Freedmen's Bureau

[ freed-menz byoor-oh ]
/ ˈfrid mɛnz ˌbyʊər oʊ /
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noun U.S. History.
an agency of the War Department set up in 1865 to assist formerly enslaved people, freed from slavery by emancipation, in obtaining relief, land, jobs, fair treatment, and education.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What was the Freedmen’s Bureau?

The Freedmen’s Bureau was an agency of the United States War Department created in 1865. It’s role was to assist freed slaves by providing them with food, education, jobs, land, and protection.

The Freedmen’s Bureau existed from 1865 until 1872, during Reconstruction, when the former Confederate states were gradually brought back into the Union following the American Civil War. Despite significant opposition, the Freedmen’s Bureau was able to distribute food, build over 1,000 schools, provide medical assistance, construct hospitals, and assist in negotiating labor contracts for freed slaves.

The Freedmen’s Bureau struggled to perform its duties due to lack of funding and heavy opposition from southern whites and President Andrew Johnson. It was much less successful in ensuring freed slaves had fair court trials and was widely unable to assist freed slaves in securing land ownership, the surest path to a successful life at that time. President Johnson instead granted confiscated land back to southern landowners, whom he had widely pardoned, leaving little land left for freed slaves.

However, several of the schools the bureau built, including Howard University, still operate today.

Why is Freedmen’s Bureau important?

The Freedmen’s Bureau, officially named the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, was created when a bill proposed by Rep. T. D. Eliot of Massachusetts was signed into law on March 3, 1865. Originally, the bureau was only supposed to operate for one year, but a second act in 1866 removed this limitation.

Over the course of its existence, the Freedmen’s Bureau faced fierce opposition from southern whites and President Johnson. Because of this, the bureau was often underfunded and understaffed. It was dismantled by Congress in 1872 in response to still-intense hostility against the bureau.

In the end, the Freedmen’s Bureau failed to make significant progress toward racial equality, but it did have a positive impact on the lives of many freed slaves. Possibly the bureau’s longest-lasting achievements are some of the black schools built by the Freedmen’s Bureau that still exist today, such as Howard University in Washington, DC, Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Did you know … ?

The man put in charge of the Freedmen’s Bureau was former Union military general Oliver Otis Howard. Howard University, built by the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1867, is named after the general and he served as the university’s third president from 1869 until 1874.

What are real-life examples of Freedmen’s Bureau?

Today, the Freedmen’s Bureau is remembered primarily through the schools it built and as a notable part of Reconstruction.

What other words are related to Freedmen’s Bureau?

Quiz yourself!

The Freedmen’s Bureau was created in 1865 to provide assistance primarily to whom?

A. Civil War veterans
B. Freed slaves
C. Southern landowners
D. European immigrants

How to use Freedmen's Bureau in a sentence