Where the Slaves Were Located

At the end of February 1863, Harper’s Weekly, no doubt drawing on 1860 Census data, dramatically illustrated the geographic distribution of slaves on the eve of the Civil War, with a map in which the higher the concentration of slaves the darker the shade used. This map can be seen immediately below:


Harper’s Weekly, 28 February 1863

The description of the map in Harper’s Weekly read as follows:

ON page 141 will be found a chart which represents to the eye the relative slave population in the different parts of the Southern States at the beginning of the rebellion. The depth of shade represents density of the colored in proportion to the white population; and it will be perceived that the shade varies from white to solid black. In several counties in West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, Northern and Southeastern Missouri, the slaves were less than three per cent of the whole population. In Western North Carolina, Northern Georgia, Northern Arkansas, and toward the northern part of Alabama, are counties in the population of which the slaves numbered less than six per cent.

The greatest proportion of slave population is embraced within the country extending along the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and bordering the Southwestern rivers. The slaves were more than fifty per cent. of the inhabitants included between the sea and Gulf coasts and a line, nearly parallel, beginning north of Richmond, Virginia, and extending southwardly to near Raleigh, North Carolina; thence southwestwardly to a little north of Montgomery, Alabama; thence northwestwardly to the vicinity of Memphis, Tennessee; thence to Shreveport, Louisiana, and a little to the north of Austin, Texas. Within this region there are counties in Southwestern Georgia, Southeastern Alabama, Central Mississippi, and some parts of Texas where the slaves were less than twenty-five per cent. of the whole people. In many of the counties they were from fifty to sixty per cent.; and in nearly all the region along the Mississippi River, Central Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, and in Virginia, south of Richmond, the slaves were more than sixty per cent. of the inhabitants; and in some South Carolina districts along the coast, in parishes of Louisiana, and counties of Mississippi along the Mississippi River, the slaves were over ninety per cent. of the whole population. In Central Kentucky, Tennessee, along the Tennessee River in Northern Alabama, and along the Missouri River was a slave population varying from thirty to sixty per cent., while in Western Kentucky and Tennessee it was scarcely thirty per cent., except in the region northeast and east of Memphis, where cotton is produced in abundance.

In all the Slave States, except those along the northern border, the north and west parts of North Carolina, and north and east parts of Tennessee, the density of slave population presents a proportionate abundance in the product of cotton. Along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia rice is an additional product of slave labor; and along the Gulf coast of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, particularly the last-named State, many slaves were engaged in the production of sugar.

In the western part of Central Georgia, in Central Alabama, Northern and Western Mississippi, Southwestern Tennessee, Eastern Arkansas, and Louisiana, and in Middle Texas, the produce of cotton was more than two bales to each slave.

This map is probably an early version of another map that appeared later in the printed report of the 1860 Census, which was published in 1864. Susan Schulten discusses the version printed in the official report in an article published in Disunion in the New York Times.

This report on the distribution of the slave population was prepared under the direction of Joseph C. G. Kennedy, Superintendent of the Census. It and similar demographic maps initially were meant for Union military commanders and other federal officials in assisting them in the war effort in the South, although the slave distribution map has since become invaluable to scholars as it is a snapshot of the geographic distribution of slaves on the eve of the liquidation of the peculiar institution.

Source: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/february/slave-chart.htm

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Worthy Fundraising Effort! Please Give!

Dear Readers,

The African American Military History Museum in Hattiesburg, Mississippi was badly damaged by a tornado earlier this month. My good friend, Tom Ward, of Spring Hill College, has launched a fundraising drive to help pay for repairs to the museum. He has posted a page on Fundly.com as a conduit for donations. Please give to this worthy cause and give generously. The address for Tom’s Fundly page is:


Thanks in advance for helping!

Don Shaffer
Civil War Emancipation

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Signs of the Times


Harper’s Weekly, 21 February 1862. Source: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/february/freed-negroes.htm

While slavery was far from dead in the United States in early 1863, the signs increasingly were not good for its long-term survival. The first piece of evidence was an illustration (above) and accompanying article in the February 21, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly. The article read:

THOUGH the President’s proclamation of freedom has been so often compared to the Pope’s Bull against the comet, it seems to be producing some substantial fruits. We publish on page 116 an illustration of CONTRABANDS COMING INTO NEWBERN, NORTH CAROLINA, from a sketch sent us by an amateur, who writes as follows:

NEWBERN, NORTH CAROLINA, January 26, 1863.

I inclose a sketch of a very interesting procession which came to Newbern from “up country” a few days ago. It is the first-fruits of the glorious emancipation proclamation in this vicinity, and as such you may deem it worthy of engraving in your illustrated Weekly.

On our late expedition into Greene and Onslow Counties our company (Company C, Fifty-first Massachusetts Regiment) was out on picket duty the night before our return to Newbern, when an old slave came in to us in a drenching rain; and on being informed that he and his friends could come to Newbern with us, he left, and soon the contrabands began to come in, with mule teams, oxen, and in every imaginable style. When morning came we had 120 slaves ready to start with their little all, happy in the thought that their days of bondage were over. They said that it was known far and wide that the President has declared the slaves free.

While the article started by describing critics mocking President Lincoln’s ability, they had a point. Certainly, Abraham Lincoln could not end slavery simply by issuing a proclamation. Few, if any slaveholders in the country would release their slaves at the President’s order. Indeed, the slaveholder’s rebellion, otherwise known as the Confederacy, existed pretty much because the planter elite feared, with justification, that Lincoln and his party intended to end slavery, even if the Republicans had shown no urgency to do so early in the Civil War, when they were still seeking to conciliate the South. Lincoln had preferred that the slave owners voluntarily release their slaves gradually in exchange for federal bonds to minimize the socioeconomic disruption of ending slavery, but when even the planters that had not joined the rebellion resisted the idea of gradual compensated emancipation, Abraham Lincoln went ahead and ordered freedom for those slaves he could justify freeing on grounds of military necessity: the slaves of rebel owners.

But the critics of the Emancipation Proclamation also missed the point. Slavery as an institution in the United States was not a comet in the heavens out of reach. Slaves could be and were reached by the Union Army, whose officers and men, as the war dragged on, were increasingly eager to divest slaveholders of their human property, both in recognition of the slaves’ military value to the Confederacy and to punish slaveholders for contributing to their own suffering by supporting the rebellion. It is here that Gary Gallagher has a point. Emancipation could not and would not have happened had not the Union Army enforced it at gunpoint.

Yet it is also the case that emancipation was assisted by the slaves themselves. And the  Harpers’ Weekly article illustrates this point. The Union Army made possible the departure of slaves to the sanctuary of federally controlled New Bern, North Carolina, but it is clear from reading between the lines of the article that federal officers did not expect quite so many slaves to take advantage of their expedition into Confederate territory to seize the chance to gain their freedom. So to put this in military terms, if the Union Army made emancipation practically possible, enforcing the President Lincoln’s proclamation, the slaves in effect served as a force multiplier by taking advantage as much as possible the opportunities the army opened for them to liberate themselves.

Yet it was not just in the rebel South where the crumbling of slavery can be seen in early 1863. It also was coming apart in the loyal Border States, which were not subject to the Emancipation Proclamation. Here, as further south, slavery had been undermined by the presence of the Union Army, where from the earliest months of the war many slaves had sought and found protection from their owners. By late 1862, slaves in Maryland in particular were getting restive, acting as if they were covered by Lincoln’s proclamation, even when formally they were not. Their obvious discontent affected white Marylanders, not only resurrecting their perennial fear of servile insurrection, but also causing the value of slave property to plummet, as it became increasingly clear the peculiar institution would not survive the war.

The falling value of slaves can be seen in the disposition of the estate of Charles Carroll V. Carroll was the grandson of Charles Carroll of Carrolton, last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, and before the Civil War, one of Maryland’s largest slaveholders. “Charles Carroll of Doughoregan” as he was known, to distinguish him from his famous ancestor, died on December 2, 1862. On January 24, 1863, a short but telling story appeared in the New York Times about Carroll’s estate. It read:

The appraisers of the slave property of the late CHARLES CARROLL, of this State, one of the largest slaveowners in Maryland, have made their returns to the Orphans’ Court, assessing the value of 130 slaves at an average of only $5 each. This, they say, was the highest rate they could name, after consulting with numerous slaveowners and dealers. One slavedealer told the Appraisers he would not give $500 for the whole lot. This is considered a striking illustration of the depreciation of slave property by the rebellion, and will have a powerful influence in this State.

When it is considered that slaves in their prime routinely sold for $1,000 or more before the war, the depreciation of prices apparent in the estate of Charles Carroll of Doughoregan is all the more striking. Slaves had not entirely lost their value, as there was still a small chance in early 1863 that slavery might survive and the remaining work of slaves until they were freed by the war still had a little residual value, but judge from the Carroll estate it was by that date 1 percent or less of what it had been before the Civil War. In other words, at about the mid-point of the conflict, Maryland slave dealers, people well qualified to judge the price of human property, already were assigning slaves a negligible value consistent with their judgment that slavery was all but doomed. Truly, the market had spoken.

Sources: 1) http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/february/escaping-slaves.htm; 2) http://www.nytimes.com/1863/02/24/news/the-slave-property-of-the-late-charles-carroll.html.

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Freedom Comes to Key West

[Please note: an incomplete version of this edition of Civil War Emancipation went out earlier by accident--my apologies.]

It is normal these days to think of Key West, Florida, as simply an attractive vacation destination. As Florida’s southern-most community, surrounded by water on all sides, it is an attractive location for people from more northern climes to escape winter’s bite. Yet during the Civil War, Key West was a different sort of place. Certainly, it was already on its way to becoming a winter refuge. However, the Overseas Railroad and Overseas Highway were still decades away, and in 1863, Key West was only accessible by water. But it was still an important community long before the Civil War, with a sizable population of about 2800 people in 1860, who made a living by fishing, shipping, making salt, and the lucrative business of salvaging the region’s many shipwrecks.

The U.S. Navy quickly recognized the value of Key West when Florida became part of the United States in 1821, establishing a base there from which it could project American naval power into the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico to suppress piracy and the international slave trade. The U.S. Army followed suit in the 1840s, beginning the construction of Fort Zachary Taylor, finally finishing in 1866. When Florida joined the other states of the Deep South in secession, quick action by federal forces in Key West kept it under Union control, and despite the secessionist sentiments of most white Southerners there it would remain so for the entire war, becoming an important base in enforcing the U.S. government’s naval blockade of the Confederacy.

Not surprisingly, Key West was home to a significant slave population at the start of the Civil War, if smaller percentage-wise than most of the Lower South. About 435 of the town’s 2800 people were slaves in 1860. There also were over 150 free people of color there, accounting for bulk of Florida’s free black population on the eve of the Civil War. Being under Union control from the start, slavery in Key West was under assault earlier than most places in the Deep South. Although federal forces did little to enforce 1861′s Confiscation Act against disloyal slaveholders, they ended up employing many of the town’s slaves, which as elsewhere served to undermine the peculiar institution. The New York Times correspondent in Key West reported on September 2, 1862:

Slavery is now here on our island being brought to the test of the late order of the President, and the Quartermaster’s department are employing such negroes as are needed in that department as laborers, nurses for the sick, and for all or any purpose of labor. Those taken who are claimed by disloyal masters are delighted with the change, and others of the same class who are not thus employed are leaving their masters, and seeking labor or employment on their own account. A custom long in vogue here has prepared the negro for this, as they have been allowed to hire their own time, and make what they could, paying to master a portion of their earnings. This latter obligation the darkey proposes to ignore for the future, and applications have been made to the military commandant to have punished such negroes as refuse to pay over their wages or to work for their masters, which have been invariably refused, on the ground that the soldiers of our army are not to be used to compel the rendering of unrequited labor, thus leaving the slaveholder dependent on moral suasion to sustain the old relationship. How far this will be successful in keeping Sambo to the line of duty which exacts all his labor for master’s benefit, whilst Sambo is merely receiving what will keep him in condition to continue the arrangement, is one phase of the question now about to be solved. There are many negroes employed here on our Government works and otherwise, who were purchased simply for the investment of capital by private individuals, adding negro after negro out of the proceeds of such labor. This, although done by men who are classed among good Christians, is yet one of the harsh features of Slavery, and stamps the operator with a character for unscrupulousness even among slaveowners. The value of slave property is materially affected by the existing state of things, and an able negro man of middle age was a few days since offered for sale at $200, without meeting a purchaser. This certainly bears with much hardship upon certain families dependent upon the wages and sale of their negroes for their support and the education of their children. Yet it is somewhat difficult to realize that all the wealth of the island does not still remain with us, or that there is any diminution of the power to do or accomplish. The negro is no more unwilling to labor, when the proceeds are expected to enter his own exchequer, than when he knows they will go into master’s. The State Legislature of Florida passed an act in the Winter of 1860, providing for the exile or enslavement of all free negroes within its borders. As there are many of that class of laborers here, there was consequent perturbation among them for a short time under the last of secession rule, until the puny efforts to display the rebel flag became hushed like the assassin’s retreat, and the glorious Stars and Stripes were given to the breeze by a force to maintain them. Then these people, reassured at once, became quieted, and now remain as they have been for years, an orderly, industrious, law-abiding and most useful class, many of whom are carpenters, masons, or seamstresses of respectable abilities.

This letter, of course, was written before Abraham Lincoln announced the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. When the final draft of this document went into effect on January 1, 1863, Key West was not one of the areas of the Union-occupied South exempted. So its slaves officially went free, a fact they naturally celebrated, although not until the end of the month. The Times correspondent reported on February 4, 1863:

The 30th of January was made memorable to the negro population of the island, by a grand effort to celebrate their advent to freedom. A procession was formed, and marched through the principal streets, cheering at such houses as they considered friendly. They may claim to have conducted themselves with order and propriety, and that no unpleasant incident occurred, except that a lady, believing that negroes should not be marching through the streets with their best clothes on, even on such an occasion, dashed a pitcher of water upon them from an upper piazza, as they were passing. In the afternoon, at 3 o’clock, they assembled at the Barracoon, and were joined by a large number of naval and military officers and citizens, in discussing the good things which were bountifully furnished. Speeches and toasts were delivered.

So, unsurprisingly, the slaves of Key West were glad to be free, even if not all the town’s white residents accepted that fact with equanimity. They also chose to celebrate the event in their own way and on their own schedule, waiting for nearly a month to make a demonstration of their new status. Such would be nature of most ex-slaves’ celebrations before and after the one in Key West. If now former slaves had a celebration it happened around the time they became free, and in a manner of their own choosing. So despite the direct connection with the Emancipation Proclamation of the liberation of slaves in Key West, Florida, African Americans there did not look to a central authority to select when or how to celebrate the occasion. This decentralized, ad hoc manner of remembering freedom for the slaves would remain true after the Civil War and up to the present, which is fitting given the incremental often informal fashion in which freedom came in practice.

Sources: 1) http://www.nytimes.com/1862/09/13/news/key-west-operation-president-lincoln-s-proclamation-slavery-course-extinctionon.html; 2) http://www.nytimes.com/1863/02/12/news/key-west-removal-naval-depot-negro-jubilee-changing-sentiment-arrival-troops.html.

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Reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation

While public opinion, North and South, had considerable time between late September 1862 and the end of the year to adjust to the idea that Abraham Lincoln meant to free most slaves in the United States by proclamation at the start of 1863, the reaction to Lincoln actually signing the Emancipation Proclamation was surprisingly passionate.

The nature of opinion about Lincoln’s proclamation fell along predictable lines. Richard Striner, well summarizes notable reactions in a piece in January 29 edition of Disunion in the New York Times. Striner writes:

Almost all abolitionists and radical Republicans, even those who had condemned Lincoln’s methods as being too cautious, were thrilled. William Lloyd Garrison, the venerable abolitionist, called the occasion “a great historic event, sublime in its magnitude and beneficent in its far-reaching consequences.” The radical Republican Benjamin Wade proclaimed, “Now, hurrah for Old Abe and the proclamation!”

Black Americans were naturally likewise jubilant. The minister Henry Highland Garnet called Lincoln “the man of our choice and hope” and said that the proclamation was “one of the greatest acts in all history.” Frederick Douglass said much the same thing: the proclamation was “the greatest event in our nation’s history.”

He continues:

Of course, the proclamation elicited expressions of hatred from those Northerners who hated African-Americans. White supremacists in the United States were outraged. Condemning Lincoln, The Cincinnati Enquirer said that the proclamation represented the “complete overthrow of the Constitution he swore to protect and defend.” All over the North white bigots called the proclamation “wicked,” “atrocious” and “impudent.”

Confederates agreed wholeheartedly with Northern racists. Jefferson Davis called Lincoln’s action “the most execrable measure recorded in the history of guilty man.” But he said the proclamation would fail: it was nothing more than a gesture of “impotent rage” for which Confederates should show “contempt.” Other Confederates reacted with greater defiance: insofar as Lincoln’s final proclamation made provision for enlisting freed slaves in the army, the Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard called for the “execution of abolition prisoners. … Let the execution be made with the garrote.”

While individual Confederates might have changed their behavior toward Union POWs as a result of Lincoln finalizing the Emancipation Proclamation, the Confederacy’s official policy toward northern prisoners remained unchanged. While rhetoric such as Beauregard’s might have satisfied the anger of white Southerners over what they saw as Lincoln’s tyrannical action, any mistreatment of enemy POWs put Confederates in Union hands in danger of retaliation. (Their venom though would find an outlet in black Union prisoners who often would be abused or even killed when captured by the rebels, especially when the Confederates realized the Lincoln administration was reluctant to retaliate for atrocities against African-American soldiers in the federal army.)

Lawyers also disagreed about whether President Lincoln’s freeing most of the slaves in the United States as a war measure was constitutional. Abraham Lincoln himself was unsure on this point (as Spielberg’s Lincoln accurately portrays), which was why he soon began pushing for a constitutional amendment to end slavery once and for all. Lincoln did not wish risking the judiciary overruling him after the war, which was a distinct possibility in what was then the most conservative branch of the federal government. Lincoln also had to consider the fate of the slaves exempted from the Emancipation Proclamation, especially in the loyal border states. While Missouri and Maryland would move toward freeing the slaves on their own over the rest of the Civil War, Kentucky and Delaware would continue to resist emancipation and slavery would only end there with the final ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865.

So while the Emancipation Proclamation put the country on the road to the final end of slavery in the United States, it was far from the end of the road. And, as Jim Downs has written extensively, slaves fleeing into Union lines to gain their freedom created a horrid humanitarian crisis, with thousands dying due to the often poor conditions in hastily established federal freedmen’s camps. (Escaped slaves were a secondary priority at best for Union commanders, especially if they could not be put to work supporting federal military operations.) Downs holds Abraham Lincoln personally responsible for this humanitarian crisis. He goes as far as to assert, “Lincoln can no longer be portrayed as the hero in this story. Despite his efforts to end slavery, his emancipation policies failed to consider the human cost of liberation.” It is going too far to assert Abraham Lincoln was not a hero of emancipation in the United States, but Jim Downs is correct that this catastrophe should tarnish to some extent the Lincoln administration’s image on this point. Still, if Confederates and racist white Northerners were livid over the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, Abraham Lincoln was doing something right and heroic.

Sources: 1) http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/29/hurrah-for-old-abe/; 2) http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/05/dying-for-freedom/.

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Images of Slaves Reaching Freedom


Source: Harper’s Weekly, 31 January 1863

Once the Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect in January 1863, slaves escaping to Union lines were no longer in limbo, but effectively free. They might still be called “contraband” but the word no longer accurately defined their status, as escaped slaves were no longer confiscated property.

Their arrival in Union lines sometimes elicited curiosity from northern journalists reporting on the Civil War. One such group caught the attention of Alfred Waud, a combat artist embedded with the Army of the Potomac. His illustration of them appeared in the January 31, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly. The periodical did not specify Waud’s location when making this drawing, but in all likelihood it was near the Army of the Potomac’s winter camp at Falmouth, Virginia, across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg, where the rebels had dealt the federals a costly defeat the month before in the heights above the town.

Alfred Waud added the following commentary on his illustration for Harper’s Weekly, writing:

There is something very touching in seeing these poor people coming into camp—giving up all the little ties that cluster about home, such as it is in slavery, and trustfully throwing themselves on the mercy of the Yankees, in the hope of getting permission to own themselves and keep their children from the auction-block. This party evidently comprises a whole family from some farm: the mule cart, without a particle of leather about its rope harness, and with a carpet thrown over it for wagon-cover, is unique in its dilapidation. The old party with the umbrella is a type. Down on the Peninsula it appeared constantly on the Sabbath. No matter how fine a day, the old darkeys, clad in ancient dress-suits, white cotton gloves, and tall bell hats, always made their appearance with large ‘Gampish’ umbrellas—as I conjecture an insignia of respectability. Somehow or other the ladies of the colored persuasion manage to get hoops, although bonnets and other fashionable frivolities are out of their reach.

One of the females represented in the picture had a nearly white child, a girl; and, young and old, all seemed highly delighted at getting into our lines. Let us hope they may fare better than the thousands who found a refuge from the institution in Alexandria last year; the poor creatures died there as though a plague had smitten them.

Clearly, slavery then was sufficiently horrible and the prospect of freedom sufficiently alluring that many slaves would get away at the earliest opportunity, risking themselves to rickety wagons and grave punishment if captured, and bringing their families with them lest a loved one be left behind in bondage and become the object of retaliation meted out by vengeful owners.

Photographers also captured for posterity slaves reaching Union lines. One such famous image, a stereoscope, was taken six months before Waud’s illustration (around the time of Second Bull Run) roughly in the same place, showing slaves arriving in Union lines after apparently just having forded the Rappahannock River.


Source: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/cwp2003000117/PP/

RSV1862Here is a close-up of the escaped slaves pictured in the stereoscope above. Like the slaves in the Waud illustration, they appear to be another family unit with another unsteady-looking wagon, which did not even have a makeshift cover to shield them from oppressive summer sun. Apparently, those problems were not enough to deter a journey to seek freedom within Union lines. Neither was fact that in late July, early August when the photo was taken that Abraham Lincoln had not yet publicly committed himself to their freedom. Not a lot would keep many slaves from seeking freedom during the Civil War, even if it was only the prospect of such. (If readers need a reminder of why, <click here>.)

While neither the group in the Alfred Waud illustration or the photograph show joy in their arrival at Union lines, their actions speak louder than the images. No doubt they were tired after their long and dangerous journey, and probably more than a little apprehensive about the reception they would receive, and still a little unsure they really were free. Yet they truly had arrived in freedom, and would experience its joys and realities in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. In any case, they were definitely no longer slaves, and that was the important thing, and we in 2013 are indebted to the artists and photographers that captured the moment that freedom arrived for them.

Source: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/january/emancipated-contrabands.htm

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Thomas Nast Envisions Emancipation


Thomas Nast, “The Emancipation of the Negroes, January, 1863 – The Past and The Future,” Harper’s Weekly, 24 January 1863.

The second anniversary of this blog on January 21 passed without me realizing it until yesterday. For two years, I have used the same masthead for the blog (see above). I cropped it from an epic cartoon by Thomas Nast that appeared in the January 24, 1863 (150 years ago today) edition of Harper’s Weekly. Nast titled his piece, “The Emancipation of the Negroes, January, 1863 – The Past and The Future.

Thomas Nast, of course, was the most famous political cartoonist in the United States during the Civil War and the era that followed. Africans Americans were a frequent subject of his cartoons, which were a bellwether of public opinion in the North towards the struggles of the race to be free and then to achieve equality afterward. Nast generally was sympathetic toward African Americans, although by the 1870s his cartoons began to express the disillusionment felt by many white Northerners by that time about Reconstruction in the South. Still, his cartoon in January 1863 captured the hope the Emancipation Proclamation had engendered among many people in the North and its sesquicentennial near the second anniversary of Civil War Emancipation is nicely serendipitous.

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