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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

freedmen--bound to see that freedmen are protected in their rights.  And yet it exists
in one case just as much as in the other.
   I think, sir, that after this explanation there can be no difficulty in answering the
inquiry of the Senator.  By superintendence of all freedmen is meant that watchful-
ness of their rights and interests, consistent with laws general and special, for their
protection, welfare and liberty, so that they may be helped to employment and be
guarded against outrage.  The object is good.  What other word would the Senator
employ to designate it?  How would he describe the humane function of the Commis-
sioner?  He is versed in language.  Will he supply any term more apt?  I invite him
to do it, and shall gladly accept it.  Since we seem to concur in the object proposed,
let there be no difference on account of words.  All that I desire is something which
shall supply help and protection.  For this I cheerfully sacrifice all the rest.  And
permit me to say, I have misread this bill, if there is any single word in it, from
beginning to end which can give the most remote apology for any other idea.
  But I have thus far only glanced at a single section.  Look further.  I skip for the
moment the next section, and go to the sixth, which describes some of the duties of the
"assistant commissioners and local superintendents."   It begins by declaring that

  "Shall act as advisory guardians to aid the freedmen in the adjustment of their wages, or, where they
have rented plantation or small holdings, in the application of their labor."

  Mark, if you please, the friendly service to be performed.  Not in this way do ty-
rants or slave-masters wield a wicked power.   Here is advice, guardianship, and the
adjustment of wages--all inconsistent with slavery in any of its pretensions.  What

  "That they shall take care that the freedmen do not suffer from ill-treatment or any failure of contract
on the part of others, and that on their part they perform their duty under any contract entered into by

  Mark again the friendly service required.  Here is another duty cast upon these
  Mr. GRIMES.  How is that to be enforced?  Suppose they will not work--will not
fulfill their contracts?
  Mr. SUMNER.  The duty of these officers is "advisory."   They are not invested
with power to enforce any provisions, unless by court of law or some other tribunal.
The freedmen are entitled to all the rights of freedmen, just as much as the Senator.
Curiously the Senator does not seem to have purged his mind of the idea that these
men, in some way or other, have not yet ceased to be slaves--[Mr. GRIMES.  No]--an
assumption which, however natural in the Senator from West Virginia, is not natural
in my friend from Iowa.  But let him recognize them as free, like himself, and he will
see that there is no remedy open to him which will not be open to them, and that any
outrage upon them will, in point of law, be the same as if inflicted upon himself.
  Mr. HARLAN.    I desire to ask the Senator if there are courts of law in existence in
these rebel States before whom the parties may appear.
  Mr. SUMNER.   I am afraid that courts of justice in those States are not yet in per-
fect operation.  But such as they are, they will be open to every freedman.  On this
point there can be no question.
  The next words of the section show what shall be done by these officers to promote
the administration of justice.  Thus:

  "They shall further do what they can as arbitrators to reconcile and settle any differences in which
freedmen may be involved, whether among themselves or between themselves and other persons."
  Here is the duty of arbitrator and peacemaker; but no power or control.  And this
duty is applicable to differences of all kinds where the freedmen are parties.  Nothing
can be more humane or less tyrannical.  But this is not all.

 "In case such differences are carried before any tribunal, civil or military, they shall appear as next
friends of the freedmen, so far as to see that the case is fairly stated and heard. And in all such proceed-
ings here shall be no disability or exclusion on account of color."

   If not "arbitrators," then the officers are to be "next friends" to aid the freedmen
in an litigation into which they may be drawn.  Very little tyranny here. And this
service is to be rendered in any tribunal, "civil or military," so that where the civil
court are closed the freedmen may obtain justice in any military tribunal.  But


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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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