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On the Readmission of States
Remarks of Representative Thaddeus Stevens,
in Congress, July  28, 1866




     "
Why, sir, as my friend from Iowa {Mr. GRINNELL} said, when that wise man the Emperor of Russia set free twenty-two million serfs, he compelled their masters to give them homesteads upon the very soil which they had tilled; homesteads not at a full price, but at a nominal price; "for," said he, in noble words, "they have earned this, they have worked upon the land for ages, and they are entitled to it."

 

    Mr. STEVENS. I now offer a substitute for the whole bill.

    Mr. ELIOT. I think the alterations in the bill made by the substitute can be read by the Clerk in one minute.

    Mr. STEVENS. I propose to state them. The first is in section four, line six. I insert the words "and from forfeited estates of the enemy;" so that it will read:

    SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That the President is hereby authorized to reserve from sale or from settlement, under the homestead or preemption laws, and to set apart for use of freedmen and loyal refugees, male or female, unoccupied lands in Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas, and from forfeited estates of the enemy, not exceeding in all three million acres of good land; and the Commissioner, under the direction of the President, shall cause the same from time to time to be allotted and assigned, in parcels not exceeding forty acres each, to the loyal refugees and freedmen, who shall be protected in the use and enjoyment thereof for such term of time and such annual rent as may be agreed on between the Commissioner and such refugees or freedmen.

    The next is to strike out these words:
    ["] Based upon a valuation of the land, to be ascertained in such manner as the Commissioner may, under the direction of the President, by regulation prescribe.["]

    And in lieu thereof to insert, "not to exceed ten cents per acre per annum;" so that it will read:
["] The rental shall be not to exceed ten cents per acre per annum.["]

    That is to give them homesteads at ten cents per acre instead of at their full value.

    The next amendment is to strike out the words "the value of the land as aforesaid," and to insert "not exceeding two dollars per acre;" so it will read:

    At the end of such term, or sooner, if the Commissioner shall assent thereto, the occupants of any parcels so assigned, their heirs and assigns, may purchase the land and receive a title thereto from the United States, in fee, upon paying therefore not exceeding two dollars per acre.

    Section five is as follows:

     SEC. 5. And be it further enacted, That the occupants of land under Major General Sherman's special field order dated at Savannah, January 16, 1865, are hereby confirmed in their possession for the period of three years from the date of said order, and no person shall be disturbed in or ousted from said possession during said three years unless a settlement shall be made with said occupant, by the owner, satisfactory to the Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau: Provided: That whenever the owners of lands occupied under General Sherman's field order, shall be entitled to restoration of said lands, the Commissioner is hereby authorized, upon the agreement, and with the written consent of said occupants to procure other lands for them by rent or purchase, or to set apart for them, out of public lands assigned for that purpose in section four of this bill, forty acres each, upon the terms and conditions named in said section.

     I move to strike out these words, "for the period of three years from the date of said order," and the words "during said three years," and to insert the word "former" before "owner." I may say these lands were given to these people with the understanding they were to possess them until Congress decided the title. The lands are the lands of rebels which were abandoned and seized. This bill authorizes their being turned out at the end of three years, which I wish to avert. To turn them out is an outrage I would never vote for.
Then comes in the amendment of my distinguished friend from Minnesota, {Mr. DONNELLY}

    After the words "schools," in line seven, section six, insert the following: ["] And the Commissioner may provide a common-school education for all refugees or freedmen who shall apply therefore.["]

    I move them to strike out of sections seven and eight the words "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." I do that for this reason; although that was put in the constitutional amendment, it does not necessarily come in here. Under the pretense of that very clause they are taking men, as I have authentic information, for assault and battery and selling them into bondage for ninety-nine years.
Mr. Speaker, I would now suggest that we devote this evening to discussion of this bill. We can call the previous question and take the vote in the morning. I ask the gentleman to let me offer a resolution for that purpose.

    Mr. ELIOT. I want to take the vote now.

    Mr. STEVENS. That is intended to keep debate up if the previous question is not called today. This evening let it be understood that the discussion be on this bill; after that on the President's message.

    [Eliot of Massachusetts speaks for about twenty minutes in the bill itself, concerning objections to it.]

    Mr. STEVENS. Mr. Speaker, I wish I had a little more time to explain the amendment which I have offered, for it is important in two or three particulars.

    The bill as it now stands contemplates turning off the freedmen from the homesteads which were allotted to them by order of the Government, in three years.

    Mr. ELIOT. No, sir; I beg the gentlemen's pardon.

    Mr. STEVENS. I have moved to strike out all that it says about three years, and about their possession being confirmed until a satisfactory arrangement between them and the former owners of the land. That is the first and most material amendment.

     The bill provides that lands shall be rented to them at a price which they brought as a rental before the war upon a valuation. What boon is that to a freedman? It also provides that they acquire title to the public lands of the Government at a price not less than their valuation. What advantage is that to them? There are no public lands in these States except the everglades which are referred to. I have provided in my amendment that they may acquire title to the public lands and the confiscated lands of the enemy, so as to give then an opportunity to settle upon both.

    I have also proposed to strike out the words "unless convicted of a crime," &c., in that clause. I know that men are convicted of assault and battery and sentenced to slavery down there. I have authentic evidence of that fact in several letters, and therefore I propose to strike out those words.

    Now, sir, if I had time, I could show the House that these freedmen have a right under our laws to the confiscated lands to the amount of forty acres each, on the lands where they are, assigned to them by the Government, under Order No. 11, that they should have them for homesteads.

    I would like also to have time to show how much land we have here. We have lands there to the extent of more than one hundred thousand acres, and of more than one hundred million dollars in value. And yet, notwithstanding this, the freedmen have been and are being driven from lands which have been ordered to be confiscated as enemy's property, and which are covered over now with freedmen and villages, school-houses and churches, which they have built. Why, sir, General Fisk told me that within the last four weeks he had been compelled reluctantly to return twenty-two million dollars' worth of property in his district, which had been confiscated and was in the possession of the United States Government.

    And I would also like to show, if I had time, that the Government has no such power. The pardoning power does not give it any such power. No power but the power of Congress can reach it, so that these lands can be returned to their former owners.

     I should like also to show that the freedmen on the Sea Islands, who have gone there upon the faith of these forty-acre grants, and have built for themselves comfortable homes and established communities there, have the right to retain those lands forever; and that it is a burning cruelty in us, by a provision of this land, to allow them to be turned off in three years.

    I should like also to show, as I can show, that there are sixteen thousand freedmen on the Peninsula between Fortress Monroe and Williamsburg, occupying lands seized by the Government, and which has become the property of traitors, but as enemy's property, and confiscated as the property of belligerents, not to be reached by any pardon on earth, except the pardon of Congress. Those sixteen thousand freedman who are there in communities, who have built their homes, their churches, their school-houses, and who have over two hundred thousand dollars in savings banks, now receive notice to turn out, and reeking rebels are to be brought back and take their places, under the pretense that a pardon can restore to them lands which belonged to us and which we have given to these freedmen. God forbid that I should ever vote for such a bill as that.

    Why, sir, as my friend from Iowa {Mr. GRINNELL} said, when that wise man the Emperor of Russia set free twenty-two million serfs, he compelled their masters to give them homesteads upon the very soil which they had tilled; homesteads not at a full price, but at a nominal price; "for," said he, in noble words, "they have earned this, they have worked upon the land for ages, and they are entitled to it." But, by this bill, we propose to sell our land at not less than the Government price, or to rent it at prices which these poor people can never pay. If this bill shall go into operation, that will be its effect.


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