Emancipation and the Quest for Freedom

Color painting of a Union soldier reading the Emancipation Proclamation to a slave family.

With the end of the Civil War came the end of slavery in the United States. Legally and constitutionally, the war resolved the single most important moral question that afflicted the young republic and hampered the emergence of the country as a moral and economic leader on the world stage.

For millions of enslaved Americans, however, the end of the war was the beginning of a complex and difficult journey. Many were persecuted for their efforts to achieve and sustain true freedom. The quest for equality by former slaves, their descendants, and other Americans of color was an issue left undecided by the war.

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  • Photo of United States Colored Troops at review in Washington, D.C.

    Petersburg, Virginia was a major supply hub for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Interestingly, half the population of this city, whose rail lines would prove so essential to the survival of Richmond, was comprised of both free African Americans and slaves. As the war closed in on this community, these individuals would play a critical role. Read more

  • Woodcut image of an African American male slave in chains

    The Civil War culminated eighty years of sectional tensions - tensions begot at various times and places by debate over economic policies and practices, cultural values, the extent and reach of the Federal government, but, most importantly, the role of slavery within an American society striving for identity and economic strength on the world stage. Read more

  • Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

    Dred Scott Case Trials

    Painting of Dred Scott

    For decades the Supreme Court moved carefully around various controversies regarding slavery, but in 1857 it did no such thing. In the Dred Scott decision, it swept away decades of equivocation and ruled that the United States government had no legal right to limit the expansion of slavery into any part of the nation. Abolitionists and free-soilers were stunned. Read more

  • Slave family seated in front of their house

    Although the abolition of slavery emerged as a dominant objective of the Union war effort, most Northerners embraced abolition as a practical measure rather than a moral cause. The war resolved legally and constitutionally the single most important moral question that afflicted the nascent republic, an issue that prevented the country from coalescing around a shared vision of freedom, equality, morality, and nationhood. Read more

  • Gulf Islands National Seashore

    Exceeding Expectations

    Photo of African American soldier

    During the fight for freedom, African American soldiers were forced to deal with discrimination on a regular basis. For no other reason than possessing a different skin color, these men were perceived to be inferior troops. Yet over several fierce fights, men such as the Louisiana Native Guard proved their worth. Read more

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