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Documents - Freedmen's Bureau - Instructions to Assistant Commissioners and Other Officers

 

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Instructions to Assistant Commissioners and other officers

[Circular No 11 ] WAR DEPARTMENT, BUREAU OF REFUGEES, FREEDMEN, AND ABANDONED LANDS,

Washington, July 12, 1865.

Instructions to Assistant Commissioners and other officers

Each Assistant Commissioner will be careful, in the establishment of sub-districts, to have he office of his agent at some point easy of access for the people of the sub-district

He will have at least one agent, either a citizen, military officer, or enlisted man, in each sub-district This agent must be thoroughly instructed in his duties He will be furnished with the proper blanks for contracts, and will institute methods adequate to meet the wants of his district in accordance with the rules of this bureau No fixed rates of wages will be prescribed for a district, but in order to regulate fair wages in given individual case the agent should have in mind minimum rates for his own guidance. By careful inquiry as to the hire of an able-bodied man when the pay went to the master, he will have an approximate test of the value of labor He must of course consider the entire change of circumstances, and be sure that the laborer has due protection against avarices and extortion Wages had better be secured by a lien on the crops or land Employers are desired to enter into written agreements with employs, setting forth stated wages, or securing an interest in the land or crop, or both. All such agreements will be approved by the nearest agent, and a duplicate filed in his office In case there should be no agent within reach, the nearest postmaster will forward the duplicate of contracts direct to the Assistant Commissioner for the State

Attention is specially called to section 4 of the law establishing the bureau, with regard to setting apart land to every male citizen, whether refugee or freedman, etc , and the same arrangement is recommended, when it can be effected, between private parties Already many farmers have rented lands to freedmen and refugees This course is a recognition of the general principle in the law

In order to enforce the fulfillment of contracts on both contracting parties, the Commissioner of the bureau lays down no general rule the Assistant Commissioner must use the privileges and authority he already has Provost courts, military commissions, local courts, where the freedmen and refugees have equal rights with other people, are open to his use In the great majority of cases his own arbitrament, or that of his agent, or the settlement by referees, will be sufficient

No Assistant Commissioner, or agent, is authorized to tolerate compulsory unpaid labor, except for the legal punishment of crime Suffering may result to some extent, but suffering is preferred to slavery, and is to some degree the necessary consequence of events

In all actions the officer should never forget that no substitute for slavery, like apprenticeship without proper consent, or peonage, (i e , either holding the people by debt, or confining them, without consent, to the land by any system,) will be tolerated

The Assistant Commissioner will designate one or more of his agents to act as the general superintendent of schools (one for each State) for refugees and freedmen This officer will work as much as possible in conjunction with State officers who may have school matters in charge If a general system can be adopted for a State, it is well; but if not, he will at least take cognizance of all that is being done to educate refugees and freedmen, secure proper protection to schools and teachers, promote method and efficiency, correspond with the benevolent agencies which are supplying his field, and aid the Assistant Commissioner in making his required reports

Surgeon C W Hornor, chief medical officer of the bureau, will have the general supervision of medical matters connected with refugees and freedmen.

The Assistant Commissioners will instruct their medical officers, as they have instructed other officers, to make the medical department self-supporting as far as possible

All public addresses of a character calculated to create discontent are reprehensible; but the Assistant Commissioner and his agents must explain, by constant recapitulation, the principles, laws, and regulations of this bureau to all parties concerned It is recommended to the Assistant Commissioners to thaw up in writing a careful summary to be publicly and privately read by agents throughout their respective districts

O O HOWARD,
Major General, Commissioner

 

 

 

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