Frederick Douglass Edward Gilbert, May 22, 1864
FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO EDWARD GILBERT1The letter that Douglass sent to Edward Gilbert endorsing the Cleveland Convention was published in the 26 May 1864 issue of the New York Tribune. The New York Times also printed the letter, but dated it 22 May 1863. Edward Gilbert was an abolitionist, lawyer, and president of the Frémont Club of New York, an organization that supported John C. Frémont for president in the 1864 election. He presided over the convention of Radical Republicans, abolitionists, and War Democrats that met in Cleveland, Ohio, in May 1864 to nominate Frémont as presidential candidate. Boston , 9 May 1864; New York , 26 May 1864; Cleveland , 31 May 1864; John C. Waugh, (New York, 1998), 178; McPherson, 19.
Rochester, [N.Y.] 22 May 1864.
E. GILBERT, Esq.
I mean the complete abolition of every vestige, form and modification of
Slavery in every part of the United States, perfect equality for the black
man in every State before the law, in the jury-box, at the ballot-box and
on the battle-field; ample and salutary retaliation for every instance of
enslavement or slaughter of prisoners of any color. I mean that in the dis-
tribution of offices and honors under this Government no discrimination
shall be made in favor of or against any class of citizens, whether black
or white, of native or foreign birth.2After Lincoln issued his preliminary plans for Reconstruction in late 1863, Douglass criticized the president for not addressing the issue of racial equality. As the election year of 1864 opened, Douglass vowed to support a presidential candidate who would support a more radical plan for Reconstruction to improve life for blacks after slavery. When he learned that a third party made up of abolitionists, Radical Republicans, and War Democrats was to meet in Cleveland, Ohio, to elect a presidential candidate, Douglass supported the movement. He and abolitionists such as Wendell Phillips supported John C. Frémont and a platform that included black suffrage and Southern land redistribution. Washington, D.C., , 27 May 1864; Stauffer, , 280; McFeely, , 231; Stewart, , 251-52. And supposing that the convention which is to meet at Cleveland3At the Cleveland convention, members of the third-party movement labeled themselves “Radical Democrats”; they opposed Lincoln as well as General George B. McClellan, the projected Democratic candidate. John Cochrane of New York was selected as Frémont’s running mate. Hoping to split the Republican party, the convention adopted a platform that called for a constitutional amendment permanently abolishing slavery. The Radical Democrats advocated stricter Reconstruction laws for the South, believing that Congress should control Reconstruction, without the input of Confederate state governments, and confiscate rebel property. Only four hundred—the highest estimate—attended the convention, and its proceedings were deemed informal. Since there were no official delegates, anyone could make a speech or cast a ballot. For example, the Vermont Watchman and State Journal claimed that the paper would have supported Frémont if the convention had consisted of “delegates elected to represent the people.” Instead, the paper labeled Frémont a “factionalist,” concerned only with acquiring office, regardless of the public will. Ultimately, opposition to McClellan rallied behind Lincoln, causing Frémont and the Radical Democrats to withdraw from the race before the election. Cleveland , 7 May 1864; Montpelier , 3 June 1864; Charles Bracelen Flood, (New York, 2009), 107-10; Doris Kearns Goodwin, (New York, 2005), 624; , 2:545-48, , 7:19-23. means the same thing, I cheerfully give my
name as one of the signers of the call.
PLSr: New York , 26 May 1864. Other text in New York , 27 May 1864.