For this unit, we were learning about how big social changes can either be brought about from below or from above. More specifically, during the Civil War, how were slaves freed? Who 'gave' freedom to enslaved Americans? Did freedom come from above or below? To what extent were Abraham Lincoln's actions influenced by the actions of enslaved Americans? When I say "freedom from above or below", I am talking about social status. Throughout history, big social changes have been accomplished by either the efforts of the lower class people (such as slaves) or the upper class people (such as the president). Freedom from above would mean the higher class citizens are granting freedom to the lower class whereas freedom from below would mean the lower class is going out and gaining freedom for themselves. These ideas can be seen in the two pictures in the proceeding paragraphs. To help answer these questions, we looked at both the higher and lower classes. We looked at many of Abraham Lincoln’s documents or speeches as the war progressed. In groups, we analyzed Lincoln’s reply to a letter from Horace Greeley (1862), Emancipation Proclamation (1863), Gettysburg Address (1863), and Second Inaugural Address (1865). We also looked at documents that describe what actions fugitive slaves took to force people to revisit their problem and hopefully help end slavery. We also watched a video describing the events that were happening as we were going through the documents.
Lincoln’s documents show freedom from above even though he has many changes of heart throughout the war. He states in the reply to Horace Greeley that, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that”. He views freeing all slaves as secondary to saving the Union. He doesn’t seem opposed to slavery and he doesn’t want to get rid of it. However by 1863 he starts to change his mind and starts using his power to free some slaves.”All persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free” was stated in the Proclamation, meaning all slaves are free in rebelling states. He continues to make his opinion that he wants to free slaves stronger as he states, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal...this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth" in the Gettysburg Address. He is making clear statements about equality and freedom for slaves. Finally in 1865 he states that, “These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war” explicitly saying that the abolition of slavery was the true reason for war. Lincoln used his power and authority to help the issue of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation, the law that all slaves are free in rebelling states, and eventually the 13th Amendment were all accomplished because Lincoln was president and had the power to do so; no slave or lower class citizen could have demanded these things. I don’t think the slaves could have been as successful in this war without a powerful government figure on their side fighting for them. Below is a picture showing freedom from above:
However, the slaves did not sit back and watch this happen. The slaves took many actions themselves to make themselves nuisances to the government so that the government was constantly reminded of the issue of slavery. They forced the government to deal with them and their problem by being pests. A letter from General Ambrose E. Burnside in 1862 states, "they are now a source of very great anxiety to us; the city is being overrun with fugitives from surrounding towns and plantations... it would be utterly impossible if we were so disposed to keep them outside of our lines as they find their way to us through woods & swamps from every side". The Union troops stationed in the Confederate states didn't know what to do with all the fugitive slaves that kept running around the town. They would not leave, and therefore the troops had to send to ask for a solution which then reminded the government of the slaves. This is an example of freedom from below because the low class slaves were fighting themselves for their freedom. This mentality is shown by the picture below. However, during the Civil War, I think that the slaves needed Abraham Lincoln to help them accomplish slavery because the government wouldn't have made laws against slavery without him in office.
I think that a big social change usually starts from below, however the lower class citizens need the higher classes to recognize their efforts. For the Civil War, the slaves tried to help fight for their freedom, but overall, it was the political efforts of Lincoln and the government who recognized their problem and wanted to fix it who made the change. Recently in the news, there have been many incidents with police regarding racism. There have been multiple shootings where police have shot African Americans, and many believe the police are only shooting them because they are black. There have been two major incidents; Ferguson, Missouri and North Charleston, S.C. In Ferguson, it is reported that Officer Darren Wilson was too violent to Michael Brown. He was unarmed and he and the officer were supposedly in an altercation near his care when the officer fatally shot him. The African AMerican man from North Charleston, Walter Scott, supposedly dropped his gun and was running away from the officer, unarmed, when Officer Michael Slager shot him in the back. The debate about these two cases is whether the police were too quick to use force, especially in cases involving black men. The reaction by the average people has been huge, and there have been many large protests that have gotten the attention of the government. Their technique is very similar to the fugitive slaves. I think many social changes start from average people getting upset with a certain situation, and they have to start to make a difference and fight for what they believe. However, the government has to recognize their efforts for any big change in the laws to occur.