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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  from  Louisiana, South Carolina, Fortress Monroe, Vicksburg, Tennessee,  Ar-
kansas.   I know not where the call is most urgent.  It is urgent everywhere; and in
some places it is the voice of distress.
   Wherever our arms have prevailed the old social sysem has been destroyed.   Masters
have  fled, and slaves have assumed a new character.   Released from their former
obligations, and often adrift in the world, they naturally look to the prevaililig  power.
Here, for instance, is testimony which I take from an excellent report made in the de-
partment of Tennessee, under date of April 29, 1863:
  "Negroes, in accordance with the acts of Congress, free on coming within our lines, circulated much like
water: the task was to care for and render useful.
   "They rolled like eddies around military posts: many of the men employed in accordance with Order
No. 72, district West Tennessee; women and children largely  doing nothing but eating and idling, the
dupes of vice aud crime, the unsuspecting sources of disease."
   From this statement Senators may form an idea of the numbers who seek assistence.
   But the question is often asked as to the disposition of these persons to labor.  Here,
also, the testimony is explicit.   I have in my hand the answers from  different stations
on this point.
  "Question.  'What of their disposition to labor?'
  "Answer. Corinth.  'So far as I have tested it, better than I expected; willing to work for money, ex-
cept in waiting on the sick.  One hundred and fifty hands gathered five hundred acres of cotton in less than
three weeks, much of which time was bad weather.  The owner admitted that it was done more quickly
than it could have been done with slaves. When detailed for service, they generally remained till honor-
ably discharged, even when badly treated.  I am well satisfied, from careful calculations, that the contra-
bands of this camp and district have netted the Government, over and above all their expenses, including
rations, tents, &c., at least $3,000 per month, independent of what the women do and all the property
brought through our lines from the rebels.'
  "Cairo.  'Willing to labor when they can have proper motives
  "Grand Junction.  'Have manifested considerable disposition to escape labor, having had no sufficient
motives to work.'
  "Holly Spring and Memphis.  'With few exceptions, generally willing, even without pay.  Paid regu-
larly, they are much more prompt.'
  "Memphis.  'Among men, better than among women.  Hold out to them the inducements, benefit to
themselves and friends, essential to the industry of any race, and they would at once be diligent and
  "Bolivar.  'Generally good; would be improved by the idea of pay.'"
   Here, also,  is a glimpse at  Newbern, North Carolina, under date of February 26,
  "Immediately on my return here, on the 12th of October, I instituted measures for placing the different
abandoned plantations within our lines in this State under proper management and cultivation.  As soon
as it became known that as supervising Treasury agent I had charge of this property, I was visited by
hundreds (and I might correctly say thousands) of contrabands, along with numerous white persons, de-
siring to obtain privileges to work upon the same."
   And here is the testimony of General Banks, in  Louisiana:
  "Wherever in the department they have been well treated and reasonably compensated, they have
invariably rendered faithful service to their employers.  From many persons who manage plantations I
have received the information that there is no difficulty whatever in keeping them at work if the condi-
tions to which I have referred are complied with."

   I do not quote further, for it would simply take time. But I cannot forbear from
adding that the report from the commissioners on freedmen, appointed by the Secretary
of War, accumulates ample testimony on this head, all showing that the freedmen are
anxious to find employment.  Your  Treasury  testifies to their productive power, for
it contains at this moment more than a million dollars which have come from the
sweat of freedmen.

   It is evident,  then,  that the freedmen are not idlers.   They desire work.   But in
their helpless condition they have not the ability to obtain it without assistance. They
are alone, friendless, and uninformed.  The curse of slavery is still upon them. Some-
body must take them by the hand; not to support them but simply to help them  to
that work which will support them.  Thus far private societies in different parts of the


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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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