EXCERPT: From CONVEYANCE by Jeff Willis with C.K.Gurin
"In other words, Mike," Daddy was piecing things together. "You collaborated with the Yankees to save your skin."
"No. I collaborated to save Louisiana's skin!" Hahn retorted. "I detected an absence of hostility in Lincoln. He wanted to preserve the Union. That was it. As the war dragged on, he did what he had to do to preserve it. Some of it amounted to a total disregard for the constitution.
"Everyone knew that the South would not be able to withstand a long, protracted war with the North. Our only chance disappeared with those lost set of orders in Maryland and General Bragg's reluctance to invade Louisville.
"Either event would have done it. But, in the case of Maryland, it was bad luck. In the case of Louisville, it was simply too much caution, the fear of failure." Hahn's pudgy face showed a wistfulness that reflected extreme sadness.
"What do you expect to happen now, Mike?" Mama was hoping for something that seemed to be fleeting.
"Anything and everything." Hahn responded. "Hopefully, it will be without bloodshed, but don't count on it. You were spared fighting in your corner of the world. You should be grateful for that. But, the real worry should be the coming leadership. They have no knowledge of running anything. And, they have no scruples."
"That you had already emancipated your 'people' is positive. It is even better that you have pointed them in the direction of self reliance and independence. My worry would be the efforts of those who will attempt to wrest what is yours away from you."
"As in tax levies?" Daddy's voice was low.
"But, we can produce a lot of products from our land that can be sold for hard money." Daddy seemed to be uncomfortable with the thought that tax levies would be so high that he could not pay them. "Two-thirds of the state's tax revenue came from taxes on slaves, as you know, Mike. We and the others who emancipated continued to pay those taxes; for the sake of both need and discretion."
"In other words, you and others continued to pay taxes on slaves, even though you had emancipated them?" Hahn knit his brows in amazement.
"Yes." Daddy sighed, accepting a refill of his coffee cup. "Nobody chose to leave Mt. Lebanon. Those who did, returned. Everyone in this quaint hamlet, was engrossed in reading Shakespeare and reciting the poetry of Poe and Tennyson. To some, teaching slaves to read, was risky. But teaching free people of color was not unlawful. Nobody could get in trouble for paying excess taxes."
"Amazing!" Hahn was clearly impressed. "The question becomes,
'why' would the townspeople want their colored population literate? It's a fair
"You free your slaves." Daddy had finished his coffee and was now returning the white china cup to its saucer. "Free to do what? Starve? We agree that slavery itself was an anachronism. The next question is, what do the freedmen do from here?
"We have taught our children to 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' An opportunity to bring this vow to fruition is upon us! Think about it, Mike! We used these enslaved people for two hundred years; to our advantage. Now, we are giving them their freedom. But is that sufficient?"
"I certainly see your point!" Hahn shook his head thoughtfully. "Freedom is what it is. Yet, it is only the beginning. In good conscience you and several others, here in Mt. Lebanon, have begun the transition."
"We did it secretly because there were so many in the parish who didn't think that the South would lose the war." Daddy revealed. "After all, Bienville Parish never saw a single Yankee regiment. Whenever their armies looked to be closing in, the Southern armies prevailed."
"And they were quite justified in that thought." Hahn noted, grinding out his cigar.
"Many of us thought slavery was dead." Daddy's eyes flashed. "It mattered little who won the war. The institution is a relic of the past. Primarily, because it is so expensive! I did not want my sons burdened with the responsibility that is mine.
"Through it all, we have our people and the bond that has cemented our families for nearly one-hundred years. They depend upon us, and we on them. Would it not be right to adequately position them for the changes that are upon us?"
"Hopefully, I will be proven wrong, Richard." Hahn's eyes showed compassion. "You have built a first-class plantation and have used your 'people' most effectively. It's a shame that there are not more planters like you. But, you're not dealing with the likes of Lincoln.
"The people who are invading the South are a different sort. They are ruthless. They are unscrupulous. I have seen them. God pity all of us. Especially those like yourself who have attempted to do the right thing."
"I only pray," Daddy voice suddenly took on a wistful note. "that these people leave us unmolested."
"Well, you obviously won't be expected to pay taxes on your slaves, or former slaves." Hahn was rising from the table. "That is why I would anticipate huge levies on your lands. I have even heard mention that some are considering making taxes retroactive!"
"They would expect to receive tax payments for the four years when we were at war?" Aghast, Daddy arose from his seat. "Could they do this?"
"As I said, Mr. Bryan. You are not dealing with the better part of humanity." Hahn was making his way to the parlor. "The state coffers are empty. Hence, a motivation for revenue procurement. Those in charge will care little for basic compunction. They see it as an excuse to exploit. Best of all, the victims are those who are considered traitors."