Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass Speech on the Thirteenth Amendment

 

In May 1865 William Lloyd Garrison moved at its convention for the disbanding of the American Anti-Slavery Society on the grounds that the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery by Congress in February 1865, and its certain ratification by a sufficient number of states, the abolition of slavery was now in sight and the goal of the organization reached.  Frederick Douglass, prophetically, in a response speech the next day said in effect, not so fast.  Here is a portion of his speech:

I do not wish to appear here in any fault-finding spirit, or as an impugner of the motives of those who believe that the time has come for this Society to disband. I am conscious of no suspicion of the purity and excellence of the motives that animate the President of this Society [William Lloyd Garrison], and other gentlemen who are in favor of its disbandment. I take this ground; whether this Constitutional Amendment [the thirteenth] is law or not, whether it has been ratified by a sufficient number of States to make it law or not, I hold that the work of Abolitionists is not done. Even if every State in the Union had ratified that Amendment, while the black man is confronted in the legislation of the South by the word “white,” our work as Abolitionists, as I conceive it, is not done. I took the ground, last night, that the South, by unfriendly legislation, could make our liberty, under that provision, a delusion, a mockery, and a snare, and I hold that ground now. What advantage is a provision like this Amendment to the black man, if the Legislature of any State can to-morrow declare that no black man’s testimony shall be received in a court of law? Where are we then? Any wretch may enter the house of a black man, and commit any violence he pleases; if he happens to do it only in the presence of black persons, he goes unwhipt of justice [“Hear, hear.”] And don’t tell me that those people down there have become so just and honest all at once that they will not pass laws denying to black men the right to testify against white men in the courts of law. Why, our Northern States have done it. Illinois, Indiana and Ohio have done it. Here, in the midst of institutions that have gone forth from old Plymouth Rock, the black, man has been excluded from testifying in the courts of law; and if the Legislature of every Southern State to-morrow pass a law, declaring that no Negro shall testify in any courts of law, they will not violate that provision of the Constitution. Such laws exist now at the South, and they might exist under this provision of the Constitution, that there shall be neither slavery not involuntary servitude in any State of the Union….

Slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot. While the Legislatures of the South retain the right to pass laws making any discrimination between black and white, slavery still lives there. [Applause.] As Edmund Quincy once said, “While the word ‘white’ is on the statute-book of Massachusetts, Massachusetts is a slave State. While a black man can be turned out of a car in Massachusetts, Massachusetts is a slave State. While a slave can be taken from old Massachusetts, Massachusetts is a slave State.” That is what I heard Edmund Quincy say twenty-three or twenty-four years ago. I never forget such a thing. Now, while the black man can be denied a vote, while the Legislatures of the South can take from him the right to keep and bear arms, as they can-they would not allow a Negro to walk with a cane where I came from, they would not allow five of them to assemble together the work of the Abolitionists is not finished. Notwithstanding the provision in the Constitution of the United States, that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged, the black man has never had the right either to keep or bear arms; and the Legislatures of the States will still have the power to forbid it, under this Amendment. They can carry on a system of unfriendly legislation, and will they not do it? Have they not got prejudice there to do it with? Think you, that because they are for the moment in the talons and beak of our glorious eagle, instead of the slave being there, as formerly, that they are converted? I hear of the loyalty at Wilmington, the loyalty at South Carolina-what is it worth?

[“Not a straw.”]

Not a straw. I thank my friend for admitting it. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Our Declaration

Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the RINGBOLT to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.

From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain, broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day-cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.

Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852

An interesting video on the preservation of the Declaration.  I rather like that it is faded and worn.  The Declaration has not been hidden away as some sort of sacred totem.  Instead it is a document to be seen by all Americans, which is fitting because it is their Declaration. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The Abolitionist and the Liberator

 

 

Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist of 19th century America and Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, who led the fight to gain the right to vote for Irish Catholics in 19th century Ireland, have always been two of my heroes.  Most Americans tend to be unaware of the connection between them.

Throughout his life Daniel O’Connell had been an opponent of slavery, and made his sentiments known at every opportunity, calling upon Irish-Americans to attack the “Peculiar Institution”.  He was frequently quoted by opponents of slavery in the United States.  While a boy and a slave, Douglass had heard one of his masters curse O’Connell for attacking slavery, and Douglass knew that he must love O’Connell if his master hated him so.  In 1846 Douglass went to Ireland for four months and went on a speaking tour.  O’ Connell was seventy-one and had just one more year to live.  Douglass was a mere twenty-eight.  However, a firm friendship quickly sprung up between them.  O’Connell, perhaps the finest orator of a nation known for oratory, heard the eloquent Douglass speak in Dublin and proclaimed him the “Black O’Connell”.

The wretched condition of most of the Irish moved and shocked Douglass as this passage he wrote in a letter to William Lloyd Garrison on March 27, 1846 reveals:

The spectacle that affected me most, and made the most vivid impression on my mind, of the extreme poverty and wretchedness of the poor of Dublin, was the frequency with which I met little children in the street at a late hour of the night, covered with filthy rags, and seated upon cold stone steps, or in corners, leaning against brick walls, fast asleep, with none to look upon them, none to care for them. If they have parents, they have become vicious, and have abandoned them. Poor creatures! they are left without help, to find their way through a frowning world—a world that seems to regard them as intruders, and to be punished as such. God help the poor! An infidel might ask, in view of these facts, with confusing effect—Where is your religion that takes care for the poor—for the widow and fatherless—where are its votaries—what are they doing? The answer to this would be, if properly given, wasting their energies in useless debate on hollow creeds and points of doctrine, which, when settled, neither make one hair white nor black. In conversation with some who were such rigid adherents to their faith that they would scarce be seen in company with those who differed from them in any point of their creed, I have heard them quote the text in palliation of their neglect, “The poor shall not cease out of the land”! During my stay in Dublin, I took occasion to visit the huts of the poor in its vicinity—and of all places to witness human misery, ignorance, degradation, filth and wretchedness, an Irish hut is pre-eminent. It seems to be constructed to promote the very reverse of every thing like domestic comfort. If I were to describe one, it would appear about as follows: Four mud walls about six feet high, occupying a space of ground about ten feet square, covered or thatched with straw—a mud chimney at one end, reaching about a foot above the roof—without apartments or divisions of any kind—without floor, without windows, and sometimes without a chimney—a piece of pine board laid on the top of a box or an old chest— a pile of straw covered with dirty garments, which it would puzzle any one to determine the original part of any one of them—a picture representing the crucifixion of Christ, pasted on the most conspicuous place on the wall—a few broken dishes stuck up in a corner—an iron pot, or the half of an iron pot, in one corner of the chimney—a little peat in the fireplace, aggravating one occasionally with a glimpse of fire, but sending out very little heat—a man and his wife and five children, and a pig. In front of the door-way, and within a step of it, is a hole three or four feet deep, and ten or twelve feet in circumference; into this hole all the filth and dirt of the hut are put, for careful preservation. This is frequently covered with a green scum, which at times stands in bubbles, as decomposition goes on. Here you have an Irish hut or cabin, such as millions of the people of Ireland live in. And some live in worse than these. Men and women, married and single, old and young, lie down together, in much the same degradation as the American slaves. I see much here to remind me of my former condition, and I confess I should be ashamed to lift up my voice against American slavery, but that I know the cause of humanity is one the world over. He who really and truly feels for the American slave, cannot steel his heart to the woes of others; and he who thinks himself an abolitionist, yet cannot enter into the wrongs of others, has yet to find a true foundation for his anti-slavery faith.

It is a tribute both to Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell that their compassion was not limited to people like them, but extended to victims of injustice far removed from them.

 

In his memoirs published in 1882, Douglass recalled O’Connell: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Theme From Glory

Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters US, 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 earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.

                                                               Frederick Douglass

Something for the weekend.  The theme from the movie Glory (1989), which tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first black regiments raised by the Union in the Civil War;   a superb historical film and a long overdue salute to the black Union troops who helped preserve this nation. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Was Lincoln a Reluctant Abolitionist?

 

 

Lincoln was first and foremost a politician, and the sincerity of politicians is always subject to question, but it is impossible after examining his speeches and private letters not to be convinced of his deep and abiding hatred of slavery.

His attitude towards slavery was well set forth in the following letter to A.G. Hodges on April 4, 1864: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Douglass on Lincoln

frederick-douglass

Part of my continuing series on Lincoln leading up to his 200th birthday.  I thought on the observation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it would be appropriate to take a look at remarks about Lincoln made by the foremost black American of his day Frederick Douglass.  These were made on April 14, 1876, at the unveiling of the Freedmen’s Memorial to Abraham Lincoln at Lincoln Park in Washington DC  An analysis by me will follow the remarks.

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