Under any circumstances, and in all large societies, even during a normal and peaceful condition of things, there will be found a certain amount of vagrancy and a certain number of indigent poor, disabled, or improvident, to whom it is a custom and a duty to extend relief. Beyond this, except as an expedient for the time being, the Commission believe that the refugee freedmen need no charitable assistance. In the city of Washington, containing 16,000 free colored persons, these support their own poor without almshouse aid, and scarcely a beggar is found among them. (a)
The vices chiefly apparent in these refugees are such as appertain to their former social condition. Men who are allowed no property do not learn to respect the rights of property. Men who are subjected to despotic rule acquire the habit of shielding themselves from arbitrary punishment by subterfuges, or by a direct departure from the truth. In the case of women living under a system in which the conjugal relation is virtually set at naught, the natural result is that the instinct of chastity remains undeveloped or becomes obscured.
Thus, stealing is a common vice among these people when temptation occurs. Thus, they have the habit of lying when they deem a lie necessary to please a white superior or a defense against blame or punishment; under other circumstances they are as truthful as the average of uneducated white people. Thus, too, many colored women think it more disgraceful to be black than to be illegitimate, for it is especially in regard to white men that their ideas and habits as to this matter are perverted. A case came to the knowledge of the Commission, in which a mulatto girl deemed it beneath her to associate with her half-sister, a black and the daughter of her mother's husband, her own father being a white man. Such ideas and the habits thereby engendered render it highly important that freedmen's villages, particularly when they are chiefly inhabited by women and children, should be at a distance from any military encampment and should be strictly guarded. And as there are no sentinels so strict as the negroes themselves, the Commission believe, for this and other reasons, that colored guards will be found the most suitable and efficient for such service; and they recommend that in every case they be substituted for whites.
The testimony of the more intelligent among the superintendents is to the effect that the vices above referred to are not obstinately rooted, and that each one of them may be gradually eradicated by a proper appeal to the self-respect of the newly- made freedman, and by a strict recognition of his rights. He is found quite ready to copy whatever he believes are the rights and obligations of what he looks up to as the superior race, even if these prove a restraint upon the habits of license belonging to his former condition.
An officer on General Dix's staff, acting as provost-judge at Fortress Monroe, related to the Commission in graphic terms with what earnestness and conscious pride of his new position a negro sworn as witness for the first time in his life stood up to take the oath and deliver his testimony.
As to the false ideas touching chastity above referred to, the Commission believe that these can be in a great measure corrected by
a An intelligent lady, wife of a physician in Washington, who has interested herself about the colored population there, and seen much of them, deposed before the Commission: "I have known but two instances of beggary by colored people during my residence of ten years in this city. A few are supported by charity from their own churches." - Testimony of Mrs. Daniel Breed.