"'To Reach the People with Abolition Doctrines': The Antislavery Press and the American Civil War."
by R.J.M. Blackett

In the Anglo-American world the success of the abolitionist movement turned on its ability to rally public opinion to its cause. In fact, it can be argued that abolitionists were the first to recognize the extent to which public pressure, organized and sustained over time, could influence government policy. The ability to influence, organize, articulate, and direct the views of the public on a particular issue first had its most successful expression in the antislave trade petitions to parliament in the early 1780s. The French Revolution temporarily put to these efforts, but they were to reemerge as a pivotal player in the political landscape in the years following the Napoleonic Wars. In the debate leading up to the passage of the Emancipation Act, parliament was inundated with petitions from across the country. The success of these petition drives rested on the ability of national and local antislavery societies to first test and then influence the public's view on the merits of emancipation. That necessitated the creation of a propaganda apparatus built around the press, the platform, and the publication of thousands of antislavery tracts. In a period when the reach and effectiveness of the press was hampered by taxes, British antislavery societies had to rely on a cadre of popular lectures capable of taking the message to all corners of the country, supported by strong local societies who organized mass meetings and did most of the work collecting names on petitions and memorials to the government. Suspended following the termination of the Apprenticeship Scheme in the West Indies in 1838, the tradition of organized petitions, nonetheless, remained part of the fabric of British political culture, and would reemerge as a vital part of the effort to influence government policy during the American Civil War.

In comparison, the British abolitionist press played a relatively minor role in the years after 1838. In fact there were only two newspapers, the Anti-Slavery Reporter, which began publishing in the late 1830s, and the Anti-Slavery Advocate, which appeared in the 1850s and ceased publication in 1863, that had any sustained impact on the British movement. There were no newspapers in Britain that compared in importance to the Liberator or the National Anti Slavery Standard in the United States. If there is a characteristic feature of the movement in the United States it is that newspapers, by and large, played the most critical role in the effort to change public opinion in favor of emancipation. Lecturers and petitions there were, but newspapers had the greatest reach. There were regional newspapers such as the Anti-Slavery Bugle and the Pennsylvania Freeman, published by local abolitionist societies; journals published by prominent Black figures, such as Frederick Douglass, which aimed to reach a wide audience in the United States and Britain; those with a more limited circulation, including the Colored American and the Weekly Anglo-African; and those, like the Christian Recorder, which were affiliated with religious denominations but which, nonetheless, circulated well beyond church members. In the United States where antislavery lecturers were frequently met by hostile and violent audiences, and where petitions to Congress, for all intents and purposes, were banned in the early 1840s, the press emerged as the most important cog in the abolitionist propaganda machine.

While it is relatively easy to measure the effects of lectures on communities by simply calculating the size and social composition of audiences, and the possible impact of a petition campaign on government policy, it is much more difficult-it might even be impossible-to determine the extent to which the press, in this case the American abolitionist press, influenced political outcomes. The difficulty is compounded by a system of government in which power resides both at the national level and local level, a political reality that complicates efforts to organize and direct public pressure. Furthermore, the federal system of divided government had left largely unresolved the issue of slavery in the American polity. To whom, then, should the abolitionists petition for relief from slavery? If it was the federal government, what impact would such a campaign have on relations between the slaveholding and nonslaveholding sectors of the country? It became apparent by the late 1830s that such campaigns were too politically explosive. As a result, Congress, under pressure from Southern representatives, decided that all petitions calling for abolition should be automatically tabled. In such a political climate, abolitionists had no recourse but to utilize more fully the press and the platform as the principal tools of political agitation.

The outbreak of hostilities in 1861, the ultimate expression of the failure of compromise, in one important sense, created increased political opportunities which abolitionists quickly exploited. Almost immediately, the full propaganda machine was put into high gear. Petitions reemerged as an important feature of abolitionist agitation. Starting in 1861, Congress was inundated with petitions covering a wide range of issues including, among others, emancipation in the District of Columbia, and the recruitment of Black troops, all leading up to the massive petition drive organized by the Women's National Loyal League and the American Anti Slavery Society calling for a constitutional amendment to end slavery. The four hundred thousand names attached to the petition made it the largest of its kind. In addition, new antislavery societies, like the Boston Emancipation League, appeared. The League and its New York counterpart recruited members, organized lectures, circulated pamphlets, provided articles and editorials to local newspapers, and, in August 1862, started its own newspaper, the Boston Commonwealth.1 All of these efforts complemented the work of old abolitionist organizations like the American Anti Slavery Society and reinforced the work of well established newspapers like the Liberator, the Anti Slavery StandardDouglass Monthly and others.

How to measure the influence of the abolitionist press, however, remains a problem. Thomas C. Leonard has argued that, during the American Revolution, newspapers helped to shape the political culture and, in turn, that their concept of news came to be shaped by this culture.2 While it may be possible to make similar claims for the press as a whole during the Civil War, one would be hard pressed to determine the extent to which the abolitionist press influenced the country's political culture. There were some like Frederick Douglass, who in moments of despair, felt that the antislavery press had lost some of its fire. This, he told British friends, was to due to the fact that American abolitionists had allowed their "muddled vision of patriotism" to get in the way of their "humanity and religion." As a result, the "support of purely antislavery papers and speakers," he lamented, "has greatly fallen off since the outbreak of this rebellion."3 This, to say the least, was highly impressionistic, but others like William Goodell agreed that the time had come for the abolitionists to reassert their commitment to the freedom of the slave, for if the nation was to be saved "it must be though the self-denying efforts and agonizing prayers of those who long and pray for the nation's salvation."4 Moreover, Douglass's observation was driven by a reasonable fear that the newly articulated patriotism of abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison would affect their ability to confront the issues of emancipation and full political and social rights for African Americans dispassionately. Only a return to the internationalist first principals of abolitionism could guarantee full equity for all in American society, Douglass insisted.

Davis Blight has observed that Douglass's newspapers afforded him "a way to preach his views, externalize his frustrations; prove a voice for Blacks; reassure the converted; and feel that he was a least some small part of the national debate."5 That was particularly true during the Civil War and Blight's observation applies with equal force to all abolitionists newspapers. In many significant respects the outbreak of hostilities ushered in a period of uncertainty and rededication, of hope mingled with despair. "Never before, since the establishment of the American Union," wrote the editor of the Anti Slavery Standard, "was the condition of this country so hopeful, so full of good omens for the future, as now. The Southern founders of this Union were so foolish and wicked as to try to combine liberty for themselves and slavery for others in one institution. Its Northern founders were wicked and foolish enough to withdraw their dissent from this arrangement, and finally to concur in it, under the expectation (which has proved delusive) that the liberty would outgrow and exclude the slavery."6 William Goodell believed that the times provided abolitionists with an opportunity to reach a much wider audience. As in the early days of the movement, he declared, the questions of the day had to be answered "at every street corner, and in almost every social circle." Opposition to universal emancipation had to be "met and answered now, as [abolitionists] did, thirty years ago." But that was easier said than done for, as Garrison observed, the "Northern house [was] fearfully divided against itself, in spite of all surface unanimity." The Union, he insisted, in his usual uncompromising fashion, was governed by a "stumbling, halting, prevaricating, irresolute, weak, besotted [government] disposed to trust the management of its armies to the bitter and uncompromising enemies of the administration, and to keep in subordinate stations or promptly to ostracize its most energetic friends."7 Its problems were compounded by a political system that did little to limit the influence of a traitorous Democratic party and did all it could to avoid addressing the issue of slavery-all the while keeping its natural allies at arms length.

Such criticism went some way to mask abolitionist uncertainty about the course to follow at the outbreak of the war. Abolitionists were also a house divided. The Garrisonians had declared in 1843, and continued to insist through the early months of the war, that the Constitution, which protected slavery and denied free Blacks their rights, was a "covenant with death and an agreement with hell." Given this fact, abolitionists had no alternative but to advocate Northern secession from the Union. Were it not done, they insisted, the country would be dragged down into servile and other kinds of war. In early 1861 the editor of the Anti Slavery Standard thought he saw the prophecy at hand. Garrisonians had predicted it would take thirty years to bring the country to the idea of dissolution as the surest way to emancipation. They anticipated that dissolution would be preceded by social upheavals "the disintegration of the old parties, the reduction of the nation into its natural divisions, North and South, and the final political victory of the former, followed by the necessary rebellion of the latter."8 Secession, then was a "Providential occurrence" divined to shorten the era of hardship and dislocation caused by slavery. "Through long custom, all the departments of our civil, ecclesiastical and social life became reconciled to the enormous error and evil of speaking of slavery and slave holding as right, or else as indifferent; as a thing to be defended, or as a thing to be let alone." Secession had broken a relationship that had resulted in the deterioration of the country's manners, morals, and its civil, social, and religious life."9

A few Garrisonians were convinced that the break was irreversible even if some "philtre may be concocted in the abhorrent cauldron of compromise that may bring the loathing mates who have once parted into an unnatural conjunction again." But, this editor concluded, "it can never more be a Union."10 Not only was the constitution a slaveholding charter-an "idolized parchment" Garrison called it, but the people's commitment to the Union. "one of the basest, meanest, most atrocious despotisms," Robert Purvis of Philadelphia called it, was not "heartfelt" but based more on "political superstition."11 Many took exception to this view. When a correspondent lamented the fact that twenty years of abolitionist agitation had brought forth the mouse of the Whiggery party in the form of the Republican party, William Goodell criticized disunionists for losing faith in the power of the constitution to abolish slavery. The aim of the Founding Fathers and the principals of the Declaration of Independence could be more readily obtained by abolition, not separation, he insisted, for the constitution was "ordained by the people of the United States, 'To Establish Justice'-not to establish injustice."12

For Goodell, Frederick Douglass and those who considered the Constitution an antislavery document the issue turned not, not as the Garrisionians insisted, on whether historically politicians from the North had made compromises with slaveholders, but whether the document spoke explicitly about slaves. Prior to 1851, when his views on the Constitution changed, Douglass, like other Garrisonians, had insisted that the Constitution was proslavery. When challenged by his former allies (as he was by George Thompson during his brief 1859 exile in Britain following his suspected involvement with John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry) to explain how a number of clauses and articles could be anything but an endorsement of slavery, Douglass insisted on a literal interpretation: if the document did not explicitly mention slavery, then it stood to reason that it could not be proslavery. There was no validity to discussions about original intent, Douglass countered, or for that matter arguments about the use to which consecutive governments and the courts had put the Constitution. Only a common sense reading mattered, not the "secret intentions of the individuals who may have had something to with writing the paper." Thompson, not surprisingly, was incredulous at this off-hand dismissal of an issue that held such profound implication for the future of the country. "Do we not know who its fathers, framers, and founders were," he asked an acquaintance, "what they meant, what they said, what they did, what price they paid, and what equivalent they received when the bargain was struck? What laws have been reared upon the Constitution, and what cruelties have been perpetrated under it, what slaves states have been annexed, what decisions given and what is, and ever has been, the Universal sentiment of both the proslavery and antislavery parties. It is not with a Constitution in the Abstract, but with the Constitution in the concrete that we have to do."13

Such profound differences did little to enlighten audiences on either side of the Atlantic unfamiliar with or largely indifferent to arcane constitutional issues; it could only have reinforced the conviction among many that abolitionists were being a little self indulgent. If Douglass and Goodell were right, and the Constitution was antislavery, then all it took in a war with slaveholders was for the government to declare slavery illegal. If, on the other hand, the Constitution was proslavery, then the only hope for freedom in the North was its permanent separation from the South. In the context of secession, however, both the Garrisonians and the political abolitionists found themselves in a largely untenable position. When challenged by allies in Britain to explain his support for Union policies Reverend J. Sella Martin of Boston could do no more than plead that there were some intangible signs of imminent change. As F.W. Chesson, George Thompson's son-in-law, recalled, the "strongest fact that Mr. Martin appeared to be able to adduce was some remark which Mr. Lincoln had made to some member of the Seward family who had told it to somebody else, that somebody else repeating it to Mr. Martin."14

Thompson and other British Garrisonians were soon to find themselves in a similar quandary as their American allies shifted their position away from support for permanent separation to one of support for the Union as the best means to attain emancipation. The editor of the Anti Slavery Advocate thought of secession as a "blessing to the Free States, and to the cause of Christianity, humanity, liberty, and civilization." Breaking with a position developed over nearly thirty years would not come easy. Even among British abolitionists who were not Garrisonian the thought of separation held considerable sway. Politically the Union may be a thing of the past, Louis Chamerovzow, editor of the Anti Slavery Reporter, and secretary of the anti-Garrisonian British and Foreign Anti Slavery Society, speculated. If both sides came to that conclusion then there were grounds for accommodation. He was convinced that slavery's days were numbered, for, free of the responsibility of implementing fugitive slave laws, the northernmost slave states would lose slaves to the southernmost Northern states and over time would "become free, because all the slaves would have to be decamped."15

Brought up against the contradiction posed by a war which many believed would ultimately lead to emancipation, peace advocates like Chamerovzow took refuge in speculation about the possible outcome of peaceful separation. American Garrisonian advocates of nonresistance gave the appearance of being untroubled by this apparent contradiction. Garrison made light of the dilemma in a speech at Cooper Institute in 1862. "When I said I would not sustain the Constitution, because it was a covenant with death and an agreement with hell, I had no idea that I would live to see death and hell secede. Hence it is that I am now with the government, to enable it to constitutionally stop the further ravages of death, and to extinguish the flames of hell forever." The editor of the Anti Slavery Standard who, since the election of Lincoln and the threats of succession from South Carolina, had looked forward to separation, quickly threw his support to the Federal government following the attack on Fort Sumter. "The boom of the slave-drivers' cannon at Fort Sumter startled the North from its sleep. A nation of armed men sprung as it were out of the earth, in an instant, at the sound." This "sublime spectacle" of unity, he predicted rather prematurely, would do the work of abolition.16

A few Garrisonians like Parker Pillsbury and Stephen Foster refused to lend their support to the Union until it had unequivocally committed itself to emancipation. But, by and large, after the attack on Fort Sumter most Garrisonians were for Union and emancipation. Political abolitionists like Douglass and Goodell came to support of the Union much more easily although they too were worried by the frequency and apparent ease with which the North suggested compromises aimed at bringing the South back into the fold. In fact, the danger of compromise haunted Douglass. Even before the attack on Fort Sumter he criticized the country's willingness to concede on all major points to maintain the Union. "We are a miserable set of schemers," he wrote, "destitute of every element of honorable pride, and entirely unconscious of the first element of patriotism--a nation of selfish, pinching shopkeepers, close-fisted farmers, with who gain is godliness; unprincipled politicians, who are ready to sell out their constituents, as their constituents are to sell their wares, far more ready to compromise than to defend their position." The master "as an enemy," he lamented, "is more respected than the slave as a friend."17

The only way to avoid the possibility of the sorts of concessions that would lead to reunification without emancipation was to pressure the government to immediately free and arm the slaves. "The perfect safety of immediate and unconditional emancipation is now as certain as any general truth attested by history," Goodell wrote early in the war. After all, West Indian emancipation had proved that "immediate and complete emancipation is the only satisfactory and practical method." Not an emancipation hemmed in by expedients such as gradualism, an apprenticeship scheme, compensation for the slaveholders, or expatriation, but one which confers American citizenship on the freedmen.18 For Douglass the successful resolution of the conflict hinged on freeing the slaves and enlisting the Black population. "The very stomach of this rebellion is the Negro in the condition of a slave," he wrote, and his enslavement is "the pivot on which the whole rebellion turns." To not free the slave degrades the "war into a war of sections, and robs it of the dignity of being a mighty effort of a great people to vanquish and destroy a huge system of cruelty and barbarism." Not to recruit the Black population was to fight "only with you white hand, and allow your black hand to remain tied." One Black regiment, he insisted, "would be more terrible than powder and balls."19

But that was easier said than done. Both federal and state governments had made it abundantly clear in the early years of the war that Blacks were not welcome into the White man's army to fight in a White man's war. Officers to join the cause were summarily rejected. African Americans had declared publicly their willingness to fight as their forefathers had done in 1812. As the Weekly Anglo-African declared, Blacks were a vital reserve guard: "we are concerned in this fight and our fate hangs upon its issue. The South must be subjected, or we shall be enslaved."20 In Douglass's view, Blacks would fight not for the "the old house which shelters us, but for the precious lives, liberties and happiness, which it covers."21 Others disagreed. The leadership of the A.M.E. Church, looking back to a mythical golden age, insisted that before "the formation of the American Union, our citizenship was a fact acknowledged and respected. Hence our right to fight in defense of our country was undisputed." Since then America had retreated from that age of equality by eliminating these rights, denying Blacks their citizenship and their very humanity. Under such circumstances "to offer ourselves for military service now, is to abandon self-respect, and invite insult...."22 The Reverend Henry Highland Garnet, minister to a Black Presbyterian church in New York, was his customary blunt self: "Now I wish to know what have black men to fight for in this war? What encouragement has been offered to them to fight? What does a soldier fight for? He fights for three things: love of country, promotion in the field, and for honor. What has the black man to fight for?" Even when it was announced that the federal government had agreed to the formation of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment in early 1863, William Wells Brown, the fugitive slave and author, called on Blacks to refuse enlistment until all racially restrictive laws were eliminated. "Equality first, guns afterwards," he thundered.23 Douglass suggested a different approach. Evoking the memory of Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, and those black men who had fought with John Brown, he called on African Americans to ignore those who believed that only White men should fight in the war, and to enlist. They should seize the opportunity to "end in a day the bondage of the centuries, and to rise in one bound from social degradation to the plane of the common equality with all other varieties of men."24

Douglass made the argument for enlistment in the spring of 1863: Blacks were men; they were American citizens; their opponents dreaded the prospects of Black men in uniform; they would develop martial skills; they were, as members of an enslaved race, duty bound to attack slavery; even if their citizenship was disputed, fighting to preserve the country will resolve differences; fighting will help them to recover their self respect; they will help to prevent a drift by the country back into slavery; and finally, they were morally obliged to throw their support behind a war that would end slavery.25 Earlier on, Douglass had declared rather optimistically that Blacks were willing to serve the country in any capacity if not with a pistol then with a pick axe, for this was a war which in its fundamental principals pitted freedom against slavery.26 But those, like Douglass, who worked to recruit Blacks into the Union army were taken aback by the vehemence of the resistance they encountered in some Northern African American communities. Some of the leadership of the A.M.E. Church, like William Wells Brown had done earlier, demanded to know whether Blacks were "to have all the rights and privileges of other citizens in every state of the Union, and as any other soldier according to rank.27 The Anglo-African on the other hand called on Blacks to seize the opportunity "to drive bayonet and bullet into the slaveholders' hearts," and to ignore for the moment some of the restrictions imposed by the government's enlistment policies. Half a loaf, the editor asserted, was better than no bread. But it was precisely these inequities, particularly the government's insistence that Black troops were to be commanded only by White officers, that grated on the sensibilities of potential recruits from the North. As one New Yorker observed, "[i]f the Government wanted their services, let it guarantee to them all the rights of citizens and soldiers, and, instead of one man, he would insure them 5,000 men in twenty days."28

Blacks too, were a house divided. But if they could not be officers, the Emancipation Proclamation at least gave hope that the country would be nudged toward the recognition of their rights. Although the question of equal pay would continue to rankle well into the late stages of the war, there was after January 1863 at least some signs that America was finally coming to its senses. Yet, it was clear that the country had only gotten to this point reluctantly. Faltering and prevaricating, Lincoln seemed incapable of recognizing what all abolitionists knew instinctively--that, at its core, this was a war over slavery and to win the war and save the country's soul, the slave had to be freed and discrimination eliminated. The president came in for some scathing attacks for his indecisiveness, for what Douglass called his "careful... slothful deliberation" on emancipation.29 Comments on Lincoln's demeanor and his intellect were not too flattering. Douglass dismissed one of his speeches as "garrulous, characteristically foggy, remarkably illogical and untimely in its utterances." Bold and "self-reliant as he is in the ignominious service of slavery" Douglass found Lincoln "timid as a sheep when required to live up to a single one of his antislavery testimonies." The president, Douglass told an audience at a Fourth of July celebration, "is no more fit for the place he holds than was JAMES BUCHANNAN, and the latter was no more the miserable tool of traitors and rebels than the former is allowing himself to be." Henry McNeal Turner, the A.M.E. minister, was equally harsh. He dismissed the president as a "mystic Pharaoh... [who] hardened his heart" by his refusal to endorse emancipation.30 All of this came in the wake of Lincoln's abrogation of General Hunter's emancipation order in May 1862 and the president's earlier denial of a similar order by General Freemont in Missouri in August 1861. The Anti Slavery Standard dismissed Lincoln's modification of Freemont's order as "one of those blunders which are worse than crimes, because they are more mischievous than they."31

Not only did President Lincoln seem "to treat the dragon of slavery as though it was only a wayward colt," he seemed bent on a policy of expatriating the Black population, which violated every tenet of abolitionism. Although beginning in the 1820s some emigrationist movements had won the backing of Black leaders and had attracted thousands of settlers to countries like Haiti, most abolitionists were adamantly opposed to removing Blacks from the United States--their native land. Black men, Lincoln employed some of the most racially unflattering arguments to justify his scheme to colonize free Blacks outside the United States. The Liberator dismissed the plan as "puerile, absurd, illogical, impertinent, [and] untimely," and wondered at the level of meanness that lay behind a "scheme for the removal of millions of native-born Americans to another land solely because of the color of their skin."32 Not only was the plan unjustified and immoral, it was also impractical and shortsighted, proposing as it did the expatriation of a population needed to defeat the enemy, and at the end of the war, William Wells Brown argued, to rebuild the South.33 As William Goodell had pointed out earlier, America should have heeded the lesson of West Indian emancipation: to be successful freedom had to be immediate and uncompensated, and the freedman had to be provided with the means to thrive in their native land.

While Lincoln proposed expatriation and rescinded the orders of Fremont and Hunter, he and Congress were taking halting steps toward emancipation. Besides the confiscation acts of April 1861 and June 1862 and the ban on returning those fugitive slaves who had escaped behind army lines, Congress had prohibited slavery in the territories and abolished salver in the District of Columbia. While these actions did "not come up to the highest mark," the Anti Slavery Standard believed that, cumulatively, these developments showed the country was "set Zionward" and disposed "to press forward in that direction." The Liberator pronounced the District of Columbia emancipation act one of "national justice and self-respect...."34 Yet abolitionists were troubled by the mixed messages coming from Washington. Why was the government prevaricating? Why did Lincoln continue to believe in the efficacy of expatriation? The Liberator saw shame and confusion, and in the wake of Lincoln's reversal of Hunter's order, condemned the President for his "halting, shuffling, backward policy," and wondered why the government was so "besotted and impotent" in its relations with the Confederacy.35

When Lincoln issued the provisional emancipation proclamation in September 1862 many thought it is the harbinger of a new era. Even among those who were angered by its limited application there was a sense that, in the words of the Principia, the country had crossed "the Rubicon leaving no bridge for retreat." It was not all that abolitionists had demanded but more than they had "dared to expect or even to hope." Once the act went into effect in January 1863 the Anti Slavery Standard, speaking for most abolitionists, declared its faith in the government's intention to hold fast to its commitment to free the slaves. They had believed all along that the war would result in freedom for the slaves, but were pleasantly surprised by the speed of events.36 There were those at home and abroad who thought the proclamation a cruel hoax, a policy based solely on political and military expediency, and devoid of any moral principals. Arguments of military necessity carried little weight among peace advocates who rejected the need ever to resort to war. Some mocked the adoption of a policy that held sway only in areas not under the control of the federal government as analogous to the "Pope's Bull against the Comet." The proclamation came in for particularly scathing commentary in the British press. But at least among British abolitionists there was the recognition that, historically, acts of emancipation had been hemmed in by compromises, the result of political expediency. In the West Indies there was compensation for the slaveholders and an apprenticeship system; the French act limited the rights of freedmen; and in 1856 Portugal initiated a gradual abolition law that postponed full emancipation another twenty years. While it was obvious that "considerations for the slaves" were not part of Lincoln's calculations, the Anti Slavery Reporter believed that "[h]owever much it may be cavilled at by others, the 4,000,000 slaves who are to benefit by it are not likely to look very closely into the motives which have led to the promulgation of the measure."37

With the slaves of rebels declared freed, much of the Black abolitionist press turned its attention to the fight to eliminate racial discrimination in public accommodation in the North including attempts to remove racially restrictive clauses in election laws and the fight to end discrimination in public transportation. The Black press also paid particular attention to the experiences of Black soldiers on the battlefield. Regular letters, mainly from the Black soldiers on the front, provided invaluable coverage of experiences in the army.38 From battles at Fort Wagner to Fort Pillow, it was clear that, contrary to popular belief, African Americans were willing to fight and die for the cause. Work among freedmen became a major news item in the abolitionist and Black press, as did the struggle by Black soldiers for equal pay. But January 1, 1863, was the day of Jubilee, a defining moment on the struggle for equality and a reaffirmation of the belief in a god of justice, the law of progress, and the need for unremitting agitation.39 As Douglass had earlier pleaded with a correspondent who seemed on the verge of despair: "Keep pounding on the rock."40


  1. For a discussion of these developments see James M. Mcpherson, The Struggle For Equality. Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964), 76-80, 86-88, 93, 125-127; for information on the Woman's National League and its petition campaign see Wendy Hamand Venet, Neither Ballots Nor Bullets: Women Abolitionists and the Civil War, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1991), 120-122.
  2. Thomas C. Leonard, "News for a Revolution: The Expose in America, 1773-1776," Journal of American History 67 (June 1980): 26.
  3. Douglass Monthly, October 1862; William Goodell concurred criticizing those abolitionists who thought it "unwise and gratuitous...to trouble themselves about the details of political action, or to take part in political activities." Principia, December 28, 1861.
  4. Principia, May 18, 1861.
  5. David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass's Civil War: Keeping Faith With Jubilee (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988), 67-68.
  6. Anti Slavery Standard, January 5, 1861.
  7. Principia, December 21, 1861; Liberator, July 25, 1862.
  8. Anti Slavery Standard, February 9, 1861.
  9. Anti Slavery Standard, February 2, 1861, December 8, 1860.
  10. Anti Slavery Standard, March 2, 1861.
  11. Liberator, March 13, 1863; Purvis quotation in McPherson, The Struggle for Equality, 265; Anti Slavery Standard, February 9, 1861.
  12. Principia, November 24, December 8, 1860.
  13. For Douglass's view on the antislavery nature of the Constitution, see Blight, Frederick Douglasss's Civil War, 31-33; John Blassingame, ed., The Frederick Douglass Papers, III, (New Haven : Yale University Press, 1985), 348; Thompson to E.P. Nichols, Manchester, March 18, 1860, Robert English Deposit, John Rylands Library, Manchester University.
  14. Quoted in Donaldson Jordan and Edwin J. Pratt, Europe and the American Civil War (1931; reprint, Boston: Octagon Books, 1964), 128.
  15. Anti Slavery Advocate, February 1, 1861; Anti Slavery Reporter, June 1, 1861.
  16. Liberator, September 26, 1862; Anti Slavery Standard, April 27, 1861.
  17. Douglass Monthly, April 1861, September 1861, March 1862; see also Anti Slavery Standard, February 14, 1863.
  18. Principia, August 17, November 2, 1861; Henry McNeal Turner, the A.M.E. minister called compensated emancipation an "ingenious subterfuge." Quoted in Clarence E. Walker, A Rock in a Weary Land: The African Methodist Episcopal Church During the Civil War and Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982), 36.
  19. Douglass Monthly, August , July, September 1861; Harriet Tubman and J.W.C. Pennington, both former slaves, agreed, Tubman calling emancipation the "right thing," and in fall 1861 Pennington sent to Congress a petition from New York African Americans calling on Congress to free the slaves. See James M. McPherson, The Negro's Civil War: How American Negroes Felt and Acted During the War for the Union (New York: Pantheon Books, 1965), 40-42.
  20. McPherson, The Negro's Civil War, 31; Principia, April 23, 1863.
  21. Douglass Monthly, November 1861.
  22. Walker, A Rock in a Weary Land, 33-34.
  23. Garnet quoted in Joel Schor, Henry Highland Garnet: A Voice of Black Radicalism in the Nineteenth Century (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977), 187; for Brown's comment see Donald Yacavone, ed., A Voice of Thunder: The Civil War Letters of George E. Stephens (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 30.
  24. Phillip S. Foner, ed., The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass: vol. II, The Civil War Years, 1861-1865 (New York: International Publishers, 1952), 317-319.
  25. Douglass Monthly, April 1863.
  26. Douglass Monthly, July 1862.
  27. Quoted in Walker, A Rock in a Weary Land, 39.
  28. Quoted in McPherson, The Negro's Civil War, 175-177.
  29. Douglass Monthly, October 1862.
  30. Douglass Monthly, September 1862; McPherson, The Negro's Civil War, 47; Stephen Ward Angell, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and African American Religion in the South (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 41.
  31. Anti Slavery Standard, September 28, 1861.
  32. Liberator, August 22, 1862.
  33. Liberator, July 18, 1862.
  34. Anti Slavery Standard, April 26, 1862; Liberator, April 11, 1862.
  35. Liberator, May 23, 1862.
  36. Principia, January 8, 1863; Anti Slavery Standard, January 10, 1863.
  37. Anti Slavery Reporter, November 1, 1862.
  38. The letters of some of these correspondents have been published recently. See Yacavone, A Voice of Thunder, and Edwin S. Redkey, ed., A Grand Army of Black Men: Letters from African American Soldiers in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
  39. See Blight, Frederick Douglass's Civil War, 11, for this argument.
  40. Douglass Monthly, November 1861.

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