Who Owns this Land?

Michael O'Malley, Associate Professor of History and Art History, George Mason University



Your assignment is to write a speech as a Senator in 1870. You represent a State with mixed urban/industrial and rural/agricultural activities. A bill has been introduced providing for the confiscation of plantation land owned by confederates and the redistribution of that land to the former slaves who once worked it. How you would vote? Would you oppose such a measure? Would you support it? Write a speech explaining why you are voting the way you are.

Put yourself in the place of this imaginary Senator. Not only must you vote, you must explain your vote in a speech on the Senate floor, and in your speech try to persuade others to join you. To be effective, your speech must combine moral arguments with solid factual evidence.

We have placed a large number of documents from the time period online. You should use this material as the basis for your speech. Read these documents, and use them to make your arguments. The guide to using historical materials will help explain how to use the documents.

A good speech will acknowledge, and quote from, positions it disagrees with. Speeches should be about five minutes, which means no more than three double spaced pages. It must have a thesis.

Updated | April 2004