Freedmen's Bureau

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, usually referred to as simply the Freedmen's Bureau, was a U.S. federal government agency that aided distressed freedmen (freed slaves) during the Reconstruction era of the United States. The Freedmen's Bureau Bill, which established the Freedmen's Bureau on March 3, 1865, was initiated by President Abraham Lincoln and was intended to last for one year after the end of the Civil War. The Freedmen's Bureau was an important agency of the early Reconstruction, assisting freedmen in the South. The Bureau was part of the United States Department of War. Headed by Union Army General Oliver O. Howard, the Bureau started operations in 1865. Throughout the first year, it became clear that these tasks were more difficult than had been previously believed as conservative Southerners established Black Codes detrimental to African-American civil rights.

Not withstanding, the Bureaus powers were expanded to help find lost families for African Americans and teach them to read and write so they could better themselves. Bureau agents also served as legal advocates for African Americans in both local and national courts, mostly in cases dealing with family issues. The Bureau encouraged former plantation owners to rebuild their plantations, urged freed Blacks to gain employment, kept an eye on contracts between labor and management, and pushed both whites and blacks to work together as employers and employees rather than as masters and as slaves.

In 1866, Congress renewed the charter for the Bureau, which President Andrew Johnson vetoed because it encroached into states' rights, used the military in peacetime, and would keep freed slaves from becoming independent. By 1869, the Bureau had lost most of its funding and as a result been forced to cut much of its staff. By 1870 the Bureau had been considerably weakened due to the rise of Ku Klux Klan violence in the South. In 1872, Congress abruptly abandoned and shut down the Bureau, without informing Howard, who had been controversially transferred to Arizona by President Ulysess S. Grant to settle hostilities between the Apache Indians and settlers. Grant's Secretary of War William W. Belknap, was hostile to Howard's leadership and authority at the Bureau. Howard had approved of the closure, believing the Bureau to be temporary, but he was upset that he had not been at his office in Washington D.C. when the Bureau closed.

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