Social History for Every Classroom


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A Freedman and a General Discuss the Meanings of Freedom

What exactly should be done for freedmen, if anything, was hotly debated in the years following the Civil War. As this exchange between a Union military officer and a former slave in Arkansas shows, even the meaning of freedom was up for grabs.

FREEDMAN: Sir, I want you to help me in a personal matter. 

GENERAL: Where is your family? 

FREEDMAN: On the Red River. 

GENERAL: Have you not everything you want? 

FREEDMAN: No sir. 

GENERAL: You are free! 

FREEDMAN: Yes sir, you set me free, but you left me there. 

GENERAL: What do you want? 

FREEDMAN: I want some land; I am helpless; you do nothing for me but give me freedom. 

GENERAL: Is not that enough? 

FREEDMAN: It is enough for the present; but I cannot help myself unless I get some land; then I can take care of myself and my family; otherwise I cannot do it.

Source | Reported by the Joint Congressional Committee on Reconstruction, 1867; conversation took place at Fort Smith, Arkansas; in American Social History Project, Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution: An Inquiry into the Civil War and Reconstruction, 255.
Creator | Various
Item Type | Government Document
Cite This document | Various, “A Freedman and a General Discuss the Meanings of Freedom,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 3, 2023,

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