Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Douglass and Lincoln ( a book review )

By: Paul Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick

This is a very informative book. I found it at the Tucson Public Library. It filled in a lot of blanks for me during the critical years of our civil war. I had known about Frederick Douglass but I was not aware of the great influence he had on President Lincoln.
He was born into slavery in Maryland, endured harsh treatment from his owners and at the age of 18 was finally able to escape and settle in New Bedford, Massachusetts with his wife Anna who he met in Baltimore. She had been freed and provided the funds to secure his freedom. He read everything he could get a hold of and developed oratory skills which he used everywhere he could reach an audience across the Northern States. He, of course, was an ardent abolitionist who could never be satisfied until the four million Negroes were released from slavery and allowed the advantages of citizenship equal with the white population. He lived a long life until 1895 and through all that time struggled to accomplish his goal without achieving it in total.
He was extremely disappointed with the incremental steps taken by President Lincoln. It was not because Lincoln abhorred slavery, as he did, but because of the tenuous situation of the Southern States breaking away after his election and before he even took office. His main goal always was to preserve the union. If that entailed a continuation of slavery he was willing to accept it. He would have tried to keep it from extending into the new Western States as they were formed with the idea that if contained then it would eventually die of its own accord. Once the Confederacy was established and war began again all of his efforts were directed to restore the country. One of Lincoln’s first concerns was to keep the Border States from joining the Confederacy. They were Slave States. Any move to eliminate slavery could have lost them and the North would not have had the people or the resources to restore the Union.
Bit by bit as the war dragged on, the citizens in the North were able to accept incremental steps towards freeing the slaves. One of the first steps was to outlaw slavery in Washington, DC. This was another awakening for me as I did not know that slavery had existed in the North. Mr. Douglass deserves credit for continuing to speak and write. He finally came to understand Lincoln and became an ardent supporter. He met with the President on four separate occasions. He found Lincoln to be very open and doing all he could. Had the war been concluded before it did, with a settlement, it would be done with slavery still intact. In September 1862 Lincoln announced “The Emancipation Proclamation” which stated that effective 1/1/63, all those held in slavery within any State rebelling against the government would be “forever free.” It was a temporary solution at best as the Border States were excluded and any that re-entered the union would have their right to slavery restored. It also authorized Negros to be admitted to the Armed Services. Thus, as weak as it was, it was a huge step forward, which Douglass realized was monumental in scope.
During the first years the Union Army would actually return escaped slaves to the Rebels. Finally, a regiment was formed in Massachusetts in February, 1863, the 54th. If you have seen the movie, “Glory” it depicted the plight of these Negro recruits as they trained and then fought so bravely at the battle for Fort Wagner, S.C. From this beginning with Douglass’s urging more and more Negros enlisted, fought and died. It was now accepted that allowing slaves to enter the North accomplished two goals. The South was deprived of their labor and the North added those capable into the Army. As the war progressed finally Lincoln declared that all slaves who reached the Union lines and enlisted would be forever free. By the end of the war over 200,000 Negros were in uniform, roughly a fourth of the entire Army. Thirty Eight thousand gave their lives. If captured by the Rebels they were killed in brutal fashion. Lincoln threatened to retaliate in kind but could never do so.
Slavery came to an end in Maryland on 11/1/1864. Douglass immediately returned to the State where he had been a slave, looking for and finding relatives. It was a joyous time.
January 31, 1864, the House passed the 13th Amendment by the three fourths required. It would finally and completely eradicate slavery. There was no doubt that the States would quickly approve.
Lincoln won re-election; the war was winding down but not over when he gave his inauguration speech. It lasted only seven minutes. It was as powerful as the Gettysburg Address, in my opinion. He referred to the fact that both sides prayed to the same God for victory. He stated, he believed that “American Slavery” was an offence to God. He said,” God gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came.” He concluded with these powerful words,” With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who has borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a first, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” Douglass was overwhelmed. Even in his highest expectations, he had not imagined Lincoln’s speech having this kind of power.
April 10th the war ended with General Lee surrendering to General Grant. Four nights later Lincoln was assassinated and with his death his fine words came to naught.
On April 14, 1876 there was a ceremony to dedicate a memorial, The Freedman’s Monument, dedicated to the martyred President. It depicted President Lincoln with a gentle hand on the head of a freed slave. Douglass was the only speaker. He began bravely by telling the mostly white audience that Lincoln was first and foremost one of them, a white man, and that he would have sacrificed the blacks if necessary to preserve the union but he finished by saying, “We came to the conclusion that the hour and the man of our redemption had somehow met in the person of Abraham Lincoln. See this man. He was one of you and yet became Abraham Lincoln.”
With the death of Lincoln his successor Johnson and the rest to follow in his lifetime did little to provide opportunity to the freed slaves. They were denied the right to own land, vote, have access to education and held down by every means possible. He died in 1895 with only a partial victory.
What is strange to me is that Negros were allowed to fight in the Civil War but never again until President Truman desegregated the Armed Services during the Korean War. It took Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to finally integrate the country. Their struggle for equality continues but great strides have been made. Frederick Douglass, I believe would be satisfied.

Jack B. Walters
3961 N. Hillwood Circle
Tucson, AZ 85750
(520) 722-2958
June 4, 2008

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