Counterculture/Staggered Release Program

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In 1894, President Custis Lee began the Staggered Release Program in the Confederate States of America, effectively ending slavery slowly, over the next several decades.


In the 1880s and early 1890s, the CSA came under considerable pressure from their Euopean allies and American rivals to release their slaves. In backlash, they elected President Jeb Stuart who enacted harsh isolationist policies. This caused England, France, Canada, the United States of America, the Northwest Confederacy, the Lone Star Republic, and several less influential nations to agree to lay tariffs and trade sanctions against the CSA until they reformed their policies.

This did serious damage to the already weak economy of the CSA, and caused many people to suffer hardships. In a backlash, in 1891, moderate Custis Lee, son of General Robert E. Lee was elected as president, based on his promise to find a compromise that would open trade again without destroying the institution that the Confederates held so dear.

The Law

The Staggered Release Program decreed that no person born after January 1st, 1895 would be born a slave. It also required that all slave owners allow their slaves to buy their freedom if they could pay their market price, as appraised by a government official. In addition, if they slave could pay one-seventh of their market price, the slave owner had to allow the slave to work for himself one day each week, in order to gain enough money to buy the rest of his freedom. The remainder of his freedom could also be purchased piecemeal, one day at a time. A tax was also levied on the sale of slaves, which would go to the education of freed slaves.

The Practice

In practice, the response to this varied widely by state. In most states, it was still legal to keep people in indentured servitude in order for them to pay off their debts. Because these newborn free blacks were the children of slaves, there was no one to provide for them. In most cases, the slave owners provided food and shelter for these children, and, in return, kept them in indentured servitude, afterwards to pay off their debts. In many cases, these people wound up serving well into their late twenties due to devaluing of their work. Sometimes these people even bore children into the same situation. This allowed the institution of slavery to continue in a more limited form for many years after the beginning of the program. There are several clauses in the Confederate Constitution expressly prohibiting the government from outlawing slavery. Therefore, the actual institution of slavery itself was never outlawed. Even today, in Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama, some crimes can receive a sentence of slavery.


In reponse to this compromise, England and France lifted their tariffs and sanctions, and the other countries soon followed suit. however, within the country, there was a more extreme response from at certian areas. After the passage of this law, Mississippi actually seceded from the Confederate States of America. They were unable to survive as a separate country on their own limited resources, and finally rejoined the CSA in November, 1896, with the agreement that any slaves born in the intervening time would remain slaves.

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