Frederick Douglass: Let African Americans Fight
May 1861. An excerpt from Frederick Douglass’s “How to End the War,” Douglass’ Monthly, May 1861
Frederick Douglass Argues for Letting African Americans Fight
“To our mind, there is but one easy, short and effectual way to suppress and put down the desolating war which the slaveholders and their rebel minions are now waging against the American Government and its loyal citizens. Fire must be met with water, darkness with light, and war for the destruction of liberty must be met with war for the destruction of slavery. The simple way . . . is to strike down slavery itself, the primal cause of that war.
“. . . The time for mild measures is past. They are pearls cast before swine, and only increase and aggravate the crime which they would conciliate and repress. The weak point must be found, and when found should be struck with the utmost vigor. Any war is a calamity; but a peace that can only breed war is a far greater calamity. . . . The sooner this rebellion is put out of its misery, the better for all concerned. A lenient war is a lengthy war, and therefore the worst kind of war. Let us stop it, and stop it effectually — stop it before its evils are diffused throughout the Northern States — stop it on the soil upon which it originated, and among the traitors and rebels who originated the war. This can be done at once, by “carrying the war into Africa.” Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service, and formed into a liberating army, to march into the South and raise the banner of Emancipation among the slaves. The South having brought revolution and war upon the country, and having elected and consented to play at that fearful game, she has no right to complain if some good as well as calamity shall result from her own act and deed.
“The slaveholders have not hesitated to employ the sable arms of the Negroes at the South in erecting the fortifications which silenced the guns of Fort Sumter, and brought the star-spangled banner to the dust. . . . Oh! that this Government would only now be as true to liberty as the rebels, who are attempting to batter it down, are true to slavery. We have no hesitation in saying that ten thousand black soldiers might be raised in the next thirty days to march upon the South. One black regiment alone would be, in such a war, the full equal of two white ones. The very fact of color in this case would be more terrible than powder and balls. . . . Every consideration of justice, humanity and sound policy confirms the wisdom of calling upon black men just now to take up arms in behalf of their country.
“We are often asked by persons in the street as well as by letter, what our people will do in the present solemn crisis in the affairs of the country. Our answer is, would to God you would let us do something! We lack nothing but your consent. We are ready and would go, counting ourselves happy in being permitted to serve and suffer for the cause of freedom and free institutions. But you won’t let us go. Read the heart-rending account we publish elsewhere of the treatment received by the brave fellows, who broke away from their chains and went through marvelous suffering to defend Fort Pickens against the rebels.-They were instantly seized and put in irons and returned to their guilty masters to be whipped to death!. . . . There is, even now, while the slaveholders are marshaling armed Negroes against the Government, covering the ocean with pirates, destroying innocent lives, to sweep down the commerce of the country, tearing up railways, burning bridges to prevent the march of Government troops to the defence of its capital, exciting mobs to stone the Yankee soldiers; there is still, we say, weak and contemptible tenderness towards the blood thirsty, slaveholding traitors, by the Government and people of the country. Until the nation shall repent of this weakness and folly, until they shall make the cause of their country the cause of freedom, until they shall strike down slavery, the source and center of this gigantic rebellion, they don’t deserve the support of a single sable arm, nor will it succeed in crushing the cause of our present troubles.”
“I am perfectly confident to accept whatever my fortune may be, and confident that He who noteth even the fall of a sparrow, will have some purpose even in the fate of one like me.”
The Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site Virtual Museum
Image of Douglass’ Monthly
University of Rochester Frederick Douglass Project
Reckless Tyrant Has Invaded Your Soil!
June 1, 1861. Pierre Gustave Toutant (P.G.T.) Beauregard, former superintendent of West Point, Mexican War veteran, and the man who commanded the attack on Fort Sumter in April, was called to Virginia — to Manassas Junction, near Washington — to command an army of 20,000 Confederates and stop Northern invasion of Virginia.
On June 1 he proclaimed, “A reckless and unprincipled tyrant has invaded your soil. Abraham Lincoln, regardless of all moral, legal, and constitutional restraints, has thrown his Abolition hosts among you . . . All rules of civilized warfare are abandoned . . . Your honor and that of your wives and daughters, your fortunes, and your lives are involved in this momentous contest.”
SOURCE: Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years, pp. 250-51.