Archive for July 13th, 2012

Frederick Douglass letter to editor of the Evening Star [May 1877] from “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass”

*Regarding the controversy of Douglass’ lecture on the “National Capital” in Baltimore in May 1877.*

Departing from custom, as “the tide of popular feeling was so violent,” Douglass publicly addressed the calls for his removal with an explanatory letter to the editor of the Washington Evening Star. The Marshal’s office had not suffered from Douglass’ two-day absence to attend an exhibition in Philadelphia as it had been left in the hands of his honest and capable Deputy, Marshal L.P. Williams. Secondly, Douglass saw the attacks on him as “both malicious and silly,” expressing, “I very much mistake if this great city can be thrown into a tempest of passion by any humorous reflections I may take the liberty to utter.”

Finally, Douglass said he knew how the game worked, citing that his speech “required more than an hour and a half,” but it had been condensed into a “half or three-quarters of a column.” He told the readers of the Evening Star that had “the reporters of that lecture been as careful to note what I said in praise of Washington” as “in disparagement of it, it would have been impossible to awaken any feeling against me in this community.” 

As an old newspaper man Douglas knew it “is the easiest thing in the world, as all editors know, to pervert the meaning and give a one-sided impression of a whole speech by giving isolated passages from the speech itself, without any qualifying connections.”

During Douglass’ years in Washington there had been calls on the House floor to move the capital out West, which never materialized. By the time of Douglass’ Baltimore lecture, Washington had become embedded in the American consciousness and imagination. He closed his letter to the editor as he had closed his speech. “Let it stand where it does now stand – where the father of his country planted it, and where it has stood for more than half a century – no longer sandwiched between two slave states – no longer a contradiction to human progress – no longer the hotbed of slavery and the slave trade – no longer the home of the duelist, the gambler, and the assassin – no longer anchored to a dark and semibarbarous past, but a redeemed city, beautiful to the eye and attractive to the heart, a bond of perpetual union, an angel of peace on earth and good will to men, a common ground upon which America of all races and colors, all sections North and South, may meet and shake hands, not over a chasm of blood, but over a free, united, and progressive republic.”


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