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[247] places from Maryland to Louisiana to distribute and absorb the surplus population.

Yet, after all such provision, we found many authentic complaints of idleness for which no remedy seemed to exist. At last I urged for such freedmen the use of the vagrant laws which applied to whites, leaving out the whipping post which had still been retained in their law books for minor offenses in some of the States. Naturally enough, where exaggerated stories were always rife, a rumor was circulated among the freedmen quite generally that they would finally get somehow all the lands of disloyal owners. The wording of the Bureau law unfortunately fostered the idea. Were not forty acres to be set apart to every male citizen, whether refugee or freedman Soldiers, colored and white, magnified the report till the belief became prevalent that the Government intended, at the Christmas of 1865, to effect this division. Speculators who desired to cheapen the lands added to the tales their own exaggerations. The result was that toward the autumn great numbers of freedmen became averse to making any contracts whatever with property holders, verbal or written, for the coming year.

Our officers and agents at once set themselves to disabuse the minds of the working people of impressions so detrimental to their interests, entreating them to hasten and get places of support, and then aiding them to obtain fair wages. But even the correction of false reports did not always produce willingness to contract. And, indeed, I felt that the system we were obliged to adopt was checking individuality, or not sufficiently encouraging self-dependence; but a little wholesome constraint could not in many cases be avoided.

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