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Frederick Douglass to Abraham Lincoln, August 29, 1864



Rochester[,] N. Y. 29 August 1864[.]



Since the interview with which your Excellency was pleased to honor
me a few days ago,1Douglass met in private with Lincoln on 19 August 1864 in the White House. The president had summoned him to discuss the possible fate of blacks still enslaved in the Confederacy. Lincoln feared that his Emancipation Proclamation would be rendered ineffective by a premature end to the war and wondered aloud to Douglass whether the national government might not sanction an unofficial Underground Railroad by encouraging slaves to escape while assisting them to freedom behind Union lines. Douglass would have been the most likely candidate to serve as general agent for such an endeavor. Benjamin Quarles, (New York, 1962), 215-16; McFeely, , 229-35. I have freely conversed with several trustworthy and
Patriotic colored men concerning your suggestion that Something Should
be Speedily done to inform the Slaves in the Rebel States of the true State
of affairs in relation to them, and to warn them as to what will be their
probable condition should peace be concluded while they remain within
the Rebel lines; and more especially to urge upon them the necessity of
making their escape. All with whom I have thus far spoken on the Subject,
concur in the wisdom and benevolence of the Idea and some of them think
it practicable.

That every Slave who escapes from the Rebel States is a loss to the
Rebellion and a gain to the Loyal Cause I need not stop here to argue. The
proposition is self-evident. The negro is the Stomach of the Rebellion. I


will therefore breifly Submit to your Excellency, the ways and means by
which many such persons may-be wrested from the enemy and brought
within our lines:

Ist Let a general agent be appointed by your Excellency charged with
the duty of giving effect to your Idea as indicated above: Let him have the
means and power to employ twenty or twenty five good men having the
Cause at heart to act as his agents.

2dly Let these agents which shall be Selected by him have permis-
sion to visit Such points at the front as are most accessable to large bod-
ies of Slaves in the Rebel States: Let each of the Said agents have power
to appoint one [crossed out or more] Sub agents or more in the locality where he may
be required to operate—the said Sub agents to be thoroughly acquainted
with the Country—and well instructed as to the representations he is to
make to the Slaves and conduct Such squads of Slaves as he may be able
to [illegible], within the Loyal lines: Let the Sub agents [illegible] Service
be paid a Sum not exceeding two dolls—per day while upon active duty.

2dly In order that these agents Shall not be arrested or impeded in
their work—let them be properly ordered to report to the Generals Com-
manding the Several departments they may visit—and receive from them
permission to pursue their vocation unmolested.

4th Let provision be made that the Slaves or freedmen thus brought
within our lines Shall receive subsistence until Such of them as are fit
Shall enter the service of the Country—or be otherwise employed and
provided for.

5th Let Each agent appointed by the General Agent be required to
keep a strict account of all his transactions—of all monies received and
paid out—of the number and the names of Slaves or freedmen brought
into our lines under his auspices—of the plantations visited—and of ev-
ery thing properly connected with the prosecution of his work—and let
him be required to make full reports of his proceedings at least once a
fortnight to the General Agent.

6th Also let the General Agent be required be required to keep a strict
account of all his transactions with his agents—and report to your Excel-
lency [crossed out as] or to an officer designated by you—to receive Such reports.

7th Let the General Agent be paid a salary Sufficient to enable him
to employ a competant Clerk—and let him be Stationed at Washington
or at some other point where he can most readily receive Communica-
tions from, and send communications to his agents: The General Agent
Should also, have a kind of roving Commission within our lines So that he


may—have a more direct and effective oversight of the whole work—that
[illegible] and faithfulness on the part of his Agents.

Your Obedient Servant

ALS: General Correspondence File, reel 2, frames 54—47, FD Papers, DLC.


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


August 22, 1864


Yale University Press 2018


Library of Congress, Frederick Douglass Papers



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