The Graduate Center - City University of New York

"Emancipation," Harper's Weekly, January 24, 1863

Consternation as well as celebration greeted the Emancipation Proclamation. Among the few pictorial endorsements that appeared in January, 1863, was a detailed double-page engraving in Harper's Weekly based on a drawing by its news artist and budding editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast. Reflecting the Weekly's alliance with the newly-formed Union League Club—the publication's editor, George William Curtis, was a member of the organization composed of leading New York Republicans— "The Emancipation of the Negroes, January, 1863—The Past and the Future" heralded the Emancipation Proclamation by portraying scenes of African-American life in the South before and after freedom. These vignettes of cruel enslavement and potential equality circled around a central domestic scene featuring a black family in a parlor the appearance of which was similar to familiar sentimental prints of white families published before and during the war. This text accompanied the engraving, delineating the picture's details and elaborating on thevision of the future it conveyed.

Date: January 24, 1863

Publisher: Harper's Weekly

Source: American Social History Project

EMANCIPATION.

This week we publish, on pages 56 and 57, another double-page drawing by Thomas Nast, the subject of which is the great event of the day—EMANCIPATION.

In the centre of the picture is a negro's free and happy home. Here domestic peace and comfort reign supreme, the reward of faithful labor, undertaken with the blissful knowledge that at last its benefit belongs to the laborer only, and that all his honest earnings are to be appropriated as he may see fit to the object he has most at heart—his children's advancement and education.

On the wall hangs a portrait of President Lincoln, whom the family can not sufficiently admire and revere. They regard him with feelings akin to veneration, and in each heart there is honest love and gratitude for him. Near this is a banjo, their favorite musical instrument, a source of never-ending enjoyment and recreation.

At the top of the picture the Goddess of Liberty appropriately figures. The slaves have often heard of her before, but have rather regarded her as a myth. Underneath is old Father Time, holding a little child (the New Year), who is striking off the chains of the bondman and setting him at liberty forever.

On the left are incidents of everyday occurrence in slave life; and, in happy contrast, on the right we see some of the inevitable results of freedom and civilization. One of the scenes represented is a slave sale. We can not do better than quote verbatim some parts of a report which appeared in the Tribune of March 11, 1859. The sale consisted of 436 slaves—men, women, and children—and were the property of Mr. Pierce M. Butler, and were sold to pay his debts. It took place near the city of Savannah, Georgia:

“There were no light mulattoes in the whole lot of the Butler stock, and but very few that were even a shade removed from the original Congo blackness. They have been little defiled by the admixture of Anglo-Saxon blood, and for the most part could boast that they were of as pure a breed as the bluest blood of Spain.

“None of the Butler slaves have ever been sold before, but have been on these two plantations ever since they were born. [We should have said before that old Major Butler left the property to his two sons, and these sold were only half of them, the others still remaining as before.] Here have they lived their humble lives and loved their simple loves; here were they born, and here have many of them had children born unto them; here had their parents lived before them, and are now resting in quiet graves on the old plantations that these unhappy ones are to see no more forever; here they left not only the well-known scenes dear to them from very babyhood by a thousand fond memories, and homes as much loved by them, perhaps, as brighter homes by men of brighter faces; but all the clinging ties that bound them to living hearts were torn asunder, for but one half of each of these two unhappy little communities was sent to the shambles, to be scattered to the four winds, and the other half was left behind. And who can tell how closely intertwined are the affections of a little band of four hundred persons living isolated from all the world beside, from birth to middle age? Do they not naturally become one great family, each man a brother unto each?

“It is true they were sold 'in families,' but let us see: A man and his wife were called 'a family;' their parents and kindred were not taken into account; the man and wife might be sold to the pine woods of North Carolina, their brothers and sisters be scattered through the cotton fields of Alabama and the rice swamps of Louisiana, while the parents might be left on the old plantation, to wear out their weary lives in heavy grief, and lay their heads in far-off graves over which their children might never weep. And no account could be taken of loves that were as yet unconsummated by marriage, and how many aching hearts have been divorced by this summary proceeding no man can ever know.

“And the separation is as utter, and is infinitely more hopeless, than that made by the angel of death, for then the loved ones are committed to the care of a merciful Deity, but in the other instance to the tender mercies of a slave-driver. These dark-skinned unfortunates are perfectly unlettered, and could not communicate by writing even if they should know where to send their missives. And so to each other, and to the old familiar places of their youth, clung all their sympathies and affections, not less strong, perhaps, because they are so few. The blades of grass on all the Butler estates are outnumbered by the tears that are poured out in agony at the wreck that has been wrought in happy homes, and the crushing grief that has been laid on loving hearts.”

The quiet and reserved deportment of the slaves during the few days that preceded the sale, when the buyers, coming from far and near, had leisure to examine them, particularly of the women, is spoken of thus:

“The women never spoke to the white men unless spoken to, and then made the conference as short as possible. And not one of them all, during the whole time they were exposed to the rude questions of vulgar men, spoke the first unwomanly or indelicate word, or conducted herself in any regard otherwise than as a modest woman should do. Their conversation and demeanor were quite as unexceptionable as they would have been had they been the highest ladies in the land; and through all the insults to which they were subjected they conducted themselves with the most perfect decorum and self-respect.

“And now come the scenes of the last partings—of the final separations of those who were akin, or who had been such dear friends from youth that no ties of kindred could bind them closer—of those who were all in all to each other, and for whose bleeding hearts there shall be no earthly comfort—the parting of parents from children, of brother from brother, and the rending of sister from a sister's bo- som; and oh, hardest, cruelest of all, the tearing asunder of loving hearts, wedded in all save the one ceremony of the Church—these scenes pass all description; it is not meet for pen to meddle with tears so holy.”

In the picture above this is a slaver from Africa laden with its precious freight of hundreds of human beings, packed as close as possible. In the same picture are runaway slaves. One of them has already been overtaken by the unerring scent of the carefully-trained blood-hound; another has yielded up his life rather than his liberty; and some others are trying hard to make their escape to the dismal swamp. The lower picture shows us the overseer compelling the negroes to work by the power of the lash.

The other side of our picture shows us the negroes receiving pay for their faithful labor—their just due for services rendered their employer—and the children going to school.