The Word "White" by Frederick Douglass-Keeping Blacks Out of the Homestead Act Lands

Pat Young

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This brief commentary by Frederick Douglass was written when the Homestead Bill was made a Whites-Only benefit for the people of the United States.

THE WORD "WHITE."
Frederick Douglass' Paper, March 17, 1854


The Homestead Bill, which has just passed the House of Representatives, and is now likely to pass the Senate, contains a provision limiting the advantages which it is designed to secure, solely to that part of God's children, who happen to live in a skin which passes for white. Blacks, browns, mulattoes, and quadroons, &c., are to have no part or lot in the rights it secures, to the settlers on the wild lands of the Republic. In the political eyes of our legislators, these latter have no right to live. The great Legislator above, according to our magnanimous republicans, legislated unwisely, and in a manner which independent Americans can never sanction, in giving life to blacks, browns, mulattoes, and quadroons, equally with his dear white children! and this, Congress is determined to make evident before Heaven and Earth and Hell! Alas! poor, robbed and murdered people! for what were we born? Why was life given us? We may not live in the old states; we may not emigrate to the new, and are told not to settle with any security on the wild lands! Were we made to sport?—given life to have it starved out of us?—provided with blood simply that it may gush forth at the call of the scourge? and thus to gratify the white man's love of torture. Some deeds there are, so wantonly cruel, so entirely infernal, as to stun the feeling, and confound all the powers of reason.—And such an one is this. What kind of men are those who voted for the Homestead Bill with such an amendment! Do they eat bread afforded by our common mother earth? and do they ever pray that God, the common father of mankind, will preserve them from famine? Men that act as they have now acted, do not appear to believe either in the existence of, or in the justice of God. It is impossible for us to argue against such mean, cowardly and wanton cruelty. Americans by birth—attached to the country by every association that can give a right to share in the benefits of its institutions, the first successful tillers of the soil—and yet foreigners, aliens, Irish, Dutch, English and French, are to be made welcome to a quarter section of American land, while we are to be kept off from it by the flaming sword, of the Republic. Shame on the outrage!
 
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matthew mckeon

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The 1862 Homestead Act, which took effect the same day as the Emancipation Proclamation, did not include the word white. It did limit homesteading to US citizens, that question for all African Americans not completely settled until 1868. In the 1872 revision, a passage was added stating that homesteads could not be denied on the basis of race.
 


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