"Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire."

|

On his Rad Geek People's Daily blog, Charles Johnson has posted an extraordinary 1865 letter from a former slave named Jourdan Anderson to his former master Colonel P.H. Anderson. Apparently Col. Anderson wrote to Jourdan in Ohio and asked him to come back and work on the plantation in Tennessee. Jourdan's response is brilliant (and strikes many of the same classical liberal themes as Frederick Douglass' famous letter to his former master). Here's one particularly memorable part:

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost Marshal General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly-and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future.

I served you faithfully for thirty-two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq, Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

Read the whole thing here.

NEXT: We're Not Censors, Just Crappy Legislators

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Sounds like pro-union propaganda to me.

  2. Morris, to compare the very real injustice done to slaves to the dubious complaints to modern unionists does great historic injustice to the memories of people who were forced at the point of a gun to live in inhumane conditions and toil for fear of being literally whipped, beaten or worse. No one forced a non-union laborer to work in an auto plant. These people were forced.

  3. That letter would have been more awesome had Jourdon Anderson added:

    “P.S. Eat a bag of dicks, motherfucker.”

  4. “P.S. Eat a bag of dicks, motherfucker.”

    Evidently the slaves were more eloquent than you, Mister DNA.

  5. Actually, Mister Kamikaze, it’s the clinical politeness of the letter that gives it much of its punch. It says “I’m not going to waste my new freedom being angry all the time; I have a new life now.”

    In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve-and die if it comes to that-than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters.

    Casual slave-rape. I’m amazed he can discuss it this calmly.

    Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

    Awesome.

  6. Evidently the slaves were more eloquent than you, Mister DNA.

    At the very least, one of them.

    Episarch, indeed. I love a good rant, and Jourdon’s letter is basically “Eat a bag of dicks, motherfucker” stated politely.

    On its own the letter is awesome, but for some reason, I find it lacking something – either the aforementioned P.S. or some emoticons…

  7. As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost Marshal General of the Department of Nashville…

    Pretty eloquent writing for a freed slave… I smell bullshit!

  8. wayne,

    One of the many dirty little secrets of the slavocracy of the U.S. South was that a fair number of slaves could read and write. This would be I guess partly because many Southern states prior to the 1830s did not have anti-literacy laws, and thus some slaves during that time period did learn these skills which they pass on to others. There were also basically itinerant black ministers (I can’t recall their status – but I suspect that many of them were enslaved themselves) and they themselves might have been the source of some of this dispersion of learning. Anyway, suffice it to say that any prohibition on learn by slaves was always going to be quite leaky.

  9. I followed the link to read the whole thing, and the following quote was a bit farther down the page. Seems like Libertarians are not an admired group in Santa Cruz.

  10. Sorry… tag error. Here is the quote I referred to in my previous post

    Libertarianism or Barrbarism?

    Roderick Long, Austro-Athenian Empire (2009-05-04): More Crap from the “Libertarian” Party (with a hat tip to Soviet Onion in the comments back here). In which the Libertarian Party sends out a press release urging the United States government to “control the border,” escalate the use of police-state checkpoints against immigrants, and consider all would-be immigrants diseased until proven healthy.

    I’d be pissed if I weren’t beyond caring about anything the LP says or does. Individual party members are often perfectly good people, and well worth talking to, and well worth inviting to something new and better; but the party, as an organization, is worth taking notice of only as an enemy, to be shoved out of the way along with the rest of the belligerent busybody Know-Nothing creeps.

  11. That was a great link, so very condescending to his former “master.”

    Though when I found this link I was left scratching my head. Is this really how the Libertarians are spending the tiny amount of political capital that they have?

  12. Seward,

    It is possible that a freed slave wrote that bitingly sarcastic letter, but it certainly seems unlikely.

  13. Cuernimus,

    I agree, that is a head scratcher. Perhaps we should sue the Libertarian Party for false advertisement – they are clearly no longer libertarian. We should at least urge them to change their name. They nominated Bob Barr for goodness sake!

  14. wayne, some slaves were educated for use as secretaries and other jobs that required reading, writing, and even additional skills like arithmetic or bookkeeping. Why would you hire a bookkeeper when you could teach one of your slaves to to do double-entry, for instance?

  15. There were some who urged legal recognition of a cause of action for former slaves against their former masters. Lincoln and his war criminals dismissed such urgings.

  16. Episiarch,

    That is even more effecting than Mary Boykin Chestnut’s discussion of the rape of slave women.

  17. DHS and cuernimus-

    Very troubling, indeed.

  18. Epi-5:59

    Well said.

  19. wayne,

    My response is that slaves were not empty vessels; they too were agents. Just like people had samizdata behind the Iron Curtain, just like the anti-Nazi propaganda that existed in Germany even at the height of Nazi power, so slaves learned how to read and write. Any system of control is going to have leakage, especially as that control tightens.

  20. Ssssssssssnap!

    Pretty eloquent writing for a freed slave… I smell bullshit!

    Yeah, like that dimwit Fredrick Douglass…

    Also, education back then tended to stick to basics, you know, like teaching one to read and write.

  21. For instance, I can point you to a lot of educated white folks who were never slaves who can’t put two coherent words together in writing.

  22. For instance, I can point you to a lot of educated white folks who were never slaves who can’t put two coherent words together in writing.

    Very true, I work with some of them. There were a great many white folks who were slaves who could neither read, nor write, but there were exceptions, such as Frederick Douglas.

  23. From the Comments section hier:

    Regarding his writing skills, the printed version of the letter in Child’s book also includes these words: “Written just as he dictated it.”

    Yer welcome.

  24. Thanks, anarch.

    Even dictated, that is a remarkable string of words.

  25. By the way, in my previous post I did not mean to imply that I thought Frederick Douglas was white.

  26. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

    You listening, Mr Chairman and Mr Secretary?

  27. “Why would you hire a bookkeeper when you could teach one of your slaves to to do double-entry, for instance?”

    Epi, I did that very thing. Never got much else done after that.

  28. :::Tips derby to D.W. Root

  29. Also, education back then tended to stick to basics, you know, like teaching one to read and write.

    So where did they learn self-esteem and cultural sensitivity?

  30. Obama is defrauding all sorts of laborers of their hire. The income tax is nothing but theft.

  31. Income tax is theft?? I thought property was theft. Wait, freedom is nothing left to lose. No, a stich saves time. Give me that old time religion….

  32. :::shakes fist at Edward “Lefiti” Morris

  33. JB,

    I was waiting for that one. If only the ex-slave letter writer could have known what was coming, he may have gone back to his master. “You think slavery was bad, wait until you hear about taxes!”

  34. Though slaves are in the lowest status in the caste system, they are still human. Thus, have the right to be respected. Some really engaged themselves in any situation like gambling just to sustain living. Only 23 people this year were able to pull off a superfecta. The superfecta is correctly guessing (i.e. betting) the top 4 placing horses at the Kentucky Derby. It appears to be about more or less plain luck, as the winner was the 50 to 1 underdo, Mine That Bird. The trifecta, is about as hard, as guessing the top 3 accurately. If a person were to bet every combination to make it, it would cost more than a payday loan, as the maximum bet is $1, and there were 93,024 different permutations of the placement. (93,024 different superfecta possibilities.) Still, the superfecta winners came away with cash advances of about $278,000.

  35. :::tips hat at mantooth

    re: Belinda O. Thank you, that’s the best threadjack spam I’ve ever seen.

  36. Where are the neo-confederates from the Von Mises Institute debunking this letter? You know the usual asswhiles defending the south and sounding like “libertarians” usually lurk around H&R. LibertyMike you’re tettering close..yea Lincoln was a war criminal!

    This is a great piece of American history…thanks for sharing.

  37. “Where are the neo-confederates from the Von Mises Institute debunking this letter?”

    Clearly you do not understand the Von Mises Institute or the objection that some members of the LvMI have to the Civil War. I am a member of the LvMI and I oppose slavery in all of its forms. This gentleman was clearly very glad to be free of his bondage and I am glad he stood up for his right to live in freedom. I wish more Americans today would stand up for their right to live in freedom.

  38. One thing that may help shed some light on this is that the LvMI is opposed war in general, not just the Civil War. But all wars including the Spanish American war, wars of imperialism and both U.S. wars against Iraq.

  39. Where are the neo-confederates from the Von Mises Institute debunking this letter? You know the usual asswhiles defending the south and sounding like “libertarians” usually lurk around H&R. LibertyMike you’re tettering close..yea Lincoln was a war criminal!

    Have I mentioned the US government should give all the land it owns to descendants of former slaves?

    10$ says Lefty opposes this….What a fuking racist he is.

    Libertarian 1; Socialist 0

  40. “Have I mentioned the US government should give all the land it owns to descendants of former slaves?”

    I like your basic concept but would make one minor change. I think half should be given to the descendents of former slaves but the other half should be given to the descndents of Native American Indian tribes who were forced off their land. But I am with you in principle.

  41. I’m with Wayne. I’d love for this letter to be real, but it seems very suspicious. Putting aside the writing skills of former slaves, something about the language and sensibility of the writing seems just too different from anything else I’ve ever read from that era. This could be the libertarian equivalent of the Green’s phony Chief Seattle letter. Just a little too perfect to be true.

  42. Don’t know if the letter is authentic, but the Biblical references would have occurred to any former slave, even if they don’t as readily leap to the minds of H&R posters.

    Check out this passage from the Epistle of St. James (in the King James (no relation) version:

    ‘Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.’

  43. I wouldn’t doubt the time period (so there goes your “language and sensibility of the writing seem[ing] just too different from anything else I’ve ever read from that era”, Dave). It was printed in Cincinnati Commercial, reprinted in the New York Tribune in 1865. Whether a former slave or someone else (a white abolitionist, maybe) wrote it is I guess what some people are wondering. I’m not sure why, considering the example of Frederick Douglass and other eloquent freed slaves.

  44. The original articles are kept at the UT Austin Dolph Briscoe Center, so maybe I’ll see if I can actually see the original copy. I doubt it though.

  45. Morris, so what do you call it when someone points a gun at your head and says ‘gimme your money’?

    Oh wait, you call it heaven because you just love getting anally raped. You can’t get enough of it.

    I didn’t sign a single piece of paper saying the government has the right to 50% of my life. I don’t care how many cocksuckers like you say so. Fuck you.

  46. So where did they learn self-esteem and cultural sensitivity?

    Most excellent!

  47. Ken Burns’ Civil War extravaganza was full of excerpted letters from soldiers, many of whom were not from the “educated” classes.

    I don’t recall anybody claiming those letters must have been fabrications, ‘cuz them dumb hillbillys wouldn’t have known how to string words together.

    But those were written by white soldiers. So there’s that to consider.

  48. Looks more like what someone would fabricate if they wanted to imagine what such an ironic response would be, rather than a real insight into someone’s thinking. With extra irony for good measure.

  49. The letter was printed on 22 Aug 1865 in the New York Daily Tribute, and indicated an earlier printing was in the Cincinati Commercial. It was reprinted several times afterwards, such as in The Agitator (Wellsboro, Pennsylvania) on 25 Oct of the same year.

    The preface on the NYDT article: “The following is a genuine document. It was dictated by the old servant, and contains his ideas and forms of expression. — Cincinnati Commercial”

  50. The preface on the NYDT article: “The following is a genuine document. It was dictated by the old servant, and contains his ideas and forms of expression. — Cincinnati Commercial”

    I love it when I am right 🙂

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.