The Freedman’s Bureau- Helping the Helpless

The Freedmans Bureau- Helping the Helpless


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Officially known as the Bureau of Refugees, Freemen, and Abandoned Lands, the Freeman’s Bureau was created by Congress  in 1865 to provide for thousands of former slaves and poor whites in the Southern states and Washington D.C.

Millions of slaves had just been freed as a result of the ending of the Civil War and plantation economy of the South had been destroyed. The bureau distributed food and clothes, built hospitals and provided medical aide, and reunited former slaves with their families/issue marriage licenses. It also strongly encouraged African-American education and helped to found colleges like Howard University in D.C. Unfortunately, the bureau was largely understaffed and underfunded, so attempts to distribute lands to former slaves and whites who had lost their land were largely unsuccessful. Many white southerners opposed the Freedman’s Bureau from the very beginning and President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill to extend it’s tenure, saying it went against states rights, favored one group of people over another, and would cost the government too much money.

President Andrew Johnson
President Andrew Johnson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The fact that the government jumped from allowing slavery in the United States, to feeding and clothing former slaves(and impoverished whites) is amazing to me. It shows just how much things had changed due to the Civil War and how important they were to the building of the society we have today. I’m upset that even after slavery had been abolished, people were against the idea of them receiving help, especially the President.


One in a series of posters attacking Radical R...
One in a series of posters attacking Radical Republicans on the issue of black suffrage, issued during the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election of 1866. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Anti-Freeman’s Bureau Propaganda is equivalent to those who say welfare in America just makes lazy Americans. The reason The Freedman’s Bureau did not succeed more than it did and was eventually eliminated was because of the huge amount of racism still present in America at the time. By looking at the propaganda poster, an African-American man is drawn with features resembling an ape, indicating that some people still did not consider them equal. He is relaxed while a white man is chopping wood on the side providing the argument of “Why should WE help former slaves”? It amazes me how whites tried to turn the situation around to make them seem like the victims when they had just OWNED these people for hundreds of years. It’s just like today where people claim the idea of reverse racism is real when any special attention or appreciation of African-Americans is apparent.