Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, 1818, died February 20, 1895) was an American abolitionist (having been born in slavery), women's suffragist, editor, orator, author, statesman, ambassador (including to Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and reformer.
Douglass wrote several autobiographies, notably describing his experiences as a slave in his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845), which became a bestseller, and was influential in promoting the cause of abolition, as was his second book, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855). Following the American Civil War, Douglass remained an active campaigner against slavery and for equal rights of all people. He held several public offices, and in 1872, albeit without his approval, Douglass became the first African-American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate and of Victoria Woodhull, on the Equal Rights Party ticket.
Frederick Douglass in Southern Victory
Following the Union's defeat in the War of Secession and the subsequent recognition of the Confederate States, Douglass could no longer work for abolition directly; instead, he supported the Republican Party's hard line against the Confederacy. He also worked for racial equality within the US, an unpopular position since many Americans blamed the black man for the War of Secession (and, later, for the Second Mexican War).
Douglass was thrilled when the Republicans recaptured the presidency in 1880 with James G. Blaine. He supported Blaine's war against the Confederate States to prevent President James Longstreet's acquisition of the states of Chihuahua and Sonora from Mexico. During the war, he covered the Army of the Ohio's campaign against Louisville, Kentucky. Like most supporters of the war, he was deeply troubled by the incompetence of the army's commander, General Orlando Willcox. He periodically visited the front lines of the Army and was at one point captured by Confederate forces. He was held briefly and met with General Thomas Jackson before being released at the urgent personal order of President Longstreet.
Douglass did not fully realize that his capture and release had played a significant role in the Confederacy's victory in the war, due to Longstreet's skillful diplomacy. The veteran abolitionist's immediate release served to give the Confederacy an image of magnanimity which helped cement its alliance with Britain and France, whereas if he had been harmed public opinion in these countries would have strongly turned against the Confederates. However, the price of that alliance - a price which Longstreet was willing to pay - was the manumission of the slaves. Thus, Douglass' involvement in the war also helped bring about his lifelong dream, to see his people freed from slavery - even if it was not ac achieved the way he would have wanted, by a liberating US Army and with the Blacks becoming full-fledged citizens.
Following the defeat of the Army of the Ohio, Douglass returned home to Rochester, where he witnessed a British naval raid across the Great Lakes from Canada. He was bitterly disappointed that the support for his cause he had once found in Britain and France had apparently been eroded by the Anglo-Franco-Confederate alliance that was a forerunner to the Entente, though of course he supported London's insistence that the Confederacy manumit its slaves as a condition for military support.
Douglass also journeyed to Chicago for a Republican Party caucus. He could not support his friend, former President Abraham Lincoln's efforts to focus the Party on worker's rights, rather than hostility to the Confederate States. Lincoln left the Republicans and joined the Socialist Party.
Douglass returned home frustrated and beaten, though he continued to struggle against racism (which had seen an upsurge in the wake of the US's second defeat by the Confederates) for the rest of his life. He was tempted to leave the US and move to Liberia, but chose not to do this as it would abandon his people back home.
John E. W. Thompson
|United States Minister Resident to Haiti
John S. Durham
|Party political offices|
|Equal Rights Party candidate for Vice President of the United States
(National Equal Rights Party)