40 Acres and a Mule
40 Acres and a Mule
40 Acres and a Mule, have you heard of it? It was a military order issued
at the conclusion of the American the Civil War by infamous Union general Sherman to confiscate nearly half-million acres
from Southern civilians. Although total war with Sherman's March to the Sea and through the South had previously wreaked
all hell against everything in its path, Sherman, went a step further, some would say adding salt to the injury, and declared
by military order that Southern land could be given away freely. Sherman literally circumvented the laws of the land and without
due process had literally ripped the remnants of what remained from many destitute Southern widows and their children.
This was one of the most unconstitutional and tyrannical orders supported by the United States government. “Although
it was a military order, it was unconstitutional,” declared the US Supreme Court. Sherman's unconstitutional wrangling
had been debunked finally by due process - something that Sherman had little respect for.
Special Field Orders, No. 15 and 40
Acres and a Mule
it was a military order, it was unconstitutional.”
As Union soldiers advanced
through the South, tens-of-thousands of freed slaves left their plantations to follow Union general William Tecumseh Sherman's
army. To solve problems caused by the mass of refugees, Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15, granting each freed family forty acres of tillable
land on islands and the coast of Georgia.
The army had a number of unneeded mules which were also granted to settlers.
Special Field Orders, No.
15 were military orders issued during the American Civil War, on January 16, 1865, by Major General William Tecumseh Sherman,
commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi of
the United States Army. The order provided for the confiscation of 400,000 acres of land along the Atlantic coast of South
Carolina, Georgia, and Florida into forty-acre parcels, on which were to be settled approximately 18,000 freed slave families
and other black refugees then living in the area.
The orders were issued following
Sherman's March to the Sea and were intended to address the immediate problem of dealing
with the tens-of-thousands of black refugees who had joined Sherman's
March in search of protection and sustenance. General Sherman issued his orders after meeting in Savannah, Georgia, with twenty ministers
of the black community and with U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Brig. Gen. Rufus Saxton, an abolitionist from Massachusetts who had previously organized the recruitment of black
soldiers for the Union Army, was delegated the responsibility of implementing the orders.
News of "forty acres and a mule"
spread quickly; freed slaves welcomed it as proof that emancipation would finally give them a stake in the very land that
they had previously worked as slaves.
The orders had little
concrete effect, as they were revoked in the fall of that same year by President Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Abraham Lincoln
after his assassination.
Shortly after Sherman
issued his orders, Congressional leaders convinced President Lincoln to establish the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and
in March 1865 (General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General U. S. Grant on April 9, 1865). Commonly referred to as The Freedmen's Bureau, it was authorized to give legal title for forty-acre plots of land to freedmen and white Southern Unionists. Tunis Campbell, a free Northern black missionary, was appointed to supervise land claims and
resettlement in Georgia.
Over the objections of Freedmen's
Bureau chief General Oliver O. Howard, President Andrew Johnson revoked Sherman's
directive in the fall of 1865, returning these lands to the planters and civilians who had previously owned them. Although the
"order was issued under great military necessity with the approval of the War Department," it did not supersede the United
States Constitution. For decades after the Civil War, Supreme
Court Justice Stephen Field stated that "due process protected property rights, and that legislative property confiscation
was illegitimate and unconstitutional." The U.S. Supreme Court would later agree.
(Sources and related reading below.)
Recommended Reading: Reconstruction:
America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877.
Review: This "masterful treatment of one of the most
complex periods of American history" (New Republic)
made history when it was originally published in 1988. It redefined how Reconstruction was viewed by historians and people
everywhere in its chronicling of how Americans -- black and white -- responded to the unprecedented changes unleashed by the
war and the end of slavery. This "smart book of enormous strengths" (Boston Globe) has since gone on to become the classic
work on the wrenching post-Civil War period -- an era whose legacy reverberates still today in the United States. Continued below...
the Author: Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor
of American History at Columbia University, is the author of numerous
works on American history, including Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil
War; Tom Paine and Revolutionary America; and The Story of American Freedom. He has served as president of both the Organization
of American Historians and the American Historical Association, and has been named Scholar of the Year by the New York Council
for the Humanities.
Viewing: American Experience - Reconstruction: The Second Civil War (DVD) (175 minutes). Description: Spanning the years from 1863
to 1877, this dramatic mini-series recounts the tumultuous post-Civil War years. America
was grappling with rebuilding itself, with bringing the South back into the Union,
and with how best to offer citizenship to former slaves. Stories of key political players in Washington are interwoven
with those of ordinary people caught up in the turbulent social and political struggles of Reconstruction.
Reading: A Short History of Reconstruction.
Review: In an attempt to document the important issues
of reconstruction, Eric Foner compiled his book Reconstruction: America's
Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. Foner addresses all the major issues leading up reconstruction, and then finishing his book
shortly after the end of reconstruction and the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876.
In the preface of his book, Foner discusses the historiography of Reconstruction. He notes that during the early part
of the twentieth century many historians considered Reconstruction as one of the darkest periods of American history. Foner
notes that this viewpoint changed during the 1960s as revisionists shed new "light" on reconstruction. The revisionists saw
Andrew Johnson as a stubborn racist, and viewed the Radical Republicans as "idealistic reformers genuinely committed to black
rights." The author notes that recent studies of reconstruction argue that the Radicals were actually quite conservative,
and most Radicals held on to their racist views and put up very little fight as the whites once again began to govern the
south. Continued below...
describes the African-American experience during the Civil War and Reconstruction. He argues that African-Americans were not
simply figures that took little or no action in the events of the day, and notes the enlistment of thousands of African-Americans
in the Union army during the war. Foner also notes that many of the African-Americans that eventually became civil leaders
had at one time served in the Union Army. He states, "For men of talent and ambition, the army flung open a door to advancement
and respectability." He notes that as reconstruction progressed, African-Americans were the targets of violence and racism. Foner
believes that the transition of slaves into free laborers and equal citizens was the most drastic example of change following
the end of the war. He notes how African-Americans were eventually forced to return to the plantations, not as slaves but
as share croppers, and were thus introduced to a new form of slavery. He argues that this arrangement introduced a new class
structure to the South, and states "It was an economic transformation that would culminate, long after the end of Reconstruction,
in the consolidation of a rural proletariat composed of a new owning class of planters and merchants, itself subordinate to
Northern financiers and industrialists.” The author illustrates how both blacks and whites struggled to use the state
and local governments to develop their own interests and establish their respective place in the evolving social orders. Another
theme that he addresses in this excellent study is racism itself and the interconnection of race and class in the South. Another subject he addresses is the expanded presence of federal
authority, as well as a growing idea and commitment to the idea that equal rights belonged to all citizens, regardless of
race. Foner shows how both Northern and Southern blacks embraced the power to vote, and, as Reconstruction ended, many blacks
saw the loss of suffrage and the loss of freedom. Foner illustrates that because the presence of blacks at the poll threatened
the established traditions, corruption increased, which helped to undermine the support for Reconstruction. The former leaders
of the Confederacy were barred from political office, who were the regions "natural leaders," a reversal of sympathies took
place which portrayed the Southern whites as victims, and blacks unfit to exercise suffrage. Reconstruction affected the North as well, but argues that it was obviously less revolutionary
than it was in the South. Foner notes that a new group of elites surfaced after the war, industrialists and railroad entrepreneurs
emerged as powerful and influential leaders alongside the former commercial elite. The Republicans in the North did attempt
to improve the lives of Northern blacks. However, there were far fewer blacks in the North, so it was more difficult for blacks
to have their agendas and needs addressed in the local legislatures. He states, "Most Northern blacks remained trapped in
inferior housing and menial and unskilled jobs." Foner adds that the few jobs blacks were able to acquire were constantly
being challenged by the huge influx of European immigrants. Foner's subject is definitely worthy of his original volume. Reconstruction is a subject that can still be interpreted
in several ways, including the revisionist school of thought. Foner, however, seems to be as objective as possible on this
subject, and has fairly addressed all major issues that apply.
Reading: Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Description: In Forever Free, Eric Foner,
the leading historian of America's Reconstruction
Era, reexamines one of the most misunderstood periods of American history: the struggle to overthrow slavery and establish
freedom for African Americans in the years before, during, and after the Civil War. Forever Free is extensively illustrated,
with visual essays by scholar Joshua Brown discussing the images of the period alongside Foner's text. (From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review.) Probably no period in American history is as controversial, as distorted by myth and as "essentially unknown"
as the era of emancipation and Reconstruction, award-winning historian Foner (The Story of American Freedom; Reconstruction;
etc.) argues in this dense, rectifying but highly readable account. His analysis of "that turbulent era, its successes and
failures, and its long-term consequences up until this very day" addresses the debates among historians, corrects the misrepresentations
and separates myth from fact with persuasive data. Continued below…
his work with an overview of slavery and the Civil War and concludes with a consideration of the Civil Rights movement and
the continuing impact of Reconstruction upon the current political scene, a framework that adds to the clarity of his history
of that era, its aftermath and its legacy. Joshua Brown's six interspersed "visual essays," with his fresh commentary on images
from slavery through Reconstruction to Jim Crow, buttress Foner's text and contribute to its accessibility. In his mission
to illuminate Reconstruction's critical repercussions for contemporary American culture, Foner balances his passion for racial
equality and social justice with disciplined scholarship. His book is a valuable, fluid introduction to a complex period.
Recommended Reading: Lincoln's Emancipation
Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America
(Simon & Schuster). Description: One of the nation's
foremost Lincoln scholars offers an authoritative consideration
of the document that represents the most far-reaching accomplishment of our greatest president. No single official paper in
American history changed the lives of as many Americans as Lincoln's
Emancipation Proclamation. But no American document has been held up to greater suspicion. Its bland and lawyerlike language
is unfavorably compared to the soaring eloquence of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural; its effectiveness in
freeing the slaves has been dismissed as a legal illusion. And for some African-Americans the Proclamation raises doubts about
Lincoln himself. Continued below…
Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation dispels the myths and mistakes surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation
and skillfully reconstructs how America's greatest president wrote the greatest American proclamation
of freedom. About the Author: Allen C. Guelzo is the Grace Ferguson Kea Professor of American History at Eastern
University (St. David's, Pennsylvania),
where he also directs the Templeton Honors
College. He is the author of five books, most recently the highly acclaimed
Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, which won the Lincoln Prize for 2000.
Special Field Orders, No. 15, Headquarters Military Division of the Mississippi, 16 Jan. 1865. Orders & Circulars, ser.
44, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives; Paul Kens, Justice Stephen Field: Shaping Liberty
from the Gold Rush to the Gilded Age (University Press of Kansas, 1997); Library of Congress: A Century of Lawmaking for a
New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875: "An act to enlarge the powers of the Freedmen's
Bureau," 39th Congress, 1st Session, S.60; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Daniel W. Hamilton, The Limits
of Sovereignty: Property Confiscation in the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War;
Daniel W. Hamilton, A New Right to Property: Civil War Confiscation in the Reconstruction Supreme Court. Journal of Supreme
Court History, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 254-285, November 2004.
Keywords: 40 Acres and a Mule Reconstruction Freedmen Bureau 40 Acres Mule
Purpose Results History Reconstruction Era Abandoned Land Act Lands Emancipation Slaves Facts Details Freedmen’s Bureau