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Old 10 July 2015, 08:43 AM
Kibu Kibu is offline
Join Date: 05 January 2014
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Posts: 17
Default Former slaves were promised 40 acres and a Mule by the US government

We often hear the term reparations when it comes to the US civil war, with the promised forty acres and a mule being top of that list. However, have you ever wondered where that came from? Did the US government actually make that promise, only to back out of that at a later date? Well the actual history of that may surprise you, as will everything surrounding it. First off, let's break things down and get to the meat of the myth, for that's just what this is. A myth.

Were slaves promised reparations of any kind?

No. When the slaves were freed at the end of the war, they were generally expected to survive on their own. There was no specific law set in place that said "This must be given." This didn't prevent some former slave owners, as well as some states from putting various things in place to help out the newly freed slaves, but at no time did the US government actually promise the freed slaves anything.

Where then does the idea of forty acres and a mule come from?

The idea behind the whole forty acres and a mule can be traced to the Sherman "March to the Sea" campaign in Georgia. During that particular campaign, as Sherman raided landowners along the route of his march, it was inevitable that slaves would be freed. Much to his dismay, those slaves began to follow his wagon supply train, and in doing so slowed his advance. It also meant that any following Confederate army would have an easier time catching up to him. He tried numerous tactics to rid his army of these civilians, even going so far to burn a bridge after his army had crossed; leaving the slaves to fend for themselves on the opposing side, knowing full well a Confederate army was close behind. Eventually, however, he found himself with no other real options. So Sherman promised every male slave over a certain age that they could take forty acres and one mule from the land around where his army had marched.

If Sherman knew the Confederates were close at hand, why did he take the action knowing the slaves would face the enemy?

Honestly, it's a tactical decision more than anything. Sherman knew that the Confederacy relied heavily on slavery for its manual labor and agriculture. By freeing the slaves, he knew that this would have two effects. First, it would cause the Confederate army following him to need to round up those slaves. Thus slowing it down. Second, he knew that those slaves not rounded up by the Confederate army, would in all probability place a burden on local civilians. Not unlike how an escaped prisoner causes people in a small town to lock their doors or to nervously wonder if they might be next.

So what was the effect after the war?

After the civil war ended, the landowners whose land had been taken by those freed slaves, sued the government claiming that Sherman had no legal right to take the action he did. They argued that by doing that, he had effectively stepped in where a local or even the federal government had jurisdiction; and while the Confederacy and the Union were at war, this did not excuse his actions.

What came of the case?

The court case actually sided with the landowners, stating in its judgement that Sherman had no grounds in law to take that action. This prompted several senators to try to introduce a bill into law which would force landowners who had (at the time of the civil war) owned more than 200 slaves to divide up their property to each freed slave in 40 acres plots. However Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's successor, vetoed this bill at every turn, preventing it from getting any further. Finally, Congress overrode his veto and passed a bill to extend the life of the Freedmen's Bureau. However, it contained no provision for granting land to the freedmen, other than to provide them access to the Southern Homestead Act at the standard rates of purchase.
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Old 11 July 2015, 01:14 AM
urbanlegendfanatic urbanlegendfanatic is offline
Join Date: 16 October 2014
Location: California
Posts: 140

I see the "40 acres and a mule" quote often mixed up with the 1928 Presidential Campaign Slogan "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage" attributed to Herbert Hoover. Though there's also debate over whether or not he promised this. Henry IV supposedly wished his people "A chicken in every pot every Sunday".
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Old 24 July 2015, 04:42 AM
Kibu Kibu is offline
Join Date: 05 January 2014
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Posts: 17

Yeah, there's a number of things through out history that while they may have actually happened (as in the case of the 40 acres and a mule), they didn't always happen in the manner people think; or weren't said by the person that they expect.

It's somewhat ironic that many groups who DO tell the truth of the myth that the US Government promised the above reparations to the freed slaves, will in the same breath note that Andrew Johnson was "easy" on the south and sympathetic to their "plight."

What makes it ironic, is Johnson didn't want "reconstruction" of the south. By all accounts, he would have been perfectly happy to leave it the burned and destroyed mess it was after the war.
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