Negroes and the National War Effort: An Address Delivered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 6, 1863
NEGROES AND THE NATIONAL WAR EFFORT: AN ADDRESS DELIVERED IN PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA, ON 6 JULY I863
Liberator, 24 July 1863. Other texts in Philadelphia North American and United States Gazette, 8 July 1863; Boston Commonwealth, 31 July 1863; Douglass' Monthly, 6: 850— 52 (August 1863); Addresses of the Hon. W.D. Kelley, Miss Anna E. Dickinson, and Mr. Frederick Douglass, at a Mass Meeting Held at National Hall, Philadelphia, July 6, I863, for the Promotion of Colored Enlistments (Philadelphia, 1863), 5—7; Speech File, reel 14, frames 427—32, reel 16, frames 139—46, FD Papers, DLC; Caner G. Woodson, Negro Orators and Their Orations (Washington, DC, 1925), 247—53; Negroes and the National War Effort: An Address by Frederick Douglass (New York, 1942), 7— I5; Foner, Life and Writings, 3: 361—66.
On 23 June 1863 the War Department granted permission for three black regiments to be raised from the Philadelphia area. When response proved less than encouraging, owing to the army’s discrimination against blacks with respect to pay, bounties, and relief to dependents, Major George L. Stearns, chief of the Federal government’s black recruitment drive, arranged for Douglass to address Philadelphia’s black community in hope of generating interest. Potential recruits, however, constituted only one portion of the audience that gathered in Philadelphia’s National Hall on 6 July 1863 to hear Douglass speak. The crowd of about five thousand was evenly divided between blacks and whites and contained a large number of women. The Reverend Stephen Smith, a locally prominent black, chaired the meeting. Republican congressman William D. Kelley and abolitionist poet Anna E. Dickinson preceded Douglass at the lectcrn with recruitment speeches oftheir own. Kelley then introduced Douglass to thunderous applause. “Although he was not as animated and eloquent as we have often seen and heard him," noted the Philadelphia Christian Recorder of Douglass, “yet he was listened to with the most profound attention.” The meeting concluded with a reading of George H. Bofer’s poetic rendition of black troops in battle, “The Second Louisiana at Port Hudson.” See Appendix A, text 9, for précis of alternate texts. Philadelphia Inquirer, 7 July 1863; Philadelphia Christian Recorder, 11 July 1863; NASS, 11 July 1863; Addresses of. . . Kelley, . . . Dickinson, and. . . Douglass, 1.
MR. PRESIDENT AND FELLOW-CITIZENS—I shall not attempt to follow Judge Kelley1William Darrah Kelley (1814-1890) was born in Philadelphia and entered his father's craft as a jeweler's apprentice after a childhood education at a local Presbyterian school. Following a brief career in Boston as an enameler, Kelley returned to his hometown to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1841. Between 1846 and 1856 he served as a judge on Philadelphia's court of common pleas. In 1860 Kelley, a staunch Republican and firm opponent of slavery, was elected to the first of fifteen consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. During the Civil War, Kelley adamantly supported the abolition of slavery and the employment of black troops; during Reconstruction he advocated the enfranchisement of blacks and the implementation of harsh, punitive measures regarding the readmission of the Confederate states. Significantly inﬂuenced both by labor conditions in England and by the panic of 1857, Kelley abandoned a free-trade philosophy and became such an outspoken proponent of high tariffs, especially regarding iron and steel, that he earned the nickname “Pig Iron." Believing that high tariffs were necessary to a strong, diverse economy independent of Europe, Kelley spent two decades writing, speaking, and lobbying in favor of the protection ofAmerican industries. Ira V. Brown, “William D. Kelley and Radical Reconstruction," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 85: 316-29 (July 1961); ACAB, 3: 505; DAB, 10: 299—300. and Miss Dickinson2. 2Philadelphia-born and Quaker-educated Anna Elizabeth Dickinson (1842—1932) began her career as a working woman, employed first as a copyist, then as a schoolteacher, and finally in the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. At the age of eighteen she first appeared on lecture platforms as a feminist and antislavery crusader. After she lost her job at the mint in December 1861 for accusing General George B. McClellan of treason, she became a full-time lecturer. Throughout the Civil War, Dickinson delivered Republican campaign speeches in New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, and on 16 January 1864 she spoke before a distinguished audience of statesmen and military officials, including President Lincoln, in the hall ofthe House of Representatives. At the end ofthe war she joined the lyceum lecture circuit, speaking on behalf of Radical Republican Reconstruction measures and women's rights, and against Mormonism, large corporations, and craft unions. In the early 1870s Dickinson's popularity as an orator waned, and her attempts at comebacks, ﬁrst as a playwright and actress in the late 1870s and early 1880s and then as a political orator during the 1888 election, proved unsuccessful. She spent the last forty years of her life in obscurity. Giraud Chester, Embattled Maiden: The Life Anna Dickinson (New York, 1951); James, Notable American Women, 1: 475—76; NCAB, 3: 109; DAB, 21: 244—45. in their eloquent and thrilling appeals
to colored men to enlist in the service of the United States. They have left nothing to be desired on that point. I propose to look at the subject in a plain and practical commonsense light. There are obviously two views to be taken of such enlistments—a broad view and a narrow view. I am willing to take both and consider both. The narrow view of this subject is that which respects the matter of dollars and cents. There are those among us who say they are in favor of taking a hand in this tremendous war, but they add they wish to do so on terms of equality with white men. They say if they enter the service, endure all the hardships, perils and suffering—if they make bare their breasts, and with strong arms and courageous hearts confront rebel cannons, and wring victory from the jaws of death, they should have the same pay, the same rations. the same bounty, and the same favorable conditions every way afforded to other men.3The Union army implemented a number of racially discriminatory policies that were not completely reversed until the end of the war. When the first black regiments were raised, War Department solicitor William Whiting ruled that black troops should be paid as laborers—not as soldiers—under the terms of the Militia Act of 17 July 1862, a measure providing that blacks be compensated at the rate of $10 per month, from which $3 could be deducted for uniforms. This compared with the $13.00 wage plus $3.50 clothing allowance per month received by white privates. In contrast to white soldiers, black soldiers were denied the $100 Federal bounty for volunteers as well as state aid for their dependents. Black soldiers, most of their white officers, and many sympathetic Northemers of both races petitioned state and Federal ofﬁcials to change such discriminatory practices. The Army Compensation Bill of 1864 partially eradicated these inequities in stipulating that black soldiers who were free prior to 19 April 1861 receive pay equal to that of whites retroactive to their admission into the army. The bill also provided for bounty payments of $100 and relief for dependents of black soldiers. Cornish, Sable Arm, 184—95; McPherson, Negro's Civil War, 196—203.
I shall not oppose this view. There is something deep down in the soul of every man present which assents to the justice of the claim thus made, and honors the manhood and self-respect which insist upon it. (Applause) I say at once, in peace and war, lam content with nothing for the black man short of equal and exact justice. The only question I have, and the point at which I differ from those who refuse to enlist, is whether the colored man is more likely to obtain justice and equality while refusing to assist in putting down this tremendous rebellion than he would be if he should promptly, generously and earnestly give his hand and heart to the salvation of the country in this day of calamity and peril. Nothing can be more plain, nothing more certain than that the speediest and best possible way open to us to manhood, equal rights and elevation, is that we enter this service. For my own part, I hold that if the Government of the United States offered nothing more, as an inducement to colored men to enlist, than bare subsistence and arms, considering the moral effect of compliance upon ourselves, it would be the wisest and best thing for us to enlist. (Applause) There is something ennobling in the possession of arms, and we of all other people in the world stand in need of their ennobling influence.
The case presented in the present war, and the light in which every colored man is bound to view it, may be stated thus. There are two governments struggling now for the possession of and endeavoring to bear rule over the United States——one has its capital in Richmond,4In an effort to ensure Virginia's support, the Confederate capital was moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia, by vote of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America on 20 May 1861. Long, Civil War Day by Day, 76. and is represented by Mr. Jefferson Davis, and the other has its capital at Washington. and is represented by “Honest Old Abe.” (Cheers and long—continued applause.) These two governments are to-day face to face, confronting each other with vast armies, and grappling each other upon many a bloody ﬁeld, north and south, on the banks of the Mississippi, and under the shadows of the Alleghenies.5Douglass refers to the pivotal battles of Vicksburg, Mississippi (22 May—4 July 1863), and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (1—3 July I863). General Ulysses Grant, in concert with the Union navy, commanded a six-week siege of the key Confederate Mississippi River city of Vicksburg. Defendcd by Confederate general John C. Pemberton. the city and over thirty thousand troops surrendered only when food and supplies were exhausted with no prospects of relief. The victory successfully split the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas from the rest ofthe Confederacy. Concurrently at Gettysburg, over one hundred-fifty thousand soldiers under Union general George G. Meade and Confederate general Robert E. Lee engaged in a battle that resulted in close to fifty thousand killed, wounded, or missing. For three days Lee and his troops attempted unsuccessfully to achieve a victory on Northern soil in hopes of securing diplomatic recognition for the Confederacy and of creating despair and dissension in the North. The dual Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg made European assistance to the Confederacy highly unlikely. Long, Civil War Day by Day, 374—79; Boatner, Civil War Dictionary, 331—40, 871- 77. Now, the question for every colored man is,
or ought to be, what attitude is assumed by these respective governments and armies towards the rights and liberties of the colored race in this country? Which is for us, and which against us? (Cries of That’s the question.)
Now, I think there can be no doubt as to the attitude ofthe Richmond or Confederate government. Wherever else there has been concealment, here all is frank, open, and diabolically straightforward. Jefferson Davis and his government make no secret as to the cause of this war, and they do not conceal the purpose of the war. That purpose is nothing more nor less than to make the slavery of the African race universal and perpetual on this continent. It is not only evident from the history and logic of events, but the declared purpose of the atrocious war now being waged against the country. Some, indeed, have denied that slavery has anything to do with the war, but the very same men who do this affirm it in the same breath in which they deny it, for they tell you that the abolitionists are the cause of the war. Now, if the abolitionists are the cause of the war, they are the cause of it only because they have sought the abolition of slavery. View it in any way you please, therefore, the rebels are fighting for the existence of slavery—they are fighting for the privilege, the horrid privilege, of sundering the dearest ties of human nature—of trafficking in slaves and the souls of men—for the ghastly privilege of scourging women and selling innocent children. (Cries of That’s true.)
I say this is not the concealed object of the war, but the openly confessed and shamelessly proclaimed object of the war. Vice—President Stephens has stated, with the utmost clearness and precision, the difference between the fundamental ideas of the Confederate Government and those of the Federal Government.6Douglass alludes to Confederate vice president Alexander H. Stephens's “Corner Stone Speech" of 21 March 1861. One is based upon the idea that colored men
are an inferior race, who may be enslaved and plundered forever, and to the heart’s content of any men of a different complexion, while the Federal Government recognizes the natural and fundamental equality of all men. (Applause)
I say, again, we all know that this Jefferson Davis government holds out to us nothing but fetters, chains, auction-blocks, bludgeons, branding-irons, and eternal slavery and degradation. If it triumphs in this contest, woe, woe, ten thousand woes, to the black man! Such of us as are free, in all the likelihoods of the case, would be given over to the most excruciating tortures, while the last hope of the long-crushed bondman would be extinguished forever.
Now, what is the attitude of the Washington government towards the colored race? What reasons have we to desire its triumph in the present contest? Mind, I do not ask what was its attitude towards us before this bloody rebellion broke out. I do not ask what was its disposition when it was controlled by the very men who are now fighting to destroy it. when they could no longer control it. I do not even ask what it was two years ago, when McClellan7George B. McClellan. shamelessly gave out that in a war between loyal slaves and disloyal masters, he would take the side of the masters against the slaves—when he openly proclaimed his purpose to put down slave insurrection with an iron hand—when glorious Ben Butler (cheers and applause), now stunned into a conversion to anti-slavery principles (which I have every reason to believe sincere), proffered his services to the Governor of Maryland to suppress a slave insurrection, while treason ran riot in that State, and the warm, red blood of Massachusetts soldiers still stained the pavements of Baltimore.8Douglass's reference is to the mobbing of the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment in Baltimore, Maryland, on 19 April 1861. In response to the Baltimore riot, President Lincoln created a Military Department of Annapolis on 24 April, placing Benjamin F. Butler at its head. It was from his new command in Annapolis that Butler wrote to Govemor Thomas H. Hicks of Maryland: “I have understood within the last hour that some apprehensions were entertained of an insurrection of the negro population of this neighborhood. I am anxious to convince all classes of persons that the forces under my command are not here in any way to interfere with or countenance any interference with the laws of the State. I am therefore ready to co-operate with your excellency in suppressing most promptly and effectively any insurrection against the laws of Maryland." OR, ser. 2, 1: 750; West, Lincoln's Scapegoat General, 51-63.
I do not ask what was the attitude of this government when many ofthe officers and men who had undertaken to defend it, openly threatened to throw down their arms and leave the service, if men of color should step
forward to defend it, and be invested with the dignity of soldiers. Moreover, I do not ask what was the position ofthis government when our loyal camps were made slave-hunting grounds, and United States officers performed the disgusting duty of slave dogs to hunt down slaves for rebel masters. These were all dark and terrible days for the republic. I do not ask you about the dead past. I bring you to the living present. Events more mighty than men, eternal Providence, all-wise, and all-controlling, have placed us in new relations to the government, and the government to us. What that government is to us to-day, and what it will be to-morrow, is made evident by a very few facts. Look at them, colored men! Slavery in the District of Columbia is abolished forever; slavery in all the territories of the United States is abolished forever; the foreign slave trade, with its ten thousand revolting abominations, is rendered impossible;9On 7 April 1862, Lord Richard B. P. Lyons, British minister at Washington, and Secretary of State William H. Seward signed a treaty uniting their nations’ efforts to suppress the African slave trade. The treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate on 25 April and by Great Britain on 13 May 1862. One week after Britain's approval, formal letters of ratification were exchanged in London. The treaty, long sought by the British, gave each country the right to search any of the other's vessels suspected of slave trading off the coasts of Africa and Cuba. Accused of courting British antislavery sympathy. Seward justified the treaty by asserting that had it been successfully negotiated in 1808 when the United States prohibited the foreign importation of slaves, many of the present difficulties would have been resolved. US. Department of State, Treaties and Other International Arts of the United States of America, 8 vols, ed. Hunter Miller (Washington, DC, 1931—48), 8: 753-819; Adams, Britain and the Civil War, 1: 275-76, 2 : 90—91; Van Deusen, William Henry Seward, 320. slavery in ten States of the Union is abolished forever; slavery in the five remaining States is as certain to follow the same fate as the night is to follow the day. The independence of Hayti is recognized; her minister sits beside our Prime Minister, Mr. Seward,10William H. Seward. and dines at his table in Washington,11The first diplomatic representative to the United States from Haiti was Ernest Roumain, who became charge d‘affaires in Washington, D.C., shortly after President Lincoln ofﬁcially appointed United States commissioners to Haiti on 5 June 1862. Rayford W. Logan, The Diplomatic Relations of the United States with Haiti, 1776—1891 (Chapel Hill, 1941), 303. while colored men are excluded from the cars in Philadelphia; showing that a black man’s complexion in Washington, in the presence of the Federal government, is less offensive than in the city of brotherly love. Citizenship is no longer denied us under this government.
Under the interpretation of our rights by Attorney General Bates,12Edward Bates. we are American citizens. We can import goods, own and sail ships, and travel in foreign countries with American passports in our pockets; and now, so
far from there being any opposition, so far from excluding us from the army as soldiers, the President at Washington, the Cabinet and the Congress, the generals commanding, and the whole army of the nation unite in giving us one thunderous welcome to share with them in the honor and glory of suppressing treason and upholding the star-spangled banner. The revolution is tremendous, and it becomes us as wise men to recognize the change, and to shape our action accordingly. (Cheers, and cries of “We will.”)
I hold that the Federal Government was never, in its essence, anything but an anti-slavery Government. Abolish slavery to-morrow, and not a sentence or syllable of the Constitution need be altered. It was purposely so framed as to give no claim, no sanction to the claim of property in man. If in its origin slavery had any relation to the Government, it was only as the scaffolding to the magnificent structure, to be removed as soon as the building was completed. There is in the Constitution no East, no West, no North, no South, no black, no white, no slave, no slaveholder, but all are citizens who are of American birth.
Such is the Government, fellow-citizens, you are now called upon to uphold with your arms. Such is the Government that you are called upon to co-operate with in burying rebellion and slavery in a common grave. (Applause) Never since the world began was a better chance offered to a long enslaved and oppressed people. The opportunity is given us to be men. With one courageous resolution we may blot out the hand-writing of ages against us. Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S.; let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on the earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States. (Laughter and applause.) I say again, this is our chance, and woe betide us if we fail to embrace it! The immortal bard hath told us:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
We must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”13Julius Caesar, act 4, sc. 3, lines 217- 23.
Do not flatter yourselves, my friends, that you are more important to the Government than the Government is to you. You stand but as the plank
to the ship. This rebellion can be put down without your help. Slavery can be abolished by white men: but liberty so won for the black man, while it may leave him an object of pity, can never make him an object of respect.
Depend upon it, this is no time for hesitation. Do you say you want the same pay that white men get? I believe that thejustice and magnanimity of your country will speedily grant it. But will you be over-nice about this matter? Do you get as good wages now as white men get by staying out of the service? Don’t you work for less every day than white men get? You know you do. Do I hear you say you want black officers? Very well, and I have not the slightest doubt that, in the progress of this war, we shall see black officers, black colonels, and generals even. But is it not ridiculous in us in all at once refusing to be commanded by white men in time of war, when we are everywhere commanded by white men in time of peace? Do I hear you say still that you are a son, and want your mother provided for in your absence?—a husband, and want your wife cared for?—a brother, and want your sister secured against want? I honor you for your solicitude. Your mothers, your wives and your sisters ought to be cared for, and an association of gentlemen, composed of responsible white and colored men, is now being organized in this city for this very purpose.14Douglass is possibly referring to the Philadelphia Supervisory Committee for Colored Enlistments, an organization of local civic leaders formed early in 1863. The committee, chaired by Thomas Webster, grew rapidly in 1863 from an initial twenty-five members to seventy-five and included many prominent merchants, bankers, and professional men. Having obtained War Department permission to establish black regiments in Pennsylvania, the committee turned to the actual recruitment of black soldiers, raising funds for the expenses of recruitment agents and for travel and subsistence allowances granted to the volunteers. In response to a lack of qualified officers to command the black regiments, the committee also established the Free Military School for Applicants for the Command of Colored Troops on 26 December 1863. Lib., 31July I863: Cornish, Sable Arm, 217—20; Quarles, Negro in the Civil War, 187—88.
Do I hear you say you offered your services to Pennsylvania, and were refused? I know it. But what of that? The State is not more than the nation. The greater includes the lesser. Because the State refuses, you should all the more readily turn to the United States. (Applause) When the children fall out, they should refer their quarrel to the parent. “You came unto your own, and your own received you not.”15Douglass paraphrases John 1: 11. But the broad gates of the United States stand open night and day. Citizenship in the United States will, in the end, secure your citizenship in the State.
Young men of Philadelphia, you are without excuse. The hour has arrived, and your place is in the Union army. Remember that the musket—the United States musket with its bayonet of steel—is better than all mere
parchment guarantees of liberty. In your hands that musket means liberty; and should your constitutional right at the close of this war be denied, which, in the nature of things, it cannot be, your brethren are safe while you have a Constitution which proclaims your right to keep and bear arms.16Douglass refers to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Immense cheering.)