On March 3, 1865, Congress established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, also known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. It was to function for only one year, but on July 16, 1866, Congress extended the life of the bureau over the veto of President Andrew Johnson.
The Goals of the Freedmen’s Bureau:
The bureau was organized under the War Department with Major General Oliver O. Howard as the commissioner. The bureau’s chief focus was to provide food, medical care, help with resettlement, administer justice, manage abandoned and confiscated property, regulate labor, and establish schools. Over 1,000 schools were built, teacher-training institutions were created, and several black colleges were founded and financed with the help of the bureau.
The Bureau’s Failings:
Despite the bureau’s success in education, it was unable to alleviate many problems, especially in regard to land management. When the Bureau gave 850,000 acres of abandoned and confiscated land to freedmen, President Andrew Johnson returned the land to Confederate owners. Without the resettlement of land, the bureau instead focused on helping freedmen gain work. They encouraged them to work on plantations, but this eventually led to oppressive sharecropping and tenancy arrangements.
The progressive goals of the bureau, however, were not enough to make up for the inadequate funds that plagued its existence. In 1869, Congress terminated all of the bureau’s work except for its efforts in education. In 1870, that too was ended.