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There Was a Right Side in the Late War: An Address Delivered in New York, New York, on May 30, 1878



New York , 31 May 1878. Other texts in Fort Scott (Kans.) , 14 June 1878; Speech File, reel 15, frames 297-303, 304-11, reel 19, frames 465-73, FD Papers, DLC.

In later years Douglass remembered with pride the invitation extended by the Abraham Lincoln Post No. 13, Department of New York, Grand Army of the Republic, to address its Memorial Day services at New York City’s Union


Square on 30 May 1878. Despite rainy and windy weather, the day’s celebration commenced with a colorful procession of veterans from the post’s Decoration Day headquarters at the Delmonico Building, on the comer of Fourteenth Street and Fifth Avenue, to Union Square. At 9:00 A.M., as “the crowd grew denser and denser” around the statues of Abraham Lincoln and the Marquis de Lafayette in the square, General Schuyler Hamilton opened the ceremonies with brief remarks. The Reverend John P. Newman delivered the invocation and A. Hamilton Drake read a poem written for the occasion by Latham Cornell Strong. The assembly grew silent as Douglass approached the platform railing but “broke into enthusiastic shouts” when, at the beginning of his oration, he dramatically raised his hand toward the nearby statue of Lincoln. The New York Times hailed the “statesmanship and the insight into the spirits of human action” of Douglass’s address, which was applauded with the waving of regimental flags from the late war. Following Douglass’s speech, General Horace Porter spoke briefly before the Reverend William Fisher Dickerson pronounced the benediction. Douglass, , 449; Holland, , 343.

FRIENDS AND FELLOW-CITIZENS: In this place, hallowed and made glorious by a statue of the best man, truest patriot, and wisest statesman of his time and country,1Douglass refers to a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln, erected in 1870 by the Union League Club of New York City. The statue is located in Union Square, established in 1811 as Union Place, at the intersection of Broadway and Bowery Road, now Fourth Avenue. In his autobiography, , and in his manuscript text for this speech, Douglass mistakenly places the site of the statue and this speech at Madison Square, which extends off Fifth Avenue between Twenty-third and Twenty-sixth streets. A[rthur] Everett Peterson, (New York, 1923), 63-65, 67-68; Douglass, , 449. I have been invited—I might say ordered—by Lincoln Post of the Grand Army of the Republic,2Founded in December 1866, the Abraham Lincoln Post was one of the oldest posts of the Grand Army of the Republic in New York City. The national organization of Union veterans of the Civil War had been organized in Illinois in the spring of 1866, but membership grew slowly until the 1880s when it soared from 87,718 in 1881 to 409,489 in 1890. The Grand Army of the Republic used its large potential voting strength to lobby both parties on behalf of pensions and other veterans’ benefits. Mary R. Dearing, (Baton Rouge, 1952); Robert B. Beath, (New York, 1888); (New York, 1885), 10. to say a few words to you in appropriate celebration of this annual national memorial day.3Even before the final cessation of hostilities, local groups held spontaneous observations to pay tribute to the memory of those killed in the Civil War. A well-publicized grave-decorating ceremony in May 1865, in occupied Charleston, South Carolina, organized by abolitionist James Redpath, is widely credited with inspiring similar Observances nationwide. The designation of 30 May as the day for memorial services for the nation's war dead began in 1868 when the Grand Army of the Republic Sponsored parades, speeches, and ceremonies across the country. In the southern states, Confederate veteran groups observed a variety of memorial days for their own Civil War dead. Frank Moore, comp., (Washington, D.C., 1869), 9-3 1 ; Jane M. Hatch, , 3d ed. (New York, 1978), 383-85, 501-04; Charles F. Homer, (New York, 1926), 111-16; Dearing, , 177-79. Deeply


sensible of the honor thus conferred, and properly impressed with the dignity of this occasion, I accept the invitation cheerfully and gratefully; but not so much as an honor to myself, as a generous recognition of that class of our fellow-citizens to which I belong; a class hitherto excluded by popular prejudice from prominent participation in the memorial glories of our common country. Lincoln Post—most worthily named—will pardon me if I stop right here to commend it for this innovation upon an old custom; for its moral courage and soldierly independence. Abraham Lincoln was the first President of the United States brave enough to invite a colored gentleman to sit at table with him, and the post that bears his honored name is the first in this great City to invite any colored man to deliver an address on national memorial day.

But the duty you have imposed upon me is far more honorable in the distinction it confers upon me and my race, than easy of happy and successful performance. All that can be pertinently said on this occasion, has been said a thousand times before, and a thousand times better said, than anything I can now hope to say. Besides, and above all, the noble qualities and achievements to which we are here to do honor are of an order which transcends the narrow compass of speech. The eloquence of the most gifted orator of our country would fail to fitly and fully illustrate the heroic deeds and virtues of the brave men who volunteered, fought, and fell in the cause of the Union and freedom. “For greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”4John 15: 13. The topmost height of this greatness was touched by those who, in our national extremity, nobly died, that our Republic might live. We need something broader, more striking and impressive than speech, to express the thoughts and feelings proper to these memorial occasions. We need banners, badges, and battle flags; drums, fifes, and bugles; signs, sounds, and symbols; the clang of church-going bells; the heaven-shaking thunder of cannon; the steady and solemn tramp of armed men; the pomp and circumstance of glorious war; the shouts of a great nation rejoicing in its salvation, to express a proper sense of the worth of men to whose patriotic


devotion and noble self-sacrifice the integrity of the nation and the existence of free institutions on this great continent are due.


For such high discourse, pageantry is better than oratory. It can be heard and seen by all. It speaks alike to the understanding and the heart. It carries us dreamily back to that dark and terrible hour of supreme peril, when the heart and the hope of a great people were smitten, stunned, and almost crushed by the stern pressure of a determined and wide-spread rebellion; when the enemies of free government all over the world watched, waited, desired, and expected the downfall of the grandest Republic in the world. It tells us of a time of trial and danger, when the boldest held their breath and the hearts of strong men failed them through fear; when the very earth seemed to crumble beneath our feet; when the sky above us was dark, and sinister whispers filled the air; when one star after another in rapid succession shot madly from the blue ground of the national flag, and this grand experiment of self-government, not yet 100 years old, torn and rent by angry passions, had fallen asunder at the centre, and our once united country was converted into two hostile camps. It is well once a year to contemplate that dismal panorama. But not alone to the gloom and disaster of rebellion and treason does this grand display recall us. It is the province of rampant evil to call out the latent good, and this day reminds us of the good as well as of the evil. It reminds us of patriotic fervor, of quenchless ardor, of heroic courage, of generous self-sacrifice, of patience, skill, and fortitude, of clearness of vision to discern the right, and invincible determination to sustain it at every cost. It brings to mind the time when each day of the week saw thousands of brave men in the full fresh bloom of youth and manly vigor, the very flower and hope of the hearths and homes of the loyal and peaceful North, deliberately sundering the ties that bound them, leaving friends and families, and periling all that was most precious to them for the sake of their country. The spectacle was solemn, sublime, and glorious, and will never be forgotten. New-York was the grand centre where these patriotic legions rallied. They arrived and departed through her hundred gates of sea and land. They came from the East, the West, and the North; from the Empire State5This popular nickname for New York suggested the state's preeminence in wealth, population, and enterprise, and might have been inspired by George Washington's allusion to it, in 1784, as “at present the seat of Empire." Mathews, , 1: 556. with its millions of people; from the Old Bay


State, the heart and brain of New-England, the State of Sumner, Andrew, and Wilson;6Douglass alludes to Charles Sumner, John A. Andrew, and Henry Wilson from the state of Massachusetts, nicknamed the Old Bay State on account of its original name, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, derived from its earliest settlements on the Cape Cod Bay. Mathews, , 2: 1155. from the icy slopes and beetling crags of stalwart Maine; from the beautiful lakes, winding rivers, and granite hills of NewHampshire, where Webster was born, and the spirit of John P. Hale still lives; from the Green Mountains of Vermont,7The Green Mountain range of the Appalachian Mountains bisects the state of Vermont from its Massachusetts to its Canadian border. , 1: 903. whence no slave, panting for liberty, was ever returned, to his master; from the land of Roger Williams,8Douglass refers to the state of Rhode Island and to Roger Williams (c.1603-82/83), its founder. DAB, 20: 286-89. and the land of steady habits;9Connecticut’s nickname, “the land of steady habits," reflected the allegedly staid deportment and excellent morals of its citizenry. Mathews, , 1: 954. from counter, farm, and factory; from schools, colleges, and courts of law they came; they came with blue coats on their backs, with eagles on their buttons and muskets on their shoulders, timing their high foot-steps to the music of the Union, and making the streets of this great Metropolis like rivers of burnished steel.

Never was there a grander call to patriotic duty, and never was there a more enthusiastic response to such a call; and both the call and the response showed that a Republic with no standing army to fight its battles, could, nevertheless, safely depend upon its patriotic citizens for defense and protection in any great emergency of peril. Brave and noble spirits! living and dead! May your memory never perish! We tender you on this memorial day the homage of the loyal nation, and the heartfelt gratitude of emancipated millions. If the great work you undertook to accomplish is still incomplete; if a lawless and revolutionary spirit is still abroad in the country; if the principles for which you bravely fought are in any way compromised or threatened; if the Constitution and the laws are in any measure dishonored and disregarded; if duly elected State Governments are in any way overthrown by violence; if the elective franchise has been overborne by intimidation and fraud; if the Southern States, under the idea of local self-government, are endeavoring to paralyze the arm and shrivel the body of the National Government so that it cannot protect the humblest citizen in his rights, the fault is not yours. You, at least, were faithful and did your whole duty.



Fellow-citizens, I am not here to fan the flame of sectional animosity, to revive old issues, or to stir up strife between races; but no candid man, looking at the political situation of the hour, can fail to see that we are still afflicted by the painful sequences both of slavery and of the late rebellion. In the spirit of the noble man whose image now looks down upon us we should have “charity toward all, and malice toward none.”10Douglass slightly misquotes a portion of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Basler, , 8: 333. In the language of our greatest soldier, twice honored with the Presidency of the nation, “Let us have peace.”11Douglass quotes a famous phrase in a letter from Ulysses S. Grant to Joseph R. Hawley, indicating his acceptance of the Republican party's nomination for president. , 745. Yes, let us have peace, but let us have liberty, law, and justice first. Let us have the Constitution, with its thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments, fairly interpreted, faithfully executed, and cheerfully obeyed in the fullness of their spirit and the completeness of their letter. Men can do many things in this world, some easily and some with difficulty; but there are some things which men cannot do or be. When they are here they cannot be there. When the supreme law of the land is systematically set at naught; when humanity is insulted and the rights of the weak are trampled in the dust by a lawless power; when society is divided into two classes, as oppressed and oppressor, there is no power, and there can be no power, while the instincts of manhood remain as they are, which can provide solid peace. I do not affirm that friendly feeling cannot be established between the people of the North and South. I do not say that between the white and colored people of the South, the former slaves and the former masters, friendly relations may not be established. I do not say that Hon. Rutherford B. Hayes, the lawful and rightful President of the United States, was not justified in stepping to the verge of his constitutional powers to conciliate and pacify the old master class at the South;12Rutherford Birchard Hayes (1822-93), nineteenth president of the United States, had previously served as governor of his home state of Ohio (1867-71) and as a Republican congressman (1865-67). Although Hayes had supported the Radical Reconstruction program while in Congress, events during Grant's administration had convinced him that the remaining southern Republican state governments, as led by carpetbaggers and blacks, could no longer sustain themselves even with federal military intervention. As president, Hayes attempted to rejuvenate the southern Republican party through a program of sectional reconciliation aimed at attracting former Whigs and Douglas Democrats into the party. He believed that the goodwill of southern whites was better protection for the political and civil rights of blacks than federal military force. Soon after his inauguration, Hayes ordered U.S. troops in Charleston and New Orleans away from the statehouses and back to their garrisons, causing the Republican governments in South Carolina and Louisiana to collapse in the face of the armed force of their Democratic opponents. Hayes also appointed numerous southern Democrats to federal office, including ex-Confederate general David M. Key, who became his postmaster general. Despite Hayes's hope, few new southern white voters joined the Republican party and it shrank into a powerless minority in most of the region for the remainder of the nineteenth century. Kenneth E. Davison, (Westport, Conn., 1972), 136-44; Keith Dan Polakoff, (Baton Rouge, 1973), 246-51, 317-21; Vincent P. DeSantis, (1959; New York, 1969), 66-132; Gillette, , 335-52. but I do say that some steps by way of conciliation should come from the other side. The prodigal son should at least turn his


back upon the field of swine, and his face toward home, before we make haste to fall upon his neck, and for him kill the fatted calf.13The prodigal son had to resort to feeding swine to make a living after squandering his inheritance. Luke, 15: 11-32. He must not glory in his shame, and boast his non-repentance. He must not reenact at home the excesses he allowed himself to commit in the barren and desolate fields of rebellion. The last commanding utterance of Southern sentiment is from the late President of the Southern Confederacy. He says: “Let not any of the survivors [of rebellion] impugn their faith by offering the penitential plea that they believed they were right.” There is reason to believe that Jefferson Davis, in this, speaks out of the fullness of the Southern heart, as well as that of his own. He says, further, that “Heroism derives its lustre from the justice of the cause in which it is displayed.”14These statements by Jefferson Davis, slightly misquoted by Douglass, appear in a letter expressing the ex-Confederate president’s regret in declining an invitation to speak at a Confederate Memorial Day celebration in Macon, Georgia. New York , 27 April 1878. And he holds, and the South holds as firmly to-day as when in rebellion, the justice of that cause, and that a just cause is never to be abandoned.


My own feeling toward the old master class of the South is well known. Though I have worn the yoke of bondage, and have no love for what are called the good old times of slavery, there is in my heart no taint of malice toward the ex-slaveholders. Many of them were not sinners above all others, but were in some sense the slaves of the slave system, for slavery was a power in the State greater than the State itself. With the aid of a few brilliant orators and plotting conspirators, it sundered the bonds of the Union and inaugurated war. Identity of interest and the sympathies created by it produced an irresistible current toward the cataract of disunion by which they were swept down. I have no denunciations for the past. The


hand of friendship and affection which I recently gave my old master on his death-bed I would cordially extend to all men like him.15This reunion of Douglass and Thomas Auld occurred at St. Michaels, Maryland, on 17 June 1877. Baltimore , 19 June 1877.

Speaking for my race as well as for myself, I can truthfully say that neither before the war, during the war, nor since the war have the colored people of the South shown malice or resentment toward the old slaveholding class, as a class, because of any or all the wrongs inflicted upon them during the days of their bondage. On the contrary, whenever and wherever this class has shown any disposition to respect the feelings and protect the rights of colored men, colored men have preferred to support them. No men from the East, West, North, or from any other quarter can so readily win the heart and control the political action of the colored people of the South as can the slaveholding class, if they are in the least disposed to be just to them and to faithfully carry out the provisions of the Constitution. They respect the old master class, but they hate and despise slavery.

The world has never seen a more striking example of kindness, forbearance, and fidelity than was shown by the slave population of the South during the war. To them was committed the care of the families of their masters while those masters were off fighting to make the slavery of these same slaves perpetual. The hearths and homes of those masters were left at their mercy. They could have killed, robbed, destroyed, and taken their liberty if they had chosen to do so, but they chose to remain true to the trust reposed in them, and utterly refused to take any advantage of the situation, to win liberty or destroy property. No act of violence lays to their charge. All the violence, crimes, and outrages alleged against the negro have originated since his emancipation.

Judging from the charges against him now, and assuming their truth, a sudden, startling, and most unnatural change must have been wrought in his character and composition. And, for one, I do not believe any such change has taken place. If the ex-master has lost the affection of the slave, it is his own fault. Men are not changed from lambs into tigers instantaneously, nor from tigers into lambs instantaneously. If the negro has lost confidence in the old master-class, it is due to the conduct of that class toward him since the war and since his emancipation. What has been said of the kindly temper and disposition of the colored people of the South to the old master-class, may be equally said of the feelings of the North toward the whole South. There is no malice rankling here against the


South—there was none before the war, there was none during the war, and there has been none since the war. The policy of pacification of President Hayes was in the line of Northern sentiment. No American citizen is stigmatized here as a “carpet-bagger,” or “interloper,” because of his Southern birth. He may here exercise the right of speech, the elective franchise, and all other rights of citizenship as those to the manor born.16Douglass adapts , act 1, sc. 4, line 15. The Lamars,17A Georgian by birth, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (1825-93) achieved prominence as a Democratic politician from Mississippi. He graduated from Emory College in 1845 and was admitted to the Georgia bar in 1847 but two years later moved to Mississippi, where he practiced law and taught mathematics at the state university. After a brief return to Georgia, he moved permanently to Mississippi in 1855. Lamar served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1857 until December 1860, when he resigned to take part in his state’s secession convention. A staunch defender of the Confederacy, which he served in military, diplomatic, and judicial roles, Lamar later espoused sectional reconciliation. After the war he returned to the University of Mississippi but in 1873 again took a seat in the House of Representatives, where in 1874 he delivered a memorable eulogy on Charles Sumner. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1876, Lamar also served as President Cleveland's secretary of the interior (1885-88) and as associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1888-93). James B. Murphy, (Baton Rouge, 1973); , 1186; , 3: 598-99; , 1: 37; , 10: 551-53. the Hills,18Born in Jasper County, Georgia, Benjamin Harvey Hill (1823-82) graduated from the University of Georgia in 1843 and the next year began practicing law near LaGrange, Georgia. Hill became a Whig leader in the 1850s and then backed Millard Fillmore, the Know-Nothing candidate, in 1856. Hill served in the Confederate Senate where he strenuously defended Jefferson Davis against critics. He opposed Reconstruction until its goals became law but then urged Georgians to accept it and take up new issues. In 1872 Hill lost a bid for the U.S. Senate but three years later won a congressional seat in a special election to fill a vacancy. He became a U.S. senator in 1877 and was a leading proponent of North-South reconciliation. Haywood J. Pearce, Jr., (Chicago, 1928); , 1052; , 3: 203; , 10: 194; , 9: 25-27. the Gordons,19Georgia military hero, governor, and senator, John Brown Gordon (1812-1904), was born in Upson County, Georgia, and attended, but did not graduate from, the University of Georgia. He practiced law briefly in Atlanta before working for his father's coal mining company in the northwestern part of the state. During the Civil War, Gordon advanced to the rank of lieutenant general, and, as commander of the Second Army Corps, he led the last charge of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. Gordon’s wife, Fanny Haralson Gordon, accompanied him throughout the war as his nurse. After Lee’s surrender, Gordon resumed his law practice and soon entered politics. He defeated Benjamin Hill to become U.S. senator in 1872. In 1880 he resigned that office to promote the construction of the Georgia Pacific Railroad. Gordon served as governor from 1886 to 1890 and as U.S. senator, again, from 1891 to 1897. John B. Gordon, (New York, 1903); , 959; , 3: 685-86; , 1: 231-32; , 8: 424-25. and the Butlers20Matthew Calbraith Butler (1836-1909), born in Greenville, South Carolina, became a Confederate hero and three-term U.S. senator. He attended South Carolina College for one year. After studying law with his uncle, Butler was admitted to the bar in 1857, and practiced in Edgefield, South Carolina, until 1860. when he entered the state legislature. During the Civil War, Butler and six of his brothers fought for the Confederacy. Butler advanced rapidly through the ranks, becoming a brigadier general at age twenty-seven and a major general the following year. At Brandy Station, he lost his right foot during the battle. Financially mined by the war, Butler resumed his legal practice in Edgefield and became a leader of the South Carolina Democrats during Reconstruction. For over a year, Republicans challenged the validity of his election as U.S. senator in 1876. Nevertheless, in the 1870s, he was able to secure funds for many improvements in South Carolina and tried to reconcile the North and the South. Upon leaving the Senate, Butler practiced law in Washington, D.C., served as a major general of volunteers in the Spanish-American War, helped oversee the Spanish evacuation of Cuba in 1898, and took up a Mexican mining venture. U[lysses] R[obert] Brooks, (Columbia, S.C., 1909); , 639-40 ; , 1: 298-99; , 3: 363-64. of the South may stump any or all the States of New-England, and sit in safety at the hearths and homes made desolate by a causeless rebellion in which they were leaders, without once hearing an angry word, or seeing an insulting gesture.


That so much cannot be said of the South is certainly no fault of the people of the North. We have always been ready to meet rebels more than half way and to hail them as fellow-citizens, countrymen, clansmen, and brothers beloved. As against the North there is no earthly reason for the charge of persecution and punishment of the South. She has suffered to be sure, but she has been the author of her own suffering. Her sons have not been punished, but have been received back into the highest departments of the very Government they endeavored to overthrow and destroy. They now dominate the House of Representatives, and hope soon to control the United States Senate, and the most radical of the radicals of the North will bow to this control, if it shall be obtained without violence and in the legitimate exercise of constitutional rights.21Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives during the Forty-fifth Congress (1877-79) by a 153-to-140 margin, while Republicans held a slim 39-to-36-vote majority in the U.S. Senate. The Democrats won control of both houses of the Forty-sixth Congress. [Congressional Quarterly Inc.], , 2d ed. (Washington, D.C., 1981), 177.


Nevertheless, we must not be asked to say that the South was right in the rebellion, or to say the North was wrong. We must not be asked to put no difference between those who fought for the Union and those who fought against it, or between loyalty and treason. We must not be asked to be ashamed of our part in the war. That is much too great a strain upon Northern conscience and self-respect to be borne in silence. A certain sound was recently given to the trumpet of freedom by Gen. Grant when he told the veterans of Ohio, in a letter written from Milan, Italy, “That he trusted none of them would ever feel a disposition to apologize for the part they took in the late struggle for national existence, or for the cause for which they fought.”22In a letter addressed to Charles D. Miller, secretary of the Society of the Soldiers and Sailors of Licking County, Ohio, written from Milan, Italy, on 27 April 1878, Grant declared that “I trust the veterans of Ohio may have a most auspicious reunion . . . and that none of them will ever feel a disposition to apologize for the part they took in the late struggle for national existence, nor for the cause for which they fought." New York , 16 May 1878. I admit that the South believed it was right, but the


nature of things is not changed by belief. The Inquisition was not less a crime against humanity because it was believed right by the Holy Fathers. The bread and wine are no less bread and wine, though to faith they are flesh and blood.23Douglass refers to the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper as recounted in Matt. 26: 26-29, Mark 14: 22-25, and Luke 22: 15-20. I admit further, that viewed merely as a physical contest, it left very little for self-righteousness or glory on either side. Neither the victors nor the vanquished can hurl reproaches at each other, and each may well enough respect and honor the bravery and skill of the other. Each found in the other a foeman worthy of his steel. The fiery ardor and impetuosity of the one was only a little more than matched by the steady valor and patient fortitude of the other. Thus far we meet upon common ground, and strew choicest flowers upon the graves of the dead heroes of each respectively and equally. But this war will not consent to be viewed simply as a physical contest. It is not for this that the nation is in solemn procession about the graves of its patriot sons to-day. It was not a fight between rapacious birds and ferocious beasts, a mere display of brute courage and endurance, but it was a war between men, men of thought as well as action, and in dead earnest for something beyond the battle-field. It was not even a war of geography or topography or of race.

“Lands intersected by a narrow frith Abhor each other. Mountains interposed make enemies of nations.”24William Cowper, , lines 16-18, in Bailey, , 267.

But the sectional character of this war was merely accidental, and its least significant feature. It was a war of ideas, a battle of principles and ideas which united one section and divided the other: a war between the old and new, slavery and freedom, barbarism and civilization; between a government based upon the broadest and grandest declaration of human rights the world ever heard or read, and another pretended government, based upon an open, bold, and shocking denial of all rights, except the right of the strongest.



Good, wise, and generous men at the North, in power and out of power, for whose good intentions and patriotism we must all have the highest respect, doubt the wisdom of observing this memorial day, and would have us forget and forgive, strew flowers alike and lovingly, on rebel and on loyal graves. This sentiment is noble and generous, worthy of all honor as such; but it is only a sentiment after all, and must submit to its own rational limitations. There was a right side and a wrong side in the late war, which no sentiment ought to cause us to forget, and while to-day we should have malice toward none, and charity toward all, it is no part of our duty to confound right with wrong, or loyalty with treason. If the observance of this memorial day has any apology, office, or significance, it is derived from the moral character of the war, from the far-reaching, unchangeable, and eternal principles in dispute, and for which our sons and brothers encountered hardship, danger, and death. Man is said to be an animal looking before and after. It is his distinction to improve the future by a wise consideration of the past. In looking back to this tremendous conflict, aftercoming generations will find much at which to marvel. They will marvel that men to whom was committed the custody of the Government, sworn to protect and defend the Constitution and the Union of the States, did not crush this rebellion in its egg; that they permitted treason to grow up under their very noses, not only without rebuke or repulse, but rather with approval, aid, and comfort—vainly thinking thus to conciliate the rebels; that they permitted the resources of the Union to be scattered, and its forts and arsenals to be taken possession of without raising a voice or lifting a finger to prevent the crime. They will marvel that the men who, with broad blades and bloody hands sought to destroy the Government were the very men who had been through all its history the most highly favored by the Government. They will marvel at this as when a child stabs the breast that nursed it into life. They will marvel still more that, after the rebellion was suppressed, and treason put down by the loss of nearly a half a million of men, and after putting on the nation’s neck a debt heavier than a mountain of gold, the Government has so soon been virtually captured by the party which sought its destruction.


And what is the attitude of this same party to-day? We all know what it was in 1860. The alternative presented to the nation then was, give us the


Presidency or we will plunge the country into all the horrors of a bloody revolution. The position of that party is the same to-day as then. The chosen man then was John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky. The chosen man of that party to-day is Samuel J. Tilden.25The Democratic presidential nominee in 1876, Samuel Jones Tilden (1814-86) had long been active in New York State politics and played a leading role in the exposure and overthrow of the Tweed Ring that had robbed the New York City government of millions in the early 1870s. Born in New Lebanon, New York, Tilden briefly attended several colleges before commencing a lucrative legal career in New York City. Elected governor of New York in 1874, he reduced government expenditures and enhanced his reputation as a reformer by curbing corruption in the state canal system. Following his defeat in the disputed election with Rutherford B. Hayes, Tilden retired from public life. Alexander Clarence Flick, (New York, 1939); Sobel and Raimo, , 3: 1087-88; , 18: 537-41. The man to be kept out of the Presidential chair by threat of revolution was Abraham Lincoln. The man to be driven from the Presidential chair by the machinery of political investigation is Rutherford B. Hayes. Now, as then, the same rebellious spirit is much disturbed by the Army and Navy. In the first instance it was the policy to scatter, now it is to starve. The plotters of mischief hate the Army. It is loyal and true to the Republic.26An act of Congress of 15 August 1876 mandated the reduction of the size of the U.S. Army during 1877 by about 5,000 men to a maximum of 25,000. The same act reduced the army’s budget by the same proportion, from approximately $31 million to $25.7 million. Naval expenditures dropped from roughly $16 million to $13.3 million between the fiscal years ending 30 June 1877 and 30 June 1878. , 38-39, 536-37; , 28, 589.

This is not, as I have already said, a day for speech; certainly not for long speeches. Though the portents upon our national horizon are dark and sinister; though a somewhat reckless disregard of our national obligations and national credit [is] shown in the words and votes of some of our public men; though the temper and manner of the plantation, which talk of honor and responsibility, are increasingly manifest in legislative councils of the nation; though party strife and personal ambition somewhat distract the public mind; though efforts are being made tending to embroil capital and labor, and to antagonize interests which it is for the good of each to harmonize; though freedom of speech and of the ballot have for the present fallen before the shot-guns of the South, and the party of slavery is now in the ascendant, we need bate no jot of heart or hope.27Douglass slightly misquotes John Milton's sonnet XXII to Cyriac Skinner in , 170. The American people will, in any great emergency, be true to themselves. The heart of the nation is still sound and strong, and as in the past, so in the future, patriotic millions, with able captains to lead them, will stand as a wall of fire around the Republic, and in the end see Liberty, Equality, and Justice triumphant.


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895




Yale University Press 1991



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