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Determining the Facts

Reading 4: The End of a Journey

While Douglass was living in New Bedford, his advocacy work sent him throughout the Northeast, even abroad to Great Britain, to speak. In 1847, he moved to Rochester, New York to further pursue his abolitionist efforts. At the time, Rochester was known as a hotspot for reformers. Douglass founded the newspaper The North Star which advocated full rights for all, and he became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. In 1848, Douglass would participate in the famous Seneca Falls convention, a meeting that called for women's equality before the law. He would continue to advocate for women's equality throughout his life.

The Civil War did not end Douglass's work. During the war, he continued to advocate for freedom and equality:

What business, then, have we to fight for the old Union? We are not fighting for it. We are fighting for something incomparably better than the old Union. We are fighting for unity; unity of idea, unity of sentiment, unity of object, unity of institutions, in which there shall be no North, no South, no East, no West, no black, no white, but a solidarity of the nation, making every slave free, and every free man a voter. 1

The war did not accomplish that unity, so Douglass continued to fight until the end of his life. He said, "Verily, the work does not end with the abolition of slavery, but only begins." 2

After the Civil War, Frederick Douglass moved to Washington, DC, in the early 1870s. He first settled in Capitol Hill, in the southeast of the district. In 1877, Douglass purchased his final home, Cedar Hill, in Anacostia, also in the southeast of the district. When Douglass bought the property, it originally took up 9 ¾ acres of land. In 1878, he purchased an additional 5 ¾ acres. A newspaper described his house in the following way:

The residence of Mr. Douglass is in Uniontown, across the Eastern branch. No idea of the place can be given in a small picture. The grounds are fifteen acres in extent, and the house is surrounded by cedars, oaks and hickories and is almost hidden from the street. The building is of brick, two stories, high, in cottage style of architecture, and is very large, having eighteen rooms. A portico runs across the front and the main door is in the centre. The parlors are on each side of the hall. The house is very handsomely furnished and has the appearance of being the home of a cultured, refined gentleman. The library is in the rear of the east parlor. The books number about two thousand volumes and are very valuable. They cover history, poetry, philosophy, theology and fiction…it is a great pleasure to think that this man, whose intellect and energy have been his only capital, is now living in refined opulence instead of suffering in bondage as the property of ignorance, idleness and superstition. 3

Cedar Hill became the headquarters for Douglass's advocacy work. It was also the final home for both himself and his first wife Anna who passed away in 1882. In 1884, Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white women's rights activist and the daughter of abolitionists. Douglass ran and owned the New National Era, a paper "devoted to the defence [sic] and enlightenment of the newly emancipated and enfranchised people." 4 He continued to speak publicly for the civil rights of all Americans. In 1886, Douglass gave the following speech on the 24th anniversary of emancipation in Washington, DC:

The American people have this lesson to learn: That where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe. 5

Douglass became the first African American appointed to various positions in the government (marshal, recorder of deeds, and minister). Despite the legal recognition given to African American men, Douglass continued to face prejudice based on his race. He wrote about the reaction to his appointment as a U.S. Marshal of the District of Columbia:

It came upon the people of the District as a gross surprise, and almost a punishment; and provoked something like a scream—I will not say a yell—of popular displeasure. As soon as I was named by President Hayes for the place, efforts were made by members of the bar to defeat my confirmation before the Senate. All sorts of reasons against my appointment, but the true one, were given, and that was withheld more from a sense of shame, than from a sense of justice. 6

Douglass did not allow prejudice to hold him back. He continued speaking out until the day of his death. The New York Times wrote the following in his obituary, "Mr. Douglass, perhaps more than any other man of his race, was instrumental in advancing the work of banishing the color line." 7

Douglass's tireless work to help people regardless of their race or gender makes him one of the most important figures of the nineteenth century.
After Douglass's death in 1895, his widow, Helen, formed the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association. The purpose of this organization was to preserve Frederick's home and materials after her death for all Americans. The National Park Service acquired the house in 1962, and it became a national historic site open to the public.

Questions for Reading 4

1. Why was Rochester a significant place for Douglass to live? What important events took place there?

2. When did Douglass move to Washington, DC? When did he move into Cedar Hill? Does the newspaper description of his house surprise you? Why or why not? Why do you think the author chose to talk about Douglass's library?

3. What does the response to Douglass's appointment as a U.S. Marshal say about the perception of African Americans in the United States after the Civil War? Does this reaction seem right? Why or why not?

4. Did Douglass think abolition would fix the challenges African Americans faced? What problems would there be after slavery was abolished? Why?

5. Do you think Douglass was one of the great men of the nineteenth century, white or black? Why or why not?

 

Reading 4 was compiled from the National Park Service, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site website and Virtual Museum Exhibit; "Frederick Douglass," Civil War Trust; "Death of Frederick Douglass," New York Times, February 21, 1895; Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: 1817-1882 (London: Christian Age Office, 1882); John Blassingame, et al, eds. The Frederick Douglass Papers: Series One-Speeches, Debates, and Interviews (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979); Philip Foner, ed. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 4 (New York: International Pub., 1950).

1 "Emancipation, Racism, and the Work Before Us," December 4, 1863, Annual Meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Blassingame, John, et al, eds. The Frederick Douglass papers: Series One—Speeches, Debates, and Interviews, Vol. 3 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 598.
2 "Frederick Douglass," Civil War Trust.
3 "Celebrities at Home. XXIII. Frederick Douglass," pp.565-566. The Republic, October 23, 1880, 566.
4 Frederick Douglass, "Chapter XIV: Living and Learning," in Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882 (London: Christian Age Office, 1882).
5 Frederick Douglass, "Southern Barbarism," 24th Anniversary of Emancipation, Washington, DC, 1886 in Philip Foner, ed. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 4 (New York: International Pub., 1950), 434.
6 Frederick Douglass, "Chapter XV: Weighed in the Balance," in Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: From 1817-1882 (London: Christian Age Office, 1882).
7 "Death of Frederick Douglass," New York Times, February 21, 1895.

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