Frederick Douglass the Narrative of Term Paper

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"To degrade and stamp out the liberties of a race" signified the "studied purpose" of linking social and civil equality. Douglass concluded that if the Civil Rights Law attempted to promote social equality, so did "the laws and customs of every civilized country in the world," including the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Sermon on the Mount, the Golden Rule, and the Apostles' Creed. He warned his fellow Americans that if the vile spirit of caste as exemplified in the ignoble Supreme Court decision of 1883 persisted there would be a "black Ireland in America" (Gregory, 1971) .

Evidence of the Republican party's betrayal of blacks encompassed its failure to enforce the letter and spirit of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. It likewise included its failure to pass: an Election Reform Bill (during President Hayes's administration) to eliminate election abuses in the South; the Lodge Force Bill (during President Benjamin Harrison's administration) to compel the president to send troops to the South if necessary to protect citizens' lives and rights; and the Blair Educational Bill (again during Harrison's administration) to subsidize a basic education for all American children. Due to these and like disappointments, Douglass became increasingly critical of Republican presidents starting with Hayes. On the contrary, he continued to think well of Republican Ulysses S. Grant, Hayes's presidential predecessor, who, unlike his successors, had stood firmly by the freed people. Notwithstanding the corruption among Grant's advisors and associates, and the resulting moral taint this gave his administration, Douglass had supported him for reelection in 1872 because of his efforts on behalf of the freed people as well as the nation.

Douglass's growing loyalty to the Republican party in the 1870s reflected several motives. First and foremost, he identified the party, regardless of its shortcomings, as the Negro's best friend in the political arena. In 1871, he had declared that "if as a class we are slighted by the Republican party, we as a class are murdered by the Democratic party. Whatsoever may be the fault of the Republican party, it has within it the only element of friendship for the colored man's rights." A little more than a year later, using a famous nautical metaphor, Douglass portrayed the Republican party as "the deck," and all other political parties, "the sea." Similarly, in 1888, he still viewed "the Republican Party as the sheet anchor of the colored man's political hopes and the ark of his safety" (Weissman, 1975). Second, in Republican party politics, Douglass found excitement, prestige, and a challenge. It offered a platform to promote his people's cause, a golden opportunity for the realization of his political ambitions, and a boost to his self-esteem. Third, it enabled him to act upon his maturing political consciousness: his growing belief that the national political arena represented a viable context to espouse the cause of humanity, notably the Negro's elevation. This complex and interrelated set of motives influenced the whole of his postwar political career and helped to make the elder race statesman more amenable to compromise and more understanding of human foibles.

Both Douglass's unwavering support of Grant and his growing involvement with stalwart Republican politics caused him to break with his longtime friend and ally, Charles Sumner, on the issues of the Liberal Republican insurgency and the annexation of Santo Domingo. The mutually bitter antagonism between Grant and Sumner caused the latter to form an uneasy alliance with Liberal Republicans, who advocated civil service and tariff reform, besides amnesty for the South. Douglass and Sumner agreed that the freed people's plight was critical. They disagreed, however, on the need to replace the corrupt and inefficient Grant administration in 1872 with one to be headed by Horace Greeley, presidential nominee of the Liberal Republicans and Democratic party. Douglass, whose overriding concern was the freed people, could not accept Sumner's position linking a "New Departure," amnesty for the South, with an insistence upon protection for the freed people's civil rights. Virtually all Liberal Republicans, with the notable exception of Sumner, were willing to forsake the freed people in order to achieve the "New Departure" they viewed as essential to their insurgency. Douglass, consequently, rejected the Liberal Republican movement, railing against "the intention of this new party to check the progress of the nation to complete freedom." Furthermore, he editorialized that "all reform movements started by Republicans outside of their own party, are impudent frauds, devised by demagogues for corrupt purposes" (Gregory, 1971). As a result, he helped to convince his people, who revered Sumner for his dedication to their struggle, to reelect Grant, against Sumner's opposition.

The telling limitation of Douglass's opposition to the liberal reform movement, nevertheless, was his failure to assess fully the merits of their program to alleviate corruption and inefficiency in government. Given his fundamental commitment to social reform, this failure to give adequate attention to the need for political reform was quite ironic. Douglass's growing ties to stalwart Republicans, as well as his procapitalist bias, also promoted his ironic failure to analyze objectively the progressive potential of the Labor Reform party and other radical parties and movements. Clearly, the race prejudice of both Liberal Republicans and radical parties and movements greatly contributed to Douglass's blindness to their ideological and practical merits (Gregory, 1971).

The ideological rift between Douglass and Sumner over the annexation of Santo Domingo had preceded their political break over Grant's reelection. Sumner's opposition to Grant's annexation treaty had greatly exacerbated the bitter personal feud between them. In 1871, even after the treaty no longer had a chance for passage, Grant appointed a commission to reassess both the prospects and the Haitian desire for annexation. The commission included former senator Benjamin F. Wade; Andrew D. White, president of Cornell; Samuel Gridley Howe, reformer and friend of Sumner; and Douglass, as secretary. Not surprisingly, the commission returned with a report favorable to annexation (Blassingame, 1:4).

One of Sumner's arguments against annexation had been that it would mean the destruction of a black nationality and the possible beginning of a policy to destroy the other black nationalities in the West Indies. He had urged that the Antilles "should not be absorbed by the United States, but should remain as independent powers," and "should try for themselves to make the experiment of self-government." The United States, he believed, should assist these republics in the development of "a free confederacy, in which the black race should predominate " (Gregory, 1971).

Douglass's response to this particular argument of Sumner offered the paradoxical spectacle of Douglass favoring the extinguishment of a black republic. "The idea that annexation meant degradation to a colored nation," he argued, "was altogether fanciful." While he claimed to be against annexation "without regard to the just rights and feelings of other nations," and to believe that the notion of manifest destiny was "often but another name for piracy," his proannexation rationale smacked of manifest destiny. As long as the slavocracy dominated the government, he had opposed United States expansion abroad. Once freedom and equality became the law of the land, however, he reversed himself and began to favor United States expansionism (Griffiths, 1969).

Works Cited

Pioneer, Lynn. cited in Liberator, 30 May 1845; the North Star, 12 Mar. 1848; Foner, Frederick Douglass, 59-60.

Nichols, Many Thousand Gone; Butterfield, Black Autobiography in America, 11-89;

Blassingame, "I Have Come to Tell You Something About Slavery," Douglass Papers, ser. 1, 1:4.

Frederick Douglass' Paper, 22 July 1853, Ibid., 5:287-88, 286; "The Claims of Our Common Cause," July 1853, Ibid., 2:267


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