Thursday, February 1, 2018

Frederick Douglass

From George Will's review of a new biography of Frederick Douglass, born two-hundred years ago this month:
.... "Here comes my friend Douglass," exclaimed Lincoln at the March 4, 1865, reception following his second inauguration. After the assassination 42 days later, Lincoln's widow gave Douglass her husband's walking stick. After Appomattox, Douglass, who had attended the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention on behalf of women's suffrage, said: "Slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot." If so, slavery ended not with the 13th Amendment of 1865 but with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. ....

By the time of Douglass's 1895 death, the nation was saturated with sinister sentimentality about the nobility of the South's Lost Cause: The war had really been about constitutional niceties — "states' rights" — not slavery. This, Sandefur says, was ludicrous: Before the war, Southerners "had sought more federal power, not less, in the form of nationwide enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act and federal subsidies for slavery's expansion."

Nevertheless, in the South, monuments to Confederate soldiers were erected and Confederate symbols were added to states' flags. In the North, the University of Chicago's Charles Edward Merriam, a leading progressive, wrote in a widely used textbook that "from the standpoint of modern political science, the slaveholders were right" about some people not being entitled to freedom. As an academic, Woodrow Wilson paid "loving tribute to the virtues of the leaders of the secession, to the purity of their purposes." As president, he relished making The Birth of a Nation, a celebration of the Ku Klux Klan, the first movie shown in the White House.

Douglass died 30 years before 25,000 hooded Klansmen marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. That same year, Thurgood Marshall graduated from Baltimore's Frederick Douglass High School, en route to winning Brown v. Board of Education. Douglass, not Wilson, won the American future.