The Freedman's Bureau!

This political cartoon from 1866 attacks Black suffrage and the Freedman’s Bureau.
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching the Movement Text Library and aligns with Summary Objective 1.E.

Click this link to access the text on the Library of Congress website.

The Freedman's Bureau

Summary provided by the Library of Congress: “One in a series of racist posters attacking Radical Republicans on the issue of black suffrage, issued during the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election of 1866. (See also “The Constitutional Amendment!,” no. 1866-5.) The series advocates the election of Hiester Clymer, who ran for governor on a white-supremacy platform, supporting President Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction policies. In this poster a black man lounges idly in the foreground as one white man ploughs his field and another chops wood. Accompanying labels are: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread,” and “The white man must work to keep his children and pay his taxes.” The black man wonders, “Whar is de use for me to work as long as dey make dese appropriations.” Above in a cloud is an image of the “Freedman’s Bureau! Negro Estimate of Freedom!” The bureau is pictured as a large domed building resembling the U.S. Capitol and is inscribed “Freedom and No Work.” Its columns and walls are labeled, “Candy,” “Rum, Gin, Whiskey,” “Sugar Plums,” “Indolence,” “White Women,” “Apathy,” “White Sugar,” “Idleness,” “Fish Balls,” “Clams,” “Stews,” and “Pies.” At right is a table giving figures for the funds appropriated by Congress to support the bureau and information on the inequity of the bounties received by black and white veterans of the Civil War.” 

This text is useful to expand on the argument that the civil rights movement could arguably be said to begin after the Civil War as this word freedom is beginning to be defined for African Americans. 


Public Domain
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    Who is the intended audience of the political cartoon?
    Possible answer: The argument is intended to sway white voters in Pennsylvania after the U.S. Civil War to vote for Clymer, a candidate who is against the Freedman’s Bureau.
  2. Question
    This political cartoon was created in 1866. In what ways does the cartoon portray the struggles faced by African Americans in the 1960s?
    Answer: The Freedman’s Bureau addressed post-slavery reconstruction conditions. In many ways, African Americans in the 1960s were still fighting for equal conditions and treatment in the United States well over 100 years later, and the struggle continues in the 21st century.
  3. Question
    What is the irony revealed in this cartoon?
    Answer: It is ironic that Black people who had been forced for generations to work for free are depicted at leisure (in a stereotypical caricature) while white people work, which is the opposite of the dynamic that the institution of slavery created.
Reveal Answers