New Confederacy Economic/Social History
The sharecropping system in the NC has its origin in the ad-hoc, emergency labor agreements that followed the War. It was a simple idea. Farmers and refugees would work together and share the profits (and food) at the end of the harvest. Refugees without expertise, tools, seeds, or work animals would be loaned the necessary equipment and food – and work the land for a percentage of the harvest (under the supervision of the farmer). The farmer would provide the expertise, land and supplies. He would collect a larger percentage of the profit – and a repayment from the refugees.
This was a system designed to meet the labor needs of the farmer and also make the refugee self-supporting. In theory, it was a good idea.
White Supremacist and NC ideology, however, enforced social and economic controls that worked against refugees from ethnic and religious minorities. The system became vicious, and self-perpetuating – and the workers became little more than serfs who were held to the land by debt, ignorance, poverty, and dependence on the landlord.
Initially, farmers and the remnants of State government believed that refugees could not survive without close and continuous supervision. They believed that the refugees were incapable of being self-directed because few knew anything about farming and many were suffering from PTSD or similar illnesses. Thus, a supervised contract system emerged even before the New Confederacy was formally created.
Because the refugees lacked land or capital, they had little choice but to sign sharecropping contracts. Unfortunately, the contracts had no expiry dates.
These early agreements introduced the beginning of the slavery mechanisms. The surviving agencies of State Government had feared the biowarfare plagues and insisted that the contracts include provisions for quarantine. Before a refugee could leave the farm, he had to have the farmer’s permission.
Over time the system devolved into peonage. Most of the labor force had no work animals or tools. All they had to offer was their labor and the labor of their families. It was impossible to pay wages because there were extremely limited amounts of currency (most “money” had vanished following the collapse of the banks and their computers). What emerged was an unusual form of farming that did not involve the cash needed for wages between labor and capital, yet provided employment for the refugees.
Approximately 2 years after the war, State Government supervision and controls became ineffective (largely because the States were ceasing to exist as functional entities). The farmers had almost total power over the refugees – and there was little to stop them abusing this situation.
Labor patterns began to emerge. As the agriculture economy tried to adjust to the new labor situation involving the refugees, the NC homestead was established in its current form.
Social stratification shifted to fit the new economic reality. At the top was the “Administrator”, “farmer,” or “landowner”. Over time, it became a matter of status for farmers to hire “farm managers” who were responsible for a list of Displaced Persons. The managers were expected to make a profit each year and the landowner rarely cared how this profit this was made.
Basically, the system developed three classes below the landowner, with variations within each type: the cash-tenant, the share-tenant, and the “Displaced Person” (also known as DP or DeePee). Each had a separate and different contract with the official landowner/administrator.
Just below the landowner was the renter (racially, almost invariably a white). If anyone was in a position to move into land ownership, it was usually the renter. He owned work animals and implements. he could obtain his own fertilizer and seeds, and provided for himself and his family throughout the year. The renters paid a fixed rent each harvest but kept any profit over the rent and operating expenses. Renters were most common in locations where homesteads were smaller (usually areas with relatively low populations before the war)
The share-tenant was next in status. In some parts of the NC, this was considered appropriate only for christian whites – but others allowed non-whites. This tenant owned most of the necessary work animals, tools, and machinery. He could furnish seed, feed, and most of the fertilizer. Often he could supply his family’s needs during the crop season, but when he was unable, the landlord would extend credit. Along with the use of the land, the share-tenant was furnished a house and the privilege of gathering wood for fuel. For this he would pay the landowner one-fourth or one-third of the return of the crop (depending on how much the landlord had supported him with work animals, implements, seed, fertilizer and the labor of Displaced Persons). Like renters, share-tenants were usually found in areas where populations and Homesteads were smaller. However, their
socio-economic status was precarious â€“ a few bad years could result in the share-tenant becoming so indebted that he and his family would be reduced to DP status.
The “DeePee,” had little to offer the landowner. In fact, the ONLY thing he had to offer was the his labor. For half his crop as rent, the DP was “furnished” land to farm, a house, work animals, implements, and supervision. Everything else (food, clothing, wood, etc) was obtained from the landowner on credit. Rates of credit were fixed by the landowner and the worst kinds of “company store” excesses became commonplace.
The DP had no legal right to refuse work or move away from the landlord to whom he owed his debt (also the quarantine rules could still be applied at the landowner’s whim). Any attempt to leave without autorization brought severe penalties. The DP had little or no access to education â€“ and was actively discouraged from obtaining any.
From the beginning, people resisted the harsh condition in which they were forced to live and work. To make the system function, landowners employed white supremacist gangs as “enforcers” and extreme violence was frequently used. Figures are not freely available, but in North Dakota alone, there were at least 2140 murders in the first 3 years after the war. In this period, 1823 of the victims, or 85 percent were black. Fity-five of the 1823 were black women.
This system was always flawed, yet it has lasted for nearly 150 years. It is interesting to note, however, that it was discarded by North Dakota about a decade ago. The re-mechanization of agriculture made it unnecessary.