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made slavery in very truth a sort of patriarchal institution, and who are now endeavoring in all sincerity and earnestness to make the negro's situation not only tolerable, but comfortable — is as true as it is that there are many negroes who cling to the old places and the old customs, and are doing their work just as faithfully and unselfishly as ever. These men, on either side, are, I am convinced, the exceptions.
The fault unquestionably, it appears to me, lies with the white man. He is of the ruling race, and might, I feel very certain, have established a different order of things if he had pleased to do so, and had exercised good common sense in the beginning. That there are some planters who find the free negroes honest and faithful is positive proof that there might have been many more, and if many more, then without number.
Most of them began by assuming, however, that it was right to keep the negro in slavery just as long as possible, and by adding thereto the assumption that the free negro would not work. Military power has compelled the recognition of his freedom in every district, I believe, though in some of them not till within the last six weeks; but this almost universal belief that he will not work is doing a good deal to prove that he will not; and troubles which are dimly foreshadowed will come from this cause alone, — the brutal assumption that the negro cannot be controlled except by fear of the lash.
There is among the plantation negroes a widely spread idea that land is to be given them by the government, and this idea is at the bottom of much idleness and discontent. At Orangeburg and at Columbia, country negroes with whom I conversed asked me, "When is de land goin' fur to be dewided?" Some of them believe the land which they are to have is on the coast; others believe the plantations on which they have lived are to be divided among themselves. One of the Convention delegates told me that an old negro man, who declined going away with some of the hands bound for Charleston, gave as his reason for remaining, that "De home-house might come to me, ye see, sah, in de dewision." There is also a widely spread idea that the whites are to be driven out of the lower section of the State, and that the negroes are there to live by themselves. That so absurd ideas as these could exist I would not believe till I found them myself. This latter notion I even found in Charleston among negroes who had just come in from the back country. Other absurd notions well known to prevail are, that freedom can only be found "down-country," i. e. in the neighborhood of Charleston; that it is inseparable from the presence of the army, etc.
Some of these ideas, it was, of course, natural the negro should have, — they are born of his blind and passionate fcmging for liberty, born of his weary waiting in the house of bondage. Where the poor creature got the others, and most dangerous, I 'm sure I don't know. The whites charge the demoralization to the negro soldiers. However this may be, it is painfully certain that, next to teaching the whites that the negro is a free man and not an animal, the hardest work before the North now is to teach the negro what constitutes his freedom.
As I have already intimated, the negroes are drifting down toward the coast in great numbers. In the night of travel between Orangeburg and Columbia, we met scores of them trudging along with their whole earthly possession in a bundle on the head. Walking in the bright moonlight seventy or eighty rods ahead of the hack, I spoke with many. They had but few words; "Gom' to Char'ston," was often their only reply. Whether talkative or taciturn, there was a firm foot and an unruffled voice for the coast. "What are you going to do there?" I asked, — only to get for my answer, "Dun know." I never shall forget the scenes of that two or three miles' walk between one and two o'clock in the morning of that 11th of September. There had recently been some robberies of travellers on that road, and guerillas suggested themselves with every outline seen in the sheeny distance. Yet it was only the exodus of the negroes, going out ignorantly and mistakenly, yet seeking nothing less noble and worthy than freedom.
Despite the fact that nearly everybody tells me the free negro will not work, the experience of some of the better class of planters convinces me that he will work, if he is treated like a man. He is unquestionably sensitive about his freedom, — it is the only thing he has that he can call his own.
Some of the blacks are working along as heretofore, under private arrangements with their former masters; but in most cases there is a written contract between the employer and the employed, — one copy in the hands of the planter and the other at the Freedmen's Bureau office. I hear of very few cases in which the compensation is in money; in nearly all instances it is a part of the crop. The laborer's share ranges from one tenth to one half; on some small farms, where special privileges are given the negroes in the way of clothing, use of land, use of team, use of time, the share may not be over one sixth to one tenth of the regular crop; in the lower part of the State, where most of the labor is done by hand, and where there are no special privileges, the share is from one third to one half; in the upper part of the State, where horses or mules are more in use, the share is from one fourth to one third. The contracts generally expire at New Year's.
It is beyond question that but little work has been done in the State this season. The free negro is the scapegoat on which the whites lay the burden of this wrong, of course; but it seems to me that the disturbed condition of the country in the early summer and through all the spring is extenuation enough.
It is, however, true that the lately freed negro has not generally been made to comprehend that there are six laboring days in each week. The railroad companies complain that they can get but three or four days' work per week from the blacks engaged in rebuilding the roads; and the contract officers of the Freedmen's Bureau quite universally concur in the statement that five days make a plantation negro's week for work. Instances in which the contract officers have been called on to go out into the country and convince the negroes that work must be done on Saturday as well as on other days are not at all rare.
The indifference which so many of the people feel and express as to the fate of the negro is shocking and to the last degree revolting to me. He is actually to many of them nothing but a troublesome animal; not a human being, with hopes and longings and feelings, but a mere animal, valuable, but altogether unlovable. "I would shoot one just as soon as I would a dog," said a man to me yesterday on the cars. And I saw one shot at in Columbia as if he had been only a dog, — shot at from the door of a store, and at midday!" If I can only git shet of 'em I don't care what becomes of 'em," said one of my two stage companions in the ride from Columbia to Winnsboro, while speaking of the seventy negroes on his plantation. Of course he means to "git shet of 'em" as soon as possible. There are others who will follow his example.
There has been much talk to the effect that the planters are, now that the main work of the season is over, turning the negroes adrift. It will not be easy to do this on any large scale, nor can I believe that many employers will attempt it. Indifference most heartless is one thing, — downright active cruelty is quite another. The one may prevail; but, aside from all other considerations, fear of the military will prevent the other. The facility with which the negro can bring his late master before the provost-marshal is something not wholly unpleasant to see.
The whole labor system of the State is in an utterly demoralized condition. How soon it can be thoroughly reorganized, and on just what basis that reorganization will take place, are questions of no easy answering. The labor question, and not reconstruction, is the main question among intelligent thinking men of the State. Scarcely one in a dozen of the best of them have any faith in the negro. "^he experiment of free negro labor is bound to be a failure; and you of the North may as well prepare for it first as last," is substantially the language of hundreds. And thereafter follow questions of, "What shall then be done with the negro?" and, "Where shall we then get our labor?"
Look at the figures for a few districts. In Sumter there were, in 1860, of whites, 6,857, and of negroes, 17,012; in Fairfield, 6,373 whites, and 15,736 negroes; in Colleton, 9,255 whites, and 32,661 negroes; in Beaufort, 6,714 whites, and 33,339 negroes; and in Georgetown, 3,013 whites, and 18,292 negroes. Is it any wonder that the white population of these districts is nervously sensitive about the negro? The proportion of blacks is even greater now than these figures indicate; for war has taken out the whites and brought in the negroes to such an extent that one delegate told me there were in his parish but twenty-two voters and over two thousand negroes. What is to come of such a condition of affairs?
The question is not to be whistled down the wind with the answer, "It will regulate itself"; for straightway on its heels follows this, How will it regulate itself? Suppose you give suffrage to the negro in a State whose population now must be about one third white and two thirds negro? It is no question of punishment for those who have fought against the government; over that fleeting and insignificant matter is the great problem of the good of the two races, the advancement of humanity, and the lofty democratic right of every man to a voice in choosing his rulers.