Reconstruction DBQ

Thomas, Col. Samuel, Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands in 39 Cong.,
1 Sess., Senate Exec. Doc. 2. 1865. Ed. Stephen Mintz. “Excerpts from Slave Narratives – Chapter 42.” University
of Houston. 14 July 2009 <>.
Background Information
At the end of the Civil War, the victorious Union had to determine how to reintegrate Southern states, deliver justice
to former Confederates, and prepare ex-slaves for a life of freedom amidst their old masters. During this period of
Reconstruction, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly known as the “Freedmen’s
Bureau”) attempted to help the freed slaves and poor whites survive in a land destroyed by war with a plantationbased economy turned on its head. Assistant Commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, Colonel Samuel Thomas
reported to Congress on the condition of freed blacks in Mississippi 1865. An excerpt from his testimony is below.
Document Text
Wherever I go -- the street, the shop, the house, or the steamboat -- I hear the people talk in such a way as to
indicate that they are yet unable to conceive of the Negro as possessing any rights at all. Men who are honorable in
their dealings with their white neighbors will cheat a Negro without feeling a single twinge of their honor. To kill a
Negro they do not deem murder; to debauch a Negro woman they do not think fornication; to take the property
away from a Negro they do not consider robbery. The people boast that when they get freedmen affairs in their
own hands, to use their own classic expression, "the niggers will catch hell."
The reason of all this is simple and [clear]. The whites [consider] the blacks their property by natural right, and
however much they may admit that the individual relations of masters and slaves have been destroyed by the war
and the President's emancipation proclamation, they still have an ingrained feeling that the blacks at large belong
to the whites at large, and whenever opportunity serves they treat the colored people just as their profit, caprice or
passion may dictate.
1. Colonel Thomas notes, “I hear people talk in such a way as to indicate that they are yet unable to conceive
of the Negro as possessing any rights at all.” Do you anticipate that these Southern whites could eventually
accept African Americans as people with rights? Why or why not?
2. In the Southern system of slavery, blacks were deemed property. Considering that Colonel Thomas’s report
comes within a year of the Civil War’s end, explain how ideas of slavery contributed to the post-war belief
that killing an African American is not murder.
3. During slavery, most white Southerners did not own slaves and a very small percentage owned large
plantations. Yet Colonel Thomas writes, “they still have an ingrained feeling that the blacks at large belong
to the whites at large.” Why do you think whites who never owned slaves still felt an ownership over
4. Predict what will happen to the Southern economy during Reconstruction. In your answer, explain white
attitudes towards blacks and how both whites and blacks will work and live after the Civil War.
Reconstruction DBQ
This assignment is called a Document-Based Question, or a DBQ, because it asks you to use multiple
documents to write an argument in response to this prompt:
Were freed slaves free? In your answer, define what makes someone free.
Now that you have seen a video on Reconstruction and analyzed “POST-WAR SOUTHERN ATTITUDES
TOWARD BLACK FREEDMEN,” follow the steps below to write your DBQ essay.
1. Carefully examine Documents 2-8. Select 4 of the documents and complete the Document
Analysis worksheet.
2. In the space below the question, rephrase the question and turn it into a statement of your
opinion. For example, “After the Civil War, former slaves no longer had masters, but were
certainly not free.”
Were freed slaves free?
3. Now, complete the Essay Development Outline on the back of this sheet to give 3 reasons for
your opinion and outline evidence from the documents to support your 3 reasons You must use
and refer to at least 4 of the documents.
4. Finally, write a 5-paragraph essay that responds to the question with a thesis statement and uses
at least 4 clear pieces of evidence from the documents to support your thesis. Follow the
attached rubric to ensure that you write a strong essay and receive a high grade. Do NOT write
your essay in the space below, but on separate sheets of paper.
The essay and your Document Analysis sheets are due Friday for 5th period and Thursday for 1st period.
Under the sharecropping system, which emerged as the dominant labor
system in the rural South, black families rented individual plots of land. The
system placed a premium on utilizing the labor of all members of the family.
“The Constitution of the United States.” Amendments 13, 14, and 15.
Amendment XIII
Section 1.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have
been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction...
Amendment XIV
Section 1.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of
the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall
abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person
of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the
equal protection of the laws...
Amendment XV
Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by
any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude...
African-Americans found a wider variety of employment opportunities in
cities than in rural areas.
Many black women worked as domestic servants.
Winslow Homer's cartoon criticizing the post-war attitudes of many Southern
whites toward freed people depicts a leisured white planter yelling at his
former slave, "My boy, we've toiled and taken care of you long enough now, you've got to work!"
Maps of the Barrow Plantation, Scribner's Monthly, April 1881
Two maps illustrate the effects of emancipation on plantation life in the South. In 1860,
slaves lived in communal quarters near the owner's house, subject to frequent contact and
strict control.
Twenty years later, former slaves working as sharecroppers lived away from "The House" on
separate plots of land and had their own church and school.
However, the "Gin house," where sharecroppers had their cotton cleaned, remained in the
same location, central to the economic life of the plantation.
The Colored Member Admitted to His Seat in the Senate
An Interesting Scene When the Oath was Administered
Special Dispatch to The New York Times
Washington, Feb. 25, 1870 -- Mr. Revels, the colored Senator from
Mississippi, was sworn in and admitted to his seat this afternoon at 4:40
o'clock. There was not an inch of standing or sitting room in the galleries, so
Debate in the House on
densely were they packed; and to say that the interest was intense gives but a
the Indian Question
faint idea of the feeling which prevailed throughout the entire proceeding. Mr.
Vickers, of Maryland, opened the debate to-day, arguing against the admission, General Sheridan
on the ground that Revels had not been a citizen for nine years [since he had
Harshly Criticized
been a slave until 1865], and therefore was not eligible...
“In South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana, the proportion of Negroes was so large, their
leaders of sufficient power, and the Federal control so effective that for the years l868-l874
the will of black labor was powerful; and so far as it was intelligently led, and had definite
goals, it took [noticeable] steps toward public education, confiscation of large incomes,
[improvement] of labor conditions, universal suffrage, and in some cases distribution of land
to the peasant.”
W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in American 1860-1880. New York:
Atheneum, 1935.