The New International Encyclopædia/Freedmen's Bureau

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FREEDMEN'S BUREAU. A ‘Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands,’ established in the War Department of the United States by the statute of March 3, 1865. This act provided that the bureau was to be maintained through the war and for one year thereafter, and that it should have “the supervision and management of all abandoned lands, and the control of all subjects relating to refugees and freedmen,” under “such rules and regulations as may be presented by the head of the bureau and approved by the President.” Especially important was the provision authorizing the President to appropriate for the use of freedmen the confiscated and abandoned lands within the Southern States, not more than 40 acres for a period not longer than three years being assigned to each man thus aided. Provisions, fuel, and clothing were, moreover, to be distributed free of charge by the bureau to destitute freedmen and loyal refugees. The administration of the bureau was placed in the hands of a chief commissioner and his deputies, and in the actual application of the statute much was done with reference to labor, clothing, fuel, provisions, and schools for the beneficiaries of the plan. A second Freedmen's Bureau bill was passed by Congress, February 6, 1866, but was vetoed by President Johnson and was not passed over his veto. Later, however, there was passed over the President's veto the act of July 16, 1866, which extended for two years the term of the bureau's statutory life, increased its powers, authorized the sale for educational purposes of Confederate public property, and gave to the bureau military jurisdiction over infringements of civil rights secured by the act. In June, 1868, another bill was passed, extending the term of the bureau for one year in unreconstructed States. The bureau's chief work ended on January 1, 1869, and its educational work was concluded a year and a half thereafter. More than $15,000,000 was spent by the bureau, and, in addition to the general relief afforded, it aided appreciably in the movement for the higher education of the freedmen which resulted in the founding of such institutions as Atlanta University, Fisk University, and Howard University, the last being named after the chief figure in this work, the commissioner of the bureau, Gen. Oliver O. Howard (q.v.). Widely differing opinions have been, and are, held with regard to the methods used and the results attained by the bureau, some writers maintaining that its work was almost wholly beneficent, others that on the whole much more harm was done than good. The text of the first Freedmen's Bureau bill may be found in 13 Statutes at Large (38th Congress); that of the second in 13 Statutes at Large (39th Congress). For an account of the bureau's work, consult General Howard's report for 1869, published among the executive documents of the House of Representatives. Forty-first Congress, second session. Also consult “The Freedmen's Bureau,” in Atlantic Monthly, vol. lxxxvii. (Boston, 1901). See Reconstruction.