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Our Common Wealth by Peter Barnes, Jonathan Rowe

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14Subsistence from theCommons

Southern planters faced a major dilemma after the Civil War. Not only had they lost their slaves; now many former slaves refused to work on the terms the planters offered. The freedmen had become too independent, it was said, and a big part of that newfound independence involved access to the commons.

In the American South, the commons took the form of law and custom allowing people to hunt, fish, and even graze cattle on land they did not own, as long as the owner put no fence around it. Private property rights yielded to the needs of subsistence—to common rights. In this way the commons supported blacks during their long bondage and after emancipation gave them a measure of economic independence. Which is why, ...

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