"Report by a Commissioner of the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission"

J. McKaye


The following excerpt is from a report submitted circa 1864 by J. McKaye, a Commissioner of the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission. His report, which runs 104 pages, is a supplemental part of the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission report.

The Emancipated Slave face to face with his old Master.
[Valley of the Lower Mississippi.]


Another matter intimately connected with the foregoing, and as I believe profoundly involving the existence and future prosperity of free society in the Southern States, is the disposition to be made of the confiscated estates and other lands in these States. No such thing as free democratic society can exist in any country where all the lands are owned by one class of men and are cultivated by another. Such ownership of the lands of a country constitutes the basis of the most permanent and oppressive aristocracies. Upon this foundation stood for a thousand years the feudal aristocracy of France. And today the aristocracy of England maintain their supremacy upon the basis of the partition and tenure of the soil of England, robbed by William the Conqueror from the original owners, the people of England, and granted in large estates to his captains. So incompatible has that tenure become with modern civilization and the well-being of society in that country, that the wisest statesmen there are beginning to apprehend the most fearful consequences from its continued existence.

In the sugar and cotton producing portions of the South, almost all the cultivated soil has been hitherto held in large tracts by the master class. I need not stop to argue the utter incompatibility of such a state of things with the existence of a free, independent, democratic yeomanry, or with the development of free democratic institutions. The poor whites of the South are a sufficient illustration of its pernicious influence and effect upon a whole community of the same race with the land-holders.

If not for the sake of the emancipated colored people, then for the sake of these poor whites, these most pitiable men of our own race, this whole scheme and tenure of the mastership should be overthrown. The great necessity, as I have before intimated, from another point of view, which at the present hour lies upon the People and Government of the United States is not so much a political as a social reconstruction of the Southern States. Any well founded plan for the former, to be effectual and permanent must include the latter. And for the latter the initiation of a policy on the part of the National Government which shall have for its aim the ultimate division of the great plantations into moderate sized farms, to be held and cultivated by the labor of their owners is of the utmost importance.

I am aware that an opinion has been hitherto generally entertained that sugar and cotton cultivation could only be profitably carried on upon large estates and by the employment of large gangs of laborers; principally because a large capital is necessary to the erection of the sugar-mills, cotton-gins and other machinery connected with the production of these commodities. All the investigations of the Commission go to show that this opinion is but a part of the system of slavery and has no foundation in the necessities of the case. There is, in reality, no more reason why the sugar cane should be raised and converted into sugar by the planter alone than there is that wheat should be converted into flour only by the farmer who raises it. And so with the raising, ginning and baling of cotton. On the contrary, a proper division of labor in the raising and manufacture of sugar and cotton would almost inevitably lead to a great development in their production, while at the same time it would tend not only to mitigate the labor but to secure the industrial prosperity and independence of all those employed in that production; and thus constitute an entirely different order of social relation and condition in these States. I consider this a matter next in importance to the permanent security of the civil and political rights of the emancipated population, and beg leave to recommend it to the earnest attention of the National Authorities.

And finally permit me once more to call the attention of Government to the third of the measures proposed by the Commission. The establishment of some uniform system of supervision and guardianship for the emancipated population, in the interim of their transition from Slavery to freedom. No one acquainted with the facts could hesitate a moment as to the necessity and propriety of such a system; not only for the sake of the emancipated but for the general interest of the Government and country.

J. McKaye


Source: Berlin, Ira et al. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation: 1861-1867. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990: 532-534.

Arguments for Confiscation
George Clemenceau
J. McKaye
Abolitionist Wendell Phillips
General Rufus Saxton
Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens



History 122

Reconstruction
HIST 122 Syllabus