Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, Headquarters of Assistant Commissioner, Virginia
Richmond, Va., July 4, 1865
To the Freedmen of Virginia,
Having been appointed Assistant Commissioner in the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands,for the State of Virginia, it becomes my duty to look after all matters that pertain to your welfare, to endeavor to teach you how to use that freedom you have so earnestly desired, and to prevent the asuse of it by yourselves or others.
The difference between your former and your present condition is this. Formerly, your labor was directed, and the proceeds of it taken by your masters, and you were cared for by them; now you are to direct and receive the proceeds of your own labor, and care for yourselves.
Can you do this? is the question you must now answer to the world. Your friends believe you can and will. The Government and charity will aid you, but this assistance will be of little advantage, unless you help yourselves. To do this you must be industrious and frugal. You have now every inducement to work, as you are to receive payment for your labor; and you have every inducement to save your wages, as your rights in what you possess will be protected. You have now no masters to provide for you in sickness and old age, hence you must see the necessity of saving your wages while you are able to work, for this purpose.
While it is believed that most of you will feel the responsibility of your new condition, and will do all in your power to become independent of charity and of Government aid, it is feared that some will act from the mistaken notion that freedom means liberty to be idle. This class of persons, known as vagrants, must at once correct this mistake. They will not be allowed to live in idleness when there is work to be had.
You are not to suppose that your former masters have become your enemies because you are free. All good men among them will recognize your new relations to them as free laborers; and as you prove yourselves honestm industrious, and frugal, you will receive from them kindness and consideration. If others fail to recognize your right to equal freedom with white persons, you will find the Government, through the agents of this bureau, as ready to secure to you as to them, liberty and justice.
Schools, as far as possible, will be established among you, under the protection of the government. You will remember that in your condition as freemen, education is of the highest importance, and it is hoped that you will avail yourselves to the utmost of the opportunity offered you.
In the new career before you, each man must feel the great responsibility that rests upon himself, in shaping the destiny of his race. The special care that the government exercises over you as a people, will soon be withdrawn, and you will be left to work and provide for yourselves.
It is, then, of the greatest importance that you take immediate advantages of the protection and assistance now afforded you to place yourself in position in which you can do so. All officers and employees of this Bureau will aid you in doing this. If you are in a location where work is to be obtained at fair wages it is much better for you to remain than to be looking for something better. You must remember that, owing to the unsettled state of the country, work is scarce, and the chances are against finding constant employment at high wages.
Be quiet, peaceable, law-abiding citizens. Be industrious, be frugal, and the glory of passing successfully from slavery to freedom will, by the blessing of God, be yours.
Colonel and Assistant Commissioner.