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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

whether in a civil or military tribunal, there is to be no disability or exclusion on
account of color.  When we consider how this disability and exclusion have been
the badge of slavery and its pretensions, we may find in their positive prohibition a 
new token of the spirit in which this bill has been conceived.  Very little tyranny
  Mr. GRIMES.  But, Mr. President, the case that was put by me was not where there
was a controvercy between the colored man and some third party, but where the Com-
missioner attempted to enforce the obligation of duty upon the colored man.  Now, I
want to know of the Senator if a Commissioner who undertakes to carry out the pro-
visions of this bill may not, under the third section, avail himself of the military au-
thority that may be in the department to enforce obedience; and if he thinks it would
be doing justice to the colored men in the department to leave them to the military
control of the Commissioner, of whom we know nothing, and about whom we do not know
whether he sympathizes with the colored man or not.  Is it right to leave these colored
men to the military control of this Commissioner in order to enforce the obligation to
   Mr. SUMNER.  The Senator now calls attention to another section, where it is pro-
vided that "the military commander within any department shall, on the application
of the Assistant Commissioner thereof, supply all needful military support in the dis-
charge of the duties of such Commissioner"; and he inquires if this does not authorize
the Assistant Commissioner to use military power in making freedmen work.  Let me
say at once that the criticism of the Senator on this clause is absolutely novel. If the
clause to which he refers could be employed to any such purpose, I beg to assure him
it was not anticipated by the committee.  The clause was intended for a very different
purpose--in the interest of the freedman.  And here again let me remind the Senator
that nothing can be done by any officer, military or civil, toward a freedman which
cannot be done toward any other citizen.  If this military power can be used against
one it can be equally used against the other.  The occasion for this power seemed to
be obvious.  It was supposed that in the rebel States there might be exposed districts
where the plantations would be subject to incursion or ravage from the enemy, by
which the labor there would be obstructed or disturbed unless military protection were
at hand.  It was to remedy evils of this character that this provision was introduced.
Such was the object sought to be accomplished.  It was protection in the spirit of
the whole bill, and nothing else.  If by any possibility there can be any chance of any
abuse of this power, beyond what is incident to every trust, I shall be very glad to
take advantage of the criticism of the Senator and amend the bill so that the evil
which he snuffs afar shall not be permitted to arrive.
  The Senator cannot bear the thought of our freedmen exposed to the tyrrany of mil-
itary power. But does he not forget that at this moment they are subject to this tyr-
rany?  It is to remove them from all this arbitrary control and uncertain protection
that we now establish a bureau, which shall be an agency of the civil power, charged
to surround the Freedmen with every safeguard which the Constitution and laws can
supply.  Show me any provision in one or the other for the protection of human rights
and I claim it at once for the freedman against any oppressor, whatever may be his office
or name.
  Let the Senator bear these things in mind, and give us the advantage of his connsels.
I shall welcome from him any suggestion, any proposition, any criticism calculated to
promote the object of the bill.  The more he makes the better. Let him be no niggard.
But I trust he will pardon me if I complain of a hasty assault, which, as it seems to
me, can have no other effect than to injure the cause itself.
  But I have not done with the criticism of the Senator. It was on the fifth section,
concerning the labor on abandoned plantations, that he bent his whole force. In the
provisions of that section ho found a new system of slavery; sometimes it was slavery
outright, and sometimes it was peon slavery.  Senators who did me the honor of listen-
ing to my remarks at the beginning of this debate will remember how I dwelt upon the
importance of guarding against any revival of slavery under any other name, whether
of apprenticeship or adscription to the soil; and they may remember, perhaps, how I
explained the impossibility of any such occurrence under the present bill, and showed
that the freedman was guarded at all points.  And yet, in the face of this exposition
and of the positive text--better than any exposition--the cry has been sounded that


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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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