“As Though They Had Not Been Slaves”: Federal Surgeons and Black Bodies in Reconstructed America
My paper calls into question the scholarly assumption that emancipation ended personal regimes of bodily control and ushered in an age of impersonal mechanisms of economic coercion: “from lash to cash,” as formulated by historian Ira Berlin. It will argue that the free market in wage labor that came roaring out of the North’s victory in the Civil War was every bit as carefully calibrated to manage black bodily suffering as were the old technologies of enslavement. Using the intimate records of the black pensioners, my paper will demonstrate how African Americans negotiated the evolution from the calibrations of slavery to maximize production to the calibrations of the state to underwrite the fiction of the free market in wage labor.
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