Imágenes de páginas





[ocr errors]


N the 19th of December Mr. Trumbull gave notice that “on

e early day” he would “introduce a bill to enlarge the powers of the Freedmen's Bureau so as to secure freedom to all persons within the United States, and protect every individual in the full enjoyment of the rights of person and property, and furnish him with means for their vindication.” Of the introduction of this measure, he said it would be done “in view of the adoption of the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. I have never doubted that, on the adoption of that amendment, it would be competent for Congress to protect every person in the United States in all the rights of person and property belonging to a free citizen; and to secure these rights is the object of the bill which I propose to introduce. I think it important that action should be taken on this subject at an early day, for the purpose of quieting apprehensions in the minds of many friends of freedom, lest by local legislation or a prevailing public sentiment in some of the States, persons of the African race should continue to be oppressed, and, in fact, deprived of their freedom; and for the purpose, also, of showing to those among whom slavery has here tofore existed, that unless by local legislation they provide for the real freedom of their former slaves, the Federal Government will,

by virtue of its own authority, see that they are. fully protected."

On the 5th of January, 1866, the first day of the session of Congress after the holidays, Mr. Trumbull obtained leave to introduce a bill “to enlarge the powers of the Freedmen's Bureau." The bill was read twice by its title, and as it contained provisions relating to the exercise of judicial functions by the officers and agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau, under certain circumstances, in the late insurgent States, it was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

On the 11th of January Mr. Trumbull reported the bill from the Judiciary Committee, to whom it had been referred, with some amendments of a verbal character. On the following day these amendments were considered by the Senate, in Committee of the Whole, and adopted. The consideration of the bill as amended was deferred to a subsequent day.

The bill provided that "the act to establish a Bureau for the relief of Freedmen and Refugees, approved March 3, 1865, shall continue until otherwise provided for by law, and shall extend to refugees and freedmen in all parts of the United States. The President is to be authorized to divide the section of country containing such refugees and freedmen into districts, each containing one or more States, not to exceed twelve in number, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint an assistant commissioner for each district, who shall give like bond, receive the same compensation, and perform the same duties prescribed by this act and the act to which it is an amendment. The bureau may, in the discretion of the President, be placed under a commissioner and assistant commissioners, to be detailed from the army, in which event each officer so assigned to duty is to serve without increase of pay or allowances.

“ The commissioner, with the approval of the President, is to divide each district into a number of sub-districts, not to exceed the number of counties or parishes in each State, and to assign to each sub-district at least one agent, either a citizen, officer of the army, or enlisted man, who, if an officer, is to serve without additional compensation or allowance, and if a citizen or enlisted man, is to receive a salary not exceeding $1,500 per annum. Each assistant commissioner may employ not exceeding six clerks, one of the third class and five of the first class, and each agent of a sub-district may employ two clerks of the first class. The President of the United States, through the War Department and the commissioner, is to extend military jurisdiction and protection over all employés, agents, and officers of the bureau, and the Secretary of War may direct such issues of provisions, clothing, fuel, and other supplies, including medical stores and transportation, and afford such aid, medical or otherwise, as he may deem needful for the immediate and temporary shelter and supply of destitute and suffering refugees and freedmen, their wives and children, under such rules and regulations as he may direct.

“It is also provided that the President may, for settlement in the manner prescribed by section four of the act to which this is an amendment, reserve from sale or settlement, under the homestead or preemption laws, public lands in Florida, Mississippi, and Arkansas, not to exceed three million acres of good land in all, the rental named in that section to be determined in such manner as the commissioner shall by regulation prescribe. It proposes to confirm and make valid the possessory titles granted in pursuance of Major-General Sherman's special field order, dated at Savannah, January 16, 1865. The commissioner, under the direction of the President, is to be empowered to purchase or rent such tracts of land in the several districts as may be necessary to provide for the indigent refugees and freedmen dependent upon the Government for support; also to purchase sites and buildings for schools and asylums, to be held as United States property until the refugees or freedmen shall purchase the same, or they shall be otherwise disposed of by the commissioner.

“Whenever in any State or district in which the ordinary course of judicial proceedings has been interrupted by the rebellion, and wherein, in consequence of any State or local law, , ordinance, police or other regulation, custom, or prejudice, any of the civil rights or immunities belonging to white persons (including the right to make and enforce contracts, to suė, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to have full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and estate), are refused or denied to negroes, mulattoes, freedmen, refugees, or any other persons, on account of race, color, or any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, or wherein they or any of them are subjected to any other or different punishment, pains, or penalties, for the commission of any act or offense, than are prescribed for white persons committing like acts or offenses, it is to be the duty of the President of the United States, through the commissioner, to extend military proteotion and jurisdiction over all cases affecting such persons so discriminated against.

“Any person who, under color of any State or local law, ordinance, police, or other regulation or custom, shall, in any State or district in which the ordinary course of judicial proceedings has been interrupted by the rebellion, subject, or cause to be subjected, any negro, mulatto, freedman, refugee, or other person, on account of race or color, or any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, or for any other cause, to the deprivation of any civil right secured to white persons, or to any other or different punishment than white persons are subject to for the commission of like acts or offenses, is to lee deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and be punished by fine not exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both. It is to be the duty of the officers and agents of this bureau to take jurisdiction of and hear and determine all offenses committed against this provision; and also of all cases affecting negroes, mulattoes, freedmen, refugees, or other persons who are discriminated against in any of the particulars mentioned in this act, under such rules and regulations as the President of the United States, through the War Department, may prescribe. This jurisdiction is to cease and determine whenever the discrimination on account of which it is conferred ceases, and is in no event to be exercised in any State in which the ordinary course of judicial proceedings has not been interrupted by the rebellion, nor in any such State after it shall have been fully restored in all its constitutional relations to the United States, and the courts of the State and of the United States within its limits are not disturbed or stopped in the peaceable course of justice.”

Other business occupying the attention of the Senate, the consideration of the Freedman's Bureau Bill was not practically entered upon until the 18th of January. On that day, Mr. Stewart made a speech ostensibly on this bill, but really on the question of reconstruction and negro suffrage, in reply to remarks by Mr. Wade on those subjects.

upon the land

Mr. Trumbull moved as an amendment to the bill that occupants oi land under General Sherman's special field order, dated at Savannah, January 16, 1865, should be confirmed in their possessions for the period of three years from the date of said order, and no person should be disturbed in said possession during the said three years unless a settlement should be made with said occupant by the owner satisfactory to the commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau.

Mr. Trumbull explained the circumstances under which the freedmen had obtained possessory titles to lands in Georgia, and urged the propriety of their being confirmed by Congress for three years. He said :

“I should be glad to go further. I would be glad, if we could, to secure to these people, upon any just principle, the fee of this land; but I do not see with what propriety we could except this particular tract of country out of all the other lands in the South, and appropriate it in fee to these parties. I think, having gone

good faith under the protection of the Government, we may protect them there for a reasonable time; and the opinion of the committee was that three years would be a reasonable time.”

On the following day, Mr. Hendricks presented his objections to the bill in a speech of considerable length. He was followed by Mr. Trumbull in reply. As both were members of the Judiciary Committee from which the bill was reported, and both had carefully considered the reasons for and against the measure,

their arguments are given at length.

Mr. Hendricks said: “At the last session of Congress the original law creating that bureau was passed. We were then in the midst of the war; very considerable territory had been brought within the control of the Union troops and armies, and within the scope of that territory, it was said, there were many freedmen who must be protected by a bill of that sort; and it was mainly upon that argument that the bill was enactede · The Senate was very reluctant to enact the law creating the bureau as it now exists. There was so much hesitancy on the part of the Senate, that by a very large vote it refused to agree to the bill reported by the Senator from Massachusetts, [Mr. Sumner,] from a committee of conference, and I believe the honorable Senator from Illinois, (Mr. Trumbull,] who introduced this bill, himself voted against that bill; and why? That bill simply undertook to define the powers

« AnteriorContinuar »