In its brief seven-year existence, the Freedmen’s Bureau became the epicenter of the debate about Reconstruction. Historians have only recently begun to focus on the Bureau’s personnel in Texas, the individual agents termed the “hearts of Reconstruction.” Specifically addressing the historiographical debates concerning the character of the Bureau and its sub-assistant commissioners (SACs), Too Great a Burden to Bear sheds new light on the work and reputation of these agents.
Focusing on the agents on a personal level, author Christopher B. Bean reveals the type of man Bureau officials believed qualified to oversee the Freedpeople’s transition to freedom. This work shows that each agent, moved by his sense of fairness and ideas of citizenship, gender, and labor, represented the agency’s policy in his subdistrict. These men further ensured the former slaves’ right to an education and right of mobility, something they never had while in bondage.
Rooted in bureau, census, and
—Dr. Brlan Matthew Jordan
military records, Bean’s research is
nothing short of exhaustive...this is a
solid study—accessibly written and
Civil War News
Christopher Bean's Too Great a Burden to Bear makes a significant contribution to Reconstruction studies. Deftly combining storytelling with systematic quantitative analyses of the evidence, Bean offers new information, not just on the agents themselves, but also on the largest issues in Reconstruction historiography.
—J. William Harris
Steeped in Reconstruction historiography, Bean's work aims to replace stereotypes of agents as either occupying carpetbaggers or corrupt and colluding oppressors of freedpeople.
Journal of Southern History