Inspired by Abraham Lincoln's issue of the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, John Quincy Adams Ward completed the model for this sculpture in that same month and exhibited it at the National Academy's annual exhibition shortly thereafter. "The struggle is not over with him," Ward wrote in an 1863 letter, "I intended it to express not one set free by any proclamation so much as by his own love of freedom and a conscious power to break things. . . . I have tried to express a degree of hope in his undertaking."

The dark patination of the bronze deliberately complements the subject's race, and the figure's broken manacle symbolizes his liberation. Ward conveys the figure's strength with his impressive musculature, which concerned some contemporary critics who felt that the ideal freedman should be portrayed as a patient martyr, rather than as a powerful Adonis.

The figure and symbolism of the emancipated slave was a highly controversial subject in America, and Ward's Freedman was an important early model in its development. In his 1864 book The Art-Idea, the art critic, newspaper editor and art collector James Jackson Jarves wrote: "We have seen nothing in our sculpture, more soul-lifting or more comprehensively eloquent. It tells in one word the whole sad tale of slavery and the bright story of emancipation."


  • Title: The Freedman
  • Creator: John Quincy Adams Ward
  • Date Created: 1862
  • Physical Dimensions: 20 x 14 3/4 x 7 inch
  • Provenance: Gift from the artist, NA diploma presentation
  • Type: Sculpture
  • Medium: Bronze

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