In the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln used language to describe freeing slaves as a tactical advantage for the Union. This kind of thought is seen throughout the Union, as seen in Major General Butlers report to the secretary of war. General Butler had found many black people, mostly women and children, who had fled the South to go behind Union lines. Butler wanted to know whether these people were to be treated as human beings, or whether they should be treated as war contraband. (Document A). African Americans were given a chance by Abraham Lincoln, who believed that African Americans would fight with a motive, like any other person. Lincoln put it perfectly when he said “Why should they do anything for us, if we do nothing for them?”(Document C). However, this was being asked by both sides, and this culminated in the New York Draft Riots, which essentially became what they were out of the question of “why should we fight for them, if they do not fight for themselves?” Eventually, black freemen and former slaves became an important asset to the Union, as seen in the New York Times article on March 7, 1864. This article describes how the city of New York cheers on African American soldiers marching down the street, when several months before, during the Draft Riots, it hunted down African Americans like animals. (Document F). This shows that New Yorkers did realize the sacrifice these men were making for their freedom and for keeping the Union together. They did no longer feel like they were fighting for those that would not fight for themselves.
Eventually, the Civil War was won, and African Americans went about trying to shape their own destiny. As a result of Reconstruction and the lax leadership of Andrew Johnson, the question of how blacks were to be treated was largely ignored. In the South, people participated in Constitutional Conventions to be readmitted in the Union; however in most of these blacks were a minority. (Document J).This shows that they either were excluded from these conventions, or simply fled in droves to the North. After the war, many blacks tried to establish their rights as citizens, as seen in the Conventions of Colored people’s attempt to get suffrage in Virginia. As citizens they believed that they deserved equal protection and rights, no matter their race. (Document H). Blacks also tried to change their position using education, which they eagerly sought out. Charlotte Forten was a teacher who taught African Americans, and according to her, she never saw people as eager to learn as African Americans after Emancipation. (Document E). Clearly, those freed by the Civil War were trying very hard to advance themselves in society.
They were not alone in this fight, as there were people who