U. S. forces had for six months resided upon or been engaged in cultivating, any lands in the district. Additional rights of pre- emption were given to soldiers, sailors, or marines in the service of the United States. These instructions seemed to me eminently wise and just, and their universal application to the whole of the Southern country would have solved the whole problem of its future and inaugurated such a measure of prosperity as the world has never seen.
I communicated these instructions to the people in a circular of January 10, 1864, marked B, and herewith appended,* urging them to select their lots and file their claims with the tax commissioners without delay.
They acted promptly and joyfully in accordance with my suggestions, and in an incredibly short time claims of pre- emption for nearly all the lands in the district were presented to the tax commissioners and the payment require tendered.
The majority of the commissioners, Honorable A. D. Smith dissenting, refused to allow the claims or accept the money tendered, or in any way to recognize the instructions. On the contrary, they immediately forwarded such representations to Washington that soon after the last instructions were suspended by the Secretary of the Treasury. I am not aware that they have ever been revoked. The land sales proceeded according to the original instructions, and the homes of these people were sold over their heads at prices beyond their limited means. The commissioners refused to notify the intended purchasers of the conflicting claims which might arise from the pre-emption made in good faith. While the instructions were in force many of the freedmen had not only staked out their lots and filed their claims, but had begun their preparations for putting in crops. The action of the commissioners proved a sad blow to their hopes, and the disappointment and grief of all were in proportion to their previous exultation in the certain hope of soon becoming independent proprietors, free men upon their own free soil; for their attachment and love of the soil is one of the marked traits in the negro character.
No violence, however, was committed, nor to be reasonably apprehended, although the commissioners thought it necessary to call upon the major-general commanding for military protection. An appeal to force to settle conflicting claims between themselves and the purchasers need not have been feared.
Besides the confusion of conflicting titles occasioned by these sales, not the least noticeable result is the uncertainty in the minds of the freedmen, induced by previous occurrences and increased by these proceedings, as to our ultimate purposes toward them. In connection with this subject may I be permitted to refer to the proceedings of the "U. S. Commission for the Relief of the National Freedmen." This is an organization constituted by delegates from the various freedmen's relief associations of the North, whose main object is to 'secure such legislation by Congress and such co-operation on the part of the Government as will give the greatest efficiency to the efforts made for the relief and elevation of the freedmen."
The first meeting of the commission was held in Washington in February last. It was then resolved to address the President "on the expression of their earnest desire that means be adopted to give to the slaves made free by the power of the Government a legal and just possession of adequate land for their residence and support as rapidly