account, and have all shown an industry, sagacity, and prudence that will not compare unfavorably in its results with white men in similar circumstances.
I was early convinced, from general considerations and by personal experience and observation in the department, that to lay a sure basis for the substantial freedom and permanent improvement of the negroes, that they should be owners of the land they cultivate.
In view of their past wrongs, present condition, and the circumstances in which they came under the special guardianship of the Government, it seemed to be the dictate of simple justice that they have the highest right to a soil they have cultivated so long under the cruelest compulsion, robbed of every personal right, and without any domestic or social relations which they could protect. As a mere question of wages withheld and accumulated for generations, they would seem to have paid for it many times over; to have established a claim to it that must be held valid under any code of natural or civil law, for when our forces came we found them in possession. With these convictions, I had the honor to suggest to you in communications of December 27, 1862, and January 6, 1863, the justice and importance of putting them in possession of a suitable portion of the confiscated lands in the department. In September, 1863, the President issued instructions to the tax commissioners, pursuant to an act of Congress, to sell by auction to the highest bidder all the unreserved lands in lots not exceeding 320 acres, reserving a limited quantity to be offered at private sale of $1.25 per acre to negro families, according to the number of persons in the family, but no family to have more than 20 acres. I issued a circular inviting the freedmen to, and suggesting a method by which they might, avail themselves of the opportunity to purchase. This circular, marked A, is herewith appended.*
It was soon evident that by this plan less than one-half of the negroes could receive allotments of two acres each, while the great bulk of the lands would come into the hands of speculators, persons who had no interests in common with the negro except the profit to be derived from their labor on the lowest possible terms. To put the lands at auction in large lots was virtually to place them beyond the reach of the freedmen. In a free competition of their weakness, poverty, and ignorance of affairs with the practiced shrewdness and ample means of persons eager to grasp the prizes offered here to speculation their chances could be stated only by very small fractions or minus quantities.
The provisions of the act of Congress are supposed to have been suggested by the chairman of the tax commissioners. In my judgment he has made a great mistake. The result of his plan must be to fix the people for a long time in the condition of a peasantry only a little higher than chattelism, and that, too, when so many of them had proved their fitness to be owners of the soil, and some their competence to manage large estates.
These considerations were presented to the Treasury Department, and on December 30, 1863, new instructions were issued to the tax commissioners by the President, giving limited pre-emption rights at the rate of $1.25 per acre to all loyal persons of twenty-one years of age then residing upon, or who at any time since the occupation by the
65 R R-SERIES III, VOL IV