Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 27, 2012

Frederick Douglass on Lincoln

Filed under: Civil War,slavery — louisproyect @ 6:56 pm

From the September 16th 1864 “The Liberator”:

The secessionist newspapers in Great Britain are publishing with exultation a letter recently addressed by Mr. Douglass to an English correspondent, who had assisted to send out a box of clothing for the use of distressed freedmen in the District of Columbia. The following is an extract from that document:

 The more you can say of the swindle by which our Government claims the respect of mankind for abolishing slavery—at the same time that it is practically re-establishing that hateful system in Louisiana, under General Banks—the better. I have not readily consented to the claims set up in the name of anti-slavery for our Government, but I have tried to believe all for the best. My patience and faith are not very strong now. The treatment of our poor black soldiers—the refusal to pay them anything like equal compensation, though it was promised them when they enlisted; the refusal to insist upon the exchange of colored prisoners, and to retaliate upon rebel prisoners when colored prisoners have been slaughtered in cold blood, although the President has repeatedly promised thus to protect the lives of his colored soldiers—have worn my patience quite threadbare. The President has virtually laid down this as the rule of his statesmen: Do evil by choice, right from necessity. You will see that he does not sign the bill adopted by Congress, restricting the organization of State Governments only to those States where there is a loyal majority. His plan is to organize such Governments wherever there is one-tenth of the people loyal!—an entire contradiction of the constitutional idea of Republican Government. I see no purpose on the part of Lincoln and his friends to extend the elective franchise to the colored people of the South, but the contrary. This is extremely dishonorable. No rebuke of it can be too stinging from your side of the water. The negro is deemed good enough to fight for the Government, but not good enough to vote or enjoy the right to vote in the Government. We invest with the elective franchise those who with bloody blades and bloody hands have sought the life of the nation, but sternly refuse to invest those who have done what they could to save the nation’s life. This discrimination becomes more dishonorable when the circumstances are duly considered. Our Government asks the negro to espouse its cause; it asks him toturn against his master, and thus fire his master’s hate against him. Well, when it has attained peace, what does it propose? Why this, to hand the negro back to the political power of his master, without a single element of strength to shield himself from the vindictive spirit sure to be roused against the whole colored race.”


He did not have much use for the Democrats either. From an 1864 speech to an abolitionist convention in Syracuse:

“From this party we must look only for fierce, malignant, and unmitigated hostility. Our continued oppression and degradation is the law of its life, and its sure passport to power. In the ranks of the Democratic party, all the worst elements of American society fraternize; and we need not expect a single voice from that quarter for justice, mercy, or even decency.”


  1. So Douglass disagreed with Marx on the nature of the war.

    Comment by purple — November 27, 2012 @ 10:32 pm

  2. Could you expand on this, comrade purple?

    Comment by louisproyect — November 28, 2012 @ 12:05 am

  3. The Radical Republicans (Charles Sumner, John C. Fremont, Thaddeus Stevens, Benjamin Butler, etc.) and Red Republicans were the driving force toward really pushing things forward and abolishing slavery. Lincoln seems to have been personally opposed to slavery but did not want to do anything to endanger the Union.

    Lincoln famously wrote “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. . . . I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.”

    He publicly rebuked some of the boldest moves against slavery (outlawing slavery, expropriations, recruiting blacks into the Union army, etc.) until finally make the Emancipation Proclamation (which STILL didn’t cover the border states).

    We all know of Marx and the IWMA’s public honoring of Lincoln. It appears Marx thought Lincoln’s measured approach was much better than anything too hasty.

    Comment by Jeremy Camp — November 29, 2012 @ 7:37 am

  4. Why would he have any “use” for the Democrats in 1865? They were anti-war, pro States’ Rights and soon to be the party of the Klan.

    Comment by Foncsx — November 29, 2012 @ 3:41 pm

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