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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

  "They who always dreaded emancipation, who were alarmed at the prospect of negro indolence, who
stood aghast at the vision of negro rebellion should the chains cease to rattle, or the lash resound through
the air, gathering no wisdom from the past, still persist in affrighting themseles and scaring you with im-
maginary apprehensions from the transition to entire freedom out of the present intermediate state.  But
that intermediate state is the very source of all their real danger: and I disguise not its magnitude from
myself.  You have gone too far if you stop here and go no further; you are imminent hazard if, having
loosened the fetters, you do not strike them off; if, leaving them ineffectual to restrain, you let them
remain to gall and to irritate and goad.  Beware of that state yet more unnatural than slavery itself, liberty
bestowed by halves."--Third Series Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, volume 40, p. 1312.
   "I have demonstrated to you that everything is ordered, every previous step taken, all safe, by experi-
ence shown to be safe, for the long desired consummation.  The time has come, the trial has been made,
the hour is striking; you have no longer a pretext for hesitation or faltering or delay. The slave has
shown by four years blameless behaviour and devotion to the pursuits of peaceful industry that he is as fit
for his freedom as any English peasant, ay, or any lord whom I now address.  I demand his rights; I de-
mand his liberty without stint; in the name of justice and of law, in the name of reason, in the name of
God, who has given you no right to work injustice"--Ibid., p. 1314.
  But surely there is no need of eloquence or persuasion to induce you to set your
faces like flint against any such half-way system. Freedom that has been declared must
by secured completely, so that it may not fail through any pretension or fraud of wick-
ed men. The least that can be done is that which is proposed by your committee.
  Much more might be said on the whole subject; but I forbear.  I have opened to
consideration the two principal questions. If the Senate agree with the committee,
first, on the importance of keeping the superintendance of the freedmen and of lands in
the same hands, so as to avoid local conflict and discord, and, secondly, in the impor-
tance of providing surely against any system of serfdom or adscription to the soil, the
bill of the committee must be adopted.
  For the sake of plainness, I ask your attention to th main features of the bill, under
the following heads:
  1. It provides exclusively for freedmen, meaning thereby "such persons as were
once slaves," without undertaking to embrace persons generally of African descent.
  2. It seeks to secure to such freedmen the opportunity of labor on those lands which
are natural and congenial to them, ond on this account it places the superintendance
of the freedmen in the Department which has the superintendance of the lands.
  3. It provides positively against any system of enforced labor or apprenticeship, by
requiring contracts between the freedmen and their employers to be carefully attested
before local officers.
  4. It establishes a careful machinery for the purposes of the bill, both as regards the
freedmen and as regards the lands.
  But the bill may be seen not only in what it does, but also in what it avoids doing.
  It does not undertake too much.   It does not assume to provide ways and means for
the support of the freedmen; but it does look to securing them the opportunities of
labor according to well-guarded contracts and under the friendly advice of agents of the
Government, who shall take care that they are protected against abuse of all kinds.
  It is the declared duty of these agents "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."  Under these comprehensive words all that is proper and consti-
tutional will be authorized for their welcome and security, while labor will be made to
go hand in hand.  Thus far in the sad history of this people Labor has been compelled
by slavery.  But the case at last will be reversed.  It wil be Liberty that will conduct
the freedman to the fields, protest him in his toil, and secure to him all its fruits.
  In closing what I have to say on this subject, allow me to read the official testimony
of the Commission on Freedmen, appointed by the Secretary of War, in their recent
report on this subject:


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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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