Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIX.: CONCLUSION. - The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882
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CHAPTER XIX.: CONCLUSION. - 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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Interment of the late James A. Garfield—Brief references to the solemn event—Account of an interview at the Executive Mansion—His recognition of the rights of coloured citizens.
ON the day of the interment of the late James A. Garfield, at Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio, a day of gloom long to be remembered as the closing scene in one of the most tragic and startling dramas ever witnessed in this, or in any other country, the coloured people of the District of Columbia assembled in the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian church, and expressed by appropriate addresses and resolutions, their respect for the character and memory of the illustrious deceased. On that occasion I was called upon to preside, and by way of introducing the subsequent proceedings,—leaving to others the grateful office of delivering eulogies—made the following brief reference to the solemn and touching event:—
“Friends and fellow citizens:
To-day our common mother Earth has closed over the mortal remains of James A. Garfield, at Cleveland, Ohio. The light of no day in our national history has brought to the American people a more intense bereavement, a deeper sorrow, or a more profound sense of humiliation. It seems only as yesterday, that in my quality as United States Marshal of the District of Columbia, it was made my duty and privilege to walk at the head of the column in advance of this our President-elect, from the crowded Senate Chamber of the National Capitol, through the long corridors, and the grand rotunda, beneath the majestic dome, to the platform on the portico, where amid a sea of transcendent pomp and glory, he who is now dead, was hailed with tumultuous applause from uncounted thousands of his fellow citizens, and was inaugurated Chief Magistrate of the United States. The scene was one never to be forgotten by those who beheld it. It was a great day for the nation, glad and proud to do honour to their chosen ruler. It was a glad day for James A. Garfield. It was a glad day for me, that I—one of the proscribed race, was permitted to bear so prominent a part in its august ceremonies. Mr. Garfield was then in the midst of his years, in the fulness and vigour of his manhood, covered with honours beyond the reach of princes, entering upon a career more abundant in promise than ever invited president or potentate before.
Alas, what a contrast, as he lay in state under the same broad dome, viewed by sorrowful thousands day after day! What is the life of man? What are all his plans, purposes, and hopes? What are the shouts of the multitude, the pride and pomp of this world? How vain and unsubstantial, in the light of this sad and shocking experience, do they all appear! Who can tell what a day or an hour will bring forth? Such reflections inevitably present themselves, as most natural and fitting on an occasion like this.
Fellow citizens, we are here to take suitable notice of the sad and appalling event of the hour. We are here, not merely as American citizens, but as coloured American citizens. Although our hearts have gone along with those of the nation at large, with every expression, with every token and demonstration of honour to the dead, sympathy with the living, and abhorrence for the horrible deed which has at last done its fatal work; though we have watched with beating hearts, the long and heroic struggle for life, and endured all the agony of suspense and fear; we have felt that something more, something more specific and distinctive, was due from us. Our relation to the American people makes us in some sense a peculiar class, and unless we speak separately, our voice is not heard. We therefore propose to put on record to-night our sense of the worth of President Garfield, and of the calamity involved in his death. Called to preside on this occasion, my part in the speaking shall be brief. I cannot claim to have been on intimate terms with the late President. There are other gentlemen here, who are better qualified to speak of his character than myself. I must say, however, that soon after he came to Washington I had a conversation with him of much interest to the coloured people, since it indicated his just and generous intentions towards them, and goes far to present him in the light of a wise and patriotic statesman, and a friend of our race.
I called at the Executive Mansion, and was received very kindly by Mr. Garfield, who, in the course of the conversation said, that he felt the time had come when a step should be taken in advance, in recognition of the claims of coloured citizens, and expressed his intention of sending some coloured representatives abroad to other than coloured nations. He enquired of me how I thought such representations would be received? I assured him that I thought they would be well received; that in my own experience abroad, I had observed that the higher we go in the gradations of human society, the farther we get from prejudice of race or colour. I was greatly pleased with the assurance of his liberal policy towards us. I remarked to him, that no part of the American people would be treated with respect, if systematically ignored by the Government, and denied all participation in its honours and emoluments. To this he assented, and went so far as to propose my going in a representative capacity to an important post abroad—a compliment which I gratefully acknowledged, but respectfully declined. To say the truth, I wished to remain at home, and retain the office of United States Marshal of the District of Columbia.
It is a great thing for the Honourable John Mercer Langston to represent this Republic at Port au Prince, and for Henry Highland Garnet to represent us in Liberia, but it would be indeed a step in advance, to have some coloured men sent to represent us in white nationalities, and we have reason for profound regret that Mr. Garfield could not live to carry out his just and wise intentions towards us. I might say more of this conversation, but I will not detain you except to say, that America has had many great men, but no man among them all, has had better things said of him, than he who has been reverently committed to the dust in Cleveland to-day.”
Mr. Douglass then called upon Professor Greener, who read a series of resolutions eloquently expressive of their sense of the great loss that had been sustained, and their sympathy with the family of the late President. Professor Greener then spoke briefly and was followed by Professor John M. Langston and Rev. W. W. Hicks. All the speakers expressed their confidence in President Arthur and in his ability to give the country a wise and beneficial administration.
As far as this volume can reach that point, I have now brought my readers to the end of my story. What may remain of life to me, through what experiences I may pass, what heights I may attain, into what depths I may fall, what good or ill may come to me, or proceed from me in this breathing world, where all is change, uncertainty, and largely at the mercy of powers over which the individual man has no absolute control, if thought worthy and useful, will probably be told by others when I have passed from the busy stage of life. I am not looking for any great changes in my fortunes or achievements in the future. The most of the space of life is behind me, and the sun of my day is nearing the horizon. Notwithstanding all that is contained in this book, my day has been a pleasant one. My joys have far exceeded my sorrows, and my friends have brought me far more than my enemies have taken from me. I have written out my experience here, not to exhibit my wounds and bruises, to awaken and attract sympathy to myself personally, but as a part of the history of a profoundly interesting period in American life and progress. I have meant it to be a small individual contribution to the sum of knowledge of this special period, to be handed down to after-coming generations which-may want to know what things were allowed and what prohibited; what moral, social, and political relations subsisted between the different varieties of the American people down to the last quarter of the nineteenth century; and by what means they were modified and changed. The time is at hand when the last American slave, and the last American slaveholder will disappear behind the curtain which separates the living from the dead, and when neither master nor slave will be left to tell the story of their respective relations, and what has happened in those relations to either. My part has been to tell the story of the slave. The story of the master never wanted for narrators. They have had all the talent and genius that wealth and influence could command, to tell their story. They have had their full day in court. Literature, theology, philosophy law, and learning, have come willingly to their service, and if condemned they have not been condemned unheard.
It will be seen in these pages that I have lived several lives in one. First, the life of slavery; secondly, the life of a fugitive from slavery; thirdly, the life of comparative freedom; fourthly, the life of conflict and battle; and fifthly, the life of victory, if not complete, at least assured. To those who have suffered in slavery, I can say, I too have suffered. To those who have taken some risks and encountered hardships in the flight from bondage, I can say, I too have endured and risked. To those who have battled for liberty, brotherhood, and citizenship, I can say, I too have battled; and to those who have lived to enjoy the fruits of victory, I can say, I too live and rejoice. If I have pushed my example too prominently for the good taste of my Caucasian readers, I beg them to remember that I have written in part for the encouragement of a class whose inspirations need the stimulus of success.
I have aimed to assure them that knowledge can be obtained under difficulties; that poverty may give place to competency; that obscurity is not an absolute bar to distinction, and that a way is open to welfare and happiness for all who will resolutely and wisely pursue that way; that neither slavery, stripes, imprisonment, nor proscription, need extinguish self-respect, crush manly ambition, nor paralyze effort; that no power outside of himself can prevent a man from sustaining an honourable character and a useful relation to his day and generation; that neither institutions nor friends can make a race to stand, unless it has strength in its own legs; that there is no power in the world which can be relied upon to help the weak against the strong—the simple against the wise; that races like individuals must stand or fall by their own merits; that all the prayers of Christendom cannot stop the force of a single bullet, divest arsenic of poison, or suspend any law of nature. In my communication with the coloured people I have endeavoured to deliver them from the power of superstition, bigotry, and priestcraft. In theology I have found them strutting about in the old clothes of the masters, just as the masters strut about in the old clothes of the past. The falling power remains among them long after it has ceased to be the religious fashion of our refined and elegant white churches. I have taught that the “fault is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings,” that “who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.” I have urged upon them self-reliance, self-respect, industry, perseverance, and economy—to make the best of both worlds—but to make the best of this world first, because it comes first, and that he who does not improve himself by the motives and opportunities afforded by this world, gives the best evidence that he would not improve in any other world. Schooled as I have been among the abolitionists of New England, I recognise that the universe is governed by laws which are unchangeable and eternal, that what men sow they will reap, and that there is no way to dodge or circumvent the consequences of any act or deed. My views at this point receive but limited endorsement among my people. They for the most part think they have means of procuring special favour and help from the Almighty, and as their “faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen,” they find much in this expression which is true to faith but utterly false to fact. But I meant here only to say a word in conclusion. Forty years of my life have been given to the cause of my people, and if I had forty years more they should all be sacredly given to that great cause. If I have done something for that cause, I am after all more a debtor to it than it is debtor to me.
WEST INDIA EMANCIPATION.
Extract from a speech delivered by Frederick Douglass in Elmira, N. Y., August 1, 1880, at a great meeting of coloured people, met to celebrate West India emancipation, and where he was received with marked respect and approval by the president of the day and the immense crowd there assembled. It is placed in this book partly as a grateful tribute to the noble transatlantic men and women through whose unwearied exertions the system of negro slavery was finally abolished in all the British Isles.
Mr. President;—I thank you very sincerely for this cordial greeting. I hear in your speech something like a welcome home after a long absence. More years of my life and labours have been spent in this than in any other State of the Union. Anywhere within a hundred miles of the goodly city of Rochester, I feel myself at home and among friends. Within that circumference, there resides a people which have no superior in points of enlightenment, liberality, and civilization. Allow me to thank you also, for your generous words of sympathy and approval. In respect to this important support of a public man, I have been unusually fortunate. My forty years of work in the cause of the oppressed and enslaved, have been well noted, well appreciated, and well rewarded. All classes and colours of men, at home and abroad, have in this way assisted in holding up my hands. Looking back through these long years of toil and conflict, during which I have had blows to take as well as blows to give, and have sometimes received wounds and bruises, both in body and in mind; my only regret is that I have been enabled to do so little to lift up and strengthen our long enslaved and still oppressed people. My apology for these remarks personal to myself, is in the fact that I am now standing mainly in the presence of a new generation. Most of the men with whom I lived and laboured in the early years of the abolition movement, have passed beyond the borders of this life. Scarcely any of the coloured men who advocated our cause, and who started when I did, are now numbered among the living, and I begin to feel somewhat lonely. But while I have the sympathy and approval of men and women like these before me, I shall give with joy my latest breath in support of your claim to justice, liberty, and equality among men. The day we celebrate is preeminently the coloured man’s day. The great event by which it is distinguished, and by which it will for ever be distinguished from all other days of the year, has justly claimed thoughtful attention among statesmen and social reformers throughout the world. While to them it is a luminous point in human history, and worthy of thought in the coloured man, it addresses not merely the intelligence, but the feeling. The emancipation of our brethren in the West Indies comes home to us, stirs our hearts, and fills our souls with those grateful sentiments which link mankind in a common brotherhood.
In the history of the American conflict with slavery, the day we celebrate has played an important part. Emancipation in the West Indies was the first bright star in a stormy sky; the first smile after a long providential frown; the first ray of hope; the first tangible fact demonstrating the possibility of a peaceful transition from slavery to freedom of the negro race. Whoever else may forget or slight the claims of this day, it can never be other to us than memorable and glorious. The story of it shall be brief and soon told. Six-and-forty years ago, on the day we now celebrate, there went forth over the blue waters of the Carribean sea a great message from the British throne, hailed with startling shouts of joy, and thrilling songs of praise. That message liberated, set free, and brought within the pale of civilization eight hundred thousand people, who, till then, had been esteemed as beasts of burden. How vast, sudden, and startling was this transformation! In one moment, a mere tick of a watch, the twinkle of an eye, the glance of the morning sun, saw a bondage which had resisted the humanity of ages, defied earth and heaven, instantly ended; saw the slave-whip burnt to ashes; saw the slave’s chains melted; saw his fetters broken, and the irresponsible power of the slave-master over his victim for ever destroyed.
I have been told by eye-witnesses of the scene, that, in the first moment of it, the emancipated hesitated to accept it for what it was. They did not know whether to receive it as a reality, a dream, or a vision of the fancy.
No wonder they were thus amazed, and doubtful, after their terrible years of darkness and sorrow, which seemed to have no end. Like much other good news, it was thought too good to be true. But the silence and hesitation they observed was only momentary. When fully assured the good tidings which had come across the sea to them were not only good, but true; that they were indeed no longer slaves, but free; that the lash of the slave-driver was no longer in the air, but buried in the earth; that their limbs were no longer chained, but subject to their own will, the manifestations of their joy and gratitude knew no bounds, and sought expression in the loudest and wildest possible forms. They ran about, they danced, they sang, they gazed into the blue sky, bounded into the air, kneeled, prayed, shouted, rolled upon the ground, embraced each other. They laughed and wept for joy. Those who witnessed the scene say they never saw anything like it before.
We are sometimes asked why we American citizens annually celebrate West India emancipation when we might celebrate American emancipation. Why go abroad, say they, when we might as well stay at home?
The answer is easily given. Human liberty excludes all idea of home and abroad. It is universal and spurns localization.
It is bounded by no geographical lines, and knows no national limitations. Like the glorious sun of the heavens, its light shines for all. But besides this general consideration, this boundless power and glory of liberty, West India Emancipation has claims upon us as an event in this nineteenth century in which we live, for rich as this century is in moral and material achievements, in progress and civilization, it can claim nothing for itself greater and grander than this act of West India Emancipation.
Whether we consider the matter or the manner of it, the tree or its fruit, it is noteworthy, memorable, and sublime. Especially is the manner of its accomplishment worthy of consideration. Its best lesson to the world, its most encouraging word to all who toil and trust in the cause of justice and liberty, to all who oppose oppression and slavery, is a word of sublime faith and courage—faith in the truth and courage in the expression.
Great and valuable concessions have in different ages been made to the liberties of mankind. They have, however, come not at the command of reason and persuasion, but by the sharp and terrible edge of the sword. To this rule West India Emancipation is a splendid exception. It came not by the sword, but by the word; not by the brute force of numbers, but by the still small voice of truth; not by barricades, bayonets, and bloody revolution, but by peaceful agitation; not by divine interference, but by the exercise of simple human reason and feeling. I repeat that, in this peculiarity, we have what is most valuable to the human race generally.
It is a revelation of a power inherent in human society. It shows what can be done against wrong in the world, without the aid of armies on the earth or of angels in the sky. It shows that men have in their own hands the peaceful means of putting all their moral and political enemies under their feet, and of making this world a healthy and happy dwelling-place, if they will faithfully and courageously use them.
The world needed just such a revelation of the power of conscience and of human brotherhood, one that overleaped the accident of colour and of race, and set at naught the whisperings of prejudice. The friends of freedom in England saw in the negro a man, a moral and responsible being. Having settled this in their own minds, they, in the name of humanity, denounced the crime of his enslavement. It was the faithful, persistent, and enduring enthusiasm of Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, Granville Sharp, William Knibb, Henry Brougham, Thomas Fowell Buxton, Daniel O’Connell, George Thompson, and their noble co-workers, that finally thawed the British heart into sympathy for the slave, and moved the strong arm of that Government in mercy to put an end to his bondage.
Let no American, especially no coloured American, withhold a generous recognition of this stupendous achievement. What though it was not American, but British; what though it was not Republican, but Monarchical; what though it was not from the American Congress, but from the British Parliament; what though it was not from the chair of a President, but from the throne of a Queen, it was none the less a triumph of right over wrong, of good over evil, and a victory for the whole human race.
Besides: We may properly celebrate this day because of its special relation to our American Emancipation. In doing this we do not sacrifice the general to the special, the universal to the local. The cause of human liberty is one the whole world over. The downfall of slavery under British power meant the downfall of slavery, ultimately, under American power, and the downfall of negro slavery everywhere. But the effect of this great and philanthropic measure, naturally enough, was greater here than elsewhere. Outside the British Empire no other nation was in a position to feel it so much as we. The stimulus it gave to the American anti-slavery movement was immediate, pronounced, and powerful. British example became a tremendous lever in the hands of American abolitionists. It did much to shame and discourage the spirit of caste and the advocacy of slavery in church and state, It could not well have been otherwise. No man liveth unto himself.
What is true in this respect of individual men, is equally true of nations. Both impart good or ill to their age and generation. But putting aside this consideration, so worthy of thought, we have special reasons for claiming the 1st of August as the birthday of negro emancipation, not only in the West Indies, but in the United States. Spite of our national Independence, a common language, a common literature, a common history, a common civilization makes us and keeps us still a part of the British nation, if not a part of the British Empire. England can take no step forward in the pathway of a higher civilization without drawing us in the same direction, She is still the mother country, and the mother, too, of our abolition movement. Though her emancipation came in peace, and ours in war; though hers cost treasure, and ours blood; though hers was the result of a sacred preference, and ours resulted in part from necessity, the motive and mainspring of the respective measures were the same in both.
The abolitionists of this country have been charged with bringing on the war between the North and South, and in one sense this is true. Had there been no anti-slavery agitation at the North, there would have been no anti-slavery anywhere to resist the demands of the slave-power at the South, and where there is no resistance there can be no war. Slavery would then have been nationalized, and the whole country would then have been subjected to its power. Resistance to slavery and the extension of slavery invited and provoked secession and war to perpetuate and extend the slave system. Thus, in the same sense, England is responsible for our civil war. The abolition of slavery in the West Indies gave life and vigour to the abolition movement in America. Clarkson of England gave us Garrison of America; Granville Sharpe of England gave us our Wendell Phillips; and Wilberforce of England gave us our peerless Charles Sumner.
These grand men and their brave co-workers here, took up the moral thunder-bolts which had struck down slavery in the West Indies, and hurled them with increased zeal and power against the gigantic system of slavery here, till, goaded to madness, the traffickers in the souls and bodies of men flew to arms, rent asunder the Union at the centre, and filled the land with hostile armies and the ten thousand horrors of war. Out of this tempest, out of this whirlwind and earthquake of war, came the abolition of slavery, came the employment of coloured troops, came coloured citizens, came coloured jurymen, came coloured congressmen, came coloured schools in the South, and came the great amendments of our national constitution.
We celebrate this day, too, for the very good reason that we have no other to celebrate. English emancipation has one advantage over American emancipation. Hers has a definite anniversary. Ours has none. Like our slaves, the freedom of the negro has no birthday. No man can tell the day of the month, or the month of the year, upon which slavery was abolished in the United States. We cannot even tell when it began to be abolished. Like the movement of the sea, no man can tell where one wave begins and another ends. The chains of slavery with us were loosened by degrees. First, we had the struggle in Kansas with border ruffians; next, we had John Brown at Harper’s Ferry; next, the firing upon Fort Sumter; a little while after, we had Fremont’s order, freeing the slaves of the rebels in Missouri. Then we had General Butler declaring and treating the slaves of rebels as contraband of war; next we had the proposition to arm coloured men and make them soldiers for the Union. In 1862 we had the conditional promise of a Proclamation of Emancipation from President Lincoln; and, finally, on the 1st of January, 1863, we had the proclamation itself—and still the end was not yet. Slavery was bleeding and dying, but it was not dead, and no man can tell just when its foul spirit departed from our land, if indeed it has yet departed, and hence we do not know what day we may properly celebrate as coupled with this great American event.
When England behaved so badly during our late civil war, I, for one, felt like giving up these 1st of August celebrations. But I remembered that during that war, there were two Englands, as there were two Americas, and that one was true to liberty while the other was true to slavery. It was not the England which gave us West India emancipation that took sides with the slaveholders’ rebellion. It was not the England of John Bright and William Edward Foster, that permitted Alabamas to escape from British ports, and prey upon our commerce, or that otherwise favoured slaveholding in the South, but it was the England which had done what it could to prevent West India emancipation.
It was the Tory party in England that fought the abolition party at home, and it was the same party that favoured our slaveholding rebellion.
Under a different name, we had the same, or a similar party, here; a party which despised the negro and consigned him to perpetual slavery; a party which was willing to allow the American Union to be shivered into fragments, rather than that one hair of the head of slavery should be injured.
But, fellow citizens, I should but very imperfectly fulfil the duty of this hour if I confined myself to a merely historical or philosophical discussion of West India emancipation. The story of the 1st of August has been told a thousand times over, and may be told a thousand times more. The cause of freedom and humanity has a history and destiny nearer home.
How stands the case with the recently emancipated millions of coloured people in our own country? What is their condition to-day? What is their relation to the people who formerly held them as slaves? These are important questions, and they are such as trouble the minds of thoughtful men of all colours, at home and abroad. By law, by the constitution of the United States, slavery has no existence in our country. The legal form has been abolished. By the law of the constitution, the negro is a man and a citizen, and has all the rights and liberties guaranteed to any other variety of the human family, residing in the United States.
He has a country, a flag, and a government, and may legally claim full and complete protection under the laws. It was the ruling wish, intention, and purpose of the loyal people, after rebellion was suppressed, to have an end to the entire cause of that calamity by for ever putting away the system of slavery and all its incidents. In pursuance of this idea, the negro was made free, made a citizen, made eligible to hold office, to be a juryman, a legislator, and a magistrate. To this end, several amendments to the constitution were proposed, recommended, and adopted. They are now a part of the supreme law of the land, binding alike upon every State and Territory of the United States, North and South. Briefly, this is our legal and theoretical condition. This is our condition on paper and parchment. If only from the national statute book we were left to learn the true condition of the coloured race, the result would be altogether creditable to the American people. It would give them a clear title to a place among the most enlightened and liberal nations of the world. We could say of our country, as Curran once said of England, “The spirit of British law makes liberty commensurate with, and inseparable from, the British soil.” Now I say that this eloquent tribute to England, if only we looked into our constitution, might apply to us. In that instrument we have laid down the law, now and for ever, and there shall be no slavery or involuntary servitude in this Republic, except for crime.
We have gone still further. We have laid the heavy hand of the constitution upon the matchless meanness of caste, as well as the hell-black crime of slavery, We have declared before all the world that there shall be no denial of rights on account of race, colour, or previous condition of servitude. The advantage gained in this respect is immense.
It is a great thing to have the supreme law of the land on the side of justice and liberty. It is the line up to which the nation is destined to march—the law to which the nation’s life must ultimately conform. It is a great principle, up to which we may educate the people, and to this extent its value exceeds all speech.
But to-day, in most of the Southern States, the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments are virtually nullified.
The rights which they were intended to guarantee are denied and held in contempt. The citizenship granted in the fourteenth amendment is practically a mockery, and the right to vote, provided for in the fifteenth amendment, is literally stamped out in face of government. The old master class is to-day triumphant, and the newly-enfranchised class in a condition but little above that in which they were found before the rebellion.
Do you ask me how, after all that has been done, this state of things has been made possible? I will tell you. Our reconstruction measures were radically defective. They left the former slave completely in the power of the old master, the loyal citizen in the hands of the disloyal rebel against the Government. Wise, grand, and comprehensive in scope and design, as were the reconstruction measures, high and honourable as were the intentions of the statesmen by whom they were framed and adopted, time and experience, which try all things, have demonstrated that they did not successfully meet the case.
In the hurry and confusion of the hour, and the eager desire to have the Union restored, there was more care for sublime super-structure of the Republic than for the solid foundation upon which it could alone be upheld. They gave freedmen the machinery of liberty, but denied them the steam to put it in motion. They gave them the uniform of soldiers, but no arms; they called them citizens, and left them subjects; they called them free, and almost left them slaves. They did not deprive the old master class of the power of life and death which was the soul of the relation of master and slave. They could not, of course, sell them, but they retained the power to starve them to death, and wherever this power is held, there is the power of slavery. He who can say to his fellow-man, “You shall serve me or starve,” is a master, and his subject is a slave. This was seen and felt by Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, and leading stalwart Republicans, and had their counsels prevailed the terrible evils from which we now suffer would have been averted. The negro to-day would not be on his knees, as he is, abjectly supplicating the old master class to give him leave to toil. Nor would he now be leaving the South, as from a doomed city, and seeking a home in the uncongenial North, but tilling his native soil in comparative independence. Though no longer a slave, he is in a thraldom grievous and intolerable, compelled to work for whatever his employer is pleased to pay him, swindled out of his hard earnings by money orders redeemed in stores, compelled to pay the price of an acre of ground for its use during a single year, to pay four times more than a fair price for a pound of bacon, and be kept upon the narrowest margin between life and starvation. Much complaint has been made that the freedmen have shown so little ability to take care of themselves since their emancipation. Men have marvelled that they have made so little progress. I question the justice of this complaint. It is neither reasonable, nor in any sense just. To me, the wonder is, not that the freedmen have made so little progress, but, rather, that they have made so much; not that they have been standing still, but that they have been able to stand at all.
We have only to reflect for a moment upon the situation in which these people found themselves when liberated: consider their ignorance, their poverty, their destitution, and their absolute dependence upon the very class by whom they had been held in bondage for centuries, a class whose every sentiment was averse to their freedom, and we shall be prepared to marvel that they have under the circumstances done so well.
History does not furnish an example of emancipation under conditions less friendly to the emancipated class, than this American example. Liberty came to the freedmen of the United States, not in mercy but in wrath; not by moral choice, but by military necessity; not by the generous action of the people among whom they were to live, and whose good will was essential to the success of the measure, but by strangers, foreigners, invaders, trespassers, aliens, and enemies. The very manner of their emancipation invited to the heads of the freedmen the bitterest hostility of race and class. They were hated because they had been slaves, hated because they were now free, and hated because of those who had freed them. Nothing was to have been expected other than what has happened; and he is a poor student of the human heart who does not see that the old master class would naturally employ every power and means in their reach to make the great measure of emancipation unsuccessful and utterly odious. It was born in the tempest and whirlwind of war, and has lived in a storm of violence and blood. When the Hebrews were emancipated, they were told to take spoil from the Egyptians. When the serfs of Russia were emancipated, they were given three acres of ground upon which they could live and make a living. But not so when our slaves were emancipated. They were sent away emptyhanded, without money, without friends, and without a foot of land to stand upon. Old and young, sick and well, were turned loose to the naked sky, naked to their enemies. The old slave quarter that had before sheltered them, and the fields that had yielded them corn, were now denied them. The old master class in its wrath said, “Clear out! The Yankees have freed you, now let them feed and shelter you!”
Inhuman as was this treatment, it was the natural result of the bitter resentment felt by the old master class, and in view of it the wonder is, not that the coloured people of the South have done so little in the way of acquiring a comfortable living, but that they live at all.
Taking all the circumstances into consideration, the coloured people have no reason to despair. We still live, and while there is life there is hope. The fact that we have endured wrongs and hardships, which would have destroyed any other race, and have increased in numbers and public consideration, ought to strengthen our faith in ourselves and our future. Let us then, wherever we are, whether at the North or at the South, resolutely struggle on, in the belief that there is a better day coming, and that we by patience, industry, uprightness, and economy may hasten that better day. I will not listen, myself, and I would not have you listen, to the nonsense, that no people can succeed in life among a people by whom they have been despised and oppressed.
The statement is erroneous, and contradicted by the whole history of human progress. A few centuries ago, all Europe was cursed with serfdom, or slavery. Traces of this bondage still remain but are not easily discernible.
The Jews, only a century ago, were despised, hated, and oppressed, but they have defied, met, and vanquished the hard conditions imposed upon them, and are now opulent and powerful, and compel respect in all countries.
Take courage from the example of all religious denominations that have sprung up since Martin Luther. Each in its turn has been oppressed and persecuted.
Methodists, Baptists, and Quakers, have all been compelled to feel the lash and sting of popular disfavour—yet all in turn have conquered the prejudice and hate of their surroundings.
Greatness does not come to any people on flowery beds of ease. We must fight to win the prize. No people to whom liberty is given can hold it as firmly and wear it as grandly as those who wrench their liberty from the iron hand of the tyrant. The hardships and dangers involved in the struggle give strength and toughness to the character, and enable it to stand firm in storm as well as in sunshine.
One thought more before I leave this subject, and it is a thought I wish you all to lay to heart. Practise it yourselves and teach it to your children. It is this, neither we, nor any other people, will ever be respected till we respect ourselves, and we will never respect ourselves till we have the means to live respectfully. An exceptionally poor and dependent people will be despised by the opulent, and despise themselves.
You cannot make an empty sack stand on end. A race which cannot save its earnings, which spends all it makes and goes in debt when it is ill, can never rise in the scale of civilization, no matter under what laws it may chance to be. Put us in Kansas or in Africa, and until we learn to save more than we spend, we are sure to sink and perish. It is not in the nature of things that we should be equally rich in this world’s goods. Some will be more successful than others, and poverty, in many cases, is the result of misfortune rather than of crime; but no race can afford to have all its members the victims of this misfortune, without being considered a worthless race. Pardon me, therefore, for urging upon you, my people, the importance of saving your earnings; of denying yourselves in the present, that you may have something in the future, of consuming less for yourselves that your children may have a start in life when you are gone.
With money and property comes the means of knowledge and power. A poverty-stricken class will be an ignorant and despised class, and no amount of sentiment can make it otherwise. This part of our destiny is in our own hands. Every dollar you lay up, represents one day’s independence, one day of rest and security in the future. If the time shall ever come when we shall possess, in the coloured people of the United States, a class of men noted for enterprise, industry, economy, and success, we shall no longer have any trouble in the matter of civil and political rights. The battle against popular prejudice will have been fought and won, and in common with all other races and colours, we shall have an equal chance in the race of life.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS was born a slave, he won his liberty, he is of negro extraction, and consequently was despised and outraged; he has by his own energy and force of character commanded the respect of the American Nation; he was ignorant, he has, against law and by stealth and entirely unaided, educated himself; he was poor, he has by honest toil and industry become rich and independent, so to speak; he, a chattel slave of a hated and cruelly-wronged race, in the teeth of American prejudice and in face of nearly every kind of hindrance and drawback, has come to be one of the foremost orators of the age, with a reputation established on both sides of the Atlantic; a writer of power and elegance of expression; a thinker whose views are potent in controlling and shaping public opinion; a high officer in the National Government; a cultivated gentleman whose virtues as a husband, father, and citizen are the highest honour a man can have.
Frederick Douglass stands upon a pedestal; he has reached this lofty height through years of toil and strife, but it has been the strife of moral ideas; strife in the battle for human rights. No bitter memories come from this strife; no feelings of remorse can rise to cast their gloomy shadows over his soul; Douglass has now reached and passed the meridian of life, his co-labourers in the strife have now nearly all passed away. Garrison has gone, Gerrit Smith has gone, Giddings and Sumner have gone,—nearly all the early abolitionists are gone to their reward. The culmination of his life-work has been reached; the object dear to his heart—the Emancipation of the Slaves—has been accomplished, through the blessings of God; he stands facing the goal, already reached by his co-labourers, with a halo of peace about him, and nothing but serenity and gratitude must fill his breast. To those, who in the past—in ante-bellum days—in any degree shared with Douglass his hopes and feelings on the slavery question, this serenity of mind, this gratitude, can be understood and felt. All Americans, no matter what may have been their views on slavery, now that freedom has come and slavery is ended, must have a restful feeling and be glad that the source of bitterness and trouble is removed. The man who is sorry because of the abolition of slavery, has outlived his day and generation; he should have insisted upon being buried with the “lost cause” at Appomattox.
We rejoice that Douglass has attained unto this exalted position,—this pedestal. It has been honourably reached; it is a just recognition of talent and effort; it is another proof that success attends high and noble aim. With this example, the black boy as well as the white boy, can take hope and courage in the race of life.
For more than forty years he has been before the world as a writer and speaker.
The first twenty-three years of his life were twenty-three years of slavery, obscurity, and degradation, yet doubtless, in time to come these years will be regarded by the student of history as the most interesting portion of his life; to those who in the future would know the inside history of American slavery, this part of his life will be specially instructive. Plantation life at Tuckahoe as related by him is not fiction, it is fact; it is not the historian’s dissertation on slavery, it is slavery itself, the slave’s life, acts, and thoughts, and the life, acts, and thoughts of those around him.
Col. Lloyd’s plantation, where Douglass belonged, was very much like other plantations of the South. Here was the great house and the cabins, the old Aunties and patriarchal Uncles, little picanninies and picanninies not so little, of every shade of complexion, from ebony black to whiteness of the master race; mules, overseers, and broken down fences. Here was the negro Doctor learned in the science of roots and herbs; also the black conjurer with his divination. Here was slave-breeding, and slave-selling, whipping, torturing, and whipping to death. All this came under the observation of Douglass and is a part of the education he received while under the yoke of bondage. He was there in the midst of this confusion, ignorance and brutality. Little did the overseer on this plantation think that he had in his gang a man of superior order and undaunted spirit, whose mind, far above the minds of the grovelling creatures about him, was at that very time plotting schemes for his liberty; nor did the thought ever enter the mind of Col. Lloyd, the rich slaveholder, that he had upon his estate one who was destined to assail the system of slavery with more power and effect than any other person.
F. Douglass’ fame will rest mainly, no doubt, upon his oratory. His powers in this direction are very great, and in some respects unparalleled by our living speakers. His oratory is his own, and apparently formed after the model of no single person. It is not after the Edmund Burke style, which has been so closely followed by Everett, Sumner, and others, and which has resulted in giving us splendid and highly embellished essays rather than natural and not over-wrought speeches. If his oratory must be classified, it should be placed somewhere between the Fox and Henry Clay schools. Like Clay, Douglass’ greatest effect is upon his immediate hearers, those who see him and feel his presence, and like Clay, a good part of his oratorical fame will be tradition. The most striking feature of Douglass’ oratory is his fire, not the quick and flashy kind, but the steady and intense kind. Years ago on the anti-slavery platform, in some sudden and unbidden outburst of passion and indignation he has been known to awe-inspire his listeners as though Ætna was there.
If oratory consists of the power to move men by spoken words, Douglass is a complete orator. He can make men laugh or cry, at his will. He has power of statement, logic, withering denunciation, pathos, humour, and inimitable wit. Daniel Webster with his immense intellectuality had no humour, not a particle. It does not appear that he could even see the point of a joke. Douglass is brim full of humour, at times of the driest kind. It is of a quiet kind. You can see it coming a long way off in a peculiar twitch of his mouth; it increases and broadens gradually until it becomes irresistible and all-pervading with his audience.
F. Douglass’ rank as a writer is high, and justly so. His writings, if anything, are more meritorious than the speaking. For many years, he was the editor of newspapers, doing all of the editorial work. He has contributed largely to magazines. He is a forcible and thoughtful writer. His style is pure and graceful, and he has great felicity of expression. His written productions in finish compare favourably with the written productions of our most cultivated writers. His style comes partly, no doubt, from his long and constant practice, but the true source is his clear mind, which is well stored by a close acquaintance with the best authors. His range of reading has been wide and extensive. He has been a hard student. In every sense of the word he is a self-made man. By dint of hard study he has educated himself, and to-day it may be said he has a well-trained intellect. He has surmounted the disadvantage of not having an university education, by application and well-directed effort. He seems to have realized the fact that to one who is anxious to become educated and is really in earnest, it is not positively necessary to go to college, and that information may be had outside of college walks; books may be obtained and read elsewhere, they are not chained to desks in college libraries as they were in early times at Oxford; Professors’ lectures may be bought already printed; learned doctors may be listened to in the Lyceum; and the printing press has made it easy and cheap to get information on every subject and topic that is discussed and taught in the University. Douglass never made the great mistake (a common one) of considering that his education was finished. He has continued to study, he studies now, and is a growing man, and at this present moment he is a stronger man intellectually than ever before.
Soon after Douglass’ escape from Maryland to the Northern States he commenced his public career. It was at New Bedford as a local Methodist preacher and by taking part in small public meetings held by coloured people, where anti-slavery and other matters were discussed. There he laid the foundation of the splendid career, which is now about drawing to a close. In these meetings Douglass gave evidence that he possessed uncommon powers, and it was plainly to be seen that he needed only a field and opportunity to display them. That field and opportunity soon came, as it always does to possessors of genius. He became a member and agent of the American Anti-Slavery society. Then commenced his great crusade against slavery in behalf of his oppressed brethren at the South.
He waged violent and unceasing war against slavery. He went through every town and hamlet in the Free States, raising his voice against the iniquitous system,
Just escaped from the prison-house himself, to tear down the walls of the same and to let the oppressed go free, was the mission which engaged the powers of his soul and body. North, East, and West, all through the land went this escaped slave delivering his warning message against the doomed cities of the South. The ocean did not stop nor hinder him. Across the Atlantic he went, through England, Ireland, and Scotland. Wherever people could be found to listen to his story, he pleaded the cause of his enslaved and down-trodden brethren with vehemence and great power. From 1840 to 1861, the time of the commencement of the civil war, which extirpated slavery in his country, Douglass was continuously speaking on the platform, writing for his newspaper and for magazines, or working in conventions for the abolition of slavery.
The life and work of Douglass has been a complete vindication of the coloured people in this respect; it has refuted and overthrown the position taken by some writers that coloured people were deficient in mental qualifications, and were incapable of attaining high intellectual position. We may reasonably expect to hear no more of this now, the argument is exploded. Douglass has settled the fact the right way, and it is something to settle a fact.
That Douglass is a brave man there can be little doubt. He has physical as well as moral courage. His encounter with the overseer of the Eastern Shore plantation attests his pluck. There the odds were against him, everything was against him—there the unwritten rule was, that the negro who dared to strike a white man must be killed, but Douglass fought the overseer and whipped him. His plotting with other slaves to escape, writing and giving them passes, and the unequal and desperate fight maintained by him in the Baltimore ship yard, where law and public sentiment were against him, also show that he has courage. But since the day of his slavery, while living here at the North, many instances have happened which show very plainly that he is a man of courage and determination; if he had not been, he would have long since succumbed to the brutality and violence of the low and mean-spirited people found in the Free States.
Up to a very recent date it has been deemed quite safe even here in the North to insult and impose on inoffensive coloured people, to elbow a coloured man from the sidewalk, to jeer at him and apply vile epithets to him, in some localities this has been the rule and not the exception, and to put him out of public conveyances and public places by force, was of common occurrence. It made little difference that the coloured man was decent, civil, and respectably clad, and had paid his fare, if the proprietor of the place or his patrons took the notion that the presence of the coloured man was an affront to their dignity, or inconsistent with their notions of self-respect, out he must go. Nor must he stand upon the order of his going, but go at once. It was against this feeling that Douglass had to contend. He met it often; he was a prominent coloured man travelling from place to place. A good part of the time he was in strange cities stopping at strange taverns—that is, when he was allowed to stop. Frequently has he been refused accommodation in hotels. And as to riding in public conveyances, mean-spirited conductors at one time made it a rule to put all coloured people, nolens nolens, in the smoking car. Many times was Douglass subjected to this indignity.
The writer of this remembers well, because he was present and saw the transaction,—the John Brown meeting in Tremont Temple in 1860, when a violent mob composed of the rough element from the slums of the city, led and encouraged by bankers’ brokers came into the hall to break up the meeting. Douglass was presiding; the mob was armed; the police were powerless; the mayor could not or would not do anything. On came the mob, surging through the aisles, over benches and upon the platform; the women in the audience became alarmed and fled. The hirelings were prepared to do anything, they had the power and could with impunity. Douglass sat upon the platform with a few chosen spirits, cool and undaunted; the mob had got about and around him; he did not heed their howling, nor was he moved by their threats. It was not until their leader, a rich banker, with his followers, had mounted the platform and wrenched the chair from under him that he was dispossessed, by main force and personal violence (Douglass resisting all the time) they removed him from the platform. Free speech was violated; Boston was disgraced; but the Chairman of that meeting was not intimidated.
GEORGE L. RUFFIN.
The Rev. DAVID THOMAS, D.D., ON FREDERICK DOUGLASS and His Work.
A BOOK not only reveals but often contains its author. It is a kind of incarnation of himself, a body in which he lives and works, long after the brain that thought it and the pen that wrote it have mouldered into dust. In it may be seen, not merely his passing opinions and floating feelings, but his thinking intellect and throbbing heart. A book may be less but never greater than its author. A small man, however learned, can never produce a great book. A truly great book is the spontaneous outflow of a great soul, it has not the polish of art, but the bloom of nature. A book is not to be judged by the number of its pages, the consecutiveness of its reasoning, or the rhythms of its periods, but by the amount of creative life that impregnates its sentences, and breathes in its pages.
This Volume is small in bulk, but overflowing with vitality. The Author (with whom I became acquainted soon after my advent to London, and who addressed a crowded audience in the Church at Stockwell of which I was minister) gave me an impression which continues fresh to this hour, not only of his unique history, but of his extraordinary ability and genius. In memory I see him now as he appeared on the platform some thirty-six years ago. He was then a runaway slave. In stature tall, and somewhat attenuated, with a head indicative of large brain force, his dark countenance radiating with humour and genius, his large eyes, now flashing with the fire of indignation against tyranny, and now beaming with tender sympathy for his oppressed race.
As an orator I have never heard his superior from that day to this. His voice was clear and strong, capable of every modulation, and of conveying all classes of sentiment, from the most terrific to the most gentle. His attitudes were natural, and therefore electrically commanding. He dramatised those awful memories of wrong that were at that time burning in his soul. Ten such men in our House of Commons would make quasi-patriots and hireling statesmen quail, give the genuine lovers of right courage, and effect a moral revolution. Ten such men in our London pulpits would send charlatanic pulpiteers to their “own place;” all the little Isms would take their wing at the thunders of their voice, whilst candid enquirers would get firmly rooted in sound ethical convictions.
Having read every line of this book, and being assured that it is re-published in this country with the Author’s consent, I have heartily acceded to the request of the enterprising Publisher to write this brief note. To me, the book itself supplies the interest of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and recalls tragic adventures equal to the boldest creations of romance. It will, I trow, run as widely and live as long as “Robinson Crusoe” and kindred works, but exert at the same time a more potent and beneficent influence.
The book is an autobiography, in which a great man tells out the heartrending wrongs which he has endured, and the agonising and tremendous struggles which he put forth for freedom and justice. The Author’s life was so mixed up with the most tragical period in American history, that this autobiography reveals, in aspects new and grand, the labours of the anti-slavery reformers, such as the illustrious Lloyd Garrison, and his noble colleagues; the characters of Presidents Lincoln and Garfield; and the origin, the progress, and the issues of the great Civil War between the North and the South.
It also reveals the possibilities of a human soul to change external circumstances. Here is a man, born and bred in slavery, subject for twenty-one long years to the most terrible oppression and ruthless cruelty, bleeding under the lash of the slaveholder, incarcerated in dungeous, subject to daily insults even from the conventional sainthood of the Churches, as well as from white men everywhere, and what does he do? He breaks through all, like Samson through the “withs” that bound him, until he becomes one of the first men in the State, an associate of leading Senators, a most distinguished citizen, the “Marshal of Columbia,” wearing the title of “Honourable.” Man need never, ought not ever, to be the creature of circumstances. He degrades his manhood when he yields to externalities. Heaven has endowed him with the power to use the most unpropitious external conditions, as the skilful mariner uses hostile waves and winds, to carry him on to his destination. In truth, to a great soul, as in the case of Frederick Douglass, the most unfavourable circumstances may be turned into triumphant chariots, to bear our manhood on to its ideal power and grandeur.
Mr. Lobb, in publishing this volume, does a work of true patriotism and philanthropy. I trust that it will find its way not only to every railway stall and every circulating library, but into every British home. All who, through this work, come in contact with Frederick Douglass, will be impressed with the dignity of human nature, and feel refreshed and encouraged. They will find a man here an existence, alas! somewhat rare.
Amongst millions of bipeds there are not many real men. Jeremiah was commissioned by the Almighty to “run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and to search the broad places” in order to find a “man.” The city had at that time, not been desolated by war, nor had its inhabitants, so far as is known, been thinned by any catastrophe; its streets resounded with the tread of a crowded population, its broad market-places were thronged with those who bought and sold in “order to get gain,” but amidst this dense concourse of human animals—feeding, thinking, bartering, all acting with more or less energy, and some flaunting as local magnates,—to find a man was a difficult work. A man amongst a teeming population of human animals was a rare object. The grand mission of Christianity, as I understand it, is to convert the fleshly into the spiritual, the selfish into the generous, and thus all human animals into men. This book contains a man—not a man’s portrait, but a man’s self—breathing and thinking, weeping and rejoicing, praying and lecturing, hurling fulminations at the wrong, and smiling benedictions on the right. Truly Frederick Douglass is a grand man.
Erewyn,Upper Tulse Hill,
Bemrose and Sons, Printers, 23, Old Bailey, London; and Derby.