History

Slavery and Western Expansion

In the article, the author explores the failures and triumphs of this period in American history and ends the article by citing fewer celebrations from the period and more disappointments. The author believes that land distribution was a missed opportunity and an egregious failure of this period, claiming that this should have been integral during the emancipation (Dubois 601). This oversight was compounded by injustices directed at the freed slaves concerning civil and labor rights such as black codes and sharecropping. Du Bois, despite the failings, describes the Reconstruction’s failure as splendid wedged between its shortcomings. It is the triumphs of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments, as well as education for African Americans. Overall, the reason that Reconstruction failed was due to the many defeats that outweighed the few successes. In the article, Du Bois emphasizes the issue of land distribution to the slaves who had been freed as one failure after the Reconstruction. General Sherman’s Field Order 15, given in 1865, gave hope for redistribution as he ordered the confiscation of plantation land and its division into sections of 40 acres, which would be given to the freed slaves. Unfortunately, they were removed from the land with the government failing to follow up on General Sherman’s order, as well as reneging on the pre-war declaration by Andrew Johnson regarding land redistribution’s necessity. The author has a Marxist view of the failing, claiming variously Liberalism did not understand . . . revolution was economic and involved force. . . . It hoped with the high humanitarian of Charles Sumner eventually to induce the planter to surrender his economic power peacefully . . . that other Charles — Karl Marx —had not yet publishedDas Kapital to prove to men that economic power underlies politics (Du Bois 591). The force and economics referred to by Du Bois are tenants of General Sherman’s Field Order 15, which involved the confiscation and redistribution of land to be put to use by freed slaves. This would allow for the assimilation of the former slaves into the South’s economic structure. The argument put across by Du Bois is not in violation of American principles present at the time. The Republican Government gave railroad corporations Southern land in the same period. Since these corporations were eligible for this, then the massive numbers of former slaves were too. Instead of economic independence via land redistribution, Southern landowners were free to implement tenant farming to control the former slaves. Dubois describes the system as serfdom that was established in territories, in the South. Serfdom gave a false impression of land distribution with landowners requiring that those who lived on their land gave them part of the crops that they harvested. They were also expected to get their equipment from the landowner at inflated prices that caused them to fall further into debt (Dubois 597). Tenant farming, in essence, is representative of an effort to bring back slavery to the furthest possible degree in the South after the war. Since chattel slavery was now illegal, they turned to binding former slaves to land via perpetual poverty and debt, creating legal and new forms of servitude. Black codes were another dehumanizing aspect faced by Southern freed slaves with legislation that limited and stripped their civil liberties and rights during this period. Passed in late 1865, the Black Code

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