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The Present and Future of the Colored Race in America: An Address Delivered in Brooklyn, New York, on May 15, 1863


YORK, ON 15 MAY 1863

Douglass' Monthly, 6: 833—36 (June 1863). Other texts in New York Times, 16 May
1863; New York Daily Tribune, 16 May 1863; Foner, Life and Writings, 3: 347—59, dated
May 1863.

The audience that filled the hall of the Brooklyn Academy of Music “to
repletion” on 15 May 1863 contained only a smattering of blacks; it was
mainly “the beauty and the fashion of the City of Churches” that had chosen
to spend a Friday evening and twenty-five cents apiece to hear Douglass
discourse on race relations in the United States. Douglass’s remarks came
only three days after the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Soci-
ety, which was held at New York City’s Church of the Puritans, later mis-
identified in Douglass' Monthly as the site of the Brooklyn speech reprinted
here. Postmaster George B. Lincoln presided over the meeting and introduced
Douglass after a musical performance by the Hutchinson Family. Following
Douglass’s oration, which was “repeatedly interrupted by laughter and ap-
plause,” the audience cheered a letter from Union general Franz Sigel ex-
pressing support for Douglass’s cause, and then listened to the Hutchinsons
sing once more. New York Herald, 13 May 1863; New York Times, 15 May
1863; NASS, 16 May 1863.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:—I think that most of you will agree with me in
respect to the surpassing importance of the subject we are here to consider
this evening though you may differ from me in other respects. It seems to
me that the relation subsisting between the white and colored people of this
country, is of all other questions, the great, paramount, imperative and all
commanding question for this age and nation to solve.

All the circumstances of the hour plead with an eloquence, equaled by
no human tongue, for the immediate solution of this vital problem.
200,000 graves.—A distracted and bleeding country plead for this solu-
tion. It cannot be denied, nobody now even attempts to deny that, the
question, what shall be done with the negro, is the one grand cause of the
tremendous war now upon us, and likely to continue upon us, until the
country is united upon some wise policy concerning it. When the country
was at peace and all appeared prosperous, there was something like a
plausible argument in favor of leaving things to their own course. No such
policy avails now. The question now stands before us as one of life and
death. We are encompassed by it as by a wall of fire. The flames singe and
burn us on all sides, becoming hotter every hour.


Men sneer at it as the “nigger question,” endeavoring to degrade it by
misspelling it. But they degrade nothing but themselves. They would much
rather talk about the Constitution as it is. and the Union as it was, or about
the Crittenden, or some other impossible compromise,1Of the various plans submitted in late 1860 to avert secession and possible war, that of Senator John C. Crittenden of Kentucky received the most publicity. Introduced on 18 December 1860, the so-called Crittenden Compromise proposed the adoption of six constitutional amendments to: extend the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific; allow territories the unreserved right to enter the Union as either free or slave states; prohibit the abolition of slavery on govemment property in the South, in the slave states themselves, or in the District of Columbia; compensate owners of fugitive slaves; and protect the domestic slave trade. The sixth amendment forbade the repeal ofthe first five or of any other part of the Constitution protecting slavery. Attached to the amendments were four resolutions that called for strict enforcement of all fugitive slave laws, repeal of state personal liberty laws, and stronger legislation against the foreign slave trade. Crittenden's proposals were referred to a special Senate “Committee of Thirteen," but Republican opposition and the Deep South's withdrawal front Congress doomed the compromise effort. Potter, Impending Crisis, 530-35; Albert D. Kirwan, John C. Crittenden: The Struggle for the Union ([Lexington, Ky.], 1962), 374-90; Harold M. Hyman and William M. Wiecek, Equal Justice under Law: Constitutional Development, 1835—1875 (New York, 1982), 221—22. but the negro
peeps out at every flash of their rhetorical pyrotechnics and utterly refuses
to be hid by either fire, dust or smoke. The term negro is at this hour the
most pregnant word in the English language. The destiny of the nation has
the negro for its pivot, and turns upon the question as to what shall be done
with him. Peace and war, union and disunion, salvation and ruin, glory and
shame all crowd upon our thoughts the moment this vital word is

You and I have witnessed many attempts to put this negro question out
of the pale of popular thought and discussion, and have seen the utter
vanity of all such attempts. It has baffled all the subtle contrivances of an
ease loving and selfish priesthood, and has constantly refused to be
smothered under the soft cushions of a canting and heartless religion. It has
mocked and defied the compromising cunning of so called statesmen, who
would have gladly postponed our present troubles beyond our allotted
space of life and bequeath[ed] them as a legacy of sorrow to our children.
But this wisdom of the crafty is confounded and their counsels brought to
naught. A divine energy. omniscient and omnipotent. acting through the
silent, solemn and all pervading laws of the universe. irresistible, unalter-
able and eternal, has evermore forced this mighty question of the negro
upon the attention of the country and the world.

What shall be done with the negro? meets us not only in the street, in
the Church, in the Senate, and in our State Legislatures; but in our diplo-
matic correspondence with foreign nations, and even on the field of battle,


where our brave sons and brothers, are striking for Liberty and country, or
for honored graves.

This question met us before the war; it meets us during the war, and
will certainly meet us after the war, unless we shall have the wisdom, the
courage, and the nobleness of soul to settle the status of the negro. on the
solid and immovable basis of Eternal justice.

I stand here to-night, therefore, to advocate what I conceive to be such
a solid basis, one that shall fix our peace upon a rock. Putting aside all the
hay, wood and stubble of expediency, I shall advocate for the negro, his
most full and complete adoption into the great national family of America.
I shall demand for him the most perfect civil and political equality, and that
he shall enjoy all the rights, privileges and immunities enjoyed by any
other members of the body politic. I weigh my words and I mean all I say,
when I contend as I do contend, that this is the ONLY SOLID, AND FINAL
SOLUTION of the problem before us. It is demanded not less by the terrible
exigencies of the nation than by the negro himself, for the negro and the
nation are to rise or fall, be killed or cured, saved or lost together. Save the
negro and you save the nation, destroy the negro and you destroy the
nation, and to save both you must have but one great law of Liberty.
Equality and fraternity2Douglass cites the English translation of “Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!" the motto adopted by the French revolutionaries in the Cordelier Club in Paris on 30 June 1789 but in popular usage earlier. Alan Palmer and Veronica Palmer, Quotations in History: A Dictionary of Historical Quotations c. 800 A.D. to the Present (Hassocks, Eng., 1976), 187. for all Americans without respect to color.

Already I am charged with treating this question in the light of abstract
ideas. I admit the charge, and would to heaven that this whole nation could
now be brought to view it in the same calm, clear light. The failure so to
view it is the one great national mistake. Our wise men and statesmen, have
insisted upon viewing the whole subject of the negro upon what they are
pleased to call practical and common-sense principles, and behold the
results of their so-called practical wisdom and common sense! Behold.
how all to the mocker has gone.

Under this so-called practical wisdom and statesmanship, we have had
sixty years of compromising servility on the part of the North to the slave
power of the South. We have dishonored our manhood and lied in our
throats to defend the monstrous abomination. Yet this greedy slave power.
with every day of this shameless truckling on our part, became more and
more exacting, unreasonable, arrogant and domineering, until it has


plunged the country into a war such as the world never saw before, and I
hope never will see again.

Having now tried, with fearful results the wisdom of reputed wise
men, it is now quite time that the American people began to view this
question in the light of other ideas than the cold and selfish ones which have
hitherto enjoyed the reputation of being wise and practicable, but which are
now proved to be entirely and absolutely impracticable.

The progress of the nation downward has been rapid as all steps down-
ward are apt to be.

1st. We found the Golden rule3Douglass alludes to Matt. 7: 12. impracticable.

2nd. We found the Declaration of Independence very broadly imprac-

3d. We found the Constitution of the United States, requiring that the
majority shall rule, is impracticable.

4th. We found that the union was impracticable.

The golden rule did not hold the slave tight enough. The Constitution
did not hold the slave tight enough. The Declaration of Independence did
not hold the slave at all; and the union was a loose affair and altogether
impracticable. Even the Democratic party, bowed and squatted lower
than all other parties, became at last weak and impracticable, and the
slaveholders broke it up as they would an abolition meeting. Nev-
ertheless: I am aware that there are such things as practicable and imprac-
ticable, and I will not ignore the objections, which may be raised against
the policy which I would have the nation adopt and carry out toward my
enslaved and oppressed fellow countrymen.

There are at least four answers, other than mine, floating about in the
public mind, to the question what shall be done with the negro.

1st. It is said that the white race can. if they will, reduce the whole
colored population to slavery, and at once make all the laws and Institu-
tions of the country harmonize with that state of facts and thus abolish at a
blow, all distinctions, and antagonisms. But this mode of settling the
question, simple as it is, would not work well. It would create a class of
tyrants in whose presence no man’s Liberty, not even the white man’s
Liberty would be safe. The slaveholder would then be the only really
freeman of the country. All the rest would be either slaves, or be poor white
trash, to be kept from between the wind and our slaveholding nobility. The


non-slaveholder would be the patrol, the miserable watch dog of the slave

2[nd]. The next and best defined solution of our difficulties about the
negro, is colonization, which proposes to send the negro back to Africa
where his ancestors came from. This is a singularly pleasing dream. But as
was found in the case of sending missionaries to the moon, it was much
easier to show that they might be useful there. than to show how they could
be got there. It would take a larger sum of money than we shall have to
spare at the close of this war. to send five millions of American born
people,4The US. census of 1860 actually enumerated a total of 4,441,830 slaves and free blacks. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Population of the United States in 1860, 594-95. five thousand miles across the sea.

It may be safely affirmed that we shall hardly be in a condition at the
close of this war to afford the money for such costly transportation. even if
we could consent to the folly of sending away the only efficient producers
in the largest half of the American union.

3d. It may be said as another mode of escaping the claims of absolute
justice, the white people may Emancipate the slaves in form yet retain them
as slaves in fact just as General Banks is now said to be doing in Loui-
siana,5After completing a common-school education in Waltham, Massachusetts, and a stint in a Waltham cotton mill superintended by his father, Nathaniel Prentiss Banks (1816-94) pursued a number of occupations—actor, lawyer, newspaper editor—before winning election to the Massachusetts legislature on his seventh attempt. Between 1853 and I1857 Banks served two terms in Congress, first as a Democrat and then as a Know-Nothing. He resigned from Congress in 1857 to serve three one-year terms as the Republican governor of Massachusetts. In 1861 Banks was appointed major general in the Union army, but in December 1862, following two defeats by Thomas (“Stonewall”) Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, he was transferred to Louisiana to replace Benjamin Butler as commander ofoccupation forces. Banks received considerable censure from abolitionist groups for his attempts to accommodate Louisiana planters by establishing a code for black labor that coerced “idle” freedmen to return to their plantations or work on government-controlled estates. In the spring of 1864 Banks's skill as a military commander again came under question when his expedition up the Red River was routed by the Confederates. His checkered military career did not, however, deter Massachusetts voters from sending him back to Congress for seven more intermittent terms after the Civil War. Fred Harvey Harrington, Fighting Politician: Major General N. P. Banks (Philadelphia, 1948); C. Peter Ripley, Slaves and Freedmen in Civil War Louisiana (Baton Rouge, 1976) 45—56; McPherson, Negro's Civil War, 128-31; ACAB, 1: 158—59; NCAB, 4: 222—23; DAB, 1: 577—80. or they may free them from individual masters. only to make them
slaves to the community. They can make of them a degraded caste. But this
would be about the worst thing that could be done. It would make
pestilence and pauperism. ignorance and crime. a part of American Institu-
tions. It would be dooming the colored race to a condition indescribably
wretched and the dreadful contagion of their vices and crimes would fly
like cholera and small pox through all classes. Woe, woe! to this land.


when it strips five millions of its people of all motives for cultivating an
upright character. Such would be the effect of abolishing slavery, without
conferring equal rights. It would be to lacerate and depress the spirit of the
negro, and make him a scourge and a curse to the country. Do anything else
with us, but plunge us not into this hopeless pit.

4th. The white people of the country may trump up some cause of war
against the colored people, and wage that terrible war of races which some
men even now venture to predict, if not to desire, and exterminate the black
race entirely. They would spare neither age nor sex.

But is there not some chosen curse, some secret thunder in the stores of
heaven red with uncommon wrath to blast the men who harbor this bloody
solution? The very thought is more worthy of demons than of men. Such a
war would indeed remove the colored race from the country. But it would
also remove justice, innocence and humanity from the country. It would
fill the land with violence and crime, and make the very name of America a
stench in the nostrils of mankind. It would give you hell for a country and
fiends for your countrymen.

Now, I hold that there is but one way of wisely disposing of the colored
race, and that is to do them right and justice. It is not only to break the
chains of their bondage and accord to them personal liberty, but it is to
admit them to the full and complete enjoyment of civil and political

The mere abolition of slavery is not the end of the law for the black
man, or for the white man. To Emancipate the bondman from the Laws that
make him a chattel, and yet subject him to laws and deprivations which will
inevitably break down his spirit, destroy his patriotism and convert him
into a social pest, will be little gain to him and less gain to the country. One
of the most plausible arguments ever made for slavery, is that which
assumes that those who argue for the freedom of the negro, do not them-
selves propose to treat him as an equal fellow citizen. The true course is to
look this matter squarely in the face and determine to grant the entire claims
of justice and Liberty, keeping back no part of the price.

But the question comes not only from those who hate the colored race,
but from some who are distinguished for their philanthropy: can this thing
be done? can the white and colored people of America ever be blended into
a common nationality under a system of equal Laws?

Mark, I state the question broadly and fairly. It respects civil and
political equality, in its fullest and best sense: can such equality ever be
practically enjoyed?

The question is not, can there be social equality? That does not exist


anywhere. There have been arguments to show that no one man should
own more property than another. But no satisfactory conclusion has been
reached. So there are those who talk about social Equality, but nothing
better on that subject than “pursuit,” the right of pursuit has been attained.

The question is not whether the colored man is mentally equal to his
white brother, for in this respect, there is no equality among white men

The question is not whether colored men will be likely to reach the
Presidential chair. I have no trouble here: for a man may live quite a
tolerable life without ever breathing the air of Washington.

But the question is: Can the white and colored peoples of this country
be blended into a common nationality, and enjoy together, in the same
country, under the same flag, the inestimable blessings of life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness. as neighborly citizens of a common country?

I answer most unhesitatingly, I believe they can. In saying this I am not
blind to the past. I know it well. As a people we have moved about among
you like dwarfs among giants—too small to be seen. We were morally.
politically and socially dead. To the eye of doubt and selfishness we were
far beyond the resurrection trump. All the more because I know the past.
All the more, because I know the terrible experience of the slave, and the
depressing power of oppression, do I believe in the possibility of a better
future for the colored people of America.

Let me give you a few of the reasons for the hope that is within me.

The first is, despite all theories and all disparagements, the negro is a
man. By every fact, by every argument. by every rule of measurement,
mental, moral, or spiritual, by everything in the heavens above and in the
earth beneath which vindicates the humanity of any class of beings, the
negro’s humanity is equally vindicated. The lines which separate him from
the brute creation are as broad, distinct and palpable, as those which define
and establish the very best specimens of the Indo-Caucasian race. I will not
stop here to prove the manhood of the negro. His virtues and his vices, his
courage and his cowardice, his beauties and his deformities, his wisdom
and his folly, everything connected with him, attests his manhood.

If the negro were a horse or an ox, the question as to whether he can
become a party to the American government, and member of the nation,
could never have been raised. The very questions raised against him con-
firm the truth of what they are raised to disprove. We have laws forbidding
the negro to learn to read, others forbidding his owning a dog, others
punishing him for using fire arms, and our Congress came near passing a


law that a negro should in no case be superior to a white man, thus
admitting the very possibility of what they were attempting to deny.

The foundation of all governments and all codes of laws is in the fact
that man is a rational creature, and is capable of guiding his conduct by
ideas of right and wrong, of good and evil, by hope of reward and fear of
punishment. Can any man doubt that the negro answers this description.
Do not all the laws ever passed concerning him imply that he is just such a
creature? I defy the most malignant accuser to prove that there is a more
law abiding people anywhere than are the colored people. I claim for the
colored man that he possesses all the natural conditions and attributes
essential to the character of a good citizen. He can understand the require-
ments of the law and the reason of the law. He can obey the law, and with
his arm and life defend and execute the law. The preservation of society,
the protection of persons and property are the simple and primary objects
for which governments are instituted among men.

There certainly is nothing in the ends sought, nor in the character of the
means by which they are to be attained, which necessarily excludes colored
men. I see no reason why we may not, in time, co-operate with our white
fellow-countrymen in all the labors and duties of upholding a common
government, and sharing with them in all the advantages and glory of a
common nationality.

That the interests of all the people would be promoted by the full
participation of colored men in the affairs of government seems very plain
to me. The American government rests for support, more than any other
government in the world, upon the loyalty and patriotism of all its people.
The friendship and affection of her black sons and daughters, as they
increase in virtue and knowledge, will be an element of strength to the
Republic too obvious to be neglected and repelled. I predict, therefore, that
under an enlightened public sentiment, the American people will cultivate
the friendship, increase the usefulness and otherwise advance the interests
of the colored race. They will be as eager to extend the rights and dignity of
citizenship as they have hitherto been eager to deny those rights.

But a word as to objections. The constitution is interposed. It always

Let me tell you something. Do you know that you have been deceived
and cheated? You have been told that this government was intended from
the beginning for white men, and for white men exclusively; that the men
who formed the Union and framed the Constitution designed the perma—
nent exclusion of the colored people from the benefits of those institutions.


Davis, Taney6Jefferson Davis and Roger B. Taney. and Yancy,7Only three years old at the death of his father, a South Carolina lawyer and intimate of John C. Calhoun, William Lowndes Yancey (1814-63) was raised in Troy, New York, by his stepfather, Nathan Sidney Smith Beman, a Presbyterian minister who later joined the antislavery movement. In 1833, following an education at Williams College, Yancey returned to South Carolina to practice law. In 1836 he moved to Alabama, where he bought a plantation, edited several newspapers, and rose in politics, being twice elected to the U.S. Congress (1844—46). When the Democratic National Convention of 1848 rejected Yancey's Alabama Platform, an answer to the Wilmot Proviso that demanded congressional protection for slavery in the territories, Yancey began a single-minded crusade for Southern rights, delivering hundreds of orations in the 1850s that called on southerners to support only uncompromising states' righters for political office. In 1860 he led the slave state bolt from the Democratic National Convention and campaigned for the Southem Democratic candidate, John C. Breckinridge. Yancey served the Confederacy as a commissioner to England and France, where he sought recognition for the new nation, and as a member of the Confederate Senate, where he battled to curtail Jefferson Davis's presidential power. John Witherspoon DuBose, The Life and Times of William Lowndes Yancey (Birmingham, Ala., 1892); Thomas, Confederate Nation, 49-51, 170-73; Warner and Yearns, Biographical Register, 264-65; ACAB, 6: 637; DAB, 20: 592—95. traitors at the south. have propagated this
statement, while their c0pperhead echoes at the north have repeated the
same. There never was a bolder or more wicked perversion of the truth of
history. So far from this purpose was the mind and heart of your fathers.
that they desired and expected the abolition of slavery. They framed the
Constitution plainly with a view to the speedy downfall of slavery. They
carefully excluded from the Constitution any and every word which could
lead to the belief that they meant it for persons of only one complexion.

The Constitution, in its language and in its spirit, welcomes the black
man to all the rights which it was intended to guarantee to any class of the
American people. Its preamble tells us for whom and for what it was made.

But I am told that the ruling class in America being white. it is impossi-
ble for men of color ever to become a part of the “body politic.” With
some men this seems a final statement, a final argument. which it is utterly
impossible to answer. It conveys the idea that the body politic is a rather
fastidious body, from which everything offensive is necessarily excluded.
I, myself, once had some high notions about this body politic and its high
requirements. and of the kind of men fit to enter it and share its privileges.
But a day’s experience at the polls convinced me that the “body politic“ is
not more immaculate than many other bodies. That in fact it is a very mixed
affair. I saw ignorance enter, unable to read the vote it cast. I saw the
convicted swindler enter and deposit his vote. I saw the gambler. the horse
jockey, the pugilist, the miserable drunkard just lifted from the gutter,
covered with filth, enter and deposit his vote. I saw Pat, fresh from the
Emerald Isle, requiring two sober men to keep him on his legs, enter and


deposit his vote for the Democratic candidate amid the loud hurrahs of his
fellow-citizens. The sight of these things went far to moderate my ideas
about the exalted character of what is called the body politic, and con-
vinced me that it could not suffer in its composition even should it admit a
few sober. industrious and intelligent colored voters.

It is a fact. moreover, that colored men did at the beginning of our
national history, form a part of the body politic, not only in what are now
the free states, but also in the slave states. Mr. Wm. Goodell, to whom the
cause of liberty in America is as much indebted as to any other one Ameri-
can citizen. has demonstrated that colored men formerly voted in eleven
out of the thirteen original states.

The war upon the colored voters. and the war upon the Union, originat-
ed with the same parties. at the same time. and for the same guilty purpose
of rendering slavery perpetual. universal and all controlling in the affairs of
the nation.

Let this object be defeated and abandoned, let the country be brought
back to the benign objects set forth in the preamble of the Constitution, and
the colored man will easily find his way into the body politic, and be
welcome in the jury box as well as at the ballot box. I know that prejudice
largely prevails, and will prevail to some extent long after slavery shall be
abolished in this country, but the power of prejudice will be broken when
slavery is once abolished. There is not a black law on the statute book of a
single free state that has not been placed there in deference to slavery
existing in the slave states.

But it is said that the negro belongs to an inferior race. Inferior race!
This is the apology, the philosophical and ethnological apology for all the
hell-black crimes ever committed by the white race against the blacks and
the warrant for the repetition of those crimes through all time. Inferior race!
It is an old argument. All nations have been compelled to meet it in some
form or other since mankind have been divided into strong and weak,
oppressors and oppressed. Whenever and wherever men have been op-
pressed and enslaved. their oppressors and enslavers have in every instance
found a warrant for such oppression and enslavement in the alleged char-
acter of their victims. The very vices and crimes which slavery generates
are usually charged as the peculiar characteristics of the race enslaved.
When the Normans conquered the Saxons. the Saxons were a coarse,
unrefined, inferior race. When the United States wants to possess herself of
Mexican territory, the Mexicans are an inferior race. When Russia wants a
share of the Ottoman Empire. the Turks are an inferior race. the sick man of


Europe. So, too, when England wishes to impose some new burden on
Ireland. or excuse herself for refusing to remove some Old one. the Irish are
denounced as an inferior race. But this is a monstrous argument. Now.
suppose it were true that the negro is inferior; instead of being an apology
for oppression and proscription, it is an appeal to all that is noble and
magnanimous in the human soul against both. When used in the service of
oppression. it is as if one should say. “that man is weak; 1 am strong.
therefore I will knock him down. and as far as I can I will keep him down.
Yonder is an ignorant man. I am instructed. therefore I will do what I can to
prevent his being instructed and to withhold from him the means Of educa-
tion. There is another who is low in his associations. rude in his manners.
coarse and brutal in his appetites. therefore I will see to it that his degrada-
tion shall be permanent. and that society shall hold out to him no motives or
incitements to a more elevated character.” I will not stop here to denounce
this monstrous excuse for Oppression. That men can resort to it shows that
when the human mind is once completely under the dominion of pride and
selfishness, the reasoning faculties are inverted if not subverted.

I should like to know what constitutes inferiority and the standard Of
superiority. Must a man be as wise as Socrates,8Socrates (c. 470-399 B.C.) Greek philosopher. as learned as Humboldt,9Friedrich Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt abandoned a career as a mine inspector to pursue his scientific interests, collecting data on the plants. animals. geological features. and social practices of the Western Hemisphere in his travels through South America and the United States (1799-1804). Humboldt's thirty-volume account of his scientific discoveries won him international acclaim. Opponents of slavery especially applauded his indignant description of conditions on the plantations of North and South America. Humboldt devoted his later years to Kosmos, his five-volume encyclopedia that attempted to integrate all scientific knowledge of man and nature. Helmut de Terra, Humboldt: The Life and Times of Alexander von Humboldt (New York, 1955).
as profound as Bacon.10Sir Francis Bacon (1561 — 1626), the son of a wealthy English landholder and court official, attended Cambridge University, studied law, and became a member of Parliament. In 1600 Elizabeth I chose Bacon to take part in the prosecution for treason of his former protégé, the earl of Essex. In the legal service Of Elizabeth's successor, James I, Bacon rose to an appointment as lord chancellor in 1618 but was forced to retire from public life three years later when Parliament convicted him of accepting bribes. Bacon had lofty scholarly as well as political ambitions and produced many scientific, philosophical, and historical works—but almost certainly not the plays of William Shakespeare as was once widely thought. Catherine Drinker Bowen, Francis Bacon: The Temper of a Man (Boston, 1963); A. Wigfall Green, Sir Francis Bacon: His Life and Works (Denver, 1952); DNB, 1: 800—833. or as eloquent as Charles Sumner, before he can
be reckoned among superior men? Alas! if this were so. few even Of the
most cultivated of the white race could stand the test. Webster was white
and had a large head,11The popularity of phrenology among mid-nineteenth-century Americans led many of them to comment upon the unusually large size of Daniel Webster's head. One eulogist of Webster remarked that Webster's “brow was to common brows, what the great dome of St. Peters is to the small cupolas at its side." Posthumous measurement indeed found that Webster's head, at nearly 25 inches in circumference, and his brain, at 63.75 ounces, were among the largest on record. S. P. Lyman, Life and Memorials of Daniel Webster. 2 vols. (New York. 1853), 2: 223; Nelson Sizer and H. S. Drayton, Heads and Faces and How to Study Them (New York, 1885), 50, 52, 53; Irving H. Bartlett, Daniel Webster (New York, 1978), 5. but all white men have not large heads. The negro is


black and has a small head, but all negroes have not small heads. What rule
shall we apply to all these heads? Why this: Give all an equal chance to

But I am told that the Irish element in this country is exceedingly
strong, and that that element will never allow colored men to stand upon an
equal political footing with white men. I am pointed to the terrible outrages
committed from time to time by Irishmen upon negroes. The mobs at
Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, and New York, are cited as proving the
unconquerable aversion of the Irish towards the colored race.

Well, my friends, I admit that the Irish people are among our bitterest
persecutors. In one sense it is strange, passing strange, that they should be
such, but in another sense it is quite easily accounted for. It is said that a
negro always makes the most cruel negro driver, that a northern
slaveholder the most rigorous master, and the poor man suddenly made
rich becomes the most haughty [and] insufferable of all purse-proud fools.

Daniel O’Connell once said that the history of Ireland might be traced
like a wounded man through a crowd—by the blood. The Irishman has
been persecuted for his religion about as rigorously as the black man has
been for his color. The Irishman has outlived his persecution, and I believe
that the negro will survive his.

But there is something quite revolting in the idea of a people lately
oppressed suddenly becoming oppressors, that the persecuted can so sud-
denly become the persecutors.

Let us see a small sample of the laws by which our Celtic brothers have
in other days been oppressed. Religion, not color, was the apology for this
oppression, and the one apology is about as good as the other.

The following summary is by that life-long friend of the Irish—Syd-
ney Smith:

In 1695, the Catholics were deprived of all means of educating their
children, at home or abroad, and of all the privileges of being guardians to
their own or to other persons’ children. Then all the Catholics were dis-
armed, and then all the priests banished. After this (probably by way of
joke) an act was passed to confirm the treaty of Limerick, the great and


glorious King William, totally forgetting the contract he had entered into of
recommending the religious liberties of the Catholics to the attention of

On the 4th of March, 1704, it was enacted that any son of a Catholic
who would turn Protestant should succeed to the family estate, which from
that moment could no longer be sold, as charged with debt and legacy.

On the same day, Popish fathers were debarred, by a penalty of five
hundred pounds, from being guardians to their own children. If the child,
however young, declared himself a Protestant, he was to be delivered
immediately to the custody of some Protestant relation.

No Protestant to marry a Papist. No Papist to purchase land or take a
lease of land for more than thirty-one years. If the profits Of the land so
leased by the Catholic amounted to above a certain rate, settled by the act,
farm to belong to the first Protestant who made the discovery. No Papist to
be in a line of entail, but the estate to pass on to the next Protestant heir. as if
the Papist were dead. If a Papist dies intestate. and no Protestant heir can be
found, property to be equally divided among all the sons; or, if he has none.
among all the daughters. By the 16th clause Of this bill. no Papist to hold
any office. civil or military. Not to dwell in Limerick or Galway. except on
certain conditions. Not to vote at elections.

In 1709, Papists were prevented from holding an annuity for life. If any
son of a Papist chose to turn Protestant and enrol the certificate of his
conversion in the Court of Chancery, that court is empowered to compel
his father to state the value of his property upon oath, and to make out of
that property a competent allowance to the son, at their own discretion, not
only for his present maintenance, but for his future portion after the death
of his father. An increase of jointure to be enjoyed by Papist wives upon
their conversion. Papists keeping schools to be prosecuted as convicts.
Popish priests who are converted. to receive thirty pounds per annum.

Rewards are given by the same act for the discovery of Popish clergy—
fifty pounds for discovering a Popish bishop, twenty pounds for a common
Popish clergyman, ten pounds for a Popish usher! Two justices of the peace
can compel any Papist above 18 years of age to disclose every particular
which has come to his knowledge respecting Popish priests, celebration of
mass, or Papist schools. Imprisonment for a year if he refuses to answer.
Nobody can hold property in trust for a Catholic. Juries in all trials growing
out of these statutes to be Protestants. No Papist to take more than two
apprentices, except in the linen trade. All the Catholic clergy to give in
their names and places Of abode at the quarter sessions, and to keep no


curates. Catholics not to serve on grand juries. In any trial upon statutes for
strengthening the Protestant interest, a Papist juror may be peremptorily

In the next reign, Popish horses were attached and allowed to be seized
for the militia. Papists cannot be either high or petty constables. No Papists
to vote at elections. Papists in towns to provide Protestant watchmen, and
not to vote at vestries.

In the reign of George second, Papists were prohibited from being
barristers. Barristers and solicitors marrying Papists, considered to be
Papists. and subjected to all penalties as such. Persons robbed by pri-
vateers. during a war with a Popish prince, to be indemnified by grand jury
presentments, and the money to be levied on the Catholics only. No Papist
to marry a Protestant; any priest celebrating such marriage to be hanged.12Douglass quotes from Sydney Smith's review in the Edinburgh Review of Henry Brooke Parnell's A History of the Penal Laws Against the Irish Catholics: From the Treaty of Limerick to the Union (London, 1808). Sydney Smith, The Works of the Rev. Sydney Smith, 3 vols. (Philadelphia, 1844), 1: 138—40.

A full account of the laws here referred to may be found in a book
entitled. “History of the penal Laws against Irish Catholics,” by Henry
Parnell, member of Parliament.13Irish politician and economist Henry Brooke Parnell, first baron Congleton (1776— 1842), served in the Irish House of Commons before his election in 1802 to the British Parliament. Serving in both the House of Commons (1802, 1806—32, 1833—41) and the House of Lords (1841—42) and in several cabinets, he was a strong advocate of religious and economic reform in Ireland. DNB, 15: 342—45. They are about as harsh and oppressive,
as some of the laws against the colored people in border and Western

These barbarous and inhuman laws were all swept away by the act of
Catholic Emancipation, and the present barbarous laws against the free
colored people, must share the same fate.

There are signs of this good time coming all around us. Slavery has
overleapt itself. Having taken the sword it is destined to perish by the
sword, and the long despised negro is to bear an honorable part in the
salvation of himself and the country by the same blow. It has taken two
years to convince the Washington Government, of the wisdom of calling
the black man to participate in the gigantic effort now making to save the
country. Even now they have not fully learned it—but learn it they will,
and learn it they must before this tremendous war shall be ended. Mas-
sachusetts, glorious old Massachusetts. has called the black man to the
honor of bearing arms, and a thousand are already enrolled.


Now what will be the effect? Suppose colored men are allowed to fight
the battles of the Republic. Suppose they do fight and win victories as I am
sure they will, what will be the effect upon themselves? Will not the
country rejoice in such victories? and will it not extend to the colored man
the praise due to his bravery? Will not the colored man himself soon begin
to take a more hopeful view of his own destiny?

The fact is, my friends, we are opening a new account with the Ameri-
can people and with the whole human family.

Hitherto we have been viewed and have viewed ourselves, as an impo-
tent and spiritless race, having only a mission of folly and degradation
before us. To-night we stand at the portals of a new world, a new life and a
new destiny.

We have passed through the furnace and have not been consumed.
During more than two centuries and a half, we have survived contact with
the white race. We have risen from the small number of twenty, to the large
number of five millions, living and increasing, where other tribes are
decreasing and dying.14Douglass compares the increase in the black population of the United States since the earliest colonial settlements to the decline in the numbers of American Indians during the same time. Scholarly estimates of the pre-Columbian population of present-day Canada and the United States range from approximately one million to over ten million. In 1860 the Bureau of the Census reported 339,.421 Indians living in the United States outside Alaska. By 1890 the official count had dropped to 248,253. William M. Denevan, ed., The Native Population of the Americas in 1492 (Madison, Wisc., 1976), 112; Brian W. Dippie, The Vanishing American: White Attitudes and U.S. Indian Policy (Middletown, Conn., 1982), 124—27, 200. We have illustrated the fact, that the two most
opposite races of men known to Ethnological science, can live in the same
latitudes, longitudes, and altitudes, and that so far as natural causes are
concerned there is reason to believe that we may permanently live under
the same skies, brave the same climates, and enjoy Liberty, equality and
fraternity in a common country.


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895




Yale University Press 1985



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