Mississippi: A Documentary History

By Bradley G. Bond | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
FREE LABOR AND
VIOLENCE IN
RECONSTRUCTION

At the end of the Civil War, the Federal government sought to secure for emancipated slaves the full meaning of liberty. Through the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, the government worked to ensure that freedpeople received first wages then later a fair share of the crops they planted. As long as cotton prices remained high, the sharecropping system that begin to emerge soon after the war benefitted both freedpeople and landlords. Yet, when cotton prices began to fall in the late 1860s, sharecroppers, many of whom had borrowed money and supplies from local merchants, fell victim to the 1867 crop-lien law. The crop-lien law had been originally passed to protect money-lenders (generally merchants) from defaulting sharecroppers whose only asset might be the crop in the ground, but an unintended consequence of the law was that merchants were able to control the production of sharecroppers. Creditors insisted that indebted sharecroppers plant only cotton, a fact that caused farmers to become more dependent on merchants for their sustenance and thus caused them to fall ever deeper in debt. By 1875, the sharecropping system, which had once been regarded as a boon to freedpeople, had come to resemble another form of slavery.

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