Abolitionist H. Ford Douglass: 1860

MR. PRESIDENT, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I hope that my friends will not do me the injustice to suppose for a single moment that I have any connection either by blood or politically, with Stephen Arnold Douglas, of Chicago. I am somewhat proud of the name of Douglas. It was once, in the history of dear old Scotia, a tower of strength on the side of free principles; and so firmly did they oppose the usurpations of royal power, that, on one of the kings of Scotland coming to the throne, he issued an edict, expelling from his realm every man who bore that hated name; and I cannot account for the signal departure from the ancient and hereditary principles by one who bears that name, upon any other theory than that of bastard blood. There are a great many people in this country who seem to be in love with Stephen A. Douglas, and to regard him as a great statesman. It seems to me that there are certain elements necessary to true statesmanship. In the first place, a statesman must have a heart—that is one of the essential elements of statesmanship. Now, who supposes that Stephen A. Douglas has a heart? I cannot account for the existence of so mean a man as Douglas on any other theory than that of the transmigration of souls. It was held by one of the old philosophers of Greece that when a man died, somebody was born, and that the soul of the dead entered the body of the newborn; but when Douglas was born, nobody happened to die! But, ladies and gentlemen, I had no intention of making these remarks. We are here for the purpose of celebrating the Fourth of July.

Eighty-four years ago today, this nation had its birth. We stand, to-day, a governmental prodigy, surpassing, in our extraordinary growth, any of the states of ancient or modern times. But nations who seek success amid the possibilities of the future are not measured by the accumulation of wealth or by the breadth of territorial domain; for down beneath the glittering splendor which the jeweled hand of Croesus has lifted up to intoxicate the gaze of the unthinking multitude, there will be found a silent and resistless influence working its way beneath the surface of society and shaping the destiny of men. When John Adams wrote that this would always be a day of bonfires and rejoicing, he did not foresee the evils which half a century would bring, when his own son, standing in his place amid the legislators of the Republic, would shame posterity into a brave indifference to its empty ceremonies. John Quincy Adams said, twenty years ago, that “the preservation, propagation and perpetuation of slavery is the vital animating spirit of the national government,” and this truth is not less apparent today. Every department of our national life—the President’s chair, the Senate of the United States, the Supreme Court, and the American pulpit—is occupied and controlled by the dark spirit of American slavery. We have four parties in this country that have marshaled themselves on the highway of American politics, asking for the votes of the American people to place them in possession of the government. We have what is called the Union party, led by Mr. Bell of Tennessee; we have what is called the Democratic party, led by Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois; we have the party called the Seceders, or the Slave-Code Democrats, led by John C. Breckinridge, of Kentucky and then we have the Republican party, led by Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois. All of these parties ask for your support, because they profess to represent some principle. So far as the principles of freedom and the hopes of the black man are concerned, all these parties are barren and unfruitful; neither of them seeks to lift the Negro out of his fetters and rescue this day from odium and disgrace.

Take Abraham Lincoln. I want to know if any man can tell me the difference between the antislavery of Abraham Lincoln and the antislavery of the old Whig party or the antislavery of Henry Clay? Why, there is no difference between them. Abraham Lincoln is simply a Henry Clay Whig, and he believes just as Henry Clay believed in regard to this question. And Henry Clay was just as odious to the antislavery cause and antislavery men as ever was John C. Calhoun. In fact, he did as much to perpetuate Negro slavery in this country as any other man who has ever lived. Henry Clay once said “That is property which the law declares to be property,” and that “two hundred years of legislation have sanctioned and sanctified property in slaves.” Wherever Henry Clay is today in the universe of God, that atheistic lie is with him, with all its tormenting memories. I know Abraham Lincoln, and I know something about his antislavery. I know the Republicans do not like this kind of talk, because, while they are willing to steal our thunder, they are unwilling to submit to the conditions imposed upon that party that assumes to be antislavery. They say that they cannot go as fast as you antislavery men go in this matter; that they cannot afford to be uncompromisingly honest, or so radical as you Garrisonians; that they want to take time; that they want to do the work gradually. They say, “We must not be in too great a hurry to overthrow slavery; at least, we must take half a loaf, we cannot get the whole.” Now, my friends, I believe that the very best way to overthrow slavery in this country is to occupy the highest possible antislavery ground.

Washington Irving tells a story of a Dutchman who wanted to jump over a ditch, and he went back three miles in order to get a good start, and when he got up to the ditch he had to sit down on the wrong side to get his breath. So it is with these political parties; they are compelled, they say, when they get up to the ditch of slavery, to stop and take breath. I do not believe in the antislavery of Abraham Lincoln, because he is on the side of this slave power of which I am speaking, that has possession of the federal government. What does he propose to do? Simply to let the people and the territories regulate their domestic institutions in their own way. In the great debate between Lincoln and Douglas in Illinois, when he was interrogated as to whether he was in favor of the admission of more slave states in the Union, he said, that so long as we owned the territories, he did not see any other way of doing than to admit those states when they made application, with or without slavery. Now, that is Douglas’ doctrine; it is stealing the thunder of Stephen A. Douglas. In regard to the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law, Abraham Lincoln oc-cupies the same position that the old Whig party occupied in 1852. They asserted then, in their platform, that they were not in favor of the repeal of that law, and that they would do nothing to lessen its efficiency. What did he say at Freeport Why, that the South was entitled to a Fugitive Slave Law; and although he thought the law could be modified a little, yet, he said, if he was in Congress, he would have it done in such a way as not to lessen its efficiency! Here, then, is Abraham Lincoln in favor of carrying out that infamous Fugitive Slave Law, that not only strikes down the liberty of every black man in the United States, but virtually the liberty of every white man as well; for, under that law, there is not a man in this presence who might not be arrested today upon the simple testimony of one man, and, after an ex parte trial, hurried off to slavery and to chains. Habeas corpus, trial by jury—those great bulwarks of freedom, reared by the blood and unspeakable woe of your English ancestors, amidst the conflicts of a thousand years—are struck down by this law; and the man whose name is inscribed upon the Presidential banner of the Republican party is in favor of keeping it upon the statute book!

Not only would I arraign Mr. Lincoln in regard to that law, for his proslavery character and principles, but when he was a member of the House of Representatives, in 1849, on the tenth day of January, he went through the District of Columbia and consulted the prominent proslavery men and slaveholders of the District, and then went into the House of Representatives and introduced, on his own responsibility, a fugitive-slave law for the District of Columbia. It is well known that the law of 1793 did not apply to the District, and it was necessary, in order that slaveholders might catch their slaves who sought safety under the shadow of the Capitol, that a special law should be passed for the District of Columbia; and so Mr. Lincoln went down deeper into the proslavery pool than ever Mr. Mason of Virginia did in the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Here, then, is the man who asks for your votes and for the votes of the antislavery people of New England; who, on his own responsibility, without any temptation whatever, introduced into the District of Columbia a fugitive-slave law! That is a fact for the consideration of antislavery men. Then, there is another item which I want to bring out in this connection. I am a colored man; I am an American citizen, and I think that I am entitled to exercise the elective franchise. I am about twenty-eight years old, and I would like to vote very much. I think I am old enough to vote, and I think that, if I had a vote to give, I should know enough to place it on the side of freedom.

No party, it seems to me, is entitled to the sympathy of antislavery men, unless that party is willing to extend to the black man all the rights of a citizen. I care nothing about that antislavery which wants to make the territories free, while it is unwilling to extend to me, as a man, in the free states, all the rights of a man. In the state of Illinois, where I live—my adopted state—I have been laboring to make it a place fit for a decent man to live in. In that state, we have a code of black laws that would disgrace any Barbary State, or any uncivilized people in the far-off islands of the sea. Men of my complexion are not allowed to testify in a court of justice where a white man is a party. If a white man happens to owe me anything, unless I can prove it by the testimony of a white man, I cannot collect the debt. Now, two years ago, I went through the state of Illinois for the purpose of getting signers to a petition asking the legislature to repeal the “Testimony Law,” so as to permit colored men to testify against white men. I went to prominent Republicans, and among others, to Abraham Lincoln and Lyman Trumbull, and neither of them dared to sign that petition, to give me the right to testify in a court of justice! In the state of Illinois, they tax the colored people for every conceivable purpose. They tax the Negro’s property to support schools for the education of the white man’s children, but the colored people are not permitted to enjoy any of the benefits resulting from that taxation. We are compelled to impose upon ourselves additional taxes in order to educate our children.

The state lays its iron hand upon the Negro, holds him down, and puts the other hand into his pocket and steals his hard earnings, to educate the children of white men; and if we sent our children to school, Abraham Lincoln would kick them out, in the name of Republicanism and antislavery! I have, then, something to say against the antislavery character of the Republican party. Not only are the Republicans of Illinois on the side of slavery, and against the rights of the Negro but even some of the prominent Republicans of Massachusetts are not acceptable to antislavery men in that regard. In the Senate of the United States, some of your Senators from the New England states take special pains to make concessions to the slave power, by saying that they are not in favor of bringing about Negro equality; just as Abraham Lincoln did down in Ohio two years ago. When he went there to stump that state, the colored people were agitating the question of suffrage in that state. The Ohio Statesman, a paper published in Columbus, asserted, on the morning of the day that Mr. Lincoln made his speech, that he was in favor of Negro equality; and Mr. Lincoln took pains at that time to deny the allegation, by saying that he was not in favor of bringing about the equality of the Negro race; that he did not believe in making them voters, in placing them in the jury box, or in ever bringing about the political equality of the races. He said that so long as they lived here, there must be an inferior and superior position, and that he was, as much as anybody else, in favor of assigning to white men the superior position. – See more at: http://www.blackpast.org/1860-h-ford-douglas-i-do-not-believe-antislavery-abraham-lincoln#sthash.Ndj2kGL5.dpuf

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