FREEDMEN'S BUREAU Established by Congress on March 3, 1865, the Freedmen's Bureau was designed to protect the interests of former slaves ("freedmen") and displaced southern whites ("loyal refugees") following the American Civil War. Intended primarily to act as a safeguard for the freedmen against possible attempts at reenslavement, the Bureau was also empowered to provide freedmen with food, medical and hospital care, educational facilities and homestead land. In addition, the Bureau assisted the freedmen in obtaining employment, settling legal disputes and finding suitable housing facilities. Functioning under the aegis of the War Department, the Freedmen's Bureau was headed by General 0. 0. Howard. Although the official "life" of the Bureau extended until 1872, most of its major objectives had been accomplished by 1869.
During late 1865 and early 1866 agents of the Bureau, scattered throughout the South, were primarily concerned with helping the freedmen and refugees return home, providing medical services, as well as dressing and feeding approximately 50,000 to 150,000 individuals daily. More significant, perhaps, were the educational projects of the Bureau. In addition to building more than one thousand schools for freedmen, the Bureau spent nearly a half million dollars to establish African American teacher-training institutions.
The humanitarian activities and accomplishments of the Freedmen's Bureau were somewhat offset by the fact that Bureau officials in the South, who were invariably Republicans, often interfered in local political affairs. Moreover, the charge that the Bureau was an agent of Republican control throughout the South cannot be denied. Many officials of the agency served as Republican organizers among the freedmen following the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. "This political activity," according to historian George R. Bently, "probably hurt the freedmen more than it helped them, for Negro support of the Republicans increased the race prejudice of white southerners." See also: BLACK REPUBLICAN RECONSTRUCTION.