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Frederick Douglass

Political Advisor

Frederick Douglass returned to his country finding it under new and turbulent circumstances. The violent tactics that he had stated were the only remedies to ending slavery were now underway. He now challenged the new president, Abraham Lincoln, to make it a war to finally end slavery. Slavery needed to be thought of as a threat to all men and their liberty. But while Douglass viewed the war as an instrument to end slavery, Lincoln viewed it as the necessary course to protect the Union from falling apart. Lincoln did call upon Douglass for advice, wanting the abolitionist’s voice in regard to how best to combat a crumbling nation. Under the badgering of Douglass, Lincoln enacted the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 which ended slavery in all the rebel states. While the proclamation did not help those slaves who were enslaved in territories, Douglass did endorse it as a step towards ending slavery throughout the country. The main purpose of the proclamation was to create more soldiers for the Union army by releasing slaves from their masters. Douglass, who felt that it was imperative that black men fight for the cause to end slavery and to fulfill their destinies as free men, fully endorsed this act. Two of his sons enlisted in a Massachusetts regiment to fight. It was important to him that black people make these ultimate sacrifices to contribute to the country and to legitimize their cause.

The end of the Civil War and the enactment of the 13th Amendment in 1865 should have been a triumph for Douglass. The amendment ended slavery, but while blacks were no longer under the control of masters, they were now slaves to society and the resulting conditions of poverty. While William Lloyd Garrison was proclaiming victory for slaves and the end of the abolition movement, Frederick Douglass was aware that the cause had just begun. He realized that black men needed the vote in order to create change for their circumstances. He did not receive the support of the women suffragists who believed their cause was just as right and important as his own. But despite the women’s disappointment, the 15th Amendment in 1870 gave the right to vote to all men who were citizens, no matter their race.


The successes of Douglass were matched by some painful occurrences. On June 2, 1872, his home in Rochester was burned to the ground, most likely set by an arsonist. Douglass then tried to obtain a room at the Congress Hall Hotel in Rochester and was turned away for unknown reasons. The former champion of slaves and women’s rights was now feeling like an outcast in his adopted city. He now made the permanent move to Washington, D.C., eventually moving in 1878 to his final home known as Cedar Hill, located on twenty acres of farmland in Anacostia Heights, across the Potomac River from Washington.

Douglass received the position of U.S. marshal of Washington, D.C. from President Rutherford B. Hayes on March 17, 1877. This was followed by being appointed the recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia in March 1881, U.S. resident minister and consul general to Haiti from July 1889 to August 1891, and finally Commissioner of Haiti at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1892 to 1893. Douglass appreciated these appointments and felt that they were crucial to black acceptance in the country.

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