Freedom Under the Confiscation Act: What the "Emancipation Paper" Said and What It Threatened -Black History Month

Pat Young

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#1
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Daily dispatch
Monday, Sep 01, 1862
Richmond, VA
Vol: 23
Page: 2

We all know that the March 1862 Confiscation Act allowed the Union Army to free slaves who had been employed in the service of the Confederacy. In this article from a secessionist paper is reprinted the "Emancipation Paper" of formerly enslaved African American Jerry White. In the document you see several elements common to these freedom papers:

1. Statement of the identity of the individual. Until this paper was issued it is unlikely that Jerry White ever had any sort of government-issued id.
2. Statement that he was "formerly a slave." This indicates both his previous status "slave" and that the status had been terminated.
3. Statement that he had been in "rebel service" at the direction of his master. The March 1862 Confiscation Act was not a full-blown Emancipation Act, it applied only to those slaves who had been used for the support of the rebellion. The paper describes Jerry White as "forever" emancipated because his owner had used him to assist in the "break up" of the government.
4. Confiscation made Jerry "Contraband of War," theoretically allowing the Federal government to employ him as property. As you can see from the document, Curtis writes that since he is not needed to work for the government he is allowed to pass "northward" to freedom.
 

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Pat Young

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The article under the Emancipation Paper gives the opinionated interpretation of what the document represents. As you can see from the tone, it anticipates a social revolution if things continue along these lines.

I want to look closely at a few of the things the Southern dispatch says are going on in Helena, Ark.

The article says that the "negroes manufacture all sorts of lies about having worked at Fort Pillow, and thus obtain passes to go North." To a modern reader, this sounds pretty great, doesn't it? It fits in with modern historiography that says that blacks were not passive objects who were freed by white Union soldiers. Here blacks are full participants in their own liberation!

Let's unpack the 19 words in that little sentence fragment:

1. Balck people are aware of the Confiscation Act.
2. They are aware that there is the possibility of freedom if they go to the Union army.
3. They consider freedom to be a desirable state.
4. They understand that to be freed under the Confiscation Act they must meet the condition of having been employed in the service of the Confederacy.
5. They construct narratives that allow the army authorities to free them from slavery.
6. The want to obtain passes that allow them to leave Arkansas and "go North."

If there was not a better refutation of much of the Southern slave owning ideology...
 

John Hartwell

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#3
I had never seen one of these passes before. Thanks for posting it.

And yes, that was my first thought when reading the Richmond Dispatch article: all those "loyal and contented" slaves pretending to have labored for the CSA, just to get themselves confiscated and "forever emancipated from his master."
 

Pat Young

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And yes, that was my first thought when reading the Richmond Dispatch article: all those "loyal and contented" slaves pretending to have labored for the CSA, just to get themselves confiscated and "forever emancipated from his master."
There is a certain cognitive dissonance in the newspaper's analysis.
 

christian soldier

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#7
Pat. I recall in graduate school that one of my civil war classes used a textbook that dealt specifically with the confiscation acts. Since I reorganized my books I cannot remember where I put this particular book and because of the curse of old age I cannot recall the title or author. I do remember the course was taught by Dr. John Quist of Shippensburg University who just recently published an outstanding book on the Presidency of James Buchanan, which I would love to see Pat do a book review. if anyone has a chance to hear Dr. Quist give a lecture in person or on you tube please do not hesitate to take the time to listen to him. You will not be disappointed. He is a real civil war intellectual who uses the old Socratic method of teaching. He was one of the toughest graders I ever had at any level of schooling. Yes, I did get an A in his classes with a lot of blood, sweat and some tears. David.
 



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