Ohio History Journal

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Land to the Freedmen:

A Vision of Reconstruction


The Reconstruction Acts of March 1867 were much closer to the

ideas of the moderate and conservative elements of the Republican

party than to the views of the radicals. Influential Republicans such

as George Julian, Thaddeus Stevens, and Charles Sumner had

originally hoped for a more thorough reconstruction policy, which

they were never able to obtain. In fact, the phrase "Radical

Reconstruction" is in part unjustified since the final terms of the

policy did not call for any form of land redistribution for the

freedmen. Republicans were wrong in believing that with the power

of the ballot Southern blacks would have all the necessary protection

to build an industrious and stable way of life. At some time in the

future the old southern ruling class was bound to attempt to regain

political power, and without the economic strength obtained from

land ownership the freedmen would be unable to withstand the

attacks of the Redeemers on their political and civil rights.1 As the

young French journalist Georges Clemenceau pointed out, "there

cannot be real emancipation for men who do not possess at least a

small portion of the soil."2 Without some type of land redistribution,



Dr. Robert F. Horowitz is an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University at



1. Some studies of Reconstruction that touch on these matters are the following:

Fawn M. Brodie, Thaddeus Stevens: Scourge of the South (New York, 1959), 167, 170;

John A. Carpenter, Sword and Olive Branch: Oliver Otis Howard (Pittsburgh, 1964),

69, 106-07, 111-13; Robert Cruden, The Negro in Reconstruction (Englewood Cliffs,

NJ, 1969), 35, 161; W. E. B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America (New York,

1935), 602; Paul W. Gates, Agriculture and the Civil War (New York, 1965), 370; Louis

S. Gerteis, From Contraband to Freedom: Federal Policy Toward Southern Blacks,

1861-1865 (Westport, CT, 1973), 5-6; David Lindsey, Americans in Conflict: The Civil

War and Reconstruction (Boston, 1974), 200; William S. McFeely, Yankee Stepfather:

General O. O. Howard and the Freedmen (New Haven, 1968), 70, 211, 235; James M.

McPherson, The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War

and Reconstruction (Princeton, NJ, 1964), 410-11, 416; Kenneth M. Stampp, The Era of

Reconstruction, 1865-1877 (New York, 1966), 123-29; Hans L. Trefousse, The Radical

Republicans: Lincoln's Vanguard for Racial Justice (New York, 1969), 369-70; Allen

W. Trelease, Reconstruction: The Great Experiment (New York, 1971), 27-28, 138, 146.

2. Georges Clemenceau, American Reconstruction, 1865-1870, ed. Fernand

Baldensperger (New York, 1928), 40.