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.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Andrew Johnson's Resistance
In his speeches Douglass “contended that all loyal Unionists, white and black, needed the black vote to protect the nation.  He and other radicals … held that leaving the freed men without the ballot would leave them in the absolute power of the old master class.  … Douglass was persuaded that his people, with the vote, could not only protect themselves but rise to a new level.  And in granting the vote to their black brothers, white Americans too would rise” (McFeely 24246).  “Without the elective franchise,” Douglass warned, “the Negro will still be practically a slave.  Individual ownership has been abolished, but if we restore the Southern States without this measure, we shall establish an ownership of the blacks by the community among whom they live” (McFeely 246).  The next one hundred years demonstrated how prophetic these words would be.
In February 1866 Douglass was the spokesman of a delegation of prominent black citizens that made a call upon the President.  They wanted to know specifically how Andrew Johnson stood on the Freedman’s Bureau Bill, the Civil Rights Bill, and the proposed Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, all measures in Congress that would shape dramatically the reconstruction of the South and the future of the Negro.
The President was prepared for the little group.  Douglass and his companions had scarcely indicated the burden of their visit when Johnson began making a speech to them.  According to Douglass it lasted more than three quarters of an hour, and when it was finished, the President announced that the interview was over.  He would hear no replies (Bontemps 248).
To Douglass’s suggestion that black people should be given the vote “with which to save ourselves,” Johnson, with “suppressed anger,” had replied that he had already risked too much politically for black people and that the would not now be “arraigned by some who can get up handsomely-rounded periods.”  He supposed that he would play the part of Moses, with the Thirteenth Amendment, in leading slaves out of bondage, but poor whites and poor blacks had always been enemies.  If they were “thrown together at the ballot box” a race war would result.  Johnson favored black emigration, a concept that Douglass had fought all his life.
A representative of the Radical Republicans in Congress caught up with the delegation as it left the White House and invited the colored men to meet some Congressmen in the anteroom of the House of Representatives.  But Douglass discovered that he and his Negro friends were not precisely in step with the men in Congress who seemed to favor their cause.  The Radical Republicans, the Negroes felt, pushed Negro suffrage as a way of punishing the South and of retaining for themselves the control of government.  Their attempts to keep whites from voting in the South were similarly motivated, but these sentiments were not shared by Negroes, who are on record as favoring the enfranchisement of former Confederates at this time (Bontemps 249).
The delegates decided to put in print a rebuttal of what the President had said to them.  Douglass was chosen to do the writing.  He, and they, made three points with their critical remarks.
One, the hostility that existed between poor whites and blacks was indeed real, but had been caused during slavery by the master class’s manipulation of poor whites.  “Those masters secured their ascendency over both the poor whites and blacks by putting enmity between them.  They divided both to conquer each” (Bontemps 250).  Poor whites had always been employed as slave catchers, slave drivers and overseers.  Now that slavery was abolished, why should legislation be adopted that supported the slavemaster viewpoint?
Two, it was unjust to give the power of the vote to one class and deny it to the other class.  To do so would be to perpetuate the hostility.  Without the vote, the black man was powerless.  “Men are whipped oftenest who are whipped easiest” (Bontemps 250), Douglass wrote.
Three, Negroes had labored to help develop the nation and had died to defend it.  They were not strangers or aliens to be sent away on ships.  They were Americans as deserving as any white man of full citizenship.
Andrew Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Bill and Congress overrode the veto to make it law.  Three months later Congress passed a second Freemen’s Bureau Bill and continued thereafter to direct the reconstruction of the South, repeatedly overriding Johnson’s vetoes.  During 1867 Douglass remained busy lecturing for fees of from fifty to one hundred dollars a night, traveling as far west at Pittsburgh, Louisville, and St. Louis, stating his support of Negro enfranchisement and his opposition to the President’s policies.  To his great surprise, in July he received a letter from his son Charles, in Washington, that the Johnson Administration was considering Douglass as Commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau!  Would he be interested in taking the position?
Works cited:
Bontempts, 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.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review
Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West
by Stephen Ambrose
This non-fiction work is superb.  Reading it many years ago motivated me to read informative historical novels like A.B. Guthrie’s excellent narratives set in the Yellowstone, Montana, Idaho areas.  Having reread a large section of “Undaunted Courage” this past year, I offer this book review, which cannot do justice to the work’s many qualities.
I was enthralled with the book’s six maps.  I referred to all of them frequently to make clear to me the time-progression, geographical location sequence of events that are such an important component of the telling of the Lewis and Clark Expedition accomplishment.  If I were younger and had the financial resources to indulge myself, I might be tempted to follow the route the Corps of Discovery took from St. Louis, Missouri, to Fort Clatsop, Oregon, and back, taking numerous pictures and maintaining a daily diary.
“Undaunted courage” describes best the greatest attributes of the two captains and their exceedingly well-disciplined, resolute men.  Delving into the unknown stirs some element of fear in any person.  Imagine yourself signing onto an expedition that intends to take you more than a year into diverse land not previously explored, boats to be poled up the Missouri River, portages to be undertaken because there had to be – if not falls – rapids too violent to ride, mountains to cross over passes not yet known, overland transport between the end of the Missouri River and some unknown tributary of the Columbia River the difficulty and duration of which you would learn only when you had to deal with it.  And what of the lack of food, the prospect of starvation, especially in the mountains, after you have left the bison-filled plains east of the Continental Divide?  And what of the Indians?  Your expedition – though heavily armed -- will be vastly outnumbered by any tribe it encounters.  If any tribe wishes to exterminate you, it can.  You must pray that you captains have the skill to prevent this.  Pray that each tribe’s human universal avarice is satiated sufficiently to receive from it tolerance of your temporary presence.   Finally, will you be able to stand the rigors of your daily labor, which will require you to consume 6,000 calories of food.  Will you succumb to dysentery, influenza, sexually transmitted diseases caught from intercourse with native?  Lewis or Clark would be your doctor.  The remedies to be used would be whatever they are able to concoct.
There are particular scenes in this book that rival in excitement and wonder the best scenes written by a skilled novelist.  Here is one example. 
Lewis and Clark needed to find the Shoshones just east of the Continental Divide.  The Shoshones, they had been told, had many horses -- horses the expedition needed to cross the Rocky Mountains to find the Columbia River, horses Lewis and Clark hoped to obtain through barter.  They had reached the three forks that become in western Montana the Missouri River.  They had chosen to follow the most westerly fork – the Jefferson River – hoping to encounter friendly Shoshones.  They had been unsuccessful.  Game had become scarce.  Lewis divided the expedition into two groups, both of which headed west overland.  Eventually, Lewis sighted an adolescent brave on a horse from a distance of several miles.  Lewis hailed him, but the brave fled.  I will allow Stephen Ambrose to narrate the rest.
On Tuesday morning, August 13, 1805, Lewis set out early, headed west on a plain, heavily and recently used Indian trail that fell down a long, descending valley. …
At nine miles, Lewis saw two Indian women, a man, and some dogs. When he  had arrived within half a mile of them, he ordered Drouillard and the two privates to halt, unslung his pack and rifle and put them on the ground, unfurled a flag, and advanced alone at a steady pace toward the Indians.  He hailed them, using a word he believed meant “white man,” but actually meant “stranger” or “enemy.”  The man hurried away.
Lewis’s men rejoined him.
After less than a mile, topping a rise, they came on three Indian women, one a twelve-year-old, one a teen, and the third elderly, only thirty yards away.  At first sight, Lewis laid down his rifle and advanced on the group.  The teen ran off, but the old woman and the child remained.  Seeing no chance of escape, they sat on the ground and held their heads down; to Lewis it looked as though they had reconciled themselves to die.
He approached and took the elderly woman by the hand, raised her up, said,“tab-ba-bone,” and rolled up his shirtsleeve to show her his white skin.  … Drouillard and the privates joined him.  From their packs he gave the woman some beads, a few moccasin awls, a few mirrors, and some paint.  His skin and the gifts, and his friendly attitude were enough to calm her down.
Through Drouillard’s sign language, he asked her to call the teen back, fearing that otherwise the girl might alarm the main body of Shoshones.  The old woman did as asked, and the teen reappeared.  Lewis gave her some trinkets and painted the “tawny cheeks” of the women with some vermillion.  When the Indians were composed, Lewis told them, through Drouillard, that he “wished them to conduct us to their camp that we were anxious to become acquainted with the chiefs and warriors of their nation.”  They did as requested, and the group set off, the Indians leading.
After two miles, the long-anticipated and eagerly sought contact took place.  Sixty warriors, mounted on excellent horses and armed for war with bows and arrows plus three inferior rifles, came on at full speed.  When they saw Lewis’s party, they halted.
… The Indians were overwhelmingly superior.  It would have been the work of only a moment for them to overwhelm Lewis’s party. 
But rather than assuming a defensive position, Lewis laid down his rifle, picked up his flag, told his party to stay in place, and, following the old woman who was guiding, advanced slowly toward he knew not what.
A man Lewis assumed was the chief rode in the lead.  He halted to speak to the old woman.  She told him that these were white men “and exultingly showed the presents which had been given.”  This broke the tension. 
The chief advanced.  Saying “ah-hi-e, ah-hi-e,” which Lewis later learned meant, “I am pleased, I am much rejoiced,” the chief put his left arm over Lewis’s right shoulder and applied his left cheek to Lewis’s right cheek,  continuing “to frequently vociferate the word ah-hi-e.”
This first meeting between Shoshones and Americans went better than Lewis could have dared to hope.  He had been exceedingly lucky.  The war party had ridden out in response to the alarm given by the man who had fled earlier that day.  The Shoshones expected to find Blackfeet and might have attacked without pause save for the old woman.  Had Lewis not met her, and had she not responded so positively to his appeals and gifts, there might well have been a firefight.
There is great irony in this incident.  Ambrose criticizes Lewis for not having Sacagawea accompany the party.  She was one of two young Shoshone girls that had been captured by a Hidatsa raiding party four years earlier at the Three Forks.  A French Canadian trapper, Toussaint Charbonneau, won the two girls from their captors in a bet.  Both girls became Charbonneau’s wives.  Lewis had signed Charbonneau on as a member of the expedition because of the girls’ knowledge of the Shoshone language.  Sacagawea, turned fifteen, was the wife chosen to accompany him.  Why had Lewis decided not to include Sacagawea in his scouting party?  Ambrose wrote:
The captains shared a hubris, that they could handle Indians.  They believed they needed Sacagawea’s interpreting ability only to trade for horses, not to establish contact.   it would seem that the captains allowed their self-confidence, and perhaps their male chauvinism, to override their common sense.
The great irony is that the chief who in friendship placed his cheek against Lewis’s cheek happened to be Sacagawea’s brother.
If you enjoy American history and have not read it, “Undaunted Courage” should be at the top of you “To Read” list.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Crossing the River
Chapter 3, Pages 43-45
“The town of Concord lies between two hills,” Daniel Bliss said, pointing at his drawn map. “The Concord River, which is little more than a stream, runs between them. The town has two bridges, one to the north, here, the other to the south, here.” De Berniere and Browne examined his markings. “At various places, in houses and in the woods, they’ve hidden four brass field pieces and ten iron cannon. I’ve marked their locations with X's.”
     It was precisely what the General had instructed them to obtain. De Berniere would duplicate the map. His would be the only map the General would see.
     “They have collected a wide assortment of arms and equipment,” Bliss stated. “I have made a list.” He handed De Berniere the paper.
     The ensign read the column of words: cartridge boxes, harnesses, spades, pickaxes, billhooks, iron pots, wooden mess bowls, cartridge paper, powder, musket balls, flints, flour, dried fish, salt, and rice. He would copy this as well.
     “Also, Colonel Barrett has a magazine of powder and cartridges hidden at his farm.”
     “Where?” Captain Browne asked.
     “Here on the map. I have written his name and circled it. His farm is about two miles beyond the North Bridge.”
     Leaning over the table, De Berniere found the name, and the road that led to it.
     At dawn Daniel Bliss, exhibiting a stoic countenance, readied himself for departure. As promised, the two officers would accompany him, the enlisted man having volunteered to leave ahead of them to scout the way.
     “Twould be fittin' not t'be seen with you. I’d be movin' 'bout with naught someone suspectin'. Might see somethin' needin' t'be known.”
     “Wait for us, a mile east of the town,” the dark officer had answered, the fleshy, sour-faced officer-in-charge having deigned not to respond.
     Frost lay upon the road. Footprints and hoof indentations marked the predawn passing. Sunlight had begun to streak. Roof tops steamed.
     Two townspeople, pausing at the door of Ephraim Jones’s Tavern, marked them. Amos Johnson and Elisha Carter were out for an early morning toddy. Raucous laughter. Upon seeing them, hateful faces. Too early for them to do him any damage, Bliss decided. They would be well toward Lexington before Jones and Carter could alert Major Buttrick, should they be so uncharacteristically motivated.
     Having taken the road east of the mill pond, they passed the burial ground on the hill. Near Reuben Brown's house Charity Fuller was carrying water, her breath visible in the crisp air. The young maid turned her head once.
     They passed the road to Waltham, the tightness inside his chest caused, he believed, by his fear but also because of what he was leaving.
     “The ground is open here,” the younger officer, De Berniere, said to him, as they approached Meriam's Corner.
     “From here to Lexington it isn't,” Bliss said. “The road in places is very narrow. It surmounts two major hills and passes stands of hardwood and pine.”
     Later, “Stone walls. Too many stone walls.”
     “We like to mark our property lines,” he explained.
     They stopped, repeatedly. Each time Ensign De Berniere had sketched. “These delays increase the likelihood of my capture,” Bliss had complained after the third stop.
     “A well aimed pistol shot will remedy that!” Captain Browne had boasted. The young officer’s eyes had flitted toward his superior and had lingered, briefly. The enlisted man, ten feet behind the Captain, out of the dark officer’s vision, had smirked.
     Three pistol shots against how many, ten muskets? What sort of fool had General Gage sent? The other one, De Berniere, excessively pleased with himself, had seemed competent.
     “Bad ground here,” Bliss heard the officer say to Browne at the top of Brooks Hill. The Captain nodded, flicked a speck of bark off the front of his coat.
     When the King's Foot marched this way -- Bliss could not phrase the event as a question -- who would lead them? The best, he would have assumed two days earlier, had he had special reason then to consider.