Despite giving African Americans eventually gaining the rights of citizens, the federal government, which was dominated by Republicans at the time, did not see helping freed blacks as their immediate priority. The Reconstruction era saw the rise as what was known as sharecropping, in which a tenant would rent land, rather than work directly under a land owner. This new system attracted many Georgian blacks, but to those who disapproved, this new system was inevitable. Freed men had no choice but to find work in order to pay for their families. By the early 1870’s, sharecropping had dominated agriculture across the cotton-planting South, in the response to their crippled economy. Under this system, freed men, along with their families, would rent a plot of land, and tend to the crop themselves. In return for being lent the land, they would give a portion of their crop to the landowner. However, historians today regard sharecropping as purely of euphemism of forced human labor, legal only a few years before.
The sharecropping system was successful at first, but soon began to show its flaws. It had given African Americans a sense of self-reliance, in both their daily work and social lives, but it often resulted in the tenants owing more to the landowner (e.g. rent for tools, supplies) than they were able to pay back. As for the few Georgian tenants who did manage to acquire enough money to repay their landowner, many of them had eventually went on to own their own land. But for those who did not, many had fallen into severe debt or had fallen into poverty. Many cases involved the landowner threatening them with violence, or to sign ludicrous labor contracts that resulted in the fatal entrapment within the system. This again emphasizes Georgia’s heavy dependence on an agricultural based economy and the desperate measures taken to restore its failing economy.
The convict rent framework, one of the most ludicrous developments of Reconstruction,
was also introduced in the late 1860’s. In response to Georgia’s economy, society, and government being in severe disarray, the state government attempted to find a plan to quickly repair damaged or destroyed infrastructure, and to provide funding for unexpected costs as well. The issue on jails and inmates was one in particular, as most penitentiaries had been destroyed during the course of the war. With government insufficiency and a growing sense of unrest among all members in society, the issue of where and how to house convicts needed to be felt with immediately. At first, a few states paid private owners to house the prisoners. Eventually, Georgia realized that they could rent out their convicts to local landowners or industrialists. In return for physical labor, the landowners were willing to provide small wages for them, as well as oversee their lodging and food.