Reconstruction Act of 1867

As the Civil War drew to a close how to treat those states that had left the Union was a significant challenge. President Lincoln had a forgiving attitude and believed that the states never actually left the Union, and thus believed that all the states needed to do was accept the 13th amendment outlawing slavery. They then had to a elect new local governments and send their representatives to Washington. When Lincoln was assassinated Vice President Johnson took over. As the only Senator from the South to remain loyal during the Civil War he was not totally trusted by the Northerns. Johnson continued Lincoln’s policies towards the Southern states, but without Lincolns prestige, Johnson was opposed by the Republicans in the Congress. Johnson’s task was made harder by the actions of the Southern States in passing “Black Codes”- laws that put restrictions on the freed slaves.

The Republicans in the Congress who became known as the Radical Republicans never accepted Lincoln approach and believed that it was up to the legislative branch to allow states to fully return to the Union. In 1867 they passed the Reconstruction Act that assigned the military of the role of organizing local government, making sure that ex slaves received the full right to vote, and denied the right to vote to supporters of the confederacy. The South was divided into five military districts and the goal of the military was to ensure that African Americans were able to vote. The military oversaw the election process, and were responsible to make sure that all people holding office had taken an oath to the United States. Under the act for a state to be readmitted to the Union it had to approve the 14th amendment guaranteeing all men the right to vote.

President Johnson opposed the Reconstruction Act and vetoed it. His veto was easily overridden by Congress and became law. New governments were elected in the South and they included many African Americans.

Louisiana Code Noir

In 1741, four African slaves lived in the colony for every 1.2 free white. This imbalanced population combined with high mortality, the threat of conflict with Native Americans, shortages of food and goods, and isolation produced a colony in which African, French, and Spanish cultures blended to create a unique culture known as Creole. Because most of the Africans who first arrived in Louisiana were of one nation, the Bambara, they succeeded in preserving their language and culture and, through their solidarity, ultimately acted as an Africanizing influence on Louisiana. European colonists, aware of their precarious position in the colony, were inclined to work together with slaves and afford them some rights under the Code Noir.

While the system was certainly brutal for African slaves, the harsh conditions of life in Louisiana resulted in difficulties for all settlers. Since many of the colonists were themselves rejected by French society and forced into exile in Louisiana as criminals or debtors, historian Gwendolyn Midlo Hall states, “Africans arrived in an extremely fluid society where a socio-racial hierarchy was ill defined and hard to enforce.” Hall expertly sums up the situation in colonial Louisiana, “Desperation transcended race and even, to some extent, status, leading to cooperation among diverse peoples.” Though the arrival of Anglo-Americans with the Louisiana Purchase resulted in stricter laws governing slavery and narrower views in terms of race, Louisiana society would remain more diverse, fluid, and racially ambiguous than the other Southern slave states.

The Code Noir was established in 1724 to regulate slavery in colonial Louisiana. The Code Noir stated that slaves were to be instructed in the Catholic faith, given food and clothing allowances, and allowed to rest on Sundays and the right to petition a public prosecutor if they were mistreated. Also, young children had to be sold with their mothers. The Code Noir prohibited slaves from owning property or testify against whites.

Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad was started in order to provide a means for escaped slaves to be safely spirited through the north until they reached sanctuary in Canada. The railroads borrowed heavily from the vocabulary of standard railroads, thus those who helped guide the slaves were conductors, and the places that they hid along the way stations. Between 1850-1860 1,000 slaves a year made use of the Underground Railroad to escape to Canada and freedom.

Most of the enslaved people helped by the Underground Railroad escaped border states such as Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland.

In the deep South, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 made capturing escaped enslaved people a lucrative business, and there were fewer hiding places for them. Fugitive enslaved people were typically on their own until they got to certain points farther north.

People known as “conductors” guided the fugitive enslaved people. Hiding places included private homes, churches and schoolhouses. These were called “stations,” “safe houses,” and “depots.” The people operating them were called “stationmasters.”

There were many well-used routes stretching west through Ohio to Indiana and Iowa. Others headed north through Pennsylvania and into New England or through Detroit on their way to Canada.