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Civil War and Reconstruction
The Freedmen
Addresses and Ceremonies at the New Year's Festival to the Freedmen

On January 5, 1867, a committee of ministers, politicians, and other notable citizens of the Washington, D.C., area hosted a festival for freed slaves living in Arlington Heights. The area in which they lived had been set aside for freedmen on the family estate of Robert E. Lee, which had been seized by the federal government after the Civil War began. The organizing committee solicited donations of food, clothing, and money for the freedmen and arranged for a series of speakers. Eight speakers addressed the crowd. Many other dignitaries wrote letters. The first speaker was a member of Congress from Lincoln's home state, Illinois. His address is presented below. What do you think Moulton's purpose was? What biases can you detect in his speech? If you had been a freed slave celebrating emancipation, how would you have reacted to this speech?

View the entire document from which this excerpt was taken from African American Perspectives, 1818-1907. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.


My FELLOW--COUNTRYMEN: I am rejoiced to have the opportunity of meeting with you to--day under these happy auspices.

I am an entire stranger to you, living a thousand miles away, in the great State of Illinois, the former home of the great Lincoln. I am here by accident, not expecting to address you; but I esteem it a privilege and pleasure to speak to you a few earnest words of congratulation and encouragement on this to you deeply interesting and happy occasion.

This is the anniversary of your emancipation. It is your jubilee.

For hundreds of years your race has been kept in chains and slavery of the most revolting and degrading character. All generous impulses, hopes and ambition were crushed out, and you were simply machines, operatives, at the will of a tyrant master. Such is your past history.

But thanks be to an all wise Providence and the disinterested patriotism and humanity of your great friend, the lamented Lincoln, your chains have been broken, slavery forever destroyed within this Union, and all the responsibilities of American citizenship have devolved upon you.

My friends, do you understand fully the import of freedom, liberty, and citizenship? By being free, you are not thereby discharged from the obligations of citizens--from responsibilities and from labor to support yourselves and families. With citizenship your responsibilities begin; you stand erect before the world as men and women. Have you the mental and moral qualities to enable you to take care of yourselves in the race of life, is one of the questions that you alone can solve.

Your friends believe that you possess the elements to make good citizens and to enable you to discharge all your obligations to society, if you are permitted to have a fair and equal chance in the world.

All you ask is that the laws of the country shall operate equally upon all, without regard to race or color. With this you are content to take your chances. This is reasonable and just, and no vote of mine shall ever be given to deprive your race of perfect equality before the law.

You, as a people, have given the most indisputable evidence of your love of this Union and hatred of treason by watering with your blood an hundred battle--fields. Your black hands have carried aloft triumphantly the old flag, through fields of blood, carnage, and death. In the great struggle through which we have just passed you have helped to keep duty, and all you ask now, in return, is equality before the law.

My friends, this you are entitled to, and this will be guaranteed you by the legislation of the country.

Already you have been enfranchised in this District, and a bill is now pending before Congress for the establishment of a free--school system, under which every child will be entitled to a common--school education. This is legislation in the right direction, and indicates progress.

But, my friends, if equal and just laws are afforded you, if you are permitted to fully enjoy the fruits of your own labor and to stand upon an equality with all others, this is all you have a right to expect.

You must exert your own energies, you must put forth your own hands and labor; and unless you do this, freedom and equality will not aid you in the hard struggle of life; you will fail in all the objects of life, and will becomes a burden to yourselves and society.

Then your first duty is to seek employment. Don't crowd into the cities; go into the country, where labor is scarce and in demand. Work honestly and faithfully; acquire homes for yourselves and children; and show to the world that if you have a chance, you can maintain your relative position in society. This I believe you can and will do. You have much to contend with; you have prejudices against you to overcome; you have inveterate enemies to conquer; and, strangely enough at this time, many of those whom you had a right to expect to be your friends. have now become your enemies. They have coldly turned their backs upon you, and would leave you to the tender mercies of your former master.

But, my friends, you can survive this treachery.

The good and the true everywhere are your friends. The Thirty--Ninth Congress will do you, I hope, full justice.

Up to this time you have done better than your friends expected. you have everywhere evinced a desire for education, and you have, under the circumstances, made wonderful improvement, developing mental powers of a superior order in the acquisition of elementary education.

My friends, there is one in the clear, blue, upper sky who looks down upon us here to day and rejoices with us at your happy prospects, and the results of his labors on this earth.

The great name of the martyred Lincoln you never can forget. He was your friend, and the friend of humanity. he always faithfully kept and performed his promises to your race. Your faithful hearts overflow with gratitude towards him. His memory will always be sweet to you.

Emulate his great qualities: his truth, his simplicity, his honesty, his benevolence, love of freedom, and liberty.

There are four millions of your race among us; our destines, hopes, and aspirations are the same.

We have the same country and flag. Let there be no strife between us. Let harmony, fraternity, liberty, and equality everywhere prevail.

If you, my fellow--countrymen, discharge all your duties as citizens to the extent of your abilities, the expectation and hopes of your friends will be more than realized. Prosperity and happiness will be yours; and you can forgot the chains that have so recently bound you in your improved and happier condition.
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View the entire document from which this excerpt was taken from African American Perspectives, 1818-1907. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.