What to do With the Negroes.
Sambo has proven a fruitful source of trouble to the administration. He has bothered the country immensely in a political sense, and is no less difficult to dispose of in a military point of view. We have tried him in various capacities — as "contraband," doing nothing in particular, but fed and clothed at government expense; we have tried to transport and disseminate him amongst the free states; we have set him to work on fortifications, with soldiers to "boss" him; we have refused to receive him into our lines, and we have made a soldier of him. None of these plans seems to meet all the requisite conditions in his case. And now, Adjutant Gen. Thomas has decided to make the government an immense slave proprietor, and to hire its negroes out to the highest bidder, who is empowered to make them work, and is to pay the government for their labor. At least so we interpret his order, published in another column.
It is a pretty big scheme, there's no denying. The plantations confiscated by the government are to be rented out to suitable persons, not at so much an acre, but at so much per cent. upon what they produce; negroes are to be hired by these tenants, who are not allowed to whip them, but are to pay them a salary fixed by Gen. Thomas, regulated solely upon a basis of age, and not of efficiency.
While we regard this plan of Gen. Thomas' as very deficient in its details, and imperfect in its organization, we believe the principle upon which this disposition of the negroes is based to be the true one in our dealings with Sambo. He has been rebel property, and according to the laws of war has fallen into our possession and been confiscated; now instead of feeding and clothing him to support his laziness, or turning him loose to become a charge upon the country and a vagabond and a pariah amongst our population, we set him to work, paying him a fair price for his labor, and at the same time render him self-supporting. Whether he can be made to work efficiently if his master is denied the power to inflict corporeal punishment, remains to be seen. If he will not, that restriction should be removed. The negro should understand that we will, in no case, be allowed to become a burden and a dead expense upon the country, but that he is required to earn his own living, as white folks do. If he will work without the employment of force, and for the sake of the pecuniary reward held out as an inducement, so much the better; if not, make him work by some means.
Under this system of economizing negro labor, many advantages will be gained. The soil, instead of being left desolate, will be made fruitful and productive; and cotton, for which we are so anxious, will be raised in abundance; and the negro who has bothered us so much as an inevitable element in the prosecution of the war, will be disposed of for the time being in a manner that will probably satisfy the people of the country. Negroes are undoubtedly much better laborers than soldiers. They can handle the hoe more skillfully and efficiently than the musket. We hope, therefore, that Gen. Thomas' plan may meet with a full and fair trial; its minor deficiencies and imperfections supplied and corrected, and that the contraband, instead of being an element of disquiet and contention, may be made serviceable and remunerative as a laborer on the fields to which he has been accustomed.