Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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FREEDMEN'S BUREAU, The. During the years 1861-2 the numbers of the fugitive slaves within the federal lines increased with the growth of the anti-slavery feeling in the federal government and army. Many of the able-bodied males were finally provided for by the organization of colored troops (see ABOLITION, III.); the aged, the young, the women and the sick were the occasion of more difficulty. Wherever the federal troops held post the freedmen poured in, without money, resources, or any provision for the future further than an implicit confidence in the benevolence and beneficence of the federal government. Before the end of the year 1864 the advance of the armies had freed 3,000,000 persons, of whom at least a million had thrown themselves helplessly upon the federal government for support. Attempts to employ some of them upon confiscated or abandoned plantations failed through the rapacity and inhumanity of the agents employed; and in 1863 great camps of freedmen were formed at different points, where the negroes were supplied with rations, compelled to work, and kept under some degree of oversight. The next year, 1864, this great responsibility was transferred from the war to the treasury department, but was still a mere incident of the military or war power of the president, as commander-in-chief, and was without any regulation of law. A bill to establish a bureau of emancipation had been introduced, Jan 12, 1863, but had failed to pass. Another bill passed the house. March 1, 1864, but failed in the senate. March 3, 1865, the first "freedmen's bureau bill" became law. It established a "bureau of refugees, freedmen, and abandoned lands" in the war department, to continue for one year after the close of the rebellion, under control of a chief commissioner; it gave the president authority to set apart confiscated or abandoned lands in the south to the use of the bureau; it authorized the assignment of not more than forty acres to each refugee or freedman; it guaranteed the possession of such lands to the assignees for three years; and in general it gave to the bureau "the control of all subjects relating to refugees and freedmen from rebel states" The bureau was organized almost entirely by officers of the regular army, under Gen. O. O. Howard, chief commissioner, and their administrative ability and fidelity made the bureau's early years very economical and satisfactory. Feb. 6, 1866, a supplementary bill was passed, which continued the bureau until otherwise provided by law, authorized the issue of provisions, clothing, fuel and other supplies to destitute refugees and freedmen, made any attempt to deny or hinder the civil rights or immunities of freedmen a penal offense, and required the president to take military jurisdiction of all such cases. This bill was vetoed, Feb. 19, by President Johnson for the reasons, 1, that it abolished trial by jury in the south, and substituted trial by court martial, 2, that this abolition was apparently permanent, not temporary; 3, that the bureau was a costly and demoralizing system of poor relief, and 4, that congress had no power to apply the public money to any such purpose in time of peace. The bill failed to pass over the veto.


—The quarrel between the president and the republican majority in congress became open and bitter in the spring of 1866, and about the same time the legislation of southern legislatures as to freedmen, during their winter sessions of 1865-6, was made public. (See RECONSTRUCTION.) The result was the passage of the second freedmen's bureau bill, in July, 1866. It corresponded in general intention to the February bill, except that it continued the bureau for two years only. It was vetoed, July 16, on the same general grounds as above given, and was passed the same day over the veto. The powers of the bureau were thus very much enlarged. Its chief commissioner was authorized to use its funds at discretion, to apply the property of the confederate states to the education of freedmen, to co-operate with private freedmen's aid societies, and to take military jurisdiction of offenses against the civil rights or immunities of freedmen. In June, 1868, the bureau was continued by law for one year longer in unreconstructed states. Aug. 3, 1868, a bill was passed over the veto providing that Gen. Howard should not be displaced from the commissionership, and that he should withdraw the bureau from the various states, Jan. 1, 1869, except as to its educational work, which did not stop until July 1, 1870. The collection of pay and bounties for colored soldiers and sailors was continued until 1872 by the bureau, when its functions were assumed by the usual channels of the war department. Total expenditures of the freedmen's bureau, March, 1865-Aug. 30, 1870, were reported at $13,359,092.27. (See ABOLITION, SLAVERY, RECONSTRUCTION.)


—See McPherson's History of the Reconstruction; and other authorities under RECONSTRUCTION. The first freedmen's bureau bill is in 13 Stat. at Large (38th Cong), 507; the second freedmen's bureau bill is in 13 Stat. at Large (39th Cong.), 173.


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