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CHAPTER XV.: “WEIGHED IN THE BALANCE.” - Frederick Douglass, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882 
The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882, written by himself; with an Introduction by the Right Hon. John Bright, ed. John Lobb (London: Christian Age Office, 1882).
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“WEIGHED IN THE BALANCE.”
THE most of my story is now before the reader. Whatever of good or ill the future may have in store for me, the past at least is secure. As I review the last decade up to the present writing, I am impressed with a sense of completeness; a sort of rounding up of the arch to the point where the key stone may be inserted, the scaffolding removed, and the work, with all its perfections or faults, left to speak for itself. This decade, from 1871 to 1881, has been crowded, if time is capable of being thus described, with incidents and events which may well enough be accounted remarkable. To me they certainly appear strange, if not wonderful. My early life not only gave no visible promise, but no hint of such experience. On the contrary, that life seemed to render it, in part at least, impossible. In addition to what is narrated in the foregoing chapter, I have to speak of my mission to Santo Domingo, my appointment as a member of the council for the government of the District of Columbia; my election as elector at large for the State of New York; my invitation to speak at the monument of the unknown loyal dead, at Arlington, on Decoration Day; my address on the unveiling of the Lincoln monument, at Lincoln Park, Washington; my appointment to bring the electoral vote from New York to the National Capital; my invitation to speak near the statue of Abraham Lincoln, Madison Square, New York; my accompanying the body of Vice-President Wilson from Washington to Boston; my conversations with Senator Sumner and President Grant; my welcome to the receptions of Secretary Hamilton Fish; my appointment by President R. B. Hayes to the office of Marshal of the District of Columbia; my visit to Thomas Auld, the man who claimed me as his slave, and from whom I was purchased by my English friends; and my visit to Lloyd’s plantation, the home of my childhood, after an absence of fifty-six years; my appointment by President James A. Garfield to the office of Recorder of Deeds of the District of Columbia, are some of the matters which belong to this decade, and may come into the chapter I am now about to write.
Those who knew of my more than friendly relations with the Hon. Charles Sumner, and of his determined opposition to the annexation of Santo Domingo to the United States, were surprised to find me earnestly taking sides with General Grant upon that question. Some of my white friends, and a few of those of my own colour—who, unfortunately, allow themselves to look at public questions more through the medium of feeling than of reason, and who follow the line of what is grateful to their friends rather than what is consistent with their own convictions—thought my course was an ungrateful return for the emment services of the Massachusetts senator. I am free to say that, had I been guided only by the promptings of my heart, I should, in this controversy, have followed the lead of Charles Sumner. He was not only the most clear-sighted, brave, and uncompromising friend of my race who had ever stood upon the floor of the Senate, but was to me a loved, honoured, and precious personal friend; a man possessing the exalted and matured intellect of a statesman, with the pure and artless heart of a child. Upon any issue, as between him and others, when the right seemed in anywise doubtful, I should have followed his counsel and advice. But the annexation of Santo Domingo, to my understanding, did not seem to be any such question. The reasons in its favour were many and obvious; and those against it, as I thought, were easily answered. To Mr. Sumner, annexation was a measure to extinguish a coloured nation, and to do so by dishonourable means and for selfish motives. To me it meant the alliance of a weak and defenceless people, having few or none of the attributes of a nation, torn and rent by internal feuds, unable to maintain order at home, or command respect abroad, to a government which would give it peace, stability, prosperity, and civilization, and make it helpful to both countries. To favour annexation at the time when Santo Domingo asked for a place in our Union, was a very different thing from what it was when Cuba and Central America were sought by filibustering expeditions. When the slave power bore rule, and a spirit of injustice and oppression animated and controlled every part of our Government, I was for limiting our dominion to the smallest possible margin; but since liberty and equality have become the law of our land, I am for extending our dominion whenever and wherever such extension can peaceably and honourably, and with the approval and desire of all the parties concerned, be accomplished. Santo Domingo wanted to come under our Government upon the terms thus described; and for more reasons than I can stop here to give, I then believed, and do now believe, it would have been wise to have received her into our sisterhood of States.
The idea that annexation meant degradation to a coloured nation was altogether fanciful; there was no more dishonour to Santo Domingo in making her a State of the American Union, than in making Kansas, Nebraska, or any other territory such a State. It was giving to a part the strength of the whole, and lifting what must be despised for its isolation into an organization and relationship which would compel consideration and respect.
Though I differed from Mr. Sumner in respect to this measure, and although I told him I thought he was unjust to President Grant, it never disturbed our friendship. After his great speech against annexation, which occupied six hours in its delivery, and in which he arraigned the President in a most bitter and fierce manner, being at the White House one day, I was asked by President Grant what I “now thought of my friend Mr. Sumner”? I replied that I believed Mr. Sumner sincerely thought, that in opposing annexation, he was defending the cause of the coloured race as he always had done, but that I thought he was mistaken. I saw my reply was not very satisfactory, and said “What do you, Mr. President, think of Senator Sumner?” He answered, with some feeling, “I think he is mad.”
The difference in opinion on this question between these two great men was the cause of bitter personal estrangement, and one which I intensely regretted. The truth is, that neither was entirely just to the other, because neither saw the other in his true character; and having once fallen asunder, the occasion never came when they could be brought together.
Variance between great men finds no healing influence in the atmosphere of Washington. Interested parties are ever ready to fan the flame of animosity and magnify the grounds of hostility in order to gain the favour of one or the other. This is perhaps true in some degree in every community; but it is especially so of the National Capital, and this for the reason that there is ever a large class of people here dependent upon the influence and favour of powerful public men for their daily bread.
My selection to visit Santo Domingo with the commission sent thither, was another point indicating the difference between the old time and the new. It placed me on the deck of an American man-of-war, manned by one hundred marines and five hundred men-of-wars-men, under the national flag, which I could now call mine, in common with other American citizens, and gave me a place not in the forecastle, among the hands, nor in the caboose with the cooks, but in the captain’s saloon, and in the society of gentlemen, scientists, and statesmen. It would be a pleasing task to narrate the varied experiences and the distinguished persons encountered in this Santo Domingo tour, but the material is too boundless for the limits of these pages. I can only say, it was highly interesting and instructive. The conversations at the captain’s table, at which I had the honour of a seat, were usually led by Messrs. Wade, Howe, and White—the three commissioners; and by Mr. Hurlburt of the New York World; the last-named gentleman impressed me as one remarkable for knowledge and refinement, in which he was no whit behind Messrs. Howe and White. As for the Hon. Benj. F. Wade, he was there, as everywhere, abundant in knowledge and experience, fully able to take care of himself in the discussion of any subject in which he chose to take a part. In a circle so brilliant, it is no affectation of modesty to say I was for the most part a listener and a learner. The commander of our good ship on this voyage, Capt. Temple, now promoted to the position of Commodore, was a very imposing man, and deported himself with much dignity towards us all. For his treatment of me I am especially grateful. A son of the United States navy as he was—a department of our service considerably distinguished for its aristocratic tendencies—I expected to find something a little forbidding in his manner; but I am bound to say that in this I was agreeably disappointed. Both the commander and the officers under him bore themselves in a friendly manner towards me during all the voyage, and this is saying a great thing for them, for the spectacle presented by a coloured man seated at the captain’s table was not only unusual, but had never before occurred in the history of the United States navy. If during this voyage there was anything to complain of, it was not in the men in authority, or in the conduct of the thirty gentlemen who went out as the honoured guests of the expedition, but in the coloured waiters. My presence and position seemed to trouble them from its incomprehensibility; and they did not know exactly how to deport themselves towards me. Possibly they may have detected in me something of the same sort in respect to themselves; at any rate we seemed awkwardly related to each other during several weeks of the voyage. In their eyes I was Fred. Douglass suddenly, and possibly undeservedly, lifted above them. The fact that I was coloured and they were coloured had so long made us equal, that the contradiction now presented was too much for them. After all, I have no blame for Sam and Garrett. They were trained in the school of servility to believe that white men alone were entitled to be waited upon by coloured men; and the lesson taught by my presence on the “Tennessee” was not to be learned upon the instant, without thought and experience. I refer to the matter simply as an incident quite commonly met with in the lives of coloured men who, by their own exertions or otherwise, have happened to occupy positions of respectability and honour. While the rank and file of our race quote with much vehemence the doctrine of human equality, they are often among the first to deny and denounce it in practice. Of course this is true only of the more ignorant. Intelligence is a great leveller here as elsewhere. It sees plainly the real worth of men and things, and is not easily imposed upon by the dressed-up emptiness of human pride.
With a coloured man as conductor on a sleeping car, the last to have his bed made up at night, and the last to have his boots blacked in the morning, and the last to be served in any way, is the coloured passenger. This conduct is the homage which the black man pays to the white man’s prejudice, whose wishes, like a well-trained servant, he is taught to anticipate and obey. Time, education, and circumstances are rapidly destroying these mere colour distinctions, and men will be valued in this country as well as in others, for what they are, and for what they can do.
My appointment at the hands of President Grant to a seat in the council—by way of eminence sometimes called the Upper House of the territorial legislature of the District of Columbia—at the time it was made, must be taken as a signal evidence of his high sense of justice, fairness, and impartiality. The coloured people of the district constituted then, as now, about one-third of the whole population. They were given by Gen. Grant, three members of this legislative council—a representation more proportionate than any that has existed since the Government has passed into the hands of commissioners, for they have all been white men.
It has sometimes been asked why I am called “Honourable.” My appointment to this council must explain this, as it explains the impartiality of Gen. Grant, though I fear it will hardly sustain this prodigious handle to my name, as well as it does the former part of this proposition. The members of this district council were required to be appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the United States Senate. This is the ground, and only ground that I know of, upon which anybody has claimed this title for me. I do not pretend that the foundation is a very good one, but as I have generally allowed people to call me what they pleased, and as there is nothing necessarily dishonourable in this, I have never taken the pains to dispute its application and propriety; and yet I confess that I am never so spoken of without feeling a trifle uncomfortable—about as much so as when I am called, as I sometimes am, the Rev. Frederick Douglass. My stay in this legislative body was of short duration. My vocation abroad left me little time to study the many matters of local legislation; hence my resignation, and the appointment of my son Lewis to fill out my term.
I have thus far told my story without copious quotations from my letters, speeches, or other writings, and shall not depart from this rule in what remains to be told, except to insert here my speech, delivered at Arlington, near the monument to the “Unknown Loyal Dead,” on Decoration Day, 1871. It was delivered under impressive circumstances, in presence of President Grant, his Cabinet, and a great multitude of distinguished people, and expresses, as I think, the true view which should be taken of the great conflict between slavery and freedom to which it refers.
“Friends and Fellow Citizens. Tarry here for a moment. My words shall be few and simple. The solemn rites of this hour and place call for no lengthened speech. There is in the very air of this resting ground of the unknown dead a silent, subtle, and an all-pervading eloquence, far more touching, impressive, and thrilling, than living lips have ever uttered. Into the measureless depths of every loyal soul it is now whispering lessons of all that is precious, priceless, holiest, and most enduring in human existence.
“Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperilled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.
“Those unknown heroes whose whitened bones have been piously gathered here, and whose green graves we now strew with sweet and beautiful flowers, choice emblems alike of pure hearts and brave spirits, reached in their glorious career that last highest point of nobleness beyond which human power cannot go. They died for their country.
“No loftier tribute can be paid to the most illustrious of all the benefactors of mankind than we pay to these unrecognised soldiers, when we write above their graves this shining epitaph.
“When the dark and vengeful spirit of slavery, always ambitious, preferring to rule in hell to serving in heaven, fired the Southern heart and stirred all the malign elements of discord; when our great Republic, the hope of freedom and self-government throughout the world, had reached the point of supreme peril; when the Union of these States was torn and rent asunder at the centre, and the armies of a gigantic rebellion came forth with broad blades and bloody hands to destroy the very foundation of American society, the unknown braves who flung themselves into the yawning chasm, where cannon roared and bullets whistled, fought and fell. They died for their country.
“We are sometimes asked, in the name of patriotism, to forget the merits of this fearful struggle, and to remember with equal admiration those who struck at the nation’s life and those who struck to save it,—those who fought for slavery, and those who fought for liberty and justice.
“I am no minister of malice. I would not strike the fallen. I would not repel the repentant, but may my “right hand forget her cunning, and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” if I forget the difference between the parties to that terrible, protracted, and bloody conflict.
“If we ought to forget a war which has filled our land with widows and orphans, which has made stumps of men in the very flower of their youth; sent them on the journey of life armless, legless, maimed and mutilated; which has piled up a debt heavier than a mountain of gold—swept uncounted thousands of men into bloody graves, and planted agony by a million hearthstones; I say if this war is to be forgotten, I ask in the name of all things sacred what shall men remember?
“The essence and significance of our devotions here to-day are not to be found in the fact that the men whose remains fill these graves were brave in battle. If we met simply to show our sense of bravery, we should find enough to kindle admiration on both sides. In the raging storm of fire and blood, in the fierce torrent of shot and shell, of sword and bayonet, whether on foot or on horse, unflinching courage marked the rebel not less than the loyal soldier.
“But we are not here to applaud manly courage, save as it has been displayed in a noble cause. We must never forget that victory to the rebellion meant death to the Republic. We must never forget that the loyal soldiers who rest beneath this sod flung themselves between the nation and the nation’s destroyers. If to-day we have a country not boiling in an agony of blood like France, if now we have a united country, no longer cursed by the hell-black system of human bondage; if the American name is no longer a by-word and a hissing to the mocking earth; if the star-spangled banner floats only over free American citizens in every quarter of the land, and our country has before it a long and glorious career of justice, liberty, and civilization, we are indebted to the unselfish devotion of the noble army who rest in these honoured graves all around us.”
In the month of April, 1872, I had the honour to attend and preside over a National Convention of coloured citizens, held in New Orleans. It was a critical period in the history of the Republican party, as well as in that of the country. Emment men who had hitherto been looked upon as the pillars of Republicanism had become dissatisfied with President Grant’s administration, and determined to defeat his nomination for a second term. The leaders in this unfortunate revolt were Messrs. Trumbull, Schurz, Greeley, and Sumner. Mr. Schurz had already succeeded in destroying the Republican party in the State of Missouri, and it seemed to be his ambition to be the founder of a new party, and to him, more than to any other man, belongs the credit of what was once known as the Liberal Republican party which made Horace Greeley its standard bearer in the campaign of that year.
At the time of the Convention in New Orleans the elements of this new combination were just coming together. The division in the Republican ranks seemed to be growing deeper and broader every day. The coloured people of the country were much affected by the threatened disruption, and their leaders were much divided as to the side upon which they should give their voice and their votes. The names of Greeley and Sumner, on account of their long and earnest advocacy of justice and liberty to the blacks, had powerful attractions for the newly enfranchised class; and there was in this Convention at New Orleans, naturally enough, a strong disposition to fraternize with the new party and follow the lead of their old friends. Against this policy I exerted whatever influence I possessed, and, I think, succeeded in holding back that Convention from what I felt sure then would have been a fatal political blunder, and time has proved the correctness of that position. My speech on taking the chair on that occasion was telegraphed from New Orleans in full to the New York Herald, and the key-note of it was that there was no path out of the Republican party that did not lead directly into the Democratic party—away from our friends and directly to our enemies. Happily this Convention pretty largely agreed with me, and its members have not since regretted that agreement.
From this Convention onward, until the nomination and election of Grant and Wilson, I was actively engaged on the stump, a part of the time in Virginia with the Hon. Henry Wilson, in North Carolina with John M. Longston and John H. Smyth, and in the State of Maine with Senator Hamlin, Gen. B. F. Butler, Gen. Woodford, and the Hon. James G. Blaine.
Since 1872 I have been regularly what my old friend Parker Pillsbury would call a “field hand” in every important political campaign, and at each National Convention have sided with what has been called the stalwart element of the Republican party. It was in the Grant Presidential campaign that New York took an advanced step in the renunciation of a timid policy. The Republicans of that State not having the fear of popular prejudice before their eyes placed my name as an Elector at large at the head of their Presidental ticket. Considering the deep-rooted sentiment of the masses against negroes, the noise and tumult likely to be raised, especially among our adopted citizens of Irish descent, this was a bold and manly proceeding, and one for which the Republicans of the State of New York deserve the gratitude of every coloured citizen of the Republic, for it was a blow at popular prejudice, in a quarter where it was capable of making the strongest resistance. The result proved not only the justice and generosity of the measure, but its wisdom. The Republicans carried the State by a majority of fifty thousand over the heads of the Liberal Republican and the Democratic parties combined.
Equally significant of the turn now taken in the political sentiment of the country, was the action of the Republican Electoral College at its meeting in Albany, when it committed to my custody the sealed-up electoral vote of the great State of New York, and commissioned me to bring that vote to the National Capital. Only a few years before, any coloured man was forbidden by law to carry a United States mail bag from one post-office to another. He was not allowed to touch the sacred leather, though locked in “triple steel;” but now, not a mail bag, but a document which was to decide the Presidential questions with all its momentous interests, was committed to the hands of one of this despised class; and around him, in the execution of his trust, was thrown all the safeguards provided by the Constitution and the laws of the land. Though I worked hard and long, to secure the nomination and the election of Gen. Grant in 1872, I neither received nor sought office under him. He was my choice upon grounds altogether free from selfish or personal considerations. I supported him because he had done, and would do, all he could to save, not only the country from ruin, but the emancipated class from oppression and ultimate destruction; and because Mr. Greeley, with the Democratic party behind him, would not have the power, even if he had the disposition, to afford us the needed protection which our peculiar condition required. I could easily have secured the appointment as Minister to Hayti, but preferred to urge the claims of my friend, Ebenezer Bassett, a gentleman and a scholar, and a man well fitted by his good sense and amiable qualities to fill the position with credit to himself and his country. It is with a certain degree of pride that I am able to say that my opinion of the wisdom of sending Mr. Bassett to Hayti has been fully justified by the creditable manner in which, for eight years, he discharged the difficult duties of that position; for I have the assurance of the Hon. Hamilton Fish, Secretary of State of the United States, that Mr. Bassett was a good Minister. In so many words, the ex-Secretary told me, that he “wished that one-half of his Ministers abroad performed their duties as well as Mr. Bassett.” To those who know the Hon. Hamilton Fish, this compliment will not be deemed slight, for few men are less given to exaggeration and are more scrupulously exact in the observance of law, and in the use of language, than is that gentleman. While speaking in this strain of complacency in reference to Mr. Bassett, I take pleasure also in bearing my testimony, based upon knowledge obtained at the State Department, that Mr. John Mercer Langston, the present Minister to Hayti, has acquitted himself with equal wisdom and ability to that of Mr. Bassett in the same position. Having known both these gentlemen in their youth, when the one was at Yale, and the other at Oberlin College, and witnessed their efforts to qualify themselves for positions of usefulness, it has afforded me no limited satisfaction to see them rise in the world. Such men increase the faith of all, in the possibilities of their race, and make it easier for those who are to come after them.
The unveiling of the Lincoln Monument in Lincoln Park, Washington, April 14th, 1876, and the part taken by me in the ceremonies of that grand occasion, take rank among the most interesting incidents of my life, since it brought me into mental communication with a greater number of the influential and distinguished men of the country than any I had before known. There were present the President of the United States and his Cabinet, Judges of the Supreme Court, the Senate and House of Representatives, and many thousands of citizens to listen to my address upon the illustrious man in whose memory the coloured people of the United States had, as a mark of their gratitude, erected that impressive monument. Occasions like this have done wonders in the removal of popular prejudice, and in lifting into consideration the coloured race; and I reckon it one of the high privileges of my life, that I was permitted to have a share in this and several other like celebrations.
The following is the substance of the oration delivered by me on the occasion of the unveiling of the freedmen’s monument, in memory of abraham lincoln, in lincoln park, washington, d. c., april 14, 1876.
“Friends and fellow citizens.
“I WARMLY congratulate you upon the highly interesting object which has caused you to assemble in such numbers and spirit as you have to-day. This occasion is in some respects remarkable. Wise and thoughtful men of our race, who shall come after us, and study the lesson of our history in the United States; who shall survey the long and dreary spaces over which we have travelled; who shall count the links in the great chain of events by which we have reached our present position, will make a note of this occasion; they will think of it and speak of it with a sense of manly pride and complacency.
“I congratulate you, also, upon the very favourable circumstances in which we meet to-day. They are high, inspiring, and uncommon. They lend grace, glory, and significance to the object for which we have met. Nowhere else in this great country, with its uncounted towns and cities, unlimited wealth, and immeasurable territory extending from sea to sea, could conditions be found more favourable to the success of this occasion than here.
“We stand to-day at the national centre to perform something like a national act—an act which is to go into history; and we are here where every pulsation of the national heart can be heard, felt, and reciprocated. A thousand wires, fed with thought and winged with lightning, put us in instantaneous communication with the loyal and true men all over this country.
“Few facts could better illustrate the vast and wonderful change which has taken place in our condition as a people, than the fact of our assembling here for the purpose we have to-day. Harmless, beautiful, proper, and praiseworthy as this demonstration is, I cannot forget that no such demonstration would have been tolerated here twenty years ago. The spirit of slavery and barbarism, which still lingers to blight and destroy in some dark and distant parts of our country, would have made our assembling here the signal and excuse for opening upon us all the flood-gates of wrath and violence. That we are here in peace to-day is a compliment and a credit to American civilization, and a prophecy of still greater national enlightenment and progress in the future. I refer to the past not in malice, for this is no day for malice; but simply to place more distinctly in front the gratifying and glorious change which has come both to our white fellow-citizens and ourselves, and to congratulate all upon the contrast between now and then; the new dispensation of freedom with its thousand blessings to both races, and the old dispensation of slavery with its ten thousand evils to both races—white and black. In view, then, of the past, the present, and the future, with the long and dark history of our bondage behind us, and with liberty, progress, and enlightenment before us, I again congratulate you upon this auspicious day and hour.
“Friends and fellow citizens, the story of our presence here is soon and easily told. We are here in the District of Columbia, here in the city of Washington, the most luminous point of American territory; a city recently transformed and made beautiful in its body and in its spirit; we are here in the place where the ablest and best men of the country are sent to devise the policy, enact the laws, and shape the destiny of the Republic; we are here, with the stately pillars and majestic dome of the Capitol of the nation looking down upon us; we are here, with the broad earth freshly adorned with the foliage and flowers of spring for our church, and all races, colours, and conditions of men for our congregation—in a word, we are here to express, as best we may, by appropriate forms and ceremonies, our grateful sense of the vast, high, and pre-eminent services rendered to ourselves, to our race, to our country, and to the whole world by Abraham Lincoln.
“The sentiment that brings us here to-day is one of the noblest that can stir and thrill the human heart. It has crowned and made glorious the high places of all civilized nations with the grandest and most enduring works of art, designed to illustrate the characters and perpetuate the memories of great public men. It is the sentiment which from year to year adorns with fragrant and beautiful flowers the graves of our loyal, brave, and patriotic soldiers who fell in defence of the Union and liberty. It is the sentiment of gratitude and appreciation, which often, in the presence of many who hear me, has filled yonder heights of Arlington with the eloquence of eulogy and the sublime enthusiasm of poetry and song; a sentiment which can never die while the Republic lives.
“For the first time in the history of our people, and in the history of the whole American people, we join in this high worship, and march conspicuously in the line of this time-honoured custom. First things are always interesting, and this is one of our first things. It is the first time that, in this form and manner, we have sought to do honour to an American great man, however deserving and illustrious. I commend the fact to notice; let it be told in every part of the Republic; let men of all parties and opinions hear it; let those who despise us, not less than those who respect us, know that now and here, in the spirit of liberty, loyalty, and gratitude, let it be known everywhere, and by everybody who takes an interest in human progress and in the amelioration of the condition of mankind, that, in the presence and with the approval of the members of the American House of Representatives, reflecting the general sentiment of the country; that in the presence of that august body, the American Senate, representing the highest intelligence and the calmest judgment in the country; in presence of the Supreme Court and Chief-Justice of the United States, to whose decisions we all patriotically bow; in the presence and under the steady eye of the honoured and trusted President of the United States, with the members of his wise and patriotic Cabinet, we, the coloured people, newly emancipated and rejoicing in our blood-bought freedom, near the close of the first century in the life of this Republic, have now and here unveiled, set apart, and dedicated a monument of enduring granite and bronze, in every line, feature, and figure of which the men of this generation may read, and those of after-coming generations may read, something of the exalted character and great works of Abraham Lincoln, the first martyr President of the United States.
“Fellow citizens, in what we have said and done to-day, and in what we may say and do hereafter, we disclaim everything like arrogance and assumption. We claim for ourselves no superior devotion to the character, history, and memory of the illustrious man whose monument we have here dedicated to-day. We fully comprehend the relation of Abraham Lincoln both to ourselves and to the white people of the United States. Truth is proper and beautiful at all times and in all places, and it is never more proper and beautiful in any case than when speaking of a great public man whose example is likely to be commended for honour and imitation long after his departure to the solemn shades,—the silent continents of eternity. It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man.
“He was pre-eminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the coloured people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country. In all his education and feeling he was an American of the Americans. He came into the Presidential chair upon one principle alone, namely, opposition to the extension of slavery. His arguments in furtherance of this policy had their motive and mainspring in his patriotic devotion to the interests of his own race. To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the States where it existed, Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed constitutional guarantees of the United States Constitution in favour of the slave system anywhere inside the slave States. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government. The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration. Knowing this, I concede to you, my white fellow citizens, a pre-eminence in this worship at once full and supreme. First, midst, and last, you and yours were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children; children by adoption, children by force of circumstances and necessity. To you it especially belongs to sound his praises, to preserve and perpetuate his memory, to multiply his statues, to hang his pictures high upon your walls, and commend his example, for to you he was a great and glorious friend and benefactor. Instead of supplanting you at this altar, we would exhort you to build high his monuments; let them be of the most costly material, of the most cunning workmanship; let their forms be symmetrical, beautiful, and perfect; let their bases be upon solid rocks, and their summits lean against the unchanging, blue, overhanging sky, and let them endure for ever! But while in the abundance of your wealth, and in the fulness of your just and patriotic devotion, you do all this, we entreat you to despise not the humble offering we this day unveil to view; for while Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage, one hour of which, according to Jefferson, was worse than ages of the oppression your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose.
“Fellow citizens, ours is no new-born zeal and devotion—merely a thing of this moment. The name of Abraham Lincoln was near and dear to our hearts in the darkest and most perilous hours of the Republic. We were no more ashamed of him when shrouded in clouds of darkness, of doubt, and defeat, than when we saw him crowned with victory, honour, and glory. Our faith in him was often taxed and strained to the uttermost, but it never failed. When he tarried long in the mountain; when he strangely told us that we were the cause of the war; when he still more strangely told us to leave the land in which we were born; when he refused to employ our arms in defence of the Union; when, after accepting our services as coloured soldiers, he refused to retaliate our murder and torture as coloured prisoners; when he told us he would save the Union if he could with slavery; when he revoked the Proclamation of Emancipation of General Fremont; when he refused to remove the popular commander of the army of the Potomac, in the days of its inaction and defeat, who was more zealous in his efforts to protect slavery than to suppress rebellion; when we saw all this, and more, we were at times grieved, stunned, and greatly bewildered; but our hearts believed while they ached and bled. Nor was this, even at that time, a blind and unreasoning superstition. Despite the mist and haze that surrounded him; despite the tumult, the hurry, and confusion of the hour, we were able to take a comprehensive view of Abraham Lincoln, and to make reasonable allowance for the circumstances of his position. We saw him, measured him, and estimated him; not by stray utterances to injudicious and tedious delegations, who often tried his patience; not by isolated facts torn from their connection; not by any partial and imperfect glimpses, caught at inopportune moments; but by a broad survey, in the light of the stern logic of great events, and in view of that “divinity which shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will,” we came to the conclusion that the hour and the man of our redemption had somehow met in the person of Abraham Lincoln. It mattered little to us what language he might employ on special occasions; it mattered little to us, when we fully knew him, whether he was swift or slow in his movements; it was enough for us that Abraham Lincoln was at the head of a great movement, and was in living and earnest sympathy with that movement, which, in the nature of things, must go on until slavery should be utterly and for ever abolished in the United States.
When, therefore, it shall be asked what we have to do with the memory of Abraham Lincoln, or what Abraham Lincoln had to do with us, the answer is ready, full, and complete. Though he loved Cæsar less than Rome, though the Union was more to him than our freedom or our future, under his wise and beneficent rule, we saw ourselves gradually lifted from the depths of slavery to the heights of liberty and manhood; under his wise and beneficent rule, and by measures approved and vigorously pressed by him, we saw that the handwriting of ages, in the form of prejudice and proscription, was rapidly fading away from the face of our whole country; under his rule, and in due time, about as soon after all as the country could tolerate the strange spectacle, we saw our brave sons and brothers laying off the rags of bondage, and being clothed all over in the blue uniform of the soldiers of the United States; under his rule we saw two hundred thousand of our dark and dusky people responding to the call of Abraham Lincoln, and with muskets on their shoulders, and eagles on their buttons, timing their high footsteps to liberty and union under the national flag; under his rule we saw the independence of the black republic of Hayti, the special object of slaveholding aversion and horror, fully recognized, and her minister, a coloured gentleman, duly received here in the City of Washington; under his rule we saw the internal slave-trade, which so long disgraced the nation, abolished, and slavery abolished in the District of Columbia; under his rule we saw, for the first time, the law enforced against the foreign slave-trade, and the first slave-trader hanged like any other pirate or murderer; under his rule, assisted by the greatest captain of our age, and his inspiration, we saw the Confederate States, based upon the idea that our race must be slaves, and slaves for ever, battered to pieces and scattered to the four winds; under his rule, and in the fulness of time, we saw Abraham Lincoln, after giving the slaveholder three months’ grace in which to save their hateful slave system, penning the immortal paper, which, though special in its language, was general in its principles and effect, making slavery for ever impossible in the United States. Though we waited long, we saw all this and more.
“Can any coloured man, or any white man, friendly to the freedom of all men, ever forget the night which followed the first day of January, 1863, when the world was to see if Abraham Lincoln would prove to be as good as his word. I shall never forget that memorable night, when in a distant city I waited and watched at a public meeting, with three thousand others not less anxious than myself, for the word of deliverance which we have heard read to-day. Nor shall I ever forget the outburst of joy and thanksgiving that rent the air when the lightning brought to us the emancipation proclamation. In that happy hour we forgot all delay, and forgot all tardiness, forgot that the President had bribed the rebels to lay down their arms by a promise to withhold the bolt which would smite the slave-system with destruction; and we were thenceforward willing to allow the President all the latitude of time, phraseology, and every honourable device that statesmanship might require for the achievement of a great and beneficent measure of liberty and progress.
“Fellow citizens, there is little necessity on this occasion to speak at length and critically of this great and good man, and of his high mission in the world. That ground has been fully occupied and completely covered both here and elsewhere. The whole field of fact and fancy has been gleaned and garnered. Any man can say things that are true of Abraham Lincoln, but no man can say anything that is new of Abraham Lincoln. His personal traits and public acts are better known to the American people than are those of any other man of his age. He was a mystery to no man who saw him and heard him. Though high in position, the humblest could approach him and feel at home in his presence. Though deep, he was transparent; though strong, he was gentle; though decided and pronounced in his convictions, he was tolerant towards those who differed from him, and patient under reproaches. Even those who only knew him through his public utterances obtained a tolerably clear idea of his character and his personality. The image of the man went out with his words, and those who read them, knew him.
“I have said that President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the coloured race. Looking back to his times and to the condition of his country, we are compelled to admit that this unfriendly feeling on his part may be safely set down as one element of his wonderful success in organizing the loyal American people for the tremendous conflict before them, and bringing them safely through that conflict. His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful co-operation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success, his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.
“Though Mr. Lincoln shared the prejudices of his white fellow-countrymen against the negro, it is hardly necessary to say that in his heart of hearts he loathed and hated slavery.* The man who could say, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war shall soon pass away, yet if God wills it to continue till all the wealth piled by two hundred years of bondage shall have been wasted, and each drop of blood drawn by the lash shall have been paid for by one drawn by the sword, the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether,” gives all needed proof of his feelings on the subject of slavery. He was willing, while the South was loyal, that it should have its pound of flesh, because he thought it was so nominated in the bond; but farther than this no earthly power could make him go.
“Fellow citizens, whatever else in the world may be partial, unjust, and uncertain, Time, time, is impartial, just, and certain in its action. In the realm of mind, as well as in the realm of matter, it is a great worker, and often works wonders. The honest and comprehensive statesman, clearly discerning the needs of his country, and earnestly endeavouring to do his whole duty, though covered and blistered with reproaches, may safely leave his course to the silent judgment of time. Few great public men have ever been the victims of fiercer denunciation than Abraham Lincoln was during his administration. He was often wounded in the house of his friends. Reproaches came thick and fast upon him from within and from without, and from opposite quarters. He was assailed by abolitionists; he was assailed by slaveholders; he was assailed by the men who were for peace at any price; he was assailed by those who were for a more vigorous prosecution of the war; he was assailed for not making the war an abolition war; and he was most bitterly assailed for making the war an abolition war.
“But now behold the change: the judgment of the present hour is, that taking him for all in all, measuring the tremendous magnitude of the work before him, considering the necessary means to ends, and surveying the end from the beginning, infinite wisdom has seldom sent any man into the world better fitted for his mission than Abraham Lincoln. His birth, his training, and his natural endowments, both mental and physical, were strongly in his favour. Born and reared among the lowly, a stranger to wealth and luxury, compelled to grapple single-handed with the flintiest hardships of life, from tender youth to sturdy manhood, he grew strong in the manly and heroic qualities demanded by the great mission to which he was called by the votes of his countrymen. The hard condition of his early life, which would have depressed and broken down weaker men, only gave greater life, vigour, and buoyancy to the heroic spirit of Abraham Lincoln. He was ready for any kind and quality of work. What other young men dreaded in the shape of toil, he took hold of with the utmost cheerfulness.
“All day long he could split heavy rails in the woods, and half the night long he could study his English Grammar by the uncertain flare and glare of the light made by a pine-knot. He was at home on the land with his axe, with his maul, with his gluts, and his wedges; and he was equally at home on water, with his oars, with his poles, with his planks, and with his boat-hooks. And whether in his flat-boat on the Mississippi river, or at the fireside of his frontier cabin, he was a man of work. A son of toil himself, he was linked in brotherly sympathy with the sons of toil in every loyal part of the Republic. This very fact gave him tremendous power with the American people, and materially contributed, not only to selecting him for the Presidency, but in sustaining his administration of the government.
“Upon his inauguration as President of the United States, an office, even when assumed under the most favourable conditions, fitted to tax and strain the largest abilities, Abraham Lincoln was met by a tremendous crisis. He was called upon not merely to administer the government, but to decide, in the face of terrible odds, the fate of the Republic.
“A formidable rebellion rose in his path before him; the Union was practically dissolved; his country was torn and rent asunder at the centre. Hostile armies were already organized against the Republic, armed with the munitions of war which the Republic had provided for its own defence. The tremendous question for him to decide was whether his country should survive the crisis and flourish, or be dismembered and perish. His predecessor in office had already decided the question in favour of national dismemberment, by denying to it the right of self-defence and self-preservation—a right which belongs to the meanest insect.
“Happily for the country, happily for you and for me, the judgment of James Buchanan, the patrician, was not the judgment of Abraham Lincoln, the plebeian. He brought his strong common sense, sharpened in the school of adversity, to bear upon the question. He did not hesitate, he did not doubt, he did not falter; but at once resolved at whatever peril, at whatever cost, the Union of the States should be preserved. A patriot himself, his faith was strong and unwavering in the patriotism of his countrymen. Timid men said before Mr. Lincoln’s inauguration, that we had seen the last President of the United States. A voice in influential quarters said, “Let the Union slide.” Some said that a Union maintained by the sword was worthless. Others said a rebellion of 8,000,000 cannot be suppressed; but in the midst of all this tumult and timidity, and against all this, Abraham Lincoln was clear in his duty, and had an oath in heaven. He calmly and bravely heard the voice of doubt and fear all around him; but he had an oath in heaven, and there was not power enough on earth to make this honest boatman, backwoodsman, and broad-handed splitter of rails to evade or violate that sacred oath. He had not been schooled in the ethics of slavery; his plain life had favoured his love of truth. He had not been taught that treason and perjury were the proof of honour and honesty. His moral training was against his saying one thing when he meant another. The trust which Abraham Lincoln had in himself and in the people was surprising and grand, but it was also enlightened and well-founded. He knew the American people better than they knew themselves, and his truth was based upon this knowledge.
“Fellow citizens, the fourteenth day of April, 1865, of which this is the eleventh anniversary, is now and will ever remain a memorable day in the annals of this Republic. It was on the evening of this day, while a fierce and sanguinary rebellion was in the last stages of its desolating power; while its armies were broken and scattered before the invincible armies of Grant and Sherman; while a great nation, torn and rent by war, was already beginning to raise to the skies loud anthems of joy at the dawn of peace, it was startled, amazed, and overwhelmed by the crowning crime of slavery—the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It was a new crime, a pure act of malice. No purpose of the rebellion was to be served by it. It was the simple gratification of a hell-black spirit of revenge. But it has done good after all. It has filled the country with a deeper abhorrence of slavery and a deeper love for the great liberator.
“Had Abraham Lincoln died from any of the numerous ills to which flesh is heir; had he reached that good old age of which his vigorous constitution and his temperate habits gave promise; had he been permitted to see the end of his great work; had the solemn curtain of death come down but gradually—we should still have been smitten with a heavy grief, and treasured his name lovingly. But dying as he did die, by the red hand of violence, killed, assassinated, taken off without warning, not because of personal hate—for no man who knew Abraham Lincoln could hate him—but because of his fidelity to union and liberty, he is doubly dear to us, and his memory will be precious for ever.
“Fellow citizens, I end as I began, with congratulations. We have done a good work for our race to-day. In doing honour to the memory of our friend and liberator, we have been doing highest honours to ourselves and those who come after us; we have been fastening ourselves to a name and fame imperishable and immortal; we have also been defending ourselves from a blighting scandal. When now it shall be said that the coloured man is soulless, that he has no appreciation of benefits or benefactors; when the foul reproach of ingratitude is hurled at us, and it is attempted to scourge us beyond the range of human brotherhood, we may calmly point to the monument we have this day erected to the memory of Abraham Lincoln.”
The progress of a nation is sometimes indicated by small things. When Henry Wilson, an honoured Senator and Vice-President of the United States, died in the capital of the nation, it was a significant and telling indication of national advance, that three coloured citizens, Mr. Robert Purvis, Mr. James Wormley, and myself, were selected with the Senate committee, to accompany his honoured remains from Washington to the grand old commonwealth he loved so well, and whom in turn she had so greatly loved and honoured. It was meet and right that we should be represented in the long procession that met those remains in every State between here and Massachusetts, for Henry Wilson was among the foremost friends of the coloured race in this country, and this was the first time in its history that a coloured man was made a pall-bearer at the funeral, as I was in this instance, of a Vice-President of the United States.
An appointment to any important and lucrative office under the United States Government, usually brings its recipient a large measure of praise and congratulation on the one hand, and much abuse and disparagement on the other; and he may think himself singularly fortunate if the censure does not exceed the praise. I need not dwell upon the causes of this extravagance, but I may say there is no office of any value in the country which is not desired and sought by many persons equally meritorious and equally deserving. But as only one person can be appointed to any one office, only one can be pleased, while many are offended, unhappily, resentment follows disappointment, and this resentment often finds expression is disparagement and abuse of the successful man. As in most else I have said, I borrow this reflection from my own experience.
My appointment as United States Marshal of the District of Columbia, was in keeping with the rest of my life, as a freeman. It was an innovation upon long established usage, and opposed to the general current of sentiment in the community. It came upon the people of the District as a gross surprise, and almost a punishment; and provoked something like a scream—I will not say a yell—of popular displeasure. As soon as I was named by President Hayes for the place, efforts were made by members of the bar to defeat my confirmation before the Senate. All sorts of reasons against my appointment, but the true one, were given, and that was withheld more from a sense of shame, than from a sense of justice. The apprehension doubtless was, that if appointed Marshal I should surround myself with coloured deputies, coloured bailiffs, coloured messengers, and pack the jury box with coloured jurors; in a word, Africanize the courts. But the most dreadful thing threatened, was a coloured man at the Executive Mansion in white kid gloves, swallow-tailed coat, patent leather boots, and alabaster cravat, performing the ceremony—a very empty one—of introducing the aristocratic citizens of the republic to the President of the United States. This was something entirely too much to be borne; and men asked themselves in view of it, to what is the world coming, and where will these things stop? Dreadful! Dreadful!
It is creditable to the manliness of the American Senate, that it was moved by none of these things, and that it lost no time in the matter of my confirmation. I learn, and believe my information correct, that foremost among those who supported my confirmation against the ojections made to it, was the Hon. Roscoe Conkling of New York. His speech in executive session is said by the senators who heard it, to have been one of the most masterly and eloquent ever delivered on the floor of the Senate; and this too I readily believe, for Mr. Conkling possesses the ardour and fire of Henry Clay, the subtlety of Calhoun, and the massive grandeur of Daniel Webster.
The effort to prevent my confirmation having failed, nothing could be done but to wait for some overt act to justify my removal; and for this my unfriends had not long to wait. In the course of one or two months I was invited by a number of citizens of Baltimore to deliver a lecture in that city, in Douglass Hall—a building named in honour of myself, and devoted to educational purposes. With this invitation I complied, giving the same lecture which I had two years before delivered in the city of Washington, and which was at the time published in full in the newspapers, and very highly commended by them. The subject of the lecture was, “Our National Capital,” and in it I said many complimentary things of the city, which were as true as they were complimentary. I spoke of what it had been in the past, what it was at that time, and what I thought it destined to become in the future; giving it all credit for its good points, and calling attention to some of its ridiculous features. For this I got myself pretty roughly handled. The newspapers worked themselves up to a frenzy of passion, and committees were appointed to procure names to a petition to President Hayes demanding my removal. The tide of popular feeling was so violent, that I deemed it necessary to depart from my usual custom when assailed, so far as to write the following explanatory letter, from which the reader will be able to measure the extent and quality of my offence:—
“To the Editor of the Washington Evening Star:
“Sir:—You were mistaken in representing me as being off on a lecturing tour, and, by implication, neglecting my duties as United States Marshal of the District of Columbia. My absence from Washington during two days was due to an invitation by the managers to be present on the occasion of the inauguration of the International Exhibition in Philadelphia.
“In complying with this invitation, I found myself in company with other members of the Government who went thither in obedience to the call of patriotism and civilization. No one interest of the Marshal’s office suffered by my temporary absence, as I had seen to it that those upon whom the duties of the office devolved were honest, capable, industrious, painstaking, and faithful. My Deputy Marshal is a man every way qualified for his position, and the citizens of Washington may rest assured that no unfaithful man will be retained in any position under me. Of course I can have nothing to say as to my own fitness for the position I hold. You have a right to say what you please on that point, yet I think it would be only fair and generous to wait for some dereliction of duty on my part before I shall be adjudged as incompetent to fill the place.
“You will allow me to say, also, that the attacks upon me on account of the remarks alleged to have been made by me in Baltimore, strike me as both malicious and silly. Washington is a great city, not a village, nor a hamlet, but the capital of a great nation, and the manners and habits of its various classes are proper subjects for presentation and criticism, and I very much mistake if this great city can be thrown into a tempest of passion by any humorous reflections I may take the liberty to utter. The city is too great to be small, and I think it will laugh at the ridiculous attempt to rouse it to a point of furious hostility to me for anything said in my Baltimore lecture.
“Had the reporters of that lecture been as careful to note what I said in praise of Washington as what I said, if you please, in disparagement of it, it would have been impossible to awaken any feeling against me in this community for what I said. It is the easiest thing in the world, as all editors know, to pervert the meaning and give a one-sided impression of a whole speech, by simply giving isolated passages from the speech itself, without any qualifying connections. It would hardly be imagined from anything that has appeared here that I had said one word in that lecture in honour of Washington, and yet the lecture itself, as a whole, was decidedly in the interest of the national capital. I am not such a fool as to decry a city in which I have invested my money and made my permanent residence.
“After speaking of the power of the sentiment of patriotism I held this language: ‘In the spirit of this noble sentiment I would have the American people view the national capital. It is our national centre. It belongs to us; and whether it is mean or majestic, whether arrayed in glory or covered with shame, we cannot but share its character and its destiny. In the remotest section of the Republic, in the most distant parts of the globe, amid the splendours of Europe or the wilds of Africa, we are still held and firmly bound to this common centre. Under the shadow of Bunker’s Hill monument, in the peerless eloquence of his diction, I once heard the great Daniel Webster give welcome to all American citizens, assuring them that wherever else they might be strangers, they were all at home there. The same boundless welcome is given to all American citizens by Washington. Elsewhere we may belong to individual States, but here we belong to the whole United States. Elsewhere we may belong to a section, but here we belong to a whole country, and the whole country belongs to us. It is national territory, and the one place where no American is an intruder or a carpet-bagger. The new comer is not less at home than the old resident. Under its lofty domes and stately pillars, as under the broad blue sky, all races and colours of men stand upon a footing of common equality.
“ ‘The wealth and magnificence which elsewhere might oppress the humble citizen has an opposite effect here. They are felt to be a part of himself and serve to ennoble him in his own eyes. He is an owner of the marble grandeur which he beholds about him,—as much so as any of the forty millions of this great nation. Once in his life every American who can, should visit Washington; not as the Mahometan goes to Mecca; not as the Catholic to Rome; not as the Hebrew to Jerusalem, nor as the Chinaman to the Flowery kingdom, but in the spirit of enlightened patriotism, knowing the value of free institutions and how to perpetuate and maintain them.
“ ‘Washington should be contemplated not merely as an assemblage of fine buildings; not merely as the chosen resort of the wealth and fashion of the country, not merely as the honoured place where the statesmen of the nation assemble to shape the policy and frame the laws; not merely as the point at which we are most visibly touched by the outside world, and where the diplomatic skill and talent of the old continent meet and match themselves against those of the new, but as the national flag itself—a glorious symbol of civil and religious liberty, leading the world in the race of social science, civilization, and renown.’
“My lecture in Baltimore required more than an hour and a half for its delivery, and every intelligent reader will see the difficulty of doing justice to such a speech when it is abbreviated and compressed into a half or three-quarters of a column. Such abbreviation or condensation has been resorted to in this instance. A few stray sentences, culled out from their connections, would be deprived of much of their harshness if presented in the form and connection in which they were uttered; but I am taking up too much space, and will close with the last paragraph of the lecture as delivered in Baltimore. “No city in the broad world has a higher or more beneficent mission. Among all the great capitals of the world it is pre-eminently the capital of free institutions. Its fall would be a blow to freedom and progress throughout the world. Let it stand then where it does now stand—where the father of his country planted it, and where it has stood for more than half a century; no longer sandwiched between two slave States; no longer a contradiction to human progress, no longer the hot-bed of slavery and the slave trade; no longer the home of the duellist, the gambler, the assassin; no longer the frantic partisan of one section of the country against the other, no longer anchored to a dark and semi-barbarous past, but a redeemed city, beautiful to the eye and attractive to the heart, a bond of perpetual union, an angel of peace on earth and good will to men, a common ground upon which Americans of all races and colours, all sections, North and South, may meet and shake hands, not over a chasm of blood, but over a free, united, and progressive republic.”
I have already alluded to the fact that much of the opposition to my appointment to the office of United States Marshal of the District of Columbia was due to the possibility of my being called to attend President Hayes at the Executive Mansion upon state occasions, and having the honour to introduce the guests on such occasions. I now wish to refer to reproaches liberally showered upon me for holding the office of Marshal while denied this distinguished honour, and to show that the complaint against me at this point is not a well-founded complaint.
1st. Because the office of United States Marshal is distinct, and separate, and complete in itself, and must be accepted or refused upon its own merits. If, when offered to any person, its duties are such as he can properly fulfil, he may very properly accept it; or, if otherwise, he may as properly refuse it.
2nd. Because the duties of the office are clearly and strictly defined in the law by which it was created; and because nowhere among these duties is there any mention or intimation that the Marshal may or shall attend upon the President of the United States at the Executive Mansion on state occasions.
3rd. Because the choice as to who shall have the honour and privilege of such attendance upon the President, belongs exclusively and reasonably to the President himself, and that therefore no one, however distinguished, or in whatever office, has any just cause to complain of the exercise by the President of this right of choice, or because he is not himself chosen.
In view of these propositions, which I hold to be indisputable, I should have presented to the country a most foolish and ridiculous figure had I, as absurdly counselled by some of my coloured friends, resigned the office of Marshal of the District of Columbia, because President Rutherford B. Hayes, for reasons that must have been satisfactory to his judgment, preferred some person other than myself to attend upon him at the Executive Mansion and perform the ceremony of introduction on state occasions. But it was said that this statement did not cover the whole ground; that it was customary for the United States Marshal of the District of Columbia to perform this social office; and that the usage had come to have almost the force of law. I met this at the time, and I meet it now, by denying the binding force of this custom. No former President has any right or power to make his example the rule for his successor. The custom of inviting the Marshal to do this duty was made by a President, and could be as properly unmade by a President. Besides, the usage is altogether a modern one, and had its origin in peculiar circumstances, and was justified by those circumstances. It was introduced in time of war by President Lincoln, when he made his old law partner and intimate acquaintance Marshal of the District, and was continued by Gen. Grant when he appointed a relative of his, Gen. Sharp, to the same office. But again it was said that President Hayes only departed from this custom because the Marshal in my case was a coloured man. The answer I made to this, and now make to it, is that it is a gratuitous assumption, and entirely begs the question. It may or may not be true that my complexion was the cause of this departure, but no man has any right to assume that position in advance of a plain declaration to that effect by President Hayes himself. Never have I heard from him any such declaration or intimation. In so far as my intercourse with him is concerned, I can say that I at no time discovered in him a feeling of aversion to me on account of my complexion, or on any other account, and, unless I am greatly deceived, I was ever a welcome visitor at the Executive Mansion on state occasions and all others, while Rutherford B. Hayes was President of the United States. I have further to say that I have many times during his administration had the honour to introduce distinguished strangers to him, both of native and foreign birth, and never had reason to feel myself slighted by himself or his amiable wife; and I think he would be a very unreasonable man who could desire for himself, or for any other, a larger measure of respect and consideration than this at the hands of a man and woman occupying the exalted positions of Mr. and Mrs. Hayes.
I should not do entire justice to the Honourable ex-President if I did not bear additional testimony to his noble and generous spirit. When all Washington was in an uproar, and a wild clamour rent the air for my removal from the office of Marshal on account of the lecture delivered by me in Baltimore, when petitions were flowing in upon him demanding my degradation, he nobly rebuked the mad spirit of persecution by openly declaring his purpose to retain me in my place.
One other word. During the tumult raised against me in consequence of this lecture on the “National Capital,” Mr. Columbus Alexander, one of the old and wealthy citizens of Washington, who was on my bond for twenty thousand dollars, was repeatedly besought to withdraw his name, and thus leave me disqualified; but like the President, both he and my other bondsman, Mr. George Hill, junr., were steadfast and immovable. I was not surprised that Mr. Hill stood bravely by me, for he was a Republican; but I was surprised and gratified that Mr. Alexander, a Democrat, and, I believe, once a slaveholder, had not only the courage, but the magnanimity to give me fair play in this fight. What I have said of these gentlemen, can be extended to very few others in this community, during that period of excitement, among either the white or coloured citizens, for, with the exception of Dr. Charles B. Purvis, no coloured man in the city uttered one public word in defence or extenuation of me or of my Baltimore speech.
This violent hostility kindled against me was singularly evanescent. It came like a whirlwind, and like a whirlwind departed. I soon saw nothing of it, either in the courts among the lawyers, or in the streets among the people; for it was discovered that there was really in my speech at Baltimore nothing which made me “worthy of stripes or of bonds.”
I can say from my experience in the office of United States Marshal of the District of Columbia, it was in every way agreeable. When it was an open question whether I should take the office or not, it was apprehended and predicted if I should accept it in face of the opposition of the lawyers and judges of the courts, I should be subjected to numberless suits for damages, and so vexed and worried that the office would be rendered valueless to me; that it would not only eat up my salary, but possibly endanger what little I might have laid up for a rainy day. I have now to report that this apprehension was in no sense realized. What might have happened had the members of the District bar been half as malicious and spiteful as they had been industriously represented as being, or if I had not secured as my assistant a man so capable, industrious, vigilant, and careful as Mr. L. P. Williams, of course I cannot know. But I am bound to praise the bridge that carries me safely over it. I think it will ever stand as a witness to my fitness for the position of Marshal, that I had the wisdom to select for my assistant a gentlemen so well instructed and competent. I also take pleasure in bearing testimony to the generosity of Mr. Phillips, the Assistant-Marshal, who preceded Mr. Williams in that office, in giving the new assistant valuable information as to the various duties he would be called upon to perform. I have further to say of my experience in the Marshal’s office, that while I have reason to know that the eminent Chief Justice of the District of Columbia and some of his associates were not well pleased with my appointment, I was always treated by them, as well as by the chief clerk of the courts, the Hon. J. R. Meigs, and the subordinates of the latter—with a single exception—with the respect and consideration due to my office. Among the eminent lawyers of the District I believe I had many friends, and there were those of them to whom I could always go with confidence in an emergency for sound advice and direction, and this fact, after all the hostility felt in consequence of my appointment, and revived by my speech at Baltimore, is another proof of the vincibility of all feeling arising out of popular prejudices.
In all my forty years of thought and labour to promote the freedom and welfare of my race, I never found myself more widely and painfully at variance with leading coloured men of the country than when I opposed the effort to set in motion a wholesale exodus of coloured people of the South to the Northern States; and yet I never took a position in which I felt myself better fortified by reason and necessity. It was said of me, that I had deserted to the old master class, and that I was a traitor to my race; that I had run away from slavery myself, and yet I was opposing others in doing the same. When my opponents condescended to argue, they took the ground that the coloured people of the South needed to be brought into contact with the freedom and civilization of the North; that no emancipated and persecuted people ever had or ever could rise in the presence of the people by whom they had been enslaved, and that the true remedy for the ills which the freedmen were suffering, was to initiate the Israelitish departure from our modern Egypt to a land abounding, if not in “milk and honey,” certainly in pork and hominy.
Influenced, no doubt, by the dazzling prospects held out to them by the advocates of the Exodus movement, thousands of poor, hungry, naked, and destitute coloured people were induced to quit the South amid the frosts and snows of a dreadful winter in search of a better country. I regret to say there was something sinister in this so-called exodus, for it transpired that some of the agents most active in promoting it had an understanding with certain railroad companies, by which they were to receive one dollar per head upon all such passengers. Thousands of these poor people, travelling only so far as they had money to bear their expenses, were dropped on the levees of St. Louis, in the extremest destitution; and their tales of woe were such as to move a heart much less sensitive to human suffering than mine. But while I felt for these poor deluded people, and did what I could to put a stop to their ill-advised and ill-arranged stampede, I also did what I could to assist such of them as were within my reach, who were on their way to this land of promise. Hundreds of these people came to Washington, and at one time there were from two to three hundred lodged here, unable to get further for the want of money. I lost no time in appealing to my friends for the means of assisting them. Conspicuous among these friends was Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson of New York city—the lady who, several years ago, made the nation a present of Carpenter’s great historical picture of the “Signing of the Emancipation Proclamation,” and who has expended large sums of her money in investigating the causes of yellow-fever, and in endeavours to discover means for preventing its ravages in New Orleans and elsewhere. I found Mrs. Thompson consistently alive to the claims of humanity in this, as in other instances, for she sent me, without delay, a draft for two hundred and fifty dollars, and in doing so expressed the wish that I would promptly inform her of any other opportunity of doing good. How little justice was done me by those who accused me of indifference to the welfare of the coloured people of the South on account of my opposition to the so-called exodus will be seen by the following extracts from a paper on that subject laid before the Social Science Congress at Saratoga, when that question was before the country:
“Important as manual labour is everywhere, it is nowhere more important and absolutely indispensable to the existence of society than in the more southern of the United States. Machinery may continue to do, as it has done, much of the work of the North, but the work of the South requires bone, sinew, and muscle of the strongest and most enduring kind for its performance. Labour in that section must know no pause. Her soil is pregnant and prolific with life and energy. All the forces of nature within her borders are wonderfully vigorous, persistent, and active. Aided by an almost perpetual summer abundantly supplied with heat and moisture, her soil readily and rapidly covers itself with noxious weeds, dense forests, and impenetrable jungles. Only a few years of non-tillage would be needed to give the sunny and fruitful South to the bats and owls of a desolate wilderness. From this condition, shocking for a Southern man to contemplate, it is now seen that nothing less powerful than the naked iron arm of the negro, can save her. For him, as a Southern labourer, there is no competitor or substitute. The thought of filling his place by any other variety of the human family, will be found delusive and utterly impracticable. Neither Chinaman, German, Norwegian, nor Swede, can drive him from the sugar and cotton fields of Louisiana and Mississippi. They would certainly perish in the black bottoms of these states if they could be induced, which they cannot, to try the experiment.
“Nature itself, in those States, comes to the rescue of the negro, fights his battles, and enables him to exact conditions from those who would unfairly treat and oppress him. Besides being dependent upon the roughest and flintiest kind of labour, the climate of the South makes such labour uninviting and harshly repulsive to the white man. He dreads it, shrinks from it, and refuses it. He shuns the burning sun of the fields and seeks the shade of the verandas. On the contrary, the negro walks, labours, and sleeps in the sunlight unharmed. The standing apology for slavery was based upon a knowledge of this fact. It was said that the world must have cotton and sugar, and that only the negro could supply this want, and that he could be induced to do it only under the “beneficent whip” of some bloodthirsty Legree The last part of this argument has been happily disproved by the large crops of these productions since Emancipation; but the first part of it stands firm, unassailed and unassailable.
“Even if climate and other natural causes did not protect the negro from all competition of the labour-market of the South, inevitable social causes would probably effect the same result. The slave system of that section has left behind it, as in the nature of the case it must, manners, customs, and conditions to which free white labouring men will be in no haste to submit themselves and their families. They do not emigrate from the free North, where labour is respected, to a lately enslaved South, where labour has been whipped, chained and degraded for centuries. Naturally enough such emigration follows the lines of latitude in which they who compose it were born. Not from South to North, but from East to West “the Star of Empire takes its way.”
“Hence it is seen that the dependence of the planters, land-owners, and old master class of the South upon the negro, however galling and humiliating to Southern pride and power, is nearly complete and perfect. There is only one mode of escape for them, and that mode they will certainly not adopt. It is to take off their own coats, cease to whittle sticks and talk politics at crossroads, and go themselves to work in their broad and sunny fields of cotton and sugar. An invitation to do this is about as harsh and distasteful to all their inclinations as would be an invitation to step down into their graves. With the negro, all this is different. Neither natural, artificial, nor traditional causes stand in the way of the freedman to labour in the South. Neither the heat nor the fever-demon which lurks in her tangled and oozy swamps affright him, and he stands to-day the admitted author of whatever prosperity, beauty, and civilization are now possessed by the South, and the admitted arbiter of her destiny.
“This, then, is the high vantage ground of the negro; he has labour; the South wants it, and must have it or perish. Since he is free he can now give it or withhold it, use it where he is, or take it elsewhere as he pleases. His labour made him a slave, and his labour can, if he will, make him free, comfortable, and independent. It is more to him than fire, swords, ballot-boxes, or bayonets. It touches the heart of the South through its pocket. This power served him well years ago, when in the bitterest extremity of destitution. But for it, he would have perished when he dropped out of slavery. It saved him then, and it will save him again. Emancipation came to him, surrounded by extremely unfriendly circumstances. It was not the choice or consent of the people among whom he lived, but against their will, and a death struggle on their part to prevent it. His chains were broken in the tempest and whirlwind of civil war. Without food, without shelter, without land, without money, and without friends, he with his children, his sick, his aged and helpless ones, were turned loose and naked to the open sky. The announcement of his freedom was instantly followed by an order from his master to quit his old quarters, and to seek bread thereafter from the hands of those who had given him his freedom. A desperate extremity was thus forced upon him at the outset of his freedom, and the world watched with humane auxiety, to see what would become of him. His peril was imminent. Starvation and death stared him in the face and marked him for their victim.
“It will not soon be forgotten that at the close of a five hours’ speech by the late Senator Sumner, in which he advocated with unequalled learning and eloquence the enfranchisement of the freedmen, the best argument with which he was met in the Senate, was that legislation at that point would be utterly superfluous; that the negro was rapidly dying out, and must inevitably and speedily disappear and become extinct.
“Inhuman and shocking as was this consignment of millions of human beings to extinction, the extremity of the negro, at that date, did not contradict, but favoured the prophecy. The policy of the old master class dictated by passion, pride, and revenge, was then to make the freedom of the negro, a greater calamity to him, if possible, than had been his slavery. But happily, both for the old master class, and for the recently emancipated, there came then, as there will come now, the sober second thought. The old master class then found it had made a great mistake. It had driven away the means of its own support. It had destroyed the hands, and left the mouths. It had starved the negro, and starved itself. Not even to gratify its own anger and resentment could it afford to allow its fields to go uncultivated, and its tables unsupplied with food. Hence the freedman, less from humanity than cupidity, less from choice than necessity, was speedily called back to labour and life.
“But now, after fourteen years of service, and fourteen years of separation from the visible presence of slavery, during which he has shown both disposition and ability to supply the labour market of the South, and that he could do so far better as a freedman than he ever did as a slave; that more cotton and sugar could be raised by the same hands, under the inspiration of liberty and hope, than can be raised under the influence of bondage and the whip, he is again, alas! in the deepest trouble; again without a home, out under the open sky, with his wife and little ones. He lines the sunny banks of the Mississipi, fluttering in rags and wretchedness, mournfully imploring hard-hearted steamboat captains to take him on board; while the friends of the emigration movement are diligently soliciting funds all over the North to help him away from his old home to the new Canaan of Kansas.”
I am sorry to be obliged to omit the statement which here follows, of the reasons given for the Exodus movement, and my explanation of them, but from want of space I can present only such portions of the paper as express most vividly and in fewest words, my position in regard to the question. I go on to say.
“Bad as is the condition of the negro to-day at the South, there was a time when it was flagrantly and incomparably worse. A few years ago he had nothing—he had not even himself. He belonged to somebody else, who could dispose of his person and his labour as he pleased. Now he has himself, his labour, and his right to dispose of one and the other as shall best suit his own happiness. He has more. He has a standing in the supreme law of the land—in the Constitution of the United States—not to be changed or affected by any conjunction of circumstances likely to occur in the immediate or remote future. The Fourteenth Amendment makes him a citizen and the Fifteenth makes him a voter. With power behind him, at work for him, and which cannot be taken from him, the negro of the South may wisely bide his time. The situation of the moment is exceptional and transient. The permanent powers of the Government are all on his side. What though for the moment the hand of violence strike down the negro’s rights in the South, those rights will revive, survive, and flourish again. They are not the only people who have been, in a moment of popular passion, maltreated and driven from the polls. The Irish and Dutch have frequently been so treated. Boston, Baltimore, and New York have been the scenes of lawless violence; but those scenes have now disappeared. . . . . Without abating one jot of our horror and indignation at the outrages committed in some parts of the Southern States against the negro, we cannot but regard the present agitation of an African exodus from the South as ill-timed and in some respects hurtful. We stand to-day at the beginning of a grand and beneficent reaction. There is a growing recognition of the duty and obligation of the American people to guard, protect, and defend the personal and political rights of all the people of all the States; to uphold the principles upon which rebellion was suppressed, slavery abolished, and the country saved from dismemberment and ruin.
“We see and feel to-day, as we have not seen and felt before, that the time for conciliation and trusting to the honour of the late rebels and slaveholders has passed. The President of the United States, himself, while still liberal, just, and generous toward the South, has yet sounded a halt in that direction and has bravely, firmly, and ably asserted the constitutional authority to maintain the public peace in every State in the Union, and upon every day in the year, and has maintained this ground against all the powers of House and Senate.
“We stand at the gateway of a marked and decided change in the statesmanship of our rulers. Every day brings fresh and increasing evidence that we are, and of right ought to be, a nation; that Confederate notions of the nature and powers of our Government ought to have perished in the rebellion which they supported; that they are anachronisms and superstitions and no longer fit to be above ground. . . . .
“At a time like this, so full of hope and courage, it is unfortunate that a cry of despair should be raised in behalf of the coloured people of the South; unfortunate that men are going over the country begging in the name of the poor coloured man of the South, and telling the people that the Government has no power to enforce the Constitution and laws in that section, and that there is no hope for the poor negro but to plant him in the new soil of Kansas or Nebraska.
“These men do the coloured people of the South a real damage. They give their enemies an advantage in the argument for their manhood and freedom. They assume their inability to take care of themselves. The country will be told of the hundreds who go to Kansas, but not of the thousands who stay in Mississippi and Louisiana.
“It will be told of the destitute who require material aid, but not of the multitude who are bravely sustaining themselves where they are.
“In Georgia the negroes are paying taxes upon six millions of dollars; in Louisiana upon forty or fifty millions; and upon unascertained sums elsewhere in the Southern States.
“Why should a people who have made such progress in the course of a few years be humiliated and scandalized by exodus agents, begging money to remove them from their homes; especially at a time when every indication favours the position that the wrongs and hardships which they suffer are soon to be redressed?
“Besides the objection thus stated, it is manifest that the public and noisy advocacy of a general stampede of the coloured people from the South to the North is necessarily an abandonment of the great and paramount principle of protection to person and property in every State in the Union. It is an evasion of a solemn obligation and duty. The business of this nation is to protect its citizens where they are, not to transport them where they will not need protection. The best that can be said of this exodus in this respect is, that it is an attempt to climb up some other way, it is an expedient, a half-way measure, and tends to weaken in the public mind a sense of absolute right, power, and duty of the Government, inasmuch as it concedes, by implication at least, that on the soil of the South the law of the land cannot command obedience, the ballot-box cannot be kept pure, peaceable elections cannot be held, the Constitution cannot be enforced, and the lives and liberties of loyal and peaceable citizens cannot be protected. It is a surrender, a premature disheartening surrender, since it would secure freedom and free institutions by migration rather than by protection; by flight rather than by right; by going into a strange land rather than by staying in one’s own. It leaves the whole question of equal rights on the soil of the South open and still to be settled, with the moral influence of exodus against us; since it is a confession of the utter impracticability of equal rights and equal protection in any State where those rights may be struck down by violence.
“It does not appear that the friends of freedom should spend either time or talent or furtherance of this exodus, as a desirable measure, either for the North or the South. If the people of this country cannot be protected in every State of the Union, the Government of the United States is shorn of its rightful dignity and power, the late rebellion has triumphed, the sovereignty of the nation is an empty name, and the power and authority in individual States greater than the power and authority of the United States. . . . . .
“The coloured people of the South, just beginning to accumulate a little property, and to lay the foundation of family, should not be in haste to sell that little and be off to the banks of the Mississippi. The habit of roaming from place to place in pursuit of better conditions of existence is never a good one. A man should never leave his home for a new one till he has earnestly endeavoured to make his immediate surroundings accord with his wishes. The time and energy expended in wandering from place to place, if employed in making him a comfortable home where he is, will, in nine cases out of ten, prove the best investment. No people ever did much for themselves or for the world without the sense and inspiration of native land, of a fixed home, of familiar neighbourhood and common associations. The fact of being to the manner born has an elevating power upon the mind and heart of a man. It is a more cheerful thing to be able to say I was born here and know all the people, than to say I am a stranger here and know none of the people.
“It cannot be doubted that in so far as this exodus tends to promote restlessness in the coloured people of the South, to unsettle their feeling of home, and to sacrifice positive advantages where they are, for fancied ones in Kansas or elsewhere, it is an evil. Some have sold their little homes, their chickens, mules, and pigs at a sacrifice, to follow the exodus. Let it be understood that you are going, and you advertise the fact that your mule has lost half its value, for your staying with him makes half his value. Let the coloured people of Georgia offer their six millions’ worth of property for sale, with the purpose to leave Georgia, and they will not realize half its value. Land is not worth much where there are no people to occupy it, and a mule is not worth much where there is no one to drive him.
“It may be safely asserted that whether advocated and commended to favour on the ground that it will increase the political power of the Republican party, and thus help to make a solid North against a solid South, or upon the ground that it will increase the power and influence of the coloured people as a political element, and enable them the better to protect their rights, and insure their moral and social elevation, the exodus will prove a disappointment, a mistake, and a failure; because, as to strengthening the Republican party, the emigrants will go only to those States where the Republican party is strong and solid enough already with their votes, and in respect to the other part of the argument, it will fail because it takes coloured voters from a section of the country where they are sufficiently numerous to elect some of their number to places of honour and profit, and places them in a country where their proportion to other classes will be so small as not to be recognized as a political element or entitled to be represented by one of themselves. And further, because go where they will, they must for a time inevitably carry with them poverty, ignorance, and other repulsive incidents, inherited from their former condition as slaves—a circumstance which is about as likely to make votes for Democrats as for Republicans, and to raise up bitter prejudice against them as to raise up friends for them. . . . .
“Plainly enough, the exodus is less harmful as a measure than are the arguments by which it is supported. The one is the result of a feeling of outrage and despair; but the other comes of cool, selfish calculation. One is the result of honest despair, and appeals powerfully to the sympathies of men, the other is an appeal to our selfishness, which shrinks from doing right because the way is difficult.
“Not only is the South the best locality for the negro, on the ground of his political powers and possibilities, but it is best for him as a field of labour. He is there, as he is nowhere else, an absolute necessity. He has a monopoly of the labour market. His labour is the only labour which can successfully offer itself for sale in that market. This fact, with a little wisdom and firmness, will enable him to sell his labour there on terms more favourable to himself than he can elsewhere. As there are no competitors or substitutes he can demand living prices with the certainty that the demand will be complied with. Exodus would deprive him of this advantage. . . .
“The negro, as already intimated, is pre-eminently a Southern man. He is so both in constitution and habits, in body as well as mind. He will not only take with him to the North, Southern modes of labour, but Southern modes of life. The careless and improvident habits of the South cannot be set aside in a generation. If they are adhered to in the North, in the fierce winds and snows of Kansas and Nebraska, the emigration must be large to keep up their numbers. . . .
“As an assertion of power by a people hitherto held in bitter contempt, as an emphatic and stinging protest against high-handed, greedy, and shameless injustice to the weak and defenceless, as a means of opening the blind eyes of oppressors to their folly and peril, the exodus has done valuable service. Whether it has accomplished all of which it is capable in this direction, for the present, is a question which may well be considered. With a moderate degree of intelligent leadership among the labouring class of the South, properly handling the justice of their cause, and wisely using the exodus example, they can easily exact better terms for their labour than ever before. Exodus is medicine, not food; it is for disease, not health, it is not to be taken from choice, but necessity. In anything like a normal condition of things, the South is the best place for the negro. Nowhere else is there for him a promise of a happier future. Let him stay there if he can, and save both the South and himself to civilization. While, however, it may be the highest wisdom in the circumstances for the freedmen to stay where they are, no encouragement should be given to any measures of coercion to keep them there. The American people are bound, if they are, or can be bound to anything, to keep the north gate of the South open to black and white and to all the people. “The time to assert a right,” Webster says, is when it is called in question. If it is attempted by force or fraud to compel the coloured people to stay there, they should by all means go—go quickly, and die if need be in the attempt.”
[* ]“I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel.”—Letter of Mr. Lincoln to Mr. Hodges, of Kentucky, April 4, 1864.