ca. 1863, “Before the Proclamation; After the Proclamation”, Morse & Peaslee
These two parodic cartes-de-visite, made by the Morse & Peaslee studio in Nashville, Tennessee, present an extremely simplified story of the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 through the figure of a single black boy. The boy most likely did not know how his image would be used, and the photographer probably staged the photographs by asking the boy to use different facial expressions. “Before the Proclamation,” the boy looks slack-jawed and melancholy; “After the Proclamation,” he wears a broad grin that verges on a leer. While the audience for these cartes-de-visite is not clear, the elements of caricature suggest that together they form a derisive commentary on newly freed slaves, as well as a reflection of white anxiety over the consequences of the Proclamation. Ironically, because Tennessee had been under Union control since early 1862, the Proclamation-which liberated slaves only in actively rebellious states-did not apply there. Nonetheless, Nashville felt the effects of the Proclamation, which destabilized the institution of slavery even where it did not abolish it. Slaves in Tennessee abandoned the plantations in large numbers…by early 1864.