How Did the Freedmen’s Bureau, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments Impact the Lives of Freed Slaves After the Civil War?
Lincoln approved of the Bureau, giving it a charter for one year.
Former slaves of every age took advantage of the opportunity to become literate. Grandfathers and their grandchildren sat together in classrooms seeking to obtain the tools of freedom. After the Civil War, with the protection of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, African Americans enjoyed a period when they were allowed to vote, actively participate in the political process, acquire the land of former owners, seek their own employment, and use public accommodations. Opponents of this progress, however, soon rallied against the former slaves' freedom and began to find means for eroding the gains for which many had shed their blood.
According to a clause in The Civil Rights of Freedmen in Mississippi law, African Americans were denied the right to “rent or lease any lands or tenements except in incorporated cities or towns” that were under direct control of the corporate authorities. Section three explicitly denied black persons the right for cohabitation and made interracial marriages illegal. Section seven of the law placed a restriction on the freedom of employment of freedmen and put them in control of their employees. Jorden Anderson in his letter to the former master complained about not being paid at all in Tennessee. Mississippi Apprentice Law made it legal to hire black orphans and dependents and to recompense them with just food and clothing. It also permitted corporal punishment and stipulated that fugitive African-American apprentices should be returned and punished under the law for desertion.13 Thus, Mississippi Apprentice law legalized a new form of slavery under the guise of indentured servant agreement. Mississippi Vagrant Law made a state of being unemployed for an extended period of time illegal and punishable by arrest. Section seven of the law denied African Americans a freedom of assembly. Moreover, sympathetic whites were equated with vagrants and could have been punished by a fine or a prison term of up to six months (Jourdon Andersen,1865). The backlash from the North and Republican part of Congress allowed to radicalize the rest of the Congress and to appropriate Reconstitution for the subsequent impeachment of the President Andrew Johnson.
A lack of funding, coupled with the politics of race and Reconstruction, meant that the bureau was not able to carry out all of its initiatives, and it failed to provide long-term protection for blacks or ensure any real measure of racial equality. However, the bureau’s efforts did signal the introduction of the federal government into issues of social welfare and labor relations. As noted in The Freedmen’s Bureau and Reconstruction, “The Bureau helped awaken Americans to the promise of freedom, and for a time, the Bureau’s physical presence in the South made palpable to many citizens the abstract principles of equal access to the law and free labor.”
United States Congress, “Testimony on Ku Klux Klan in Congressional Hearing” 2016.
Jourdon Andersen, “To My Old Master” “Excerpts from The Black Codes of Mississippi, 1865”
William E. B. Du Bois, “Reconstruction and its Benefits,” The American Historical Review 15 (1910): 781.