No Easy Walk to Freedom: Reconstruction and the Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment

By James E. Bond | Go to book overview

to intimidate the freedmen. 104 In those few counties where blacks outnumbered whites and controlled local governments, particularly the sheriff's office, they prevented or eliminated most of the terrorist activities. 105 In other areas they were dependent upon the governor's willingness to call out the militia and impose martial law. While Governor Powell Clayton did just that in November 1868, the decision proved to be politically unpopular. He did not repeat the "mistake." 106 Consequently, most Arkansan blacks were left unprotected. Vigilantes in many areas thus rendered the law in general and the Fourteenth Amendment in particular a dead letter.

Those who supported the Fourteenth Amendment believed that it had established a legal order within which free labor would flourish. Even before the war ended, army officers and officials of the Freedmen's Bureau in Arkansas had adopted policies by which they sought to promote free labor. 107 Despite the freedmen's ardent desire to acquire land and farm it, 108 these policies failed. The right to buy property meant little to blacks who had no money to buy land or who could find no owner willing to sell it to them. 109 The right to contract meant little in circumstances where blacks had no choice but to accept low wages or starve and where courts routinely construed contractual provisions against them. Thus economic and social realities also reduced many of the rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to legal fictions.

Yet fifty years after the Civil War, the conservative black minister E. C. Morris would tell his Little Rock flock:

Let us turn back 50 years ago, and look at the condition of our people then, and see us later when we were emancipated, homeless, clotheless and many nameless, and then look at us today, free men and women, and in the places where once stood auction blocks for human slaves we find schoolhouses. We should all feel that we have much to be thankful for today and every other day. I have seen the whole because I have lived in the days of slavery and I know what freedom is. 110

Whatever that freedom was, it was neither the freedom that Mr. Jefferson had declared the birthright of every human being nor the freedom Mr. Grey had so eagerly and eloquently sought for the advancement of his race.


NOTES
1.
Augustus Garland to President Johnson, 24 October 1865. Paul H. Bergeron, ed., The Papers of Andrew Johnson, vol. 9, September 1865-January 1866 ( Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991), 276-77.
2.
Thomas S. Staples, Reconstruction in Arkansas, 1862-1874 ( 1964; reprinted Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith), 107.
3.
Ibid.
4.
Ibid., 106. Some conservatives did suggest that blacks might be reenslaved. Carl H. Moneyhon , The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on Arkansas: Persistence in the Midst of Ruin ( Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994), 195.

-205-

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No Easy Walk to Freedom: Reconstruction and the Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • 1 - The Remembered Past of the Fourteenth Amendment 1
  • Notes 10
  • 2 - Ratification in Tennessee 15
  • Notes 26
  • 3 - Ratification in Mississippi 33
  • Notes 47
  • 4 - Ratification in North Carolina 53
  • Notes 65
  • 5 - Ratification in Louisiana 75
  • Notes 95
  • 6 - Ratification in Alabama 101
  • Notes 114
  • 7 - Ratification in South Carolina 121
  • Notes 137
  • 8 - Ratification in Virginia 143
  • Notes 158
  • 9 - Ratification in Florida 169
  • Notes 183
  • 10 - Ratification in Arkansas 189
  • Notes 205
  • 11 - Ratification in Texas 211
  • Notes 225
  • 12 - Ratification in Georgia 231
  • Notes 245
  • 13 - The Imagined Future of the Fourteenth Amendment 251
  • Notes 272
  • Selected Bibliography 275
  • Index 289
  • About the Author 297
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