After Slavery: Educator Resources

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4. 1865 North Carolina Constitutional Convention Responds to Freedpeople

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Five: Conservatives Respond to Emancipation in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

As historians Steven Hahn and James Oakes have shown, despite being denied formal political rights under slavery, African Americans did not emerge into freedom without any political experience. Many had long been aware of the political debates over slavery and secession, and they realized that their actions influenced those debates. During the war itself, the experience of contraband camps and military service further developed their political skills and interests. As a result, when whites convened to put together new constitutions as part of President Andrew Johnson's plan for Reconstruction, freedpeople also gathered to decide what they thought and to convey this to the all-white constitutional conventions. In the document below, a statewide convention of freedmen meeting in Raleigh across town from the North Carolina constitutional convention of 1865 sent an address (note, not a "petition," which would be the appropriate term for a statement from an inferior body asking for a favor) to explain what they wanted out of the new constitution. The response was crafted by John Pool, a Whig from the eastern part of the state who had more concern than most for the welfare of African Americans, though still no intention of treating them as equals.

1865 North Carolina Constitutional Convention Responds to Freedpeople

The Committee to which was referred the Address of the Freedmen's Convention, asks leave to submit the following report:

The subject-matter of the address and petition could be more appropriately acted on by the Legislature than by this Convention; but the importance of the subject, and the necessity for careful and considerate action, are so great that it may be proper for the Convention to take some initiatory steps towards its adjustment.

The former relations of master and slave having ceased in North Carolina, new and mutual rights and duties have supervened, which require corresponding legislation. A large class of the population, ignorant and poor, has been released from the stringent restraints of its late social and political position, and from its dependence upon the individual obligations of another class for its support, government, and protection; and it now becomes the duty of the State to assume their charge, and enact such laws as right and justice may require, and as may be most conducive to the general welfare.

The abolition of slavery has been adopted in good faith, and with full determination that it shall not again exist in the State, either in form or substance; but the consequences of its former existence will inevitably affect the state of society for years to come.

In consequence of his late condition as a slave, the freedman is ignorant of the operations of civil government, improvident of the future, careless of the restraints of public opinion, and without any real appreciation of the duties and obligations imposed by the change in his relations to society. It is the interest of the white race, if he is to reside among us, to improve and elevate him by the enactment of such laws, conceived in a spirit of fairness and liberality, as will encourage him to seek his true welfare in honest industry and the faithful discharge of the duties of his life. His intelligence and social condition must depend upon his industry and virtue.

Prejudices of a social character will probably forever exist. They are not confined to this State, nor to those States or countries where the institution of African slavery has been recognized, but have pervaded every society where the two races have been brought in contact. However unjust such prejudices may be deemed in theory, wisdom and prudence require that they should be so far recognized and respected by legislators as to avoid rash attempts at measures that might serve only to inflame and strengthen them. Although we cannot hope for the entire correction of many of the evils under which we now labor, yet time will materially modify them, and much may be safely trusted to its silent but effective operation. Hasty and inconsiderate action should be avoided; and above all things, should the delicate questions evolved from the new relations among, us be kept from the arena of party politics.

There are, at present, in North Carolina, some real bonds of attachment between the two races. Families have been brought up and nurtured together under our former domestic relations,- faithful servants have gained the esteem and confidence of their former masters, and possess and reciprocate tender feelings of affection from those whose infancy they have watched, and in the pleasures and sports of whose childhood they have participated. Their services and sympathy in affliction are remembered, and the dearest memories of the dead are associated and shared with them. From such ties, and from the common feelings of interest, justice, and humanity, more is to be hoped for their improvement and welfare than from the assertion of impracticable claims for social and political rights or from the aid of those whose interference is likely to be regarded with jealousy and met with resentment. We deplore the premature introduction of any schemes that may disturb the operations of these kindly feelings, or inflame the inherent social prejudice that exists against the colored race. The necessary legislation should be conceived in a spirit of perfect fairness and justice, and in full and unreserved conformity to existing relations; but it should be suited to the actual condition of the parties, and be aimed rather to their material and moral welfare, and to the general peace and prosperity of the State, than to any theoretical scheme of social and political equality.
Those of our laws that are inapplicable to the changed relation of master and slave, and those that are in contravention of it, should be repealed.

Many new laws are now indispensably necessary to meet the present condition of things; and these should be drawn with great care and with the most mature consideration. "The committee therefore recommends that the Provisional Governor of the State be requested to appoint and constitute a commission of three gentlemen, eminent for legal ability, to propose and submit to the consideration of the Legislature at its next session a system of laws upon the subject of freedmen, and to designate such laws or parts of laws now in force as should be repealed in order to conform the statutes of the State to the ordinance of this Convention abolishing the institution of slavery.
For the committee,

JOHN POOL, Chairman.

Source: Sidney Andrews, The South since the War: as Shown by Fourteen Weeks of Travel and Observation in Georgia and the Carolinas (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1866), 159-161.


Questions to Consider

  1. Based on the attitudes expressed here, which political party would you think Pool would support?

  2. Would the arguments Pool makes apply equally to poor whites?

  3. How hostile to black aspirations is Pool, and how does he compare in this regard to other southern whites?

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