"THE WORD 'COLOR' SHOULD BE LEFT OUT OF ALL LAWS"
Major General Rufus Saxton commanded the area that included Georgia's Sea
Islands and later became the Freedmen's Bureau's assistant commissioner for
Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. This selection, from his testimony
before Congress's Joint Committee on Reconstruction in 1866, offers his
assessment of the freedmen's aspirations and the former Confederates'
attitudes toward them.
[Question] What is [the freedmen's] disposition in regard to purchasing land,
and what is the disposition of the landowners in reference to selling land to
[Answer] The object which the freedman has most at heart is the purchase of
land. They all desire to get small homesteads and to locate themselves upon
them, and there is scarcely any sacrifice too great for them to make to
accomplish this object. I believe it is the policy of the majority of the
farm owners to prevent Negroes from becoming landholders. They desire to keep
the Negroes landless, and as nearly in a condition of slavery as it is
possible for them to do. I think that the former slaveholders know really
less about the freedmen than any other class of people. The system of slavery
has been one of concealment on the part of the Negro of all his feelings and
impulses; and that feeling of concealment is so ingrained with the very
constitution of the Negro that he deceives his former master on almost every
point. The freedman has no faith in his former master, nor has his former
owner any faith in the capacity of the freedman. A mutual distrust exists
between them. But the freedman is ready and willing to contract to work for
any northern man. One man from the North, a man of capital, who employed
large numbers of freedmen, and paid them regularly, told me, as others have,
that he desired no better laborers; that he considered them fully as easy to
manage as Irish laborers. That was my own experience in employing several
thousands of them in cultivating the soil. I have also had considerable
experience in employing white labor, having, as quartermaster, frequently had
large numbers of laborers under my control.
[Question] If the Negro is put in possession of all his rights as a man, do
you apprehend any danger of insurrection among them?
[Answer] I do not; and I think that is the only thing which will prevent
difficulty. I think if the Negro is put in possession of all his rights as a
citizen and as a man, he will be peaceful, orderly, and self-
as any other man or class of men, and that he will rapidly advance....
[Question] It has been suggested that, if the Negro is allowed to vote, he
will be likely to vote on the side of his former master, and be inveigled in
the support of a policy hostile to the government of the United States; do you
share in that apprehension?
[Answer] I have positive information from Negroes, from the most intelligent
freedmen in those States, those who are leaders among them, that they are
thoroughly loyal, and know their friends, and they will never be found voting
on the side of oppression....I think it vital to the safety and prosperity of
the two races in the south that the Negro should immediately be put in
possession of all his rights as a man; and that the word "color" should be
left out of all laws, constitutions, and regulations for the people; I think
it vital to the safety of the Union that this should be done.
Source: Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction (Washington,