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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

taken sides, and newspapers also.  I regret this difference; but I trust that a calm and
dispassionate consideration of the subject will render it innocuous. The first thought
of all should be the cause.
   There is another question which ought not to be passed over in silence, arising out
of the desire to protect the freedmen from any system of serfdom or enforced apprentice-
ship.  It is well known that among the former slave-masters there are many who con-
tinue to count upon appropriating the labor of their slaves, if not under the name of
slavery, at least under some other system by which the freedmen shall be effectually
held to service.  This very phrase "held to service," standing alone, is the pleo-
nastic definition of slavery itself.  One of these slave-masters in a public speech said,
"There is really no difference, in my opinion, whether we hold them as absolute slaves
or obtain their labor by some other method.  Of course we prefer the old method, but
that question is not now before us"  Such barefaced avowals were not needed to put
humane men on their guard against the conspiracy to continue slavery under another
   The bill now before the Senate provides against any such possibility by requiring,
first, that the assistant commissioners and local superintendents shall not only aid the
freedmen in the adjustment of their wages, but that they shall take care that the freed-
men do not suffer from  ill-treatment or any failure of contract on the part of others;
and secondly, that the contracts for service shall be limited to a year.  The latter pro-
vision is so important that I give it precisely:
  "Provided, That no freedman shall be held to service on any estate above mentioned otherwise, than ac-
cording to voluntary contract, reduced to writing, and certified by the assistant commissioner or local
superintendent; nor shall any such contract be for a longer period than twelve months."
   Here is a safeguard against serfdom or enforced apprenticeship which seemed to your
committee of especial value.  In this respect the House bill was thought by some of
the committee to be fatally defective, inasmuch as it interposed no positive safeguards.
   I do not know how extensive the desire may be to set slavery again on its feet under
another name.  But when we take into consideration the selfish tendencies of the
world, the disposition of the strong to appropriate the labor of the weak, and the
reluctance of slave-masters to renounce their habitual power, I have felt that Congress
would not do its duty on this occasion if it did not by special provision guard against
any such outrage.  There must be no slavery under an alias.  This terrible wrong
must not be allowed to skulk in serfdom or compulsory labor.  "Once free, always
free:" such is the maxim of justice and jurisprudence.  But any system by which the
freedmen may be annexed to the soil, like the old adscripti glibe, will be in direct conflict
with their newly acquired rights.  They can be properly bound only by contract; and con-
sidering how easily they may be induced to enter into engagements ignorantly or heed-
lessly, and thus become the legal victims of designing men, it is evident that no pre-
cautions in their behalf can be too great.
  It is well known that in some of the British West Indies an attempt was made, at
the period emancipation, to establish a system of apprenticeship which should be
an intermediate condition between slavery and freedom.  But the experiment failed.
In some of the islands it was abandoned by the planters themselves, who frankly
accepted emancipation outright. And in all it finally fell, blasted by the eloquence of
Brougham.   Here is a passage from one of his speeches:


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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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