Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Frederick Douglass -- Serving in Haiti
 
The Republican Party won back the Presidency in 1888.  Douglass had campaigned for Benjamin Harrison and now wanted another government job.  A cabinet position was something that Douglass could dream about but he was willing to settle for his old job, recorder of deeds.  The position, ironically, went to Blanche K. Bruce, former black senator from Mississippi and a witness to Douglass’s marriage.  Douglass waited three months for a government appointment, all the while ignoring the advice of friends not to antagonize the new President by urging Harrison to bring back federal protection of the lives of Negroes in the South and of their right to vote.  In June 1889 Douglass was offered the ministry to Haiti.  Despite advice from friends, he accepted.
 
Two black generals, Francois D. Legitime and Florvil Hyppolite, had directed a revolution in 1888 that had removed Haiti’s president.  With naval and military aid provided by the American navy, Hyppolite then removed Legitime and his supporters from the island, and, as the new Haiti president, it was Hyppolite who received Douglass’s credentials in November of 1889.
 
The Harrison administration wanted something back for the helpfulness.  They wanted Mole St. Nicholas, an excellent harbor on the extreme northwestern tip of Haiti.  The location would then become the primary United States naval station in the Caribbean.
 
Always vulnerable, independent Haiti was now under the particularly avaricious eyes of white powers seeking bases for their growing navies-bases that in the Caribbean would support them in their rivalry to build a canal across the Central American isthmus.  Other Caribbean islands, among them Spain’s Cuba and the British West Indies, already belonged to competing European empires.  … They [the Haitians] knew that as a black republic their nation was viewed with much contempt and that it was judged fair prey by those wishing to annex part or all of it (McFeely 336).
 
Likely, Douglass had received his assignment to mollify the suspicions of Haitians, who were well familiar with his past history.  Douglass, himself, revered Haiti.  He believed that its people were a singular example of what all black people could accomplish, unhindered by white persecution.  Douglass, although in favor of acquiring the Haitian harbor for the navy’s use, well understood Haitian cynicism and performed his tasks openly and honestly, despite the arrogant words and threatening manner of an American admiral, who was assigned to work with Douglass in their negotiations to obtain a lease of the harbor.  Their efforts failed, and the administration abandoned the project in the late summer of 1891.  The expansionists of the administration had now focused their desire upon Hawaii, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.  President Harrison had never been more than luke warm about acquiring a Haitian harbor.
 
Critics in the press inaccurately accused Douglass ob being the main reason for his administration’s failure to obtain the harbor.  New York newspapers demanded and predicted that he would be fired.  On June 30 Douglass submitted his resignation, but not because of the criticism.  Both his own health and that of Helen had suffered from the climate.
 
Douglass defended himself six months later in the North American Review.  “A man must defend himself,” he wrote, “if only to demonstrate his fitness to defend anything else.”
 
… To be sure, he had had enough of Haiti, but his pride had been hurt, and, worse, his loyalty to his country had been challenged.  … He contended … that he had had no orders to try to secure it [the harbor] during his first year in Haiti and therefore could not be charged with delay in the months immediately following Hyppolite”s assumption of power.  Discussing the negotiations that did take place, Douglass was candid in suggesting that Admiral Gherardi had been condescending and hence insulting to Antenor Firmin, Haiti’s secretary of state.  [After the article appeared, Firmin, from exile in Paris, wrote Douglass that his resignation was a great loss to both Haiti and the United States] McFeely 356-357).
 
This was Douglass’s last government position.
 
 
Work cited:
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Frederick Douglass -- Second Marriage
 
On August 4, 1882, Anna Murray Douglass died, following a month’s struggle to survive a severe stroke, her left side useless, but her mind and her speech clear.  She was buried in Rochester, by the graves of two children.
 
Douglass’s grief was deep.  For quite some time he was absent from Washington, at the homes of supporting friends in New York and in Maine.  When he returned to his duties, he began to speak in lecture halls again and at convention lecterns, with moderation, but also with pointed criticism.
 
Negroes lived “among a people whose laws, traditions, and prejudices have been against us for centuries, and from these they are not yet free.  … Though the colored man is no longer subject to be caught and sold, he is still surrounded by an adverse sentiment which fetters all his movements.  … He is rejected by trade unions … and refused work where he lives, and burial where he dies.”  Douglass still clung to the notion that the Republican Party, chastened, could be counted upon.  He opposed the desire of many of his race to support a third political party, for doing so, Douglass insisted, would only help the hated Southern Democrats.  On October 15, 1883, the Supreme Court, including eight of nine Republican judges, in a decision that, in Douglass’s words, “came upon the country like a clap of thunder,” removed “the rights of colored citizens as those rights are defined by the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution.”  According to the Court, only the state legislatures, not the United States Congress, had jurisdiction over a person’s rights.  “Seven millions of the people of this country,” Douglass would say in a speech soon afterward, were “naked and defenceless” against “malignant, vulgar, and pitiless prejudice.”  He predicted that “far down the ages” the Court’s decision would be reversed (McFeely 315, 317, 318).  [Federal legislation reversed the discriminatory policies of the Southern states eighty-one years later with the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964]
 
Less than a year and a half after Anna’s death, on a cold January evening [the 24th] in 1884, Douglass and his secretary, driving in Douglass’s carriage behind magnificent while horses, were joined by the Senator from Mississippi, Blanche K. Bruce, and Mrs. Bruce.  Douglass directed his coachman to the home of a prominent Negro clergyman.  A personal friend of Douglass’s, the minister was nevertheless surprised by his late callers.  He sent word downstairs for them to wait.  A few moments later, upon request of those concerned, the Reverend Mr. Francis J. Grimke joined Frederick Douglass and Helen Pitts in marriage, the Bruces witnessing.
 
… A hurricane of outraged letters hit Cedar Hill.  Negroes and whites seemed equally offended.  The venerable Douglass, white-haired and sixty-two, should not have married again at all, some thought.  Others shouted that Negro womanhood had been disparaged by the implications of his choice.  Could he not find … a colored woman good enough for him?  In the South, of course, criticism found its most picturesque expression.  Douglass was a “lecherous old African Solomon” in the eyes of the Franklin, Virginia, Gazette.
 
Douglass’s own children joined in the howl.  How could he do this to them—and without consultation?  … Douglass watched the whole demonstration with a twinkle in his eye.
 
He showed his amusement by keeping a scrapbook of the opprobrium heaped upon him and his white wife.  When confronting interviewers, he slyly observed that in his first marriage he had paid his respects to his black mother, in his second to his white father.  “Love came to me,” Helen crooned when questioned, “and I was not afraid to marry the man I loved because of his color.”  For the resentment of his children Douglass was prepared, and his retort was neither witty nor pleasant.  There wasn’t one of them who wasn’t at least partially dependent on him for support.  They swallowed hard and crept away.
 
Douglass and Helen began playing croquet on the lawns of Cedar Hill.  The place was quieter now.  His health was wonderful.  Douglass actually began to feel young again.  … None of his close friends, he discovered, had actually turned their back on him and Helen (Bontemps 175-177).
 
A Democrat President, Grover Cleveland, took occupancy of the White House in 1885.  Douglass presumed that his office, recorder of deeds, would be immediately given to a Democrat supporter; however, it was not until January of 1886 that Cleveland requested that Douglass resign.  Additionally, Cleveland, during the tenure of his office, unlike his Republican predecessors, extended to Douglass, and the ladies of his family, invitations to his large, official receptions.  Douglass and his new wife attended, without embarrassment.
 
Free from governmental responsibility, Douglass took his wife to Europe and leisurely toured the continent as far east as Greece; and, with aid, the seventy-year-old man climbed atop the great pyramid of Cheops in Egypt.  While in England, he and Helen had enjoyed the hospitality of the widowed Julia Griffiths-Crofts, whom Douglass had not seen for thirty-two years.  They did not, they could not visit Ottilia Assing.
 
On August 21, 1884, [almost seven months after Frederick and Helen’s marriage] Ottilia Assing dressed carefully in a monogrammed blouse and skirt, put on her hat, dropped her key, a brooch with a picture inside, and a bit of money into her red leather wallet, and left her Paris hotel.  Walking in the Bois de Boulogne, she stopped to pick a leaf from an oak tree and carefully put it into her purse; shortly, from that same purse, she took out a container of poison and swallowed its contents (McFeely 322).
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontemps, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Marking Time
 
As before, in 1880 Frederick Douglass urged black voters to elect the Republican Presidential candidate, James A. Garfield, another Civil War general from Ohio.  Douglass’s last duty as Marshall was to lead the newly elected President’s inaugural procession through the rotunda of the Capitol.  Afterward, as before, Douglass’s services were largely ignored.
 
He had let the president-elect know that he was willing to serve in a more important capacity.  He had written Garfield that “colored people of this country want office not as the price of their votes … but for their recognition as a part of the American people” (McFeely 305).  Samuel Clemons, the Mark Twain of soon-to-be-published The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, wrote Garfield that Douglass was a friend of his and deserved such recognition.  However, Garfield appointed a personal friend to Douglass’s former position and offered Douglass a position not more but less important, recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia.  Again, Douglass accepted, and minimized the slight, saying that the job more suited his tastes.
 
The job did permit him to fill clerical jobs with black civil servants, including two of his sons, Frederick, Jr. and Lewis, and his daughter Rosetta. After Garfield’s death in the fall of 1881, Douglass’s authority to fill positions was severely curtailed by the new President, Chester A. Arthur.  Douglass could not help, for instance, Amanda Auld Sear’s widower, John Sears, who had for “the first time since the War of the Rebellion” been forced to seek help getting “a place where I can earn a living for myself and family.”  Douglass knew that if he approached the President to ask a favor for a friend, he would be with absolute certainty “snubbed at the White House” (McFeely 306).
 
He was not snubbed, however, by the grandchildren of Colonel Edward Lloyd when he traveled again to Talbot County to revive his boyhood memories of Wye House.  They greeted him graciously, perhaps with genuine affection, and he felt none of the bitterness that had caused him many times in the past to condemn the plantation slave master.  With nostalgia he observed what still remained and what had changed.
 
Aaron Anthony’s square, sturdy brick house was still there, on Long Green; the closet Frederic had slept in had been incorporated into the kitchen, and its dirt floor “had disappeared under plank.”  Gone too was the memory of Hester being whipped in that kitchen; similarly, all he said now about the brutal overseer Austin Gore was that his house still stood.  So did “old Barney’s stable, and the wonderful carriage house ….”  And there was the great barn where a little child had once watched swallows ceaselessly sweeping the air.
 
The poplars that the red-winged blackbirds had favored were gone, but not the oaks and elms whose shade had cloaked Daniel Lloyd and Frederick Bailey, eating the food the young lord had brought from his kitchen to compensate for the meagerness of Aunt Katy’s fare.  And in the graveyard, crowded now with two hundred years of Lloyds, lay “Mr. Page, a teacher in the family, whom I had often seen and wondered what he could be thinking about as he silently paced up and down the garden walks” (McFeely 308).
 
In 1882 he hired a new clerk, Helen Pitts, the niece of Hiram Pitts, whose house was adjacent to Douglass’s Cedar Hill house.  Helen had been born in 1838 in a farming community about forty miles south of Rochester, New York.  Her father and mother had been abolitionists, the father having met Douglass once during his lecture tours in the 1840’s.  Helen was well educated and active in the women’s rights movement in Washington, a collaborator in the publication of a radical feminist newspaper.  Positions for women had been made available in the expanded government agencies after the Civil War; and Helen, a former teacher, unlikely to find a post equal to her ability and being single, having to support herself, had taken work in the pension office.  Later, when a position in the recorder’s office became available, she applied for it and was accepted.  Douglass and Helen met as neighbors, and continued to meet with greater frequently as she worked for him in the capitol, so well that he could trust her to run things while he was frequently absent.  Also, she and other women would meet a Cedar Hill, in the cause of women’s suffrage, which Douglass had always supported.  Helen Pitts would soon become his second wife.
 
 
Work cited:
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Old, Changing Relationships
 
Financially secure for at least the next three years, Douglass returned to Baltimore and Fells Point in June 1877 and then to Talbot County, Maryland, to revisit the land and people of his childhood and early adolescence.
 
The proudest people standing in the confused crowd [at St. Michael’s] must have been the nine children of Frederick’s older sister Eliza Mitchell, who had recently died.  … In 1877, the old Bailey clan was still very much a presence in Talbot County.  … Whether the reunion … was an occasion too emotional to record, or whether he and his sister’s family were now so different in the way they lived and talked that they found nothing that was satisfying to say to each other, Douglass never revealed.
 
But there was another reunion that Douglass could describe.  Walking into a brick house on Cherry Street, Douglass was taken straight to the room of his old master, Thomas Auld, now a dying man.  “Captain Auld,” he said; “Marshall Douglass,” Auld replied.  “Not Marshall, but Frederick to you as formerly,” Douglass corrected.  Auld, shaken with palsy, wept; Douglass was so choked up that he could not speak.  Then, regaining their composure, the two old adversaries talked.  Auld, his mind clear and any bitterness gone, corrected Douglass; he had not inherited Douglass’s grandmother Betsy Bailey; his brother-in-law had, but he had brought her in her old age to St. Michaels to be cared for until she died.  Douglass apologized for having accused Auld … of having “turned out [my dear old grandmother] like an old horse to die in the woods.”  Then he resumed his lifelong quest for information about his birth.  Douglass had calculated that he had been born in 1817; Auld, his memory firm, said it had been in February 1818; this fact was only verified a century late. 
 
The conversation lasted just twenty minutes, for Douglass could see that the old man was exceedingly weak.  He noticed too that there had, after all, been something genuine to Thomas Auld’s conversion at that revival more than four decades earlier; “he felt himself about to depart in peace.”  … He and Auld had had a relationship of vast extremes; it closed with quiet satisfaction (McFeely 294).
 
Because he knew the Washington real estate market and because he could afford to – his salary as Marshall was a respectable one – in September 1878 he moved his family out of the A Street house to a newer house atop a hill across the Anacosta River.
 
The ample, white frame house, all the more handsome for being unpretentious, had been built in the 1850s. 
 
… Whatever Douglass’s frustrations with the job he held in that city, including the unacknowledgeable fact that the position was not equal to the pride he felt duty-bound to express in holding it, Cedar Hill [his name for the place] was his.  Walking the long way home in the afternoon, across the bridge and up the hill, Douglass could know that when he gained its crest, no one had a finer prospect of Washington than he (McFeely 297-298).
 
The winter before he moved to Cedar Hill he had received a letter from John Sears, Amanda Auld Sears’s husband.  Amanda was gravely ill.  Would Douglass come visit her?  Immediately he took the train to Baltimore.  “On January 10, John reported her still alive and thanked Frederick for his visit; on February 1, Thomas (named for his grandfather, Thomas Auld), wrote that his mother hand died.”
 
In February 1878, Douglass was sixty, and laurels were on his brow.  … All seemed to be well, but appearances deceived.  These first years after Reconstruction, which saw the dashing of so many of Douglass’s public dreams, were also a time of great and unsettling confusion in his private life.  Old friends, most of them speaking with a good deal less acidity than Ottila Assing, repeatedly urged him to cut loose from his children and allow them to have lives of their own.  But by now, they were irrevocably dependent on him.
 
He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.  Not to help them when they were indeed in trouble seemed cruel; his assistance, on the other hand, only made more pronounced the sense that he could accomplish anything, and they, nothing.  In 1879, Douglass, who had lost, he claimed, ten thousand dollars on his failed newspaper…, had three families to support, in addition to his own: Rosetta and her children (Nathan was in Omaha, briefly, trying once again for a start in life); Charles and his children (his wife, Libbie, had died and he needed help in caring for them); and Douglass’s brother Perry was dying; Douglass told … [a friend], “He is a dear old fellow, and I am glad to have a shelter for him.”
 
Anna’s health too was deteriorating, and as it did, her smoldering resentment of her husband grew.  At the same time, Ottilla Assing was making greater and greater emotional demands.  The remarkable balance that she and Douglass had maintained for so many years-with the summer visits and the occasional times together in Hoboken and New York-had broken down.  Having failed to persuade him to leave Anna and go to Europe with her, Assing had gone alone in 1877.  On her return, she attempted to pick up where she and Douglass had left off.  A visit to Cedar Hill in the fall of 1878 for a moment recaptured the times on the hill overlooking Rochester, but once she had left, her letters were filled with rancorous remarks about old friends.  For Douglass, responding to her fully would have meant becoming engulfed by her overpowering distress.  Instead, he increasingly withdrew, which only made her the more eager to have him respond.
 
 
In the summer of 1881, Otilla Assing returned to Germany.  … But her restlessness did not cease; she challenged in the courts her exclusion from her sister’s will and wandered about the continent so aimlessly that her newspaper once tried advertising to find out where she was.  She and Douglass were still in correspondence as late as June 1884, but after 1879 he no longer saved her letters as he had done in closer days.  In 1881, and again in 1882, she had a friend in New York send him large boxes of his favorite cigars, the ones whose lingering aroma had reminded her of him when he had left after a visit.  (McFeely 297).
 
 
Work cited:
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Used Politically
 
The two years leading to the Presidential election of 1876 were depressing years for Frederick Douglass.  His sorry participation in the demise of the Freedman’s Bank weighed upon him.  President Grant did not reward him with a government job.  His newspaper, which he had at first undertaken with partners, had been insolvent, and he stopped its publication.  Two white abolitionists from the old days died.  Charles Sumner, long time senator from Massachusetts, had been, next to Abraham Lincoln, most esteemed in the hearts of Negroes.  Douglass respected him immensely.  Soon afterwards the Vice President, Henry Wilson, died.  As a senator from Massachusetts Wilson had urged Lincoln to proclaim emancipation and had introduced many anti-slavery measures in the Senate.  And now the evil forces of racism had gathered strength in the South and seemed to be winning again, despite the legal rights afforded to his race by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.
 
The Ku Klux Klan had begun its guerilla warfare against the black man.  Douglass, lecturing in Philadelphia, spoke of Lucy Haydon, in Tennessee, who was “called from an inner-room at midnight and shot down because she teaches colored children to read.”  In Louisiana and Alabama “the black man scarcely dares to deposit the votes which you gave him for fear of his life” (Bontemps 267).  And for a time, the newly elected black senator from Louisiana, P. B. S. Pinchback, dined with Douglass in Washington while the Senate’s Committee on Privileges and Elections decided whether or not they would recommend his acceptance as a member of the Senate.  Democrat opponents had charged corruption in his election.  The Senate eventually denied him his office, by a 32 to 29 vote.  Several Republican senators sided with the opposition party.  It was an ominous sign that the party that had been the protector of the Negro had tired of the task.  Douglass did not know yet, although he was cognizant of the symptoms, that the Election of 1876 would signal white political abandonment of his race.
 
Douglass’s family life added to his depression.  Ottila Assing’s continued presence at his home in Washington had, as Julia Griffith’s years before in Rochester, stirred Anna Douglass’s jealous emotions.
 
… In her letter to her sister, Assing reported that Douglass was adding a wing to the A Street house and wanted her to move in permanently: “You can imagine how happy that would make me, but I must consider if it is advisable to be in the constant companionship of his amiable wife.  Until now I have managed through diplomacy and the giving of many gifts to maintain the best of relationships with her, but one can never know what can come into the head of such an unknowledgeable and illiterate creature.  What should one say, for instance, if one were charged with having bewitched a person?”
 
Assing was implying that Anna Douglass, lashing out at the bewitcher, had reached back to savage African superstitions in her fight to hold her man … who had led her into a world she could compete in only with her own primal tenacity.
 
… Assing commented sarcastically, “He would be doing all right if he did not have his dear family worrying him to death and consuming everything he manages to earn.”  Her nasty charge had some justification.  Charles, Frederick Jr., and Rosetta were constantly asking their father for financial help.  He had pressed them to live according to a standard of dignity that was hard to maintain for a clerk in government office, a printer who had a sure job only as long as his father’s newspaper employed him, and a son-in-law (for whom Douglass showed true affection and understanding) who had trouble holding any kind of job (McFeely 288).
 
Ottilla Assing, in April 1876, wrote to her sister that Douglass would not accompany her to Europe that summer as she had wished, “for he is completely taken up in the service of the Republican party during the campaign” (McFeely 289).
 
For the first and only time in American history the outcome of a Presidential election was decided by a commission of political office holders, rather than the American people.
 
The winning candidate would have been the candidate that carried the states of Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina, where the voting was very close, and very irregular.  Each of these states submitted two different sets of returns.  One set had the Republican candidate winning the election, the other set elected the Democrat candidate.  An electoral commission of congressmen, senators and Supreme Court justices was appointed, seven Democrats and eight Republicans, to decide the matter.  By a vote of eight to seven, the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was deemed President, but not without a singular compromise.  Federal troops were to be withdrawn from South Carolina and Louisiana (soon the entire South).  And white supremacists had what they wanted, control of their own states, and their inhabitants.
 
After the election Frederick Douglass finally received a governmental appointment.  Assing wrote,
 
He had been named marshal of the District of Columbus.  … He has served the Republican party for the past twenty years so well that such an acknowledgment could hardly have been put off any longer.  Since he will now be in the immediate vicinity of the president, one might hope that he will win his way to a beneficent influence (McFeely pp. 289-290).
 
What she had not realized yet, what some in Washington had but not Douglass, was that the appointment was a political scheme not to reward Douglass personally for his past service but to appease Negroes generally for the abandonment of their brethren in the South.
 
Assing did not know what the duties of the marshal were.  In the two previous administrations, the marshal attended formal receptions in the White House, stool beside the President, and presented each guest to him, by name.  President Hayes selected a white man to perform these duties.  Douglass was permitted instead to appoint bailiffs, messengers and jurors for the D. C. courts, and in doing so he strengthened the grasp of black civil servants on minor government positions.  Nonetheless, in accepting the appointment, Frederick Douglass betrayed what he had fought for and stood for most of his life.  Douglass permitted himself to be used politically to obscure the fact that Negroes were no longer permitted to be what Douglass had always insisted they had to be, undiscriminated upon American citizens.
 
His need to be rewarded obscured his vision.  Perhaps he rationalized that he could do more for his race directly by appointing blacks to minor government positions than he could by speaking out against hypocrisy and injustice.  Perhaps he still believed that the Republican ship, however misbegotten it had become, was still the only ship that could carry his people to their destination.  In any event, he did not concur with friends who thought he should resign his office.  In Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, his third autobiography, he wrote,
 
“I should have presented … a most foolish and ridiculous figure had I, as absurdly counseled by some of my colored friends, resigned the office … because President … 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.”
 
… On a personal level, Douglass was to find the mild Civil War general from Ohio, who consulted him on the reliability of black petitioners [for political office], the most comfortable to deal with of the eight presidents he came to know.  And yet, one of his observant friends detected “something in your way of speaking of Pres. Hayes which suggests you do not feel quite at ease in regard to him.”  Whether knowledge that he was part of a cover-up of the administration’s anti-black policies caused Douglass discomfort, he never said … (McFeely pp. 291-292; 292-293).
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontemps, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print.
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Exploited
 
In June 1872 Douglass’s house in Rochester burned to the ground.  Subsequently, he moved his wife to and established a permanent residence in the nation’s capital, where he would edit another newspaper, the New National Era.  Not only had Douglass expected that his race be rewarded for its part in electing the President but he himself expected some sort of consideration.  He had wanted the postmastership at Rochester but had not received it.  Now he would be in Washington.  Soon Grant would be up for re-election and would need him again to garner the Negro vote.  Douglass fully expected a political appointment as compensation.
 
What he received was an invitation to be a secretary to a commission appointed to visit Santo Domingo.  The commission would assess how local people felt about a proposed treaty that would annex Santo Domingo to the United States.  Douglass sailed and dined with commissioners, one a former senator, another the president of Cornell University.  When letters from President Grant and the Secretary of State were delivered to the Dominican officials, Douglass discovered that his name was not mentioned.  His presence was purely honorary.  He had no official duties.  When the omission returned to Washington, Grant invited the members to a dinner party at the White House.  Douglass was not invited.  He had unwittingly served Grant’s political purposes.  Douglass’s trip to Santo Domingo had been designed to embarrass Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, an old abolitionist friend of Douglass’s.  Sumner had successfully fought passage of the treaty of annexation in the Senate mainly because Grant saw the annexation as an opportunity to relocate countless Southern blacks there, away from a smoldering South.  Additionally, some in the administration, which historians would describe as one to the most corrupt of the century, saw annexation as an opportunity to make money on real estate transactions.
 
The entire affair was a major embarrassment to Douglass.  A good many black leaders were insulted and spoke openly against Grant’s re-election.  The Democratic candidate in 1872 was newspaper publisher Horace Greely, who had been in the past a friend of the Negro.  Yet, rather than recognize that Grant was not a committed friend of his race, Douglass swallowed his damaged pride and supported the President.  As he saw it, the Republican Party “is the deck.  All else is the sea” (Bontemps 258).  He rationalized his treatment by insisting that Congress had provided for only three commissioners to Santo Domingo.  As for his snub at the White House, Douglass would say, “Where is a Democrat President who ever invited a colored man to his table” (Bontemps 259)?
 
Douglass assumed that turning the other cheek and working hard for Grant’s re-election would make the President grateful.   Surely then Douglass would receive the reward he so apparently needed.  The Negro vote went to Grant as a block and Greely was defeated.  In Washington, Douglass continued to publish his newspaper, which he would eventually abandon, and waited for his appointment.
 
He received instead an invitation to become president of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, a bank that had been charted by Congress in 1865 to protect and build the newly earned savings of laboring blacks in the reconstructed South, savings that eventually, hopefully, would enable them to invest in houses, farms, or businesses.  At first, the bank did serve the interests of hard-working black citizens.  Trustees of the bank, however, began to use the money that had accumulated to invest in speculative ventures, and when Douglass was approached, the bank was in trouble and in need of someone who could restore confidence in the insolvent institution.
 
Douglass only knew what the bank had stood for.  Restoring confidence was his sole duty, as he saw it.  Once again, his desire for position “overwhelmed his good sense.”  There had been “enough gossip around Washington to make him highly skeptical, had he chosen to be. … As president, he seems to have devoted all of his attention to reassuring the depositors; there is no evidence of his exercising daily supervision over the loan portfolio” (McFeely 284).
 
Depositors in the South had become nervous.
 
Some of them wondered why they had experienced difficulties when attempting to withdraw money.  At his shiny new desk Douglass drafted a telegram to each branch.  All was well with the Freedman’s Bank, he wanted them to know, and all deposits were secure.  Let patience prevail.  All would be well.
 
To the Senate Committee on Finance he also directed a communication.  Public confidence was the ingredient needed.  Given that, the bank could continue, he thought.  He advised that certain branches be closed to reduce expenses.  Then he settled back to wait for the results.
 
The reaction from the people was good.  Negroes took his word for gospel and confidently waited for the bank to settle its affairs.  Those who knew more about such matters were less sure, however.  Presently Douglass learned with dismay that many of the trustees of the Bank had withdrawn their own money and deposited it elsewhere.  Aroused like a lion in a trap, Douglass hurriedly called the group together and insisted on an explanation.  The bank was hopelessly insolvent, and Douglass lamented, “I have married a corpse” (Bontemps 266).
 
The bank was closed and, eventually, depositors were repaid less than fifty cents on the dollar.
 
Douglass became the target of withering criticism and denunciation. 
 
Though his own connections with the enterprise were completely aired during the controversy and all evidence brought forward to show that he had been unaware of the true condition of the bank when he accepted the presidency, had in fact lost about $1,000 of his own money in it, the resentment of those who had lost deposits did not fade readily, and Douglass was as near disgrace as he had ever been.
 
So it was back to the lecture platform and the old and weary ordeal of trains that did not run on schedule, poorly ventilated and badly lighted halls, and women with crying babies in the front seats.  Though it continued to provide him with a comfortable income, lecturing had completely lost its appeal (Bontemps 266-267).
 
Works cited:
 
Bontemps, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Getting the Vote
 
The Freedman’s Bureau was created in the United States war department by an act of Congress March 3, 1865, to last one year, but was continued until 1872 by later acts.  It was established partly to prevent Southerners from re-establishing some form of slavery, partly to provide relief to needy blacks and whites in the conquered South, and partly to take charge of lands confiscated in the South during the war.  “At the head of the bureau was a commissioner, Gen. O. O. Howard, and under him in each southern state was an assistant commissioner with a corps of local superintendents, agents and inspectors.  The officials had the broadest possible authority in all matters that concerned the Negroes” (Britannica 731).
 
Douglass’s son Charles had sent Douglass a letter in July 1867 that informed him that the Johnson Administration was considering naming Douglass Commissioner of the Freedom’s Bureau.  Would he be interested in taking the position?  Yes, he would!  A black man at the head of such a powerful government agency created, presumably, to benefit the Negro in the South-what a giant symbolic stride toward racial equality that would be!  Then there was the salary of $3,000 a year.  But Douglass felt uneasy about the offer.  He replied that he would take time to consider it before deciding.
 
What immediately disturbed him about the offer was the unfavorable reference to the incumbent.  Douglass happened to know something about General Oliver Otis Howard.  He knew as did every other informed Negro that the General’s record and reputation were unblemished.  Negroes as well as whites held him in the highest esteem.  Even his enemies in government acknowledged that he was a “very good sort of man.”  Why would Andrew Johnson want to removed the blameless General Howard and replace him with a Negro?  Certainly not for any good reason, Douglass thought.  He had never been convinced by any of Johnson’s assertions that he meant well toward Negroes (Bontemps 252).
 
Two weeks later Douglass rejected the offer, stating that he “could not accept office with my present views of duty.”  In a letter to a newspaper he said that he did not want to be a part of any attempt to remove the General and he did not wish to “place himself under any obligation to keep the peace with Andrew Johnson” (Bontemps 253).
 
Andrew Johnson “was clever enough to see the advantages of putting a gullible or flatterable black man in charge-nominally-while he undermined a government program designed to assist black people.  Douglass was flatterable, but not always gullible.  In his tough mind, he knew that Johnson would not give him, or any other black man, the job if doing so meant giving him also the power that should go with it” (McFeely 261).
 
Soon the main reason for Johnson’s job offer became known to all.  “The plan to replace Howard by a prominent Negro was part of a larger scheme to get rid of (Radical Republican) Secretary of War Stanton.  Radicals could not safely oppose the highest appointment ever offered a Negro in government, and this circumstance was counted on to muffle their protests against the Stanton ouster’ (Bontemps 253), which Johnson soon after attempted.  Subsequently, the House of Representatives began impeachment proceedings against the President.
 
Ottilia Assing (See “Ottilia Assing and Slavery in the Territories” post, May 28, 2017) watched the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson during the spring of 1868 and savored every moment of it, until the Senate’s vote to remove the President from office fell one vote short.  She knew, however, that the Republican Party would nominate Ulysses S. Grant as their Presidential candidate and that he would most certainly win the election in November.  Her friends, “real radicals,” had persuaded her that Grant could be trusted to work diligently for the cause of racial equality.
 
Douglass campaigned rigorously for the former general and against his Democratic opponent, Horatio Seymour.  He argued simply that the Democrats had favored the rebellion and now opposed suffrage for the Negro.  The Republicans had opposed the rebellion and favored the latter.  Grant, in the election, received 450,000 Negro votes.  He received only 300,000 more votes than Seymour in the entire election.  Douglass believed that the Republican Party owed his race a commitment to Negro suffrage.  In 1869 Congress “proposed a constitution amendment to the effect that neither the national government nor any state should be permitted to deny the ballot to a man because of his race or color” (Bontemps 254).  Douglass, of course, urged its adoption during his unrelenting lecture tours.  On March 30, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment received the number of state ratifications required to put it into the Constitution, and many in the nation rejoiced.  The President wrote of its passage as “The most important ever that has occurred since the nation came into life” (Bontemps 255).  Its work done, the American Anti-Slavery Society called its final meeting.  All that had been fought for for so many years now seemed won.
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print.
 
Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 9, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1960. Print.
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.