Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

therefore, that the management of it should be placed in the hands of military officers, and fortunately the provisions of the bill permitted that to be done. General Howard was, as I stated, in command of the Department of Tennessee, when he was detailed to this duty. But on the 15th of May, that is to say, within three days after the order appointing him, was issued, he assumed the duties of his office.

“In the course of a few days, the commissioner of the bureau announced more particularly the policy which he designed to pursue. The whole supervision of the care of freedmen and of all lands which the law placed under the charge of the bureau was to be intrusted to assistant commissioners.

“Before a month had expired, head-quarters had been established for assistant commissioners at Richmond, Raleigh, Beaufort, Montgomery, Nashville, St. Louis, Vicksburg, New Orleans, and Jacksonville, and very shortly afterward assistant commissioners were designated for those posts of duty. They were required to possess themselves, as soon as practicable, with the duties incident to their offices, to quicken in every way they could and to direct the industry of the freedmen. Notice was given that the relief establishments which had been created by law under the operations of the War Department should be discontinued as soon as they could be consistently with the comfort and proper protection of the freedmen, and that every effort should be made--and I call the attention of gentlemen to the · fact that that policy has been pursued throughout—that every effort should be made to render the freedmen, at an early day, self-supporting. The supplies that had been furnished by the Government were only to be continued so long as the actual wants of the freedmen seemed to require it. At that time there were all over the country refugees who were seeking their homes, and they were notified that, under the care of the bureau, they would be protected from abuse, and directed in their efforts to secure transportation and proper facilities for reaching home.

“Wherever there had been interruption of civil law, it was found impossible that the rights of freedmen could be asserted in the courts; and where there were no courts before which their rights could be brought for adjudication, military tribunals, provost-marshals' courts, were established, for the purpose of determining upon questions arising between freedmen or between

[ocr errors]

freedmen and other parties; and that, also, has been continued to this day.

The commissioners were instructed to permit the freedmen to select their own employers and to choose their own kind of service. All agreements were ordered to be free and mutual, and not to be compulsory. The old system that had prevailed of overseer labor was ordered to be repudiated by the commissioners who had charge of the laborers, and I believe there has been no time since the organization of the bureau when there have not been reports made to head-quarters at Washington of all labor contracts; and wherever any provisions had been inserted, by inadvertence or otherwise, that seemed unjustly to operate against the freedmen, they have been stricken out by direction of the commissioner here.

“In the course of the next mợnth, action was taken by the commissioner respecting a provision of the law as it was passed in March, authorizing the Secretary of War to make issues of clothing and provisions, and the assistant commissioners were required carefully to ascertain whatever might be needed under that provision of the law, and to make periodical reports as to the demands made upon the Government through the bureau. Directions were given by the commissioner to his assistant commissioners to make repeated reports to him upon all the various subjects which had come under his charge—with regard to the number of freedmen, where they were, whether in camps or in colonies, or whether they were employed upon Government works, and stating, if they obtained supplies, how they were furnished, whether by donations or whether procured by purchase. Reports were also required as to all lands which had been put under the care of the bureau; and statements were called for showing descriptions of the lands, whether, in the language of the law, abandoned' or 'confiscated,' so that the bureau here could have full and complete information of all action of its agents throughout these States, and upon examination it could be determined where any specific lands which were under the charge of the bureau came from, and how they were derived.

“In the course of the summer, it became necessary to issue additional instructions. The commissioner found that his way was beset with difficulties; he was walking upon unknown ground; he was testing here and there questions involved in doubt. It was

hardly possible at once and by one order to designate all that it would be needful for him to do, and, therefore, different instructions were issued from time to time from his office. The assistant commissioners were called upon thoroughly to examine, either by themselves or their agents, the respective districts allotted to them, to make inquiry as to the character of the freedmen under their charge, their ability to labor, their disposition to labor, and the circumstances under which they were placed, so that the aid, the care, and the protection which the law contemplated might be afforded to them as quickly and as economically as possible.

“The commissioner continually repeated his injunctions to his assistants to be sure that no compulsory or unpaid labor was tolerated, and that both the moral and intellectual condition of the freedmen should be improved “as systematically and as quickly as practicable.

“When the bureau was first organized, indeed when it was first urged upon the attention of this House, it was stated and it was believed that the bureau would very shortly be self-sustaining. That was the idea from the beginning. And when it was stated here in debate that the bureau would probably be self-sustaining, it was supposed that from the lands abandoned, confiscated, sold, and the lands of the United States, which by the provisions of the bill had been placed under the care of the commissioner, these freedmen would be given an opportunity to earn substantially enough for the conduct of the bureau. And I have no doubt at all that such would have been the case had the original expectation been carried out.

“There were large tracts of land in Virginia and the other rebel States which were clearly applicable to this purpose. There was the source of supply—the lands and the labor. There were laborers enough, and there was rich land enough. At a very early day the abandoned lands were turned over to the care of the commissioners, and I supposed, and probably we all supposed, that the lands which in the language of the law were known as 'abandoned lands,' and those which were in the possession of the United States, would be appropriated to the uses of these freed

Within a week after the commissioner assumed the duties of his office, he found it necessary to issue an order substantially like this: Whereas, large amounts of lands in the State of Virginia and in other States have been abandoned, and are now in the possession of the freedmen, and are now under cultivation by them; and, whereas, the owners of those lands are now calling for their restoration, so as to deprive the freedmen of the results of their industry, it is ordered that the abandoned lands now under cultivation be retained by the freedmen until the growing crops can be secured, unless full and just compensation can be made them for their labor and its products.

men.

“The above order'—this is the part about which it appeared that some difference of judgment existed between the Executive and the commissioner of the bureau-the above order will not be construed so as to relieve disloyal persons from the consequences of their disloyalty; and the application for the restoration of their lands by this class of persons will in no case be entertained by any military authority.

“It was found, not a great while afterward, that the views which the President entertained as to his duty were somewhat in conflict with the provisions of this order; for it was held by the President that persons who had brought themselves within the range of his pardon and had secured it, and who had taken or did afterward take the amnesty oath, would be entitled, as one of the results of the pardon and of their position after the path had been taken, to a restoration of their lands which had been assigned to freedmen. In consequence of this, an order was subsequently issued, well known as circular No. 15. And under the operation of that circular, on its appearing satisfactorily to any assistant commissioner that any property under his control is not abandoned,' as defined in the law, and that the United States have acquired no perfect right to it, it is to be restored and the fact reported to the commissioner. Abandoned' lands were to be restored to the owners pardoned by the President, by the assistant commissioners, to whom applications for such restoration were to be forwarded; and each application was to be accompanied by the pardon of the President and by a copy of the oath of amnesty prescribed in the President's proclamation, and also by a proof of title to the land. It must be obvious that the effect of this must have been to transfer from the care of the bureau to the owners very large portions of the land which had been relied upon for the support of the freedmen. Within a few weeks from the date of that order, no less than $800,000 worth of property in New

Orleans was transferred, and about one third of the whole property in North Carolina in possession of the bureau was given up; and the officer having charge of the land department reports that before the end of the year, in all probability, there will be under the charge of the commissioner little, if any, of the lands originally designed for the support of these freedmen.

“It is obvious, if these lands are to be taken, that other lands must be provided, or the freedmen will become a dead weight upon the Treasury, and the bill under consideration assigns other lands, in the place of those thus taken, from the unoccupied public lands of the United States."

On the following day, Mr. Dawson, of Pennsylvania, obtained the floor in opposition to the bill. His speech was not devoted to a discussion of the bill in question, but was occupied entirely with general political and social topics. The following extract indicates the tenor of the speech :

“Negro equality does not exist in nature. The African is without a history. He has never shown himself capable of selfgovernment by the creation of a single independent State possessing the attributes which challenge the respect of others. The past is silent of any negro people who possessed military and civil organization, who cultivated the arts at home, or conducted a regular commerce with their neighbors. No African general has marched south of the desert, from the waters of the Nile to the Niger and Senegal, to unite by conquest the scattered territories of barbarous tribes into one great and homogeneous kingdom. No Moses, Solon, Lycurgus, or Alfred has left them a code of wise and salutary laws. They have had no builder of cities; they have no representatives in the arts, in science, or in literature; they have been without even a monument, an alphabet, or a hieroglyphic."

On the other hand, Mr. Garfield, of Ohio, among the friends of the measure, delivered a speech on the Freedmen's Bureau Bill," in which the topic discussed was “Restoration of the Rebel States.” In the course of his remarks Mr. Garfield said:

Let the stars of heaven illustrate our constellation of States. When God launched the planets upon their celestial pathway, he bound them all by the resistless power of attraction to the central sun, around which they revolved in their appointed orbits. Each may be swept by storms, may be riven by lightnings, may

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »