Frederick Douglass tells President Lincoln the four keys to successfully enlisting colored troops in the Union cause

In the past five years there have been nearly a half dozen books published examining the lives and relationship of Frederick Douglass and President Lincoln, largely centering on the two documented meetings between these titans of 19th century American history.  (Special shout out to Paul and Stephen Kendrick’s must-read Douglass and Lincoln: How a Revolutionary Black Leader & a Reluctant Liberator Struggled to End Slavery & Save the Union.)

One of the first books to merge these two self-made men was Allen Thorndike Rice’s 1886 work, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by distinguished men of his time.

Contributors include former congressmen, a former Vice President, journalist Benjamin Perley Poore, Walt Whitman, General Benjamin “Spoons” F. Butler, General / President Ulysses S. Grant, Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, and many others including Frederick Douglass, who was denoted as “Ex-United States Marshal of the District of Columbia.”

Douglass tells of his first interview with President Lincoln “in the summer of 1863, soon after the Confederate States had declared their purpose to treat colored soldiers as insurgents, and their purpose not to treat any such soldiers as prisoners of war subject to exchange like other soldiers.”

To “make [the colored troops] branch of the service successful” Douglass told President Lincoln he “must do four things:

“First – You must give colored soldiers the same pay that you give white soldiers. 

“Second – You must compel the Confederate States to treat colored soldiers, when prisoners, as prisoners of war.

“Third – When any colored man or soldiers performs brave, meritorious exploits in the field, you must enable me to say to those that I recruit that they will be promoted for such service precisely as white men are promoted for similar service.

“Fourth – In case any colored soldiers are murdered in cold blood and taken prisoners, you should retaliate in kind.”

Before phrases such as “go hard” or “go ham” were introduced into our vernacular, Frederick Douglass told President Lincoln what time it was.


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