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Freedom Papersby Rebecca J. Scott
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This saga opens with the enslavement of a woman from Senegambia, and then traces her family’s quest, across five generations, for lives of dignity and equality. The story of Rosalie and her descendants unfolds against the background of three great antiracist struggles: the Haitian Revolution, the French Revolution of 1848, and the U.S. Civil War.
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Henry Louis Gates Jr.
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From Chapter Seven: “The term public rights should be made to mean something.”
To those who might intimate that Edouard Tinchant was actually not a US citizen at all, he countered by invoking his service in the Union Army, when the 6th Louisiana Volunteers had guarded New Orleans against a possible Confederate attack. He declared that although born French, he had won “American letters of naturalization on the ramparts of New Orleans, upright, my weapon in my hands, at the foot of the flag of the United States for which I was ready to spill the last drop of my blood.” Ignoring the question of whether he had followed up his military service with a formal legal procedure of naturalization, he wrote: “What human power can then deny me the title of American citizen?”
If anyone should think to cite the US Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford to the effect that a man of his color had no possible claim to US citizenship, Tinchant was quick to proffer the contrary opinion of federal Attorney General Edward Bates, who had concluded in December of 1862 that men of color could indeed claim citizenship in the United States. The Bates opinion, which asserted the possibility of such citizenship in part by distinguishing citizenship itself from the privilege of exercising political rights, had been discussed at the time in L’Union. The publishers of L’Union had even made available as a pamphlet (ten cents a copy) what they described as the attorney general’s opinion on le droit de citoyenneté (the right to citizenship). For radical advocates of universal suffrage and full political rights, Attorney General Bates’s distinctions among possible degrees of citizenship were not helpful, but his conclusion that citizenship itself was independent of color provided a new basis on which to advance further claims.
In New Orleans in the summer of 1864, the all-white Unionist state constitutional convention, largely populated with lawyers and small-scale businessmen, was yielding repeated expressions of open racial hostility, and Union General Nathaniel Banks seemed willing to proceed with a Reconstruction that involved very few political rights for men of color. Under the circumstances, Lanusse could argue persuasively that the discriminatory practices still in force in Union-occupied New Orleans reflected a general hostility of the United States government to men of color. Tinchant countered that although the laws of the state of Louisiana were still stained with their origins in “aristocracy,” once the roots of the Confederacy that “rotted deep in the earth” were extirpated, men of color would see their rights protected under federal law. National citizenship seemed to Tinchant a far more promising source of rights than state measures, though national citizenship in fact remained undefined, and federal policy uncertain.
As for the incident the year before when Edouard had been expelled from a streetcar by a fellow Union soldier, Edouard insisted that he had been vindicated by a subsequent official rebuke by the provost marshal of Carrollton to the sergeant who had arrested him, and to the lieutenant who had taken him into custody. Edouard added a dramatic touch: the provost marshal had threatened that if such an incident were repeated, he would tear up the streetcar line from New Orleans to Carrollton. “Can M. Armand Lanusse tell me under what flag one could have done more to redress a harm done to a simple soldier?” Although Edouard Tinchant’s older brother Joseph might, after having done his duty in the war, justifiably choose to settle in Mexico in pursuit of peace and quiet for his family, Edouard asserted that he saw it as his own duty and that of other men of color in New Orleans to support the Union cause so that “a last and supreme effort of all of us together” could “defeat, reverse and obliterate this tyrannical aristocracy that forced our father to expatriate and which, ever since our earliest years, he has taught us to hate.”
What People are Saying About This
Laurent Dubois, author of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History
Sidney W. Mintz, author of Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History
Lolis Eric Elie, writer, HBO's Treme
Kathryn J. Burns, author of Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru
Stuart B. Schwartz, author of All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University
Meet the Author
Rebecca J. Scott is Charles Gibson Distinguished University Professor of History and Professor of Law at the University of Michigan.
Jean M. Hébrard is a historian at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris) and Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan.
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