Ward probably began "The Freedman" following Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, issued on September 22, 1862. The sculptor exhibited a model to acclaim in the annual exhibition of the National Academy of Design in spring 1863. Contemporary appreciation for the statuette arose from a desire for art that addressed current issues rather than less tangible themes unrelated to American life. Not only does "The Freedman" comment on the chief political, social, and moral topic of the era, but it also proclaims Ward's abolitionist sentiments. The seminude man sits on a tree stump, the manacle on his left wrist and the chain in his right hand potent reminders of his former servitude. Enhancing the statuette's powerful theme is Ward's commitment to realism. The fidelity to physiognomy and anatomical accuracy of the twisting body reveal an unprecedented naturalism in nineteenth-century American sculpture.