Initially Barred from Lincoln’s Inaugural Reception, Frederick Douglass is Greeted Warmly By the President
On March 6, 1865, two days after the Inauguration, The New York Times reported that several African Americans had attended the reception for all callers after the ceremony:
“People were allowed to come and shake the president’s hand. A band played and the president and some of the other national officials presided. Frederick Douglass, having heard the second inaugural address, determined that he would attend the reception. . . . As they approached the White House, police stopped them. Douglass insisted on going in and declared that if Lincoln knew he was outside, he would permit blacks to enter. The officers disagreed, and Douglass had to run past them into the building itself. Two more policemen stopped him and did their best to get Douglass out of there. Seeing a friend, Douglass asked him to tell Lincoln what was happening. Within half a minute the black leader was ushered into the crowded East Room. Lincoln spotted him coming and in a loud voice announced, ‘Here comes my friend Douglass.’ He reached out and took his friend’s hand and asked what he had thought of the inaugural speech. ‘There is no man’s opinion I value more than yours; what did you think of it?” Douglass protested that there were thousands waiting to shake his hand, but Lincoln wanted the process to stop for a moment. He asked again for his opinion as the crowd watched. ‘It was a sacred effort,’ Douglass said. ‘I’m glad you liked it,’ Lincoln replied, and the handshaking ceremony was allowed to proceed.”
Phillip Shaw Paludan, A People’s Contest: The Union and Civil War, 1861-1865, pp. 221-2.
Lincoln to Douglass: “There is no man’s opinion that I value more than yours; what do you think of [my inaugural address]?”
Douglass himself described the events in much the same way:
“For the first time in my life, and I suppose the first time in any colored man’s life, I attended the reception of President Lincoln on the evening of the inauguration. As I approached the door, I was seized by two policemen and forbidden to enter. I said to them that they were mistaken entirely in what they were doing, that if Mr. Lincoln knew that I was at the door he would order my admission, and I bolted in by them. On the inside, I was taken charge of by two other policemen, to be conducted as I supposed to the President, but instead of that they were conducting me out the window on a plank.
“‘Oh,’ said I, ‘this will not do, gentlemen,’ and as a gentleman was passing in I said to him, ‘Just say to Mr. Lincoln that Fred. Douglass is at the door.’
“He rushed in to President Lincoln, and almost in less than half a minute I was invited into the East Room of the White House. A perfect sea of beauty and elegance, too, it was. The ladies were in very fine attire, and Mrs. Lincoln was standing there. I could not have been more than ten feet from him when Mr. Lincoln saw me; his countenance lighted up, and he said in a voice which was heard all around; ‘Here comes my friend Douglass.’ As I approached him he reached out his hand, gave me a cordial shake, and said: ‘Douglass, I saw you in the crowd today listening to my inaugural address. There is no man’s opinion that I value more than yours; what do you think of it?’ I said: ‘Mr. Lincoln, I cannot stop here to talk with you, as there are thousands waiting to shake you by the hand’; but he said again: ‘What did you think of it?’ I said: ‘Mr. Lincoln, it was a sacred effort,’ and then I walked off. ‘I am glad you liked it,’ he said. That was the last time I saw him to speak with him.”
See also James M. McPherson’s The Negro’s Civil War, pp. 268-69.
Mary Todd Lincoln Gives Douglass the Late President’s Favorite Walking Staff
Several months after Lincoln’s death, Mary Todd Lincoln gave Frederick Douglass her late husband’s favorite walking staff. In thanking her, Douglass wrote that it was for him an “inestimable memento of his Excellency will be retained in my possession while I live—an object of sacred interest a token not merely of the kind consideration in which I have reason to know that [the] President was pleased to hold me personally, but . . . as an indication of [. . . his] humane interest [in the] welfare of my whole race.”
– All entries were submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert