Productive Armed Occupancy

Among the weighty books, three-volume folios with extra gilt, flit gaily lighter things: wills and petitions (oh, the chancery hand…), newspapers, pamphlets and the like. One such thing (not quite gaily) appeared today: Productive Armed Occupancy of the Subdued and Deserted Territory lying on the Mississippi River. Washington, D.C.: McGill & Witherow, 1864. Only one copy exists in institutional libraries (and none for sale or auction): the Huntington (352491), which lists its subject as “1864.” I don’t know that anyone’s read this document in a long while. It asks the Secretary of the Treasury (Salmon Chase or William Fessenden) ““what is to be done with the freed negro”” (p. 3) with special regard to the production of cotton and tobacco. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1 January 1863 and the accompanying policy of the government radically altered the means of producing commodity crops, and there was concern for the security of the sources of much American wealth (viz. “the abandoned cultivated lands in the rebellious States”, p. 4).

The plan suggests settling 1,000 “freed negro[es]” and 100 “white loyal citizens” in the land, and the government furnishing them with guaranties, doctors, teachers and so forth. One stated goal (p. 5) is to keep “the freed negro from vagabondizing at the North”, another to provide “for the education of the growing generation of blacks”. The author is concerned with allaying the fears of other nations that the flow of cotton from America will diminish, and his solution is to employ freed slaves, since with the proclamation they became “ward[s] of the Government; with the usual claims of a ward, conferring upon the Government the right of disposition” (p. 7).

The very title, Productive Armed Occupancy, indicates that freed slaves are once again pressed into service, albeit paid; they are in essence drafted for labor. This document suggests a forerunner to Black Codes (see T.B. Wilson's Black Codes of the South (University of Alabama Press, 1965)), the legal mechanisms used by southern states post-1865 to continue to dictate black labor. The placement of 100 whites among each 1,000 blacks is an echo of the three-fifths formula, marking unease in allowing blacks to fully constitute a community. In all, it is a document that speaks of the difficulty of eradicating slave-era attitudes toward black labor and congregation.



Quarto (9 11/16” x 7 1/8”, 246mm x 193mm): 1-2^4 3^2. 10 leaves, pp. 1, blank, 3 4-19, blank.