"We need a freedmen's bureau, not because these people are negroes, but because they are men who have
been for generations despoiled of their rights. The commission has heretofore, to wit, in a supplemental
report made to you in december last, recommended, to effect the above objects, the establishment of such a
bureau; and they believe that all that is essential to its proper organization is contained, substantially, in
a bill to that effect reported on April 12, from the Senate committee on slavery and freedmen."
This is the bill which is now under consideration.
It will be for the Senate to determine, under the circumstances, what it will do. My
earnest hope is that it will do something. The opportunity must not be lost of
helping so many persons who are now helpless, and of aiding the cause of reconciliation,
without which peace cannot be assured. In this spirit I leave the whole subject to the
judgment of the Senate. If anything better than the work of the committee can be
found I hope that it will be adopted; but meanwhile I ask you to accept that which
is now offered.
[The Bill for a Bureau of Freedmen was attacked in debate. On the third day, Mr.
SUMNER replied to the attacks as follows:]
Mr. SUMNER, I am sorry to be obliged to say another word in this debate. I had
hoped to be excused. But the remarks of the Senator from Iowa [Mr. GRIMES] leave
me no alternative.
I am not astonished at the opposition which this bill has encountered from the Sena-
tors over the way. It is their vocation to oppose every such measure, and to give it,
if possible, a bad name. They believe in slavery more or less, and will not do any-
thing to remove it or to mitigate its terrible curse. There is the Senator from West
Virginia, [Mr. WILLEY,] who gives us smooth words for freedom, with boasts of the
slaves he has emancipated, and then straightway, by voice and vote, sustains slave-
hunting, and, it possible worse still, startles the Senate by a menace that slaves set
free by act of Congress will be re-enslaved by States again restored to the Union. That
this Senator should attack a bill for a Bureau of Freedmen is perfectly natural; nor
am I astonished that he should misrepresent its character. But I cannot conceal my
surprise at the course of the Senator from Iowa, who I know has no love for slavery,
and no congenital, persistent, and rooted prejudices against the colored race. If the
Senator from from West Virginia spoke naturally, allow me to say that my friend from
Iowa did not speak naturally.
Sir, the Senator has not done justice to the bill which he undertook to criticise. It
was evident that he spoke hastily, without having even read it. At least this is not
an improper assumption when we consider some of his criticisms. It will be remem-
bered how promptly I corrected him while he was picturing the Assistant Commission-
ers as so utterly without restraint that they were not even obliged to make reports. I
rose and read the clause in the bill expressly requiring not only "quarterly reports"
but "other special reports from time to time." The Senator, surprised by this provi-
sion, replied that it was at the close of the bill and was evidently an afterthought.
This again was a mistake. Had he read the bill carefully he would have found that
whatever may be its merits in other respects everything is introduced in its proper
place, and this provision is no exception. There is no afterthought in the bill. The
Senator then complained that the Assistant Commissioner was not obliged to give a
bond. Here again he was mistaken. By an amendment moved by myself this was
required. All this was a part of the attempt of the Senator to show that the bureau
had not been planned with sufficient care. Suffice it to say that there is no bureau of
the Government constituted with more care or surrounded with more safegaurds against
abuse. Much in the last resort must be confided to the honesty of public servants