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[[Left Page]] 4 The reference here made is to a Proclamation commending and enforcing and order from this office, setting forth the exclusive jurisdiction of the Assistant Commissioner in cases involving the rights of freedmen, and appointing the judiciary of the State the agents of the Bureau for the administration of justice, provided they should individually signify acceptance, and should "take as their method of procedure, in every case to which a freedman is a party, the laws now in force in this State, except so far as those laws make a distinction on account of color;" and that "failure to signify acceptance, or evident denial of justice, will be followed by revocation of the appointment herein conferred, and the substitution of martial law in the district in which it shall occur." The formal effect of the above, which included Probate Courts, having cognizance of laws regulating marriage, estates of deceased persons and minors, and transfers of real estate, was to secure to the freedmen the same rights and privileges as were enjoyed by other non-voting inhabitants. Practically, as concerned the administration of justice, this was found to be limited by the extent to which partisan bitterness, class-feeling, and the influence of particular electors, affected the conduct of judges, jurors, and the minor officers of the law. The result, of course varied by individual character, was on the whole discouraging, though with many honorable illustrations of a different spirit. At that time, as at this day, the crying evil was not so much the wrongful administration of the laws, as their non-execution in behalf of freedmen, there being no public opinion by which this was rebuked, and no other accountability which freedmen could enforce. This difficulty was not to be fully met with troops, had their number been many times greater than it was. In exceptional cases, the agency was suspended until, the officer appearing at Montgomery a conference was [[Right Page]] 5 has with the State authorities and myself, and assurances received that the future would be satisfactory. In exceptional cases, also, parties within reach of troops were summarily arrested and held for trial by court-martial, or until taken in hand by the civil law. It being yet wholly uncertain how far the rights of freedom would be vindicated by the nation, the legal status established and imperfectly maintained was considered of more value, because likely to be permanent, than results otherwise temporarily attainable. The occupation of the Bureau with the social condition of the freedmen was chiefly in establishing prosperous relations between capital and labor. The many thousands who had set out to test their new found freedom, without purpose or provision, and had been gathered into "colonies", until they could locate themselves elsewhere, and had nearly all found places. Thus of four thousand on one farm near Montgomery, on the first of July, less than two hundred, mostly invalids remained on the first of November. Generally, they preferred their old homes, sending to their former owners to come for them with wagons. But when it came to settled labor, both parties were at fault. To the planter, the system of wages was a precarious and arbitrary innovation. And, in his view, it could not be that a crop, requiring twelve months unremitting care, was safe, with labor altogether free. Without security in some form, no one would give employment requiring any outlay. Slavery had been identified so thoroughly with work, that freedmen were not uncommon who believed that work was no part of freedom. And an impression, well night universal, that the confiscation of which they had heard for years would be enforced at Christmas for their benefit, led them to peremptorily refuse any engagement reaching beyond the holidays, or to work at all steadily in the meantime.
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