The Future of the Black American
American Freedmen's Commission Report 1864


     The American Freedmen's Commission Report submitted to the War Department from New York City on May 15, 1864 raised good questions as to the further work necessary in abolishing black slavery forever. The Emancipation Proclamation, simply to deprave the insurrectionary states of their labor and weaken the southern war effort would not have the long lasting effect as a war powers act. There was still the question of the border states of Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Missouri and Kentucky along with the sprinkling of black slaves up north in states like Ohio and Illinois.

     Three quarters of a million black slaves had residence in such places where their freedom remained unaffected by such measures. The state laws within, allowed for their local governments to arrest as vagrants those having recently established freedom and permitting to sell them back into slavery, the revenues used to pay expenses the state has incurred. How was the Central Government to track such transactions of sale if such freedmen found themselves in parishes or states in federal control and permitting the institution to continue? No freedman can guarantee his freedom under such conditions where he could so easily be sold back into the servitude he had just been released from.

     By 1864 there had been an estimate of more than 4,000,000 blacks still being held in slavery, the estimated value of such came to a bill of $1,500,000,000 dollars. If the laws remained the same then the government would have been financially liable for exercising unconstitutionality among those states that remained loyal to the Central Government yet maintained their slaves. It would soon become essential therefore, upon the termination of the war, and admitting the insurrectionary states back into the Union, to amend the Constitution abolishing slavery within the borders of the entire country.

     It became the commission's observation that the African race found among them had lacked no special aptitude for civilization. In general they willingly yielded to their own restraints and entered into their duties not only with alacrity but with evident pride and an increase of self respect. With that, the commission felt that as freedmen they too should become useful members of national society.
Saxton
     Brigadier General Rufus Saxton attested to the commission from South Carolina that the black had no ambition whatsoever to move North. He had more than 18,000 freedmen under his care and these were equally averse to the idea of returning to Africa. Without emancipation he felt the refugees fleeing north from bondage would present the fear of labor competition among the Northern working men, whereas overall abolition would create the migration to go from the North to the South as that the climate there suited them better.

     It was believed that with an amendment abolishing slavery forever, those who had fled the South to escape bondage would give up all and return to their southern homeland. It was believed that such an amendment would denude the north of all blacks returning them to warmer climates. Many who fled North found the racism far worse than ever experienced down South and wouldn't remain another minute exempting their fear of returning to their masters.

     The Emancipation of the Black Slave was nothing more than claiming the slave in rebel held territory as booty of war and kept the European powers from adding military resources in order to off set the competition. In contrast, The American Freedmen's Commission suggested seeing that nowhere within the United States boundaries one race could hold another in bondage again. It was calling on the legislative body of Congress to amend slavery right out of existence. That answer would come another nineteen months later when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution would be ratified in Congress, December 13, 1865.


Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2004

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