SPEECH OF MR. DOUGLASS. “Mr. President and Gentlemen of the National Republican Convention: Allow me to express my deep, my heartfelt gratitude to you for the warm, the cordial invitation you have extended to me to make my appearance on this platform at this time. The work to which you have called me is somewhat new. It is the first time in my life that I have ever had the pleasure of looking the Republican party squarely in the face. And I must say,—and I hope you will acquit me of everything like a disposition to flatter,—that you are a pretty good looking man. But I will not detain you here by any attempt at a speech. You have had speeches,—eloquent speeches, glorious speeches, wise speeches, patriotic speeches ; speeches in respect to the importance of managing correctly your currency ; speeches in defence of purity of administration; and speeches in respect to the great principles for which you struggled, and for which the race to which I belong struggled on the battlefield, and poured out their blood.
The thing, however, in which I feel the deepest interest, and the thing in which I believe this country feels the deepest interest, is, that the principles involved in the contest which carried your sons and brothers to the battlefield; which draped our Northern churches with the weeds of mourning, and filled our towns and our cities with mere stumps of men,—armless, legless, maimed, and mutilated; those for which you poured out your blood, and piled a debt for after-coming generations higher than a mountain of gold, to weigh down the necks of your children and your children’s children,—I say that those principles, those interests involved in that tremendous contest, ought to be dearer to the American people, in the great political struggle now upon them, than any other principles we have.
You say you have emancipated us. You have ; and I thank you for it. You say you have enfranchised us. You have ; and I thank you for it. But what is your emancipation?—what is your enfranchisement? What does it all amount to, if the black man, after having been made free by the letter of your law, is unable to exercise that freedom, and, after having been freed from the slaveholder’s lash, he is to be subject to the slaveholder’s shot-gun? Oh! you freed us! You emancipated us ! I thank you for it. But under what circumstances did you emancipate us ? Under what circumstances have we obtained our freedom ? Sir, ours is the most extraordinary case of any people ever emancipated on the globe. I sometimes wonder that we still exist as a people in this country ; that we have not all been swept out of existence, with nothing left to show that we ever existed. Look at it. When the Israelites were emancipated, they were told to go and borrow of their neighbors,—borrow their coin, borrow their jewels, load themselves down with the means of subsistence : after, they should go free in the land which the Lord God gave them. When the Russian serfs had their chains broken and were given their liberty, the government of Russia—aye, the despotic government of Russia—gave to those poor emancipated serfs a few acres of land on which they could live and earn their bread. But when you turned us loose, you gave us no acres : you turned us loose to the sky, to the storm, to the whirlwind, and, worst of all, you turned us loose to the wrath of our infuriated masters.
The question now is, Do you mean to make good to us the promises in your constitution? Talk not to me of finance. Talk not of mere reform in your administration. I believe there is honesty in the American people ; honesty in the men whom you will elect ; wisdom in the men to manage those affairs, —but tell me, if your heart be as my heart, that the liberty which you have asserted for the black man in this country shall be maintained? You say, some of you, that you can get along without the vote of the black man of the South. Yes, that may be, possibly ; but I doubt it. At any rate, in order to insure our protection hereafter, we feel the need, in the candidate whom you will place before the country, of the assurance that, if it be necessary, the black man shall walk to the ballot-box in safety, even if we have to bring a bayonet behind us. And I have this this feeling, that, if we bring forth either of the gentlemen named here, the government of the United States and the moral feeling of the coun try will surround the black voter as by a wall of fire ; and, instead of electing your President without the black vote, you may count in the number of your victorious Republican states five or six, at least, of the old master states of the South. But I have no voice to ad dress you longer; and you may now move, down there, for an ad adjournment.”
Note: The 1876 Republican National Convention was held in Cincinnati Ohio. Douglass was a delegate and attendee at Republican National Convention for numerous elections. The last convention he attended was in 1892 when the convention was held in Minnesota.
PROCEEDINGS of the REPUBLICAN National Convention Held at CINCINNATI, OHIO, WEDNESDAY, THURSDAY, AND FRIDAY, June 14, 15, and 16, 1876,