The Freedmen's Bureau and Reconstruction: Reconsiderations

By Paul A. Cimbala; Randall M. Miller | Go to book overview

7
"Une Chimère": The
Freedmen's Bureau in Creole
New Orleans

Caryn Cossé Bell

ARRIVING IN NEW ORLEANS from Mobile, Alabama, on November 5, 1865, General O. O. Howard, head of the Freedmen's Bureau, addressed the large, enthusiastic audience that greeted him in the city's Orleans Theatre on Sunday evening. Commissioner Howard's evident sincerity and earnest demeanor impressed his listeners, and the racially mixed gathering applauded approvingly when Howard explained that the central mission of the Freedmen's Bureau "was … to relieve the shock "of the freedmen" in passing from slavery to freedom." Still, many of those in attendance, though polite and attentive, deplored the Bureau's recent actions and already had concluded that Howard's agency was no more than "une chimère" (a chimera).1

Only five months earlier, the interracial delegation of unionist radicals who accompanied Howard to the stage and introduced him to the audience had founded a political coalition, the Friends of Universal Suffrage. They launched the organization in mid-June after President Andrew Johnson sanctioned the takeover of Louisiana's provisional government by returning Confederates and their conservative allies. Pressing for equality of voting rights, as well as proportional representation in political office holding, the Friends organized a "voluntary election" to coincide with the state's official balloting on November 6. Hoping for a significant voter turnout in a successful parallel electoral campaign, they proposed to win congressional support for a new model of Reconstruction based on universal suffrage.2

-140-

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