Frederick Douglass Jacob C. White, Jr., December 1864
FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO JACOB C. WHITE, JR.
[n.p. December 1864.]1In January 1865, a meeting was held at the National Hall in Philadelphia to celebrate the second anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Douglass was invited to the celebration but did not attend. He instead sent this letter, most likely to Jacob C. White, Jr., who served as president of the meeting, discussing the recent victories of the antislavery cause and his belief that the fight for black suffrage should continue. While this letter has no confirmed date, Douglass probably wrote it sometime in December 1864. The letter was published in the 20 January 1865 issue of the Liberator, along with a letter from Charles Sumner and details from the celebratory meeting. Lib., 20 January 1865.
“The work of an age has been suddenly compressed into a single day.
Events have succeeded each other so rapidly, overlapping and overstep-
ping each other so thickly, each rising higher than the other, that we are
puzzled to separate and estimate at its value any one of all of them. Their
variety, velocity, and proximity dazzle us and cause us to lose our reckon-
ing. Only after coming generations of men, far remote from this stormy
and bewildering hour, will be able to describe with accuracy these great
events, and give to each its true granduer and importance. There is one,
however, which towers aloft above all the rest, like the mountain rock
amid the dashing waves of a troubled ocean—solid, calm, unshaken,
and immoveable—and that is the Emancipation Proclamation of Presi-
dent Lincoln, whose second anniversary you are about to commemorate.
Hayti and Liberia recognized;2In his first annual message to Congress, in December 1861, Lincoln suggested establishing diplomatic relations with Haiti and Liberia. Although John Adams had initiated diplomatic contacts with the black leaders of Haiti after the country won its liberty from France in the 1790s, Thomas Jefferson refused to formally recognize the nation, thereby establishing a tradition followed by every presidential administration until Lincoln’s. The United States likewise ignored diplomatic advances from Liberia, a country established by black emigrants from America. At Lincoln’s urging, Congress passed a bill in April 1862 that appropriated funds to establish missions to Haiti and Liberia. By July, Lincoln had appointed the first U.S. diplomatic representative to Haiti, and in February 1863, Haiti returned the gesture, sending Ernest Roumain to Washington, D.C. After Lincoln’s first choice declined the post, he appointed Abraham Hanson to serve as U.S. diplomat to Liberia in June 1863. Lib., 6 June 1862; Peter Duignan and L. H. Gann, The United States and Africa: A History (New York, 1984), 87, 117; Foner, The Fiery Trial, 186, 222, 224; Oakes, The Radical and the Republican,
156-57. the colored man received at the capital
of the United States; slavery abolished in the District of Columbia; slav-
ery prohibited in all the Territories of the country;3In May 1862, two months after the abolition of slavery in Washington, D.C., Congressman Isaac N. Arnold of Illinois introduced a bill to abolish slavery in places of exclusive federal jurisdiction, including territories, forts, dockyards, federal buildings, and American sea vessels. Moderates in Congress hesitated to pass the bill, believing it too far-reaching. A modified version of the bill that abolished slavery only in the territories was passed by both houses of Congress, and Lincoln signed it into law on 19 June 1862. Silvana R. Siddali, From Property to Person: Slavery and the Confiscation Acts, 1861-1862 (Baton Rouge, La., 2005), 154; McPherson, The Struggle for Equality, 97; Foner, The Fiery Trial, 203-04. slavery recognized as
the cause of the war, and its abolition decreed as the only wise remedy;
Virginia half free; Missouri soon to follow; Tennessee not far behind;
Kentucky trembling; “Maryland, My Maryland,”4A staff writer for the New Orleans Sunday Delta, James Ryder Randall, composed the poem “Maryland, My Maryland” on 21 April 1861 after learning of the bloodshed on the streets of Baltimore in the early days of the Civil War. The poem was quickly adapted into a song under the medieval tune “Lauriger Horatius” (also the tune used for the Christmas carol “O Tannenbaum’’) and became widely popular across the Confederacy early in the war for its denunciation of Abraham Lincoln as a “despot.” Shankle, State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers, and Other Symbols, 399 unfettered, her chains
broken, and her limbs all free; Judge Taney dead; Judge Chase alive;5President Lincoln had to nominate a replacement for Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who died in October 1864 after nearly three decades on the court. Salmon P. Chase had sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1860, but eventually accepted Lincoln’s offer of secretary of the treasury. Appealing to Northerners who sought a firmer antislavery direction to the war, Chase covertly maneuvered to win the 1864 Republican nomination, only to see the party nominate Lincoln for a second term. Chase offered his resignation as treasury secretary, and Lincoln accepted in June 1864, but nominated him to be chief justice in order to mollify more radical Republicans. Blue, Salmon P. Chase, 111, 129-33, 224-25, 242-46. Mc-
Clellan defeated; Abraham Lincoln elected;6In the 1864 presidential election, Lincoln and the Republican party—known also as the National Union party—carried every participating state except New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky, and won 212 electoral votes. The Democratic candidate, General George B. McClellan, managed to secure only 21 electoral votes. Lincoln also won 55 percent of the popular vote (2,206,938 votes), to McClellan’s 45 percent (1,803,787 votes). One of the greatest deciding factors in Lincoln’s victory was the soldier vote. Nineteen states counted the ballots of soldiers, and although McClellan was popular with his men in the Army of the Potomac while in command, Lincoln won over 70 percent of the soldier vote. Foner, The Fiery Trial, 310-11; Flood, Lincoln at the Gates of History, 372; Goodwin, Team of Rivals, 665-66. slaveholding abolished; and
brave black men, side by side with loyal white soldiers, winning laurels
for their race upon every battlefield where they are permitted to confront
the foe—constitute a few of the points of progress which rivet the atten-
tion, command our gratitude, and waken high hopes for the future of our
race upon this our native soil. *** Until the colored man can handle the
ballot as well as the musket—until he can vote in the country, as well as
fight under its flag—until he shall be as welcome as a citizen as he now
is as a soldier, he will be a despised and persecuted man, floundering in
the depths of social degradation, a tempting target for all that is mean
and malicious in the American mind and heart—having no rights which
a white man is bound to respect.7A paraphrase of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s majority opinion in the Dred Scott decision. Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sandford, 19 Howard 393 (1857), 407. Let no man say within himself that this
is untimely. The iron is hot, and now is the time to strike.8Douglass loosely paraphrases Publius Syrus’s maxim “When the iron is hot, strike.” John
Heywood, The Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellanies of John Heywood, ed. John S. Farmer (1562; London, 1906), 221. The nation is
looking about for safe anchoring ground for the ship of state, and you and
I know where the safe ground is. Then let us firmly point out that ground.
Our own cause, and the cause of the country, alike demand this at our
hands. I will not argue here. The cause is a plain one. It would be a shame,
deeply scandalous and disgraceful in the nation, to treat us as citizens in
war and as aliens in peace—tax us to support the country, and arm us to
defend it, and yet deny us the full rights of American citizenship. Pro-
foundly grateful for what has been already accomplished, in full faith in
the ultimate triumph of our country and our cause,
I am, very truly,
PLe: Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin, 3 January 1865. Other text in Lib., 20 January 1865.