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Chapter 50: courts for freedmen; medical care and provision for orphans

Upon their appointment the assistant commissioners of freedmen were enjoined to use every proper means to quicken the industries in the States under their charge. They held indeed a broad commission. Negroes were declared in my letters sent them to be free to choose employers and receive pay for their labor. The old system of overseers was abolished. Cruelty and oppression were to be suppressed. It was easy to write and publish, but hard to carry such orders into execution.

Owing to the almost universal disturbance of labor through eleven or twelve States by the war and consequent emancipation, well-meaning planters and farmers, and employers of negroes generally were much puzzled as to the best method to put industries in motion. Fortunately, as we have seen, there had already been before the Bureau began its trials, considerable practical experience with freedmen who did work under contract or with leases. Yet these experiments came to the knowledge in those days of but few Southern men. From all directions anxious employers poured in letters upon me urging me to fix prices and enable the employer to exercise power, in one way or another, over the laborer. The majority did not believe

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