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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
    I have said that the object was care and protection for persons actually free and so
regarded, who, from the peculiarity of their condition, might not be able in all respects
to secure these without assistance.  To this end a central agency is proposed at Wash-
ington, with subordinate agencies where the freedmen are to be found, devoted to this
work of watching over emancipation, so that it may be surrounded with a congenial
atmosphere.  Is not the object worthy of support?  Who will question it? 
   The language of the bill describing the functions of the Commissioner is plain and
explicit; and yet out of this language, so guarded, and so utterly inoffensive, the
Senator from Iowa has conjured a phantom to frighten the Senate from its propriety.
Why, sir, if there were anything which, by any possibility, could justify the fears of
the Senator, if there were anything which even the most lively imagination could ex-
aggerate into anything but care and protection, then I should be the first to denounce
it, and to ask forgiveness for an unconscious aberration. But there is absolutely
nothing; and if you will listen to the words of the bill you will agree with me.
    I begin with the very words which to the Senator from Iowa were so alarming:
   "The Commissioner, under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, shall have the general super-
intendence of all freedmen throughout the several departments."
    Here are duties imposed upon the Commissioner: but there is no power or control
over the freedmen.  Calling a man superintendent gives him no power, except in con-
formity with the laws; but here all the laws, general and special, are for freedom.
And yet the Senator has repeated again and again that here was a grant of unlimited
power and control over the freedmen.  To his mind here was an overflowing fountain
of tyranny and wrong.
   Mr. GRIMES.  Will the Senator tell the Senate what is meant by it?
   Mr. SUMNER.  With great pleasure; and if I can have the candid attention of my
friend, I believe that he and I cannot differ about it, for I will not doubt that we have
the same object at heart.  Obviously the language in question indicates in a general
way the character of the duties to be performed.  They are duties of superintendence;
but we are to look elsewhere to see the extent of these duties; and the words which
follow in the same section show something of their nature.  Thus:
  "And it shall be his duty especially to watch over the execution of all laws, proclamations, and military
orders of emancipation, or in any way concerning freedmen."
   There, sir, is the first glimpse of the duties of this tyrant. Mark, sir, there is not
one word of power or control over the freedmen, but duties solemnly imposed, all in
behalf of freedom. What next?
  "And generally, by careful regulations, in the spirit of the Constitution, to protect these persons in the
enjoyment of their rights, to promote their welfare, and to secure to them and their posterity the blessings
of liberty."
   Here again are the duties of the Commissioner; but there is not one word which
confers power or control over the freedmen.  The main object is protection in the en-
joyment of their rights, inborn but new-found.  This is to be crowned by such watch-
fulness as will promote their welfare and secure to them and their posterity the
blessings of liberty; and all this is to be according to "careful regulations."  To find
tyranny in this provision the Senator must be as critical as the German theologian
who found a heresy in the Lord's Prayer.  I do not go to the dictionary for the mean-
ing of superintendent.  This is needless.  Obviously, the superintendent must super-
intend according to law; and since this is now for freedom, whatever he does must be
for freedom likewise.  He can do nothing without this inspiration.  The function of
superintendence is not applicable exclusively to this case.  It is of common occurrence.
There is a superintendent of emigrants; but nobody supposes that he can do anything
with regard to emigrants except in conformity with law.  The mayor of Washington
is, in a certain sense, a superintendent of the Senator and myself, as we walk the
streets or lie down at night in our houses, bound to see that we are protected from out-
rage and robbery.  And the Vice President or the President of the Senate is a super-
intendent of this Chamber--bound to see that the rules of parliamentary law are
observed.  But the Senator would not think of attributing to either of these function-
aries that "unlimited power and control" when he dreaded in the superintendent of


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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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