The Emancipation Proclamation

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President Abraham Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln, 1863.

On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in those areas of the Confederate States of America that had not yet returned to Union control. Due to early control by the North, 13 parishes were exempt from the proclamation as they were considered to be “Union parishes.”

St. Charles was one of the 13. Congress then passed the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which helped to ensure the rights of freed slaves by granting citizenship, due process of law, and the right to vote.

Louisiana refused to ratify this amendment. Congress passed the Reconstruction Act in 1867 and southern states were placed under military control. Louisiana was removed only when it agreed to ratify the amendment and had written a new constitution.


Louisiana Returns to the Nation

Not long after Secession, the New Orleans and German Coast Creoles thought that Louisiana should rejoin the nation and wrote many letters to Washington urging Congress to act. However, many others continued to resist because they did not want to allow the freed slaves to vote and different political parties were struggling to stay in power. On February 6, 1867, the Louisiana Legislature was still unwilling to accept the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which provided citizenship and protection of the freed slaves and rejected ratification. The federal government responded by placing Louisiana under Union rule on March 3, 1867.

Finally when they realize they must conform, the legislators ratified the Fourteenth Amendment on July 9, 1868 and Louisiana was again a part of the United States. Because of continued unrest, New Orleans and the German Coast had been forced to tolerate being policed by Union troops and radical politicians longer than any other Southern state. German Coast residents tried to put the corrupt government and economic and social problems behind them as they looked to the future.

“The Heritage of Slavery – The slaves made enormously valuable contributions to the wealth of their owners, of the southern economy, and of the nation. They also made valuable contributions to the culture of the South. However, these contributions were made at enormous costs to the slaves… An important legacy of the slavery system of the American South was the addition of spirituals to the nation’s musical culture. Spirituals were religious folk songs, usually based on stories from the Bible…The slaves sang spirituals not only in church but also while they worked. Spirituals kept alive the musical traditions the slaves had brought with them from Africa… After the Civil War the singing of spirituals spread throughout the nation. Today spirituals remain one of the most popular and best-known forms of music in this country…”

— Lewis Paul Todd and Merle Curti,
Triumph of the American Nation

Polidore
A former slave, Polidore came to Louisiana from Virginia during the Civil War and fought on the Union side. After the war he settled in the area and changed his name to John Smith. He married Margurite Thomas and had six children. He was listed in the 1880 census as a laborer. He is buried in the Kenner Cemetery located in the Bonnet Carré Spillway. His descendants operated the Smith’s Grocery Store in Hahnville for over eighty years. (Photo courtesy of descendant Carolyn Smith Boyd)

Former slave George Essex served in the Union Army and as sheriff and president of the police jury of St. Charles Parish from 1872 to 1878.

This text is copyright © material by Marilyn Richoux, Joan Becnel and Suzanne Friloux, from St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History, 2010.

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