"The Cleveland Meeting," The American Freedman, Vol, 1, No. 3 (June, 1866), 36-40



The resignation of Bishop Simpson (owing to the pressure of his other duties) rendered necessary a meeting of the Commission to elect a president in his place. At the same time, it was desirable to secure a conference of delegates from the various undenominational societies engaged in the work of education and relief in the South. The fundamental principle of our organization, no distinction of caste or color, had been fully discussed in the East at meetings called for that purpose. No such discussions had taken place west of the mountains. Our principles and purposes were not well understood by our co-laborers there. And while all the Eastern societies had formally ratified our constitution, and several of the Western societies had done so, several of the western branches of the late Freedmen's Aid Commission declined, or at least delayed to do so. Believing that a mutual conference between the East and the West was all that was necessary to remove the misunderstanding which had arisen, and to secure the hearty and unanimous co-operation of the East and the West in our common work, the Executive Committee issued a call for a meeting of this Commission at the City of Cleveland on the 16th of May, to which also were invited representative and undenominational societies.

THE OBJECT OF THE MEETING

The object of this meeting is set forth in the following resolution:

Resolved, That the General Secretary be directed to call a meeting of the Commission in the city of Cleveland at such time as may be agreed upon by correspondence with the branch at that place; that he incorporate in the call a notice that a President will be elected in place of Bishop Simpson, resigned, and that such amendments to the Constitution may be submitted as are necessary for the more perfect and satisfactory organization and adjustment of the work in the Western States; and that he invite all the Societies hitherto acting as auxiliary to either the Commission to send delegates to confer with the Commission upon the general interests of the work and the best methods of its prosecution.

[Section on "Organization of the Meeting listing name s of commission and committee members is omitted here.]

AFTERNOON SESSION.

The Business Committee, through Rev. E. H. Canfield, D. D., made a report, in part as follows: Resolved, That all the delegates to the meeting, and other friends of the cause, be invited to sit as corresponding members, and take part in its deliberations.

Resolved, That all delegates to the meeting, and other friends of the cause, be invited to sit as corresponding members, and take part in its deliberations.
Resolved, That the Chairman of this Committee be requested to submit to this meeting such facts in regard to the history of the Commission as may be instructive and needful to their guidance.
Resolved, That a Committee be appointed to enquire into the best method of promoting the unity and efficiency of all the organizations in the United States for the benefit of the freedmen.

The first and second resolutions were unanimously adopted.

Under the second resolution, J. M. McKim, Corresponding Secretary of the Freedmen's and Union Commission, gave the following report of which we copy from the Cleveland Leader:

 

HISTORY OF THE FREEDMEN'S AND UNION COMMISSION.

He said this movement originally grew out of capture of Port Royal, some four years ago. It was seen that provision must be made for the care of the poor blacks who came into our hands, and small societies were created to effect this purpose. The first was at New York, the second at Boston -- called the New England Educational Commission -- and the third at Philadelphia, called the Port Royal Society. Afterwards, as Grant gave us victories in the West, Freedmen's societies sprang up in Chicago, Cincinnati, and the West; and these became strong bodies. Then the necessity of union between these different societies became apparent, and those of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago, and elsewhere were partially united, with a general headquarters at Washington. This quasi union was found to be unsatisfactory, and a genuine union anxiously desired. Various informal propositions were made, and finally it was deterred to organize a strong National Association. Gentlemen from the West said they would unite with us of the East, and we were glad to undertake the project of a strong, bona fide national organization. We of the East held preliminary meetings, and created the "American Freedmen's Aid Union," including all local branches from Boston west to Pittsburgh, and south to Washington. This movement was tolerably successful, yet we had not gained what we wanted -- A REALLY NATIONAL COMMISSION. Accordingly, we had conference and correspondence with men from all parts of the country, and just as we were going to bring the work to a close, we were requested not to go on until the West should be more fully consulted. We awaited the arrival of our friends from the West, and then organized the "American Freedmen's Aid Commission." This was an excellent movement, but we soon felt it was not enough. It was exclusively, a Freedmen's Commission; on its face devoted to a class. We were at work on expediency, and not on principle -- that is, the highest principle. We wanted to spread our arms wider, to occupy, broader ground.

At this time there was also in existence another institution, the "American Union Commission." It was not so well arranged as ours, and did not work so well; but it had a good basis, and was doing something. At a meeting of our Commission (attended by Bishop Simpson, Judge Bond, Mr. Beecher, Dr. Thompson, Generals Fisk and Swayne) it was asked, Why, have two organizations for the same purpose -- why such complex and multiplied machinery? It was answered, there were no good reasons for this, if we could possibly unite our forces. The proposition for a union was referred to a committee, who reported in its favor both as to sentiment and practicability. At last a meeting was held to bring about our object. We met opposition, and had a hard struggle. Mr. Garrison dissented from our view. He said the "Union Commission" was formed for the Southern whites, and his first duty was to the freedmen. He presented several arguments against the fusion; but we said, granted that the colored men have the first claim upon us, we ought also to remember all necessitous people without regard to race or color. We ought not to have a commission founded on class in name or theory. Thus we debated the question, until from all our struggle came out a hearty endorsement of the plan of union, and on the 31st of January the consolidation was effected, and the nuptials triumphantly celebrated. This established the "American Freedmen's and Union Commission."

Shortly afterward, we learned with some surprise and very deep regret that some of our friends in the West were not prepared to cooperate with our new society. This being the case, we have called this meeting in a spirit of conciliation and Christian sympathy, for a free and frank interchange of sentiment. Our Commission is strong, and we of the East are fully united in its support. We have the approval of Chief-Justice Chase, of Senators and Representatives, of business men and scholars, of the great and good everywhere in the East, and we ardently desire the co-operation of and fraternity of all our Western co-laborers in the great cause.

Mr. McKim then traced the proceedings of the new Commission and its Executive Committee from the 31st of January to the present time, fully explaining, its constitution and transactions. Its corner stone is this declaration:

"This Commission is constituted to aid and co-operate with the people of the South, without distinction of race or color, in the improvement of their condition upon the basis of industry, freedom, education, and Christian morality. No schools or supply depots shall be maintained from the benefits of which any shall be excluded because of their color.

 

DISCUSSION.

The third resolution was then taken up. Its author, Dr. Peck, asked for a full expression upon it, in order to lay the groundwork for harmonious action.

In accordance with this request, a lengthy discussion ensued, participated in by rev. Dr. Burroughs, Rev. Mr. Jackson, of Chicago, J. M. McKim and Francis George Shaw, of New York, Rev. Mr. Israel and Judge Bond, of Baltimore, rev. Mr. Travelli, of Pittsburgh, and Rev. John Parkman, of Boston. This discussion elicited some difference of opinion on minor points, but a substantial agreement in principle and purpose, and an earnest desire to waive all minor difficulties and unite in a broad, liberal, and Christian policy of benevolence. A few observations by Dr. Burroughs toward the close of the meeting were received with hearty and unanimous approbation. He said he felt most deeply against our having two organizations for the same purpose. If this goes on, we shall soon have more conflicting interests. We shall soon have denominational projects brought out. Our several religious constituencies are up and doing, and we must move so as, if possible, to concentrate all these activities -- to merge all our co-laborers in one grand organization. We must subordinate all personal preferences and prejudices to the main purpose, and, if necessary, let us stay here a week to accomplish our benevolent object.

The third resolution was then adopted, and the following committee announced to enquire into the best method of promoting the unity, harmony, and efficiency of all the organizations in the United States for the benefit of the freedmen. . . .

 

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