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Bridge from Slavery to Freedom: Speech of Hon. Charles Sumner, on the Bill to Establish a Bureau of Freedmen, in the Senate of the U.S., June 13 and 15, 1864

men, and to ascertain what could be done to benefit them, he thus expresses himself:
   "In the first place, everybody who has had any practical experience of the working of the plan'ations or
of the superintendence of negro labor will tell you that the control of the abandoned plantations and the
care of the colored people must be in the same hands."
   You will not fail to observe how positively this expert speaks. According to him all
who have had "practical experience" insist that the care of the freedmen and of the
plantation should be "in the same hands;" and so important does he regard this point
that he names it first of all--"in the first place."
   But Colonel McKaye is not alone.  Here is a letter from Hon. Robert Dale Owen,
chairman of the Commission on Freedmen, appointed by the Secretary of War, which
testifies as follows:
   "It will never do to have Treasury agents who lease the lands to white men and War Department agents
who assign the same lands to colored people.  Nothing but confusion and conflict of authority can result.
It will not work at all. But even if it would, why employ two sets of agents to do what one set can do much
better?  And who is to inspect the leased plantations and see to it that neither employers nor employed are
wronged?  The men who gave the leases?  But they are Treasury agents, and have nothing to do with
freedmen.  Or the freedmen's commissioners?  But what authority can they have over men who do not
hold their leases from them?  The men who have the care of the laborer ought to have the leasing of the
land and the inspection of the leases; and they should be authorized to lease equally to white and to colored
   Such a statement is an argument.
   This conclusion has the support also of General Banks, in a letter addressed to one
of the Freedmen's Commission. Here are his words:
  "The assignment of the abandoned or forfeited plantations to one Department of the Government, and
the protection and support of the emancipated people to another, is a fundamental error productive of incal-
culable evils, and cannot be too soon or too thoroughly corrected."
   The able and elaborate report from the Freedmen's Commission, just published, con-
siders this question carefully.  Nothing could be more explicit than the following tes-
  "But in the judgment of the commission the most serious error in connection with the present arrange-
ments for the care and protection of these people arises out of the assignment to different agency of the care
and disposal of the abandoned plantations. To enter into the detail of all the evils and abuses that have
arisen out of this error, and which are unavoidable so long as it continues to exist, would occupy too great
a space in this report.  Suffice it to say that it is the source of the greatest confusion, and perpetual colli-
sion between the different local authorities, in which not only the emancipated population, but the Govern-
ment itself, suffers the most serious injuries and losses."
  "And this is the purport of the testimony which the commission has been able to obtain, not in the de-
partment of the Gulf only, but everywhere in relation to this matter.
  "The unhesitating judgment of every person, official or other, not interested in the opportunities it affords
for speculation, with whom we have consulted, coincides with that of General Banks.  All without excep-
tion declare that no system can avail to effect the great objects contemplated that does not assign to one and
the same authority the care and disposal of the abandoned plantations, and the care and protection of the
emancipated laborers who are to cultivate them.
  "And after the most thorough investigation I am authorized in saying that this is the deliberate judg-
ment of the Commission."
   It was on this ground of reason, and yielding to the influence of such authoritative
opinions, that the committee were led to believe that there was no alternative on this
practical question.
   In the course of their inquiries the committee sought the opinions of the Secretary
of the Treasury.  With the heavy burdens of his Department resting on his shoulders,
he does not desire any additional labor, but he does not conceal his conviction that the
care of the freedmen must for the present be associated with the care of the lands.   He
would be glad to be relieved of all the responsibilities connected with the subject; but
he hopes that it will not be divided between two different Departments.  In that event
it is feared that there will be little good from either.
   I have dwelt with some minuteness on this question,  because  it seems  to be the
practical point on which there may be a difference of opinion.  Already gentlemen have


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Bridge from Slavery to Freedom: Speech of Hon. Charles Sumner, on the Bill to Establish a Bureau of Freedmen, in the Senate of the U.S., June 13 and 15, 1864


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