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Freedmen's Bureau

Abraham Lincoln

Freedmen's Bureau: Abraham Lincoln was the 16th American President who served in office from March 4, 1861 to April 15, 1865. The Freedmen's Bureau was a government agency initially established under Lincoln's war powers.

Definition and Summary of the Freedmen's Bureau
Summary and definition:
The Freedmen's Bureau was a federal agency established on March 3, 1865 just before the end of the Civil War, during the Reconstruction Era. The Freedmen's Bureau was established to help and protect emancipated slaves (freedmen) during their transition from a life of slavery to a life of freedom.

Why was the Freedmen's Bureau established?
The Freedmen's Bureau was originally created towards the end of the Civil War under President Lincoln's emergency war powers as part of the United States Department of War. The official name of the title was the 'Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands'. The Freedmen's Bureau was established due to pressure and concern of members of the Abolitionist Movement for newly emancipated slaves. The number of newly emancipated slaves (freedmen) totaled 4 million at the end of the Civil War. The Freedman's Bureau provided food, housing and medical aid to Freedmen. It also established schools and offered legal assistance to those in need.

When was the Freedmen's Bureau established?
The Freedmen's Bureau was established under the Freedmen's Bureau Bill on March 3, 1865. It was intended to last for the duration of the Civil War and for one year afterwards, however it continued until July 1, 1869.

What was the Purpose of the Freedmen's Bureau?
The purpose of the Freedmen's Bureau was to:

  • Perform relief work for both black and white poor people in war-stricken areas in the South

  • The regulation of conditions of freedmen (black) labor

  • The administration of justice in cases concerning the black freedmen

  • The management of abandoned and confiscated property including the redistribution of 'abandoned' lands to former slaves

  • The support of education for freedmen

In reality, the Freedmen's Bureau also organized the black vote in the South for the Republican party.

Who created the Freedmen's Bureau?
The Freedmen's Bureau was created by Congress, organized by the War Department and led by General Oliver O. Howard as its commissioner. The Freedmen's Bureau was therefore backed by military force and its original employees and agents were Civil War soldiers.

Where was the Freedmen's Bureau established?
General Oliver Howard, who was given the nickname the "Christian General", divided the Freedmen's Bureau into 11 districts in the ex-slave states, each headed by an assistant commissioner.

Who did the Freedmen's Bureau help?
The Freedmen's Bureau was created to aid and protect emancipated slaves (freedmen) in their transition from a life of slavery to freedom. It also offered help to poor whites in the South.

Who supported the Freedmen's Bureau?
The Freedmen's Bureau was supported by President Abraham Lincoln, moderate Republicans in Congress and members of the Abolitionist Movement. The Freedman's Bureau was massively under-staffed and only employed 900 agents at its peak and lacked sufficient funds to meet their goals. However there was additional support from teachers who established some effective educational programs and charitable religious institutions.

Achievements of the Freedmen's Bureau
Many of the successes and achievements of the Freedmen's Bureau were due to the help of missionaries and charities who provided help with relief work providing food, education support and medical aid. Others helped by negotiating labor contracts, legalizing marriages between ex-slaves and helping to locate and re-unite relatives and families. 

Who opposed the Freedmen's Bureau?
The Freedmen's Bureau was opposed by organizations in the South such as the Ku Klux Klan, who intimidated the agents. Resistance to the Bureau was also encouraged by President Andrew Johnson's administration who were influenced by the lenient policies of the President. The result of this was that most of the land confiscated from Confederates was eventually restored to the original owners. The Freedmen's Bureau failed totally in establishing the freed slaves as landowners.

Problems with the Freedmen's Bureau
Some of the agents working for the Freedmen's Bureau were honest and honorable but unfortunately many were corrupt, purely working for their personal financial gain.

How did the South view the Freedmen's Bureau?
The Freedmen's Bureau operated as a political mechanism, organizing the black vote for the Republican party. These political activities were strongly resented and made the Freedman's Bureau hated in the South. Agents were hated and despised, many were corrupt and incompetent, and seen as interfering in local affairs by trying to assist freedmen at the expense Southerners. The Reconstruction Era also brought the Carpetbaggers into the South. The Carpetbaggers were northerners who traveled south to insure that the policies of the federal government would be properly administered or simply to profit financially and politically from their positions.

Facts about the Freedmen's Bureau: Facts and Timeline for kids
Interesting Freedmen's Bureau Facts and Timeline for kids are detailed below. The history of the Freedmen's Bureau is told in a factual timeline sequence consisting of a series of interesting, short facts providing a simple method of relating the
history of the Freedmen's Bureau for kids, schools and homework projects.

January 1, 1865: The 13th Amendment approved in January to abolish slavery

March 3,1865: The temporary Freedmen's Bureau Bill was passed establishing the Freedmen's Bureau)  to assist freedmen (freed ex-slaves) in the South.

April 9, 1865: End of the Civil War begins with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox

April 14, 1865: Assassination of President Lincoln by James Wilkes Booth

April 15, 1865: Death of President Lincoln and Vice President Andrew Johnson assumes the Presidency and presents plans for the Reconstruction Era

1865 / 1866: The Black Codes were laws introduced in Southern States restricting black people's freedom and the right to own property, conduct business, buy and lease land, and move freely through public spaces

November, 1865: A "Colored People's Convention" assembled at Zion Church in Charleston to condemn the Black Codes.

December 24, 1865: Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was founded in Pulaski, Tennessee

February 4, 1866: A follow-up Freedmenís Bureau Bill was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson

April 9, 1866: Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 declared "all persons born in the United States," with the exception of American Indians, were "hereby declared to be citizens of the United States."

May, 1866: The Memphis Riots mobs of white civilians and policemen rampage through black neighborhoods

June 13, 1866: The Fourteenth Amendment was passed by Congress

July 3, 1866:  A compromise follow-up Freedmenís Bureau Bill was passed by Congress and the Senate provided additional rights to ex-slaves (Freedmen)

July 30, 1866: The New Orleans riots in which whites attack freedmen at the Mechanics Institute

March 2, 1867: The First of Four Reconstruction Acts were passed over Johnson's veto. Second Act March 23, 1867. Third Act July 19 1867. Fourth Act March 11, 1868. Purpose was  "An act to provide for the more efficient government of the Rebel States"

1868: Former slave, Oscar J. Dunn, was elected as  first US Black Lieutenant Governor, serving in Louisiana from 1868 to 1871

July 9, 1868: The 14th Amendment was ratified stating that every person born in the US is a citizen. States must follow due process of law before taking away any citizen's rights or property.

August 11, 1868: Radical republican Thaddeus Stevens dies. He was a fierce supporter of land for Freedmen

July 1, 1869: Freedmen's Bureau ends (although education section continues for another 3 years)

February 3, 1870: Fifteenth Amendment ratified stating that a citizen's right to vote cannot be taken away because of race, the color of their skin, or because they were previously slaves.

February 23, 1870: Hiram Revels elected to U. S. Senate as the first black senator

December 12, 1870: Joseph H. Rainey, is the first black member sworn in as member of the House of Representatives

1868-1876: 14 black men served in the House of Representatives and two black men served in the Senate

1877: Nearly 600,000 black students, from children to the elderly, were in southern schools by this year

Black History for kids: Important People and Events
For visitors interested in African American History refer to Black History - People and Events. A useful resource  for teachers, kids, schools and colleges undertaking projects for the Black History Month.

US American History
1850-1865: Civil War Era

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