Appendix D. LETTERS EXCHANGED BETWEEN FREDERICK DOUGLASS AND THE EDITOR OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL REPUBLICAN ON 12 MAY 1877
Washington National Republican, 13 May 1877.
In order that perfect justice might be rendered Mr. Douglass, and his lecture placed before the public as he delivered it, a verbal request was made of Mr. Douglass to furnish the lecture to THE REPUBLICAN for publication, but this he declined to do. Last evening the following communication was sent to Mr. Douglass from this ofﬁce signed by the editor:
OFFICE DAILY NATIONAL REPUBLICAN, WASHINGTON, D.C. May 12, 1877.
Hon. Frederick Douglass, Present:
DEAR SIR: This journal desires to be just. Our strictures upon your course are based entirely upon the reports of your utterances at Baltimore on last Tuesday evening as I read them in the three leading morning newspapers of that city, namely, the American, the Sun and the Gazette, all of which are in harmony with each other in their reports of your lecture. If you have been misrepresented by these three newspapers THE REPUBLICAN will not only cheerfully retract all it has said against you, but will make such amends as will set you right before the community. But in order to do so to the satisfaction of the public, and to enable me to write intelligently upon a subject in which the citizens of Washington evince so deep an interest, I will thank you to send me by bearer either a copy of your lecture or a loan of the original, in order that I may publish it in full in to-morrow’s REPUBLICAN.
A publication of the lecture, such as you delivered it, will speak for itself. Of course, if you indulged in extemporaneous remarks, not contained in your written lecture, please favor me with your best recollection of the same.
Mr. Douglass in reply, sent the following:
DEAR SIR: I am much obliged by your letter and by your offer to publish my lecture as delivered in Baltimore last Tuesday evening, and for the present I beg to state that I prefer not to have it published, and shall feel quite content if you will publish my letter sent to THE REPUBLICAN this afternoon. There seems now no reason why this matter may not be left to settle itself without further controversy.
Very respectfully, yours,
To the Editor of the National Republican.
The following is the letter written by Mr. Douglass, with the publication of which he says he will be content:
Mr. Douglass’ Explanation.
EDITOR REPUBLICAN: In your assault upon me, on account of my lecture delivered in Baltimore, you denounce me as “traveling through the North, spitting out spite and slander.” You say I have “thrown off the cloak of hypocrisy,” and describe me as “standing forth in the naked, hideous depravity of a slanderer, lost to all ideas of decency and propriety,” and much else of the same sort. You treat my lecture in Baltimore as something new, and as a studied insult to Washington, when you ought to show that the same lecture was delivered in the District of Columbia, and published in full, nearly two years ago, and was highly commended, if I mistake not, by the NATIONAL REPUBLICAN, as well as by the Chronicle, at that time. You ought to be glad to know, also, that you are mistaken in representing me as “traveling through the North,” for in fact I was only as far North as the International Exhibition, to the inauguration of which I had the honor to be invited, in company with many other distinguished persons, for after your assault I must be permitted to consider myself somewhat distinguished. Your ﬁrst quotation from the condensed and necessarily imperfect report of my lecture is that in which I am made to say that “Washington had a good many churches, but it was some distance from the spot to which their spires pointed.” I did make use of some such remark as that, and I hardly see now, upon reflection, how such a remark as that could properly give offense to any citizen of average intelligence. There is everywhere in the world, and there certainly is in Washington, some space between heaven and earth, some space between profession and practice, and I do not see how any statement of that fact can prove me “a slanderer” or “lost to all sense of decency and propriety.” My next offense is the denial that Washington has produced a great philanthropist, and in proof of my falsehood at this point you mention the late Amos Kendall and Mr. Wm. W. Corcoran, still living. I would belittle the benevolence of neither of these gentlemen, though I beg to remind you that there was a time when it was fashionable for THE REPUBLICAN to revile one of them with a bitterness only second to that with which it now reviles me. Yet I think philanthropy means love for the whole human family, and if the negro is a member of that family, I may be excused if I ﬁnd anything in the character and history of either of these gentlemen to justify me in styling them great philanthropists. Mr. Corcoran is a gentleman of great wealth, and has done much for the city of Washington, for which, as a citizen of Washington, I will award him all honor, but I cannot describe him, nor do I think he wishes to be described, as a great philanthropist. In my manuscript I use the word great, which was omitted in your quotation; with that
qualiﬁcation, I stand by every word of the quotation; but of course in this I am speaking only within the limits of my own knowledge and belief, and will gladly own myself mistaken when an exception is presented by you or anybody else. You complain of my assertion that “it is again getting dark for the colored race.” This isolated remark does great injustice to my lecture so far as respects the District of Columbia. I took pains in that lecture to show the vast and wonderful improvement in the condition of the colored people in this city, and especially to praise the educational institutions with which they are now blessed. I spoke especially of the Sumner school, and the hope of a future of my race which it inspires. The next statement, also [word obliterated] from its connections, to which you object, is that “the Washingtonian is indolent.” I did not say this, but I did say the genuine Washingtonian to the manner born has a leisurely, indolent expression in all his movements. If you stop into a store to purchase an article you may expect to wait ﬁve minutes at least before any clerk will condescend to notice your presence. That is what I said, and, in judging of it, you must remember that I am a colored man, and that I was speaking to colored men. No doubt the editor and proprietor of a powerful public journal would be waited upon with more [word obliterated] than myself. Not only is it true that clerks are slow to wait upon colored persons in many of our stores, but instances may be cited where they have failed to have been waited upon at all, at any rate. Mr. Editor, I think you will agree with me that there is no slander in this allegation. In speaking of the absence of enterprise and industry in the city of Washington, I have committed an offense, if it be an offense, of which the columns of THE REPUBLICAN have been equally guilty with myself. I am not sure but at this point I have stolen your thunder, for no man in this community has held up the destitution of Washington at this point more conspicuously than yourself. Your main quotation is as follows: “You can generally tell the character of a man by the way he wears his hat. On ﬁrst sight you would think you were among a lot of thieves by the manner in which they wear their hats in Washington. They wear them down over their eyes, which gives them a sombre, sinister appearance. Members of Congress set this fashion, being in the habit of wearing their hats in this style, with their eyes cast down, thinking on the legislation of the hour, and sometimes desiring to avoid recognition. Another distinction of the Washingtonian is his negro pronunciation. There is a class there called the poor white trash. During slavery they would follow an escaped slave as a dog would a bone. Now they manage to eke out an existence by hunting and ﬁshing. Then there are the spoilsmen, pension buyers, lobbyists, &c, with all sorts of schemes to make money. To be honest in Washington is to be considered a fool. Nobody ever Says ‘No;’ all say ‘Yes.’ There is more insincere politeness and obsequious hatlifting there than anywhere else.”
This is a condensed statement, and is consequently imperfect. What I said was, “There is no article of gentleman’s dress which can be worn more expressively than a hat.” You can almost tell an honest man from a rogue, a man of
sense from a fool, a man of good breeding from a fop, by his manner of wearing his hat. There is almost a Washingtonian style of wearing this article, and it might upon ﬁrst sight give one the impression that he is among dangerous characters. I did not say, as the quotation has it, you would think you were among a lot of thieves. I did not say that “the people of Washington were a lot of thieves, or that the manner of wearing their hats” proved anything as to their character, I merely spoke of the appearance it gave them, and this, too, in a vein of broad humor, not malice. But I need not go further with my explanations. Had the reporters been as careful to report what I said in praise of Washington as they have been to report what they may have considered disparagement of Washington I think you would hardly have ventured to assault me in so wrathful and furious a manner as you have done. You will pardon me if I just remind you that Washington is not a hamlet nor a village, but a great city, the capital of a great country, and that it is too large to be small, and that the public habits, customs and manners of its various classes are fit subjects of public remark, and that no man is to be denounced as a criminal for speaking of such peculiarities as may offend his taste or make what he conceives to be an unpleasant impression. I spoke of the negro pronunciation, peculiar to the genuine old school Washingtonian. What I said was this: born and reared among negroes, learning their first songs and stories from the lips of the negroes, they had naturally enough acquired something of the negro manner of using their vocal organs. My consolation is that if the blacks are too low to learn from the whites, the whites are not too high to learn from the blacks, and I added that in any case the example is one which shows that the common good requires the education of all; it shows that we cannot touch pitch without being deﬁled; that ignorance is as contagious as knowledge, and that no people can afford to be in contact with an ignorant class. So far from slandering the whole people of Washington in that lecture, I spoke largely in their praise, and I very much mistake their ideas of liberality, their magnanimity of spirit, their conscious worth and complacency if my comments, even though they be not strictly just, shall fan them into the tempest of rage which must have agitated the breast of the man who penned the editorial in your columns, upon which I have felt it due to myself and to my fellow-citizens to send you this letter. Let me say in conclusion that I live in the District of Columbia, my interests are in the District of Columbia; that I am interested in its character, fame and fortune, and that I should as little think of aiming a blow at either as I should at the breast of my own family.