Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The Fallacy of 40 Acres and a Mule
I find it appropriate to address this subject now, as it is near the end of Black history month. I don’t know how folk will take it, but I am without a doubt certain that Carter G. Woodson would approve and appreciate the thought processes engrained in what I am about to state.
At least twice this month (and I won’t go into the number of times over the years), I have heard several claims that Africans in America, or at least freed slaves were promised 40 acres and a mule upon emancipation. I have read references to such scantly; however, I have been unable and unsuccessful, even in light of my penchant for research and detail, to verify such.
What I can say accurately is that during the period of and after the civil war, the radical Republicans as they have been called throughout history really had only one interest, which was not slaves or black folk, but rather the goal of using the military might of the union (North) to destroy the plantation aristocracy of the south and bring in a new area of capitalist democracy by ensuring that blacks could both vote and own property. This is where the idea of forty acres and a mule originally started. But Democrats, like then Editor of the New York Tribune like Horace Greeley were against this in mass. See, although they were upset with Southerners, they felt, to use Greeley’s words that: “because the wealthier class of southerners, being more enlightened and humane than the ignorant and vulgar are less inimicable to the blacks,” that former slaves should never be given land or property in any form especially from the confederate rich.
In fact when the republicans tried to force property confiscation in the initial acts of Reconstruction in 1867 (against the desires of moderate Republicans), when ThaddeusStevens brought the “40 acres” measure to the floor in the House, it receivedless than 40 votes.
Although history books tell us that folk in the north were on the side of slaves and against slavery, they fail to mention specifically how their views, votes and politics were never behind and would never tolerate giving black folk land – specifically the property of former confederate rich white folks. Even that democratic weekly THE NATION noted that by giving the land of rich men to poor ignorant Negroes would shock and destroy America’s entire political system and lead to the destruction of liberty for all Americans (In The Era of Reconstruction 1865-1877 by Kenneth Stampp, 120-130).
With this kind of NATIONAL sentiment, it is easy to see why 40 acres was never made law and really never promised to freed blacks. Not to mention it should have been obvious seeing it is well know that the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863) excluded freeing slaves in Union states and those stats in the South behind union lines.
What this means is that without any land redistribution or confiscation, slaves would still remain slaves just under a new system and made it even worse. Now they would be sharecroppers, which gave land owners control over them from giving them advances on supplies, even food from stores they owned, way above market price and charging the to live on land that they would never own or ever be able to accumulate wealth. By the time Rutherford B. Hays became President in 1876, this new system was firmly entrenched and Northern democrats and republicans turned their back on what they initially considered their cause to protect the poor, landless and oppressed black working class of former slaves.
This is why industrial capitalism grew so fast during this period of American history – they still had an endless supply of cheap and uneducated workers. Although some misread history and often say the civil war was America’s second revolutionary war, it wasn’t. I mean from my perspective, during revolutionary wars, the oppressed take up arms and start the war. And any person who can read, or considers themselves educated can tell you that since then, the 14th amendment has done little if anything to protect black folk in America, and really only serves to protect corporations and advance industrial capitalism. Through the 14th amendment, property got the ultimate political protection from state governments, not freed slaves and the US currency was put on an invincible footing via the resumption of specie (money in the form of coins rather than notes) payment.
So when folk banter around that we as black folk were promised 40 acres and a mule, or that the 14th amendment was instituted to protect black folk, you should ignore them and accept their ignorance as an offering and reflection of what is wrong with we as black folk in America, which is 60% of the time we talking loud and ain’t saying nothing and 30% of the time we truly don’t know what we talking about.