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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

country, at the East and the West--especially at all the principal centers--have done
much toward this charity.  But private societies are inadequate to the duties required.
The intervention of the national Government is necessary.  Without such intervention,
many of those poor people, freed by our acts in the exercise of a military necessity,
will be left to perish.
  The service required is too vast and complex for unorganized individuals.  It must
proceed from the national Government.  This alone can supply the adequate machinery,
and extend the proper network of assistance, with that unity of operation which is
required.  The national Government must interfere in the case precisely as in building
the Pacific railroad.  Private charity in our country is active and generous, but it is
powerless to cope with the evils arising from a wicked institution; nor can it provide
a remedy where society itself has been overthrown.
  There are few who will not admit that something must be done by the Government.
Cold must be that heart which could turn away from this call.  But whatever is done
must be through some designated agency, and this brings me to another aspect of the
  The President in his proclamation of emancipation has used the following language:
"I recommend to them"--that is, to the freedmen--"that in all cases, when allowed,
they labor faithfully for reasonable wages."   Such is the recommendation from that
supreme authority which decreed emancipation.  They are to labor, and for reasonable
wages.  But the President does not undertake to say how this opportunity shall be
obtained; how the laborer shall be brought in connection with the land; how his rights
shall be protected; and low his new-found liberty shall be made a blessing.  It was
enough, perhaps, on the occasion of the proclamation that the suggestion should be
made.  Faithful labor and reasonable wages!  Let these be secured, and everything
else will follow.  But how shall these be secured?
  Different subjects as they become important are committed to the care of special
bureaus. I need only refer to patents, agriculture, public lands, pensions, and Indian
affairs, each under the charge of a separate Commissioner.  Clearly the time has come
for a Bureau of Freedmen.  In speaking of a Bureau of Freedmen, I mean a bureau
which will be confined in its operations to the affairs of freedmen, and not travel
beyond this increasing class to embrace others, it may be of African descent.  Our
present necessity is to help those who have been made free by the present war; and
the term freedmen describes sufficiently those who have once been slaves; and it is
this class which we propose to help during the transition period from slavery to free-
dom.  Call it charity or duty, it is sacred as humanity.
  But here a practical question arises with regard to the Department in which this
bureau should be placed.  There are reasons for placing it in the War Department--
at least during the war.  There are other reasons for placing it in the Department of
the Interior, which has charge of Indian affairs, pensions, and patents.  But what-
ever may  be the reasons on general grounds for placing it in one of these two
Departments, there are other reasons, of special importance at this moment, which
point to the Treasury  Department.  Indeed, after careful consideration, the committee
were satisfied that it was so clearly associated with other interests already intrusted to
this Department, that it could not be advantageously administered elsewhere. Although
beginning this inquiry with a conviction in favor of the War Department, I could not
resist the conclusion of the committee.


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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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