more than three million African Americans, barely existed. Military conquest had been intricately planned for, but the creation of the post-war world would be a work of improvisation.20

German immigrant General Carl Schurz saw the need for immediate action by the Freedmen’s Bureau as he toured the conquered South in the summer of 1865. Schurz hoped that one day “poor whites” would form part of a progressive alliance in the South, but in the months after the end of the war, he wrote to the new President Andrew Johnson, their “only political impulses at present seem to consist in a stupid hatred of the negro and subserviency to their old leaders.”21

freedmen-white-intimidationBlack soldiers had been important contributors to Union victory, but immediately after the war they were denied the vote and were often at the mercy of local whites.

Blacks were daily targets of intimidation by Southern whites, he reported. “Scenes of violence are not unfrequent,” he wrote, ”and the presence of the military will be necessary for a considerable time, to prevent their becoming general.” Schurz said that white abuse of blacks was so widespread that blacks distrusted all white men as their “natural enemies.” Whites used intimidation, instead of fair wages, to compel blacks to work on the plantations where they had been slaves.22

Schurz informed President Johnson that “It is important that the Freedmen’s Bureau send without delay agents to every county in this state [South Carolina].” Schurz warned the president that only strong men with military service should be appointed to work with the Freedmen’s Bureau. He said that the blacks would only trust a man who had fought for their freedom. “It is essential that the sympathies of such agents should be strongly and sincerely with the freedmen…,” he wrote.23

freedment-army-Sept-1865Five months after the war ended, a large Union army of occupation was needed to enforce the end of slavery. From Mapping Occupation

Along with tough men, he also wanted dedicated women. “A large force of teachers should be sent into the interior of this State,” he wrote. The teachers needed to give the freed slaves “a correct idea” of their “rights and duties.” Without education, blacks would always be at the mercy of whites.24

The willingness, or unwillingness, of Presidents Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant to support and strengthen the Freemen’s Bureau would help determine the fate of blacks during Reconstruction.

Video: Eric Foner on the Freedmen’s Bureau

Resource:

“Final Report of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission to the Secretary of War,”

Sources:

1. Robert Dale Owen: A Biography by Richard William Leopold published by Harvard (1940); Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877.by Eric Foner Harper & Row.(1988)
2. Robert Dale Owen: A Biography by Richard William Leopold published by Harvard (1940); Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877.by Eric Foner Harper & Row.(1988)
3. Robert Dale Owen: A Biography by Richard William Leopold published by Harvard (1940) pp. 25
4. Robert Dale Owen: A Biography by Richard William Leopold published by Harvard (1940) pp. 60-62
5. Robert Dale Owen: A Biography by Richard William Leopold published by Harvard (1940) pp. 341-346.
6. Robert Dale Owen: A Biography by Richard William Leopold published by Harvard (1940).
7. Robert Dale Owen: A Biography by Richard William Leopold published by Harvard (1940) pp. 352-353.
8. Robert Dale Owen: A Biography by Richard William Leopold published by Harvard (1940) pp. 353—364
9. Robert Dale Owen: A Biography by Richard William Leopold published by Harvard (1940); “Final Report of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission to the Secretary of War,” Senate Executive Documents, 38 Cong., i Sess., no. 53, 25-110
10. “Final Report of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission to the Secretary of War,” Senate Executive Documents, 38 Cong., i Sess., no. 53, 25-110
11. “Final Report of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission to the Secretary of War,” Senate Executive Documents, 38 Cong., i Sess., no. 53, 25-110
12. “Final Report of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission to the Secretary of War,” Senate Executive Documents, 38 Cong., i Sess., no. 53, 25-110
13. “Final Report of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission to the Secretary of War,” Senate Executive Documents, 38 Cong., i Sess., no. 53, 25-110
14. “Final Report of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission to the Secretary of War,” Senate Executive Documents, 38 Cong., i Sess., no. 53, 25-110
15. “Final Report of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission to the Secretary of War,” Senate Executive Documents, 38 Cong., i Sess., no. 53, 25-110
16. “Final Report of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission to the Secretary of War,” Senate Executive Documents, 38 Cong., i Sess., no. 53, 25-110
17. “Final Report of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission to the Secretary of War,” Senate Executive Documents, 38 Cong., i Sess., no. 53, 25-110
18. “Final Report of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission to the Secretary of War,” Senate Executive Documents, 38 Cong., i Sess., no. 53, 25-110
19. “Final Report of the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission to the Secretary of War,” Senate Executive Documents, 38 Cong., i Sess., no. 53, 25-110
20. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877.by Eric Foner Harper & Row.(1988) Kindle Location 1580-1590
21. Advice After Appomattox: Letters to Andrew Johnson ed. by Brooks Simpson et al published by University of Tennessee Press (1987) Letters of Carl Schurz p. 82.
22. Advice After Appomattox: Letters to Andrew Johnson ed. by Brooks Simpson et al published by University of Tennessee Press (1987) Letters of Carl Schurz p. 83.
23. Advice After Appomattox: Letters to Andrew Johnson ed. by Brooks Simpson et al published by University of Tennessee Press (1987) Letters of Carl Schurz p. 84-85.
24. Advice After Appomattox: Letters to Andrew Johnson ed. by Brooks Simpson et al published by University of Tennessee Press (1987) Letters of Carl Schurz p. 94—95.

The Immigrants’ Civil War is a series that examines the role of immigrants in our bloodiest war. Articles will appear twice monthly between 2011 and 2017. Here are the articles we have published so far:

1. Immigrant America on the Eve of the Civil War – Take a swing around the United States and see where immigrants were coming from and where they were living in 1861.

2. 1848: The Year that Created Immigrant America – Revolutions in Europe, famine and oppression in Ireland, and the end of the Mexican War made 1848 a key year in American immigration history.

3. Carl Schurz: From German Radical to American Abolitionist– A teenaged revolutionary of 1848, Carl Schurz brought his passion for equality with him to America.

4. Immigrant Leader Carl Schurz Tells Lincoln to Stand Firm Against Slavery.

5. …And the War Came to Immigrant America -The impact of the firing on Fort Sumter on America’s immigrants

6. The Rabbi Who Seceded From the South

7. The Fighting 69th-Irish New York Declares War

8. The Germans Save St. Louis for the Union

9. New York’s Irish Rush to Save Washington

10. Immigrant Day Laborers Help Build the First Fort to Protect Washington-The Fighting 69th use their construction skills.

11. Carl Schurz Meets With Lincoln To Arm the Germans

12. Immigrants Rush to Join the Union Army-Why?– The reasons immigrants gave for enlisting early in the war.

13. Why the Germans Fought for the Union?

14. Why Did the Irish Fight When They Were So Despised?

15. The “Sons of Garibaldi” Join the Union Army

16. The Irish Tigers From Louisiana

17. Immigrant Regiments on Opposite Banks of Bull Run -The Fighting 69th and the Louisiana Tigers

18. The St. Louis Germans Set Out To Free Missouri

19. Wilson’s Creek Drowns Immigrant Dream of Free Missouri

20. English-Only in 1861: No Germans Need Apply

21. After Bull Run: Mutineers, Scapegoats, and the Dead

22. St. Louis Germans Revived by Missouri Emancipation Proclamation

23. Jews Fight the Ban on Rabbis as Chaplains

24. Lincoln Dashes German Immigrants Hopes for Emancipation

25. When Hatred of Immigrants Stopped the Washington Monument from Being Built

26. Inside the Mind of a Know Nothing

27. The Evolution of the Know Nothings

28. The Know Nothings Launch a Civil War Against Immigrant America

29. The Know Nothings: From Triumph to Collapse

30. The Lasting Impact of the Know Nothings on Immigrant America.

31. Lincoln, the Know Nothings, and Immigrant America.

32. Irish Green and Black America: Race on the Edge of Civil War.

33. The Democratic Party and the Racial Consciousness of Irish Immigrants Before the Civil War

34. The Confederates Move Against Latino New Mexico

35. Nuevomexicanos Rally As Confederates Move Towards Santa Fe—But For Which Side?

36. The Confederate Army in New Mexico Strikes at Valverde

37. The Swedish Immigrant Who Saved the U.S. Navy

38. The Confederates Capture Santa Fe and Plot Extermination

39. A German Regiment Fights for “Freedom and Justice” at Shiloh-The 32nd Indiana under Col. August Willich.

40. The Know Nothing Colonel and the Irish Soldier Confronting slavery and bigotry.

41. Did Immigrants Hand New Orleans Over to the Union Army?

42. Did New Orleans’ Immigrants See Union Soldiers As Occupiers or Liberators?

43. Union Leader Ben Butler Seeks Support in New Orleans-When General Ben Butler took command in New Orleans in 1862, it was a Union outpost surrounded by Confederates. Butler drew on his experience as a pro-immigrant politician to win over the city’s Irish and Germans.

44. Union General Ben Butler Leverages Immigrant Politics in New Orleans

45. Thomas Meager: The Man Who Created the Irish Brigade

46. Thomas Meagher: The Irish Rebel Joins the Union Army

47. Recruiting the Irish Brigade-Creating the Irish American

48. Cross Keys: A German Regiment’s Annihilation in the Shenandoah Valley

49. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Richmond-The Irish brigade in the Peninsula Campaign from March 17 to June 2, 1862.

50. Peninsula Emancipation: Irish Soldiers Take Steps on the Road to Freedom-The Irish Brigade and Irish soldiers from Boston free slaves along the march to Richmond.

51. Slaves Immigrate from the Confederacy to the United States During the Peninsula Campaign

52. The Irish 9th Massachusetts Cut Off During the Seven Days Battles

53. Union Defeat and an Irish Medal of Honor at the End of the Seven Days

54. Making Immigrant Soldiers into Citizens-Congress changed the immigration laws to meet the needs of a nation at war.

55. Carl Schurz: To Win the Civil War End Slavery

56. Carl Schurz: From Civilian to General in One Day

57. Did Anti-German Bigotry Help Cause Second Bull Run Defeat?

58. Immigrant Soldiers Chasing Lee Into Maryland

59. Scottish Highlanders Battle at South Mountain

60. Emancipation 150: “All men are created equal, black and white”– A German immigrant reacts to the Emancipation Proclamation

61. The Irish Brigade at Antietam

62. Private Peter Welsh Joins the Irish Brigade

63. Preliminaries to Emancipation: Race, the Irish, and Lincoln

64. The Politics of Emancipation: Lincoln Suffers Defeat

65. Carl Schurz Blames Lincoln for Defeat

66. The Irish Brigade and Virginia’s Civilians Black and White

67. The Irish Brigade and the Firing of General McClellan

68. General Grant Expells the Jews

69. The Irish Brigade Moves Towards Its Destruction At Fredericksburg.

70. Fredericksburg: The Worst Day in the Young Life of Private McCarter of the Irish Brigade

71. Forever Free: Emancipation New Year Day 1863

72. Private William McCarter of the Irish Brigade Hospitalized After Fredericksburg

73. The Immigrant Women That Nursed Private McCarter After Fredericksburg

74. Nursing Nuns of the Civil War

75. The Biases Behind Grant’s Order Expelling the Jews

76. The Jewish Community Reacts to Grant’s Expulsion Order

77. Lincoln Overturns Grant’s Order Against the Jews

78. Irish Families Learn of the Slaughter at Fredericksburg

79. Requiem for the Irish Brigade

80. St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish Brigade

81. Student Asks: Why Don’t We Learn More About Immigrants in the Civil War?

82. Missouri’s German Unionists: From Defeat to Uncertain Victory

83. Missouri Germans Contest Leadership of Unionist Cause

84. German Leader Franz Sigel’s Victory Earns a Powerful Enemy

85. Immigrant Unionists Marching Towards Pea Ridge

86. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge: Opening Moves

87. Pea Ridge: The German Unionists Outflanked

88. German Immigrants at the Battle of Pea Ridge

89. The Organization of the “German” XI Corps

90. The Irish Brigade on the Road to Chancellorsville

91. The “German” XI Corps on the Eve of Chancellorsville

92. The “Germans Run Away” at Chancellorsville

93. The New York Times, the Germans, and the Anatomy of a Scapegoat at Chancellorsville

94. An Irish Soldier Between Chancellorsville and Gettysburg

95. Lee’s Army Moves Towards Gettysburg: Black Refugees Flee

96. Iron Brigade Immigrants Arrive at Gettysburg

97. Iron Brigade Immigrants Go Into Battle the First Day at Gettysburg

98. The “German” XI Corps at Gettysburg July 1, 1863

99. An Irish Colonel and the Defense of Little Round Top on the Second Day at Gettysburg

100. A Prayer Before Death for the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg: July 2, 1863

101. The Irish Regiment that Ended “Pickett’s Charge”: July 3, 1863

102. Five Points on the Edge of the Draft Riots

103. Before the Draft Riots: The Cultivation of Division

104. The New York Draft Riots Begin

105. Convulsion of Violence: The First Day of the New York Draft Riots

106. The Draft Riots End in a Sea of Blood-July 14-15, 1863.

107. Pat Cleburne: The Irish Confederate and the Know Nothings

108. Killing Pat Cleburne: Know Nothing Violence

109. Pat Cleburne: Arresting a General, Becoming a General

110. The Immigrant Story Behind “Twelve Years a Slave”

111. A German Immigrant Woman’s Gettysburg Address

112. Pat Cleburne: The Irish Confederate’s Emancipation Proclamation

113. Pat Cleburne: The South Can’t Use Black Soldiers Without Ending Slavery

114. The Suppression of Pat Cleburne’s Emancipation Proposal

115. An Irish Immigrant Colonel’s Warnings Ignored at Chickamauga

116. An Immigrant Colonel’s Fighting Retreat at Chickamauga

117. August Willich: German Socialist at Chickamauga

118. Hans Heg:at Chickamauga: Norwegian Commander on the Eve of Battle

119. Ivan and Nadine Turchin: Russian Revolutionary Aristocrats at Chickamauga

120. German Immigrants Pinned Down at Chickamauga

121. Hans Heg: To Die for His Adopted Country at Chickamauga

122. Patrick Guiney: An Irish Colonel on the Edge of the Wilderness

123. Immigrants March Out of The Wilderness and Into a Wicked Hail of Gunfire

124. Peter Welsh in the Irish Brigade’s Purgatory at Spotsylvania

125. Peter Welsh: What Sacrifice Must the Immigrant Make for His Adopted Land?

126. A Second Irish Brigade’s Catastrophe at a Forgotten Fight Near Fredericksburg

127. An Irish Man and a French Woman Between Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor

128. Two Irish Brigades Swept Away by a Hurricane from Hell at Cold Harbor

129. Petersburg: The Start of a Ten Month Siege that Devoured Men and Disabled the Irish Brigade

130. A Volcano in Virginia: The Battle of the Crater

131. 1864 Election: The Immigrant Voter & Abraham Lincoln

132. August Belmont: The German Jewish Immigrant Who Led the Opposition to Lincoln’s 1864 Reelection

133. Lincoln and the Superiority of the “Negro” over the Irish

134. Lincoln’s Germans and the Election of 1864

135. Lincoln’s German Lawyer Comes Out Swinging in the Election of 1864

136. Lincoln Wins the Election of 1864 With Immigrant Votes

137. American Refugee Camp in Civil War Kentucky Destroyed by Union Soldiers

138. Kentucky Civil War Refugee Camp Reborn and Reconstructed After Expulsions

139. Immigrant German “Hamburgers” Tormented and Captured at Petersburg

140. German General Weitzel and His African Canadians at Petersburg

141. Irish Regiment at the Beginning of the End of the Confederacy at Five Forks

142. Richmond Burning: The German Immigrant and Black Troops Who Saved the City

143. Appomattox: The Capture of a Confederate Army & the Fall from Grace of an Immigrant General

144. Lincoln Assassinated: John Wilkes Booth’s Immigrant Conspirators

145. Immigrants Hunt Lincoln’s Killers and Help Capture the Confederate President

146. Lincoln’s Murder and the New York Irish American

147. Lincoln’s Funeral in Immigrant New York

148. German General Carl Schurz Begins His Investigation of the Post-War South

149. Carl Schurz Warned That a “System of Terrorism” Was Taking Hold in the Post-War South in 1865

150. Immigrants in the Union Navy: Minorities in the Majority

151. How Immigrants Were Recruited into the United States Navy

152. African Canadian Sailors in the Union Navy

153. High School Student Proves Professor Wrong When He Denied “No Irish Need Apply” Signs Existed

154. The Fallout from No Irish Need Apply Article Spreads Worldwide

155. No Irish Need Apply Professor Gets into a Fight With Our Blogger Pat Young Over Louisa May Alcott

156. Professor Behind No Irish Need Apply Denial May Have Revealed Motive for Attacking 14 Year Old Historian

157.  A Scottish Socialist and a German General Work to Help Slaves Become Freedpeople-Robert Dale Owen, Carl Schurz and the founding of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

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