Harper's Weekly 01/27/1866


A LONG STEP FORWARD.

THE order of General Grant, defining the
military authority of the United States in
the late rebellious States, should reassure our
friends who fear that the Government is too
ready to imperil the public peace by delivering
the whole authority of those States uncondi-
tionally into the hands of a class which can not
be expected to use it in good faith.


The General's reply to the request of Gov-
ernor Parsons, of Alabama, that the national
forces should be withdrawn and the local militia
armed, is also significant and sensible. It is
as follows:


“For the present, and until there is full security for
equitably maintaining the right and safety of all classes
of citizens
in the States lately in rebellion, I would not
recommend the withdrawal of the United States troops
from them. The number of interior garrisons might be
reduced, but a movable force sufficient to insure tranquil-
lity should be retained. While such a force is retained in
the South, I doubt the propriety of putting arms in the
hands of the militia.


The bill of Senator Trumbull's continuing
the Freedmen's Bureau and extending its op-
erations to every part of the country in which
freedmen are to be found in large numbers, is
the complement of these military orders. It will
undoubtedly be approved by the President and
become a law. This is another of the plain
signs that neither the President nor Congress
wish to make haste unwisely, and should cer-
tainly tend to temper the acrimony of debate
upon the general subject.


Senator Trumbull's bill recognizes two
vital and fundamental truths of the situation.
First, that the National Government means to
protect and secure the personal liberty which
it has conferred; and second, that it is essen-
tial the freedmen should become landholders.
Without that provision every other device will
be futile.


At this moment, it should be remembered,
the freedmen, excepting those settled upon the
sea islands by General Sherman, and whose
freehold Mr. Trumbull's bill confirms, are with-
out land and without the means of buying it.
They are helpless in the midst of a population
which is generally hostile to them, and they
have no chance of livelihood except from the
landowners who may choose to employ them.
Any landholder may say to them: “You are
free to go. I do not wish to employ you. Get
off my land.” That all will not and do not
say this, is true. But vast numbers do. And
the laborer has no remedy. He must “move
on,” and beg, steal, or starve. The tragedy
of his situation can hardly be exaggerated;
and although the feeling against him may mel-
low with the lapse of time, and although the
necessities of the case will gradually persuade
the landholders not to quarrel with their bread
and butter, yet meanwhile, under these winter
skies, and among those wintry hearts, the suf-
fering of the freedmen is terrible and incalcula-
ble, and the duty of the country is plain and
imperative.


The freedmen are placed by General Grant's
timely order under the protection of the mili-
tary power. But that power can not feed them,
nor house them, nor enable them to work and
be paid for working. Mr. Trumbull's bill
authorizes the President to reserve for them
3,000,000 acres of good, unoccupied land in
Florida, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Each la-
borer or family is to have forty acres at a rent
agreed upon by the Commissioner and the
freedmen. Afterward the tenants may buy the
land at a price to be named by the Commis-
sioner and approved by the President. Mean-
while the pauper freedmen are to be provided
with such lands as the United States may buy
in any district, and necessary schools and asy-
lums are to be built upon them; while as the
paupers become productive laborers the land
may be sold to them under fair conditions.


The necessity of immediate and decisive ac-
tion upon the subject is urgent. Give the
freedmen land from which they can not be ex-
pelled; protect their rights against all aggres-
sors by the national power; and Time, the
great mediator and educator, will gradually
show the present class of landholders in the
late rebel States that their interest is one with
that of their late slaves, now become citizens;
while the occupancy of land, the laws of labor,
and the education for which the freedmen are
so anxious and so ripe will develop the self-
respecting and independent manhood which
will fit them for the political power which can
not long be withheld.



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