THE REPUBLICAN PARTY MUST BE MAINTAINED IN POWER (1872-04-13)

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member of this Council by appointment of the President of the United States.2 My seat is, therefore, now vacant.

In making this announcement, I take pleasure in assuring you, Mr. President and members of the Council, of the pleasure I have experienced in having a seat among you and associating with you, and the exceeding regret I now have in leaving my place in this Council and in severing my connection with it. I am fully conscious of the honor, dignity and importance of the trust, and my only regret is, that I am necessarily compelled to take this step. Wherever my lot is cast, and wherever I may go, I shall remember with pleasure my association with the members of this Council.

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY MUST BE MAINTAINED IN POWER: AN ADDRESS DELIVERED IN NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA, ON 13 APRIL 1872

New National Era, 2 May 1872. Other texts in New Orleans Bee, 14 April 1872; New Orleans Republican, 14 April 1872.

On 13 April 1872 Douglass delivered the principal address on the fourth day of the first National Convention of the Colored People at the Mechanics Institute in New Orleans, Louisiana. Called by Alonzo J. Ransier, lieutenant governor of South Carolina, “to consider the political and material interests” of blacks, the convention held its first meeting on 10 April 1872, when it elected the delegate from the District of Columbia, Douglass, president. Until Douglass’s arrival, P. B. S. Pinchback, lieutenant governor of Louisiana,

the president, and a House of Delegates to which local voters annually elected twenty-two residents. When the assembly first met on 15 May 1871, it clearly favored an extensive and expensive improvement of the city‘s streets, buildings, and sanitary conditions. Under the aggressive leadership of the public works director, Alexander Shepherd, the territorial government immediately began this work and continued it for the next three years. Although the government made much progress in this effort, Congress nevertheless abolished the whole territorial arrangement on 20 June 1874 amid widespread accusations of financial corruption, especially against Shepherd, and replaced it with a government of three commissioners. Edwin Melvin Williams, “The Territorial Period—1871—l874," revised by William Tindall, in John Clagett Proctor, ed. , Washington Past and Present: A History, 2 vols. (New York, 1930), l : 130-41; Whyte, Uncivil War, 101.

2. In letters to President Grant and Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, both dated 6 June 1871, Douglass resigned his seat in the upper council of the District of Columbia Legislative Assembly effective ten days later. Douglass to US. Grant, 6 June 1871, Douglass to Hamilton Fish, 5 June, 1871, DNA; Hamilton Fish to Douglass, 17 June 1871, General Correspondence File, reel 2, frame 595, FD Papers, DLC.

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acted as “temporary president.” When Pinchback escorted Douglass into the great hall of Mechanics Institute on the morning of his address, all “present rose to their feet and received him with cheers and applause.” At 12:00 P.M. James H. Ingraham, first vice president, called the assembly to order. The Reverend C. H. Thompson led the assembly in prayer, after which the names of the delegates from New York, the District of Columbia, and Rhode Island were added to the roll. Douglass was escorted to the speaker’s stand by Pinchback, Ransier, and Isaac Myers, a labor leader and the delegate from Maryland. Ingraham introduced Douglass, whose address was warmly received, the New Orleans Bee noting that “in fluency, diction and argument” it “fully sustained his reputation as an orator.” At the conclusion of his remarks, the delegates voted Douglass their “thanks” and proceeded with the regular order of business. New Orleans Bee, 11, 12, 13 April 1872; New Orleans Picayune, 11, 12, 13, 14 April 1872; New Orleans Republican, 11, 12, 13 April 1872; New Orleans Semi-Weekly Louisianan, 14 April 1872.

Mr. Douglass gracefully thanked the Convention for the cordial manner in which he had been introduced, and earnestly expressed his gratitude for the feeling exhibited in selecting him as the permanent President of the Convention, inasmuch as there were at least twenty men present better qualified by their mental aptitudes than himself for the peculiar duties of a presiding officer. He judged that the choice was intended not so much to compliment him as a chairman, as it was to convey to him a grateful recognition of his earnest labor in their behalf through all the vicissitudes of their long struggle for liberty. (Applause) From the response he saw his inference was right. He regretted his arrival at the end instead of the beginning of the Convention. He labored under the disadvantage therefore of not knowing what sentiments had been uttered, what principles had been asserted, or what resolutions had been adopted,¹ and this almost prevented him from speaking intelligently. He was likely to repeat what had already been said. He had been six days upon his way, but had used due

1. Although he had been elected the permanent chairman of the convention on the first day of the proceedings, Douglass did not arrive in New Orleans until the fourth day. In his absence Lieutenant Governor P. B. S. Pinchback served as temporary chairman of the sessions. For two of those days the convention discussed repudiating sympathies and connections with two other conventions: the Labor Reform Convention that had been held in Columbus, Ohio, and the convention of Liberal Republicans. scheduled to meet in Cincinnati, Ohio, in May. The resolution to repudiate sympathies passed by a twoto-one margin the day before Douglass’s arrival, some delegates intensely pro-Grant and others proSumner. New Orleans Republican, 11, 12, 13 April 1872; New Orleans Bee, 11, 12, 13 April 1872; New Orleans Picayune, 11, 12, 13 April 1872.

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diligence to arrive in time, and the toil and fatigue almost unnerved him to speak.

Mr. Douglass said he supposed the object of the convention had already been fully stated. According to his view it had two distinct objects. The first was to gather the moral and political force of the colored people of the United States; and the second was to direct and wield that force in such a manner as to vouchsafe to those people all the liberties contained in the Declaration of Independence. (Great Applause.) The history of their liberties was not so old already that they had forgotten how they were achieved or did not remember what slavery was. (Applause) There was a time when colored men did not hold conventions in Louisiana. (Applause) He related the anecdote of the colored man who was once brought before a recorder in New Orleans on a charge of larceny. The recorder advised him never to come there again. “I did not come, Mr. Recorder, the constable fouch me.” (Laughter) So it was with the colored delegates who formerly came to Louisiana, the constable “fouch” them with handcuffs upon their wrists. But that day, thank Heaven, was gone, never to return! Never! never! never! (Prolonged enthusiasm.) Every man now comes with his own consent and leaves when he desires. (Applause) The change was vast and wonderful! This country did not seem to be the same United States it was of old. The sun does not rise and set as it did in those dark and gloomy days. The very air now seems more pleasant; somehow we breathe freer than then.

But colored men, like all others, are apt to be forgetful. Do they often and fully consider the tedious, weary, and bloody processes by which the revolution was accomplished? They can well recur to the history of the rise and progress of all great revolutions and gather instruction for the future. Revolutions do not spring from the ground. They are not the creatures of a day. The cause of humanity has never made a step, not moved an inch in advance that was not purchased with agony and tears. Thirty years ago there was no equality for all men, even in Massachusetts. Under the very shadow of Faneuil Hall the slave hunter pursued and seized his victim.² As broad as was this great land with its vast plains, its green fields, and its classic spots, so grand in history, there was no single nook where the fleeing man of his complexion was not hunted down and brought back to bondage. There was no valley so deep, no mountain so high that it was free from the slave hunters. The slave was started up on

2. A reference to the rendition of Anthony Burns.

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the shores of Lake Erie and hounded over mountain, hill, swamp, and plain to the Gulf of Mexico. Everywhere he clamored for protection, but in vain. But by the power of truth the logic of events and the blood of patriots have made him free, and there is no place where, by virtue of his manhood, he cannot stand up and be absolutely protected. But no step in advance, as he had said, had ever been achieved without agony and blood. He referred to the cost of religious liberty. Before men were allowed to think for themselves about the infinite, Europe drank the blood of free hearts for eighty years.³ Superstition stood in the way, but men fought for the freedom of religious thought and attained it.

When he looked back over the history of the anti-slavery struggle he marveled that so much blood and so much treasure had been lost in resisting a principle so self-evident and so simple. When you come to the essence of that great struggle which had rent the nation asunder and moistened the land with tears, it was merely a question of individual right of ownership; it was whether every man shall be allowed to be his self; whether he is born for himself, breathes for himself, dies for himself, and shall answer to God for himself. And that great question of ages is now settled forever. Nothing must be done that will kindle into flames the passions and prejudices that are smouldering and dying. Let the dead past bury its dead,⁴ and let nothing be raked up from the grave of sad reminiscences unless it be to point a lesson to the future.

But colored men cannot be reminded too frequently of the men who strove for them in the early days. The names of such men as Wm. Lloyd Garrison (applause) and Wendell Phillips cannot be forgotten. They kindled the first sparks of the black man’s liberty. Abolitionism was first a sentiment, then an idea, then a principle, and then a great political struggle, and at each stage of its progress it seemed to be in charge of a different class of men. The first time it appealed to the polls, it gave seven thousand votes to a repentant slaveholder, Jas. G. Birney, of Kentucky, for President. (Applause) It next gave sixty thousand votes for Hale;⁵ next it gave more

3. A reference to the sixteenth-century religious wars in Europe.

4. Douglass quotes a line from the sixth stanza of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's “A Psalm of Life." Longfellow, Poems, 22.

5. Douglass incorrectly assigns James G. Birney’s total of 65,608 votes in his second campaign for the presidency in 1844 to Free Democratic candidate John P. Hale who actually received 150,000 in the 1852 election. Richard H. Sewell, Ballots for Freedom: Antislavery Politics in the United States. 1837-1860 (New York, 1976), 167; Frederick T. Blue, The Free Soilers: Third Party Politics, 18481854 (Urbana, Ill., 1973), 256.

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than a million for Fremont,⁶ the pathfinder to the Pacific and to human liberty. (Applause) Next it carried the country for Abraham Lincoln. (Applause) And from here on its history is familiar to every child. Out of his election comes this colored convention. (Applause)

The war began on both sides against the negro, and ended on both sides for the negro. (Applause) It will be remembered that in the last lingering days of the Confederacy, when despair seized it, it imploringly turned towards the black man and exclaimed, “Help me Pompey, ere I sink!”⁷ (Tremendous applause.) When the war began it was a white man’s fight. No negro should be allowed to sully the cause of either side. The South scouted the idea of his help. The North did not want him. Colored men are called upon to be grateful to the Republican party for their freedom. He was grateful, but his gratitude was qualified by facts. The colored man can also be allowed to put in his claim to a share in that glorious result. (Applause) He is deserving of some consideration. He has been admitted to a number of important boxes. First to the cartridge box (applause), then to the ballotbox (applause), then to the jury box (applause), and now, he hopes, is to be admitted to the knowledge box. (Prolonged applause.) What the Republican party has given has not all been given wholly disinterestedly. Even Mr. Lincoln, great, good, and beloved as he was, did not see the end from the beginning. At first Mr. Lincoln was only opposed to secession and was willing for the South to hunt down fugitive slaves if she would remain in the Union.⁸ His second inaugural was an improvement over his first. In the first he favored the enforcement of the fugitive slave law. In the second he prayed for the scourge of war to pass away, but said that if all the wealth of nation must be wasted and each drop of blood drawn by the lash must be paid for by a gallon drawn by the sword, it must be done. (Applause)

When the very earth was crumbling under the cause of the Union and the armies of the nation were meeting disaster after disaster; when the recruiting sergeant was beating his drum through every hamlet in the land,

6. Republican presidential nominee John C. Fremont received 1,339,932 votes for president in 1856. Potter, Impending Crisis, 266.

7. A slight misquoting of Julius Caesar, act 1, sc. 2, line 113.

8. In his 4 March 1861 inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln denied that he or his party had any intention of interfering with the rights of slaveholders to their chattel property. He promised the South “that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and the laws, can be given, will be cheerfully given to all the States when lawfully demanded, for whatever cause—as cheerfully to one section, as to another." In particular, Lincoln pledged a vigilant enforcement of all fugitive slave laws as a clear requirement of the Constitution. Basler, Collected Works of Lincoln. 4 : 262-71.

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