Frederick Douglass -- Douglass and Lincoln
… The deep lines on
’s face impressed
Douglass immediately, but he also noticed that the President’s eyes brightened
with interest when the name of Frederick Douglass was called. Lincoln rose, shock hands cordially. Lincoln
“I know who you are, Mr. Douglass,” he smiled, restraining Douglass’s modest attempt to introduce himself. “Sit down. I am glad to see you.”
Douglass expanded. Here was a man he could love, honor and trust without reservation, an honest man. “I was assisting to raise colored troops,” he began quietly.
Abraham Lincoln nodded.
Douglass continued. In
he had been very successful in
getting men to enlist. Now, working in Massachusetts , he was
finding it harder. The men felt that the
government was not dealing fairly. Pennsylvania
He could. Three particulars might be mentioned. …
As to retaliation, that was an even harder problem. If he could get his hands on a Confederate soldier who had been guilty of mistreating a Negro prisoner, the matter would be simple, but the idea of retaliating against innocent Confederate prisoners was revolting. However, he thought the rebels would themselves drop such barbarous warfare. In fact, he had already received word that colored soldiers were already being treated as prisoners of war.
On the third point Lincoln’s comment was short and emphatic. He would sign any commission to a colored soldier his Secretary of War would present (Bontemps 235-236).
Douglass saw “one remark” of
“of much significance.” He said he had
frequently been charged with tardiness, hesitation and the like, especially in
regard to the retaliatory proclamation, but had he sooner issued that
proclamation such was the state of public popular prejudice that an outcry
would have been raised against the measure.
“It would,” Lincoln
told Douglass, “be said, ‘Ah! We thought
it would come to this: White men are to be killed for negroes.’” Lincoln
went on to deny that he was guilty of “vacillation” and implied that what
Douglass was seeing was steady, if perhaps slow, progress, rather than any
indecision on his part. Douglass came
away convinced that once Lincoln had taken a position favorable to the black
cause, he could be counted on to hold to it. Lincoln
And he came away elated. Abraham Lincoln … had charmed his black visitor totally. Douglass felt at ease in his presence, with no sense of inferiority. This call on the president of the
United States, in the
itself, was a crowning achievement for the boy who had once sneaked into Wye
House (McFeely 229-230). Executive Mansion
Douglass returned to
to close his newspaper. In its final
issue, August 1863, he declared his reasons.
Financial backing was not one of them, even though the circulation of
the newspaper had never been large, and funding it had always been
difficult. With the rise of other periodicals
that supported the aspirations of black people, his Monthly was no longer a necessity.
At the end of his article, he announced, “I am going South to assist
Adjutant General Thomas in the organization of colored troops” (Bontemps 240). Rochester
He received instructions, dated August 13, to report to General Thomas at
. Missing was any mention that he had been
given a commission by the War Department.
In his responding letter, Douglass pointed out that fact. He received, eventually, a letter that
discussed his pay, his subsistence, and his means of transportation to Vicksburg, Mississippi . Again, a commission, which Douglass believed
he had been promised, was not mentioned.
Embarrassed and angry, Douglass set about booking lectures for the
forthcoming winter months. If they
thought they had him, especially after he had announced in print he would work
for them, they were mistaken! He blamed
Secretary Stanton for the betrayal, not the President. More likely it had been the President,
deciding again to go slowly against the grain of popular opinion. Not until the war was almost won did Vicksburg commission a
black man; Martin Delany was made a major in February 1865. Lincoln
Because politics did not intrude. Abraham Lincoln did, as a friend, help Douglass with a personal matter. The illness, a “long complaint,”of Douglass’s son Charles had persisted. Through the intercession of the governor of
Charles had been transferred to another Massachusetts
regiment, and, because of his condition, he had not been with his company
during the bloody Wilderness Campaign and Battle
of Cold Harbor. He was seriously ill, stationed at Point
Lookout, when Douglass, in August 1864, wrote the President that “I have a very
great favor to ask. It is … that you
will cause my son Charles R. Douglass … to be discharged.” Upon the letter, wrote, “Let this boy be
discharged. A. Lincoln.” Two weeks later Charles was a civilian, at a
time when General Grant’s offensive against Robert E. Lee had cost a tremendous
loss of life and Lincoln’s reelection in November was doubtful at best
(McFeely 2300. Lincoln
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971. Print
McFeely, William S. Frederick Douglass.
, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991. Print. New