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Eloquent autograph quotations signed on the same sheet of paper by two of the most prominent American abolitionist leaders. Douglass’s pride of citizenship, achieved with congressional passage of civil rights legislation and the 14th Amendment in 1866, pulses through each word. Douglass wrote in 1867, just two years after the Civil War; Stanton’s lines are undated. Within a year, Douglass and Stanton would split over the competing priorities of black male suffrage and women’s suffrage. Stanton’s query, “when shall we three meet again,” may refer as much to their divergent political aspirations as to geography. FREDERICK DOUGLASS.
Autograph Quotation Signed. [n.p.], 1867. 1 p. With Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Autograph Note Signed [n.d.], in initials, “E.C.S.”, on same sheet.
Twenty two years a slave- / Twenty eight years a freeman- / and now a citizen of the / United States-.
[in a different hand:] Travelling over the prairies day & night / from October till May when
shall / we three meet again[?]
After the Civil War, Douglass dedicated all of his energy to winning suffrage for African-American males. His slogan—pronounced in a speech at the opening of the Douglass Institute in Baltimore in September 1865, was: “They [Republicans] gave us the bullet to save themselves; they will yet give the ballot to save themselves.” In April 1866, Radical Republicans in Congress passed the Civil Rights Bill, extending full citizenship rights to anyone born in the United States (except Native Americans), overriding President Andrew Johnson’s veto.
On June 13, 1866, Congress went further, passing the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship to anyone born in the United States, made each American citizen automatically a citizen of the state in which he resided, and outlined an expansive view of citizenship rights. It also provided for a reduction in a state’s representation in Congress if the state denied the vote to any group of male citizens, a huge step toward black male suffrage. Technically, the 14th Amendment would not be ratified until July 1868. However, as is clear from this quote, Douglass believed that, with this amendment, he was “now a citizen of the United States.” It is likely that Douglass was particularly moved when his home state of New York ratified the 14th Amendment on September 11, 1867. Perhaps that is when he penned this quotation.
The debate over ratification presaged a split within the old abolitionist camp. For the first time, the 14th Amendment introduced the phrase “male citizens” into the constitution. In December 1866, according to historian William McFeely, Susan B. Anthony “called a convention in Albany, New York, to prepare for the lobbying necessary to persuade the New York legislature to amend the state constitution in a way that would not only end the prejudicial property qualification for black voters—which Douglass detested—but also enable women to vote.” Though Douglass continued to cooperate with his longtime allies from the women’s movement—Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and others—the campaign in New York helped precipitate “one of the saddest divorces in American history.”
When the subject of Negro suffrage was raised in the District of Columbia franchise bill, Senator Edgar Cowan of Pennsylvania provocatively called for the removal of the word “male” from the legislation. As historian Ann Gordon notes, this was intended to embarrass black suffrage advocates, but suffragettes flirted with the idea of calling his bluff. Cowan had challenged his fellow Senators to “give any better reason for the exclusion of females from the right of suffrage than there is for the exclusion of negroes.” More importantly, however, this opened up a schism in the Republican Party, with most arguing against universal suffrage and for black male suffrage. Republican spokesmen claimed that black male suffrage, in and of itself, would be difficult to pass, and should not be tied to women’s suffrage, an even more difficult sell at the time. Sensing the shifting winds, Douglass and his allies put black male suffrage first, and detected treachery and racism when women’s leaders criticized them for it.
Douglass was tireless in promoting the cause of black male suffrage in 1867. He traveled and spoke throughout the Northern states, many of which still restricted the black vote. Douglass considered moving from Rochester, N.Y., his home since 1847, to Washington, D.C., which had granted black men the right to vote in 1866. New York ratified the 14th amendment on January 10, 1867, but still maintained what Douglass considered an unjust property qualification for black male suffrage in the state.
Stanton’s description of “travelling over the prairies day & night from October till May” may refer to her travels with Susan B. Anthony through Kansas in 1867-1868. In their first voyage together on behalf of women’s suffrage, Stanton and Anthony lobbied the legislature for an amendment to the state constitution giving women the right to vote. However, as Stanton’s biographer notes, “A large Republican mass meeting in Lawrence in September  repudiated the woman suffrage amendment, reaffirming Negro suffrage as a party measure. Pressure from the East was responsible, warning Republicans not to endanger the Negro’s opportunity by linking him with woman” (148).
Stanton’s account of her journeys on the Kansas prairie is colorful. “As we were to go to the very borders of the State, where there were no railroads, we must take carriages, and economize our forces by taking different routes. I was escorted by ex-Governor Charles Robinson. … As we went to the very verge of civilization, wherever two dozen voters could be assembled, we had a taste of pioneer life. We spoke in log cabins, in depots, unfinished schoolhouses, churches, hotels, barns, and in the open air … I enjoyed these daily drives over the vast prairies, listening to the Governor's descriptions of the early days when the ‘bushwackers and jayhawkers’ made their raids on the inhabitants of the young free State. The courage and endurance of the women, surrounded by dangers and discomforts, surpassed all description.” Both the Negro suffrage amendment and the woman suffrage amendment failed in the Kansas legislature. Spurned by Republicans, Stanton and Anthony campaigned with Democratic orator George Francis Train from Kansas to Connecticut in the winter of 1867.
Douglass and many other African-American leaders recoiled from an argument developed by Stanton against black male suffrage (if adopted without women’s suffrage) in the late 1860s. Stanton published essays in The Revolution, a periodical founded, in part, with financial assistance from George Train. In one issue, Stanton wrote: “Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung who do not know the difference between a Monarchy and a Republic, who never read the Declaration of Independence . . . making laws for Lydia Maria Child, Lucretia Mott, or Fanny Kemble.” The term “Sambo” disparaged African-Americans as slow, gullible, and lazy, while demeaning Irish, German, and Chinese men who, by this rhetorical line, did not deserve the right to vote before white women of European descent.
In the autumn of 1868, Douglass declined an invitation to speak to a women’s suffrage meeting in Washington. He justified his decision in a letter to Josephine Griffing:
“The right of woman to vote is as sacred in my judgment as that of man, and I am quite willing at any time to hold up both hands in favor of this right. It does not however follow that I can come to Washington or go elsewhere to deliver lectures upon this special subject. I am now devoting myself to a cause [if] not more sacred, certainly more urgent, because it is one of life and death to the long enslaved people of this country, and this is: negro suffrage. While the negro is mobbed, beaten, shot, stabbed, hanged, burnt and is the target of all that is malignant in the North and all that is murderous in the South, his claims may be preferred by me without exposing in any wise myself to the imputation of narrowness or meanness towards the cause of woman. … She is the victim of abuses, to be sure, but it cannot be pretended I think that her cause is as urgent as … ours. I never suspected you of sympathizing with Miss Anthony and Mrs. Stanton in their course. Their principle is: that no negro shall be enfranchised while woman is not.”
Though Douglass was criticized for this hard-headed realistic appraisal, he continued to support the women’s cause for the remainder of his career.
In spite of continued Republican political domination, ratification of the 15th Amendment met with stiff resistance. It was intended to make changes chiefly in the North, because the defeated ex-Confederate states were already required to extend suffrage to freed slaves in order to restore their congressional representation. In 1868, eleven of the twenty-one Northern and border states did not allow blacks to vote. Ulysses Grant, the hero of the Civil War, had barely beaten his Democratic opponent—former New York governor Horatio Seymour, a racist who received the majority of white voters—for the presidency. Grant’s thin margin of victory came from the votes of Southern blacks.
Congress spent the days between Grant’s election and his inauguration drafting the 15th Amendment, which passed on February 26, 1869: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. … The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
A week later, by chance, Stanton and Anthony came across Douglass “on the way from Galena [Ill.] to Toledo [Ohio].” According to Stanton, writing for The Revolution, Douglass was:
dressed in a cap and great circular cape of wolf skins. He really presented a most formidable and ferocious aspect … As I had been talking against the pending amendment of ‘manhood suffrage,’ I trembled in my shoes and was almost as paralyzed as Red Riding Hood in a similar encounter. But unlike the little maiden, I had a friend at hand and, as usual, in the hour of danger, I fell back in the shadow of Miss Anthony, who stepped forward bravely and took the wolf by the hand. His hearty words of welcome and gracious smile reassured me … Our joy in shaking hands here and there with Douglass, Tilton, and Anna Dickinson, through the West was like meeting ships at sea; as pleasant and as fleeting. Douglass’s hair is fast becoming as white as snow, which adds greatly to the dignity and purity of his countenance … We had an earnest debate with Douglass as far as we journeyed together, and were glad to find that he was gradually working up to our ideas on the question of Suffrage. … As he will attend the Woman Suffrage Anniversary in New York in May, we shall have an opportunity for a full and free discussion of the whole question.” 224
It is thus possible that Stanton penned her quotation onto Douglass’s while traveling together on the Illinois prairie in the late winter of 1869.
At a meeting of the American Equal Rights Association in May 1869, the women’s rights movement formally split. Douglass, as Stanton foretold, was there, speaking as a moderate. Douglass defended Stanton and Anthony against charges of corruption, but attacked Stanton’s recurring use of the “Sambo” line against the 15th Amendment.
Stanton and Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869, in opposition to other women’s rights advocates—including Douglass—who supported the 14th and 15th amendments. The N.W.S.A. strategy was to pursue a “sixteenth amendment” for women’s suffrage. Its rival, the American Women Suffrage Association, pursued a more gradualist agenda through state-by-state campaigns in the late 19th century.
The Fifteenth Amendment was finally ratified by the 28th state (of 37) on March 30, 1870. As soon as the amendment was sanctified in law, Douglass called publicly for a women’s suffrage amendment. As years went on, Douglass crossed paths with Stanton and Anthony many times on the lecture and convention circuit, allowing old wounds to heal.
Frederick Douglass (1817[?]-1895) was an orator, journalist, abolitionist, and distinguished African-American leader. Born a slave in Tuckahoe, Maryland, as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, he assumed the name Douglass after his escape from slavery in 1838. In 1841, Douglass successfully addressed a Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society convention and was employed as its agent. He wrote Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845 to document his experiences and sufferings, and to silence those who contended that a man of his abilities could not have been a slave. Douglass soon became a noted anti-slavery orator and supporter of women’s rights, lecturing in both the United States and England. He attended the Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights and signed its Declaration of Sentiments. Douglass edited his own newspaper, The North Star, for several years. During the Civil War, he was instrumental in pushing anti-slavery measures, in advocating for African-American combat units, and in raising troops. He fought for passage of the Thirteenth (Abolition), Fourteenth (Equal Protection) and Fifteenth (Voting Rights) Amendments, through testimony to Congress, reports to the President and regular appearances on the lecture circuit. Douglass was the first African American to serve in important federal posts, including the positions of assistant secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission, Marshal of the District of Columbia, Recorder of Deeds for Washington D.C. (1881-1886), and Minister to Haiti (1889-1891).
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) graduated from the Troy Female Seminary in 1832 and studied law privately with her father, though she was never admitted to the New York State bar. Active in both the temperance and anti-slavery causes, Stanton helped organize the women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848 and authored its “Declaration of Rights and Sentiments.” She paraphrased the Declaration of Independence in proclaiming that “men and women are created equal.” In 1869, Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. During her term as the organization’s president, from its inception until 1892, Stanton toured and gave lectures. In her later years, she divided her time between writing articles for periodicals and various book projects, including the first three volumes of The History of Woman Suffrage, which she compiled with Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage (1881-86), the controversial Woman’s Bible (1895), and her memoir Eighty Years and More (1898).
Anthony, Susan B. History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. II (Rochester, N.Y., 1869), 348-355.
Gordon, Ann, ed. The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony,
Volume II: Against an Aristocracy of Sex, 1866 to 1873 (New Brunswick, N.J., 2000), 11-28, 222-225.
Lutz, Alma. Created Equal: A Biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1815-1902
(New York, 1940), 145-154.
McFeely, William S. Frederick Douglass (New York, 1991), 242-269.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, 1815-1897
(New York, 1898), 245-259, http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/stanton/years/years.html.
Remnants of prior mounting on verso.