Today in labor history: Radical Reconstruction and 40 acres and a mule


On this date in1866, Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens offered an amendment to a bill on the Freedmen's Bureau in the U.S. House of Representatives requiring 40 acre plots be parceled out to former slaves from both confiscated and public land in the former slave South.

When the amendment was defeated, Frederick Douglass called on President Andrew Johnson to grant voting rights to the ex-bondsmen. Johnson rebuffed Douglass's demand.

Earlier, as the Civil War ended, General Sherman's Special Order 15 granted land and mules to slaves as Union armies advanced. Some 400,000 acres were distributed.

Abraham Lincoln and Congress, in the bill establishing the Freedmen's Bureau, allowed it to divide confiscated properties into 40-acre plots for rental and sale to former slaves and poor whites. Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill establishing the Freedman's Bureau and later revoked the policy returning the land to the former slave owners.

Photo: 40 acres of land and a mule, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views. Wikimedia Commons.