A Freedman's Moral Intuition
By Bryan Caplan
In 1865, a former slave owner mailed a job offer to one of his former slaves. Here’s the highlight of the freedman’s response:
Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you
were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to
test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we
served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on
your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for
thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month
for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to
eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest
for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid
for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth
for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to.
Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq.,
Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we
can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good
Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have
done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations
without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in
Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for
the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those
who defraud the laborer of his hire.
Too bad the last sentence turned out to be wrong. Life is not fair.