Mississippi Freedmen's Bureau Circular no. 2

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Circular no. 2  (1866) 
by Samuel Thomas
Circular issued by the Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands for Mississippi; text copied from Grant, Lincoln, and the Freedmen, pp. 242–245

Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, Office Assistant Commissioner for State of Mississippi,

VICKSBURG, Miss., Jan. 2, 1866. Circular No. 2.

To The Colored People of Mississippi :

Having been charged with the affairs of the Freedmen's Bureau in Mississippi, I am your lawful protector and advisor ; and, to some extent, am held responsible for your conduct. If yon suffer, or become idle or vicious, blame is attached to me or my officers, even when the fault is not ours.

With the end of 1865, your contracts expired. My officers approved the contracts, and did all they could to compel both you and your employers to live up to them. In many places these contracts did not secure you more than food and clothes, because you contracted so late that it was impossible to raise a crop.

Many complaints are made that you did not regard a contract as sacred ; that you failed to work as you had agreed ; acted as you pleased ; and visited at a distance when you knew that your employer would lose all by your failure to keep your contract. On the other hand, it is said by you that the planters have failed to pay and treat you as agreed upon.

This is all wrong. Your contracts were explained to you, and their sacredness impressed upon you again and again. You know that when you make a contract you are bound to give all the labor for which your employer agrees to pay. Efforts have been made by my officers to compel you to perform labor according to agree- ments, that employers might have no excuse for failing to do their part.

The time has arrived for you to contract for another year's labor. I wish to impress upon you the importance of doing this at once. You know that if a crop of cotton is raised, the work must be begun soon, and the hands employed for the year. If you do not contract with the men who wish to employ you, what do you pro- pose to do? You cannot live without work of some kind. Your houses and lands belong to the white people ; and you cannot expect that they will allow you to Hve on them in idleness. It would be wrong for them to do so ; and no officer of the Gov- ernment will protect you in it. If you stay on the plantations where you are, you must agree to work for the owners of them. If not, move out of the way, and give place to more faithful laborers.

I hope you are all convinced that you are not to receive prop- erty of any kind from the Government, and that you must labor for what you get like other people. I often hear that you are crowding into towns, refuse to hire out, and are waiting to see what Government will do for you. As the representative of the Government, I tell you that is very foolish ; and your refusal to work is used by your enemies to your injury. I know you can get good wages with considerate employers, who will treat you well, and pay for all you do. Everything possible shall be done to secure you good treatment. Make contracts for the year and go to work, and you will secure homes. The Government hopes you will do your duty ; and in return will secure you the rights of freedmen. The season in which planters will think it worth while to employ you will soon be passed ; and if then you are found idle, you may be taken up and set to work where you will not like it. The State cannot and ought not to let any man lie about idle, without property, doing mischief. A vagrant law is right in prin- ciple. I cannot ask the civil ofificers to leave you idle, to beg or steal. If they find any of you without business and means of living, they will do right if they treat you as bad persons, and take away your misused liberty.

Some of you have the absurd notion that if you put your hands to a contract, you will somehow be made slaves. This is all non- sense, made up by some foolish or wicked person. There is no danger of this kind to fear ; nor will you be branded when you get on a plantation. Any white man treating you so would be punished. Your danger lies exactly in the other direction. If you do not have some occupation, you will be treated as vagrants, and made to labor on public works.

Do not believe all the bad stories you hear. Malicious persons take pleasure in making you afraid. Do not listen to them. All their croaking certainly does you no good. Do they tell you how to get food and clothes without work?

You must be obedient to the law. I do not think the people of Mississippi have made all laws that relate to you as they ought to have done. But, even if there be some things denied to you as yet, which you wish to gain, you cannot get them by disobedience and idleness. You cannot make people treat you well by showing them that you do not deserve it. If you wish for rights, do right yourselves. If you desire privileges, show that they may be safely intrusted to you. Such a course, with patience, will make you happy and prosperous.

I hope that a sense of justice, benevolence;, and enlightened self-interest will lead the white people to set you a good example of faithfulness and honor in observing contracts.

Samuel Thomas, Assistant Commissioner, State of Mississippi.

Headquarters Department of Mississippi,

ViCKSBURG, Miss., Jan. 2, 1866.