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Govern With Magnanimity and Courage: An Address Delivered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 6, 1866



Philadelphia Inquirer, 7 September 1866. Other texts in Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 7 September 1866; New York Herald, 7 September 1866; National Anti-Slavery Standard, 22 September 1866; The Radical 2: 110—11 (October 1866); “Campaign of 1866,” Volume 2: 25-27, Box 83. Edward McPherson Papers, DLC.

The Southern Loyalists’ Convention reached a crisis on the morning of 6 September 1866. Delegations from the border states repeatedly attempted to adjourn the convention sine die to prevent a vote on the issue of black suffrage. At 2:00 P.M. the convention officially recessed until that evening but then immediately reorganized itself into “a grand mass meeting” with the ubiquitous Theodore Tilton called to the chair. The noted abolitionist orator Anna Dickinson first addressed the crowded Union League House, and when she concluded loud cries of “Douglass” were heard. A reporter for the Boston Traveller observed that “the Gulf States applauded and the Border States looked grim” as Tilton led Douglass to the rostrum. Tilton himself noted that the southemers were so unaccustomed to being lectured first by a woman and then by a black that they “therefore listened with an attention that amounted almost to bewilderment.” According to the New York Times, Douglass was somewhat hoarse at the commencement of his remarks but “as he got warmed up his voice did good service” and “was rapturously applauded at various points.” Tilton spoke after Douglass, and the session concluded at 5:00 P.M. Several observers claimed that the speeches in support of black suffrage by Douglass and Tilton had an important impact on the delegates from the exConfederate states. The next day, those delegates took over the direction of the convention from border-state members and passed a public resolution calling for federal legislation to establish “impartial suffrage and equality before the law.” At the convention’s close, the delegates adopted a resolution of thanks to Douglass, Dickinson, and Tilton. New York Tribune, 7, 8 September 1866; New York Times, 7 September 1866; New York Independent, 13 September 1866; NASS, 15 September 1866; Douglass, Life and Times, 43637; Douglass to Anna Dickinson, 10 September 1866, box 7, Anna Dickinson Papers, DLC; Anna Dickinson to Douglass, 12 September 1866, General Correspondence File, reel 2, frames 200-01, FD Papers, DLC; Quarles, FD, 232-33; Beale, Critical Year, 184-86.

Mr. Douglass said:—Gentlemen—You will at once perceive I am in no condition to make myself heard by this vast assembly. The work of last


night, and the days previous, have destroyed my voice.1Four podiums had been set up in Pennsylvania Square in front of the Union League House on the evening of 5 September 1866, so that delegates to the Southern Loyalists' Convention could make public addresses. A large crowd packed the square by 7:00 P.M. and listened to speaker after speaker assail the policies of the Johnson administration. Although a text of Douglass’s speech on that occasion has not been located, the New York Tribune reported that it was “a fortunate and most opportune triumph for the manhood of his race." New York Tribune, 7 September 1866; New York Times, 7 September 1866. I had intended to remain in my seat. I had a sort of secret feeling that I have been making myself too prominent in this city during the sitting of this convention. (“Not at all.”)

A word as to my feelings, as to the assemblage before me. I came here the other day with feelings of admiration, reverence and esteem towards this assembly. I am here now to say, however much I had esteemed you, I now like you better as a public meeting than as a Convention.

I can scarcely get one man to differ with me as to the abstract principles which ought to be made the law of the land. When a Convention is organized by electing a President and Secretaries, they seem to lose their convictions of right and justice they bear as men.

I wish that the members of the Convention just adjourned were half as honest and frank as is the present meeting. Gentlemen, there is no need for me to instruct you in your duties. There is no such thing as new truth or old truth. Truth, like the great God from whose bosom it emanates, is from everlasting to everlasting, and can never depart.2Douglass compares the unalterable nature of truth to the biblical description of God in Ps. 90: 2 and 106: 48 as “from everlasting to everlasting." (Cheers.) It is time to go in search of new truth when the old truths long ago recognized and professed shall be put into actual practice. (Cheers)

The title-deeds of truth are inscribed upon the immortal soul of man. Among other principles is man’s right to the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I ask you not to adopt the principles of Anna Dickinson, or of [your] humble servant, but to adopt the principles proclaimed by yourselves, by your revolutionary fathers, by the old bell in Independence Hall, which bears [the] inscription:—“Proclaim liberty throughout the land, and to all the inhabitants thereof!”3Douglass alludes to the historic Liberty Bell that hung for many years in the old Pennsylvania State House on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, popularly known as Independence Hall. The one-ton bell was cast in England in 1753 on the order of the Pennsylvania colonial government. The inscription on the bell is the biblical injunction Lev. 25: 10. “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all inhabitants thereof." Joseph S. Longshore and Benjamin L. Knowles, The Centennial Liberty Bell . . . (Philadelphia, 1876), 1-4, 12-14; Victor Rosewater, The Liberty Bell: Its History and Significance (New York, 1926), 6-16, 144-45. (Cheers.)


Let us come back to first principles. The late Rebellion, undertaken, carried on, [and] persisted in for the sole purpose of establishing and perpetuating a superior class in the United States, intended to make slavery perpetual. It was a Rebellion that brought misery to a million homes; a Rebellion that piled up a debt heavier than a mountain of gold; a Rebellion that has filled our streets with stumps of men, mutilated and maimed; that has filled three hundred thousand rough made graves;4Douglass underestimates the number of Civil War casualties. In the Union army, 110,070 died in combat and 249,458 died of disease and accident. In the Confederate army, 94,000 were killed in action and 159,297 died of camp diseases. Thomas L. Livermore, Numbers and Losses in the Civil War in America: 1861-65 (Bloomington, Ind., 1957), 47-48. that aimed to extinguish American liberty utterly.

Oh, how you suffered! If retribution could ever teach men to revere justice, it would seem that the late Rebellion could have taught you that. But it seems that you have not suffered enough yet. In your resolution you talk about equal justice.5Douglass characterizes the political principles expressed in a series of fourteen resolutions adopted by the convention on the morning of 6 September 1866. The resolutions mainly dealt with the rights of the southern states and the proper method to restore them and not with the status of the freedmen. The clearest reference to black rights occurred in the ninth resolution: “Resolved, That we are unalterably in favor of the union of the States, and earnestly desire the legal and speedy restoration of all the States to their proper places in the Union, and the establishment in each of them of influences of patriotism and justice, by which the whole nation shall be combined to carry forward triumphantly the principles of freedom and progress, until all men of all races shall, everywhere beneath the flag of our country, have accorded to them freely all that their virtues, industry, intelligence and energy may entitle them to attain." Southern Loyalists’ Convention, 35-36. In God’s name, what do you mean by it? What do you mean, while denying equal rights to men of my complexion?

If you mean anything by equal protection, by equal liberty, you mean that Frederick Douglass shall have equal right with every other citizen to protect his liberty. (Cheers.) Do you mean it? (Loud cries of “We do!”) Why, then, in God’s name, do you not come out and say so? I have talked with reverend and distinguished men from the South, and they have said to me, “Douglass, don’t put it on too heavy; have patience; let us get out of the well, and then we will take care of you.”

I recollect an old story about Reynard the fox climbing out of the well upon the horns of his friend the goat, and then forgetting all about him.6Reynard the fox was the hero of the twelfth-century beast fable Roman de Renart, a collection of Flemish and French folktales. A clever trickster, Reynard was the antithesis of the chivalric ideals of the Middle Ages. Maria Leach and Jerome Fried, eds., Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, 3d ed. (New York, 1972), 933-36. (Laughter and cheers.)

But which do you hope to conciliate? Andrew Johnson? (Loud cries of


“No! No!”) The slaveholders? (“No!”) They know you, and never will be conciliated. Who is it? (A Voice— “Thad. Stevens”) Oh! no! Thad[deus] Stevens, that true old man says with his old eyes full of young tears, “I am ready now.” (Cheers.)

Gentlemen—I cannot understand what you mean. I will make exceptions of the distinguished gentlemen of Maryland, Judge Bond,7A native of Baltimore, Hugh Lenox Bond (1828-93) graduated from the University of the City of New York (now City University of New York) in 1848 and returned home to practice law. He served as judge of the criminal court of Baltimore from 1860 to 1868 and used that position to give support to the federal government during the Civil War. Bond also publicly supported emancipation and efforts to educate the freedmen. In 1870 President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Bond judge of the United States fourth circuit court where he presided until his death. In trials of Ku Klux Klan conspirators in North and South Carolina, he sentenced over a hundred to jail terms. ACAB, 1: 312-13; NCAB, 11: 407-08; DAB, 2: 431-32. George Washington Smithers,8No individual with that name has been located. Possibly Douglass is referring to Nathaniel Barratt Smithers (1818-96), a delegate from Delaware to the Southern Loyalists' Convention. Born in Dover, Delaware, Smithers graduated from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, in 1836 and began a law practice in his native town. Originally a Whig, Smithers left that party in protest to its opposition to temperance and gradual emancipation. He supported the American party when it backed prohibition legislation for Delaware in the mid-1850s but ultimately joined the Republicans. After brief service as Delaware's secretary of state, Smithers won a special election to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1863. His support for the Wade-Davis Bill and the Thirteenth Amendment contributed to his defeat the following year. Although he never ran for public office again, Smithers remained a leader of Delaware Republicans and was a delegate to the party‘s national conventions in 1868 and 1880. J. Thomas Scharf, History of Delaware, 1609-1888, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1888), 1: 582-85; BDAC, 1725. and another son of Maryland, “to the manor born”9Douglass perhaps puns on Hamlet, act 1, sc. 4, line 15.—Frederick Douglass. (Loud laughter and cheers.) The dead are listening, the living are listening, the millions in England are listening for what you will do. My heart has gone out towards you loyal men of the South in your cries for protection, but all your cries are as applicable to the four million blacks at the South as they are to you white men.

I ask it now as the right of the black man of the nation; I ask it now, because you have passed through the trial-time of oppression. Now is the time, when the wax is soft, when the iron is hot, to strike.10An adaptation of Publilius Syrus, Maxim 262. I told them last night, after the Convention had adjourned, that there were many things to govern the Convention. They are prudence and management; but there are others—magnanimity and courage.

Voltaire sneeringly says, “The saints are always cowards.”11Ralph Waldo Emerson adapted this quotation from Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire in his essay “Conduct of Life": “It is the misfortune of worthy people that they are cowards." The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Centenary ed., 12 vols. (1903-04; New York, 1968), 6: 29. At least


that’s the truth of political saints. The worst party has always been the most positive party. It was of the Devil, and it declared itself so. But the true party has always been the weak party.

Governments must always be loved by their people, or they cannot stand; but now in the South the United States officers are all hated men. They will not hate Johnson’s appointments, because they can convert them. When, in a word, they have falsified the proclamation of Abraham Lincoln, made it a nullity, and have made the emancipated slave merely emancipated to society, they will be content to acquiesce.

To meet this you want the love of the millions’ loyal hearts. It is a strange fact that the war ended on both sides for the good of the blacks. And the last despairing cry of Jeff. Davis, was “Arm the Blacks, or we are lost!” We undertook to get along without the negroes: to use our soft white arm while we kept the iron arm behind us. But the necessity was known to arm the blacks; to call his iron arm and steel fingers to our aid.

I ask you to enfranchise the negro. The honor of the nation demands it. He has fought your battles when you called him to the war; now you turn your backs on him when the contest of blood is over! Oh! for a little Southern honor here in the North, that these loyal men may not be turned over to the merciless care of those men who sought to destroy the nation! (Cheers.)

The earth yields as richly and as readily to the black as to the white man; the sun shines as brightly upon him as upon his white brethren. We are American citizens, and merely ask to be treated as well as foreigners and aliens. We have watered the land with our blood and our tears, and we are ready to do it again. (Cheers continued.) Events form with rapidity and we scarcely comprehend their significance. Ten years ago he was a marked man for his utterance of sentiments that are now freely uttered in the face of day. The grand gathering in our city was animated by the same spirit that was murdered down in New Orleans.12By the summer of 1866, ex-Confederates had regained substantial political control of Louisiana with the blessing of President Johnson. To revive the fortunes of their party, Louisiana Unionists reversed their earlier position and endorsed black enfranchisement. On 30 July 1866, Unionists attempted to reconvene the 1864 Louisiana constitution convention at Mechanics' Institute in New Orleans in order to reform suffrage requirements. The mayor of the city threatened to arrest the delegates, but the local Union army garrison commander warned him against any illegal suppression. When blacks gathered outside Mechanics' Institute to demonstrate support for the delegates, police and other hostile whites attacked them. The blacks took refuge inside the convention hall, but their opponents forced their way inside and a bloodbath ensued. When federal troops restored order two hours later, 34 blacks and 4 whites had been killed and 119 blacks and 27 whites injured. General Philip H. Sheridan investigated the riot and described it as “an absolute massacre by police." In the political campaign that fall, northern Republicans charged that Johnson's indulgent policies toward southem whites had encouraged the New Orleans rioting. Riddleberger, 1866: The Critical Year, 189-92, 196- 99, 201; Taylor, Louisiana Reconstructed, 103-13; Donald E. Reynolds, “The New Orleans Riot of 1866, Reconsidered," Louisiana History, 5: 5-27 (Winter 1964); Francis P. Burns. “White Supremacy in the South: The Battle for Constitutional Government in New Orleans, July 30, 1866," Louisiana Historical Quarterly, 18: 581-616 (July 1935). (Cheers.) Andy Johnson was to be


our Moses13Addressing an audience of blacks in Nashville, Tennessee, on 24 October 1864, Andrew Johnson declared that the emancipated race needed a new Moses to lead them to “their promised land of freedom and happiness." Several voices from the crowd shouted out “You are our Moses," and Johnson replied: “Well, then, . . . humble and unworthy as I am, if no other better shall be found, I will indeed be your Moses, and lead you through the Red Sea of war and bondage to a fairer future of liberty and peace." Johnson repeated this expression in his interview with the black delegation that included Douglass on 7 February 1866. Washington National Intelligencer, 8 February 1866; Frank Moore [comp. ], Speeches of Andrew Johnson, President of the United States; with a Biographical Introduction (Boston, 1865), xxxv-xlii; La Wanda Cox and John Cox, “Johnson and the Negro," in Andrew Johnson: A Profile, ed. Eric L. McKitrick (New York, 1969), 140-41. (applause); but he has taken the back track. (Applause.) Without principles or friends, for no men or set of men can be said to love Andrew Johnson (applause), and if he lives to the end of his term he shall go down to eternal infamy. He deceived his own party, and when his party fell to pieces, from sheer rottenness, he clung to the rottenest end of it. (Cries of “hit him again,” and laughter.)

When a man says he is afraid of universal suffrage, he is either a knave or a fool. (Applause.) It is nonsense to argue that because the right of suffrage be granted to the black man, he be admitted to equal social rights. As well might the rich merchant ask the vagrant to his table, and the society of his family. (Applause.) The negro asks only for his civil rights: to have the right to be protected in his own family. (Applause.) Color shall never by the example of the Constitution be a criterion of the right of liberty. (Applause.)

The Declaration says all men—all men are equal. God made of our blood all nations of men. The United States were included. There is some truth in the slavery of races, some have degenerated. But every race, even the Anglo-Saxon, has been at one time held in slavery. The enslaved Saxon, and Sciavon [Scandian], and German were down then, they are up now. The time will come when the negro will be up. (Applause.) But they say the negro is too ignorant to vote, and they would vote as somebody told them to. Well, if they did, they would do just as you white men do. (Applause.)

If the Union party do not inscribe universal suffrage upon their banners


before long, the Democratic party will.14In 1866, both supporters and opponents of Andrew Johnson within the Republican party claimed to be the legitimate successors of the “National Union Party" coalition of Republicans, northern War Democrats, and border-state loyalists that had elected the Lincoln-Johnson ticket two years before. Riddleberger, 1866: The Critical Year, 24, 206-08; Beale, Critical Year, 113-15. (Applause.) A candidate for Congress took occasion to see what relation the colored minister bore as a citizen of Rhode Island, and took occasion to say to his congregation that they should vote when they got his papers. (Applause.) The citizen the black man will vote where his interests will be most sacredly guarded. If the negroes know enough to fight, they know enough to vote. If he fights against his country’s enemies, foreign and domestic, he has a right. A negro sober knows as much as a white man drunk. (Applause.) A negro knows as much sober as Andy Johnson in any condition you may name.

Johnson is afraid of [a] war of races.15Johnson expressed concern about the possibility of such a “war” during his interview on 7 February 1866 with Douglass and other members of a black delegation. Abolition has been denounced as provoking the slave to cut his master’s throat. A man has held his slave and kept his earnings for years and years, and then calls him to him and says, “Now, John, I am tired of taking your earnings, and I will treat you now as a man and leave you to the enjoyment of your earnings, and your wife and children.” Is it reasonable that slave would fly at his master’s throat for so doing?

Douglass said, in conclusion, that for a man who had only intended to say a few words he had showed a remarkable tendency of holding on.

Whether he had their voice or not, he would be received as a member of the Convention, he cared not, but he knew he had their hearts. (Applause.) He was the ugly child, and should perhaps be kept in the closet. But to make a man respect himself, you must respect him. Theodore Tilton, that man who never has faltered in his adhesion to the cause of the negro, desired that his voice should be heard. (Applause) Men of the South, men of Maryland, if you must send out an address to Andrew Johnson, do send out that other document from Texas.16George W. Paschal of Texas chaired the committee charged with the preparation of a public address for the Southern Loyalists' Convention. Paschal’s committee reported out its address on the morning of 6 September 1866, and several delegates proposed modifications. Lorenzo Sherwood, another delegate from Texas, presented a substitute address that contained an endorsement of black suffrage. The convention, however, adopted the original address which had skirted that controversial question. Southern Loyalists’ Convention, 22-35. He rejoiced that J. Minor Botts will take time to enlighten the people with the knowledge of the law and the Constitution.17A leading figure at the Southern Loyalists' Convention, John Minor Botts (1802-69) pre-sided on the final day, presenting twenty resolutions that condemned Andrew Johnson and endorsed the Fourteenth Amendment. Born in Dumfries, Virginia, Botts was raised and privately educated in Richmond and later combined the careers of lawyer, politician, and gentleman farmer. He served as Whig legislator in Virginia (1833-39) and U.S. representative (1839-43; 1847-49). Botts was a loyal follower of Henry Clay and an unswerving Unionist on sectional questions. He opposed Virginia’s secession in 1861 and was briefly jailed by the Confederates for disloyalty. After the war he helped organize the Union Republican party of Virginia, becoming a prominent leader of its conservative wing. His political influence ebbed rapidly following his endorsement of black enfranchisement in 1867. John Minor Botts, The Great Rebellion: Its Secret History, Rise, Progress, and Disastrous Failure; The Political Life of the Author Vindicated (New York, 1866); Southern Loyalists' Convention, 24, 35, 46, 57-60; Shanks, Secession Movement in Virginia, 44, 48; Jack P. Maddex, Jr., The Virginia Conservatives, 1867-1879: A Study in Reconstruction Politics (Chapel Hill, 1970), 17-18, 20-22, 41-42, 51-52; BDAC, 575; ACAB, 1: 325-26; DAB, 2: 472-73. There should be a deep ditch between the Union and the


Johnson party—between the Conventions of the Sixth of September and the Fourteenth of August.1818. That is, the Southern Loyalists' Convention and the pro-Johnson National Union Convention held at Philadelphia on 14- 16 August 1866. You are for enforcing the laws of the Constitution; so are the Johnson party; so do you both as to all the resolutions. There is a difference in heart, however, and why should there not be an act? My friends, 1 will stop. (Cries of “Go on.”)


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895




Yale University Press 1991



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