HEADQUARTERS, DEPARTMENT or VA., RICHMOND,
January 24, 1866.
General Orders - No 4.
By a statute passed at the present session of the Legislature of Virginia, entitled "A bill providing for the punishment of vagrants," it is enacted, among other things, that any justice of the peace, upon the complaint of any one of certain officers therein named, may issue his warrant for the apprehension of any person alleged to be a vagrant and cause such person to be apprehended and brought before him; and that if upon due examination said justice of the peace shall find that such person is a vagrant within the definition of vagrancy contained in said statute, he shall issue his warrant, directing such person to be employed for a term not exceeding three months, and by any constable of the county wherein the proceedings are had be hired out for the best wages which can be procured, his wages to be applied to the support of himself and his family. The said statute further provides, that in case any vagrant so hired shall, during his term of service, run away from his employer without sufficient cause, he shall be apprehended on the warrant of a justice of the peace and returned to the custody of his employer, who shall then have, free from any other hire, the services of such vagrant for one month in addition to the original terms of hiring, and that the employer shall then have power, if authorized by a justice of the peace, to work such vagrant with ball and chain. The said statute specifies the persons who shall be considered vagrants and liable to the penalties imposed by it. Among those declared to be vagrants are all persons who, not having the wherewith to support their families, live idly and without employment, and refuse to work for the usual and common wages given to other laborers in the like work in the place where they are.
In many counties of this State meetings of employers have been held, and unjust and wrongful combinations have been entered into for the purpose of depressing the wages of the freedmen below the real value of their labor, far below the prices formerly paid to masters for labor performed by their slaves. By reason of these combinations wages utterly inadequate to the support of themselves and families have, in many places, become the usual and common wages of the freedmen. The effect of the statute in question will he, therefore, to compel the freedmen, under penalty of punishment as criminals, to accept and labor for the wages established by these combinations of employers. It places them wholly in the power of their employers, and it is easy to foresee that, even where no such combination now exists, the temptation to form them offered by the statute will be too strong to be resisted, and that such inadequate wages will become the common and usual wages throughout the State. The ultimate effect of the statute will be to reduce the freedmen to a condition of servitude worse than that from which they have been emancipated — a condition which will be slavery in all but its name. It is therefore ordered that no magistrate, civil officer or other person shall in any way or manner apply or attempt to apply the provisions of said statute to any colored person in this department.
By command of Major General A. H. TERRY,
ED. W. SMITH, Assistant Adjutant General.