Oliver Otis Howard portrait
Oliver Otis Howard portrait

Freedmen's Bureau Facts

Key facts about the reconstruction Freedmen's Bureau.

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Also known as:

  • Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands

Creation:

  • March 3, 1865

Dissolution:

  • June 30, 1872

Significance:

  • On March 3, 1865, Congress approved An Act to establish a Bureau for the Relief of Freedmen and Refugees. The bill established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, more commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. (13 Stat. 507)
  • The original Freedmen’s Bureau was “established in the War Department, to continue during the present war of rebellion, and for one year thereafter.”
  • In May 1865, President Andrew Johnson selected Major General Oliver O. Howard as the Bureau’s first (and only) commissioner.
  • The Freedmen’s Bureau initially focused its efforts on redistributing captured and abandoned lands in the South to freedmen.
  • As the one-year deadline for the termination of the Freedmen’s Bureau approached, in December 1865, Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull proposed legislation to extend the life, as well as the scope of the agency.
  • Congress passed the Second Freedmen’s Bureau Act, formally titled AN ACT to amend an act entitled “An act to establish a Bureau for the relief of Freedmen and Refugees,” and for other purposes, on February 6, 1866.
  • The Second Freedmen’s Bureau Act greatly expanded the scope of the Freedmen’s Bureau’s activities.
  • President Andrew Johnson vetoed the Second Freedmen’s Bureau Act on February 19, 1866.
  • President Andrew Johnson claimed that the Second Freedmen’s Bureau Act unnecessary, unconstitutional, and too expensive.
  • Congress passed the Second Freedmen’s Bureau Act over President Andrew Johnson’s veto on July 16, 1866. (14 Stat. 173)
  • Educating former slaves was perhaps the Freedmen’s Bureau’s most successful program.
  • On July 6, 1868, Congress approved a bill that ended most Freedmen’s Bureau programs. (15 Stat. 83)
  • By 1869 the Freedmen’s Bureau began closing down operations.
  • On June 10, 1872, Congress declared “That the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands shall be discontinued . . .” effective June 30, 1872 (with the exception of the payment of wartime claims of black soldiers and sailors, and the administration of the Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, DC). (17 Stat. 366)
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Freedmen's Bureau Facts
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 27, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 17, 2021
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