The Suffering in the South

March 12, 1867


The South has been in a state of compliance with Congress for the past 2 years through all restrictions and regulations placed on them. General Howard finally seeks to grant Southerners a path back to normality and to restore the humanity of the nation.


General Howard has done a humane act in bringing to the attention of Congress the amount of destitution prevailing in the southern States, now two years conquered and peacefully submitting to the laws of the conquerors and two years without representation in the national councils. Congress appears to have been startler at this communication from an officer appointed especially to look after the interests and welfare of the negro; yet who, in the discharge of that duty, through his subalterns, unavoidably became aware of that poverty and destitution prevailing among the white population, in the midst of whom dwell the negroes, who, as "wards of the nation," were put under his guardianship. The General's solicitude was excited by the information which reached him, and instituted the inquiry which revealed the sad tables he communicated to Congress. We say General Howard deserves credit for his humanity and his industry in this matter. The Senate, fully appreciating the distressing facts collated by him, promptly passed a resolution appropriating a million of dollars for the relief of the sufferers, whose condition has thus been made known to them. The House of Representatives will now have to act upon this humane measure, and we trust it will elevate itself above the sectional and party prejudice which has marked so much of its legislation. People regarded by that body as a part of the nation and as fit subjects of taxation can hardly be left by them as deserving neither sympathy nor aid while starving. Congress, having carried its objects over all opposition from the other branches of the Government, should certainly now give the kindlier feelings of the heart a little play, and show that the bitter partisan strife of two years has not deadened all sensibilities to human suffering. It is very fit and just, while on this subject to refer to the policy of Congress as having, in a great degree, contributed to the suffering which now prevails in the South. The unsettled relations of the ten unrepresented States, and the incessant alarming legislation in Congress with regard to them, have destroyed confidence, repressed enterprise, driven off capital, and paralyzed industry. The South has been taxed--taxed more heavily than the North--whilst not a dollar has been disbursed amongst her people by the Federal Government which could be avoided. The very taxes collected have been rapidly drawn out of the southern depositaries and placed in the large northern cities, where money was superabundant. The impoverished South has been drained-first by the land tax of '62, which was held in reserve till the end of the war, and then put in force upon her people, who were completely destitute; and secondly, by all other taxes imposed on the North and South alike, and the cotton tax beside. How is it possible that so large a part of the country, impoverished by war, can stand such a drain while it is deprived of all disbursements of the common fund of the nation? The profits of southern industry are all thus carried off and deposited or disbursed in the North among a people who grew rich on that war which devastated the South. The North has had its millions for contracts, protection, fishing bounties, river and harbor improvements, and offices, and its hundreds of millions in pensions and war bounties, and the South has had not one dollar! Is it wonderful that we should have starvation? Is it wonderful that the humane General Howard, (for he is humane notwithstanding his strong prejudices,) in the pursuit of his office of- looking after freedmen, should stumble upon the poor whites, whose distress and want but show the operation of that partial policy which no people on earth can long endure without ruin and starvation ? Not at all. Congress ought to have anticipated this condition of things as the necessary consequence of its own unstatesmanlike and cruel policy. As long as that policy lasts this destitution and starvation will not only continue, but increase, and Congress will have to continue to vote millions to feed the poor of the land which itself has exhausted, or shut its eyes and stop its ears to the gaunt forms and piercing cries of the children of Famine. If Congress would put an end to these horrors, let it change its policy--let it end the sectional war it has pursued so relentlessly towards the South--let it consider the South deserving something besides tax-ation--let it look upon the South, as indeed, a part of the Union : as a part whose prosperity is but the national prosperity, and whose growth and increase in wealth are but enhancing the power and resources of the nation. Let these be its views, and let its measures reflect them, and starvation will end in the South. That land, once the abode of happiness and plenty, will soon be restored at least to comfort. Industry will revive, enterprise be encouraged, trade stimulated, and General Howard will hardly find occupation in taking care of freedmen, while the southern communities will take care of their own poor. Congress, by its recent act for reconstructing the States, hard, though it be, has at last given a pledge for that restoration which, if it be faithfully performed, will restore these States to participation in national attain. Should this be done without unnecessary delay, and should the measures of public policy be impartially directed for the equal benefit of all the States, than will starvation indeed be at an end, and the South become prosperous, and her immense resources once more the chief source of national wealth.
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Walker Black




“The Suffering in the South,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed November 26, 2022,