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Thaddeus Stevens Calls for Redistribution of Confederate Land

On January 6, 1865, General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order #15, which gave millions of acres of land along the Atlantic coast to emancipated slaves, in lots of not more than 40 acres per family. In March 1865, Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania proposed that all planter lands in the former Confederacy be confiscated and redistributed to ex-slaves and poor whites in forty-acre tracks. Stevens argued that with money from the sale of the remaining confiscated land, the U.S. government could pay off its war debt and finance pensions for Union soldiers and their families. His proposal found little support and was never even voted on by the full House of Representatives.

We especially insist that the property of the chief rebels should be seized and [used for] the payment of the national debt, caused by the unjust and wicked war they instigated… 

The whole fabric of southern society must be changed and never can it be done if this opportunity is lost. Without this, this government can never be, as it has never been, a true republic… 

Nothing is so likely to make a man a good citizen as to make him a freeholder [landowner]. Nothing will so multiply the production of the South as to divide it into small farms. Nothing will make men so industrious and moral as to let them feel that they are above want and are the owners of the soil which they till… No people will ever be republican in spirit and practice where a few own immense manors and the masses are landless. Small and independent landholders are the support and guardians of republican liberty.

Source | American Social History Project, Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution: An Inquiry into the Civil War and Reconstruction, 253.
Creator | Thaddeus Stevens
Item Type | Speech
Cite This document | Thaddeus Stevens, “Thaddeus Stevens Calls for Redistribution of Confederate Land,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed April 19, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1533.

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