Columbus State Community College
History, U.S. History
Material Type:
Community College / Lower Division, College Credit Plus
Columbus State Community College
  • American History
  • Cscc009
  • Primary Sources
    Creative Commons Attribution
    Media Formats:

    HIST 1151 American History to 1877 MORE Primary Source Readings: Unit 6 A House Divided and Rebuilt

    HIST 1151 American History to 1877 MORE Primary Source Readings: Unit 6 A House Divided and Rebuilt


    A collection of primary source readings for American History to 1877.

    The Irrepressible Conflict

    This is a second set of primary sources by Jennifer Nardone to use in addition to, or instead of, the primary source set by Christianna Hurford.

    The primary source readings in this course align with CSCC's version of The American Yawp, Volume 1, which is derived from the The American Yawp open textbook by Stanford University Press.  While the original The American Yawp is accompanied by its own primary source reader called The American Yawp Reader, the selection of primary sources you will find in this course differ somewhat in that some of the text excerpts are from the same sources but might feature a different selection from the text. Some of the primary sources in this course are in addition to those found in The American Yawp Reader. 

    Microsoft Word and PDF downloads of these readings are available.

    To take this course for credit, register at Columbus State Community College.

    This work, except where otherwise indicated, by Jennifer Nardone at Columbus State Community College is licensed CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0.


    The Irrepressible Conflict

    William Seward


    William Seward was born outside of New York City in 1801 and eventually moved upstate to Auburn, in the middle of the Burnt-Over District where practiced law and became increasingly involved in the Whig Party, serving as State Senator and Governor of New York during the 1830s and 40s.[1] Seward and his wife, Frances, were also deeply involved with the abolitionist movement. Their home served as a station on the Underground Railroad, and Seward travelled around the country speaking against slavery. Many of his fellow Whig politicians thought he was too radical and feared he was putting his own political career in jeopardy as well as the Whig majority in the New York Senate.


    Seward was elected Senator from New York in 1848, the year the Mexican-American War ended, Whig Zachary Taylor was elected President, and Congress started working on a plan for the land seized from Mexico during the war. The Compromise of 1850 required popular sovereignty in the Southwestern Territories of New Mexico and Utah to determine whether new states carved out of the territories would be slave or free states. Seward vehemently opposed popular sovereignty in the Southwestern Territories and a few years later, vehemently opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act which applied the same system in Kansas Territory. Shortly after guerilla warfare erupted in Kansas, Seward joined the newly formed Republican Party, founded on the principles of ending the expansion of slavery in the West and government subsidies for business and industry instead. Seward hoped to run for President on the Republican ticket in 1854, but was advised to wait until the next election. The Convention nominated John C. Frémont, a Senator from the new state of California as the first Republican Presidential nominee. Democrat James Buchanan won the 1856 election, leading to a period of renewed protection and enforcement of slavery.


    Seward sought the Republican Presidential nomination in 1860, and while he was supported by the majority of the Party, many still saw him as a radical abolitionist who would never garner support from public. The Republican Party nominated a more moderate politician, Abraham Lincoln, instead. Seward served as Secretary of State during Lincoln’s administration and helped draft the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. The plot to assassinate President Lincoln initially included coordinated attacks on several high-ranking members of Lincoln’s cabinet, although the attempt on Seward’s life was the only one that occurred. The same night John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln, another assassin entered Seward’s house where he was convalescing from an illness, pistol-whipped his son, threw his daughter to the ground, and stabbed Seward five time in the face and neck. Seward (and his son) survived the attack, and he continued to serve as Secretary of State under Andrew Johnson’s administration. In 1867, Seward negotiated the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Czar, initially referred as the “Department of Alaska.”


    Seward’s anti-slavery speeches were widely reprinted during the 1850s, particularly his 1858 speech where he uses the term “irrepressible conflict,” implying the fight over the expansion of slavery had reached an impasse which only war could solve. Below is an excerpt from Seward’s speech.[2]



    The unmistakable outbreaks of zeal which occur all around me show that you are earnest men-and such a man am I. Let us, therefore, at least for a time, pass all secondary and collateral questions, whether of a personal or of a general nature, and consider the main subject of the present canvass. The Democratic party, or, to speak more accurately, the party which wears that attractive name-is in possession of the federal government. The Republicans propose to dislodge that party, and dismiss it from its high trust.


    The main subject, then, is whether the Democratic party deserves to retain the confidence of the American people. In attempting to prove it unworthy, I think that I am not actuated by prejudices against that party, or by prepossessions in favor of its adversary; for I have learned, by some experience, that virtue and patriotism, vice and selfishness, are found in all parties, and that they differ less in their motives than in the policies they pursue.


    Our country is a theatre, which exhibits, in full operation, two radically different political systems; the one resting on the basis of servile or slave labor, the other on voluntary labor of freemen. The laborers who are enslaved are all negroes, or persons more or less purely of African derivation. But this is only accidental.[3] The principle of the system is, that labor in every society, by whomsoever performed, is necessarily unintellectual, grovelling and base; and that the laborer, equally for his own good and for the welfare of the State, ought to be enslaved. The white laboring man, whether native or foreigner, is not enslaved, only because he cannot, as yet, be reduced to bondage.


    You need not be told now that the slave system is the older of the two, and that once it was universal. The emancipation of our own ancestors, Caucasians and Europeans as they were, hardly dates beyond a period of five hundred years. The great melioration of human society which modern times exhibits is mainly due to the incomplete substitution of the system of voluntary labor for the one of servile labor, which has already taken place. This African slave system is one which, in its origin and in its growth, has been altogether foreign from the habits of the races which colonized these States, and established civilization here. It was introduced on this continent as an engine of conquest, and for the establishment of monarchical power, by the Portuguese and the Spaniards, and was rapidly extended by them all over South America, Central America, Louisiana, and Mexico. Its legitimate fruits are seen in the poverty, imbecility, and anarchy which now pervade all Portuguese and Spanish America. The free-labor system is of German extraction, and it was established in our country by emigrants from Sweden, Holland, Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland. We justly ascribe to its influences the strength, wealth, greatness, intelligence, and freedom, which the whole American people now enjoy. One of the chief elements of the value of human life is freedom in the pursuit of happiness. The slave system is not only intolerable, unjust, and inhuman, toward the laborer, whom, only because he is a laborer, it loads down with chains and converts into merchandise, but is scarcely less severe upon the freeman, to whom, only because he is a laborer from necessity , it denies facilities for employment, and whom it expels from the community because it cannot enslave and convert into merchandise also. It is necessarily improvident and ruinous, because, as a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practise or neglect to practise the primary duties of justice and humanity. The free-labor system conforms to the divine law of equality, which is written in the hearts and consciences of man, and therefore is always and everywhere beneficent.[4]


    The slave system is one of constant danger, distrust, suspicion, and watchfulness. It debases those whose toil alone can produce wealth and resources for defence, to the lowest degree of which human nature is capable, to guard against mutiny and insurrection, and thus wastes energies which otherwise might be employed in national development and aggrandizement.[5] The free-labor system educates all alike, and by opening all the fields of industrial employment and all the departments of authority, to the unchecked and equal rivalry of all classes of men, at once secures universal contentment, and brings into the highest possible activity all the physical, moral, and social energies of the whole state. In states where the slave system prevails, the masters, directly or indirectly, secure all political power, and constitute a ruling aristocracy. In states where the free-labor system prevails, universal suffrage necessarily obtains, and the state inevitably becomes, sooner or later, a republic or democracy.


    Russia yet maintains slavery, and is a despotism.[6] Most of the other European states have abolished slavery, and adopted the system of free labor. It was the antagonistic political tendencies of the two systems which the first Napoleon was contemplating when he predicted that Europe would ultimately be either all Cossack or all republican.[7] Never did human sagacity utter a more pregnant truth. The two systems are at once perceived to be incongruous. But they are more than incongruous - they are incompatible. They never have permanently existed together in one country, and they never can. It would be easy to demonstrate this impossibility, from the irreconcilable contrast between their great principles and characteristics. But the experience of mankind has conclusively established it. Slavery, as I have intimated, existed in every state in Europe.[8] Free labor has supplanted it everywhere except in Russia and developed in modern times are now Turkey. State necessities developed in modern times are now obliging even those two nations to encourage and employ free labor; and already, despotic as they are, we find them engaged in abolishing slavery.


    In the United States, slavery came into collision with free labor at the close of the last century, and fell before it in New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, but triumphed over it effectually, and excluded it for a period yet undetermined, from Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Indeed, so incompatible are the two systems, that every new State which is organized within our ever-extending domain makes its first political act a choice of the one and the exclusion of the other, even at the cost of civil war, if necessary. The slave States, without law, at the last national election, successfully forbade, within their own limits, even the casting of votes for a candidate for President of the United States supposed to be favorable to the establishment of the free-labor system in new States.


    Hitherto, the two systems have existed in different States, but side by side within the American Union. This has happened because the Union is a confederation of States. But in another aspect the United States constitute only one nation. Increase of population, which is filling the States out to their very borders, together with a new and extended network of railroads and other avenues, and an internal commerce which daily becomes more intimate, is rapidly bringing the States into a higher and more perfect social unity or consolidation. Thus, these antagonistic systems are continually coming into closer contact, and collision results.


    Shall I tell you what this collision means? They who think that it is accidental, unnecessary, the work of interested or fanatical agitators, and therefor ephemeral, mistake the case altogether.[9] It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slaveholding nation, or entirely a free-labor nation. Either the cotton and rice fields of South Carolina and the sugar plantations of Louisiana will ultimately be tilled by free labor, and Charleston and New Orleans become marts of legitimate merchandise alone, or else the rye-fields and wheat-fields of Massachusetts and New York must again be surrendered by their farmers to slave culture and to the production of slaves, and Boston and New York becomes once more markets for trade in the bodies and souls of men. It is the failure to apprehend this great truth that induces so many unsuccessful attempts at final compromises between the slave and free States, and it is the existence of this great fact that renders all such pretended compromises, when made, vain and ephemeral. Startling as this saying may appear to you, fellow-citizens, it is by no means an original or even a modern one.


    Our forefathers knew it to be true, and unanimously acted upon it when they framed the constitution of the United States. They regarded the existence of the servile system in so many of the States with sorrow and shame, which they openly confessed, and they looked upon the collision between them, which was then just revealing itself, and which we are now accustomed to deplore, with favor and hope. They knew that one or the other system must exclusively prevail.


    Unlike too many of those who in modem time invoke their authority, they had a choice between the two. They preferred the system of free labor, and they determined to organize the government, and so direct its activity, that that system should surely and certainly prevail. For this purpose, and no other, they based the whole structure of the government broadly on the principle that all men are created equal, and therefore free - little dreaming that, within the short period of one hundred years, their descendants would bear to be told by any orator, however popular, that the utterance of that principle was merely a rhetorical rhapsody; or by any judge, however venerated, that it was attended by mental reservation, which rendered it hypocritical and false. By the ordinance of 1787 they dedicated all of the national domain not yet polluted by slavery to free labor immediately, thenceforth and forever; while by the new constitution and laws they invited foreign free labor from all lands under the sun, and interdicted the importation of African slave labor, at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances whatsoever.[10]


    It is true that they necessarily and wisely modified this policy of freedom by leaving it to the several States, affected as they were by different circumstances, to abolish slavery in their own way and at their own pleasure, instead of confiding that duty to Congress; and that they secured to the slave States, while yet retaining the system of slavery, a three-fifths representation of slaves in the federal government, until they should find themselves able to relinquish it with safety. But the very nature of these modifications fortifies my position, that the fathers knew that the two systems could not endure within the Union, and expected within a short period slavery would disappear forever. Moreover, in order that these modifications might not altogether defeat their grand design of a republic maintaining universal equality, they provided that two thirds of the States might amend the constitution.[11]


    It remains to say on this point only one word, to guard against misapprehension. If these States are to again become universally slaveholding, I do not pretend to say with what violations of the constitution that end shall be accomplished. On the other hand, while I do confidently believe and hope that my country will yet become a land of universal freedom, I do not expect that it will be made so otherwise than through the action of the several States co-operating with the federal government, and all acting in strict conformity with their respective constitutions.


    The strife and contentions concerning slavery, which gently disposed persons so habitually deprecate, are nothing more than the ripening of the conflict which the fathers themselves not only thus regarded with favor, but which they may be said to have instituted.


    It is not to be denied, however, that thus far the course of that contest has not been according to their humane anticipations and wishes. In the field of federal politics, slavery, deriving unlooked-for advantages from commercial changes, and energies unforeseen from the facilities of combination between members of the slaveholding class and between that class and other property classes, early rallied, and has at length made a stand, not merely to retain its original defensive position, but to extend its sway throughout the whole Union. It is certain that the slaveholding class of American citizens indulge this high ambition, and that they derive encouragement for it from the rapid and effective political successes which they have already obtained.


    The plan of operation is this: By continued appliances of patronage and threats of disunion, they will keep a majority favorable to these designs in the Senate, where each State has an equal representation. Through that majority they will defeat, as they best can, the admission of free States and secure the admission of slave States. Under the protection of the judiciary, they will, on the principle of the Dred Scott case, carry slavery into all the territories of the United States now existing and hereafter to be organized.[12] By the action of the President and Senate, using the treaty-making power, they will annex foreign slaveholding States. In a favorable conjuncture they will induce Congress to repeal the act of 1808 which prohibits the foreign slave trade, and so they will import from Africa, at a cost of only twenty dollars a head, slaves enough to fill up the interior of the continent. Thus relatively increasing the number of slave States, they will allow no amendment to the constitution prejudicial to their interest; and so, having permanently established their power, they expect the federal judiciary to nullify all State laws which shall interfere with internal or foreign commerce in slaves. When the free States shall be sufficiently demoralized to tolerate these designs, they reasonably conclude that slavery will be accepted by those States themselves. I shall not stop to show how speedy or how complete would be the ruin which the accomplishment of these slaveholding schemes would bring upon the country. For one, I should not remain in the country to test the sad experiment.


    Having spent my manhood, though not my whole life, in a free State, no aristocracy of any kind, much less an aristocracy of slaveholders, shall ever make the laws of the land in which I shall be content to live. Having seen the society around me universally engaged in agriculture, manufactures, and trade, which were innocent and beneficent, I shall never be a denizen of a State where men and women are reared as cattle, and bought and sold as merchandise. When that evil day shall come, and all further effort at resistance shall be impossible, then, if there shall be no better hope for redemption than I can now foresee, I shall say with Franklin, while looking abroad over the whole earth for a new and more congenial home, "Where liberty dwells, there is my country."[13] You will tell me that these fears are extravagant and chimerical.[14] I answer, they are so; but they are so only because the designs of the slaveholders must and can be defeated. But it is only the possibility of defeat that renders them so. They cannot be defeated by inactivity.


    There is no escape from them compatible with non-resistance. How, then, and in what way, shall the necessary resistance be made? There is only one way. The Democratic party must be permanently dislodged from the government. The reason is, that the Democratic party is inextricably committed to the designs of the slaveholders, which I have described. Let me be well understood. I do not charge that the Democratic candidates for public office now before the people are pledged to - much less that the Democratic masses who support them really adopt -those atrocious and dangerous designs. Candidates may, and generally do, mean to act justly, wisely, and patriotically, when they shall be elected; but they become the ministers and servants, not the dictators, of the power which elects them. The policy which a party shall pursue at a future period is only gradually developed, depending on the occurrence of events never fully foreknown. The motives of men, whether acting as electors or in any other capacity, are generally pure. Nevertheless, it is not more true that " hell is paved with good intentions," than it is that earth is covered with wrecks resulting from innocent and amiable motives.


    The very constitution of the Democratic party commits it to execute all the designs of the slaveholders, whatever they may be. It is not a party of the whole Union, of all the free States and of all the slave States; nor yet is it a party of the free States in the North and in the Northwest; but it is a sectional and local party, having practically its seat within the slave States, and counting its constituency chiefly and almost exclusively there. Of all its representatives in Congress and in the electoral colleges, two-thirds uniformly come from these States. Its great element of strength lies in the vote of the slaveholders, augmented by the representation of three-fifths of the slaves. Deprive the Democratic party of this strength, and it would be a helpless and hopeless minority, incapable of continued organization. The Democratic party, being thus local and sectional, acquires new strength from the admission of ever new slave State, and loses relatively by the admission of every new free State into the Union.


    A party is, in one sense, a joint stock association, in which those who contribute most direct the action and management of the concern. The slaveholders contributing in an overwhelming proportion to the capital strength of the Democratic party, they necessarily dictate and prescribe its policy. The inevitable caucus system enables them to do so with a show of fairness and justice. If it were possible to conceive for a moment that the Democratic party should disobey the behests of the slaveholders, we should then see a withdrawal of the slaveholders, which would leave the party to perish. The portion of the party which is found in the free States is a mere appendage, convenient to modify its sectional character, without impairing its sectional constitution, and is less effective in regulating its movements than the nebulous tail of the corset is in determining the appointed, though apparently eccentric, course of the fiery sphere from which it emanates.


    To expect the Democratic party to resist slavery and favor freedom is as unreasonable as to look for Protestant missionaries to the Catholic propaganda of Rome.[15] The history of the Democratic party commits it to the policy of slavery. It has been the Democratic party, and no other agency, which has carried that policy up to its present alarming culmination. Without stopping to ascertain, critically, the origin of the present Democratic party, we may concede its claim to date from the era of good feeling which occurred under the administration of President Monroe. At that time, in this State, and about that time in many others of the free States, the Democratic party deliberately disfranchised the free colored or African citizen, and it has pertinaciously continued this disfranchisement ever since. This was an effective aid to slavery; for, while the slaveholder votes for his slaves against freedom, the freed slave in the free States is prohibited from voting against slavery. In 1824 the democracy resisted the election of John Quincy Adams - himself before that time an acceptable Democrat and in 1828 it expelled him from the presidency and put a slaveholder in his place, although the office had been filled by slaveholders thirty-two out of forty years.[16]


    In 1836, Martin Van Buren-the first non-slaveholding citizen of a free State to whose election the Democratic party ever consented - signalized his inauguration into the presidency by a gratuitous announcement that under no circumstances would he ever approve a bill for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. From 1838 to 1844 the subject of abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia and in the national dockyards and arsenals, was brought before Congress by repeated popular appeals. The Democratic party thereupon promptly denied the right of petition, and effectually suppressed the freedom of speech in Congress, so far as the institution of slavery was concerned.[17]


    From 1840 to 1843 good and wise men counselled that Texas should remain outside the Union until she should consent to relinquish her self-instituted slavery; but the Democratic party precipitated her admission into the Union, not only without that condition, but even with a covenant that the State might be divided and reorganized so as to constitute four slave States instead of one.


    In 1846, when the United States became involved in a war with Mexico, and it was apparent that the struggle would end in the dismemberment of that republic, which was a non-slaveholding power, the Democratic party rejected a declaration that slavery should not be established within the territory to be acquired. When, in 1850, governments were to be instituted in the territories of California and New Mexico, the fruits of that war, the Democratic party refused to admit New Mexico as a free State, and only consented to admit California as a free State on the condition, as it has since explained the transaction, of leaving all of New Mexico and Utah open to slavery, to which was also added the concession of perpetual slavery in the District of Columbia, and the passage of an unconstitutional, cruel, and humiliating law, for the recapture of fugitive slaves, with a further stipulation that the subject of slavery should never again be agitated in either chamber of Congress.


    When, in 1854, the slaveholders were contentedly reposing on these great advantages, then so recently won, the Democratic party unnecessarily, officiously, and with super-serviceable liberality, awakened them from their slumber, to offer and force on their acceptance the abrogation of the law which declared that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude should ever exist within that part of the ancient territory of Louisiana which lay outside of the State of Missouri, and north of the parallel of 36' 30' of north latitudes law which, with the exception of one other, was the only statute of freedom then remaining in the federal code.


    In 1856, when the people of Kansas had organized a new State within the region thus abandoned to slavery, and applied to be admitted as a free State into the Union, the Democratic party contemptuously rejected their petition, and drove them with menaces and intimidations from the halls of Congress, and armed the President with military power to enforce their submission to a slave code, established over them by fraud and usurpation. At every subsequent stage of a long contest which has since raged in Kansas, the Democratic party - has lent its sympathies, its aid, and all the powers of the government which it controlled, to enforce slavery upon that unwilling and injured people. And now, even at this day, while it mocks us with the assurance that Kansas is free, the Democratic party keeps the State excluded from her just and proper place in the Union, under the hope that she may be dragooned into the acceptance of slavery.


    The Democratic party, finally, has procured from a supreme judiciary, fixed in its interest, a decree that slavery exists by force of the constitution in every territory of the United States, paramount to all legislative authority, either within the territory or residing in Congress.

    Such is the Democratic party.[18] It has no policy, state or federal, for finance, or trade, or manufacture, or commerce, or education, or internal improvements, or for the protection or even the security of civil or religious liberty. It is positive and uncompromising in the interest of slavery - negative, compromising, and vacillating, in regard to everything else. It boasts its love of equality, and wastes its strength, and even its life, in fortifying the only aristocracy known in the land. It professes fraternity, and, so often as slavery requires, allies itself with proscription. It magnifies itself for conquests in foreign lands, but it sends the national eagle forth always with chains, and not the olive branch, in his fangs.


    This dark record shows you, fellow-citizens, what I was unwilling to announce at an earlier stage of this argument, that of the whole nefarious schedule of slaveholding designs which I have submitted to you, the Democratic party has left only one yet to be consummated - the abrogation of the law which forbids the African slave-trade.


    I know few, I think, know better than I, the resources and energies of the Democratic party, which is identical with the slave power. I do ample justice to its traditional popularity. I know further-few, I think, know better than I, the difficulties and disadvantages of organizing a new political force, like the Republican party, and the obstacles it must encounter in laboring without prestige and without patronage. But, understanding all this, I know that the Democratic party must go down, and that the Republican party must rise into its place. The Democratic party derived its strength, originally, from its adoption of the principles of equal and exact justice to all men. So long as it practised this principle faithfully it was invulnerable. It became vulnerable when it renounced the principle, and since that time it has maintained itself, not by virtue of its own strength, or even of its traditional merits, but because there as yet had appeared in the political field no other party that had the conscience and the courage to take up, and avow, and practise the life-inspiring principle which the Democratic party had surrendered. At last, the Republican party has appeared. It avows, now, as the Republican party of 1800 did, in one word, its faith and its works, " Equal and exact justice to all men." Even when it first entered the field, only half organized, it struck a blow which only just failed to secure complete and triumphant victory. In this, its second campaign, it has already won advantages which render that triumph now both easy and certain.[19]


    The secret of its assured success lies in that very characteristic which, in the mouth of scoffers, constitutes its great and lasting imbecility and reproach. It lies in the fact that it is a party of one idea; but that is a noble one - an idea that fills and expands all generous souls; the idea of equality - the equality of all men before human tribunals and human laws, as they all are equal before the divine tribunal and divine laws.


    I know, and you know, that a revolution has begun. I know, and all the world knows, that revolutions never go backward. Twenty, senators and a hundred representatives proclaim boldly in Congress to-day sentiments and opinions and principles of freedom which hardly so many men, even in this free State, dared to utter in their own homes twenty years ago. While the government of the United States, under the conduct of the Democratic party, has been all that time surrendering one plain and castle after another to slavery, the people of the United States have been no less steadily and perseveringly gathering together the forces with which to recover back again all the fields and all the castles which have been lost, and to confound and overthrow, by one decisive blow, the betrayers of the constitution and freedom forever.



    [1] Please see the textbook for information about the Burnt-Over District.

    [2] William Seward, The Irrepressible Conflict, 1858.

    [3] One hundred percent incorrect, but continue…

    [4] Part of Seward’s argument here is that slavery is bad for white men, an argument that resonated with white Americans far more than concerns about the inhumane treatment of black people.

    [5] A reference to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. Please see the textbook for details.

    [6] Slavery existed in Russia until 1723, when Czar Peter the Great moved to another form of bonded labor called “serfdom.” Serfs were sold as part of the land they worked, although the practice of “hiring out” a serf was very common. Czar Alexander II abolished serfdom in 1861, three years after Seward’s speech, in what was called “the Great Emancipation.” His reform programs partially led to his assassination by anti-monarch revolutionaries in 1881.

    [7] Cossacks was an ethnic/political group from southern Russia (what is now Ukraine). Cossacks traditionally lived in small, independent, militaristic communities, although the Russian Czars and military often employed Cossacks to fend off attacks from the West. The Russian state also used Cossack troops to police minority communities. For example, the Russian government used the Cossacks to enforce pogroms against Russian Jews. A pogrom is state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing, meaning everyone that is part of the group must be killed or violently removed from the country. Cossacks today are not an ethnic or political class, they are a paramilitary organization dedicated to Russian nationalism who claim to be the “real” Russians. Cossacks support the Russian nationalism of President Vladimir Putin, fighting against anyone identified as inferior, including women. Russia has never had a domestic violence law ever. There was an attempt to pass a law punishing abusers, but was met with strong resistance from groups like the Cossacks, who pride themselves on their manly manliness. Beating your wife every now and again is viewed by most Russian men, including Putin, as a sign of manliness). At any rate, Seward mentioned the Cossacks here because they were used to enforce serfdom (i.e., find and punish any serf deemed a problem).

    “Either Europe will be a feudal state (and thus a police state) or it will be a Republic of free people.” Napoleon knew this because he tried to invade Russia in 1812 (the same year the U.S. went to war with England). The French were met by Cossack troops on the western border of Russia. The Cossacks took hundreds of thousands of French soldiers prisoner, many of whom joined the Cossacks following the War.

    [8] There is a lot to say about this statement, which is wholly inaccurate without more context. Slavery as it was in the southern United States did not exist in Europe. Bonded labor and unfreedom certainly did, however.

    [9] Ephemeral means something that last a short time, i.e., “my time with her was ephemeral…” In material culture, ephemera refers to historical objects that were not intended to last long. For example: matchbooks, toys that come with fast food, and old editions of TV Guide magazine, much of which is quite valuable now because they were not intended to last. (Have you ever seen a TV Guide magazine?)

    [10] The Northwest Ordinances of 1787 were not part of the Constitution, they were a product of the federal government under the Articles of Confederation.

    [11] You read the Constitutional Debates over Slavery. Is Seward correct in his assessment of the framers’ intentions?

    [12] Please see the textbook for details about the (very important) Dred Scott decision of 1857.

    [13] Benjamin Franklin quote.

    [14] What does chimerical mean? If you are a science fiction/fantasy fan, it’s a useful term to know.

    [15] Steward references anti-Catholic sentiments during the 1850s. See the textbook for details about the Know-Nothing Party. 

    [16] By Democrat, Seward means “Democratic-Republican” party. During the 1820s, Seward was a strong supporter of Republican-Democrat John Quincy Adams, and vigorously opposed Andrew Jackson’s bid for the Presidency in 1824 and 1828. Of course, Jackson and Martin Van Buren created the Democratic Party after losing the 1824 election to the Democratic-Republicans.  Quincy Adams was the only non-slaveholding President from 1787 until Van Buren’s election in 1836. The southern slaveowners had the advantage of the three-fifths compromise, which gave slave states a disproportionately population count used for representation in Congress and the Electoral College. Without the three-fifths compromise, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson would not have been elected President.

    [17] Please see the textbook regarding the “gag-rule” in Congress.

    [18] Reference to the Dred Scott decision.

    [19] Please remember that the Democrat and Republican Parties in the mid-nineteenth century are not comparable to today’s parties. Seward references the “first” Republican Party, meaning the Democratic-Republican Party, created after the contentious Presidential election of 1800. Thomas Jefferson has long been called the “founder” of the Democratic Republicans. If that be the case, the “first” Republican Party was also founded by a slaveowner which undermines Seward’s point here.  

    Image: Illus. in: Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, 1867 Nov. 30, pp. 168-169. Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-12473. The operations of the registration laws and Negro suffrage in the South / from sketches by James E. Taylor. Southern States, 1867.

    Address to the Virginia Secession Convention of Virginia

    Address to the Virginia Secession Convention of Virginia

    John Preston Smith


    Following the election of Abraham Lincoln in November, 1860, representatives from seven of the southern slave-holding states met in Montgomery, Alabama to draft articles of secession from the United States. Although Lincoln and the Republican Party did not call for an end to slavery, only limits on the expansion of slavery into the West, Southern Democrats claimed the southern way of life was under assault by the Federal Government, business and industry, the Republican Party, Lincoln, and northerners in general. All seven states - South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, issued declarations of secession before the February convention. Those seven states claimed themselves a sovereign nation called the Confederate States of America, appointed Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis President of the new Confederacy, and set out to convince the other southern states to secede from the United States and join the Confederacy.


    South Carolina was the first state to secede followed quickly by Mississippi, and thus had the most invested in the success of secession. The Confederacy could not exist with only two or three states, so Southern Democrats from South Carolina and Mississippi fanned out across the South with the intent of convincing the other states to join them in secession. The “secession commissioners” also travelled to the territories in the West and Southwest, hoping to convince political leaders to join/support the Confederacy. All of this happened before Lincoln was inaugurated in March, 1861.[1]


    Confederate leaders were most concerned about Virginia, the oldest and most revered southern state. Virginia was home to the first British colonial settlement, Jamestown, which also received the first shipment of enslaved Africans in 1619. Virginia was home to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, both slaveowners. Southerners believed Virginia was more important than any New England colony or state, and it would shame the Republicans if Virginia left the United States. It was not an easy sell.[2] Many of the political leaders in Virginia were not interested in destabilizing their economy (who would the south trade with if they broke from the United States? The United States? Many southerners thought that a folly), or militarizing so as to protect the new Confederacy, if necessary.


    Like many southern states yet to declare secession, Virginia had already called a “Secession Convention,” to debate and vote on the issue. It was by no means inevitable that Virginia (or any state or territory) would join the Confederacy. Confederate President Davis dispatched Virginia native, John Preston Smith, to the state convention in February, 1861. Smith married the daughter of Wade Hampton, one of the most powerful and wealthiest slaveowners in the South. Smith owned plantations and slaves across the South, including a cotton plantation in South Carolina and a rice plantation outside of New Orleans, Louisiana. Preston fought against the United States during the Civil War, although, like all but a handful of Confederate leaders, he did not lose his money, prestige, or political power after the war ended. Following the demise of the Confederacy, Smith continued to hold political positions during Reconstruction and afterward, arguing vigorously that emancipation was a crime perpetrated against white southerners. Below is an excerpt of his speech before the Virginia Secession Convention on February 19, 1861.[3]



    I have the honor to present to you my credentials as commissioner from the Government of South Carolina to the Convention of the people of Virginia. On these credentials being duly received by you, I am instructed by my Government to lay before you the causes which induced the State of South Carolina to withdraw from the United States, and resume the powers heretofore delegated by her to the Government of the United States of America....


    For nearly thirty years, the people of the non-slaveholding States have assailed the institution of African slavery, in every form in which our political connection with them permitted them to approach it. During all that period, large masses of their people, with a persistent fury, maddened by the intoxication of the wildest fanaticism, have associated, with the avowed purpose of effecting the abolition of slavery by the most fearful means which can be suggested to subject a race; arson and murder are the charities of their program…


    Additional millions of people, making majorities in all the States, and many of the States by legislative action, have declared that the institution of slavery, as it exists in the Southern states, is an offense to God, and, therefore, they are bound by the most sacred duty of man to exterminate that institution. They have declared and acted upon the declaration, that the existence of slavery in the Southern States is an offense and a danger to the social institutions of the Northern States, and, therefore, they are bound by the instinct of moral right and of self-preservation to exterminate slavery. After years of earnest labor and devotion to the purpose, they have succeeded, by large majorities in all the non-slaveholding States, in placing the entire executive power of the Federal Government in the hands of those who are pledged,

    by their obligations to God, by their obligations to the social institutions of man, by their obligation of self-preservation, to place the institution of slavery in a course of certain and final extinction. That is, twenty millions of people, holding one of the strongest Governments on earth, are impelled, by a perfect recognition of the most sacred and powerful obligations that fall upon man, to exterminate the vital interests of eight millions of people, bound to them by contiguity of territory and the closest political relations. In other words, the decree inaugurated on the 6th of November (the election of Abraham Lincoln) was the annihilation of the people of the Southern States.[4]


    I see before me wise and learned men, who have observed and sounded the ways of human life in all its records, and many who have been chief actors in some of its gravest scenes. I ask, then, if in all their lore of human society, they find a case parallel to this? South Carolina has 300,000 whites and 400,000 slaves; the whites depend on their slaves for their order of civilization and their existence. Twenty millions of people, with a powerfully organized Government, and impelled by the most sacred duties, decree that this slavery must be exterminated. I ask you, Virginians, is right, is justice, is existence, worth a struggle?...


    I venture to assert, that never, since liberty came into the institutions of man, have a people borne with more patience, or forborne with more fortitude, than have the people of these Southern States in their relations with their confederates (the North)…[5]


    But when, at last, this fanaticism and eager haste for rapine, mingling their foul purposes, engendered those fermenting millions who have seized the constitution and distorted its most sacred form into an instrument of our ruin, why then longer submission seemed to us not only base cowardice, but absolute fatuity.[6] In South Carolina we felt that, to remain one hour under such a domination, we would merit the destruction earned by our own folly and baseness…


    Gentlemen of Virginia, the people of these Southern States are no noisy faction, clamoring for place and power; no hungry rabble, answering in blood to every appeal to brutal passion; no “shouting mob.” They are a grave, calm, prosperous, religious people; the holders of the most majestic civilization; the inheritors of right, of the fairest estate of liberty; fighting for that liberty; fighting for their fathers' graves; standing athwart their hearth-stones, and before their chamber doors. In this fight, for a time, my little State stood alone…so small, so weak, so few, we began this fight alone against millions and had millions been piled on millions, under God, in such a fight, we would have triumphed. But, sir, that God cares for Liberty, Truth and Right among His people-and we are no longer alone. Our own children from Florida and Alabama answered to the maternal call; and our great sister Georgia marshaled forth her giant progeny; the voice of Quitman came up out of his grave on the Mississippi; and Louisiana proved herself the offspring of the "Apostle of Liberty;" and, now, young Texas raises her giant form, and takes her place at the head of this majestic column of Confederated Sovereignties…[7]


    Leaving out of consideration the fact, that the acquiescence, which originally founded the union, was enforced by necessity rather than free consent, the truth seems evident, to every mind which dares so speculate advisedly on the manifest principles of that revolution we are now enacting, that they do involve fundamental and irreconcilable diversities, between the systems on which slaveholding and non-slaveholding communities may endure. We believe that these repellent diversities pertain to every attribute which belongs to the two systems, and, consequently, that this revolution - this separation this disintegration - is no accident, that it is no merely casual result of a temporary cause; that it is no evanescent bubble of popular error or irritation; that it is no dream of philosophy; nor is it the achievement of individual ambition. It has a cause more profound and pervading than all these. It is not only a revolution of actual material necessity, but it is a revolution resulting from the deepest convictions, the ideas, the sentiments, the moral and intellectual necessities, of ‘earnest and intelligent men'... No community of origin - no community of language, law or religion, can amalgamate a people whose severance is proclaimed by the rigid requisitions of material necessity. Nature forbids African slavery at the North. Southern civilization cannot exist without African slavery. None but an equal race can labor at the North. None but a subject race will labor at the South. Destroy involuntary labor, and Anglo-Saxon civilization must be remitted to the latitudes whence it sprung…


    We believe, as a completely logical and reasonable deduction from these repellent attributes of the Northern and Southern sections of the late confederacy, there have arisen those constructions of the terms of confederation, which have converted a Government of consent into a Government of force; which have driven seven States to abandon that Government; which have, for sixty days, kept loaded bomb-shells bearing on the women and children of Charleston; which have turned the Federal guns on the Capitol of Virginia...[8]


    Where these natural and conventional repulsions exist, the conflict is for life and death. And that conflict is now upon you. Gentlemen of Virginia, you own an empire. You are very strong. You have advanced in all the arts of life, and are very wise and very skillful…But I tell you, there is no force of human power...which can reunite the people of the North and the people of the South as political and social equals. No, gentlemen, never; never - until by your power, your art, and your virtue, you can unfix the unchangeable economy of the Eternal God, can you make of the people of the North, and the people of the South one people. An irresistible instinct of self-preservation has forced the cotton States to recognize this absolute and imperative diversity, and they are now proceeding to erect their institutions on its present necessity. The Northern States are also manifesting their recognition of the same diversity, by preparing, with the aid of the agents of non-slavery, known as the army and navy of the United states, to attempt the subjugation of the Southern States…[9]


    Believing the rights violated and the interests involved are identical with the rights and interests of the people of Virginia, and remembering their ancient amity and their common glory, the people of South Carolina have instructed me to ask earnestly and respectfully, that the people of Virginia will join them in the protection of their rights and interests'...


    [1] In Spring 1860, political leadership in New Mexico Territory petitioned Congress to divide the territory into two – Arizona Territory and New Mexico Territory in an effort to tighten control over the region. Many white residents thought the federal government was not doing enough to protect them from the Indian Nations like the Apache and Navajo. When Congress did not respond to the petition, many white Americans turned to the Confederacy as an alternative source of government protection and intervention. Confederate President Jefferson Davis sent Confederate troops to southern Arizona (outside Tucson), where they were met by U.S. moving east from the new (free) state of California. The U.S. troops retreated, and President Jefferson Davis established “Confederate Arizona,” which lasted about six months before U.S. troops arrived in southern Arizona and drove the Confederate troops east of the Rio Grande (back into the Confederate state of Texas).

    [2] The western counties of Virginia formed West Virginia as a separate and free state shortly after Virginia seceded. West Virginia effectively seceded from the Confederacy.

    [4] Smith makes the claim that the election of Lincoln is the equivalent of a radical government filled with people just waiting to destroy the South.

    [5] Hmm.

    [6] Rapine means the violent seizure of property (and shares the same Old French root word as rape). Fatuity means stupidity.

    [7] John Quitman was a wealthy slaveowner from Mississippi, and a passionate supporter of secession. Quitman owner four plantations and over five hundred enslaved people when he died in 1858 (three years before secession and Civil War). While serving as Governor of Mississippi, Quitman supported (financially and otherwise), a filibustering campaign in Cuba. Please see the textbook for details about nineteenth century filibustering.

    [8] Preston references the situation at Fort Sumter, a United States military fort off the coast of Charlestown, South Carolina. After South Carolina seceded, the Confederate leadership demanded the removal of U.S. troops from all southern military fortifications. In January 1861, President James Buchanan moved some U.S. troops from nearby Sullivan’s Island to Fort Sumter and sent an unarmed ship to resupply the soldiers now stationed there. Confederate troops (essentially the South Carolina militia) blocked the unarmed ship, leaving the U.S. soldiers without food and other vital supplies. Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard kept troops and cannons stationed on the shore facing Fort Sumter until newly inaugurated President Lincoln demanded Confederate troops stand down in April. Instead, Confederate soldiers fired on the U.S. troops at Fort Sumter, marking the first shots of the Civil War. Smith is speaking during the period when Confederate troops were “bearing down” on U.S. troops at Fort Sumter, but claims it’s the United States holding Charlestown at gunpoint.

    [9] The United States military was the “the agents of non-slavery,” and thus a threat to the real Americans (??) – white southerners.

    Mississippi Black Codes

    Mississippi Black Codes, 1865


    Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln a few weeks before the Civil War, Andrew Johnson assumed the Presidency just in time to oversee the program of Reconstruction. Johnson, a former slaveholder from Tennessee, immediately returned control of the southern states to the Southern Democrats, the same men who seceded from the United States in preparation for war and subsequently controlled the Confederacy during the War. Most people, including Congressional Republicans, thought the political leadership of the Confederacy would face consequences for precipitating a war against the United States, but Johnson reversed any attempts to bring charges against the Confederates or even rebuild the southern states with new leadership. Instead, even before the southern states were admitted back into the Union, Johnson turned state governance over to the same men in office before the war. In 1866, Republicans assumed control of Reconstruction, leading to a brief period when the Southern Democrats were not in complete control. It was too late, however, as the laws and practices put in place between Spring 1865 and Fall 1866 were entrenched in the southern states.

    As a result, the Southern Democrats immediately thwarted any sense of freedom for the recently emancipated people living in the South. The one-two punch of the Black Codes and Sharecropping Contracts allowed white southerners to criminalize just about every aspect of black life while also ensuring Freedpeople had no choice but to work for their former employers. The Black Codes did not end with Reconstruction in 1877. They were relabeled as Jim Crow laws which enforced segregation and racist law enforcement policies into the 1960s and 1970s.

    As always, Mississippi led the way in racist legislation, enacting the Mississippi Black Codes in June 1865, just a month after the end of the war. Every other southern state followed, and every one used the Mississippi model for their own Black Codes. The Mississippi Vagrancy Law, in particular, made it into the Black Codes in every state because it allowed black people to be arrested for just about anything. Below are a few examples from the Mississippi Black Codes. Please take note of how often the “former owner” was empowered to enforce the law.

    Take a minute while you are reading and consider what it would be like to live under these laws. It’s hard to imagine, but try. Do you think you could avoid being arrested at some point[1]?


    Apprentice Law

    Section 1. Be it enacted by the legislature of the state of Mississippi, that it shall be the duty of all sheriffs, justices of the peace, and other civil officers of the several counties in this state to report to the Probate courts [2]of their respective counties semiannually, at the January and July terms of said courts, all freedmen, free Negroes, and mulattoes under the age of eighteen within their respective counties, beats, or districts who are orphans, or whose parent or parents have not the means, or who refuse to provide for and support said minors; and thereupon it shall be the duty of said Probate Court to order the clerk of said court to apprentice said minors to some competent and suitable person, on such terms as the court may direct, having a particular care to the interest of said minors:

    Provided, that the former owner of said minors shall have the preference when, in the opinion of the court, he or she shall be a Suitable person for that purpose.

    Section 2. Be it further enacted, that the said court shall be fully satisfied that the person or persons to whom said minor shall be apprenticed shall be a suitable person to have the charge and care of said minor and fully to protect the interest of said minor. The said court shall require the said master or mistress to execute bond and security, payable to the state of Mississippi, conditioned that he or she shall furnish said minor with sufficient food and clothing; to treat said minor humanely; furnish medical attention in case of sickness; teach or cause to be taught him or her to read and write, if under fifteen years old; and will conform to any law that may be hereafter passed for the regulation of the duties and relation of master and apprentice[3]:

    Provided, that said apprentice shall be bound by indenture, in case of males until they are twenty-one years old, and in case of females until they are eighteen years old…

    Section 5. Be it further enacted, that if any person entice away any apprentice from his or her master or mistress, or shall knowingly employ an apprentice, or furnish him or her food or clothing, without the written consent of his or her master or mistress, of shall sell or give said apprentice ardent spirits, without such consent, said person so offending shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and shall, on conviction thereof before the county court, be punished as provided for the punishment of persons enticing from their employer hired freedmen, free Negroes, or mulattoes.

    Section 6. Be it further enacted, that it shall be the duty of all civil officers of their respective counties to report any minors within their respective counties to said Probate Court who are subject to be apprenticed under the provisions of this act, from time to time, as the facts may come to their knowledge; and it shall be the duty of said court, from time to time, as said minors shall be reported to them or otherwise come to their knowledge, to apprentice said minors as hereinbefore provided….

    Section 10. Be it further enacted, that in all cases where the age of the freedman, free Negro, or mulatto cannot be ascertained by record testimony, the judge of the county court shall fix the age.

    Vagrancy Law

    Section 1. Be it enacted by the legislature of the state of Mississippi, that all rogues and vagabonds, idle and dissipated persons, beggars, jugglers, or persons practising unlawful games or plays,[4] runaways, common drunkards, common nightwalkers, pilferers, lewd, wanton, or lascivious persons, in speech or behavior, common railers[5] and brawlers, persons who neglect their calling or employment, misspend what they earn, or do not provide for the support of themselves or their families or dependents, and all other idle and disorderly persons, including all who neglect all lawful business, or habitually misspend their time by frequenting houses of illfame, gaming houses, or tippling shops[6], shall be deemed and considered vagrants under the provisions of this act; and, on conviction thereof shall be fined not exceeding $100, with all accruing costs, and be imprisoned at the discretion of the court not exceeding ten days.

    Section 2. Be it further enacted, that all freedmen, free Negroes, and mulattoes in this state over the age of eighteen years found on the second Monday in January 1966, or thereafter, with no lawful employment or business, or found unlawfully assembling themselves together either in the day or nighttime, and all white persons so assembling with freedmen, free Negroes, or mulattoes, or usually associating with freedmen, free Negroes, or mulattoes on terms of equality, or living in adultery or fornication with a freedwoman, free Negro, or mulatto, shall be deemed vagrants; and, on conviction thereof, shall be fined in the sum of not exceeding, in the case of a freedman, free Negro, or mulatto, $150, and a white man, $200, and imprisoned at the discretion of the court, the free Negro not exceeding ten days, and the white man not exceeding six months…

    Section 5. Be it further enacted, that all fines and forfeitures collected under the provisions of this act shall be paid into the county treasury for general county purposes; and in0   // case any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto shall fail for five days after the imposition of any fine or forfeiture upon him or her for violation of any of the provisions of this act to pay the same, that it shall be, and is hereby made, the duty of the sheriff of the proper county to hire out said freedman, free Negro, or mulatto to any person who will, for the shortest period of service, pay said fine or forfeiture and all costs[7]:

    Provided, a preference shall be given to the employer, if there be one, in which case the employer shall be entitled to deduct and retain the amount so paid from the wages of such freedman, free Negro, or mulatto then due or to become due; and in case such freedman, free Negro, or mulatto cannot be hired out he or she may be dealt with as a pauper.

    Section 6. Be it further enacted, that…in order to secure a support for indigent freedmen, free Negroes, and mulattoes, it shall be lawful, and it is hereby made the duty of the boards of county police of each county in this state, to levy a poll or capitation tax on each and every freedman, free Negro, or mulatto, between the ages of eighteen and sixty years, not to exceed the sum of ($10-$100) annually, to each person so taxed, which tax, when collected, shall be paid into the county treasurer's hands and constitute a fund to be called the Freedman's Pauper Fund, which shall be applied by the commissioners of the poor for the maintenance of the poor of the freedmen, free Negroes[8]. and mulattoes of this state, under such regulations as may be established by the boards of county police, in the respective counties of this state.

    Section 7. Be it further enacted, that if any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto shall fail or refuse to pay any tax levied according to the provisions of the 6th Section of this act, it shall be prima facie evidence of vagrancy, and it shall be the duty of the sheriff to arrest such freedman, free Negro, or mulatto, or such person refusing or neglecting to pay such tax, and proceed at once to hire, for the shortest time, such delinquent taxpayer to anyone who will pay the said tax, with accruing costs, giving preference to the employer, if there be one.

    Section 8. Be it further enacted, that any person feeling himself or herself aggrieved by the judgment of any justice of the peace, mayor, or alderman in cases arising under this act may, within five days, appeal to the next term of the county court of the proper county, upon giving bond and security in a sum not less than $25 nor more than $150, conditioned to appear and prosecute said appeal, and abide by the judgment of the county court, and said appeal shall be tried de novo in the county court, and the decision of said court shall be final.

    Civil Rights of Freedmen

    Section 1. Be it enacted by the legislature of the state of Mississippi, that all freedmen, free Negroes, and mulattoes may sue and be sued, implead and be impleaded in all the courts of law and equity of this state, and may acquire personal property and choses in action, by descent or purchase, and may dispose of the same in the same manner and to the same extent that white persons may:

    Provided, that the provisions of this section shall not be construed as to allow any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto to rent or lease any lands or tenements, except in incorporated towns or cities, in which places the corporate authorities shall control the same.

    Section 2. Be it further enacted, that all freedmen, free Negroes, and mulattoes may intermarry with each other, in the same manner and under the same regulations that are provided by law for white persons:

    Provided, that the clerk of probate shall keep separate records of the same.

    Section 3. Be it further enacted, that all freedmen, free Negroes, and mulattoes who do now and have heretofore lived and cohabited together as husband and wife shall be taken and held in law as legally married, and the issue shall be taken and held as legitimate for all purposes. That it shall not be lawful for any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto to intermarry with any white person; nor for any white person to intermarry with any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto; and any person who shall so intermarry shall be deemed guilty of felony and, on conviction thereof, shall be confined in the state penitentiary for life; and those shall be deemed freedmen, free Negroes, and mulattoes who are of pure Negro blood; and those descended from a Negro to the third generation inclusive, though one ancestor of each generation may have been a white person…

    Section 5. Be it further enacted, that every freedman, free Negro, and mulatto shall, on the second Monday of January 1866, and annually thereafter, have a lawful home or employment, and shall have a written evidence thereof, as follows, to wit: if living in any incorporated city, town, or village, a license from the mayor thereof; and if living outside of any incorporated city, town, or village, from the member of the board of police of his beat, authorizing him or her to do irregular and job work, or a written contract, as provided in Section 6 of this act, which licenses may be revoked for cause, at any time, by the authority granting the same[9].

    Section 6. Be it further enacted, that all contracts for labor made with freedmen, free Negroes, and mulattoes for a longer period than one month shall be in writing and in duplicate, attested and read to said freedman, free Negro, or mulatto by a beat, city, or county officer, or two disinterested white persons of the county in which the labor is to be performed, of which each party shall have one; and said contracts shall be taken and held as entire contracts; and if the laborer shall quit the service of the employer before expiration of his term of service without good cause, he shall forfeit his wages for that year, up to the time of quitting.

    Section 7. Be it further enacted, that every civil officer shall, and every person may, arrest and carry back to his or her legal employer any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto who shall have quit the service of his or her employer before the expiration of his or her term of service without good cause, and said officer and person shall be entitled to receive for arresting and carrying back every deserting employee aforesaid the sum of $5, and 10 cents per mile from the place of arrest to the place of delivery, and the same shall be paid by the employer, and held as a setoff for so much against the wages of said deserting employee…

    Section 9. Be it further enacted, that if any person shall persuade or attempt to persuade, entice, or cause any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto to desert from the legal employment of any person before the expiration of his or her term of service, or shall knowingly employ any such deserting freedman, free Negro, or mulatto, or shall knowingly give or sell to any such deserting freedman, free Negro, or mulatto any food, raiment, or other thing, he or she shall be guilty of a misdemeanor; and, upon conviction, shall be fined not less than $25 and not more than $200 and the costs; and, if said fine and costs shall not be immediately paid, the court shall sentence said convict to not exceeding two months' imprisonment in the county jail, and he or she shall moreover be liable to the party injured in damages:

    Provided, if any person shall, or shall attempt to, persuade, entice, or cause any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto to desert from any legal employment of any person with the view to employ said freedman, free Negro, or mulatto without the limits of this state, such person, on conviction, shall be fined not less than $50 and not more than $1500 and costs; and, if said fine and costs shall not be immediately paid, the court shall sentence said convict to not exceeding six months' imprisonment in the county jail,

    Penal Code

    Section 1. Be it enacted by the legislature of the state of Mississippi, that no freedman, free Negro, or mulatto not in the military service of the United States government, and not licensed so to do by the board of police of his or her county, shall keep or carry firearms of any kind, or any ammunition, dirk, or Bowie knife; and, on conviction thereof in the county court, shall be punished by fine, not exceeding $10, and pay the costs of such proceedings, and all such arms or ammunition shall be forfeited to the informer; and it shall be the duty of every civil and military officer to arrest any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto found with any such arms or ammunition, and cause him or her to be committed for trial in default of bail.

    Section 2. Be it further enacted, that any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto committing riots, routs, affrays, trespasses, malicious mischief, cruel treatment to animals, seditious speeches[10], insulting gestures, language, or acts, or assaults on any person, disturbance of the peace, exercising the function of a minister of the Gospel without a license from some regularly organized church, vending spirituous or intoxicating liquors, or committing any other misdemeanor the punishment of which is not specifically provided for by law shall, upon conviction thereof in the county court, be fined not less than $10 and not more than $100, and may be imprisoned, at the discretion of the court, not exceeding thirty days.

    Section 3. Be it further enacted, that if any white person shall sell, lend, or give to any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto any firearms, dirk[11], or Bowie knife, or ammunition, or any spirituous or intoxicating liquors, such person or persons so offending, upon conviction thereof in the county court of his or her county, shall be fined not exceeding $50, and may be imprisoned, at the discretion of the court, not exceeding thirty days:

    Section 5. Be it further enacted, that if any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto convicted of any of the misdemeanors provided against in this act shall fail-or refuse, for the space of five days after conviction, to pay the fine and costs imposed, such person shall be hired out by the sheriff or other officer, at public outcry, to any white person who will pay said fine and all costs and take such convict for the shortest time. 


    [1] Full text of the Mississippi Black Codes here.


    [2]Probate courts handle taxes, fines, wills and inheritance, property ownership, assets, etc.

    [3] Please keep in mind that law enforcement officers and courts were quite lax in enforcement of this law. 

    [4] No juggling. No “unlawful games.” No unauthorized theater.

    [5] A railer in this context is someone who complains excessively. So, no complaining in public.

    [6] Liquor store/bar – pretty much the same thing during this time.

    [7] This did not happen.

    [8] In other words, Freedpeople were required to pay an additional tax to help Freedpeople. Please keep in mind that Freedpeople left slavery with nothing, certainly not money.

    [9] Sharecropper contracts, like the one from the Grimes Family plantation, were the only option. 

    [10] Inciting people to rebel. Quite ironic – the Southern Democrats do not want African Americans to incite anyone to rebel.

    [11] Short dagger.


    A Sharecrop Contract

    Workers posing in a cotton field
    1865 stereograph of workers in a cotton field

    A Sharecrop Contract

    Section 5. Be it further enacted, that every freedman, free Negro, and mulatto…shall have a written evidence…from the member of the board of police of his beat, authorizing him or her to do irregular and job work, or a written contract, as provided in Section 6 of this act, which licenses may be revoked for cause, at any time, by the authority granting the same.

                                        -Mississippi Black Codes, which hopefully you just read



    The question of what to do with the land abandoned by plantation owners, also the men who spearheaded secession from the United States. Most of the land was under the control of the US Army. As a result, across the South, many freedpeople established subsistence farms on the abandoned land. Republicans in Congress proposed a redistribution plan allowing freedpeople to acquire small plots of land as opposed to giving the land back to the men who seceded from the country. Any hope of land redistribution ended when former slaveowner Andrew Johnson, became President. He immediately pardoned the Confederates and restored all the land to the former owners, leaving freedpeople with no place to live and nowhere to go.


    The Black, Codes passed immediately following the war, required freedpeople to have a labor contract with a white man or face imprisonment. Initially, planters wanted freedpeople to sign gang labor contracts, meaning they worked collectively on the plantation as they did during slavery. Freedpeople, who wanted freedom and autonomy and refused to sign the contract. Republicans agreed to the “compromise” of sharecropping. Land owners divided plantations into 20-50-acre plots suitable for farming by a single family. Land owners also provided a cabin and supplies. Contracts reimbursed land owners for any seeds, farming equipment, or mules used by the sharecropper. In exchange, sharecroppers agreed to give 50 percent or more of their crop to their landlord. Landowners alone determined the value of a sharecropper’s harvest. Landowners also extended credit to sharecroppers to buy food, clothes, and other essentials with exurbanite interest rates, usually 60 or 70 percent.

    This sharecrop contract comes from the Grimes Family plantation in Pitt County, North Carolina. The Grimes plantation dates back to 1790, and by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1865, about 100 enslaved people lived and worked on the plantation. This contract dates from 1882 and is typical of the agreements the freedmen were forced to sign following the war[1].





    To every one applying to rent land upon shares, the following conditions must be read, and agreed to. To every 30 and 35 acres, I agree to furnish the team, plow, and farming implements, except cotton planters, and I do not agree to furnish a cart to every cropper. The croppers are to have half of the cotton, corn, and fodder (and peas and pumpkins and potatoes if any are planted) if the following conditions are complied with, but - if not - they are to have only two-fifths (2/5). Croppers are to have no part or interest in the cotton seed raised from the crop planted and worked by them. No vine crops of any description, that is, no watermelons, muskmelons…squashes or anything of that kind, except peas and pumpkins, and potatoes, are to be planted in the cotton or corn. All must work under my direction. All plantation work to be done by the croppers. My part of the crop to be housed by them, and the fodder[2] and oats to be hauled and put in the house. All the cotton must be topped about 1st August. If any cropper fails from any cause to save all the fodder from his crop, I am to have enough fodder to make it equal to one-half of the whole if the whole amount of fodder had been saved.

     For every mule or horse furnished by me there must be 1000 good sized rails...hauled, and the fence repaired as far as they will go, the fence to be torn down and put up from the bottom if I so direct. All croppers to haul rails and work on fence whenever I may order. Rails to be split when I may say. Each cropper to clean out every ditch in his crop, and where a ditch runs between two croppers, the cleaning out of that ditch is to be divided equally between them. Every ditch bank in the crop must be shrubbed down and cleaned off before the crop is planted and must be cut down every time the land is worked with his hoe and when the crop is "laid by," the ditch banks must be left clean of bushes, weeds, and seeds. The cleaning out of all ditches must be done by the first of October. The rails must be split and the fence repaired before corn is planted.

    Each cropper must keep in good repair all bridges in his crop or over ditches that he has to clean out and when a bridge needs repairing that is outside of all their crops, then any one that I call on must repair it.

    Fence jams to be done as ditch banks. If any cotton is planted on the land outside of the plantation fence, I am to have three-fourths of all the cotton made in those patches, that is to say, no cotton must be planted by croppers in their home patches.

    All croppers must clean out stable and fill them with straw, and haul straw in front of stable whenever I direct. All the cotton must be manured, and enough fertilizer must be brought to manure each crop highly, the croppers to pay for one-half of all manure bought, the quantity to be purchased for each crop must be left to me.

    No cropper is to work off the plantation when there is any work to be done on the land he has rented, or when his work is needed by me or other croppers. Trees to be cut down on Orchard, house field, & fences, leaving such as I may designate.

    Road field is to be planted from the very edge of the ditch to the fence, and all the land to be planted close up to the ditches and fences. No stock of any kind belonging to croppers to run in the plantation after crops are gathered.

    If the fence should be blown down, or if trees should fall on the fence outside of the land planted by any of the croppers, any one or all that I may call upon must put it up and repair it.

    Every cropper must feed or have fed, the team[3] he works, Saturday nights, Sundays, and every morning before going to work, beginning to feed his team (morning, noon, and night every day in the week) on the day he rents and feeding it to including the 31st day of December. If any cropper shall from any cause fail to repair his fence as far as 1000 rails will go, or shall fail to clean out any part of his ditches, or shall fail to leave his ditch banks, any part of them, well shrubbed and clean when his crop is laid by, or shall fail to clean out stables, fill them up and haul straw in front of them whenever he is told, he shall have only two-fifths (2/5) of the cotton, corn, fodder, peas, and pumpkins made on the land he cultivates.

    If any cropper shall fail to feed his team Saturday nights, all day Sunday and all the rest of the week, morning/noon, and night, for every time he so fails he must pay me five cents.

    No corn or cotton stalks must be burned, but must be cut down, cut up and plowed in. Nothing must be burned off the land except when it is impossible to plow it in.

    Every cropper must be responsible for all gear and farming implements placed in his hands, and if not returned must be paid for unless it is worn out by use.

    Croppers must sow & plow in oats and haul them to the crib, but must have no part of them. Nothing to be sold from their crops, nor fodder nor corn to be carried out of the fields until my rent is all paid, and all amounts they owe me and for which I am responsible are paid in full.

    I am to gin & pack all the cotton and charge every cropper an eighteenth of his part, the cropper to furnish his part of the bagging, ties, & twine.

    The sale of every cropper's part of the cotton to be made by me when and where I choose to sell, and after deducting all they owe me and all sums that I may be responsible for on their accounts, to pay them their half of the net proceeds. Work of every description, particularly the work on fences and ditches, to be done to my satisfaction, and must be done over until I am satisfied that it is done as it should be.

    No wood to burn, nor light wood, nor poles, nor timber for boards, nor wood for any purpose whatever must be gotten above the house occupied by Henry Beasley - nor must any trees be cut down nor any wood used for any purpose, except for firewood, without my permission.



    [1] Full source here: Grimes Family Contract.


    [2] Fodder refers to dried hay or feed, usually used as food for farm animals.

    [3] Horses, or more likely, mules.

    Image: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. "Cotton Field." New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 30, 2019.

    Report on Conditions in the South

    Report on Conditions in the South

    Carl Schurz[1]


    By December 1865, when congress was gathering in Washington for a new session, Johnson had declared that all the Confederate states but Texas had met his requirements for restoration. Newly elected senators and congressmen from the former Confederacy had arrived to take seats in Congress.


    Johnson’s efforts to restore the South stalled. Congress exercised its constitutional authority to deny seats to delegations from the South and launched an investigation into conditions there. In response to a Senate resolution requesting "information in relation to the States of the Union lately in rebellion," Johnson painted a rosy picture: "In that portion of the Union lately in rebellion the aspect of affairs is more promising than, in view of all the circumstances, could well have been expected. The people throughout the entire south evince a laudable desire to renew their allegiance to the government, and to repair the devastations of war by a prompt and cheerful return to peaceful pursuits…It is true, that in some of the States the demoralizing effects of war are to be seen in occasional disorders, but these are local in character, not frequent in occurrence, and are rapidly disappearing as the authority of civil law is extended and sustained.”


    Johnson's message to the Senate was accompanied by a report from Major General Carl Schurz. Among the subjects on which Schurz reported were whether southern whites had accepted defeat and emancipation, and whether ex-slaves and southern Unionists were safe in the South and were receiving fair treatment. Schurz's report was apparently largely ignored by President Johnson, who had assigned him to make the reporl but was not happy with what he said. Schurz went to considerable lengths to get an accurate reading of attitudes in the South. He tried to get a representative sample of people to interview in his three-month tour of portions of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana and gathered documentary evidence as well as interviews. Then he tried to analyze his findings carefully and make recommendations on the basis of those findings. Clearly, he believed that Reconstruction in the South involved more than the restoration of civil government.



    SIR: . . . You informed me that your "policy of reconstruction" was merely experimental, and that you would change it if the experiment did not lead to satisfactory results. To aid you in forming your conclusions upon this point I understood to be the object of my mission…



    In the development of the popular spirit in the south since the close of the war two well-marked periods can be distinguished. The first commences with the sudden collapse of the confederacy and the dispersion of its armies, and the second with the first proclamation indicating the "reconstruction policy" of the government…


    When the news of Lee's and Johnston's[2] surrenders burst upon the southern country the general consternation was extreme. People held their breath, indulging in the wildest apprehensions as to what was now to come...Prominent Unionists told me that persons who for four years had scorned to recognize them on the street approached them with smiling faces and both hands extended.


    Men of standing in the political world expressed serious doubts as to whether the rebel States would ever again occupy their position as States in the Union, or be governed as conquered provinces. The public mind was so despondent that if readmission at some future time under whatever conditions had been promised, it would then have been looked upon as a favor. The most uncompromising rebels prepared for leaving the country. The masses remained in a state of fearful expectancy…


    Such was, according to the accounts I received, the character of that first period. The worst apprehensions were gradually relieved as day after day went by without bringing the disasters and inflictions which had been vaguely anticipated, until at last the appearance of the North Carolina proclamation[3] substituted new hopes for them. The development of this second period I was called upon to observe on the spot, and it forms the main subject of this report.



    …[T]he white people at large being, under certain conditions, charged with taking the preliminaries of "reconstruction" into their hands, the success of the experiment depends upon the spirit and attitude of those who either attached themselves to the secession cause from the beginning, or, entertaining originally opposite views, at least followed its fortunes from the time that their States had declared their separation from the Union…


    I may group the southern people[4] into four classes, each of which exercises an influence upon the development of things in that section:


    l. Those who, although having yielded submission to the national government only when obliged to do so, have a clear perception of the irreversible changes produced by the war, and honestly endeavor to accommodate themselves to the new order of things. Many of them are not free from traditional prejudice but open to conviction, and may be

    expected to act in good faith whatever they do. This class is composed, in its majority, of persons of mature age— planters, merchants, and professional men; some of them are active in the reconstruction movement, but boldness and energy are, with a few individual exceptions, not among their distinguishing qualities.


    2. Those whose principal object is to have the States without delay restored to their position and influence in the Union and the people of the States to the absolute control of their home concerns. They are ready, in order to attain that object, to make any ostensible concession that will not prevent them from arranging things to suit their taste as soon as that object is attained. This class comprises a considerable number, probably a large majority, of the professional politicians who are extremely active in the reconstruction movement. They are loud in their praise of the President's reconstruction policy, and clamorous for the withdrawal of the federal troops and the abolition of the Freedmen's Bureau.[5]


    3. The incorrigibles, who still indulge in the swagger which was so customary before and during the war, and still hope for a time when the southern confederacy will achieve its independence. This class consists mostly of young men, and comprises the loiterers of the towns and the idlers of the country. They persecute Union men and negroes whenever they can do so with impunity, insist clamorously upon their "rights," and are extremely impatient of the presence of the federal soldiers. A good many of them have taken the oaths of allegiance and amnesty, and associated themselves with the second class in their political operations. This element is by no means unimportant; it is strong in numbers, deals in brave talk, addresses itself directly and incessantly to the passions and prejudices of the masses, and commands the admiration of the women.


    4. The multitude of people who have no definite ideas about the circumstances under which they live and about the course they have to follow; whose intellects are weak, but whose prejudices and impulses are strong, and who are apt to be carried along by those who know how to appeal to the latter…



    …[U]pon the whole, the soldier of the Union is still looked upon as a stranger, an intruder—as the "Yankee," "the enemy…”


    It is by no means surprising that prejudices and resentments, which for years were so assiduously cultivated and so violently inflamed, should not have been turned into affection by a defeat; nor are they likely to disappear as long as the southern people continue to brood over their losses and misfortunes. They will gradually subside when those who entertain them cut resolutely loose from the past and embark in a career of new activity on a common field with those whom they have so long considered their enemies… As long as these feelings exist in their present strength, they will hinder the growth of that reliable kind of loyalty which springs from the heart and clings to the country in good and evil fortune.



    …It struck me soon after my arrival in the south that the known Unionists—I mean those who during the war had been to a certain extent identified with the national cause— were not in communion with the leading social and political circles; and the further my observations extended the clearer it became to me that their existence in the south was of a rather precarious nature Even Governor [William L.] Sharkey[6], in the course of a conversation I had with him in the presence of Major General Osterhaus[7], admitted that, if our troops were then withdrawn, the lives of northern men in Mississippi would not be safe. . [General Osterhaus said]: "There is no doubt whatever that the state of affairs would be intolerable for all Union men, all recent immigrants from the north, and all negroes, the moment the protection of the United States troops were withdrawn…”



    …[I do] not deem a negro insurrection probable as long as the freedmen were assured of the direct protection of the national government. Whenever they are in trouble, they raise their eyes up to that power, and although they may suffer, yet, as long as that power is visibly present, they continue to hope. But when State authority in the south is fully restored, the federal forces withdrawn, and the Freedmen's Bureau abolished, the colored man will find himself turned over to the mercies of those whom he does not trust. If then an attempt is made to strip him again of those rights which he justly thought he possessed, he will be apt to feel that he can hope for no redress unless he procures it himself. If ever the negro is capable of rising, he will rise then...


    There is probably at the present moment no country in the civilized world which contains such an accumulation of anarchical elements as the south. The strife of the antagonistic tendencies here described is aggravated by the passions inflamed and the general impoverishment brought about by a long and exhaustive war, and the south will have to suffer the evils of anarchical disorder until means are found to effect a final settlement of the labor question in accordance with the logic of the great revolution.



    In seeking remedies for such disorders, we ought to keep in question, above all, the nature of the problem which is to be solved. As to what is commonly termed "reconstruction," it is not only the political machinery of the States and their constitutional relations to the general government, but the whole organism of southern society that must be reconstructed, or rather constructed anew, so as to bring it in harmony with the rest of American society. The difficulties of this task are not to be considered overcome when the people of the south take the oath of allegiance and elect governors and legislatures and members of Congress, and militia captains. That this would be done had become certain as soon as the surrenders of the southern armies had made further resistance impossible, and nothing in the world was left, even to the most uncompromising rebel, but to submit or to emigrate.


    It was also natural that they should avail themselves of every chance offered them to resume control of their home affairs and to regain their influence in the Union. But this can hardly be called the first step towards the solution of the true problem, and it is a fair question to ask, whether the hasty gratification of their desire to resume such control would not create new embarrassments.


    The true nature of the difficulties of the situation is this: The general government of the republic has, by proclaiming the emancipation of the slaves, commenced a great social revolution in the south, but has, as yet, not completed it. Only the negative part of it is accomplished. The slaves are emancipated in point of form, but free labor has not yet been put in the place of slavery in point of fact. And now, in the midst of this critical period of transition, the power which originated the revolution is expected to turn over its whole future development to another power which from the beginning was hostile to it and has never yet entered into its spirit, leaving the class in whose favor it was made completely without power to protect itself and to take an influential part in that development. The history of the world will be searched in vain for a proceeding similar to this which did not lead either to a rapid and violent reaction, or to the most serious trouble and civil disorder. It cannot be said that the conduct of the southern people since the close of the war has exhibited such extraordinary wisdom and self-abnegation as to make them an exception to the rule.


    In my dispatches from the south I repeatedly expressed the opinion that the people were not yet in a frame of mind to legislate calmly and understandingly upon the subject of free negro labor. And this I reported to be the opinion of some of our most prominent military commanders and other observing men. It is, indeed, difficult to imagine circumstances more unfavorable for the development of a calm and unprejudiced public opinion than those under which the southern people are at present laboring. The war has not only defeated their political aspirations, but it has broken up their whole social organization…


    In which direction will these people be most apt to turn their eyes? Leaving the prejudice of race out of the question, from early youth they have been acquainted with but one system of labor, and with that one system they have been in the habit of identifying all their interests. They know of no way to help themselves but the one they are accustomed to…


    It is certain that every success of free negro labor will augment the number of its friends, and disarm some of the prejudices and assumptions of its opponents. I am convinced one good harvest made by unadulterated free labor in the south would have a far better effect than all the oaths that have been taken, and all the ordinances that have as yet been passed by

    position again as States of the Union.


    …If [President Johnson] has [the] power, he should exercise it to its fullest extent - first, by appointing all the officers of State government, and, secondly, by appointing men of sound Union sentiments, not endeavor to coax and conciliate the rebels by appointing men of known secession proclivities, some of whom have taken an active part in the rebellion. Again-it must be obvious to all that by allowing the rebel States to return to the Union without purgation, is but sowing seed for future difficulties.[8]


    We now come to the most important point, and to which Government has paid no attention whatever - the suffrage question. In his various proclamations, the President has declared what classes are not entitled to citizenship, but he has apparently lost sight of the negro population, which will ever be a disturbing element as long as they are an oppressed race. They form a large proportion of the Southern States, and will become as necessary to the Government in the future as they have been in the past, if they are treated like men and have the rights of citizens. But in their present anomalous position as freedmen, not freemen, they can render the Government no aid political, and in case of another outbreak, they would not render military service to a government which has once broken faith with them.


    Considerable speculation is raised on qualifications for voters. We were never very democratic in our political opinions; we care not for universal suffrage - what we want is equal suffrage; and in reconstructing the States we only desire "Equality before the Law." The difficulty on this point is to make the qualifications such as to take in the most worthy and intelligent, and exclude the vicious and ignorant. No human judgment, nor laws framed by fallible man, could do that-hence we must expect, under any qualification, some who are worthy and capable would be excluded, and others the reverse, admitted. Still we will be content with any law which bears equally on all.


    [1] Excerpt from Excerpt from Kevin J. Ferlund, Documents to Accompany America’s History, Sixth edition, Volume II Since 1865 (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2008).  Full source here:


    [2] Robert E. Lee was Commander of the Confederate States Army. His surrender to United States General Ulysses S. Grant in April, 1865 ended the Civil War. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered a few days later to Union General William T. Sherman.

    [3] Reference to Johnston’s surrender in Raleigh, NC.

    [4] He means white southerners.

    [5] The Freedman’s Bureau should be in your notes.

    [6] William Sharkey served as provisional governor of Mississippi from June-October, 1865 (just after the Civil War ended). Sharkey was a Whig before the war and opposed secession.

    [7] Union General in charge of Northern Mississippi at the end of the war.

    [8] The difference between Presidential and Congressional Reconstruction should be in your notes.  

    Freedmen’s Bureau Records, 1865-66

    Freedmen’s Bureau Records, 1865-66


    The United State Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned lands, commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, was part of President Abraham Lincoln’s Reconstruction program, with the mandate to assist in the political and social reconstruction of southern states, and help the formally enslaved people make the transition from slavery to freedom and citizenship. Initially intended as a one-year program, Bureau agents quickly realized white southerners did not accept they lost war and slavery was now abolished. White southerners used violence and terrorism to neutralize any efforts made by Bureau agents to help freedpeople. Bureau offices were burnt down and agents attacked, killed, and run out of town. White Southerners primarily-  and relentlessly - attacked, abused, tortured, harassed and murdered newly freed African Americans on a daily basis, but anyone associated with the Bureau was subject to the same treatment. The Ku Klux Klan, created less than a year after the war ended, made destruction of the Freedmen’s Bureau an immediate priority.


    The Bureau distributed twenty million rations of food to both the Freedpeople and impoverished white southerners, and set up a system by which planters could borrow rations to feed freedpeople they employed. Because most white doctors and nurses refused to treat African Americans, the Bureau also established hospital and medical facilities, although they had a difficult time recruiting northern doctors to work in the South, and there were very, very few African American doctors and nurses because they were not allowed into the vast majority of colleges and universities. Any African American doctor who went to the Deep South to treat Freedpeople would be in danger of attack from white southerners as soon as they arrived. Smallpox and cholera epidemics broke out throughout the South as a result of the destruction of the war resulting in poor sanitation and living conditions, especially for the freedpeople.


    The Bureau had its greatest success in education, building over one thousand schools, colleges, and universities for African Americans. The colleges and universities created with help from the Freedmen’s Bureau are called “Historically Black Colleges and Universities” (HBCUs), many of which remain some of the most prestigious college/universities in the country.[1] African Americans started makeshift schools in abandoned building, fields, churches, anywhere they could. They were limited in how much they could teach themselves, however, and the Bureau worked to bring northern teachers to the Freedmen’s Schools. White southerners attacked and killed northern teachers in higher numbers than Freedmen’s Bureau agents.


    The most urgent issue facing Freedpeople and Bureau agents was land distribution and employment following the war. The military controlled about .2 percent of one percent of the land in the South. For about six months in 1865, Bureau agents oversaw the redistribution of some of the confiscated land to the Freedpeople, many of whom bought the land for a modest price, and many others were promised by the government that they could earn a title to the abandoned land they were working after several years of successfully working the land, a plan similar to the Homestead Act offering free land to white Americans in the West. When Andrew Johnson assumed the Presidency after Lincoln’s assassination in Spring, 1865, he reversed the Bureau’s land distribution plan and returned all land in the South to its former owners. Freedpeople who paid for their land did not receive compensation for the loss of their land. Agents were then instructed to encourage freedpeople to sign sharecropper contracts, preferably with their former owners. Agents who tried to negotiate with white planters for fair contracts were met with violent resistance.


    The Bureau was renewed every year by Congress, and every year President Johnson vetoed it, and the legislation returned to Congress for an override vote (requiring a two-thirds vote). By 1868, Southern Democrats had stripped any real power from the Bureau and in 1872 Congress failed to pass the Freedmen’s Bureau bill. The Bureau offices closed, the agents sent home, and white southerners


    Freedmen’s Bureau agents and administrators keep detailed records of its activities which tell us a lot about life for the previously enslaved people. They wanted to find their families after the war ended, they wanted to work for themselves and not for their former owners, they wanted schools and churches, they wanted hospitals, they wanted marriage licenses and birth certificates legitimizing their family bonds, and they wanted white southerners to stop terrorizing and murdering them. The Bureau created millions of records that contain the names of hundreds of thousands of formerly enslaved people, as well as white Southerners suffering from the same poverty and harassment as African Americans. Below are just a few records from the Freedmen’s Bureau archives. I know this seems long, but a lot of that is the formatting required for each letter and the footnotes I wrote to help contextualize the sources. As you read, please keep in mind that the vast majority of Freedmen’s Bureau records end with “no action taken,” a testament to the limited power and resources held by the Bureau.[2]


    Affidavit of a Kentucky Black Soldier

    Camp Nelson Ky March 29, 1865


    Personally appeared before me J M Kelley Notary Public in and for the County of Jessamine State of Kentucky William Jones a man of color who being duly sworn according to law doth depose and say –


    I am a soldier in the 124th U.S. C[olored]. Infty. Before enlisting I belonged to Newton Craig, Scott County Ky. My wife belonged to the same man. Desiring to enlist and thus free my wife and serve the Government during the balance of my days I ran away from my master in company with my wife on Saturday March 11th between nine and ten O’clock at night. Our clothes were packed up and some money we had saved from our earnings we carried with us. On our way to Camp Nelson we arrived at Lexington about Three O’clock next morning[3]

    Sunday March 12" 1865 where we were accosted by the Capt of the night watch James Cannon, who asked us where we were going.  I told him I was going to see my daughter  He said I was a damned liar, that I was going to Camp Nelson. I then told him that I was going to Camp whereupon he arrested us, took us to the Watch House where he searched us and took our money from us taking Fifty eight (58) dollars from me and eight (8) dollars from my wife.[4]  I told him that the money was my own that I desired to have it, He told me that he would send it with the man who would take us back to our master and when we got there we should have it. I said I would rather die than go back to master who said he would kill any of his n---s who went to Camp. Cannon made no reply but locked us up in the Watch house where he kept us all that day and night and on Monday morning March 13 1865 he sent us back to our master in charge of an armed watchman whose name I believe was Harry Smith. When we arrived at my masters, master was away from home and Smith delivered us to our mistress. I asked Smith to give me my money. He said Cannon had given him none but had kept the whole to himself. I ran away from home that day before master came home. I have never received a cent of the money which Cannon took from me. I have three sons and one son-in-law now in the service of the United States. I want to get my money back. And further Deponent saith not

    (Signed)  William  Jones



    Chaplain of an Arkansas Black Regiment to the Adjutant General of the Army[5]

    Little Rock Ark  Feb 28th 1865


    The movements of the 54th during the month has interfered to some extent with our Sabbath services; and has also, rendered it impracticable to continue the day school. On reaching this post from, Ft Smith, the Reg was divided, and five companies sent out towards Brownsville, to guard the Rail Road.[6] These have been ordered back to Little Rock and the ten companies, are now camped, on the north side of the river, doing guard, & provost, duty in & around Little Rock: As soon as a building can be procured, I design to open a day school for such as are disposed to attend.


    Weddings, just now, are very popular, and abundant among the Colored People. They have just learned, of the Special Order No' 15. of Gen Thomas by which, they may not only be lawfully married, but have their Marriage Certificates, Recorded; in a book furnished by the Government.[7] This is most desirable; and the order, was very opportune; as these people were constantly loosing their certificates.  Those who were captured from the “Chepewa”;[8] at Ivy's Ford, on the 17th of January, by Col Brooks, had their Marriage Certificates, taken from them; and destroyed; and then were roundly cursed, for having such papers in their posession.  I have married, during the month, at this Post; Twenty five couples; mostly, those, who have families; & have been living together for years. I try to dissuade single men, who are soldiers, from marrying, till their time of enlistment is out: as that course seems to me, to be most judicious.

    The Colord People here, generally consider, this war not only; their exodus, from bondage; but the road, to Responsibility; Competency; and an honorable Citizenship – God grant that their hopes and expectations may be fully realized. Most Respectfully

    A.B. Randall



    Affidavit of a Kentucky Black Soldier's Widow

    Camp Nelson Ky 25" March 1865[9]


    Personally appeared before me J M Kelley Notary Public in and for the County of Jessamine State of Kentucky Patsey Leach a woman of color who being duly sworn according to law doth depose and say–


    I am a widow and belonged to Warren Wiley of Woodford County Ky. My husband Julius Leach was a member of Co. D. 5" U.S. C[olored]. Cavalry and was killed at the Salt Works Va. about six months ago.[10] When he enlisted sometime in the fall of 1864 he belonged to Sarah Martin Scott County Ky. He had only been about a month in the service when he was killed. I was living with aforesaid Wiley when he died.  He knew of my husbands enlisting before I did but never said any thing to me about it. From that time he treated me more cruelly than ever whipping me frequently without any cause and insulting me on every occasion. About three weeks after my husband enlisted a Company of Colored Soldiers passed our house and I was there in the garden and looked at them as they passed. My master had been watching me and when the soldiers had gone I went into the kitchen. My master followed me and Knocked me to the floor senseless saying as he did so, “You have been looking at them darned N--- Soldiers” When I recovered my senses he beat me with a cowhide  


    When my husband was Killed my master whipped me severely saying my husband had gone into the army to fight against white folks and he my master would let me know that I was foolish to let my husband go he would “take it out of my back,” he would “Kill me by picemeal” and he hoped “that the last one of the n--- soldiers would be Killed” He whipped me twice after that using similar expressions  The last whipping he gave me he took me into the Kitchen tied my hands tore all my clothes off until I was entirely naked, bent me down, placed my head between his Knees, then whipped me most unmercifully until my back was lacerated all over, the blood oozing out in several places so that I could not wear my underclothes without their becoming saturated with blood.  The marks are still visible on my back. 


    On this and other occasions my master whipped me for no other cause than my husband having enlisted. When he had whipped me he said “never mind God dam you when I am done with you tomorrow you never will live no more.” I knew he would carry out his threats so that night about 10 o'clock I took my babe and travelled to Arnolds Depot where I took the Cars to Lexington  I have five children,  I left them all with my master except the youngest and I want to get them but I dare not go near my master knowing he would whip me again. My master is a Rebel Sympathizer and often sends Boxes of Goods to Rebel prisoners. And further Deponent saith not.

    Her Signed Mark (X) 

    Patsey  Leach 



    Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent at Chattanooga, Tennessee, to the Headquarters of the Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner for Kentucky and Tennessee

    Chattanoog Tenn.  Oct 6th 1865

    Capt.–  I have the honor to forward to you the following information which I recd. to day from Gen'l: Spears of Pikeville Bledsoe County Tenn.–  He states that the pooer class of whites in Sequache Vally are very bitter toward the freedmen and punish them severely–  They have ordered all of the Black's to leave the Valley–  Their reason for so doing is, because the orriginal owners of the slaves are leasing them lands and the white laboring class is bitterly opposed to it. The men enter the houses of the freedmen and rob them of their money and clothing. The genl states that protection will have to be granted to the freedmen in some shape.  He also states that the home-guards there are the worst enemies the freedmen have–  He will keep me posted in regard to the matter  I think of going up there next week  I will report the state of things as soon as I return.  Very Respectfully Your ObServt


    N. B. Lucas[11]



    Affidavit of a Tennessee Freedmen

    Memphis, Tenn.,  Sept 13th 1865.


    Statement of Archy Vaughn.  Last spring [1864] I was living with Bartlet Ciles about 8 miles from Somerville– near McCulloughs and one eving some Confederate soldiers or Guerillas came along and he told me to feed their horses. and I was at the barn gitting corn. and staied longer than he thought I should and when I went back to the house–he told me he was going to whip me in the morning– that night I took an old mare and went to the ferry across Wolf River. I was going to Laffayette Depot to get into the federal lines and Andrew Johnson who lives close to the ferry.[12] took me and kept me until Billy Simons came along and he gave me to him to carry me back to Bartlet Ciles. When he Ciles took me down to the woods. and tied my hands, and pulled them over my knees and put a stick through under my knees. and then took his knife and castrated me and then cut off the lop of my left ear, he made a colord man named Dallas help hold me– he drove me off from his plantation some time in June– I think.

    Signed his mark (X)     
    Archy X Vaughn[13]



    Statement by a Tennessee Black Sergeant

    Memphis, Tenn., [September 11] 1865


    Sergt Joe. Brown. Co. D. 3d US [Colored Artillery] (H[eav]y) states I was sitting in my own door on Sunday night the 10" of Sept., about dark. And a policeman who lives opposite to me on corner Brown-Avenue and Causey Streets Named Sweatt. said to me I wish I could get a chance to kill all the Damned Nigger Soldiers. and I said you cant kill me– he then stepped back a few paces and ran up and struck me with his club, on the head–  at that time another Policeman came up and he struck me several times. and they thru me down and stamped me in the back while lying on the ground.  My shirt was torn off and I was badly bruised.  The man who I rent of saw this and knows the Policeman– Thy tried to take me to the station House and [I] told them I would not go–and about this time the Patrol came along and took me to Irving Block.–

    I had commited no offence at the time the Policeman came for which to be arrested.  I was sitting in the door with this man Tom talking quitly.[14]



    Testimony by Two North Carolina Freedwomen in a Case against Their Former Owner

    [Goldsboro? N.C., August 1865?]

    Case of Mr. Wm Barnes of Wilson Co N.C. Charged with gross abuse to an aged woman of color.


    Chanie “the abused” states as follows–

    1.  That Mrs. Sally Barnes “wife of the accused” beat her with her hand–
    2. That not satisfied with this the said Mrs. Barnes beat her with a shingle.–  that she “Chanie” caught hold of the shingle. when Mr. Barnes appeared and said–“Turn that shingle loose. you g–d. d— old b—h. or I'll knock you in head with this walking stick– whereupon she “Chanie” let go of the shingle and suffered Mrs. Barnes to continue beating her.
    3. That while Mr. Barnes and family were at breakfast she started for the town of Wilson, Watson Co. to report the case to Capt. Bullock of the Local Police for said Co.
    4. That she was turned back by some person unknown to her who claimed to be a Yankee
    5. That soon after return home Mr. Barnes appeared and said– Oh yes you have come back G–d A—y G–d d— old b—h   You went off to report me G–d A—y d— you–  I'll report you after I get my dinner G–d A—y d— you–  I'll report your back
    6. That after his dinner he appeared and said Now go out in the road G–d, d— you and strip your coat and shirt right off–  I'll give you h–ll before I have done with you
    7. That he beat her terribly after which he told her to go on now and spin your task of cotton or I'll give you as much more in the morning
    8. That she worked around until sunday “This being upon Tuesday Aug 1" watching for an opportunity to escape, when she left for Goldsboro.


    Mary Ann daughter of Chanie–states as follows


    1. That she “Mary Ann” told her mistress “Mrs. Wm Barnes that she would not stay there and work if she “Mrs. Barnes” kept her clothes locked up – whereupon Mrs. Barnes attempted to whip her. that she guarded her blows when Mrs Barnes called Mr – Barnes – who with his grown son James, came in and between the three gave her a hundred or more blows–  
    2. That they tied her hands and told her to get down – That she resisted when Mr. Barnes says, that won't do. Bring her out doors Let's tie her between two trees  
    3. That they tied her feet to one tree and her hands to another, then cut her hair off.
    4. That they allowed the dogs “three in number” to tear her clothes off and bite her. that James took off such clothing as the dogs left
    5. That Mr Barnes gave her two hundred lashes with a Paddle “A strap made purposely for whipping negroes” And said no d—d nigger should be free under him &c. &c.

    Testimony of Chanie and of Mary Ann in case of William Barnes


    Kentucky Black Sergeant to the Tennessee Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner

    Nashville Tenn October 8th 1865


    Sir   I have the honor to call your attention To the neccesity of having a school for The benefit of our regement  We have never Had an institutiong of that sort and we Stand deeply inneed of instruction the majority of us having been slaves  We Wish to have some benefit of education To make of ourselves capable of buisness In the future  We have estableshed a literary Association which flourished previous to our March to Nashville  We wish to become a People capable of self support as we are Capable of being soldiers  my home is in Kentucky Where Prejudice reigns like the Mountain Oak and I do lack that cultivation of mind that would have an attendency To cast a cloud over my future life after have been in the United States service  I had a leave of abscence a few weeks a go on A furlough and it made my heart ache to see my race of people there neglected And ill treated on the account of the lack of Education being incapable of putting Thier complaints or applications in writing  For the want of Education totally ignorant Of the Great Good Workings of the Government in our behalf  We as soldiers Have our officers Who are our protection To teach how us to act and to do  But Sir What we want is a general system of education In our regiment for our moral and literary elevation  these being our motives We have the Honor of calling your very high Consideration  Respectfully Submitted as Your Most humble servt

    John Sweeny



    Committee of Freedmen on Edisto Island, South Carolina, to the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner; the Commissioner's Reply; and the Committee to the President[15]

    [Edisto Island, S.C., October 20 or 21, 1865]


    General It Is with painfull Hearts that we the committe address you, we Have thorougholy considered the order which you wished us to Sighn, we wish we could do so but cannot feel our rights Safe If we do so,[16]


    General we want Homestead's; we were promised Homestead's by the government,[17]  If It does not carry out the promises Its agents made to us, If the government Haveing concluded to befriend Its late enemies and to neglect to observe the principles of common faith between Its self and us Its allies In the war you said was over, now takes away from them all right to the soil they stand upon save such as they can get by again working for your late and thier all time ememies. – If the government does so we are left In a more unpleasant condition than our former

    we are at the mercy of those who are combined to prevent us from getting land enough to lay our Fathers bones upon. We Have property In Horses, cattle, carriages, & articles of furniture, but we are landless and Homeless,  from the Homes we Have lived In In the past we can only do one of three things  Step Into the public road or the sea or remain on them working as In former time and subject to thire will as then. We can not resist It In any way without being driven out Homeless upon the road.


    You will see this Is not the condition of really freemen


    You ask us to forgive the land owners of our Island, You only lost your right arm.[18] In war and might forgive them. The man who tied me to a tree & gave me 39 lashes & who stripped and flogged my mother & my sister & who will not let me stay In His empty Hut except I will do His planting & be Satisfied with His price & who combines with others to keep away land from me well knowing I would not Have any thing to do with Him If I Had land of my own.–that man, I cannot well forgive. Does It look as If He Has forgiven me, seeing How He tries to keep me In a condition of Helplessness


    General, we cannot remain Here In such condition and If the government permits them to come back we ask It to Help us to reach land where we shall not be slaves nor compelled to work for those who would treat us as such


    we Have not been treacherous, we Have not for selfish motives allied to us those who suffered like us from a common enemy & then Haveing gained our purpose left our allies In thier Hands  There Is no rights secured to us  there Is no law likely to be made which our Hands can reach. The state will make laws that we shall not be able to Hold land even If we pay for It  Landless, Homeless. Voteless. we can only pray to god & Hope for His Helpyour Infuence & assistance  With consideration of esteem your Obt Servts
    In behalf of the people


    Henry Bram


    Ishmael Moultrie


    yates Sampson





    Charleston. S.C.  Oct 22, 1865.


    Messrs.  I have just received your letter. You are right in wanting homesteads and will surely be defended in the possession of every one which you shall purchase or have already purchased. The Government does not wish to befriend its enemies and injure its friends, but considers a forgiven man in the light of a citizen restored to rights of property excepting as to slaves. The Supervisory Board must not permit what you fear. The old master would be very foolish to try a system of oppression as it would ruin them forever now that you are free. If the planters combine as you think, they will soon be able to get no labor. Their whipping post of which you complain is abolished forever. The duty of forgiveness is plain and simple. Forgive as we hope to be forgiven of Him who governs all things.[19]


    Congress must meet before any public lands can be had and before I can buy any for you. I will ask for your rights and try to obtain them. A contract may be by a lease as well as for wages, So that I do not think the Planters will object to leasing you land. Some can lease, some can buy and some can work for wages. I advise the sending to you of Northern men for Agents of the owners where true men can be found.[20]


    I think the people had better enter into contracts, leasing or for wages or purchase when possible for next year. If it dont work well something else may be tried afterwards. Send your petition to Congress, if you wish, and I will see that it is not passed by without proper attention. The President himself will urge something in your behalf.  Very Truly Yours


    O. O. Howard



    Henry Bram et al. to Major General O. O. Howard, Washington Headquarters, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen,

    Mississippi Freedpeople to the Governor of Mississippi

    [Port Gibson, Miss.]  Dec 3th 1865


    To the govener of Mississippi We the Colored people of Mississippi petition To your honor for jestice  Mississippi has abolished– Slavery does She mean it or is it a pollicy for The present  we fear from the late acts of the Legeslature that she will not treate us as free.[21] we are not To rent or lease lands not even a tenement but we can buye lands the Legislature is well a ware that not one of us out of a thousand is not able to buye a quarter of an acre of land, and if they will allow us to rent in towns we hav to get a certificate from the Mayor.[22]  All freedmen Negroes and molattoes is specifyed in the acts  why [not?] colord vagrants that are a n[uisance?] and will not worke for a living be compelde by a law to worke in fields Set a part for that purpoes[?]  our faults are dayley published by Editors, not a statement will you ever see in our favour  thair is Shureley Some a mong us that is honest, trutheful, and indestrious, and Some of us are working and making our superiours comferttable who finde so much fault of our freedom[23]  if evry one of us [Colord] people were removed from the state of Mississippi our superiors woulde soon finde out who were the supporterers  we the laberors hav inriched them and it is as much imposible for them to live with out us as it is for we to be removed from them. your honor is it just that wee all shoulde come under the stringent Laws the legeslature has past. we are to holde no contract  it is left intireley to our imployer   he [holds?] the writing and one of his white [neighbo]rs holde the duplicate and if we shoulde leave from eny cruel treatement we are to be caught and brought by force to our employer and the niger-runner is to hav a fee of five dollars or ten cents a mill to be paide out of our wages.[24]  we are to well acquainted with the yelping of bloodhounds and the tareing of our fellow servents To pisces when we were slaves and now we are free we donot want to be hunted by negro-runners and thair hounds unless we are guilty of a crimnal crime   


    we are willing to worke for our former masters or eny Stranger that will treate us well and pay us what we earn  all we ask is justice and to be treated like humane beings  the men who has made these laws kno meny of us has stood by our owners in thair troubles and thair is some of us who woulde die by them but the worde freedom is sweet to us all and greate will be the day when we [are] assured of our freedom.  thair was kinde just masters in mississippi and such masters will make good and honest Employers but such is not the majority and those who forced good masters to do means acts are now the ones to keep contentions  if a good master new that one of us was not guilty of a charge that was brought against us he dare not say so for he woulde insult the majoirity and be put down as a negro-spoiler and of cours to save him self we had to take th punishment what ever it might be and we think if just men were the majority in the legeslature we woulde get just laws   knowing we woulde fall short of what was granted us, we hope your honor will not lay us a side but take us in Concideration. we pray you do not believe the falshood our enimies has got up for some purpose that we intend an insurrection.  we hav [no] [s]uch thought   now we are free what [would?] we rise for  we no that we hav good white friends and we depend on them by the help of god to see us righted and we do not want our rights by murdering   we owe to much To meny of our white friends that has shown us mercy in bygon dayes To harm thair wicked neighbours   Some of us wish Mr Jeff Davis to be Seet at liberty for we no worse masters Than he was   altho he tried hard to keep us all slaves we forgive him   Some of us well know of meny kindenes he shown his slaves on his plantation   to your honor govner of mississippi

    we the Colorde people



    Freedmen's Bureau Agent at Brentsville, Virginia, to the Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of the 10th District of Virginia

    Prince Wm Co. Va  Brentsville  Jan'y. 15" 1866.


    Sir:  I have the honor to inform you that a dastardly outrage was committed in this place yesterday, (Sunday,) within sight of my office, the circumstances of which are as follows.  A freedmen named James Cook was conceived to be “impudent,” by a white man named John Cornwell; whereupon the whiteman cursed him and threatened him.  The freedmen, being alarmed, started away, and was followed and threatened with “you d——d black yankee son of a b——h I will kill you”; and was fired upon with a pistol, the ball passing through his clothes.  He was then caught by the white man, and beaten with the but of a revolver, and dragged to the door of the Jail near where the affair occurred, where he was loosened and escaped.  He came to me soon after, bleeding from a deep cut over the eye, and reported the above, which was substantiated to me as fact by several witnesses.  I have heard both sides of the case fully, and the only charge that is brought against the freedmen is “impudence”; and while being pounced upon as a “d——d Yankee,” and cursed and called all manner of names, this “impudence” consisted in the sole offense of saying, that he had been in the union army and was proud of it.  No other “impudence” was charged against him.  


    I know the freedmen well, and know him to be uncommonly intelligent, inoffensive, and respectful.  He is an old grey-headed man, and has been a slave of the commonwealth attorney of this co. a long time. He has the reputation I have given him among the citizens here, and has rented a farm near here for the coming season. As an evidence of his pacific disposition, he had a revolver which was sold him by the Government, on his discharge from the army, which he did not draw, or threaten to use during the assault; choosing, in this instance at least, to suffer wrong rather than to do wrong.


    To show you the state of feeling here among many people, (not all) in regard to such a transaction, Dr. C. H. Lambert, the practicing physician of this place, followed the freedmen to me, and said, that “Subdued and miserable as we are, we will not allow n---s to come among us and brag about having been in the yankee army. It is as much as we can do to tolerate it in white men.” He thought “It would be a good lesson to the n---” &c. &c.  I have heard many similar, and some more violent remarks, on this, and other subjects connected with the freedmen.  I would not convey the impression however, that there is the slightest danger to any white man, from these vile and cowardly devils. But where there are enough of them together, they glory in the conquest of a “n---” They hold an insane malice against the freedmen, from which he must be protected, or he is worse off than when he was a slave.[25]

    Marcus. S. Hopkins.



    Georgia Planter to the Freedmen's Bureau Acting Assistant Commissioner for Georgia

    Snow Hill near Thomson Georgia April 17th 1866


    Dear Sir–  Allow me to call your attention to the fact that most of the Freedwomen who have husbands are not at work–never having made any contracts at all–  Their husbands are at work–while they are as nearly idle as it is possible for them to be,–pretending to spin–knit or something that really amounts to nothing for their husbands have to buy ther clothing I find from my own hands wishing to buy of me–


    Now these women have always been used to working out–& it would be far better for them to go to work for reasonable wages & their rations–both in regard to health & in furtherance of their family wellbeing –  Say their husbands get–10 to 12– or 13$ per month and out of that–feed their wives and from 1 to 3 or 4 children–& clothe the family–  It is impossible for one man to do this & maintain his wife in idleness without stealing more or less of their support– whereas if their wives (where they are able) were at work for rations & fair wages– which they can all get, the family could live in some comfort & more happily–besides their labor is a very important percent of the entire labor of the South– & if not made avaible, must affect to some extent–the present crop–[26]  Now is a very important time in the crop–& the weather being good & to continue so for the remainder of the year, I think it would be a good thing to put the women to work and all that is necessary to do this in most cases is an order from you directing the agents to require the women to make contracts for the balance of the year–  I have several that are working well– while others and generally younger ones who have husbands & from 1 to 3 or 4 children are idle–indeed refuse to work & say their husbands must support them. Now & then there is a woman who is not able to work in the field–or who has 3 or 4 children at work & can afford to live on her childrens labobor–with that of her husband–  Even in such a case it would be better she should be at work–  Generally however most of them should be in the field –  Could not this matter be referred to your agents   They are generally very clever men and would do right   I would suggest that you give this matter your favorable consideration & if you can do so to use your influence to make these idle women go to work.  You would do them & the country a service besides gaining favor & the good opinion of the people generally


    I beg you will not consider this matter lightly for it is a very great evil & one that the Bureau ought to correct= if they wish the Freedmen & women to do well –  I have 4 or 5 good women hands now idle that ought to be at work becase their families cannot really be supported honestly without it  This should not be so–& you will readily see how important it is to change it at once–  I am very respectfully Your obt servant


    M. C. Fulton


    I am very willing to carry my idle women to the Bureau agency & give them such wages as the Agent may think, fair–& I will further garanty that they shall be treated kindly & not over worked –  I find a general complaint on this subject every where I go–and I have seen it myself and experienced its bad effects among my own hands–  These idle women are bad examples to those at work & they are often mischief makers–having no employment their brain becomes more or less the Devil's work shop as is always the case with idle people–black or white & quarrels & Musses among the colored people generally can be traced to these idle folks that are neither serving God– Man or their country–[27]


    Are they not in some sort vagrants– they are living without employment– and mainly without any visible means of support– and if so are they not amenable to vagrant act– ? They certainly should be –  I may be in error in this matter but I have no patience with idleness or idlers[28]  Such people are generally a nuisance–& ought to be reformed if possible or forced to work for a support –  Poor white women (and [ri]ch too have [cares?] & business) have to work–so should all poor people–or else stealing must be legalized– or tolerated for it is the twin sister of idleness–


    South Carolina Freedmen to the Freedmen's Bureau Acting Assistant Commissioner for the Western District of South Carolina; and Freedmen's Bureau Surgeon at Orangeburg and Columbia, South Carolina, to the South Carolina Freedmen's Bureau Surgeon-in-Chief

    Columbia [S.C.]  April 23rd 1866


    To Gen Ely.[29] We beg to appeal to you as the head of the Beareau in this district.  We would ask if there is no help or Relief for the Shameful treatment that our people are now receiving at the Small Pox Hospital, in this City. We beg to make a few Statements for your information.  There was at one time nineteen men, Six woman & four children Sick in one room with Small Pox, there was also one white man, who had a room to himself while all of the 29 persons of Color, was in one room, with no person to nurse or cook for them, thay had to cook for themselves.  No tea or other noureshments for them. with the Exception of Sour meal. We appeal to you as the representative of the Goverment and beg you to foward this our petition on to Gen Howard and See if Something cannot be done for our Suffering people–  In this our distressed hour, will you not interpose in our behalf untell we can appeal to the Commissioner Gen Howard at Washington and the Great head of the Goverment to assist us in this the hour of our distress, which is Great just at this time;  on Saturday last Harry Bryan, one of our oldest Cityzens was draged from his house which is on the Subberbs of the City.  his wife had bin nurseing him for ten days and he was getting better   he was taken to the Black hole of Calcutta, whare he died in a few hours after being taken there,  his wife went to See him on Sunday Morning and he was dead and Burried his family knowing nothing of his death[30]  our people are draged from their homes to die in filth and dirt, while others are permited to remain in their Comfortable homes in the Verry heart of the City.

    W B Nash

    J. B. Holmes

    N E Edwards

    E. P. Anderson

    James Davis

    Isaac Black

    J. T. Baker

    L. Wimbush


    Jas Kennaday







    General Ely’s letter to U.S. military surgeon, Henry Root, who went to Columbia to investigate the situation

    Hospital for Refugees & Freedmen
    Columbia S.C.  May 6, 1866.


    Doctor, I have the honor to report that I have examined into the treatment of citizens having small pox in this city and find that the complaint of W. B. Nash, N. E. Edwards and others was attended to by Brevet Brigadier General R. Ely as soon as it was made.  The “pest house” was crowded some weeks ago except one large room of it which was only occupied by a soldier of the 25th Ohio V. Vols. the last one of nine soldiers to whom the room had been allotted when small pox was not prevalent among colored people.[31]  On the 1st of April I inspected the pest house and found it in good order; the soldier was to leave shortly after that day.  Convalescents were nursing the sick under the direction of the keeper of the premises, a white man appointed by the city.


    The treatment of patients by the physicians hired by the city has been faithful and good; the diet has been improved by an arrival of brandy although the allowance of food in a hospital is always less than pleases a majority of patients.


    Regarding forcible seizure of colored small pox cases while white ones were not molested I believe that the complaint is just. I believe that the city police acted brutally in this matter and that the death of Harry Bryan a highly respected colored citizen was hastened by their conduct.  Bvt. Brig. Genl. Ely, however, addressed the mayor on the subject and the evil is believed to be corrected.


    The first and second signers of the petition to Genl. Ely express themselves satisfied with the present arrangements for the sick; the other signers are not present.[32] Very Respectfully Your Obedient Servant

    Henry Root



    Alabama Freedmen to the Freedmen's Bureau Subassistant Commissioner at Huntsville, Alabama

    Florence Ala.  Dec. 6th 1866,


    Dear Sir:  At the commencement of the year I made a contract with a man by the name of W. Beckwith of this County to work his farm–  we were to get one half of what we would have made–  we were to feed ourselves and also the teames–[33]  we (I mean myself and family who is composed twenty eight, in all about 12 hands the balance small children) have made a small crop consisting of 15 bales of cotton and 200 hundred barrels of corn–  we never received any help from Mr Beckwith, exceding 2 bushels of wheat and 2 bushels of rye and he furnished us with three plows–  still at the day of settlement–Mr Beckwith has had all of our part of the crop attached claiming that we were owing him a very large amount–  I dont' know what we can owe him for we never have received any thing from him except what I have named above–  we are left without anything after our hard years labor–  he took away from us 200 Blls. of corn, about 20 head of hogs and our wagon and harness–  we called on Judge Tinge but he could not do anything for us as he said he would not interfere with civil Law–[34] the fact of the thing is that Mr. Tinge is afraid to do anything that would be against any of those big Southern men–[35]  I was induced by a Northern gentleman who is farming here to write you and get. your advice in the matter–  no lawyer here can be had to take up a case for a negroes–  My contract was registered with the Freedmens Bureau Agent and can be investigated if you would only give it your attention.  My family is without any resource whatever–  Please answer me what is to be done, by an investigation in this Country you will soon find that my case is only but one of the many who have been treated like me,  Yours very respectfully

    Richmond Body[36]




    [1] A list of HBCUs operating today.

    [2] There has been a movement among historians and genealogists over the past few years to digitize the massive collection of Freedmen’s Bureau records. I used the Freedom and Southern Society collection for this source. Other collections of Bureau records include: the National Archives, Freedmen’s Bureau Online, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture (part of the Smithsonian).

    [3] Camp Nelson, Kentucky was a supply depot for U.S. forces moving south.

    [4] Confederate soldiers assisted with slave patrols in addition to military engagement. 

    [5] All of the officers in black units were white, including the Chaplin.

    [6] Fort Smith, Arkansas, was a Confederate base until U.S. troops secured control in September, 1863, just seven months after Randall’s letter. Interestingly, before the Civil War, Fort Smith served as a center for troops engaged in Indian Removal, which was tied to the expansion of the railroads. During the Civil War, the government was still sending troops into the West to suppress and contain Native Americans.

    [7] U.S. General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15 in January, 1865 (four months before the war ended), which distributed 400,000 acres of confiscated land extending along the Atlantic Seaboard from Charleston, South Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, to the freedpeople already living and working on the land. Forty thousand freedpeople were given forty-acre plots for planting with the tentative promise that they would be able to assume ownership of the land after working the land for several years (the Homestead Act passed in 1862 offered free land with the promise of ownership to white men moving West). Almost all of the free communities had successful harvests in the Fall of 1865. In addition, they built schools, hospitals, and other institutions for the community. Nevertheless, President Andrew Johnson rescinded Sherman’s field order in November, 1865 and ordered the military to return all confiscated land to the previous plantation owners, and directed the Freedmen’s Bureau to pressure the freedpeople to sign sharecropper contracts with the white landowners. More than half of the freedpeople had been enslaved by the same men who now set the parameters of their contract.

                    The letter references  General Lorenzo Thomas's order, which provided: “Any ordained minister of the Gospel, accredited by the General Superintendent of Freedmen, is hereby authorized to solemnize the rites of marriage among the Freedmen.”

    [8] The Chippewa, or Ojibwa are an Indian Nation originally from Lower Canada and the Midwest (Ohio was home to several bands of Ojibwa before Indian Removal in the 1790s), who fought with the United States during the Civil War. It is extremely unlikely that the Chippewa captured and held U.S. soldiers, so my guess is this references U.S. soldiers, including Chippawa, captured by the Confederate Army.

    [9] Camp Nelson, Kentucky, served as a supply depot and hospital during the Civil War. It was also a recruitment and training center for African American soldiers, both free and enslaved. As a result, thousands of enslaved men risked their lives trying to reach Camp Nelson and enlist for military duty.

    [10] There were two military battles at Saltville, Virginia, named for the massive salt processing plant located in the town. Salt was vital for preserving and shipping food to soldiers, so both armies wanted control of salt factories. The first Battle of Saltsville in October, 1864, was a victory for the Confederate Army, although they were greatly aided by southern guerilla fighters who considered themselves outside the rules of engagement. After the battle ended, Confederate soldiers and southern guerillas tortured and shot fifty U.S. soldiers, most of whom were black. When Confederate General Robert E. Lee heard about the massacre, he ordered fellow General, John C. Breckinridge, to arrest the commanding officers (that’s how bad it was). A month after the first battle, U.S. troops returned to Saltville, contained the Confederate troops left to protect the factory, and then destroyed it so the Confederate Army could not use it. It is very likely that Julius Leach was one of the fifty men killed by Confederate soldiers after they secured victory.

    [11] There is no further mention of Lucas’s letter after this. No reply has been found from the Freedmen’s Bureau Commission, and no indication that Lucas ever followed through on his plan to visit the Sequatchie Valley. As a Freedmen’s Bureau superintendent, any investigatory trips taken by Lucas required a field report. 

    [12] Not President Andrew Johnson.

    [13] Records show that Bureau agents investigated the case but took no further action. Early in 1866, however, the bureau superintendent at LaGrange, Tennessee, forwarded additional testimony in the case to the Tennessee assistant commissioner's headquarters. A staff officer replied: “One blushes for humanity when he reads the record you give of the case. You should arrest Kyle, fine him heavily, and compel him to pay exemplary damages to the boy. ‘Castration’ and ‘ear cropping’ are crimes which ought to call down the vengeance of the civil law, but the consciences of our civil authorities, in matters in which negroes are concerned, appear to be callous.” No action taken.

    [14] Remember the vagueness of the Black Codes permits law enforcement (and any other white person, really) to treat African Americans like this. The only hope for justice was the Freedmen’s Bureau and soldiers still stationed in the South.

    [15] President Abraham Lincoln appointed Oliver Otis Howard Commission of the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1865 until it closed in 1872. He is also the namesake and first President of Howard University, one of the most prestigious Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). General Howard was a career Army officer who fought at the first Battle of Bull Run and Gettysburg during the Civil War. After the War, and while he was still Commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, General Ulyssess S. Grant sent Howard to Arizona Territory to fight the Apache and Navajo. The Navajo Reservation was established in 1868, four years after the military forcibly removed the Navajo to a base in New Mexico, then marched them back to the Four Corners region and established the reservation. The Navajo call it The Long March. 

    [16] After conferring in Charleston with ex-Confederate planters intent upon regaining control of property on Edisto Island, General Howard visited the island to inform the freedpeople settled there of President Andrew Johnson's order to restore the land to its former owners and “endeavor to effect an arrangement mutually satisfactory to the freedmen and the land-owners.”

    [17] The authors refer to General Sherman’s Special Field Order 15 which granted the Freedpeople “possessory title” to tracts of land up forty acres pending Congressional approval (which never happened).

    [18] Howard lost his right arm in battle.

    [19] Howard’s argument rests on his faith that former slaveowners will treat African Americans as equals after the war, and he asks the formerly enslaved people to forgive white southerners (Americans) for slavery.

    [20] Howard references the sharecropping contracts adopted after President Johnson returned all of the land to its former owners.

    [21] The authors refer to the Black Codes of Mississippi.

    [22] The Black Codes empowered freedpeople to acquire and dispose of personal property in the same manner as white persons, but stipulated that “the provisions of this section shall not be so construed as to allow any freedmen, free negro or mulatto, to rent or lease any lands or tenements, except in incorporated towns or cities in which places the corporate authorities shall control the same.”

    [23] The Black Codes apply to all “freedmen, free negroes, and mulattos” with the assumption they are lazy and criminal.

    [24] From the Black Codes: “every civil officer shall, and every person may arrest and carry back to his or her legal employer” any black laborer “who shall have quit the service of his or her employer before the expiration of his or her term of service without good cause”; the prescribed fee for the return was $5 plus ten cents per mile from the place of arrest, to be paid by the employer “and held as a set-off . . . against the wages of said deserting employee.”

    [25] African American soldiers and veterans have always faced violence, abuse, and assault after they return from combat. Following the War of 1898, black soldiers were not allowed to participate in victory parades and did not receive their promised pensions (much like black soldiers who fought in the Civil War, as many of these accounts attest). There were dozens of race riots in 1919, the year after World War I ended, several of which started with white men attacking a black man in uniform. It was even worse after World War II. Several African American veterans were killed in the street, and there was a particularly harrowing episode where a black veteran had his eyes gouged out for reasons similar to the circumstances here – soldiers in uniform are generally (and rightfully) treated with respect for their service, and the uniform represents a sense of equality among soldiers. That was, and continues to be, unbearable for racist white Americans.

    [26] Fulton flat out states that African American men can’t possibly earn enough money to support their families, therefore they must also be thieves and criminals. Perhaps no one understands better that freedpeople were not paid enough to live than a white southern planter. On the other hand, the majority of Freedmen’s Bureau agents believed the same thing about African American women – they were lazy and dangerous – and encouraged freedmen to sign contracts requiring the whole family work for the planter.

    [27] His solution is interesting – black women should be working in domestic service. If they stay at home and take care of their family, they are lazy and probably engaging in the “Devil’s” work.

    [28] Notice he uses the exact language of the Black Codes – vagrants, idlers.

    [29] General Ralph Ely.

    [30] The hospital used for the smallpox epidemic was called “Calcutta” because India was seen as a dirty, disease-ridden country by Americans in the nineteenth century (also the twentieth and twenty-first century).

    [31] The 25th Ohio Infantry of volunteer soldiers mustered at Camp Chase in Columbus. They fought during the Civil War and mustered out in 1866.

    [32] After receiving Dr. Root’s report, Ely sent a letter to the Mayor of Columbia informing him that Dr. Root would be coming to inspect the conditions at the Freedmen’s Hospital. Clearly, by the time Root arrived, the city had already addressed many of the issues in an effort to avoid further military intervention.

    [33] The Grimes Family Sharecropper Contract stipulated the same requirement – “Every cropper must feed or have fed, the team he works, Saturday nights, Sundays, and every morning before going to work.”

    [34] Civil Law is akin to “common law,” meaning common rules and restrictions that become de facto law. English Common Law was the basis of the legal system in the British colonies and influenced the system of law adopted after the Revolutionary War. In the United States, Civil Law applies primarily to issues of land and private property. The judge would not overrule the planter because the legal system in the southern states granted planters and slaveowners complete protection under the law. Even if Richard Body has evidence of Beckworth stealing his earnings. The judge will not even hear a case brought by African American man against his white “employer.”

    [35] Charles Tenge was the Freedmen’s Bureau agent at Florence, Alabama. A month before this letter arrived, the Ku Klux Klan burnt the Freedmen’s Bureau offices to the ground. Tenge lived at the offices and lost all of his possessions. In his report about the fire, Tenge connected the fire to three houses destroyed by fire around the same time, writing it was “the work of an incendary, burning out three Union families living side by side…Many in the County were jubelant that the Bureau was burned up,” Tenge had informed the subassistant commissioner, adding that “not a soul but Freedmen would lift a hand to help me save what little I could from the wreck.”

    [36] There is no follow-up to Body’s letter – “no action taken.”

    Appeal to Congress to Protect the Rights of Chinese

    Appeal to Congress to Protect the Rights of Chinese

    Pun Chi


    Chinese immigration to the Pacific Coast accelerated dramatically after the discovery of gold in 1849 and the rapid expansion of the railroads during the 1850s. American labor agents, at the behest of railroad managers, traveled to Shanghai, China offering passage and employment via the “credit-ticket system,” which required migrants to pay back the cost of their ticket to the railroad company once they arrived in California. Chinese contract laborers started out in debt to the railroads where they were employed[1]. In addition to the railroads, Chinese migrants worked in agriculture, fishery, and manufacturing from Seattle to Los Angeles. San Francisco saw the largest influx of Chinese immigrants during the 1850s and 60s, and were quickly barred from living in most areas of the city (as was true in all West Coast cities). As a result, Chinese neighborhoods – Chinatowns – attracted a small number of merchants, who were allowed to bring their families (contract laborers were not).


    White Americans, newly arrived in California, greeted Chinese immigrants with racism and violence. The state of California codified this racism with a deluge of laws, including the Foreign Miners Tax of 1852 and a California Supreme Court decision—People v. Hall (1854) —that excluded Chinese testimony from the courts, further sanctioning violence against Chinese residents.[2]


    Pun Chi, a young Chinese merchant working in San Francisco, wrote this appeal to Congress sometime in the late 1850s, hoping the federal government could offer some protection from the growing anti-Chinese violence in California. Chi describes several brutal attacks on Chinese migrants by white mobs as well as the punitive taxes placed on Chinese miners and merchants. William Speer, a Presbyterian minister and missionary in San Francisco’s Chinatown, translated Pun Chi’s appeal from Chinese and published it in 1870.[3]



    The sincere and gracious attention of your honorable body is earnestly requested to the consideration of certain matters important to our peace as foreigners, the following statements of which may be relied upon as certainly true and correct:


    We are natives of the empire of China, each following some employment or profession—literary men, farmers, mechanics or merchants. When your honorable government threw open the territory of California, the people of other lands were welcomed here to search for gold and to engage in trade. The ship-masters of your respected nation came over to our country, lauded the equality of your laws, extolled the beauty of your manners and customs, and made it known that your officers and people were extremely cordial toward the Chinese. Knowing well the harmony which had existed between our respective governments, we trusted in your sincerity. Not deterred by the long voyage, we came here presuming that our arrival would be hailed with cordiality and favor. But, alas! What times are these! When former kind relations are forgotten, when we Chinese are viewed like thieves and enemies, when in the administration of justice our testimony is not received, when in the legal collection of the licenses we are injured and plundered, and villains of other nations are encouraged to rob and do violence to us! Our numberless wrongs it is most painful even to recite.


    At the present time, if we desire to quit the country, we are not possessed of the pecuniary means[4]; if allowed to remain, we dread future troubles. But yet, on the other hand, it is our presumption that the conduct of the officers of justice here has been influenced by temporary prejudices and that your honorable government will surely not uphold their acts. We are sustained by the confidence that the benevolence of your eminent body, contemplating the people of the whole world as one family, will most assuredly not permit the Chinese population without guilt to endure injuries to so cruel a degree. We would therefore present the following twelve subjects for consideration at your bar. We earnestly pray that you would investigate and weigh them; that you would issue instructions to your authorities in each State that they shall cast away their partial and unjust practices, restore tranquility to us strangers, and that you would determine whether we are to leave the country or to remain[5]. Then we will endure ensuing calamities without repining, and will cherish for you sincere gratitude and most profound respect.


    The twelve subjects, we would state with great respect, are as follows:


    1. The unrighteousness of humiliating and hating the Chinese as a people.


    We have heard that your honorable nation reverences Heaven. But if they comprehend the reverence that is due to the heavenly powers, of necessity they cannot humiliate and hate the Chinese. Why do we aver this? At the very beginning of time, Heaven produced a most holy man, whose name was Pwan-ku. He was the progenitor of the people of China. All succeeding races have branched off from them. The central part of the earth is styled by its inhabitants the Middle Flowery Kingdom. That is the country of the Chinese. The regions occupied by later races are distributed round and subordinate to it. Heaven causes it to produce in the greatest variety and abundance, so that of all under the sky this country is the greatest, and has bestowed upon it perfect harmony with the powers of nature, so that all things there attain the highest perfection. Hence we see that Heaven most loves our Chinese people, and multiplies its gifts to them beyond any other race….


    1. A brief statement of the manner in which our Chinese government acts toward foreigners.


    China possesses a mutual trade with all foreign lands. When a man from another country arrives in China, none of our officers and common people treat him otherwise than with respect and kindness. In case he be defrauded or injured, where it is a small matter the offender is fined or punished corporeally; in a graver one he forfeits his life. Even though there be no witnesses, still the local officers must thoroughly inquire into the circumstances. In murders and brawls, if the criminal be not discovered the magistrate is called to account and degraded from his office. When a foreigner commits a deed of violence against a Chinese, a spirit of great leniency and care is manifested in the judgment of the case. Not because there is not power to punish. But we sincerely dread to mar the beautiful idea of gentleness and benignity toward the stranger from afar.


    Now why is it that, when our people come to your country, instead of being welcomed with unusual respect and kindness, on the contrary they are treated with unusual contempt and evil? Hence many lose their lives at the hands of lawless wretches. Yet though there be Chinese witnesses of the crime, their testimony is rejected. The result is our utter abandonment to be murdered and that of our business to be ruined. How hard for the spirit to sustain such trials! It is true some persons reply that the Chinese who come here are of no advantage to the country. Yet if a calculation be made only of the amount of licenses we pay, the value of our trade, the revenue to steamers, stage companies and other interests, amounting to several millions of dollars per annum, can it be affirmed that we are of no advantage? But, besides, it is to be considered that we Chinese are universally a law-abiding people and that our conduct is very different from the lawlessness and violence of some other foreigners. Were it not that each so little understands the other’s tongue, and mutual kind sentiments are not communicated, would not more cordial intercourse probably exist?


    1. The perpetual vexations of the Chinese.


    The class that engage in digging gold are, as a whole, poor people. We go on board the ships. There we find ourselves unaccustomed to winds and waves and to the extremes of heat and cold. We eat little; we grieve much. Our appearance is plain and our clothing poor. At once, when we leave the vessel, boatmen extort heavy fares; all kinds of conveyances[6] require from us more than the usual charges; as we go on our way we are pushed and kicked and struck by the drunken and the brutal; but as we cannot speak your language, we bear our injuries and pass on. Even when within doors, rude boys throw sand and bad men stones after us. Passers by, instead of preventing these provocations, add to them by their laughter. We go up to the mines; there the collectors of the licenses make unlawful exactions and robbers strip, plunder, wound and even murder some of us. Thus we are plunged into endless uncommiserated wrongs. But the first root of them all is that very degradation and contempt of the Chinese as a race of which we have spoken, which begins with your honorable nation, but which they communicate to people from other countries, who carry it to greater lengths.


    Now what injury have we Chinese done to your honorable people that they should thus turn upon us and make us drink the cup of wrong even to its last poisonous dregs?


    1. Fatal injuries unpunished.


    Your Supreme Court has decided that the Chinese shall not bring action or give testimony against white men. Of how great wrongs is this the consummation! To the death of how many of us has it led! In cases that are brought before your officers of justice, inasmuch as we are unable to obtain your people as witnesses, even the murderer is immediately set free! Sanctioned by this, robbers of foreign nations commit the greatest excesses. It is a small thing with them to drive us away and seize our property. They proceed to do violence and kill us; they go on in a career of bloodshed without limit, since they find there are none to bear testimony against them….


    Why, then, is this burden laid upon us Chinese alone? Suppose there be false witness borne, are the judges of your honorable country blind and stupid, so that they cannot discern it and estimate testimony at its value? Because here and there a Chinese or two has proved a perjurer, shall it prejudice our entire nation? Shall this degrade us beneath the negro and the Indian?[7] This is a great injustice, such as is not heard of in our Middle Kingdom! It injures your fair name. Every nation under heaven mocks at you. Hence it is not alone we Chinese that suffer, but blessings are lost thereby to your own land.


    1. The persecution of the Chinese miners.


    If a Chinese earns a dollar and a half in gold per day, his first desire is to go to an American and buy a mining claim. But should this yield a considerable result, the seller, it is possible, compels him to relinquish it. Perhaps robbers come and strip him of the gold. He dare not resist, since he cannot speak the language, and has not the power to withstand them. On the other hand, those who have no means to buy a claim seek some ground which other miners have dug over and left, and thus obtain a few dimes. From the proceeds of a hard day’s toil, after the pay for food and clothes very little remains. It is hard for them to be prepared to meet the collector when he comes for the license money. If such a one turns his thoughts back to the time when he came here, perhaps he remembers that then he borrowed the money for his passage and expenses from his kindred and friends, or perhaps he sold all his property to obtain it; and how bitter those thoughts are! In the course of four years, out of each ten men that have come over scarcely more than one or two get back again. Among those who cannot do so, the purse is often empty; and the trials of many of them are worthy of deep compassion. Thus it is evident that the gold mines are truly of little advantage to the Chinese. Yet the legislature questions whether it shall not increase the license; that is, increase trouble upon trouble! It is pressing us to death. If it is your will that Chinese shall not dig the gold of your honorable country, then fix a limit as to time, say, for instance, three years, within which every man of them shall provide means to return to his own country. Thus we shall not perish in a foreign land. Thus mutual kindly sentiments shall be restored again….


    1.  A request for an enactment appointing a time when the Chinese shall finally return to their own land.


    When we were first favored with the invitations of your ship-captains to emigrate to California, and heard the laudations which they published of the perfect and admirable character of your institutions, and were told of your exceeding respect and love toward the Chinese, we could hardly have calculated that we would now be the objects of your excessive hatred—that your courts would refuse us the right of testimony; your legislature load us with increasing taxes and devise means how to wholly expel us; your collectors, even before the law is made, begin to demand larger sums, and to compel the month’s payment for shorter periods than that time; that foreign villains, witnessing your degrading treatment of us, would assume the right to harass, plunder and rob us, possibly kill us; that injuries of every hind would be inflicted on us, and unceasing wrongs be perpetrated; that if we would desire to go, we would be unable to do so, and if we desired to remain, we could not. But now if, finally, you do not will that we should mine and traffic in your honorable country, we beg that you will fix by law a limit of three years, within which we may collect our property and return to our country; and that you will strictly forbid your ship-captains to use inducements for people to come, and, if they do not obey, severely punish them. Thus we will endeavor after the lapse of three years to leave upon your honorable soil not a trace of the Chinese population.[8] If, on the other hand, you grant us as formerly to mine and trade here, then it is our request that you will give instructions to your courts that they shall again receive Chinese testimony; that they shall cease their incessant discussions about expelling the Chinese; that they shall quit their frequent agitations as to raising the license fees; that they shall allow the Chinese peace in the pursuit of their proper employments; and that they shall effectually repress the acts of violence common among the mountains, so that robbers shall not upon one pretext or another injure and plunder us. Thus shall your distinguished favor revive us like a continual dew.



    [1] This was happening at the same time as the growth of sharecropping in the South.

    [2] Here is just one example: from 1873 to 1883, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed more than a dozen ordinances directly specifically at Chinese laundries. The ordinances targeted the laundries in various ways, such as imposing a maximum hour rule so that different laundry owners could not share one laundry space, zoning rules to push laundries from white neighborhoods to the outskirts of town or to toxic industrial areas, taxes on laundries with horse-drawn vehicles, prohibiting drying racks on roofs, and banning the use of a mouth tube to squirt starch on clothes, which was a common practice by Chinese laundries. A complete list of anti-Chinese legislation is here.

    [3] “We Chinese Are Viewed Like Thieves and Enemies”: Pun Chi Appeals to Congress to Protect the Rights of Chinese, ca. 1860, from History Matters.


    [4] Relating to or consisting of money.

    [5] Many contracts were for 3 years of labor, after which time Chinese men had the option of re-signing or returning to Shanghai. Most contract laborers sent the majority of their pay to their families in China (after paying for their passage to California), thus the price of a return ticket was well beyond their means.

    [6] Means of transportation.

    [7] Interesting that Chi poses this question to Congress. Why does he?

    [8] While some Chinese migrants hoped to return to China, many more hoped to stay and become citizens. The Treaty of Burlingame, signed by the United States and China in 1868, granted naturalization privileges to Chinese migrants (among other terms) in exchange for more access to Chinese markets. In addition, Chinese merchants and laborers were an essential component of the state and national economy. The railroad, mining, and agricultural industries depended on Chinese labor; Chi’s proposition that all Chinese immigrants leave the country would have devastating consequences for business and industry.

    Life on the Sea Islands, 1864


    Photograph of Charlotte Forten Grimké holding a book.
    Charlotte Forten Grimké

    Life on the Sea Islands, 1864

    Charlotte Fortin


    The Civil War began just off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina in April, 1861. By November, the United States Army controlled the South Carolina coast including the Sea Islands, a collection of barrier islands stretching 185 miles. The Guale Indians lived on the Islands for hundreds of years before the Spanish colonized the southeastern coast of North America during the sixteenth century. Mainland South Carolina became a British colony in 1663, and unlike neighboring Virginia, was founded as a slave society. South Carolina had the largest population of enslaved people as a colony and later, a state. In fact, South Carolina still had the largest population of enslaved people when the Civil War broke out in 1861.


    The Spanish ceded the Sea Islands to the British following the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. The low-tides and fertile soil of the Sea Islands made the them ideal for cultivating rice and sugar, and later, cotton. The rice plantations in the Sea Islands were some of the largest and most lucrative in South. Rice planters were the wealthiest men in America, primarily because enslaved bodies were the most valuable property before the Civil War. Rice plantations relied on hundreds of enslaved people. Several Sea Island plantations had over one thousand enslaved people. Enslaved people on the Sea Islands essentially lived in small towns, where they developed their own distinct identity, culture, and language known as Gullah. The Gullah language was rooted in the Creek language of the Guale Indians, but included elements of Spanish, French, English, African, and Afro-Caribbean languages. The Gullah people had their own religious practices, communication system, family and community structure, and rituals (marriage, holiday celebrations, funerary practices).


    With the U.S. Army on the march in early 1861, white planters abandoned their massive cotton and rice plantations, leaving behind over ten thousand enslaved people, who immediately divided the land into individual plots and carried on farming. When the military arrived under the command of General Thomas W. Sherman, they found a fully functioning free community on the cusp of a successful harvest of rice as well as cotton[1]. During the first year of U.S. Army occupation (1861-62), the Gullah community harvested 90,000 pounds of cotton. For the time in their lives, the formerly enslaved were paid for their labor - one dollar for every four hundred pounds harvested. All other profits went to the U.S. Treasury.


    Many political and military leaders saw an opportunity to replace the slave labor system with free labor while also turning a profit for the U.S. war effort. The Port Royal “Experiment,” as it was called, offered the freed slaves individual plots of land with the promise of land ownership after working the land for several years. As we know, private property ownership and control of your own labor is the basis of “free labor.” General Sherman supervised the experiment, and invited northern teachers and missionaries to help the communities build a free society (a free society only works if there is an educated populous).


    African American schoolteacher Charlotte Forten joined the Port Royal Experiment in 1862 and taught on St. Helena Island for two years. Forten was the granddaughter of James Forten, who owned a successful sail-making company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Fortens were a wealthy, prominent, highly educated family, deeply involved with the abolitionist movement during the early nineteenth century. Charlotte Forten was more educated than most white northerners, and knew all of the prominent abolitionists, women’s rights activists, and other reformers before she moved to St. Helena Island.


    Like most of the northerners who joined the Port Royal Experiment, it was a chance for Forten to put her convictions into action. When she arrived, she found that many of her students spoke only Gullah and were unfamiliar with the routines of school. The war raged all around them, and even though the Sea Islands were occupied by the U.S. Army, the danger of a Confederate attack was always near.


    After Abraham Lincoln died in 1865, President Andrew Johnson put an end to the Port Royal Experiment (and similar projects throughout the South). Instead of allowing freedpeople to keep their individual plots of land, Johnson returned the land to the white planters who abandoned their plantations in 1861. In place of individual land ownership - the best change for freedpeople to become economically independent - Johnson required the them to sign sharecropper contracts with the same men who previously enslaved them, guaranteeing the freedpeople fell into a cycle of dependency and debt. 


    Forten kept a detailed journal of her experiences in Sea Islands, and published an abridged version in the Atlantic Monthly in 1864 (a year before the war ended). Below is an excerpt from her article[2].



    To THE EDITOR OF THE "ATLANTIC MONTHLY." -- The following graceful and picturesque description of the new condition of things on the Sea Islands of South Carolina, originally written for private perusal, seems to me worthy of a place in the "Atlantic." Its young author-- herself akin to the long-suffering race whose Exodus she so pleasantly describes -- is still engaged in her labor of love on St. Helena Island, - John Greenleaf Whittier[3].


    PART I.

    It was on the afternoon of a warm, murky day late in October that our steamer, the United States, touched the landing at Hilton Head[4]. A motley assemblage had collected on the wharf, -- officers, soldiers, and "contrabands" of every size and hue: black was, however, the prevailing color[5]. The first view of Hilton Head is desolate enough, -- a long, low, sandy point, stretching out into the sea, with no visible dwellings upon it, except the rows of small white-roofed houses which have lately been built for the freed people.

    After signing a paper wherein we declared ourselves loyal to the Government, and wherein, also, were set forth fearful penalties, should we ever be found guilty of treason, we were allowed to land, and immediately took General Saxton's boat, the Flora, for Beaufort. The General was on board, and we were presented to him. He is handsome, courteous, and affable, and looks -- as he is -- the gentleman and the soldier[6].

    From Hilton Head to Beaufort the same long, low line of sandy coast, bordered by trees; formidable gunboats in the distance, and the gray ruins of an old fort, said to have been built by the Huguenots more than two hundred years ago[7]. Arrived at Beaufort, we found that we had not yet reached our journey's end…We saw no one in the streets but soldiers and freed people. There were indications that already Northern improvements had reached this Southern town. Among them was a wharf, a convenience that one wonders how the Southerners could so long have existed without[8]. The more we know of their mode of life, the more are we inclined to marvel at its utter shiftlessness.

    Little colored children of every hue were playing about the streets, looking as merry and happy as children ought to look, -- now that the evil shadow of Slavery no longer hangs over them. Some of the officers we met did not impress us favorably. They talked flippantly, and sneeringly of the negroes, whom they found we had come down to teach, using an epithet more offensive than gentlemanly. They assured us that there was great danger of Rebel attacks, that the yellow fever prevailed to an alarming extent, and that, indeed, the manufacture of coffins was the only business that was at all flourishing at present[9]. Although by no means daunted by these alarming stories, we were glad when the announcement of our boat relieved us from their edifying conversation. We rowed across to Ladies Island, which adjoins St. Helena, through the splendors of a grand Southern sunset. The gorgeous clouds of crimson and gold were reflected as in a mirror in the smooth, clear waters below. As we glided along, the rich tones of the negro boat- men broke upon the evening stillness, -- sweet, strange, and solemn -- "Jesus make de blind to see, Jesus make de cripple walk, Jesus make de deaf to hear. Walk in, kind Jesus! No man can bender me.[10]"

    It was nearly dark when we reached the island, and then we had a three-miles' drive through the lonely roads to the house of the superintendent. We thought how easy it would be for a band of guerrillas, had they chanced that way, to seize and hang us; but we were in that excited, jubilant state of mind which makes fear impossible, and sang "John Brown" with a will, as we drove through the pines and palmettos[11]. Oh, it was good to sing that song in the very heart of Rebeldom! Harry, our driver, amused us much. He was surprised to find that we had not heard of him before. "Why, I thought eberybody at de Nort had heard o' me he said, very innocently. We learned afterward that Mrs. F., who made the tour of the islands last summer, had publicly mentioned Harry. Some one had told him of it, and he of course imagined that he had become quite famous. Notwithstanding this little touch of vanity, Harry is one of the best and smartest men on the island…

    The next morning L. and I were awakened by the cheerful voices of men and women, children and chickens, in the yard below. We ran to the window, and looked out. Women in bright-colored handkerchiefs, some carrying pails on their heads, were crossing the yard, busy with their morning work; children were playing, and tumbling around them. On every face there was a look of serenity and cheerfulness. My heart gave a great throb of happiness as I looked at them, and thought, "They are free! so long down-trodden, so long crushed to the earth, but now in their old homes, forever free!" And I thanked God that I had lived to see this day.

    The school was opened in September. Many of the children had, however, received instruction during the summer. It was evident that they had made very rapid improvement, and we noticed with pleasure how bright and eager to learn many of them seemed. They sang in rich, sweet tones, and with a peculiar swaying motion of the body, which made their singing the more effective. They sang "Marching Along," with great spirit, and then one of their own hymns, the air of which is beautiful and touching -- "My sister, you want to git religion,

    Go down in de Lonesome Valley; My brudder, you waut to git religion,
    Go down in de Lonesome Valley.


    "Go down in de Lonesome Valley, 
    Go down in de Lonesome Valley, my Lord, 
    Go down in de Lonesome Valley, 
    To meet my Jesus dere!

    "Oh, feed on milk and honey, 
    Oh, feed on milk and honey, my Lord, 
    Oh, feed on milk and honey,
    Meet my Jesus dere!

    Oh, John he brought a letter, 
    Oh, John he brought a letter, my Lord, 
    Oh, Mary and Marta read 'em 
    Meet my Jesus dere!


    "Go down in de Lonesome Valley," etc[12].

    They repeat their hymns several times, and while singing keep perfect time with their hands and feet…

    The first day at school was rather trying. Most of my children were very small, and consequently restless. Some were too young to learn the alphabet. These little ones were brought to school because the older children -- in whose care their parents leave them while at work -- could not come without them. We were therefore willing to have them come, although they seemed to have discovered the secret of perpetual motion, and tried one's patience sadly. But after some days of positive, though not severe treatment, order was brought out of chaos, and I found but little difficulty in managing and quieting the tiniest and most restless spirits.

    I never before saw children so eager to learn, although I had had several years' experience in New-England schools. Coming to school is a constant delight and recreation to them. They come here as other children go to play. The older ones, during the summer, work in the fields from early morning until eleven or twelve o'clock, and then come into school, after their hard toil in the hot sun, as bright and as anxious to learn as ever.

    Of course there are some stupid ones, but these are the minority. The majority learn with wonderful rapidity. Many of the grown people are desirous of learning to read. It is wonderful how a people who have been so long crushed to the earth, so imbruted as these have been, -- and they are said to be among the most degraded negroes of the South, -- can have so great a desire for knowledge, and such a capability for attaining it. One cannot believe that the haughty Anglo-Saxon race, after centuries of such an experience as these people have had, would be very much superior to them. And one's indignation increases against those who, North as well as South, taunt the colored race with inferiority while they themselves use every means in their power to crush and degrade them, denying them every right and privilege, closing against them every avenue of elevation and improvement. Were they, under such circumstances, intellectual and refined, they would certainly be vastly superior to any other race that ever existed[13].

    After the lessons, we used to talk freely to the children, often giving them slight sketches of some of the great and good men. Before teaching them the "John Brown" song, which they learned to sing with great spirit, Miss T. told them the story of the brave old man who had died for them. I told them about Toussaint, thinking it well they should know what one of their own color had done for his race[14]. They listened attentively, and seemed to understand. We found it rather hard to keep their attention in school. It is not strange, as they have been so entirely unused to intellectual concentration. It is necessary to interest them every moment, in order to keep their thoughts from wandering. Teaching here is consequently far more fatiguing than at the North. In the church, we had of course but one room in which to hear all the children; and to make one's self heard, when there were often as many as a hundred and forty reciting at once, it was necessary to tax the lungs very severely.

    My walk to school, of about a mile, was part of the way through a road lined with trees, -- on one side stately pines, on the other noble live-oaks, hung with moss and canopied with vines. The ground was carpeted with brown, fragrant pine-leaves; and as I passed through in the morning, the woods were enlivened by the delicious songs of mocking-birds, which abound here, making one realize the truthful felicity of the description in "Evangeline,"-- "The mocking-bird, wildest of singers, Shook from his little throat such floods of delirious music That the whole air and the woods and the waves seemed silent to listen.[15]" The hedges were all aglow with the brilliant scarlet berries of the cassena, and on some of the oaks we observed the mistletoe, laden with its pure white, pearl-like berries. Out of the woods the roads are generally bad, and we found it hard work plodding through the deep sand…

    They are willing to make many sacrifices that their children may attend school. One old woman, who had a large family of children and grandchildren, came regularly to school in the winter, and took her seat among the little ones. She was at least sixty years old. Another woman--who had one of the best faces I ever saw--came daily, and brought her baby in her arms. It happened to be one of the best babies in the world, a perfect little "model of deportment," and allowed its mother to pursue her studies without interruption.

    …While writing these pages I am once more nearing Port Royal. The Fortunate Isles of Freedom are before me. I shall again tread the flower-skirted wood-paths of St. Helena, and the sombre pines and bearded oaks shall whisper in the sea-wind their grave welcome. I shall dwell again among "mine own people." I shall gather my scholars about me, and see smiles of greeting break over their dusk faces[16]. My heart sings a song of thanksgiving, at the thought that even I am permitted to do something for a long-abused race, and aid in promoting a higher, holier, and happier life on the Sea Islands.



    [1] General Thomas W. Sherman was brother to General William Tecumseh Sherman, who implemented a similar experiment on the Georgia Sea Islands, the end point of his famous “March to the Sea.”

    [2] Charlotte Fortin, Life on the Sea Islands (Part I), The Atlantic Monthly, 1864.

    [3] You might remember John Greenleaf Whitter from Harriet Robinson’s account of life in the Lowell Mills, Loom and Spindle, which we read a few weeks ago. Whittier was well-known poet and member of the Transcendental movement along with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Edgar Allen Poe. Whittier’s most interesting poem, The Witches Daughter (1857), told the story of  Susannah Martin, who was killed during the Salem Witch Trials (Whittier was a descendant of Martin). We read Susannah Martin’s testimony from the Witch Trials week four of the semester. Whittier was a close family friend of the Fortens, and encouraged Charlotte to publish her journals.

    [4] Hilton Head served as the headquarters, so to speak, of the Port Royal Experiment.

    [5] “Contraband” refers to the enslaved people now living in U.S. occupied territory. They were not free, but neither were they still enslaved. They were, however, still considered valuable property. The U.S. Army was not empowered to “free” the enslaved, but the Army could include slaves among captured enemy property, i.e., contraband. 

    [6] General Rufus Saxton served as Quartermaster of the Port Royal Experiment, meaning he was in charge of supplies. Saxton later married Mathilda Thompson, one of the missionaries at Port Royal.

    [7] The Huguenots were French Protestants, mostly Calvinists, during the century following the Protestant Reformation (1530s). The French government and monarchy were Catholic, and took severe measures against Protestant dissenters. As a result, Huguenots fled France and established settlements throughout Europe and the American colonies. Beaufort is a French word, after all.

    [8] A wharf is a place where ships dock. Ports may or may not have a wharf.

    [9] “The Rebels” refers to the Confederate Army.

    [10] The lyrics paraphrase a biblical passage.

    [11] John Brown, a radical abolitionist, stormed the military arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, (West) Virginia, in 1859. He hoped to spark a slave rebellion, which in turn would force the United States to end slavery in order to restore order. After he was captured and hanged, John Brown became a martyr for the abolitionist cause. Northerners celebrated his heroic sacrifice in the name of freedom with songs, poems, and essays. John Brown’s Body was a marching song composed by U.S. Army soldiers during the Civil War. There are dozens of modified lyrics for the song, which remains one of the most popular American folk songs ever written.

    [12] “Land of Milk and Honey” was a popular slave spiritual.

    [13] Remember that Forten is black, despite the fact that she speaks about the freed people as separate from herself.

    [14] You might remember Toussaint Louverture from our discussion of the Haitian Revolution, which started in the 1790s and ended with the Louisiana Purchase. Louverture, trained by the French military, led a slave uprising against the French planters. The rebellion turned into a civil war between enslaved Haitians and French troops under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon conceded victory in 1804, making the Haitian Revolution the only successful slave rebellion in the Atlantic World.

    [15] Evangeline was an epic poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1847 (Longfellow’s best-known poem was Paul Revere’s Ride – listen my children, and you shall hear/Of the midnight of Paul Revere…). Evangeline told the tale of an Acadian women removed from her homeland during the American War for Independence. The Acadians lived in the French-Canadian province of Acadia, located on the Eastern Canadian Coast (Nova Scotia). The military expelled the Acadians from their land so New Englanders might have access to the land. It was a land grab, not military strategy. Many Acadians relocated to the bayous of Louisiana (part of New Spain in the 1770s) where they lived with fugitive slaves and Native Americans. These mixed communities developed their own unique shared identity called Cajun. In the poem, Evangeline, exiled to Louisiana without Gabriel. Evangeline spends her days searching the bayous, crying out for her lost love. The “murmur of her moans whispered through the trees,” as Longfellow put it. True Southern Gothic.

    [16] Forten’s “scholars” were her students.