Reconstruction of Southern Society for Profit


The great tragedy of the Northern war upon the South is the racial hatred and animosity it engendered as freedom was taken from one and given to another at bayonet-point, and private lands confiscated and
redistributed at whim.  Had the abolitionists instead worked for a practical and peaceful solution to the riddle of African slavery and encouraged compensated emancipation, how many lives would have been
saved, would American constitutional liberty have been preserved, and would better racial harmony prevail today?

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"


Reconstruction of Southern Society for Profit:

“The great mass of Negroes in South Carolina at the end of the Civil War hoped and expected freedom meant that each would soon be settled on his own plot of earth. The prevalence of this roseate view of the future among the freedmen was confirmed by Mary Boykin Chestnut of Kershaw District, wife of a former Confederate senator and general, and herself heiress to three generations of cotton culture, who reported that the Negroes “declare that they are to be given lands and mules by those blessed Yankees.”

Similarly, a Northern correspondent, arriving in Orangeburg after a trip through the lowcountry, declared that the desire for land was active and widespread among the Negroes. “Some of the best regiments have white soldiers who tell the Negroes they are the rightful owners of the land, that they should refuse to work or go to the islands to get lands.”

“Forty acres and a mule,” that delightful bit of myopic mythology so often ascribed to the newly freed in the Reconstruction Period, at least in South Carolina during the spring and summer of 1865, represented far more than the chimerical rantings of ignorant darkies, irresponsible soldiers, and radical politicians.  On the contrary, it symbolized rather precisely the policy to which the [Northern] government had already given and was giving mass application to the Sea Islands.

Hardly had the troops landed, in November 1861, before liberal Northerners arrived to begin a series of ambitious experiments in the reconstruction of Southern society. One of these experiments included
the redistribution of large landed estates to the Negroes.

The first step in this direction was taken in June, 1862, when (the Northern] Congress levied a direct tax on the States, apportioning a certain amount of the sum to South Carolina. The property in the occupied area in the [Sea] islands thus became subject to its share of the tax. Since most of the owners were within the Confederate lines, 187 plantations passed into the control of the [Northern] Treasury Department.

[It was] proposed to punish the South for her apostasy….[and] to reform her by the “division of her land” among….”the children of the soil,” by a “free press” which would do its “share toward electing an anti-slavery union governor in South Carolina,” and by “free schools” where “White and black, the “poor white trash” and the “nigger” will learn that “knowledge is power.”

Behind the Treasury Department’s tax commissioners for South Carolina, [were] the men charged with the sale of confiscated estates. Behind the commissioners, rather like the black-cloaked villain of the
melodrama, lurked a mysterious array of Northern speculators and army sutlers who conspired to control the land themselves and take advantage of the fabulously high price which Sea Island cotton then

(After Slavery, The Negro in South Carolina During Reconstruction, 1861-1877, Joel Williamson, UNC Press, 1965, pp. 54-56)