So Where’s My Forty Acres and a Mule?
The phrase Forty Acres and a Mule described a promise many freed slaves believed the U.S. government had made at the end of the Civil War. A rumor spread throughout the South that land belonging to plantation owners would be given to former slaves so they could set up their own farms.
The rumor did have it roots in an order issued by General William Tecumseh Sherman of the U.S. Army in January 1865.
Sherman, following the capture of Savannah, Georgia, ordered that abandoned plantations along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts be divided up and plots of land be given to freed blacks. However, Sherman’s order did not become permanent government policy.
Union General William T. Sherman had encouraged this expectation in early 1865 by granting a number of freed men 40 acres each of the abandoned land left in the wake of his army.
During Reconstruction, however when lands confiscated from former Confederates were returned to them by the administration of President Andrew Johnson, the freed slaves were evicted from their 40 acres of farmland. the conflict over labor resulted in the sharecropping system, in which black families would rent small plots of land in return for a portion of their crop, to be given to the landowner at the end of each year.
General Sherman’s Army Was Followed By Freed Slaves
When a Union Army led by General Sherman marched through Georgia in late 1864, thousands of newly freed blacks followed along. Until the arrival of federal troops, they had been slaves on plantations in the region. Sherman’s Army took the city of Savannah just before Christmas 1864. While in Savannah, Sherman attended a meeting organized in January 1865 by Edwin Stanton, President Lincoln’s secretary of war. A number of local black ministers, most of whom had lived as slaves, expressed the desires for the local black population. According to a letter Sherman wrote a year later, Secretary Stanton concluded that if given land, the freed slaves could “take care of themselves.” And as land belonging to those who rose up in rebellion against the federal government had already been declared “abandoned” by an act of Congress, there was land to distribute.
General Sherman Drafted Special Field Order No. 15
Following the meeting, Sherman drafted an order, Special Field Order No. 15. In the document, dated January 16, 1865, Sherman ordered that the abandoned rice plantations from the sea to 30 miles inland would be “reserved and set apart for the settlement” of the freed slaves in the region. According to Sherman’s order, “each family shall have a plot of not more than 40 acres of tillable ground.” At the time, it was generally accepted that 40 acres of land was the optimal size for a family farm. General Rufus Saxton was put in charge of administering the land along the Georgia coast. While Sherman’s order mentioned “40 acres,” there was no specific mention of farm animals. General Saxton, however, did apparently supply U.S. Army mules to some of the families granted land under Sherman’s order.
President Andrew Johnson Ended Sherman’s Policy
Three months after Sherman issued his Field Order No. 15, the U.S. Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was supposed to ensure the welfare of the millions of slaves who were being freed by the war. One task of the Freedmen’s Bureau was to be the management of lands confiscated from those who had rebelled against the United States. The intent of Congress, led by the Radical Republicans, was to break up the plantations and redistribute the land so former slaves could have their own small farms. Andrew Johnson became president following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. And Johnson, on May 28, 1865, issued a proclamation of pardon and amnesty to citizens in the South who would take an oath of allegiance. As part of the pardon process, lands confiscated during the war would be returned to white landowners. So while the Radical Republicans had fully intended for there to be a massive redistribution of land from former slave owners to former slaves under Reconstruction, Johnson’s policy effectively thwarted that. And by late 1865 the policy of granting the coastal lands in Georgia to free slaves had run into serious roadblocks. An article in the New York Times on December 20, 1865 described the situation: the former owners of the land were demanding its return, and the policy of President Andrew Johnson was to give the land back to them. It has been estimated to approximately 40,000 former slaves received grants of land under Sherman’s order. But the land was taken away from them.
Sharecropping Became the Reality for Freed Slaves
Denied the opportunity to own their own small farms, most former slaves were forced to live under the system of sharecropping. Life as a sharecropper generally meant living in poverty. And sharecropping would have been a bitter disappointment to people who once believed they could become independent farmer Another Broken Promise–Another check the USA wrote that she had no intention on paying. So who did get paid?
The Compensation Argument is as follows:
(1) If a government wrongfully harms someone as a result of the authorized actions of some of its public officials, then it incurs a moral obligation to compensate its victims for those harms.
(2) The U.S. government wrongly harmed previous generations of Africans and African-Americans by supporting slavery and its aftermath.
(3) These acts of the U.S. government continue to cause harm to the currently living generation of black Americans.
(4) The U.S. government has not yet fully compensated the currently living generation of black Americans for the harms they continue to experience as a result of slavery and its aftermath.
Therefore, the U.S. government is morally obligated to pay reparations for slavery.
The social environment created by slavery and its aftermath—which the U.S. government is responsible for—is the most plausible explanation of the differences in average well-being between black and white Americans. Some argue that reparations have already been made by ending slavery, abolishing segregation, securing voting rights, and adopting affirmative action. But if reparations have already been made, then black Americans at some rate would almost have a level playing field to compete in. Source: Reparations/40Acres and a Mule source