The Negroes and the Poor

Atlanta Southern Confederacy editorial

October 30, 1862

We cheerfully lay before our readers today, the communication of “A Soldier,” in opposition to our views upon that section of the Exemption Bill which exempts a white man to take care of plantations having a certain number of negroes. “A Soldier” has made the best of his case. His pleadings are plausible. His language is pretty strong, but he is entirely courteous and respectful.…

We regret to find that he misapprehends one of our positions.… We were contending for the wisdom and justice of that provision of the law which exempts somebody to take care of and control the negroes and make them work.–We don’t advocate the exemption of the rich and the conscription of the poor, because they happen to be rich or poor, but that the negroes must have some white person to remain with and care for them and cause them to make bread. That’s all.

And we will here remark that the law does not exempt the owner specially. It says, “To secure the proper police of the country one person, either as agent, owner or overseer” shall be kept on each plantation of 20 negroes or any number which State laws require one white man to be kept with, provided there is no white male adult on the place, not liable to do military duty. A rich man can’t keep an overseer and stay at home too. A rich man fifty, sixty or seventy years old with half a dozen sons over 18 must send them all to the war and oversee his own plantation.

The poor of the country would be very unsafe in their property and to some extent in their persons, if the negroes were left without any one to keep them at work and regulate their conduct.

But, “A Soldier” inquires if a rich man with ten negroes is exempt, why not a poor man with ten children? Simply because ten white children are not negroes. The “proper police of country” don’t require a white man to stay at home to control his children.

The negro has intelligence and brutality combined, enough to make him very troublesome, and even very dangerous, if left without proper control; but he has not enough of intelligence with high moral development, to leave him among us without absolute control. The poor man can leave his ten children with his wife. She can keep them at work and control them–if not as well as the husband and father, at least enough to prevent their being a pest–a terror to the country–lazy, thieving, vicious, brutal–to say nothing more. But a man’s negroes can’t be thus left. They must have a man to control and take care of them. This “A Soldier;” we have no doubt, will admit. It is one of the accidents of that provision of the law that it exempts a rich man occasionally while it does not a poor man. That is not the design. It is intended to have the negroes looked after. It must be done; hence, this is a wise provision of the law. It may be the misfortune of the poor man to be conscribed while a few rich men are not, but the law does not make that distinction or contemplate any such gross injustice or inequality, in its operation.

The accidents or misfortunes of any provision of law, or any man upon which it operates, must not be used to condemn the law.… The enacting of laws that will mete out equal and exact justice to all persons in all cases and under all circumstances, is impossible.–Laws must be enacted for the whole people and must be framed so as to secure “the greatest good to the greatest number.”.…

“A Soldier,” and all who think as he does, must recollect that there are thousands of rich men in our army who have gone voluntarily into the ranks and are daily performing the labors of the camp; and fight the battles of freedom, whenever the Yankees are met. He is too sweeping in his criticisms.–He will find this out by looking round among his own neighbors; and his remark that the rich at home will not do anything for the families of the soldiers is also, we are very sure too broad. There may be, and doubtless are some hoggish rich men who refuse to do their duty in this respect. It would be strange if there were not, for the world has bad and selfish men in every community–both rich and poor. We have no doubt the rich in all communities are more liberal towards the poor than our correspondent seems to suppose.

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