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Chapter 9

Ever mindful of his people and seeking always to promote their welfare, Douglass was one of those who urged, in all his addresses at this period, the abolition of slavery and the arming of the negroes as the most effective means of crushing the rebellion. In 1862 he delivered a series of lectures in New England under the auspices of the recently formed Emancipation League, which contended for abolition as a military necessity.

The first or conditional emancipation proclamation was issued in September, 1862; and shortly afterward Douglass published a pamphlet for circulation in Great Britain, entitled _The Slave's Appeal to Great Britain_, in which he urged the English people to refuse recognition of the independence of the Confederate States. He always endeavored in his public utterances to remove the doubts and fears of those who were tempted to leave the negroes in slavery because of the difficulty of disposing of them after they became free. Douglass, with the simple, direct, primitive sense of justice that had always marked his mind, took the only true ground for the solution of the race problems of that or any other epoch,-that the situation should be met with equal and exact justice, and that his people should be allowed to do as they pleased with themselves, "subject only to the same great laws which apply to other men." He was a conspicuous figure at the meeting in Tremont Temple, Boston, on January 1, 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation, hourly expected by an anxious gathering, finally flashed over the wires. Douglass was among the first to suggest the employment of colored troops in the Union army. In spite of all assertions to the contrary, he foresaw in the war the end of slavery. He perceived that by the enlistment of colored men not only would the Northern arms be strengthened, but his people would win an opportunity to exercise one of the highest rights of freemen, and by valor on the field of battle to remove some of the stigma that slavery had placed upon them. He strove through every channel at his command to impress his views upon the country; and his efforts helped to swell the current of opinion which found expression, after several intermediate steps, in the enlistment of two colored regiments by Governor Andrew, the famous war governor of Massachusetts, a State foremost in all good works. When Mr. Lincoln had granted permission for the recruiting of these regiments, Douglass issued through his paper a stirring appeal, which was copied in the principal journals of the Union States, exhorting his people to rally to this call, to seize this opportunity to strike a blow at slavery and win the gratitude of the country and the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity.

Douglass exerted himself personally in procuring enlistments, his two sons [his youngest and his oldest], Charles and Lewis, being [among] the first in New York to enlist; for the two Massachusetts regiments were recruited all over the North. Lewis H. Douglass, sergeant-major in the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, was among the foremost on the ramparts at Fort Wagner. Both these sons of Douglass survived the war, and are now well known and respected citizens of Washington, D.C. The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, under the gallant but ill-fated Colonel Shaw, won undying glory in the conflict; and the heroic deeds of the officers and men of this regiment are fittingly commemorated in the noble monument by St. Gaudens, recently erected on Boston Common, to stand as an inspiration of freedom and patriotism for the future and as testimony that a race which for generations had been deprived of arms and liberty could worthily bear the one and defend the other.

Douglass was instrumental in persuading the government to put colored soldiers on an equal footing with white soldiers, both as to pay and protection. In the course of these efforts he was invited to visit President Lincoln. He describes this memorable interview in detail in his _Life and Times_. The President welcomed him with outstretched hands, put him at once at his ease, and listened patiently and attentively to all that he had to say. Douglass maintained that colored soldiers should receive the same pay as white soldiers, should be protected and exchanged as prisoners, and should be rewarded, by promotion, for deeds of valor. The President suggested some of the difficulties to be overcome; but both he and Secretary of War Stanton, whom Douglass also visited, assured him that in the end his race should be justly treated. Stanton, before the close of the interview with him, promised Douglass a commission as assistant adjutant to General Lorenzo Thomas, then recruiting colored troops in the Mississippi Valley. But Stanton evidently changed his mind, since the commission, somewhat to Douglass's chagrin, never came to hand.

When McClellan had been relieved by Grant, and the new leader of the Union forces was fighting the stubbornly contested campaign of the Wilderness, President Lincoln again sent for Douglass, to confer with him with reference to bringing slaves in the rebel States within the Union lines, so that in the event of premature peace as many slaves as possible might be free. Douglass undertook, at the President's suggestion, to organize a band of colored scouts to go among the negroes and induce them to enter the Union lines. The plan was never carried out, owing to the rapid success of the Union arms; but the interview greatly impressed Douglass with the sincerity of the President's conviction against slavery and his desire to see the war result in its overthrow. What the colored race may have owed to the services, in such a quarter, of such an advocate as Douglass, brave, eloquent, high-principled, and an example to Lincoln of what the enslaved race was capable of, can only be imagined. That Lincoln was deeply impressed by these interviews is a matter of history.

Douglass supported vigorously the nomination of Lincoln for a second term, and was present at his [March 4] inauguration. And a few days later, while the inspired words of the inaugural address, long bracketed with the noblest of human utterances, were still ringing in his ears, he spoke at the meeting held in Rochester to mourn the death of the martyred President, and made one of his most eloquent and moving addresses. It was a time that wrung men's hearts, and none more than the strong-hearted man's whose race had found its liberty through him who lay dead at Washington, slain by the hand of an assassin whom slavery had spawned.

Charles W. Chesnutt

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