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The Black Man’s Future in the Southern States: An Address Delivered in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 5, 1862


Douglass' Monthly, 4 : 613—16 (March 1862). Other texts in New York Daily Tribune, 13 February 1862; New York Times, 13 February 1862: San Francisco Pacific Appeal, 19 April 1862; William Wells Brown, The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements (New York, 1863), 184—87; Foner, Life and Writings, 3: 210—25.
On the evening of 5 February I862, Douglass delivered the fourth in a series of lectures sponsored by the Emancipation League of Boston. The announcement for his lecture at Tremont Temple appraised Douglass as a “man of common sense and unquestioned ability, and it is doubtful if any one can answer better than he the question as to the future of the negro race.” Following Douglass’s lecture, a fugitive slave who had been with Confederate forces in Virginia spoke on the misconceptions that southern blacks had ofthe North. The slaves had not rallied to the Union cause, he said, because Southerners told them that “the people of the North designed to enslave them, sell such as they did not want, and skin and eat the remainder. ” Douglass repeated this lecture one week later at the Cooper Institute in New York City. Although no complete account has been found for the Boston delivery, the text published here from Douglass' Monthly—described as being delivered in both places-— includes material specifically intended for his Boston audience but omitted from newspaper reports of the New York speech. Lib., 24 January 1862; Boston Daily Journal, 4, 6 February I862: New York Daily Tribune, 11 February 1862; NASS, 22 February 1862.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: The progress of the present tremendous war has developed great qualities of mind and heart among the loyal people, and none more conspicuously than patience. We have seen our sons, brothers, and fathers led to the battle field by untried and unskillful generals, and have held our breath; we have seen them repeatedly marched in thousands upon concealed batteries of the enemy, to be swept down by storms of iron, hail and fire, and have scarcely murmured; we have seen the wealth of the land poured out at the frightful rate of a million a day without complaint; we have seen our Capital surrounded, hemmed in, blockaded in the presence of a fettered but chafing loyal army of a quarter of a million on the Potomac during seven long months, and still we have cried patience and forbearance. We have seen able and earnest men displaced from high and important positions to make room for men who have yet to win our confidence, and still have believed in the Government. This is all right, all proper. Our Government however defective is still our Government. It is


all we have to shield us from the fury and vengeance of treason, rebellion, and anarchy.
If I were asked to describe the most painful and mortifying feature presented in the prosecution and management of the present war on the part of the United States Government, against the slaveholding rebels now 'marshalled against it, 1 should not point to Ball’s Bluff, Big Bethel, Bull Run, or any of the many blunders and disasters on flood or field;1Douglass alludes to three Union military defeats suffered in the first year of the Civil War. On 21 October 1861 a Union army brigade was badly defeated at Ball's Bluff while making a reconnaissance of the Potomac River crossing near Poolesville, Virginia. In a skirmish at Big Bethel, Virginia, on 10 June 1861. Union troops advancing from Fortress Monroe were repulsed from a Confederate outpost in the first land battle of the war. On 21 July 1861, the first large—scale Union campaign in the East was routed after a day of heavy fighting at Bull Run near Manassas Junction, Virginia. Boatner, Civil War Dictionary, 40—41, 63, 99—1O1 , 800—01; Long, Civil War Day by Day, 84, 98-99, 129—30. but I should point to the vacillation, doubt, uncertainty and hesitation, which have thus far distinguished our government in regard to the true method of dealing with the vital cause of the rebellion. We are without any declared and settled policy—and our policy seems to be, to have no policy.
The winds and currents are ever changing, and after beating about for almost a whole year on the perilous coast of a wildering ocean unable to find our bearings, we at last discover that we are in the same latitude as when we set sail, as far from the desired port as ever and with much less heart, health and provisions for pursuing the voyage than on the morning we weighed anchor.
If it be true that he that doubteth is condemned already, 2Douglass adapts Mark 16: 16: “[B]ut he that believeth not shall be condemned.“ there is certainly but little chance for this Republic.
At the opening session of the present Congress there was a marked, decided, and emphatic expression against slavery as the great motive power of the present slaveholding war. Many petitions, numeroust and influentially signed, were duly sent in and presented to that body, praying, first, for the entire abolition of slavery in all the slaveholding States; secondly, that ajust award be made by Congress to loyal slaveholders; and thirdly, that the slaves of rebels be wholly confiscated. The vigor, earnestness, and power with which these objects were advocated, as war measures, by Messrs. Stevens, 3The son of a Vermont shoemaker, Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868) graduated from Dartmouth College and moved to southeastern Pennsylvania to practice law. From 1833 to 1841 Stevens, an Anti-Mason, served in the Pennsylvania legislature, where he championed the establishment of a free public school system; from 1849 to 1853 he was one of the most outspoken antislavery Whigs in the U.S. House of Representatives. Stevens helped organize the Republican party in his state and again served in Congress from 1859 to his death. As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee during the Civil War, he actively worked for emancipation, high tariffs, and a transcontinental railroad. Also during the war, Stevens argued that Congress had the power to force the Confederate states to write guarantees of political and civil equality for blacks into their constitutions as a requirement for readmission to the Union. As the leading House member ofthe Joint Committee on Reconstruction, he helped push the Fourteenth Amendment. the Freedmen's Bureau Bill, and the Civil Rights Act of I866 through Congress despite the opposition of President Andrew Johnson and the hesitancy of conservative Republicans. Stevens‘s voice was one of the most consistent in support of both black suffrage and the distribution of confiscated southern lands to the freed slaves. Although in failing health, he served as one ofthe House managers in the unsuccessful impeachment trial of President Johnson. Faw M. Brodie, Thaddeus Stevens: Scourge of the South (New York, 1959); Leonard P. Curry, Blueprint for Modern America: Non-military Legislation of the First Civil War Congress (Nashville, 1968), 26— 27, 64, 98, 173; Michael Les Benedict, A Compromise of Principle: Congressional Republicans and Reconstruction, 1863—1869 (New York, 1974), 34—35, 137, 149—50, 190—91, 224-25, 251; NCAB, 4: 30—31; DAB, 17: 620—25. Bingham,4John Armor Bingham (1815-1900) of New Philadelphia, Ohio, was a Republican member of the House of Representatives from 1855 to 1863 and again from 1865 to 1873. As chaimian of the House Judiciary Committee, he introduced the first measure to confiscate the slaves of active Confederates and supported emancipation in the District of Columbia. After serving as judge advocate of the Union army during the war, Bingham filled the same role at the trial of the conspirators in Lincoln's assassination. During Reconstruction he was the leading conservative Republican in the House, favoring lenient terms for the readmission of the Confederate states, opposing many ofthe civil rights bills on constitutional grounds. and only reluctantly supporting the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. After his defeat for reelection in 1873, Bingham served as U.S. ambassador to Japan until 1885. Curry, Blueprint for Modern America, 29-30, 76—80; Hans L. T refousse, The Radical Republicans: Lincoln's Vanguard for Racial Equality (Baton Rouge, 1968), 206, 212, 359; Benedict, Compromise of Principle, 36, 183—84, 189—91, 308. Elliot,5Thomas Dawes Eliot (1808—70) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and educated at Columbian College, now George Washington University. in Washington, DC. In the 18305 and l840s he practiced law in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and launched a political career by serving as a Whig member in both houses of the state legislature. Joining the new Republican party following passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Eliot was elected to five consecutive terms in the House of Representatives (1859—69). He initially supported Lincoln‘s proposal for a quick recognition of southern loyalist govemments in states such as Louisiana but later sided with the Radical Republicans on most Reconstruction issues. Eliot chaired the House committee that introduced legislation to establish the Freedmen‘s Bureau and also favored equal political rights for blacks. In his last term in Congress, however, he broke with fellow Radicals and voted against the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Benedict, Compromise of Principle, 88—89, 183, 228—31, 342; idem, The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson (New York, 1973), 82, 83, 86; BDAC, 852; ACAB, 2: 325; NCAB, 12: 46. Gurley,6Born in East Hartford. Connecticut, John Addison Gurley (1813—63) worked as a hatter before joining the Universalist ministry. In 1838 Gurley moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he preached and edited Star and Sentinel. a Universalist periodical. In the mid-1850s he sold his newspaper, purchased a farm, and entered Republican party politics. Gurley served two terms in Congress (1859— 63), during which he was a political ally of Salmon P. Chase. Defeated for reelection in 1862, he was appointed governor of Arizona Territory by Lincoln but died before taking office. Eugene H. Roseboom, The Civil War Era, 1850—1873 (Columbus, Ohio, 1944). 352, 394—95; BDAC. 983. Lovejoy7Owen Lovejoy. and others, inspired the loyal friends of Freedom all over the North with renewed


confidence and hope, both for the country and for the slave. The conviction was general that at last the country was to have a policy, and that that policy would bring freedom and safety to the Republic.


Thus far, however, this hope, this confidence, this conviction has not beenjustified. The country is without a known policy. The enemies of the Abolition cause, taking alarm from these early efforts, have earnestly set themselves to the work of producing a reaction in favor of slavery, and have succeeded beyond what they themselves must have expected at the first.
Among other old, and threadbare, and worn out objections which they have raised against the Emancipation policy, is the question as to what shall be done with the four million slaves of the South, if they are emancipated? or in other words, what shall be the future of the four million slaves?
I am sensible, deeply sensible, of the importance of this subject, and of the many difficulties which are supposed to surround it.
If there is any one great, pressing, and all-commanding problem for this nation to solve, and to solve without delay. that problem is slavery. Its claims are urgent, palpable, and powerful. They admit of no parleying or compromise. The issue involves the whole question of life and death to the nation.
Some who speak on this subject are already sure as to how this question will finally be decided. 1 am not, but one thing I know:—If we are a wise, liberty-loving, a just and courageous nation—knowing what is right and daring to do it—we shall solve this problem, and solve it speedily, in accordance with national safety, national unity, national prosperity, national glory, and shall win for ourselves the admiration of an onlooking world and the grateful applause of after-coming generations. If on the other hand, we are a cunning, cowardly, and selfish nation given over—as other nations have been before us—to hardness of heart and blindness of mind, it needs no prophet to foretell our doom.
Before proceeding to discuss the future of the colored people of the slave States, you will allow me to make a few remarks, personal and general, respecting the tremendous crisis through which we are passing. In the first place I have not the vanity to suppose—and I say it without affectation—that 1 can add any thing to the powerful arguments of the able men who have preceded me in this course of lectures. I take the stand tonight more as an humble witness than as an advocate. l have studied slavery and studied freedom on both sides of Mason and Dixon’s line. Nearly twenty-two years of my life were spent in Slavery, and more than twenty-three have been spent in freedom. I am of age in both conditions, and there seems an eminent fitness in allowing me to speak for myself and my race. Ifl take my stand to-night as I shall do, with the down-trodden


and enslaved, and view the facts of the hour more as a bondman than as a freeman, it is not because I feel no interest in the general welfare of the country. Far from it.
I am an American citizen. ln birth, in sentiment, in ideas, in hopes, in aspirations, and responsibilities, 1 am an American citizen. According to Judge Kent there are but two classes of people in America: they are citizens and aliens, natives and foreigners. Natives are citizens—foreigners are aliens until naturalized.8Douglass paraphrases the conclusion of a published lecture entitled “Of Aliens and Natives" authored by James Kent, one-time chancellor of the New York Court of Chancery. Kent, Commentary on American Law, 2: 33—63.
But I am not only a citizen by birth and lineage, I am such by choice.
I once had a very tempting offer of citizenship in another country; but declined it because I preferred the hardships and duties of my mission here. I have never regretted that decision, although my pathway has been anything than a smooth one; and to-night, I allow no man to exceed me in the desire for the safety and welfare of this country. Andjust here do allow me to boast a little. There is nothing in the circumstances of the present hour, nothing in the behavior of the colored people, either North or South, which requires apology at my hands. Though everywhere spoken against, the most malignant and unscrupulous of all our slanderers have not, in this dark and terrible hour of the nation’s trial dared to accuse us of a want of patriotism or loyalty. Though ignored by our friends and repelled by our enemies, the colored people, both north and south, have evinced the most ardent desire to serve the cause of the country, as against the rebels and traitors who are endeavoring to break it down and destroy it. That they are not largely represented in the loyal army, is the fault of the Government, and a very grievous fault it is. Mark here our nation’s degeneracy. Colored men were good enough to fight under Washington. They are not good enough to fight under McClellan. They were good enough to fight under Andrew Jackson. They are not good enough to fight under Gen. Halleck.9George B. McClellan and Henry W. Halleck. They were good enough to help win American independence but they are not good enough to help preserve that independence against treason and rebellion. They were good enough to defend New Orleans but not good enough to defend our poor beleaguered Capital. 1 am not arguing against, not condemning those in power, but simply stating facts in vindication of my people; and as these facts stand, I do say that I am proud to be recognized here as an humble representative of that rejected race. Whether in


peace or in war, whether in safety or in peril , whether in evil report or good report, at home or abroad, my mission is to stand up for the down-trodden, to open my mouth for the dumb, to remember those in bonds as bound with them.10Douglass quotes a portion of Heb. 13: 3.
Happily, however, in standing up in their cause I do, and you do, but stand in defense of the cause of the whole country. The circumstances of this eventful hour make the cause of the slaves and the cause of the country identical. They must fall or flourish together. A blow struck for the free dom of the slave, is equally a blow struck for the safety and welfare of the country. As Liberty and Union have become identical, so slavery and treason have become one and inseparable. I shall not argue this point. It has already been most ably argued. All eyes see it, all hearts begin to feel it; and all that is needed is the wisdom and the manhood to perform the solemn duty pointed out by the stern logic of our situation. It is now or never with us.
The field is ripe for the harvest. God forbid that when the smoke and thunder of this slaveholding war shall have rolled from the troubled face of our country it shall be said that the harvest is past, the summer is ended and we are not saved.
There are two classes of men who are endeavoring to put down this strange and most unnatural rebellion. About patriotism and loyalty, they talk alike; but the difference between them is heaven wide—and if we fail to suppress the rebels and restore the country to a condition of permanent safety it will be chargeable less to the skill and power of the rebels themselves, than to this division and conflict among ourselves. Never could it be said more truly and sadly than now, that our enemies are those of our own household. The traitors of the South are open, bold, decided. We know just where to find them. They are on the battle field, with arms in their hands and bullets in their pockets. It is easy to deal with them, but it is not so easy to deal with the so-called Union men in Maryland, Western Virginia, and Kentucky, and those who sympathize with them in the Northern States.
One class are for putting down the rebellion if that can be done by force, and force alone, and without abolishing slavery; and the other is for putting down the rebellion by putting down slavery upon every rood of earth which shall be made sacred by the footprints of a single loyal soldier. One class would strike down the effect, the other would strike at the cause.


Can any man doubt for a moment that the latter is the wisest and best course? Is it not as plain as the sun in the heavens, that slavery is the life, the soul, the inspiration, and power of the rebellion? Is it not equally plain that any peace which may be secured which shall leave slavery still existing at the South, will prove a hollow and worthless peace, a mere suspension of hostilities, to be renewed again at the first favorable opportunity? Does any man think that the slaveholders would relinquish all hope of Southern independence in the future because defeated in the present contest? Would they not come out of the war with a deadlier hate and a firmer purpose to renew the struggle hereafter, with larger knowledge and better means of success? He who thinks or flatters himself that they would not, has read history and studied human nature to little purpose.
But why, O why, should we not abolish slavery now? All admit that it must be abolished at some time. What better time than now can be assigned for that great work? Why should it longer live? What good thing has it done that it should be given further lease of life? What evil thing has it left undone? Behold its dreadful history! Saying nothing of the rivers of tears and streams of blood poured out by its 4,000,000 victims—saying nothing of the leprous poison it has diffused through the life blood of our morals and our religion—saying nothing of the many humiliating concessions already made to it—saying nothing of the deep and scandalous reproach it has brought upon our national good name—saying nothing of all this, and more the simple fact that this monster Slavery has eaten up and devoured the patriotism of the whole South, kindled the lurid flames of a bloody rebellion in our midst, invited the armies of hostile nations to desolate our soil, and break down our Government, is good and all-sufficient cause for smiting it as with a bolt from heaven. If it is possible for any system of barbarism to sign its own death warrant, Slavery by its own natural working, is that system. All the arguments of conscience, sound expediency, national honor and safety unite in the fiat—let it die the death of its own election.
One feature of the passing hour is notable in showing how narrow and limited may be the channel through which a great reformatory movement can run for long and weary years, without once overflowing its banks and enriching the surrounding country through which it passes.
Notwithstanding all our books, pamphlets, newspapers, our great conventions, addresses, and resolutions, tens of thousands of the American people are now taking theirfirst lessons as to the character and influence of slavery and slaveholders. Tongues that used to bless Slavery now curse it,


and men who formerly found paragons of the race only among slave mongers and their abettors, are but now having the scales torn from their eyes by slaveholding treason and rebellion. They arejust coming to believe what we have all along been trying to tell them, that is: that he who breaks faith with God may not be expected to keep faith with man. I gladly welcome this great change in the public sentiment ofthe country. And yet I do not rely very confidently upon it. I am not deceived either in regard to its origin or its quality. I know that national self-preservation, national safety, rather than any regard to the bondman as a man and a brother, is at the bottom of much that now meets us in the shape of opposition to slavery. The little finger of him who denounced slavery from a high moral conviction of its enormity is more than the loins of him that merely denounces it for the peril into which it has brought the country. Nevertheless, I rejoice in this change; the result will be nearly the same to the slave, if from motives of necessity or any other motives the nation shall be led to the extinction of slavery. Every consideration of expediency and justice may be consistently brought to bear against that sum of all villanies.
Upon the first outburst of the now raging rebellion. awaking the nation as from a sleep of death, the Abolitionists of the country very generally dropped their distinctive character, and were fused with the mass of their fellow-citizens. Patriotism for the moment took the place of philanthropy, and those who had for long years given their best energies to save the slave. were not behind any other class of citizens in their efforts to save the country. They suspended their agencies. postponed their meetings, and poured out their best eloquence with pen and tongue to fire the Northern heart to the great contest to which it was summoned in the name of an imperiled country. In this, however, we may have been more patriotic than wise. Every day bears witness that Slavery is not only the cause of the rebellion, but that it is and has been from the beginning, the only real obstacle to crushing out the rebellion; and that all efforts to save the country are utterly vain, unless guided by the principles which the Abolitionists know best how to teach.
I rejoice therefore in the formation of the Emancipation League.11The Boston Emancipation League was founded in the fall of 1861 by a small number of abolitionists and Republicans dissatisfied with the Lincoln administration's failure to adopt antislayery war aims. At first the group met in private and conducted an anonymous propaganda campaign to educate the public on the necessity of wartime emancipation. As sentiment for abolition increased. the League held its first public meeting on 16 December 1861 and, soon after. publicly selected its officers, including veteran abolitionist Samuel Sewall as president. During 1862 the League sponsored lecture series, circulated pamphlets, and launched its own newspaper, the Boston Comnmonwealth in support of emancipation. Following Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, the group continued to lobby for such measures as a Freedmen's Bureau. In 1866 the League reorganized itself as the Impartial Suffrage Association and campaigned for the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. McPherson, Struggle for Equality, 75-79, 178-81, 279-81, 353, 356. May


its work be quick, certain and complete. I perceive that it has not entered upon its career unobserved. The guardians of slavery in Boston, for there are such guardians, have honored it by very lengthened and very bitter denunciations. No better reception could have been expected, even if deserved, than that given it by the Boston Courier.12The pro-Democratic Boston Courrier was edited during the Civil War by George Lunt, who had a long history of public hostility toward abolitionists. When the Boston Emancipation League announced that Republican congressman George Boutwell would address its first public meeting on the theme of “The Justice, Expediency, and Necessity of Emancipation," the Courier condemned both the gathering and its speaker. claiming that “this ‘League' is nothing more nor less than a scheme of Disunion. Mr. Boutwell does not expect to emancipate the slaves; but to push the theory of emancipation. which is an impossibility, up to the point which shall make the complete division of the States unavoidable and final. And thus, while the colored race would be doomed to perpetual bondage. and slavery be deprived of all alleviating influences which could result from intercourse between the slave State and the free, in Union.—the North and the South would be doomed to perpetual border strife and open war and to all renewed horrors of barbarous times. ” Lib., 20 December 1861; Robert Harper, Lincoln and the Press (New York, 1951 ), 190-9l, 353; Garrison and Garrison, Garrison Life, 2: 95, 4: 13. Alike denunciation came from the Tory press of England when the anti-corn law League was formed. Nevertheless that grand League put down the Corn monopoly in seven years, gave bread to the starving millions, broke down the Tory party beyond the hope of regaining power, changed the policy of the British nation, transferred the power of the landed aristocracy to the people and gave us the Brights,13John Bright (1811—89) was the great orator of mid-nineteenth-century British reform movements and a leading champion in his country of the Union cause in the American Civil War. Although he joined his brothers in managing their father‘s textile firm. Bright‘s interests centered on political issues from an early age. He first became a protege of. and then an intellectual collaborator with. Richard Cobden in the propaganda campaign against the Corn Law and in favor of free trade. Bright entered Parliament in l843. but his radical stands on church disestablishment. parliamentary reform. and foreign nonintervention impeded his rise into the Liberal party's leadership. Bright's oratorical skills. however. were successfully employed in swinging British middle-class and working-class opinion behind the North in the Civil War. He held minor posts in two of Gladstone‘s cabinets but resigned in 1882 to protest the landing of British troops in Egypt. His opposition to Irish Home Rule and most forms of factory legislation marked Bright off from the younger generation of Liberal reformers and led to a growing political isolation in his old age. Keith Robbins, John Bright (London, 1979); Herman Susubel, John Bright: Victorian Reformer (New York, 1966); Ephraim D. Adams, Great Britain and the American Civil War, 2 vols. (New York, 1925), 1: 58, 108-10, 221-22, 2: 132-34; DNB, 22 : 273—91. the Cobdens,14Richard Cobden. the Wilsons,15Douglass probably refers to British entrepreneur and reformer George Wilson (1808—70). The son of a Manchester corn merchant, Wilson started business in the grain trade but became wealthy through investments in Britain's rapidly developing railroad and telegraph industries. He was one ofthe founders of the Anti-Com Law League in 1839 and two years later became chairman of its executive committee. As a leader of that organization, he perfected many of its propaganda techniques and effectively presided over its mass public meetings. A close political ally of John Bright, Wilson supported campaigns for parliamentary reforms and eventually served as president of the National Reform Union. During the Civil War, he resolutely opposed any action that might bring England into conflict with the United States. Donaldson Jordan and Edwin J. Pratt, Europe and the American Civil War (Boston, 1931), 90—92; Robbins, John Bright, 22, 39—40, 80; DNB, 21: 565—66. and the


Thompsons,16George Thompson. and the William Edward Forsters,17The son of a Quaker minister, William Edward Forster (1818—86) was a lifelong resident of Bradford, England. After receiving his education in Quaker boarding schools. he entered the woolens business on borrowed capital and eventually prospered. In 1861 Forster was elected to Parliament as a Liberal member from Bradford and retained that seat for the remainder of his life. He was the first member of Parliament to speak against any British attempt to aid the Confederacy by preventing a Union blockade of Confederate ports. In 1863 Forster denounced the building of the Confederate warship Alabama in British drydocks. During his later parliamentary career Forster took a leading role in educational reform, extension of the franchise. and colonial affairs. Adams, Britain and the Civil War, 1: 58, 268—70, 2: 133—35; DNB, 7: 664—71. the men who represent the middle classes of England and who are now in our days of trouble as in our days of peace and prosperity, America’s best and truest friends. Humanity is proud of the triumphs of that League.
It will not be otherwise of this League. But I come now to the more immediate subject of my lecture, namely: What shall be done with the four millions of slaves if they are emancipated? This singular question comes from the same two very different and very opposite classes of the American people, who are endeavoring to put down the rebels. The first have no moral, religious, or political objection to Slavery, and, so far as they are concerned, Slavery might live and flourish to the end of time. They are the men who have an abiding affection for rebels, and at the beginning marched to the tune of “No Coercion—No subjugation.” They have now dropped these unpopular “Noes.” and have taken up another set, equally treacherous. Their tune now is, No Emancipation, No Confiscation of slave property, No Arming of the Negroes. They were driven from the first set of “Noes” by the gleaming of a half a million bayonets, and I predict that they will be driven from the last set, though I cannot promise that they will not find another set.
The second class of persons are those who may be called young converts,


newly awakened persons, who are convinced of the great evil and danger of Slavery, and would be glad to see some wise and unobjectionable plan of emancipation devised and adopted by the Government. They hate Slavery and love Freedom, but they are yet too much trammeled by the popular habit of thought respecting the negro to trust the operation of their own principles. Like the man in the Scriptures, they see men only as trees walking.18Douglass alludes to the story of the blind man whose sight was restored by Jesus, found in Mark 8: 22—26. 19. They differ from the first class only in motive and purpose, and not in premise and argument, and hence the answer to Pro-Slavery objections will answer those raised by our new anti-Slavery men. When some of the most potent, grave and reverend defenders of Slavery in England urged Wilberforce19William Wilberforce. for a statement of his plan of Emancipation, his simple response was, quit stealing.
My answer to the question, What shall be done with the four million slaves if emancipated? shall be alike short and simple: Do nothing with them, but leave them just as you have left other men, to do with and for themselves. We would be entirely respectful to those who raise the inquiry, and yet it is hard not to say to them just what they would say to us, if we manifested a like concern for them, and that is: please to mind your business, and leave us to mind ours. If we cannot stand up, then let us fall down. We ask nothing at the hands of the American people but simple justice, and an equal chance to live; and if we cannot live and flourish on such terms, our case should be referred to the Author of our existence. Injustice, oppression, and Slavery with their manifold concomitants have been tried with us during a period of more than two hundred years. Under the whole heavens you will find no parallel to the wrongs we have endured. We have worked without wages; we have lived without hope. wept without sympathy, and bled without mercy. Now, in the name of a common humanity, and according to the laws of the Living God, we simply ask the right to bear the responsibility of our own existence.
Let us alone. Do nothing with us, for us, or by us as a particular class. What you have done with us thus far has only worked to our disadvantage. We now simply ask to be allowed to do for ourselves. I submit that there is nothing unreasonable or unnatural in all this request. The black man is said to be unfortunate. He is so. But I affirm that the broadest and bitterest of the black man’s misfortunes is the fact that he is everywhere regarded and


treated as an exception to the principles and maxims which apply to other men, and that nothing short of the extension of those principles to him can satisfy any honest advocate of his claims.
Even those who are sincerely desirous to serve us and to help us out of our difficulties stand in doubt of us and fear that we could not stand the application of the rules which they freely apply to all other people.
Now, whence comes this doubt and fear? I will tell you. There is no difficulty whatever in giving ample and satisfactory explanation of the source of this estimate of the black man’s capacity.
What have been his condition and circumstances for more than two centuries? These will explain all.
Take any race you please. French, English, Irish, or Scotch, subject them to slavery for ages—regard and treat them everywhere, every way. as property, as having no rights which other men are required to respect. Let them be loaded with chains, scarred with the whip, branded with hot irons. sold in the market, kept in ignorance, by force of law and by common usage, and I venture to say that the same doubt would spring up concerning either of them, which now confronts the negro. The common talk of the streets on this subject shows great ignorance. It assumes that no other race has ever been enslaved or could be held in slavery, and the fact that the black man submits to that condition is often cited as a proof of original and permanent inferiority, and of the fitness of the black man only for that condition. Just this is the argument of the Confederate States; that argument of Stephens20Confederate vice president Alexander Hamilton Stephens (1812-83) was born in Taliaferro County, Georgia. graduated from the University of Georgia, and practiced law at Crawfordsville in his native state. From 1843 to I859 Stephens was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, first as a Whig and then, after 1852, as a Democrat. In the 1860 presidential election Stephens supported Stephen A. Douglas but nevertheless followed his state into secession. As Confederate vice president he eventually became a strong critic of Jefferson Davis's centralizing war policies. In February 1865 Stephens was one of three Confederate commissioners at the abortive Hampton Roads Peace Conference. Briefly jailed after the war, he returned to Congress from 1873 to 1882 and was governor of Georgia at the time of his death. Rudolph von Abele, lexander H. .Stephens: A BiographyA (New York, 1946); Eaton, Southern Confederacy, 47-48, 254, 258 —59; Warner and Yearns, Biographical Register, 231—33. in defense of the SC.21Douglass probably alludes to Stephens‘s statements in his famous “Corner Stone Speech" at Savannah. Georgia, on 2l March I86I: “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [of the assumption of the equality of the races]; its foundations are laid. its comerstone rests upon the great truth. that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery --subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.“ Stephens repeated the substance of his racial theories at the Virginia secession convention in Richtnond on 23 April l86l. Henry Cleveland, Alexander H. Stephens. in Public and Private; with Letters and .S‘peeehes. Before. During, and Sinee the War (Philadelphia. I866). 72l—23, 74 l —43; Richard Malcolm Johnston and William Hand Brown, Life Of Alexander H. Stephens (Philadelphia, 1878), 394—96. 398—99; Abele, Alexander H. Stephens, 197— 99. But what are the facts? I


believe it will not be denied that the Anglo-Saxons are a fine race of men, and have done something for the civilization of mankind, yet who does not know that this now grand and leading race was in bondage and abject slavery for ages upon their own native soil. They were not stolen away from their own country in small numbers, where they could make no resistance to their enslavers, but were enslaved in their own country.
Turn to the pages of the history of the Norman Conquest, by Monsieur Thierry, and you will find this statement fully attested. He says: “Foreigners visiting England, even so late as the sixteenth century, were astonished at the great number of serfs they beheld, and the excessive harshness of their servitude. The word bondage, in the Norman tongue, expressed at that time all that was most wretched in the condition of humanity.” He again says: “About the year 1381, all who were called bonds in English or in Anglo-Norman—that is, all the cultivators of land—were serfs in body and goods, obliged to pay heavy aids for the small portions of land which served them to feed their families, and were not at liberty to give up that portion of land without the consent of the Lords for whom they were obliged to do gratuitously, their tillage, their gardening, and their carriage of all kinds. The Lords could sell them, together with their horses, their oxen, and their implements of husbandry—their children and their posterity—which in the English deeds was expressed in the following manner: Know that l have sold——, my knave, and all his offspring, born or to be born.”22Douglass. substituting “sixteenth century" for "fifteenth century" and making several minor changes, quotes from French historian Jacques—Nicolas Augustin Thierry (1795—1856), History of the Conquest of England by the Normans; With Its Causes, and Consequences to the Present Time, 3d ed. (London, 1841), 288; Nouvelle Biographie Generale, 46 vols. (Paris, 1853—66). 45: 104-171.
Sir Walter Scott, after describing very minutely the dress of a Saxon serf, says: “One part of the dress only remains, but it is too remarkable to be suppressed. It was a brass ring resembling a dog’s collar, but without any opening, and soldered fast around the neck, so loose as to form no impediment to breathing, and yet so tight as to be incapable of being removed excepting by the use of the file. On this singular gorget was engraved, in Saxon letters, an inscription of the following purport: Gurth, the son of Beowulph, is the born thrall of Cedric Rotherwood.”23Douglass quotes from the first chapter of Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (1771—1832), the popular romantic author and inventor of the historical novel. Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe: A Romance (Edinburgh, 1822). 8; DNB, 17: 1018-43.


As an evidence of the contempt and degradation in which the Saxons were held, Monsieur Thierry says that after the conquest the Bishop of Lincoln reckoned only two languages in England—Latin for men of letters and French for the ignorant, in which language he himself wrote pious books for the use of the French, making no account of the English language and those who spoke it.24 Douglass paraphrases Thierry's description of the views of Robert Grosseteste (c. 1175-1253), the bishop of Lincoln from 1235 to 1253, best known for his resistance against papal appointments to English religious posts and for his support of the barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Charta in 1215. Thierry, Conquest of England, 286-87; DNB, 8 :718—72I.
The poets of the same period, even those of English birth, composed all their verses in French when they wished to derive from them either profit or honor.25This sentence is a direct quotation from Thierry, Conquest of England, 287. Such is a brief view of the social condition occupied for ages by a people now the mightiest on the globe. The Saxon was of no account then; the negro is of no account now. May not history one day carry the analogy a step further? In the case of the Saxon, we have a people held in abject slavery, upon their own native soil by strangers and foreigners. Their very language made no account of, and themselves wearing brass collars on their necks like dogs, bearing the names of their masters. They were bought and sold like the beast of the field, and their offspring born and to be born doomed to the same wretched condition. No doubt that the people of this now proud and grand race in their then abject condition were compelled to listen to disparagement and insults from their Norman oppressors, as galling as those which meet the black man here. No doubt that these disparagements hung about their necks like a mountain weight to keep them down, and no doubt there were men of shallow brain and selfish hearts to tell them that Slavery was their normal condition.
The misfortunes of my own race in this respect are not singular. They have happened to all nations, when under the heel of oppression. Whenever and wherever any particular variety of the human family have been enslaved by another, their enslavers and oppressors, in every such instance, have found their best apology for their own base conduct in the bad character of their victims. The cunning, the deceit, the indolence, and the manifold vices and crimes, which naturally grow out of the condition of Slavery, are generally charged as inherent characteristics of the oppressed and enslaved race. The Jews, the Indians, the Saxons and the ancient Britons, have all had a taste of this bitter experience.


When the United States coveted a part of Mexico, and sought to wrest from that sister Republic her coveted domain, some of you remember how our presses teemed from day to day with charges of Mexican inferiority. How they were assailed as a worn-out race; how they were denounced as a weak. worthless, indolent, and turbulent nation, given up to the sway of animal passions, totally incapable of self-government, and how excellent a thing we were told it would be for civilization if the strong beneficent arm ofthe Anglo-Saxon could be extended over them; and how, with our usual blending of piety with plunder, we justified our avarice by appeals to the hand-writing of Divine Providence. All this, I say, you remember, for the facts are but little more than a dozen years old.
As between us and unfortunate Mexico, so it was with Russia and the Ottoman Empire. In the eyes of Nicholas,26Czar Nicholas I.
the Turk was the sick man of Europe—just as the negro is now the sick man of America.
So, too, in former years, it was with England and Ireland. When any new burden was sought to be imposed upon that ill-fated country, or when any improvement in the condition of its people was suggested, and pressed by philanthropic and liberal statesmen, the occasion never failed to call forth the most angry and disparaging arguments and assaults upon the Irish race.
Necessity is said to be the plea of tyrants. The alleged inferiority of the Oppressed is also the plea of tyrants. The effect upon those against whom it is directed is to smite them as with the hand of death. Under its paralyzing touch all manly aspirations and self-reliance die out and the smitten race comes almost to assent to the justice of their own degradation.
No wonder, therefore, that the colored people in America appear stupid, helpless and degraded. The wonder is rather that they evince so much spirit and manhood as they do. What have they not suffered and endured? They have been weighed, measured, marked and prized—in detail and in the aggregate. Their estimated value a little while ago was twenty hundred millions.27Neither the preliminary report (1862) nor the final report (1864) of the U.S. Census for 1860 made an evaluation of the capital invested in slaves. The preliminary report estimated that the United States possessed approximately 3,950,000 slaves. The final report offered the more precise figure of 3.953.760. Modern historians have used the latter statistic to estimate the value of American slaves in 1860 (at an average worth 018900 each) to be $3.6 billion or almost double Douglass’s figure. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Preliminary Report of the Eighth Census, in 1860 (Washington, D.C., 1862), 5— 7; idem, Population of the United States in 1860; Compiled from the Original Returns of the Eighth Census (Washington, DC, 1864), 594--95; Lee Soltow, Men and Wealth in the United States (New Haven, 1975), 133—43; Roger L. Ranson and Richard Sutch, One Kind of Freedom: The Economic Consequences of Emancipation (Cambridge, 1977),52—53. Those twenty hundred millions of dollars have


all the effect of twenty hundred millions of arguments against the negro as a man and a brother. Here we have a mountain of gold, depending upon the continuance of our enslavement and degradation. No wonder that it has been able to bribe the press against us. No wonder that it has been able to employ learning and eloquence against us. No wonder that it has bought up the American pulpit and obtained the sanction of religion against us. No wonder that it has turned every department of the Government into engines of oppression and tyranny toward us. No nation, however gifted by nature, could hope to bear up under such oppressive weights.
But to return. What shall be done with the four million slaves. if emancipated? I answer, deal justly by them; pay them honest wages for honest work; dispense with the biting lash, and pay them the ready cash: awaken a new class of motives in them; remove those old motives of shriveling fear of punishment which benumb and degrade the soul, and supplant them by the higher and better motives of hope, of self—respect. of honor, and of personal responsibility. Reverse the whole current of feeling in regard to them. They have been compelled hitherto to regard the white man as a cruel, selfish, and remorseless tyrant, thirsting for wealth, greedy of gain, and caring nothing as to the means by which he obtains it. Now. let him see that the white man has a nobler and better side to his character, and he will love, honor, [and] esteem the white man.
But it is said that the black man is naturally indolent, and that he will not work without a master. 1 know that this is a part of his bad reputation: but I also know that he is indebted for this bad reputation to the most indolent and lazy of all the American people, the slaveholders—men who live in absolute idleness, and eat their daily bread in the briny sweat of other men’s faces. That the black man in Slavery shirks labor—aims to do as little as he can, and to do that little in the most slovenly manner—only proves that he is a man. Thackeray28William Makepeace Thackeray. says that all men are about as lazy as they can afford to be—and I do not claim that the negro is an exception to this rule. He loves ease and abundance just as other people love ease and abundance. If this is a crime, then all men are criminals, and the negro no more than the rest.
Again, it is affirmed that the negro, emancipated, could not take care of himself. My answer to this is, let him have a fair chance to try it. For 200


years he has taken care of himself and his master in the bargain. I see no reason to believe that he could not take care, and very excellent care, of himself when having only himself to support. The case of the freed slaves in the British West Indies has already been dwelt upon in the course of these lectures, and facts, arguments, and statistics, have been presented demonstrating beyond all controversy that the black man not only has the ability and the disposition to work, but knows well how to take care of his earnings. The country over which he has toiled as a slave is rapidly becoming his property—that freedom has made him both a better producer and a better consumer.
It is one of the strangest and most humiliating triumphs of human selfishness and prejudice over human reason, that it leads men to look upon emancipation as an experiment, instead of being. as it is, the natural order of human relations. Slavery, and not Freedom, is the experiment; and to witness its horrible failure we have to open our eyes, not merely upon the blasted soil of Virginia and other Slave States, but upon a whole land brought to the verge of ruin.
We are asked if we would turn the slaves all loose. I answer, Yes. Why not? They are not wolves nor tigers, but men. They are endowed with reason—can decide upon questions of right and wrong, good and evil, benefits and injuries—and are therefore subjects of government precisely as other men are.
But would you have them stay here? Why should they not? What better is here than there? What class of people can show a better title to the land on which they live than the colored people of the South? They have watered the soil with their tears and enriched it with their blood, and tilled it with their hard hands during two centuries; they have leveled its forests, taken out the obstructions to the plow and hoe, reclaimed the swamps, and produced whatever has made it a goodly land to dwell in, and it would be a shame and a crime little inferior in enormity to Slavery itself ifthese natural owners of the Southern and Gulf States should be driven away from their country to make room for others—even if others could be obtained to fill their places.
But unjust and revolting to every right-minded and humane man as is this talk of the expatriation of the slaves, the offense is not more shocking than it is unwise. For a nation to drive away its laboring population is to commit political suicide. It is like cutting off one’s right hand in order to


work the better and to produce the more. To say that negroes shall not live in the Southern States is like saying that the lands of the South shall be no longer cultivated. The cry has all along been. We must have negroes to work in the South, for white men cannot stand the hot sun and the fell diseases ofthe rice swamp and the sugar plantation. Even the leaders ofthe rebellion made it one of their grievances that they could not get more negroes, though from motives of policy they have now dropped this plank from their platform. No one doubts that the Gulf States mean to have more slaves from Africa just so soon as they shall get well settled in their independence. Again, why not allow the colored people of the South [to] remain where they are? Will they occupy more room in freedom than in slavery? If you could bear them as objects of your injustice, can they be more offensive as objects of your justice and your humanity? Why send them away? Who wants to take their places in the cotton field, in the rice swamp, and sugar fields, which they have tilled for ages? The whole scheme of colonization would be too absurd for discussion, but that the madness of the moment has drowned the voice of common sense as well as common justice.
There is a measure now before Congress duly reported from one of its Committees proposing, first, to make the negroes leave the land of their birth, and secondly to pay the expense of their enforced removal?29 Douglass inaccurately describes the colonization provisions of the Second Confiscation Act, then under consideration in Congress. On 15 January 1862, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out a bill that authorized the immediate seizure of the real and personal property of Confederate officeholders and a similar confiscation, after sixty days' waiting, of the property of all other supporters ofthe rebellion. An amalgam of several proposals made in Congress over the previous few months. the confiscation bill included a provision originally introduced by Senator James Harlan of Iowa that authorized President Lincoln to “make provision for the transportation. colonization. and settlement. in some tropical country beyond the limits of the United States. of such persons of the African race. made free by the provisions of this act. as may be willing to emigrate. having first obtained the consent of the Government of said country to their protection and settlement within the same. with all the rights and privileges of freemen." Although several attempts were made to amend or delete this portion of the bill, it remained part of the legislation as finally approved by Congress on 17 July 1862. Congressional Globe 37th Cong. 2d sess.. 36, 334, 942—43, 1954, 1965, 2996—97. Appendix, 412-13. If such a measure can become a law, the nation is more deeply wicked than any Abolitionist has hitherto ventured to believe. It is a most mischievous and scandalous proposition, unworthy of any man not dead to the claims of every sentiment of honor and humanity. I predict that if it passes it will become like the Fugitive Slave law—it will lie dead upon the statute book—having no other effect than to alarm the freed men of the South and disgrace the Congress by which it is passed.
Once free the slaves, and at once the motives which now require their


expatriation will become too weak to breathe. In the single little State of Maryland, with climate and soil which invite the white laborer to its borders, there are at this moment nearly one hundred thousand free colored people.30The actual free black population of Maryland in 1860 was 83,942 out o fa total population of 687,000. Bureau of the Census, Preliminary Report on the Eighth Census, 1860, 263. Now, notwithstanding that Maryland is a Slave State, and thus possesses a strong motive for getting rid of [her] free colored people, the better to hold her slaves—and notwithstanding the circumstances of climate and soil—that Slave State only a year or two ago voted down by a large majority of their people the inhuman and barbarous proposition concerning her free colored population.
The number of colored people now on this continent and in the adjacent islands cannot fall far below twenty millions. An attempt to remove them would be as vain as to bail out the ocean. The whole naval power of the United States could not remove the natural increase of our part of this population. Every fact in our circumstances here marks us as a permanent element of the American people. Mark the readiness with which we adapt ourselves to your civilization. You can take no step in any direction where the black man is not at your back or side. Go to California and dig gold: the black man is there. Go to war with Mexico, and let your armies penetrate the very heart of the country, and the black man is there. Go down into the coast of North and South Carolina, and the black man is there, and there as your friend, to give you more important and more trustworthy information than you can find among all the loyal poor white trash you can scare up in that region. The negro is sometimes compared with the Indian, and it is predicted that, like the Indian, he will die out before the onward progress of the Anglo-Saxon race. I have not the least apprehension at this point. In features and complexion, the negro is more unlike the European than is his Mongolian brother. But the interior resemblance is greater than the exterior difference. The Indian wraps himself in gloom, and proudly glories in isolation—he retreats before the onward march of civilization. The humming of the honey bee warns him away from his hunting grounds. He sees the plowshare of civilization tossing up the bones of his venerated fathers, and he dies of a broken heart. Not so with the negro. There is a vitality about him that seems alike invincible to hardship and cruelty. Work him, whip him, sell him, torment him, and he still lives, and clings to American civilization—an Uncle Tom in the Church, and an Uncle Ben on the Southern coast, to guide our Burnside expeditions.31The son of an Indiana judge, Ambrose Everett Burnside (1824-81) graduated from West Point in 1847 and served in the Mexican War and in later campaigns against western Indian tribes. He resigned his army commission in 1852 and eventually joined another former military man, George B. McClellan, as an officer of the Illinois Central Railroad. At the beginning of the Civil War, Burnside accepted command of Rhode Island's first regiment of volunteers and subsequently commanded a brigade of that state's troops in the First Battle of Bull Run. When McClellan became general in chief in November 181, he appointed Burnside commander of a special amphibious division that captured control of most of the North Carolina coast the following spring. Burnside twiced refused offers to command the Army of the Potomac before finally acepting the position in November 1862. The next month his army suffered extremely heavy losses in an ill-conceived assault upon Confederate entrenchments at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Burnside was relieved of his post. He later successfully led a Union expedition force into eastern Tennessee and retured to the Army of the Potomac as a corps commander. After the war, Burnside entered politics and served as governor of Rhode Island, as well as senator from taht state in the U.S. Congress. Reed, Combined Operations, 39-43; ACAB, 1: 462-65; DAB, 3: 309-13.


My friends, the destiny of the colored American, however this mighty war shall terminate, is the destiny of America. We shall never leave you. The allotments of Providence seem to make the black man of America the open book out of which the American people are to learn lessons of wisdom, power, and goodness—more sublime and glorious than any yet attained by the nations of the old or the new world. Over the bleeding back of the American bondman we shall learn mercy. In the very extreme difference of color and features of the negro and the Anglo-Saxon, shall be learned the highest ideas of the sacredness of man and the fullness and perfection of human brotherhood.


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


February 5, 1862


Yale University Press 1985



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