Search billions of records on Ancestry.com
   

Letter from a radical on the Freedmen's Bureau

[Flake's Bulletin 1 July 1866 page 1]


LETTER FROM A RADICAL ON THE FREEDMEN'S BUREAU.
GALVESTON, TEXAS, July 1st, 1866.
HON. THOMAS ELIOT, M.C., Washington, D.C.

My Dear Sir:--In the semi-weekly issue of the New York Tribune, of May 15th, I find an article upon Generals Steadman and Fullerton, and the Freedmen's Bureau, and a letter from Gen. Howard to the Rev. Mr. Whipple; also, the report of a meeting of colored men, held at Newbern, N.C.

In his letter to the Rev. Mr. Whipple, Gen. Howard says, "you and our friends, may rest assured, that every shadow of accusation of complicity in crim,e on the part of those officers is utterly without foundation." It is a little singular, however, that while Gen. Howard was volunteering this sweepingdefence of his agents, without, as he admits, having received the facts in the case, the colored people themselves, in a meeting at Newbern, a meeting called to defend the Bureau and its agents, were distinctly declaring by resolution, that they must strongly condemn the atrocity of one of those very agents, and the short-comings of others.

I know nothing of the merits of the case in North Carolina, whether the agents there were guilty or not; and I only refer to it, as another evidence of the Administration of Gen. Howard. I know somewhat of that administration in Alabama; much more of it in Texas, and all about it, in Louisiana. The article in the Tribune, suggests, very naturally, that Gen. Howard should know more of his own Bureau than Generals Steadman and Fullerton. I have been rather inclined to attribute the melancholy management of the Bureau, by Gen. Howard to his real ignorance of its condition and needs. His sources of information have been partial and prejudiced. It would seem as if he had stopped his ears, and closed his doors and the portfolios of his Bureau, to statement, to petition and to remonstrance, from others, than his own school of martinets and bigots.

A Quaker, a Unitarian, a Universalist, a Jew, or any other person suspected of belonging to what Gen. Howard would term, "the unevangelical classes of society," have had little access to the ear of Gen. Howard, unless endorsed by some one of the General's own discipleship; or the person himself, was of sufficient importance to compel consideration.

Antecedents, exhibiting a life-time devotion to the principles of Freedom; a vital loyalty, in the reign of treason; a steady expenditure of blood and treasure for an imperiled nationality, have seemed to weigh nothing with the Chief Commissioner, as against the accusation or the opposition of any Puritanic employee, whom Gen. Howard, having appointed, in the name of God, must in the name of God, defend.

Men, like the Rev. Mr. Fitz, the Rev. Thomas W. Conway, and Mr. Isaac G. Hubbe--the latter sent out of a Department, by a special military order, for officially robbing the teachers of the colored schools, and for speculating, upon the necessities of the Freedmen--are of the class of men to whom Gen. Howard appears to have given hearing and credence. It was the interest of these men to impose upon the Chief Commissioner.

They besieged him day and night. They inundated his Bureau and himself with private letters and communications, and they incompassed it in personal appeal. In addition, they moulded official papers for special effect. There are instances wherein reports have been made by this class of agents to the Chief Commissioner at Washington, which reports were fabricated; manufactured from altered official papers; made up without data, and after having been interjected with the needful number of pious phrases were forwarded as official reports. Gen. Howard was immediately and accurately informed of the fraud. Facts, dates and figures were furnished him. Not only did he reject the truth and accept the falsehood, but he interposed his personal influence to sustain the culprits, and to retain them in place, thereby losing many thousands of dollars to the Government, and in the end subverting a paramount interest of the freedmen.

In this manner, the Bureau in Louisiana has been conducted. The colored schools of Louisiana--the most extensive and successful scheme of colored instruction that has existed, as a sequence of this war--have been utterly overthrown and dispersed.

It must be remembered that the colored schools of Louisiana were begun and carried to the point of great success under what Gen. Howard is pleased to regard as unevangelical auspices; that is, Unitarian and Quaker, and that these results were attained before Gen. Howard became Chief Commissioner.

Under such auspices, Gen. Howard, upon his accession to office, found in the colored schools of Louisiana, in July last, over twenty thousand freed people, with no debt or reproach upon the system of instruction. At that time the colored schools were transferred by Gen. Howard to the Rev. Thomas W. Conway, and to Capt. Henry R. Pease, and under them to the tender care of numerous agents of the class of the Rev. Mr. Fitz and of Mr. Hubbs, and of worse. Under such men in a little over four months the colored schools of Louisiana disappeared, leaving as a residium a large debt upon the Government, and a biting reproach upon the Northern name.

I have said that much of Gen. Howard's apparent official failure may result from his real ignorance of his own Bureau. Gen. Howard is a Major General in the American army. He was educated at West Point. He has just emerged from active service, through the late civil war. He is living in the capital of the country, and is there exercising the functions of a high military-civil official. He is in daily intercourse with the Executive of the nation, with the Commander-in-Chief of the armies, with the Congress of the United States, with the Ministers of State, and with all the Bureaus of the Government. And yet, it seems that a Major General, so educated, and so circumstances, did not know that the army regulations forbade himself and his subordinates to use, in any manner, their official positions for private advantage in money making. He was ignorant of the fact that the law of Congress, passed three years ago, had re-affirmed that paragraph of the army regulations, and had extended it over civilians, making it a penal offense for any appointee so to act. So ignorant was General Howard of these vital provisions of the military and civil law, which he is daily administering, that by his own admission he not only justified, but encouraged his subordinates, in running plantations, and in the exercise of official privilege for individual enrichment.

In the face of these facts, it is not surprising that Gen. Howard should be ignorant of lesser and secondary matters, appertaining to his Bureau.

Brigadier General Gregory was recently relieved from the Assistant Commissionership of Texas. Major General Kiddoo was assigned to the place. Gen. Kiddoo passed through New Orleans and arrived in Galveston and assumed the duties of his office during the first week of May. Early in April, Gen. Kiddoo, on the eve of leaving Washington, called on Gen. Howard for information respecting the Bureau in the vast empire to which he had been assigned. Gen. Howard to Gen. Kiddoo his, Gen. Howard's Report to Congress, made in December, six months before. From that report, Gen. Kiddoo was expected to asertain the condition of Texas. In that report it is state, among other things, that there were in Texas "eleven colored schools with nine teachers," which would embrace about six hundred pupils. No further or later information was afforded the new Assistant Commissioner. That was all that Gen. Howard knew of that branch of his Bureau in Texas, so last as April, although accurate and regular official monthly reports had been sent to him from that State during the six months from December to April.

While in New Orleans on his way to Texas, Gen. Kiddoo, who justly regards the education of the freed people as of primary importance, expressed surprise and regret at the lone state of the educational interest in Texas, as represented by the report of Gen. Howard. Gen. Baird, the Assistant Commissioner, used the occasion to say that the colored public schools of Louisiana had ceased to exist, and that "pay schools," or schools supported by the colored people themselves, were a fallacy and impossible. Gen. Kiddoo left New Orleans for Texas, arriving in Galveston in less than a month after his interview with Gen. Howard in Washington. Gen. Kiddoo was more than surprised to find in active operation in Texas, ninety schools with four thousand seven hundred pupils, all of the schools self-sustaining; maintained wholly by the colored people, without cost to the Government. So little did Gen. Howard know of his own Bureau, in this great State; so little did his Assistant Commissioner, Baird, know of what was passing around him relating to the general affairs of the Bureau, so little does he appreciate the issues of the time. Froma military Bureau, so officialed, what is there to hope? From an army, so officered, who would expect success?

General Kiddoo also found these prospering schools, under the care of Mr. E. M. Wheelock, a Unitarian, the same who was three years connected with the colored schools of Louisiana. Mr. Wheelock was removed in that State upon the accession to office of the Rev. T. W. Conway. From that hour, the colored schools of Louisiana began to decay. Dogmatism took the place of liberality and common sense in their management. The popular sentiment which had grown to be with them was soon arrayed against them. It was announced that none but approved christians were to be employed in the Louisiana Bureau. It was openly stated that Catholic teachers wouuld be no longer employed, although New Orleans is a papal city, and many of the teachers and thousands of the colored children were of that faith. When it became apparent that the schools were to be no longer secular, but sectarian, they began to go down.

Soon after Mr. Wheelock was removed form the Bureau in that State, he was called by Gen. Gregory to the superintendence of the colored schools in Texas. Under his control they grew as rapidly in Texas as they have decayed in Louisiana, under the direct interposition of Gen. Howard. It is a singular comment upon these facts, that the Rev. J. B. Shiphard late, (I believe) private secretary of Gen. Howard, and later Secretary of the "Freedmen's Aid Commission," at Washington, wrote to Gen. Gregory, towards the first of March, saying, that the "Freedmen's Aid Commission," was not disposed to assist the Bureau in Texas, while the Texan Bureau kept in service Mr. E. M. Wheelock, with whose administration in Louisiana, he, the Rev. Mr. Shiphard assumed to be familiar. It must be observed that this letter of Secretary Shiphard was written at the very moment when the schools of Texas under Mr. Wheelock were prospering signally, and without cost to the government while the schools of Louisiana had just ceased to exist, leaving a large debt upon the government under the bigotry, weakness, and corruption of Mr. Shiphard's own especial friends. Gen. Gregory, late Assistant Commissioner of Texas, is a sharp Calvanist. He is fixed in the faith, and diligent in the forms of his church. But he is still Catholic in spirit, from native common sense and from twenty-five years of Anti-Slavery life. Therefore he declined to accede to the covert, demand of Secretary Shiphard to remove Lieut. Wheelock, and he wrote to the Secretary, that in the magestic epoch we need men of works as well as of profession! In a short time Gen. Gregory was himself removed. It is thus, through all its ramifications that Gen. Howard has run the Freedmen's Bureau, by a puritanical fanaticism. The exceptions are, where the Assistant Commissioners have been wiser than their chief. In connection with this subject, I notice, that a Boston paper, "The Right Way" alleged as an argument against Gen. Fullerton, that the colored schools of Louisiana were destroyed by him.

Mr. Sterns and Mr. Whipple of the "Right Way," are just and able men--they are simply misinformed. The truth is, that Gen. Fullerton, when temporarily Assistant Commissioner of Louisiana, strained every nerve, and drew upon every resource, to sustain the colored schools of Louisiana. When the government found it absolutely necessary to speedily dismiss the Rev. Mr. Conway, Gen. Fullerton was sent, to exercise for a short time, the functions of Assistant Commissioner in this State. Gen. Fullerton found the Bureau under the Rev. Mr. Conway involved in debt, loaded with business accumulated by neglect, incumbered by sinecures and parasites and administtered by incapacity and passion. Gen. Fullerton did what he could to rectify the gross misrule. In his efforts to corret the abuse he was impeded by the direct interference of Gen. Howard..

I disagree from Gen. Fullerton upon some points of public policy. I am a Radical. I am an Abolitionist of the early time. But I believe in Gen. Fullerton's integrity and ability. I am inclined to credit his report of affairs in North Carolina, partly because he makes it, and partly, because I know, and I know that he knows, how bad they were in Louisiana under the Rev. T. W. Conway. That they have not improved under Gen. Baird is manifest, for the New Orleans Tribune, the able and fearless organ of the colored people, avers that the Bureau here is, at present, simply an engine of oppression.

So much is sure, that General Baird, Assistant Commissioner, and quasi Departmental Commander, is no improvement, either in philosophy or practice, upon his predecessor, Mr. Conway. Having by his incapacity for administration, his utter incomprehension of the tremendous issues of our civil war, and by his martinet and dilitante habits, succeeded in completing the ruin of the schools, and in landing the Bureau in effeminacy and reproach, it is natural that Gen. Baird should seek to direct attention from his own misrule by mean and cruel aspersion of the colored people, as, in his sneering remarks that niggers wouldn't pay for their own instruction. This, Commissioner Baird asserts, in the face of the alacrity with which the colored people have come forward to pay tuition, even when they were satisfied that, under Gen. Baird, the money was being wasted. He uttered this mean accusation of the colored people in the face of the facts within reach of his hand, in the State of Texas--a State where it is said, no Northerner can live; where the temporary turbulence of society makes life itself a sufferance rather than a right.

The facts, in respect of the Louisiana Bureau, will be printed in detail, in a short time. I perceive that considerable trepidation is already manifested in certain quarters in New [page 8] Orleans, in anticipation of the coming of Gens. Steadman and Fullerton. Gen. Baird avers that he does not fear the ultimate results of "investigation;" he only dreads the annoyance!! If Steadman and Fullerton would not come for three or four months, he would have things "fixed up!" The Assistant Commissioner is uneasy, and well he may be. He is spending twenty-five thousand dollars a month to run the Louisiana Bureau into the ground, while the Bureau of Texas, six times as large, and in every respect more difficult, is self-sustaining.

It is to be hoped that your Congressional Committee will not be misled by culpable officials, of whatever rank or position; nor captured, or possessed, or stultified by the gastric delights of dinners, the all-controlling agency of the Crescent City. If your Congressional Committee arrives in New Orleans hungry and thirsty, their report will be as harmless and comfortable, as their own subsequent fullness. The virtue essential to a committee of inquiry in that city is only to be attained, like the healing virtue in scripture, by "fasting." Justice and the colored man have a long account to settle with the Bareau [sic] officials in Louisiana.

If the Congressional committee you have raised is not to be sent out for the single purpose of counterstating Gens. Steadman and Fullerton, but is to seek the truth, in good faith, then that committee might sit with profit all summer in New Orleans, with plenary powers to send for persons and papers.

I do not design to encumber this letter with the detail of the malfeasance and corruption, [sic] Elaborate and proper statements will be made. Let the inquiry of your committee run back to the beginning of the Bureau in Louisiana. It will be interesting to inquire, and profitable to know, how much money has been wasted; how much embezzled; under what vociferous and pious cant the Government and the black man have been robbed.--If you are in earnest, Mr. Eliot, the field is wide. It is true that the policy of Gen. Howard not only gave to his special appointees the opportunity for plunder, but for escape, and many have dispersed and records have been destroyed or lost. But enough remains. You design to extend the time of the Bureau and to vote it millions of money. Are its enlarged powers and vast resources to be administered in the future, as in the past, by a cold and bilious bigotry? Is the Freedman's Bureau to become a Calvanistic Missionary Society? I have no war with Calvanists, and no objection to Missionaries; but, when a high Government Official becomes, officially, a Theological propagandist,and points his bigotry with the bayonet, I have a right to protest. Has the Government created a high office, and appropriated to its support millions of money, that through it may be precipitated upon the South, whatever there is of vagabond Evangelism in the North? It is not so much the Bureau that the South resents, as it is the administration of it. Little as the Southern people like the Bureau, they still accept it as a part of a "disagreeable situation."

But when they meet, in agents of the Bureau, men who are self-righteous and intolerant--who are ignorant of secular affairs, destitute of administrative or executive ability--men whose lust of power is in the inverse ratio of their fitness to exercise it; whose greed of gain is quickened by an unexpected hope of profit--whose only claim to place is a dogmatical agreement with the chief of the Bureau, is it not natural that hostility to the agent should be transferred to the Bureau that quarters such men upon communities?

If it is a part of the plan, or of the political necessity of our friends to fast upon the reviving vitality of the nation an administration such as that of Gen. Howard, then they are supplying arguments against the Bureau more rapidly than they can answer them. In thus clothing unfitness with power, in placing the incubus of bigotry and incapacity upon the greatest secondary measure of the Revolution, we are defeating the end we have in view; and from being the friends, we are becoming the enemies of the colored man. It is the colored man who has to foot the bills of suffering and of every form of loss, from the mal-administration of a Bureau established, especially, for his benefit.

And not only the colored man, but the white, is affected by this rule. Not only the planting interest, but the whole labor and production of the South, and in so far as they have relations to the north, the industrial interests of the country are in the grip of the Chief Commissioner.

In this way, the Freedmen's Bureau swells beyond local importance, to national magnitude. The question of "Reconstruction," of a recompacted Nationality, lie [sic] within the determining of a chief, whose standard of a man's capcity, integrity, or fitness, for official place, is his acceptance of the Westminster Catechism. You have in the north a plethora of governing ability. The revolution has stimulated even ordinary men to the exercise of great capacity. There must be some one of these, who has insight and outsight to compass the issues of the times. In whom is the aptness to meet the exigencies with courage and fairness to harmonize capital and labor and to re-unite the disjoined interests. [sic]

Give us such a man at the head of the Bureau, and festering individual discontent and political complications will disappear before the activity and hope that must spring from renewed and harmonized industry.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully,

A RADICAL.

top of document | home
revised 26 Nov 06
contact Harry Ide at hide1@unl.edu with comments or questions