“If you had a negro on trial,” said one of our party, “that would be correct enough. Is it not acknowledged everywhere that a man shall be tried by his peers?”
The lawyer admitted that he never thought of that point before. He said he would insist upon having negroes admitted into court as counsel for negroes that were to be tried by a jury of their race. He did not believe they would ever be available as laborers in the field if they were set free, and thought so many of them would engage in theft that negro courts would be constantly busy.
Generally speaking, the planters that I saw were not violent Secessionists, though none of them were unconditional Union men. All said they had favored secession at the beginning of the movement, because they thought it would strengthen and perpetuate slavery. Most of them had lost faith in its ultimate success, but clung to it as their only hope. The few Union men among them, or those who claimed to be loyal, were friends of the nation with many conditions. They desired slavery to be restored to its former status, the rights of the States left intact, and a full pardon extended to all who had taken part in the Rebellion. Under these conditions they would be willing to see the Union restored. Otherwise, the war must go on.
We visited several plantations on our tour of observation, and compared their respective merits. One plantation contained three thousand acres of land, but was said to be very old and worn out. Near it was one of twelve hundred acres, three-fourths covered with corn, but with no standing cotton. One had six hundred acres of cotton in the field. This place belonged to a Spaniard, who would not be disturbed by Government, and who refused to allow any work done until after the end of the war. Another had four hundred acres of standing cotton, but the plantation had been secured by a lessee, who was about commencing work.
All had merits, and all had demerits. On some there was a sufficient force for the season’s work, while on others there was scarcely an able field-hand. On some the gin-houses had been burned, and on others they were standing, but disabled. A few plantations were in good order, but there was always some drawback against our securing them. Some were liable to overflow during the expected flood of the Mississippi; others were in the hands of their owners, and would not be leased by the Government. Some that had been abandoned were so thoroughly abandoned that we would hesitate to attempt their cultivation. There were several plantations more desirable than others, and I busied myself to ascertain the status of their owners, and the probabilities concerning their disposal.
Some of the semi-loyal owners of plantations were able to make very good speculations in leasing their property. There was an earnest competition among the lessees to secure promising plantations. One owner made a contract, by which he received five thousand dollars in cash and half the product of the year’s labor.