Land Redistribution In South Carolina After the Civil War, the United States was torn on how to provide services to freed slaves, or freedmen. Eventually the Freedmen’s Bureau emerged from the confusion. This bureau gave food, shelter, and education to freedmen, but also did one more very important service. The Freedmen’s Bureau helped to get the emancipated slaves on their feet by providing land to each of them. “Forty acres and a mule”(Abbot, 52) was the amount of land and property that each family or single man in South Carolina was to get. To freedmen, freedom was only achieved when they were in control of some type of property.
Unfortunately, three problem arose; the government needed to attain a sufficient amount of land to provide the expected forty acres, distribute that land properly, and later fight the original owners for that land. There were four ways that the Freedmen’s Bureau acquired land in South Carolina. Three were due to Federal laws. First the federal government issued a direct tax law, and all who could not pay forfeited their property to the United States. Second, “All property of civil and military officers of the Confederate government [was] subject to seizure by the federal government” (Abbot, 53). Third, any Southerners who were not in their homes were considered voluntarily absent and gave their land to the United States.
“All the properties in the South seized under these measures and still remaining under federal control at war’s end were turned over to the Bureau during the spring and summer of 1865” (Abbot, 53). Finally, during Sherman’s March of the Civil War, all islands South of Charleston an all abandoned rice fields were captured. These four measures of acquiring land accounted for about 300,000 acres of land that was in the possession of the Bureau, but they still did not know how they were going to pass it out. A decision was made that with this newly gained land would either be sold or rented out in forty acre plots. “Such plots were to be leased for three year periods for annual rentals not to exceed six percent of the appraised value in 1860..”(Abbot, 54), which meant that freedmen would be able to afford this land and not be forced into a labor contract.
General Rufus Saxton, the head of this plan, had another idea too. He wanted to put one teacher on every plantation, which was about six or seven plots of land. “His goal was not realized fully, but by 1864 thirty schools were in operation”(Abbot, 6). “Along with the great desire of freedpeople to homestead came opposition to black homesteading”(Cimbala, 79). Former Confederates wanted their land back and would fight with the Freedmen’s Bureau for it. They would not have to because “The plans of Howard [a member of the Freedmen’s Bureau] and the hopes of Saxton were soon frustrated by President Andrew Johnson” (Abbot, 55).
The reconstruction plan of President Andrew Johnson stated that any Confederate who was granted a pardon was to have all property, except slaves, returned. “In some instances freedmen armed themselves and threatened violence against whites whom they suspected of coming to take the lands from them..” (Abbot, 60), but it was useless and almost all of the land was returned. About one out of every fifty freedmen actually became a landowner. The redistribution never took place. “The majority of historians believe that the Freedmen’s Bureau made a very little impact..”(Brownfield) on getting freedmen land. They feel that all they did was provide a political show for those who were in favor of equal rights for slaves. In fact, very few African Amreicans actually ended up fulfilling their dreams, but the notion of providing land, education, and help to freedmen did give them hope.
Just as slaves relied on this hope to someday be free; the freedmen would have to rely on it to someday give them land, but it would not come from the Freedmen’s Bureau in South Carolina. History.