The Debate Regarding the Freedman's Bureau Essays
Historians and political theorists have delineated the concept of equality into two categories: the competitive individualist notion of equality of process and the egalitarian ideal of equality of results. The former is concerned with providing a level playing field for all, while the latter focuses on a just distribution resulting from the process. Richard Ellis, in his book American Political Cultures, challenges the Hartzian thesis that historically Americans favored equality of process over equality of results, making them competitive individualists. Ellis argues that “what is exceptional about America is not that it lacked a results-oriented vision of equality but that those who favored …show more content…
This debate became not whether African Americans deserved equality, but rather if suffrage was sufficient, and if not, whether a more extensive organization was needed to introduce the black population to the society that had so savagely decimated its spirit. The initial response to this pressing problem, which Du Bois calls “a hasty bit of legislation, vague and uncertain in outline,” was the compromise of 1865, which created a Freedman’s Bureau “to which was given ‘the supervision and management of all abandoned lands and the control of all subjects relating to refugees and freedmen’” (Du Bois 1997: 61). The earlier unwillingness to pass a more detailed bill for such a Bureau and the haste and vagueness of the 1865 legislation suggest that the creation of an extensive Bureau did not enjoy strong support among lawmakers. Indeed, the debate the following year regarding a more permanent institution of the Bureau revealed, to a much greater extent, the conflict over provisions for equality.
The subsequent discussions of 1866 exposed this conflict between equal process and equal results. Du Bois writes, “the champions of the bill argued that the strengthening of the Freedman’s Bureau was