Posts Tagged Capitol Dome
PRINT ARCHIVE: Colored people of Washington, headed by Frederick Douglass, viewing and paying respect to their radical friend, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner [March 1874]
John Brown wasn’t the only firebrand white man Frederick Douglass ran with. Whereas Brown was an operative, an assassin who operated on the fringes of the struggle for radical abolition, there were also white men in the halls of the United States Congress and Senate who were radicals within the system of the federal government.
It was former President John Quincy Adams’ efforts while serving as a Representative to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia which made the national papers that a young Freddy Bailey picked up while running the streets of Baltimore in the 1830s which provided the context clue of what abolitionists were and what they were working towards abolishing.
Throughout his entire life Douglass was an operative and an organizer. He allied himself with anyone willing and seeking to do right, as he determined what was right.
He broke with William Lloyd Garrison, a radical white man, over their countering interpretations of the Constitution.
Before moving to Washington City in early 1870 Douglass had relationships with many a number of white men serving in the House and Senate and even the federal judiciary, including former Ohio governor and senator Salmon P. Chase. It was Chase, then serving as Chief Justice on the Supreme Court, who hosted Douglass in Washington in March 1865 when Douglass attended Lincoln’s second inaugural address.
Barry Farm Dwellings knows Charles Sumner as Sumner Road cuts through the Farms past Charlie’s Corner Store, the recreation center and towards Firth Sterling Avenue.
Frederick Douglass knew Charles Sumner, too. They were dear and trusted friends. When Sumner died in office in 1874 Douglass led an effort on behalf of colored citizens of Washington City to show out strong at his wake and viewing.
“On Friday, a day rare even for March in its bleakness, the funeral services were held in the Senate chamber at midday. The procession, moving from the senator’s home in the morning, was led by a body of colored people on foot, at the head of whom was Frederick Douglass. The immediate guard in charge from the police of the Capitol was made up in part of that race. The body lay for some hours in the rotunda, where thousands, only a part of those who pressed for admission, took their last view of it. It was then borne to the Senate chamber, where it was awaited by the President and Cabinet, the justices of the Supreme Court, the diplomatic corps, the high officers of the army and the navy, with General Sherman at their head, and the members of both houses.”
Pierce, Edward L. Memoirs and Letters of Charles Sumner, Volume IV, 1860 – 1874. Roberts Brothers: Boston. p. 602.
Image courtesy of Library of Congress
Congressional Record: “Whenever [Frederick Douglass] got in sight of the Dome of the Capitol in Washington, he always felt as though he wanted to steal something.”
Frederick Douglass was no born fool, simpleton, sucker, or gump. He came up from slavery, he came up in the the streets of Jacksonian Baltimore. As has been better said by others before the “overly honorific public memory of Douglass belies a life entirely defined by action—sometimes action-hero type action. Frederick Douglass was a fighter.”
Now, don’t get it twisted or tangled. Douglass was a fighter but he was no criminal. At one time he may have been a fugitive slave, an outlaw, but he was honest, principled, and earned everything he had coming to him. With the exception of his flight from slavery, where Douglass stole himself from his master, Douglass scholars have found no quivering in his strict adherence to and advocacy for a society based on laws.
However his devoutness to the most basic American ideals and values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, Douglass was still from the streets and was funny with it when he wanted to be. Take the following example as evidence of a side of Douglass which has been touched on by scholars but does not permeate the public’s perception of him as stoic, stern, and stone-cold serious.
On February 20, 1878 United States Congressman from Wisconsin Charles G. Williams, who’d lived in Rochester during the years Douglass called the city home, revealed an insight into his relationship with his friend, the US Marshal for the District of Columbia.
“Reading of this infectious feeling in that office I was reminded of an ironical remark which I heard Mr. Frederick Douglass make some years ago. He said he could never account for it: but somehow, whenever he got in sight of the Dome of the Capitol in Washington, he always felt as though he wanted to steal something.” [Congressional Record, House, February 20, 1878 – 7 Cong. Rec. 1227 1878]
Was Douglass joking or dead-serious or dead-serious although joking?