From Slave South to New South: Public Policy in Nineteenth-Century Georgia

By Peter Wallenstein | Go to book overview

18
CONSCRIPTS, CONVICTS, AND GOOD ROADS

THE Thirteenth Amendment had been a part of the U.S. Constitution for half a century when Jake Butler went to court to challenge his "involuntary servitude." Under Florida law, local authorities had called Butler out for his six days' annual labor on the county roads. Convicted of a misdemeanor when he failed to appear for the work, he appealed his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court rebuffed his appeal. "From Colonial days to the present time," Justice James C. McReynolds wrote in the unanimous opinion, "conscripted labor has been relied on for the construction and maintenance of roads." The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 -- the source of the wording adopted in the Thirteenth Amendment -- outlawed involuntary servitude except as punishment for crime, he noted, yet the territorial legislature established road duty requirements. So did the states that subsequently arose out of the Territory. Constitutional changes of the 1860s had in no way curtailed the "essential powers" of "effective government," including the capacity to demand jury duty, military service, or road duty.


Toward Repeal of Statute Labor

Transportation improvements included roads as well as railroads. Although court cases like Butler's in both North and South demonstrated opposition to what McReynolds termed "conscripted labor" (more often called "statute labor"), many states continued to make use of the labor tax into the twentieth century. At the dawn of the new century, a survey of Georgia's counties revealed that Murray County required an annual average of six days" "statute labor," as did Rabun, Habersham, Madison, and Fayette counties. Lincoln County, which required only two days' annual labor, suffered from poor roads; Polk, with ten days, and Randolph, with fifteen, sported good ones. Not until 1935 did Georgia terminate road duty as an obligation due the counties. And only in 1951 did the state repeal an Atlanta city charter provision requiring residents to work on the city streets each year or pay a commutation tax.

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From Slave South to New South: Public Policy in Nineteenth-Century Georgia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Maps, Figures, and Tables ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Society And Politics 7
  • 2 - State Power And Tax-Free Finance 23
  • 3 - The Accommodation Of The Public 32
  • 4 - Tax Upon The Time And Labor Of Our Citizens 40
  • 5 - Creating A New Revenue System 49
  • 6 - What Disposition Shall Be Made Of The Money? 61
  • 7 - Great Objects Of The State's Charity 74
  • 8 - Depriving A Whole Race 86
  • 9 - Rich Man's War 99
  • 10 - Rich Man's Fight 110
  • 11 - Confederate Context 121
  • 12 - Power And Policy 131
  • 13 - Freed Men And Citizens 140
  • 14 - All The Children Of The State 152
  • 15 - Higher Education For A New South 160
  • 16 - Railroads, Debt, And Reconstruction 170
  • 17 - A Tax Base Without Slaves 183
  • 18 - Conscripts, Convicts, And Good Roads 196
  • Epilogue: From Eighteenth Century To Twentieth 208
  • Essay On Primary Sources 215
  • Notes 219
  • Bibliography 257
  • Index 273
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