I was about nine-years old when I first heard the phrase “forty-acres and a mule”. I interpreted “forty-acres and a mule” as free land and a mule that the government was giving to enslaved African American for all the hardship. This phrase came up again 19 years later and I decide to do my own research.

The Truth about the Forty-Acres and a Mule

In 1862 the United States President Abraham Lincoln signed a passage called Compensated Emancipation Act. The act was for the government to set aside $1 Million. This one million was set aside to give union slaveholders up to $300 per free slave. An additional $100,000 allocated by the law was to be used to pay each newly freed slave only $100 if he her she chose to leave United States and colonize in other places such as Haiti and Liberia. As a result of the act’s passage 3,185 slaves were freed.


The forty-acres and a mule was not up on the table yet. On January 1, 1863 United States President Abraham Lincoln emancipated all slaves in the United States. Many freedmen claimed they were told by various political figures that they had the right to own the land that have worked as slaves and they also claimed they were told that they had the right to legally claim 40 acres of land and a mule after the war, which made the newly freed slaves eager to start controlling their own property.


In September of 1863 President Abraham Lincoln announced and ordered 20,000 acres of land to be confiscated in South Carolina and sold to the freedmen in twenty-acre plots.  Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase expanded the offering to forty acres per family and a mule to get them started in making money for their families. These plot would be purchase at $1.25 per acre, with 40% paid upfront and 60% paid later.

Free African Americans in the South expected the land would be redistributed on Christmas of 1865 or on New Year’s of 1866.

Hope of the “40 acres and a mule” specifically was prevalent beginning in early 1865. The expectation of “40 acres” came from the explicit terms of Sherman’s Field Order and the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill. The “mule” may have been added simply as an obvious necessity for achieving prosperity through agriculture. Sox months later Sherman put the forty-acres in affected and confiscated some land from the South. Sherman issued the order, 40,000 former slaves lived on 400,000 acres of this confiscated coastal land.


United States president Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865. Andrew Johnson was now president of United States, and soon after Johnson was in office he intervened in the forty-acres and a mule and ordered that the vast majority of the confiscated land be returned to the white owners.

Many African Americans saw “forty-acres and a mule” as the key to freedom, but by the 1870’s many started losing hope of the Federal land redistribution.


The forty-acres and a mule was not free land to be given to African Americans for their hardship but was to be brought by the freeman to become apart of United States Society.


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