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The Day of Jubilee Comes: An Address Delivered in Rochester, New York, on December 28, 1862


THE DAY OF JUBILEE COMES: AN ADDRESS DELIVERED IN ROCHESTER, NEW YORK, ON 28 DECEMBER 1862 Douglass' Monthly, 5: 770 (January 1863). Another text in Foner, Life and Writings, 3 : 310-12. Douglass’s most jubilant reaction to the impending issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation came in remarks delivered to a Sunday meeting at the Spring Street A. M. E. Zion Church in Rochester, New York, on 28 December 1862. MY FRIENDS:—This is scarcely a day for prose. It is a day for poetry and song, a new song. These cloudless skies, this balmy air, this brilliant sunshine, (making December as pleasant as May,) are in harmony with the glorious morning of liberty about to dawn upon us. Out of a full heart and with sacred emotion, I congratulate you my friends, and fellow citizens, on the high and hopeful condition, of the cause of human freedom and the cause of our common country, for these two causes are now one and inseparable and must stand or fall together. We stand to-day in the presence of a glorious prospect. This sacred Sunday in all the likelihoods of the case, is the last which will witness the existence of legal slavery in all the Rebel slaveholding States of America.1Douglass alludes to the impending date, four days hence, when President Lincoln's Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was scheduled to take effect. Issued on 22 September 1862, the Preliminary Proclamation promised that unless the Confederates had abandoned their rebellion as of 1 January 1863, all slaves in areas still in arms against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." Douglass greeted the preliminary announcement with a “shout for joy" in his Monthly and dismissed worries that the president might fail to carry out the proclamation: “Abraham Lincoln may be slow. Abraham Lincoln may desire peace even at the price of leaving our terrible national sore untouched, to fester on for generations, but Abraham Lincoln is not the man to reconsider, retract contradict words and purposes solemnly proclaimed over his official signature." DM, 5: 721 (October 1862); Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 5:433-36; John Hope Franklin, The Emancipation Proclamation (Garden City, N.Y., 1963), 50-56, 61. Henceforth and forever, slavery in those


States is to be recognized, by all the departments [of] the American Government, under its appropriate character, as an unmitigated robber and pirate, branded as the sum of all villainy, an outlaw having no rights which any man white or colored is bound to respect.2Douglass paraphrases first John Wesley's characterization of the slave trade as “that execrable sum of all villanies" and then Roger B. Taney's language in the Dred Scott decision that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Wesley, Works of the Rev. John Wesley, 3:453; Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sanford. 19 Howard (1857), 407. It is difficult for us who have toiled so long and hard, to believe that this event, so stupendous, so far reaching and glorious is even now at the door. It surpasses our most enthusiastic hopes that we live at such a time and are likely to witness the downfall, at least the legal downfall of slavery in America. It is a moment for joy, thanksgiving and Praise. Among the first questions that tried the strength of my childhood mind—was first why are colored people slaves, and the next was will their slavery last forever? From that day onward, the cry that has reached the most silent chambers of my soul, by day and by night has been How long! How long oh! Eternal Power of the Universe, how long shall these things be? This inquiry is to be answered on the first of January 1863. That this war is to abolish slavery I have no manner of doubt. The process may be long and tedious but that that result must at last he reached is among the undoubted certainties of the future! Slavery once abolished in the Rebel States, will give the death wound to slavery in the border States. When Arkansas is a free State, Missouri cannot be a slave State.3By the terms described in Lincoln's Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, slavery was to be abolished in areas still in rebellion, including Arkansas, but left untouched in slave states, such as Missouri, that had not seceded. Lincoln's proclamation had limited impact in Arkansas until later in the war when Union troops had occupied most of the state. Missouri's constitutional convention abolished slavery in that state on 11 January 1865. Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln, 5:433-36; Franklin, Emancipation Proclamation, 96-102; Long, Civil War Day by Day, 662. Nevertheless. This is no time for the friends of freedom to fold their hands and consider their work at an end. The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance.4Although frequently attributed to Thomas Jefferson, the correct source for Douglass's quotation is John Philpot Curran: “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt." John Philpot Curran, A New and Enlarged Collection of Speeches by The Right Honourable John Philpot Curran, Late Master of the Rolls in Ireland (London, 1819), 188-89. Even after slavery has been legally abolished, and the rebellion


substantially suppressed, even when there shall come representatives to Congress from the States now in rebellion, and they shall have repudiated the miserable and disastrous error of disunion, or secession, and the country shall have reached a condition of comparative peace, there will still remain an urgent necessity for the benevolent activity of the men and the women who have from the first opposed slavery from high moral conviction. Slavery has existed in this country too long and has stamped its character too deeply and indelibly, to be blotted out in a day or a year, or even in a generation. The slave will yet remain in some sense a slave, long after the chains are taken from his limbs, and the master will retain much of the pride, the arrogance, imperiousness and conscious superiority, and love of power, acquired by his former relation of master. Time, necessity, education, will be required to bring all classes into harmonious and natural relations. But the South will not be the only part of the country demanding vigilance and exertion on the part of the true friends of the colored people. Our chief difficulty will [be] hereafter, as it has been heretofore with pro-slavery doughfaces, at the North. A dog will continue to scratch his neck even after the collar is removed. The sailor a night or two after reaching land feels his bed swimming from side to side, as if tossed by the sea. Daniel Webster received a large vote in Massachusetts after he was dead.5Despite the fact that Daniel Webster died on 23 October 1852, Massachusetts Whig voters cast 1,670 ballots for him in the November presidential election rather than support their party’s nominee, Winfield Scott. Scott nevertheless carried the state by receiving 52,683 ballots, to 44,569 for Franklin Pierce, the Democratic candidate, and 28,023 for Free Soiler John P. Hale, Lib., 26 November 1852; W. Dean Burnham, Presidential Ballots, 1836-1892 (Baltimore, 1955), 510, 920. It will not be strange if many Northern men whose politics, habits of thought, and accustomed submission to the slave power, leads them to continue to go through the forms of their ancient servility long after their old master slavery is in his grave. Law and the sword can and will, in the end abolish slavery. But law and the sword cannot abolish the malignant slaveholding sentiment which has kept the slave system alive in this country during two centuries. Pride of race, prejudice against color, will raise their hateful clamor for oppression of the negro as heretofore. The slave having ceased to be the abject slave of a single master, his enemies will endeavor to make him the slave of society at large. For a time at least, we may expect that this malign purpose and principle of wrong will get itself more or less expressed in party presses and


platforms. Pro-Slavery political writers and speakers, will not fail to inflame the ancient prejudice against the negro, by exaggerating his faults and concealing or disparaging his virtues. A crime committed by one of the hated race, [words missing] while any excellence found in one black man will grudgingly be set to his individual credit. Hence we say that the friends of freedom, the men and women of the land who regard slavery as a crime and the slave as a man will still be needed even after slavery is abolished.


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


December 28, 1862


Yale University Press 1985



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