Posts Tagged ‘Frederick Douglass’

Frederick Douglas

Hoy 4 de julio, los estadounidenses celebran el día de la declaración de su independencia. Para conmemorar tan relevante evento, comparto con ustedes un discurso titulado “What to Slave is the 4th of July” que fue pronunciado por Frederick Douglas el 4 de julio de 1852 en Rochester, Nueva York.  Douglas, quien nació esclavo, se convirtió en una de las voces más poderosas contra la esclavitud en los Estados Unidos.  Leído por James Earl Jones, este discurso forma parte de una serie de actuaciones organizadas por el gran historiador Howard Zinn bajo el título Voices of a People’s History of the United States.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez

Lima, Perú, 4 de julio de 2018

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Celebrating Emancipation

Frederick Douglass and the story of New York City’s 1865 “Emancipation Jubilee.”

Jacobin   August 1, 2015
An 1865 illustration in Harper's magazine celebrating Emancipation.

An 1865 illustration in Harper’s magazine celebrating Emancipation.

The ongoing campaign to eradicate Confederate symbols marks an important moment in American public memory, perhaps allowing the scars of slavery and segregation to start healing. Yet while the actions of Bree Newsome and company have been truly inspiring, the collective feeling when the flags began to come down seemed mainly to be a sigh of relief.

One hundred fifty years earlier, in the first summer after the actual downfall of the Confederacy, African Americans across the land were more upbeat. Emancipation did not immediately bring full equality, but the war’s end was still cause for optimism. The shackles had come off in the South, while in the North, blacks no longer had to fear being sent back to slavery. It was time for celebration.

In New York, their previous efforts to do so had sparked controversy. Just a few weeks after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865, the New York Common Council had denied blacks the right to formally participate in President Lincoln’s funeral procession. At a Cooper Union event in early June, an indignant Frederick Douglass called the council’s action “the most disgraceful and scandalous proceeding ever exhibited by people calling themselves civilized.”

But on August 1, both Douglass and Manhattan’s African-American community were in a far better mood as they traveled across the East River for an “Emancipation Jubilee” in Brooklyn. And though he only spoke for a few minutes at the gathering, Douglass again memorably captured the spirit of the moment.

The jubilee was timed to coincide with West Indian Emancipation Day, which marked the end of slavery in the British Empire in 1834. Initially celebrated in abolitionist centers like Philadelphia, Boston, and Upstate New York, by the 1850s Emancipation Day events could be found across the frontier, from Indiana to California.

Douglass had regularly attended such events near his home in RochesterBut while he had close ties to many Brooklyn abolitionists, Douglass hadn’t yet journeyed down for one of the local jubilees, which had been held regularly since the early 1850s. Everyone knew that the first one after the Civil War would be grand, though.

At just over 5,000 (or 1.5% of the city total), Brooklyn’s black population was still relatively small in 1865. Yet over the preceding two decades, black communities in Williamsburg and Weeksville had served as abolitionist strongholds. During and after the Draft Riots of July 1863, many blacks from Manhattan had also taken refuge on the other side of the East River.

The August 1 festivities took place in what is now Bedford-Stuyvesant, at two sites that have since been demolished — the vast Hanft’s Myrtle Avenue Park and the nearby, smaller Lefferts Park.

Despite their racist caricatures of “exultant darkies” or “dancing darkies,” lengthy accounts in the Democratic Brooklyn Daily Eagleand the Republican New York Times conveyed the mood of the attendees. “Twenty thousand men, women and children of sable hue yesterday mingled their joys and experiences in the suburban parks of the city of churches,” the Times wrote. At stands outside Myrtle Avenue Park, the Eagle reported, “quaint-looking damsels in gorgeously striped dresses with brilliant turbans on their heads” dispensed peaches and pigs’ feet, with sides of corn, cabbage, apple dumplings, and chicken potpie.

Writing in Horace Greeley’s New York TribuneSydney Howard Gay— a leading white abolitionist and longtime friend of Douglass — maintained a more genteel tone. “Colored people” turned out in great numbers in their “Sunday best,” Gay noted. He described a range of activities on display, from formal dancing to less high-brow amusements like a Jefferson Davis knock-down game, with three tosses costing a nickel.

In addition to live bands, carnival attractions, and sporting events (including a game played by the Weldenken Colored Baseball Club of Williamsburg), there were also talks given by an array of distinguished African-American speakers. At Myrtle, Professor William Howard Day (who had challenged segregation in Michigan in the late 1850s) explained the history of West Indian emancipation; while at Lefferts, two leading local abolitionist ministers, James Pennington and James Gloucester, urged receptive listeners to continue the fight for full equality.


When Douglass addressed the Myrtle gathering, the great orator was surprisingly brief. But what he said was also surprising, as illustrated by the divergent reports found in the various daily newspapers.

By most accounts, Douglass cheerfully told the enthusiastic crowd, “No man here wants to know whether liberty is a good thing or slavery a bad thing; we all know it already; we don’t want any instruction.” After all, he said, the main message of abolitionists had always been that “‘every man is his own master; every man belongs to himself.”

But what Douglass said next remains open to dispute. According to the Times (and the Eagle), he stated: “Every man has the right to do as he pleases, to come and go, to make love, get married, and do all sorts of things that are pleasant and profitable. [Applause.] We are here to enjoy ourselves — to sing, dance and make merry. I am not going to take up your time; go on; enjoy yourselves. [Prolonged cheering.]” The Tribune account by Douglass’s friend Sydney Gay, however, says nothing about love or marriage, and skips right to “[w]e are here…to sing, dance, and make merry.”

Perhaps the most convincing reportage can be found in the New York Herald. James Gordon Bennett’s paper — which had the largest circulation in the US — may have been a house organ of the War Democrats (who supported the Union but opposed Lincoln). But during the Civil War, the Herald bolstered its journalistic reputation by sending numerous correspondents into the field.

Near the end of its lengthy August 2, 1865 recap of the preceding day’s Jubilee events, the Herald presented Douglass’s statements as follows:

The only thing abolitionists ever taught the American people was that every man is himself. That is all. Every man belongs to himself — can belong to nobody else. We are not here for instruction. We are here to enjoy ourselves, to play ball, to dance, to make merry, to make love (laughter and applause), and to do everything that is pleasant. I am not going to take up your time. Go on, and enjoy yourselves.

The moral instruction to “get married” is conspicuously absent here. Yet of the various reports, the Herald’s is the one that most reads like an impromptu direct address. Such carefree comments by Douglass ultimately seem most befitting for an ecstatic day-long jubilee, one filled with joy in every sense of the word.

Beyond simply playful encouragement, Douglass in his brief remarks urged African Americans in Brooklyn and elsewhere to start envisioning their own future, and to fully enjoy their freedom. Any hopes for a bright future would be short-lived, of course. But in the summer after the war, blacks everywhere could echo Douglass’s insistence that at last, “every man belongs to himself.”

Theodore Hamm is chair of journalism and new media studies at St Joseph’s College in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

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American Independence and the Promise of Equality

 We´re History    July 6, 2015

How Slavery Honors Our Country's Flag

How Slavery Honors Our Country’s Flag. The Anti-Slavery Record, 1835(Photo: HathiTrust)

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Few words have been more important in the course of human history. This idea – that humans are innately equal and deserve liberty – is the founding idea of our nation. It marked a radical break in the world towards a new era of democratic thought. Today’s world is still very much informed by the poetry of our successful rebellion. For this fact alone, the Declaration of Independence deserves celebration and reverence. Yet every 4th of July also presents a problem to many Americans. How do you accept Jefferson’s famous words if you have yet to realize his promises of equality, if you continue to endure systemic injustices?

On July 5th, 1852 Frederick Douglass tried to answer that question while speaking before the Rochester Ladies Antislavery Society. The former slave had made a name for himself as a powerful orator and a passionate opponent of American slavery, so he was an obvious choice as the day’s speaker. Douglass embodied the promise of American liberty (though he had to survive, fight, and flee to achieve it), and would surely juxtapose the freedom and equality of the North to the wretched oppression of the South. At least that’s what the crowd anticipated. To the crowd’s shock, Douglass proceeded to deliver one of the harshest orations in his entire career, one which condemned every American who enjoyed freedom while others suffered in bondage. It is worth remembering for its brutal honesty.

Douglass began the speech with a sense of empathy, saying that he understood that colonists fought real oppression during the American Revolution. The Founding Fathers risked everything for a new nation, and for this alone, Americans should be proud, Douglass said. Yet for Douglass, there was a darker side to the Fourth. Every Independence Day felt like a cruel joke to the American slave:

Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us…. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?

Douglass continued his harsh critiques and condemned both the American government and well-meaning abolitionists for their lack of progress. For Douglass, the hypocrisy of the United States was too much:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy…. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Finally, Douglass attacked the two pillars of the American ethos – religion and the Declaration of Independence – and argued that Americans had distorted and ignored these pillars for personal gain.

Many of its most eloquent Divines…have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system…. For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! …You…are understood by the world to declare that you “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain in alienable rights; and that among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage…a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.

Douglass’s image of America is understandably bleak. He experienced this nation’s worst inequality and oppression, at a time when many Americans firmly believed that all men were not created equal and that some were endowed by the creator with misery and bondage. Douglass was right to be furious with an America that proclaimed the values of human liberty and equality while millions suffered through slavery and white supremacy. How then, do we understand the Declaration of Independence? Is it nothing more than a sham?

Douglass seems to have anticipated this question: “Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery.” Even Douglass, for all his anger and frustration, believed that there was hope for America, founded as it was with the promise of equality. He understood that any nation built on such a stark contradiction between rhetoric and reality would eventually have to choose a path. In our tumultuous history, we have often strayed from the path of equality. Thankfully, we have had leaders like Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to remind us of the unfulfilled promises set forth in that immortal Declaration. Today, once again, in that great tradition, Americans are grappling with the full meaning of the Declaration of Independence.

About the Author

Michael McLean

Michael McLean is a Ph.D. student at Boston College. He studies western Native American history through the lens of the environment and material realities. He is currently wondering if anyone has written the history of the toilet, which he contends would make a fantastic book.

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Women’s History Month: The Legacy of the Fight over the 15th Amendment

African American Intellectual History Society  March 2, 2015

frederick_douglass_cc_img         sbanthony_ecstanton          patricia arquette

During the past week, Patricia Arquette’s comments during her Oscars acceptance speech have ignited debate across the internet. Arquette issued a rallying cry for equal pay for women, stating that women have done enough for everyone else; it’s time that gays and people of color support women. Her comments are problematic because they ignore the concept of intersectionality.[1] Arquette’s comments are also a manifestation of a long running conflict within the American women’s movement, the schism between white women of wealth and privilege, and women of color. Since March is women’s history month, it is appropriate in the midst of this controversy to step back and examine one of the earlier conflicts over this very issue, the fight over the fifteenth amendment. This conflict would pit longtime abolitionist and women’s rights activist Frederick Douglass against Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. 

During the beginning of Reconstruction, one of the key efforts on behalf of the African Americans was the securing of suffrage. Initially, abolitionists like Douglass, Stanton, and Anthony rallied behind the cause of universal suffrage so that both men and women, black and white, would be enfranchised. However, when the fourteenth amendment passed without a suffrage clause, the universal suffrage campaign was dropped in favor of a black male suffrage campaign. Stanton and Anthony vigorously opposed Black male suffrage. Their opposition would result in the severing of relationships with many of their black colleagues, especially Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Douglass described himself as a woman’s rights man. Douglass attended the landmark convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 and signed the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments. He worked side by side with women abolitionists on numerous occasions. In the aftermath of the Civil War, he supported universal enfranchisement, but the brutal reality of Reconstruction forced him to reconsider his position. Douglass would support black male suffrage and the fifteenth amendment because he realized that without an amendment to guarantee suffrage for the black community, African Americans would lack any position or influence in the country’s political future. The initial years of Reconstruction saw numerous changes and reforms for African Americans. In essence, the momentum of the time was in the favor of African Americans. In the mind of Douglass and many others, this was the “Negro’s hour.” Douglass realized that if the change did not occur at this particular moment, it possibly would never happen.[2]

Douglass’s dedication to black male suffrage would not dampen his fervor for women’s rights. He maintained his dedication to the cause and participated in the American Equal Rights Association (AERA). The May 1869 meeting of AERA would prove to be the destruction of the organization. Most of the debate was over whether or not the organization should support the fifteenth amendment if it only referenced black men. Douglass argued that suffrage was needed for black men because they were being dragged from their homes and lynched. Someone in the audience would challenge Douglass stating that the same things were happening to black women; therefore, women needed the right to vote. Douglass’s response was that the ill-treatment of black women was not because they were women, but because they were black. In Douglass’s estimation, black women needed some form of representation for the racial violence and injustice inflicted upon them. In the midst of the tense debate, Douglass composed a compromise resolution which would welcome the fifteenth amendment and black male suffrage while also emphasizing their continued dedication to the creation of an amendment that would guarantee equal rights for all. Douglass’s proposal was endorsed by poet Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, but ignored by Stanton and Anthony.[3]

Stanton and Anthony fervently believed in their position. When black male suffrage became the focus of an enfranchisement amendment they shifted their tactics. Stanton would appeal to Democratic politicians by affirming their beliefs in black inferiority. In an 1868 editorial in her newspaper The Revolution she stated: “Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic, who never read the Declaration of Independence or Webster’s spelling book, making laws for Lydia Maria Childs, Lucretia Mott, or Fanny Kemble.”[4] Her argument was that immigrants and blacks were uneducated and unqualified to vote while white women, of a certain class and privilege, were qualified. In another issue of The Revolution, when they listed reasons for opposition to the fifteenth amendment, they stated that it would result in women being dominated by inferior men. Ultimately, Stanton and Anthony would never agree with Douglass on this issue. The American Equal Rights Association was disbanded; the National Woman’s Suffrage Association was created to promote the Stanton – Anthony agenda.[5]

March is women’s history month. The rarely told fifteenth amendment conflict illuminates a long standing conflict in the women’s movement in this country, the denial of the diversity in the experiences of the American woman. The fifteenth amendment conflict is perhaps the most dubious aspect of the Stanton – Anthony legacy. Patricia Arquette’s statement, and its endorsement by people like Meryl Streep, promotes this legacy. A claim to advocate for equality while simultaneously ignoring the nuances of race, class, and gender perpetuates an elitist legacy. In the twenty first century this is a legacy we should leave behind.

[1] Intersectionality was a term created by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1980s to address how different power structures interact in the lives of black women especially race and gender.

[2] Philip Foner, Frederick Douglass, (New York: Citadel Press, 1969). Benjamin Quarles, Frederick Douglass, (Washington, DC: Associated Publishers, 1948). Waldo E. Martin Jr., The Mind of Frederick Douglass, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982).

[3] The Revolution, “Annual Meeting of the American Equal Rights Association,” May 20, 1869. May 27, 1869.

[4] Ibid., “Manhood Suffrage,” December 24, 1868.

[5] Faye Dudden, Fighting Change: The Struggle Over Woman Suffrage and Black Male Suffrage in Reconstruction America. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Noelle Trent

UntitledNoelle Trent recently earned her doctorate in American history at Howard University. Her dissertation, “Frederick Douglass and the Making of American Exceptionalism,” examines how noted African-American abolitionist and activist, Frederick Douglass, influenced the development of the American ideas of liberty, equality, and individualism which later coalesced to form the ideology of American exceptionalism. Dr. Trent also holds a Master’s degree in Public History from Howard University and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She has worked with several noted organizations and projects, including the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Park Service, Catherine B. Reynolds Civil War Washington Teacher’s Fellows, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of American History. She has presented papers and lectures at the American Historical Association, Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the Lincoln Forum, and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. She currently resides in suburbs of Washington, DC.

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How Douglass Came Around to Lincoln

Tom Chaffin

The New York Times   December 7, 2014

civil-war-sumter75-popupBy December 1864, Frederick Douglass had become an admirer of the man he later called “our friend and liberator,” and he savored President Lincoln’s re-election the previous month. But Douglass’s path to that admiration had been anything but direct.

Four years earlier, he had quietly supported candidate Lincoln in the November 1860 election. But the Republican president-elect soon gave him pause. Lincoln’s silence during the final months of Democrat James Buchanan’s presidency irked Douglass, and he complained of Lincoln’s failure to condemn pro-South actions by Buchanan’s lame-duck administration.

Moreover, during Lincoln’s days as president-elect and his presidency’s first months, Douglass was also disturbed by the new chief executive’s receptiveness to proposed peace deals with the South that would have left its “peculiar institution” — slavery — intact. He was likewise troubled by Lincoln’s continuing advocacy of black emigration schemes as a means of addressing the secession crisis — schemes that would have sent African-Americans, both free and slave, to Africa or the Caribbean. Indeed, in spring 1861, Douglass, though throughout most of his life an opponent of such schemes, grew so wary of President Lincoln that he planned a 10-week trip to Haiti to ponder emigrating there himself (he eventually canceled the trip).

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass Library of Congress

By late 1862, though, Lincoln had begun to change, and so did Douglass’s estimation of him. In January 1863, Douglass and his fellow abolitionists exulted over Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in all rebel-controlled areas and authorizing the recruitment of black troops. With the stroke of a pen, Lincoln, acting in his role as commander in chief, had elevated the war effort from a fight to preserve a political nation-state, the Union, into a moral campaign against human bondage.

The proclamation did not abolish American slavery, nor did it free all American slaves. It left in bondage close to a million souls in areas exempted by the edict: the nominally Union and free-soil “border states” of Kentucky, Delaware, Missouri and Kentucky, as well as all parts of the Confederacy already occupied by Union forces. But Douglass saw that Lincoln’s edict put the nation on an irreversible course. “For my own part,” he later recalled, “I took the proclamation, first and last, for a little more than it purported, and saw in its spirit a life and power far beyond its letter.” He added:

Its meaning to me was the entire abolition of slavery, wherever the evil could be reached by the Federal arm, and I saw that its moral power would extend much further. It was, in my estimation, an immense gain to have the war for the Union committed to the extinction of slavery, even from a military necessity.

Douglass’s voice was, by then, being heard at the nation’s highest levels; at Douglass’s request, President Lincoln met with him, at the White House, on Aug. 10, 1863. “I was somewhat troubled with the thought of meeting someone so august and high in authority, especially as I had never been in the White House before, and had never spoken to a President of the United States before.” Upon entering the office, however, Douglass was put at ease. He found the tall president seated in a low chair, surrounded by books and papers. “On my approach he slowly drew his feet in from the different parts of the room into which they had strayed, and he began to rise, and continued to rise until he looked down upon me, and extended his hand and gave me a welcome.”

“Reaching out his hand, he said, ‘Mr. Douglass, I know you; I have read about you, and Mr. Seward” — Secretary of State William H. Seward — “has told me about you’; putting me quite at ease at once.” Their ensuing conversation focused on the black regiments then being organized, those from Massachusetts and other Union states, as well as others, made up of former slaves, in South Carolina, Tennessee and other Union-controlled areas of the South. To the president, Douglass made several requests: He asked for an end to pay inequities between black and white soldiers; that black soldiers be promoted, just as white soldiers, for “meritorious” battlefield performance; and that the president enunciate a policy for the Union’s military to retaliate in kind against rebel prisoners of war if the Confederacy made good on threats to execute captured black soldiers. Lincoln, in turn, asked Douglass how the Union Army might more effectively recruit former slaves now in Union-occupied parts of the South.

As their exchange drew to a close, Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas, who, at its start, had introduced Douglass to the president, told Lincoln that Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton intended to commission Douglass adjutant-general to Gen. George H. Thomas. The commission would authorize Douglass to travel down the Mississippi and recruit former slaves into the army. The president, by Douglass’s account of the meeting, seemed pleased with that news: “I will sign any commission that Mr. Stanton will give Mr. Douglass.”

When they met that August, Lincoln was well into his first term and already pondering his re-election campaign the following year. He was facing stiff political headwinds from both Republicans and Democrats: Radical Republicans were demanding that he move more aggressively against the South; and Democrats — motivated by the sort of anti-black sentiment that flared during New York’s Draft Riots — were complaining that, through the Emancipation Proclamation and similar measures, he was pursuing policies injurious to whites, and unduly favorable toward blacks.

The president thus exercised caution in answering Douglass’s requests. Lincoln said that, while he was prepared, eventually, to accede to the equal pay request, he would, in the meantime — for political reasons — be unable to grant the other entreaties. Moreover, Lincoln cautioned that he regarded the very idea of any black enlistments as, for the time being, an “experiment.” Regardless of his own favorable view of the value of recruiting black soldiers into the war effort, the president said that he was also aware that many whites remained skeptical of the change in policy. “He spoke,” Douglass recalled, “of the opposition generally to employing negroes as soldiers at all.”

By the war’s end, Lincoln did remove most pay disparities between black and white soldiers, and after atrocities were inflicted on black soldiers, he also issued a warning to the Confederacy that any similar, future actions against black soldiers would produce commensurate retaliations against rebel prisoners. However, the change in policy, requested by Douglass, concerning promotions for black soldiers, never occurred; for the war’s duration, black enlistees were rarely elevated to higher ranks. As for Douglass’s military commission, that too never came — whether for reasons of bureaucratic error or deliberate policy, he never learned.

Even so, Douglass left the meeting satisfied that, in Lincoln, he had met a trustworthy leader with whom he could work. Speaking to an abolitionist convention the following December, Douglass reflected, “I never met with a man, who, on the first blush, impressed me more entirely with his sincerity, with his devotion to his country, and with his determination to save it at all hazards.”

disunion45A year later, on Aug. 19, 1864, Douglass met again with Lincoln at the White House, but this time, at the president’s request. “I need not say I went most gladly,” he recalled. “The main subject on which he wished to confer with me was as to the means most desirable to be employed outside the army to induce the slaves in the rebel States to come within the Federal lines,” where, by terms set forth in the Emancipation Proclamation, the bondsmen would be guaranteed their liberty.

Growing war opposition in the North — much of it fueled by complaints that the Emancipation Proclamation had rendered it an “abolition war,” recalled Douglass — “alarmed Mr. Lincoln.” The president was also “apprehensive that a peace might be forced upon him which would leave still in slavery all who had not come within our lines.”

Fearing such a forced peace, the president told Douglass that he wanted to render the Emancipation Proclamation “as effective as possible” as long as it remained the law of the land. While the order was in effect, he wanted it to liberate as many slaves as possible. More specifically, Lincoln worried that slaves in rebel areas “are not coming so rapidly and so numerously to us as I had hoped.” To increase their numbers, Lincoln made a proposal: He asked if Douglass would be willing to organize “a band of scouts, composed of colored men, whose business should be somewhat after the original plan of John Brown, to go into the rebel States, beyond the lines of our armies, and carry the news of emancipation, and urge the slaves to come within our boundaries.” Union military advances, however, soon rendered Lincoln’s idea unnecessary.

By the fall 1864 presidential campaign — following the Emancipation Proclamation and the two White House meetings — Lincoln had thus earned Douglass’s trust and admiration. Even so, Douglass, again as he had in 1860, remained mostly quiet in his support for the president’s election campaign. This time, Lincoln’s opponent was the former Union general George McClellan, who had expressed a willingness to discuss an armistice with the rebel South that would have left the region’s slavery in place. Explaining his reticence to the journalist Theodore Tilton, Douglass confided, “I am not doing much in this Presidential Canvass for the reason that Republican committees do not wish to expose themselves to the charge of being the ‘Niggar’ party.” In the end, Lincoln handily defeated McClellan — winning by 2,218,000 to 1,813,000 in the popular vote, 212 to 21 in the Electoral College.

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Tom Chaffin

Tom Chaffin’s books include “Pathfinder: John Charles Frémont and the Course of American Empire,” recently reissued with an updated introduction, and the just published “Giant’s Causeway: Frederick Douglass’s Irish Odyssey and the Making of an American Visionary,” from which the above essay is adapted. For

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