• Exploring American History

Frederick Douglass embarks on his next mission

Frederick Douglass now began to feel he had become a man without a cause. The Civil War was over and freedom for the slaves had been achieved. Having dedicated his life to the abolishment of slavery, he never gave a thought as to what he would do should he actually live to see the reality of his efforts. Now that he had, the question filling his mind was, “What’s next?”

“I felt that I had reached the end of the noblest and best part of my life; my school was broken up, my church disbanded, and the beloved congregation dispersed, never to come together again. The antislavery platform had performed its work, and my voice was no longer needed.”

With his four children now grown, the 48-year old Douglass considered purchasing a small farm where he and Anna could live off the land. The thought would not linger for long because his country soon came calling again.

Before Douglass knew it, tons of invitations from literary societies, colleges and lyceums began to pour in. They desperately needed to hear the style of inspiration only Frederick Douglass was known to deliver. With the invitations came promises of $100 - $200 for each appearance. Wow! What a difference a war makes. Prior to the Civil War, Douglass earned $450/year as a speaker with the American Antislavery Society.

Following Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, slavery ceased to be a legal institution. A war, however, does not necessarily serve to change a society’s thinking overnight. Though the slaves were now free, society was slow to accept it. As a result, the newly freed slaves began to see their newfound rights quickly being torn from their grasp. Douglass must have begun to feel like a prophet straight from the Old Testament as he saw things he had previously predicted actually taking place. Though you can take the slave off the plantation, you cannot make him mentally or socially equal with the slave masters overnight.

Douglass’s new cause presented itself to him in the form of giving Negroes the right to vote so their voice would be heard. Frederick was back on the road again, traveling throughout the states to promote the new cause. Returning to Washington, D.C., he was accompanied by a delegation composed of his son Lewis and a number of friends and fellow leaders. After meeting with President Andrew Johnson, Douglas drafted a letter addressed to the U.S. Senate, putting forth the necessity of allowing the Negro men the right to vote. The National Loyalists Convention was then scheduled to take place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during September 1866.

Despite all he had accomplished so far, including meeting with President Lincoln on two different occasions, Frederick Douglass was still a Negro. As such, he was continually forced to face discrimination and those who felt him unworthy of equality. In spite of that, the good people of Rochester, New York elected him to be their representative to September’s convention.

Douglass booked passage on a train to Philadelphia and was soon met by additional delegates on their way to the same convention. These individuals did their trying to convince Douglass to return home since he would be the only black delegate there. The seasoned veteran would not be dissuaded and told them, “As a matter of policy or expediency, you will be wise to let me in. I am bound to go into that convention; not to do so would contradict the principle and practice of my life.

After Douglass arrived in Philadelphia, he learned a parade was to be held before the convention began. While he made his way to Independence Hall, Douglass was a bit nervous as he wondered what type of reception to expect. He also knew the delegates were expected to march two-by-two in the parade and wondered who would march beside him, the only Negro in the group. He soon had his answer. Theodore Tilton, the editor of New York’s largest weekly journal, walked up to Douglass and shook his hand. Black and white together, these two delegates joined the parade. As they headed up the street, cries of “Hurrah for Douglass!” were heard from the crowd as they greeted the man now considered an American hero.

As the parade continued, much to his astonishment, Douglass’s eyes fell upon a very familiar face in the crowd. Standing at the corner of Chestnut and Ninth Streets, Douglass saw Amanda Auld Sears; daughter of his former master. Walking over to greet her, Douglass questioned her reason for being there. Amanda told him, “I heard you were to be here, and I came to see you walk in this procession.”

Meeting with Amanda opened Douglass’s eyes even wider to the changes taking place in society.

During the convention, strong voices opposed Douglass regarding the rights of Negroes to vote. As it turned out, even stronger voices sided with Douglass and this put the suffrage issue on a faster track than Douglass could have ever hoped.

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