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The Republican Party Must Be Maintained in Power: An Address Delivered in New Orleans, Louisiana, on April 13, 1872


ON 13 APRIL 1872

New National Era, 2 May 1872. Other texts in New Orleans Bee, 14 April 1872; New
Orleans Republican, 14 April 1872.

On 13 April 1872 Douglass delivered the principal address on the fourth day
of the first National Convention of the Colored People at the Mechanics
Institute in New Orleans, Louisiana. Called by Alonzo J. Ransier, lieutenant
governor of South Carolina, “to consider the political and material interests”
of blacks, the convention held its first meeting on 10 April 1872, when it
elected the delegate from the District of Columbia, Douglass, president. Until
Douglass’s arrival, P. B. S. Pinchback, lieutenant governor of Louisiana,


acted as “temporary president.” When Pinchback escorted Douglass into the
great hall of Mechanics Institute on the morning of his address, all “present
rose to their feet and received him with cheers and applause.” At 12:00 P.M.
James H. Ingraham, first vice president, called the assembly to order. The
Reverend C. H. Thompson led the assembly in prayer, after which the names
of the delegates from New York, the District of Columbia, and Rhode Island
were added to the roll. Douglass was escorted to the speaker’s stand by
Pinchback, Ransier, and Isaac Myers, a labor leader and the delegate from
Maryland. Ingraham introduced Douglass, whose address was warmly received,
the New Orleans Bee noting that “in fluency, diction and argument” it
“fully sustained his reputation as an orator.” At the conclusion of his remarks,
the delegates voted Douglass their “thanks” and proceeded with the regular
order of business. New Orleans , 11, 12, 13 April 1872; New Orleans
, 11, 12, 13, 14 April 1872; New Orleans , 11, 12, 13
April 1872; New Orleans , 14 April 1872.

Mr. Douglass gracefully thanked the Convention for the cordial manner in
which he had been introduced, and earnestly expressed his gratitude for the
feeling exhibited in selecting him as the permanent President of the Convention, inasmuch as there were at least twenty men present better qualified
by their mental aptitudes than himself for the peculiar duties of a
presiding officer. He judged that the choice was intended not so much to
compliment him as a chairman, as it was to convey to him a grateful
recognition of his earnest labor in their behalf through all the vicissitudes
of their long struggle for liberty. (Applause) From the response he saw
his inference was right. He regretted his arrival at the end instead of
the beginning of the Convention. He labored under the disadvantage there-
fore of not knowing what sentiments had been uttered, what principles had
been asserted, or what resolutions had been adopted,1Although he had been elected the permanent chairman of the convention on the first day of the proceedings, Douglass did not arrive in New Orleans until the fourth day. In his absence Lieutenant Governor P. B. S. Pinchback served as temporary chairman of the sessions. For two of those days the convention discussed repudiating sympathies and connections with two other conventions: the Labor Reform Convention that had been held in Columbus, Ohio, and the convention of Liberal Republicans. scheduled to meet in Cincinnati, Ohio, in May. The resolution to repudiate sympathies passed by a two-to-one margin the day before Douglass’s arrival, some delegates intensely pro-Grant and others pro-Sumner. New Orleans , 11, 12, 13 April 1872; New Orleans , 11, 12, 13 April 1872; New Orleans , 11, 12, 13 April 1872. and this almost
prevented him from speaking intelligently. He was likely to repeat what
had already been said. He had been six days upon his way, but had used due


diligence to arrive in time, and the toil and fatigue almost unnerved him to

Mr. Douglass said he supposed the object of the convention had already
been fully stated. According to his view it had two distinct objects. The first
was to gather the moral and political force of the colored people of the United
States; and the second was to direct and wield that force in such a manner as to
vouchsafe to those people all the liberties contained in the Declaration of
Independence. (Great Applause.) The history of their liberties was not so old
already that they had forgotten how they were achieved or did not remember
what slavery was. (Applause) There was a time when colored men did not
hold conventions in Louisiana. (Applause) He related the anecdote of the
colored man who was once brought before a recorder in New Orleans on a
charge of larceny. The recorder advised him never to come there again. “I
did not come, Mr. Recorder, the constable fouch me.” (Laughter) So it
was with the colored delegates who formerly came to Louisiana, the constable
“fouch” them with handcuffs upon their wrists. But that day, thank
Heaven, was gone, never to return! Never! never! never! (Prolonged enthusiasm.)
Every man now comes with his own consent and leaves when he
desires. (Applause) The change was vast and wonderful! This country did
not seem to be the same United States it was of old. The sun does not rise
and set as it did in those dark and gloomy days. The very air now seems
more pleasant; somehow we breathe freer than then.

But colored men, like all others, are apt to be forgetful. Do they often
and fully consider the tedious, weary, and bloody processes by which the
revolution was accomplished? They can well recur to the history of the
rise and progress of all great revolutions and gather instruction for the future.
Revolutions do not spring from the ground. They are not the creatures
of a day. The cause of humanity has never made a step, not moved
an inch in advance that was not purchased with agony and tears. Thirty
years ago there was no equality for all men, even in Massachusetts. Under
the very shadow of Faneuil Hall the slave hunter pursued and seized
his victim.2A reference to the rendition of Anthony Burns. As broad as was this great land with its vast plains, its green
fields, and its classic spots, so grand in history, there was no single nook
where the fleeing man of his complexion was not hunted down and
brought back to bondage. There was no valley so deep, no mountain so
high that it was free from the slave hunters. The slave was started up on


the shores of Lake Erie and hounded over mountain, hill, swamp, and
plain to the Gulf of Mexico. Everywhere he clamored for protection, but
in vain. But by the power of truth the logic of events and the blood of
patriots have made him free, and there is no place where, by virtue of his
manhood, he cannot stand up and be absolutely protected. But no step in
advance, as he had said, had ever been achieved without agony and
blood. He referred to the cost of religious liberty. Before men were allowed
to think for themselves about the infinite, Europe drank the blood
of free hearts for eighty years.3A reference to the sixteenth-century religious wars in Europe. Superstition stood in the way, but men
fought for the freedom of religious thought and attained it.

When he looked back over the history of the anti-slavery struggle he
marveled that so much blood and so much treasure had been lost in resisting
a principle so self-evident and so simple. When you come to the essence of
that great struggle which had rent the nation asunder and moistened the
land with tears, it was merely a question of individual right of ownership; it
was whether every man shall be allowed to be his self; whether he is born
for himself, breathes for himself, dies for himself, and shall answer to God
for himself. And that great question of ages is now settled forever. Nothing
must be done that will kindle into flames the passions and prejudices that
are smouldering and dying. Let the dead past bury its dead,4Douglass quotes a line from the sixth stanza of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's “A Psalm of Life." Longfellow, , 22. and let nothing
be raked up from the grave of sad reminiscences unless it be to point a
lesson to the future.

But colored men cannot be reminded too frequently of the men who
strove for them in the early days. The names of such men as Wm. Lloyd
Garrison (applause) and Wendell Phillips cannot be forgotten. They kindled
the first sparks of the black man’s liberty. Abolitionism was first a
sentiment, then an idea, then a principle, and then a great political struggle,
and at each stage of its progress it seemed to be in charge of a different class
of men. The first time it appealed to the polls, it gave seven thousand votes
to a repentant slaveholder, Jas. G. Birney, of Kentucky, for President.
(Applause) It next gave sixty thousand votes for Hale;5Douglass incorrectly assigns James G. Birney’s total of 65,608 votes in his second campaign for the presidency in 1844 to Free Democratic candidate John P. Hale who actually received 150,000 in the 1852 election. Richard H. Sewell, (New York, 1976), 167; Frederick T. Blue, (Urbana, Ill., 1973), 256. next it gave more


than a million for Fremont,6Republican presidential nominee John C. Frémont received 1,339,932 votes for president in 1856. Potter, , 266. the pathfinder to the Pacific and to human
liberty. (Applause) Next it carried the country for Abraham Lincoln.
(Applause) And from here on its history is familiar to every child. Out of
his election comes this colored convention. (Applause)

The war began on both sides against the negro, and ended on both sides
for the negro. (Applause) It will be remembered that in the last lingering
days of the Confederacy, when despair seized it, it imploringly turned
towards the black man and exclaimed, “Help me Pompey, ere I sink!”7A slight misquoting of , act 1, sc. 2, line 113.
(Tremendous applause.) When the war began it was a white man’s fight.
No negro should be allowed to sully the cause of either side. The South
scouted the idea of his help. The North did not want him. Colored men are
called upon to be grateful to the Republican party for their freedom. He was
grateful, but his gratitude was qualified by facts. The colored man can also
be allowed to put in his claim to a share in that glorious result. (Applause)
He is deserving of some consideration. He has been admitted to a number
of important boxes. First to the cartridge box (applause), then to the ballot-
box (applause), then to the jury box (applause), and now, he hopes, is to be
admitted to the knowledge box. (Prolonged applause.) What the Republican
party has given has not all been given wholly disinterestedly.
Even Mr. Lincoln, great, good, and beloved as he was, did not see the end
from the beginning. At first Mr. Lincoln was only opposed to secession and
was willing for the South to hunt down fugitive slaves if she would remain
in the Union.8In his 4 March 1861 inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln denied that he or his party had any intention of interfering with the rights of slaveholders to their chattel property. He promised the South “that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and the laws, can be given, will be cheerfully given to all the States when lawfully demanded, for whatever cause-as cheerfully to one section, as to another." In particular, Lincoln pledged a vigilant enforcement of all fugitive slave laws as a clear requirement of the Constitution. Basler, , 4: 262-71. His second inaugural was an improvement over his first. In
the first he favored the enforcement of the fugitive slave law. In the second
he prayed for the scourge of war to pass away, but said that if all the wealth
of nation must be wasted and each drop of blood drawn by the lash must be
paid for by a gallon drawn by the sword, it must be done. (Applause)

When the very earth was crumbling under the cause of the Union and
the armies of the nation were meeting disaster after disaster; when the
recruiting sergeant was beating his drum through every hamlet in the land,


and received no longer a response to his cry “more men! more men!” when
the Star Spangled Banner was trailed in the dust on every battle field, then it
was that the North was brought up to the point where it unchained the black
man and put the musket in his hands. (Applause) Then they called (ap-
plause); then we came (applause); and we helped to save the country.

Mr. Douglass said he stood there partly unfitted to address the Convention
on account of the injustice of slavery. He had started from Washington
a free man, but he found ere he arrived here that an invisible chain of
slavery was still upon him. Himself and colleagues were told at railway
stations that they must be served in the kitchen or not at all.9On the northern leg of his train joumey Douglass received equal treatment with white passengers, but in his own words, “after Cincinnati, he descended to the dead level of ‘race, color, and previous condition of servitude,’ and from that time onward had occasion for all the patience, philosophy, and good humor he could command." Douglass and his fellow black travelers were not served food or drink at any southern refreshment stop, or even in their car. Separate railroad cars for blacks were but one manifestation of Jim Crowism in the 1870s. Although only Florida, Mississippi, and Texas had enacted Jim Crow laws as early as 1865 and 1866, unofficial acceptance of discriminatory practices was almost universal. , 2 May 1872; Litwack, , 261-65. This incivility
was singly and simply on account of their color, and he defied any one to
show any other reason for it. It was but right and just for the colored people
to use their moral and political power to put a stop to this condition of
things, and that right speedily.

As far as the colored people are concerned there are but two parties in
this country, the Democratic and Republican parties. Men may change as
they please, and factions split off in one direction and the other, wearing
different and specious names, but one is always the party of progress and
the other the party of reaction (applause). For colored men the Republican
party is the deck, all outside is the sea. (Immense enthusiasm.) Messrs.
Trumbull*Lyman Trumbull (1831-96), who was born in Colchester, Connecticut, and educated there at Bacon Academy, became a lawyer and a U.S. senator from Illinois. In his three terms in office (1855-73) Trumbull was in turn a Democrat, a Republican, and finally a Liberal Republican who supported Horace Greeley for president. When the Liberal Republican movement collapsed, Trumbull returned to the Democratic fold. During the Civil War Trumbull strongly supported his friend Lincoln. During Reconstruction he championed reforms favorable to blacks, particularly the Freedmen's Bureau, but congressional veto of his proposals dampened his radicalism and edged him toward a more moderate political course. Trumbull opposed the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson and was one of the seven senators who voted against conviction. In later years, Trumbull supported Populist candidates in the Midwest and drew up a declaration of principles for the People's party that was accepted at its St. Louis convention in 1894. Ralph J. Roske, (Reno, Nev, 1979); White, ; , 6: 166; , 12: 22; , 19: 19-20. and Schurz11Carl Schurz (1829-1906), born in Liblar, near Cologne, Germany, and educated at the University of Bonn, was an officer in the revolutionary movement of 1848 before his emigration to the United States in 1852. Settling first in Wisconsin, he quickly transposed his political skills and interests to Republican party and antislavery politics and was later rewarded by Abraham Lincoln with the position of minister to Spain. Schurz soon resigned that post, accepted a military appointment, and, eventually achieving the rank of major general, saw action at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Chattanooga. In his subsequent political career as editor, U.S. senator from Missouri (1869-75), and secretary of the interior in the Hayes administration (1877-81) his interests encompassed conditional readmission and general amnesty for the ex-Confederate states, the Liberal Republican movement, and reform in civil service, public land, and Indian policy. At the close of the century Schurz remained outspoken in his opposition to American expansionism. Joseph Schafer, (Evansville, Wisc., 1930); James P. Terzian, (New York, 1965); , 1665; , 5: 428-29; , 3: 202-03; , 16: 466-70. are falling back into the party of reaction and are


championing the doctrine of State Rights as opposed to the doctrine of
consolidation. They are honorable men. Nothing must be said against
them, for their past record entitles them to respect. But they are upon a path
that would lead the colored man to ruin. The Republican is the national
party and the other is the State party. It was from the National Government
that the colored men had received all they have. They owe nothing to State
governments. It is not sufficient to be told that the amendments to the
Constitution will protect the colored man. Good things have been in the
Constitution since 1788, good things were in the Declaration of Indepen-
dence, but they were of no avail, because they were not enforced. (Ap-
plause.) All the laws and all the amendments cannot protect the colored
man if his enemies get control of the Government. (Applause) The Re-
publican party must be maintained in power.

Referring to General Grant, Mr. Douglass said “he is the man for
whom I expect to vote.” (This announcement was greeted with tremendous
applause.) “Yet the Republican party has other leaders besides General
Grant.” There is now a man at Washington who represents the future; what
ought to be, and is a majority in himself, and a man at whose feet General
Grant learns wisdom on this question—Charles Sumner. (Cheers and ap-
plause.) I know them both, and they are great men, but Sumner is steady as
the north star—he is no flickering light; for twenty-five years he has
worked for the Republican party and freedom. May my right hand lose its
cunning; may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,12Douglass adapts Ps. 137: 6. and may the day
I was born grow dark and be cursed when I say one word that reflects on
Charles Sumner.


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895




Yale University Press 1991



Publication Status