A History of the Freedman's Bureau

Updated on October 17, 2018
ziyena profile image

An Arts, Literature and History Buff, Humanities Major, Published Indie Writer, Avid Photographer, and World Foodie & Travel Enthusiast

Reconstruction Era photograph, two Harpers Weekly Reconstruction related pictures, and a Freedmen's Bureau picture.
Reconstruction Era photograph, two Harpers Weekly Reconstruction related pictures, and a Freedmen's Bureau picture. | Source

"I am a Republican, a black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress." ~ Frederick Douglass

Transition From Slavery

Before the end of the Civil War, in March of 1865, the U.S. Government started a temporary agency to assist the four million emancipated slaves in the South, helping them transition from a state of slavery to freedmen and women.

The Freedman's Bureau followed five major areas of concentration:

  1. Relief for both blacks and whites in war-torn and decimated areas
  2. Regulating black labor under the newly found conditions
  3. Enacting and administering justice for the black man
  4. Refurbishment and management of abandoned or confiscated properties
  5. Founding and building education for blacks

In alignment with its governing foundation, the agency, called the "Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands", transported rail cars loaded with food and clothing to distribute to millions of freed slave and dislocated white refugees.

The operation also built several hospitals throughout the south, giving much needed medical aid. To its great success, over 1,0000 schools were built and staffed with educators who taught the freedmen. Since its conception, many of the present day African American colleges throughout the United States were founded with the help of the agency.

Tolson's Chapel  a historic church in Sharpsburg, Western Maryland.  It was built in 1866 and served as a church and a Freedman's Bureau school for black residents after the Civil War
Tolson's Chapel a historic church in Sharpsburg, Western Maryland. It was built in 1866 and served as a church and a Freedman's Bureau school for black residents after the Civil War | Source

Meaningful Assistance

Aside from welfare-like assistance, the Freedman's Bureau also helped freed slaves to find employment, leveraged labor contracts, helped African American soldiers and sailors and their family regain back pay, bounty payments, and pensions due them, offered public lands under the Homestead Act of 1862, and handled claims of maltreatment against its participants.

For the freed slaves in the south, the bureau was the only trusted protection against hostile antagonists who viewed the agency as a blight to southern society. Everywhere there were arsonist attacks, burning down agency schools and hospitals. It is unfortunate, but this type of illegal terrorist activity led to the beginnings of the Ku Klux Klan.

General Oliver O. Howard Between 1855 and 1865
General Oliver O. Howard Between 1855 and 1865 | Source

"The rights of the freedman, which are not yet secured to him, are the direct reverse of the wrongs committed against him. I never could conceive how a man could become a better laborer by being made to carry an over heavy and wearisome burden which in no way facilitates his work. I never could detect the shadow of a reason why the color of the skin should impair the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." ~ General Oliver O. Howard

Head of the Freedmen's Bureau

Major General Oliver Howard became the first head of the Freedman's Bureau. Known as the "Christian" general because many believed that he tried to base his decisions on his religious beliefs. His attempt to protect the freed slaves from hostile retaliation bordered on a futile lack of power.

Howard often fought with President Andrew Johnson, who opposed to the Freedman's Bureau and tried very hard to return political power to Southern whites.

Most notably, General Howard is also recognized for help founding Howard University, which was enacted by Congress in 1867.

He is often remembered for his act of valor at the Battle of Fair Oaks in 1862, where he had his right arm shattered by a mini ball, and his arm amputated.

Man (Most likely depicted as General Howard) representing the Freedman's Bureau stands between armed groups of Euro-Americans and Afro-Americans The Freedmen's Bureau / Drawn by A.R. Waud.
Man (Most likely depicted as General Howard) representing the Freedman's Bureau stands between armed groups of Euro-Americans and Afro-Americans The Freedmen's Bureau / Drawn by A.R. Waud. | Source

The Pawn of Corruption

Though the Freedman's Bureau was a meaningful entity established to help emancipated slaves integrate into free society, the agency struggled with many back-lashes. Floundering with corruption, lack of efficiency, and mishandling of appropriated funds, the agency fell back on its heels due to the misguidance by Radical Republican officials whose sole purpose was to control the occupied southern states.

Besides these contributing factors, it was General Howard himself who unwittingly mismanaged his own efforts to integrate the freed slaves. Although his intentions seemed pure in that he truly believed in humanitarian assistance, in fact, he had a few issues pitted against him, which left him lacking in his endeavor.

•His inability to accept views of racism attracted tenacious enemies

•A contentious relationship with President Andrew Jackson

•Alienation from the political mainstream

•Mismanagement of funding

•Idle management style

Critics of Howard slapped him with cynicism, maintaining that the General had little experience in managing to book-keep and overall, spent too much time touring the battered south with the exception of inspecting bureau offices, and official policy rather than repairing broken policies.

Unfortunately, save for the educational assistance program, the Freedman's Bureau was decommissioned July 1st, 1869, and then a few years later, fully discontinued by Congress in 1872

Pun on the government agency assisting freed slaves after the American Civil War and the "bureau" piece of furniture. New York : Published by Currier & Ives, c1868
Pun on the government agency assisting freed slaves after the American Civil War and the "bureau" piece of furniture. New York : Published by Currier & Ives, c1868 | Source

Enemy of the State

Aside from corruption within the Republican stronghold, there was an even more pressing problem at hand, opposition to the Freedmen's Bureau, and it resided within the Democratic party.

The anti-Freedmen's Bureau movement of the Democratic party used necessary means to get out their message, and that included the use of political posters, spouting racist rhetoric against the Radical Republicans who on the whole supported Lincoln's effort in emancipating the black slave as portrayed in the illustration above, which visually exposes racism in its entirety. The illustrated poster mocks the figure of a black man, lying on the ground, while a white man is hard at work, plowing a field.

Of the many politicians who opposed the Freeman's Bureau, Hiester Clymer was the most outspoken and used this very poster to spread his propaganda during his 1866 run for Governor of Pennsylvania while leaning on a white supremacist platform. Clymer was unsuccessful in his efforts to win the election. Most who oppose racism would support that his loss was rightfully so.


One in a series of racist posters used by the Democratic party, attacking Radical Republicans on the issue of black suffrage, issued during the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election of 1866.
One in a series of racist posters used by the Democratic party, attacking Radical Republicans on the issue of black suffrage, issued during the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election of 1866. | Source

Racism in Our World Today

There are many in today's society who feel that the Republican party is the root of all evil. Based on a capitalist system, the idea of money and power is quite intimidating, especially to those who have limited access to such ideals.

White, black, red, or yellow, no matter the color of one's skin, aside from a widely held view of taking advantage of the poor man, capitalist idealism does not discriminate against one race anymore so than another.

There are those in modern society who speak afoul, preaching against the Republican party in reference to inequality and injustice towards other cultures. Perhaps there are those within the Republican party who are indeed racist, but no more so than any other political party of today. Given our own history, as people, the record does not lie.

We are not born with racist ideas. Racism is a belief within the heart and not an ideal to be presumed by the color of one's skin.

It is unfair to hold any political party hostage with racist assumptions based on a few who are ignorant in their approach. Every party is guilty of racism. As reported in this hub, not only was the Republican party corrupt in its intent, but it was the Democratic party who supported white supremacist morals, a resounding history that has been carried over among both parties even today.

Lastly, I would like to remind the reader that this hub was written to educate the public on the existence of the Freedmen's Bureau and its effort to better the emancipated slave from the confines of poverty and obscurity. In no way do I write this article to diminish the acute suffering of mistreated people when writing on the subject of racism, but rather, help the reader rise above a desolate chapter in a nation's history, which has soiled so many hearts and minds.

In closing, I will leave a bit of reflection with monumental words from a man who was ahead of his time:

"I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong." ~ Abraham Lincoln

Reconstruction Period 1

Reconstruction Period 2

Greatest Contribution to the Freedom of Slaves?

See results

© 2013 Ziyena Brazos

Comments

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  • poetryman6969 profile image

    poetryman6969 

    3 years ago

    A very interesting piece. I think a lot of people might find this little known history intriguing so I voted up.

  • word55 profile image

    Word 

    4 years ago from Chicago

    Thank you ziyena for your stand on this demonstrative and humanitarian issue of freedom of all people, even for a race within itself. Freedom is deeper than just racism. Voted up!

  • ziyena profile imageAUTHOR

    Ziyena Brazos 

    4 years ago from Somewhere in Time ...

    "I am a Republican, a black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress."~ Frederick Douglas

    And I re-qoute:

    "FREEDOM AND PROGRESS ..."

  • savvydating profile image

    Yves 

    4 years ago

    Once again, another enlightening article about a little known Bureau. I must say, I am impressed that such a young woman knows so much and is so willing to speak up and inform those of us in need of further education. Excellent work... yet again.

    By the way, I know you are busy with work, etc. You need not reply. Just want to congratulate you on yet another wonderful piece. Up & useful.

  • ziyena profile imageAUTHOR

    Ziyena Brazos 

    4 years ago from Somewhere in Time ...

    ginosblog

    You make interesting points, and like you, I would agree we should ALL get over the subject of slavery in that we can not hold modern society hostage for the mistakes of our ancestors, but unfortunately, the subject will not be buried as long as we hold on to grievances as a nation. Thanks for your input and sharing the link ~ I will definitely have to explore this avenue.

    Z

  • ginosblog profile image

    DESPICABLE VOTER 

    4 years ago from USA

    Blacks were sold by blacks for money or booty of some sort and it's my guess in Somalia today they are doing the same thing. Lincoln wanted to send black's to Liberia but Mary Todd Lincoln was from a slavery state and Zachery Taylor was a slave owner and both influenced Lincoln as you may read here: http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v13/v13n5p-4_Morgan.html. I did like your article but it's time, since America was the 1st to stop Black Slavery when other Countries still allow it, to bury the Subject!

  • ziyena profile imageAUTHOR

    Ziyena Brazos 

    4 years ago from Somewhere in Time ...

    I appreciate your integrity. Thank you for the congrats and the UP :)

  • Your Cousins profile image

    Your Cousins 

    4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

    I don't necessarily agree with your personal views, but I do find the article very enlightening. Congrats on Hub of the Day. Voted Up and Interesting.

  • starbright profile image

    Lucy Jones 

    4 years ago from Scandinavia

    Well done. What a good read.

  • ziyena profile imageAUTHOR

    Ziyena Brazos 

    4 years ago from Somewhere in Time ...

    Brave! Awesome analogy ... who, but you, to think of something so brilliant, yet simple ... a box of crayons :)

  • bravewarrior profile image

    Shauna L Bowling 

    4 years ago from Central Florida

    Ziyena, unfortunately I don't think racism will ever die. I never could understand why the color of someone's skin dictates how they are treated and what rights they have. We are all of the human race. We are one. Have you ever seen a box of crayons with only one color? No! It takes many colors to paint a beautiful picture, so why are we any different?

  • ziyena profile imageAUTHOR

    Ziyena Brazos 

    4 years ago from Somewhere in Time ...

    HS

    Thank you so much for your input. I truly appreciate it when someone actually reads my Hubs. You're right in that the Freedman's Bureau was a forgetten piece of our history. As for political affiliation, I'm neither party and try to show failures and success on both sides of the spectrum. Sitting on the fence as I have for awhile, I tweeter back and forth on many political issues. Unfortunately, the Affordable Healthcare Act was not something I agreed with only because it was an open door for Government to step in and take more control of my private life. Had the Dem and GOP come together and developed a system that was not run by our Government then I would have wholeheartedly agreed because I do believe that every citizen should have non-preexisting affordable healthcare, but not on the back of freedom and the right to choose. Bless you HS

  • profile image

    Howard Schneider 

    4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

    Excellent piece of forgotten history, Ziyena. I believe we can see parallels to this story with the Affordable Healthcare Act today. The Democrats passed this legislation solely on a party line basis. Since then, the Republicans have tried to destroy it by any means possible. This parallels the Democrats' anti-Freedman's bureau and other measures from that era. You are correct that racism does not now lie in only one party. But the GOP policies of small government and cutting social programs hurts minorities to a much greater effect. Many Republicans also show their disdain for minorities by not even addressing their groups and simply dismissing them. These are destructive tactics.

  • ziyena profile imageAUTHOR

    Ziyena Brazos 

    4 years ago from Somewhere in Time ...

    Perhaps I should make the poll easier? lol

    Thanks for your input, my friend.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    4 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I couldn't vote in the poll; too tough a choice to make. As a Civil War buff and former history teacher, I always love articles about that time period. Well done my friend.

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