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“MEN OF COLOR To Arms! To Arms!”
Click to enlarge:

A monumental Frederick Douglass Civil War recruiting broadside.

This most dramatic and important recruiting poster signals a seismic shift in policy. African American men had joined Union forces in limited numbers from the start of the Civil War, but it took Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, to officially allow, encourage, and remove barriers to their enlistment.

Frederick Douglass. Broadside. “Men of Color / To Arms! To Arms!” Philadelphia: U.S. Steam-Power Book and Job Printing Establishment, Ledger Buildings, Third and Chestnut Streets, [ca. mid-June to mid-July, 1863.] Signed in type by Frederick Douglass and 54 others, including many prominent African American citizens. 1 p., 44 x 87 in.; framed to 48 x 94 in.

Inventory #22552       Price: $320,000

Excerpt
This is our golden moment! The Government of the United States calls for every Able-bodied Colored Man to enter the Army.... For generations we have suffered under the horrors of slavery, outrage, and wrong; our manhood has been denied, our citizenship blotted out, our souls seared and burned.... Let us rush to arms! FAIL NOW, & OUR RACE IS DOOMED.... Our enemies have made the country believe that we are craven cowards, without soul, without manhood, without the spirit of soldiers. Shall we die with this stigma upon our graves? Shall we leave our inheritance of shame to our children? No! a thousand times NO! We WILL Rise! The alternative is upon us! Let us rather die freemen then to live to be slaves. What is life without liberty! We say that we have manhood; now is the time to prove it.... STRIKE NOW! And you are henceforth and forever FREEMEN!

Historical Background
The impassioned text was adapted from Frederick Douglass’ editorial in the March 1863 issue of Douglass’ Monthly. “There is no time to delay.... The tide is at its flood.... From East to West, from North to South, the sky is written all over, ‘Now or never.’”

Once Massachusetts’ abolitionist Governor John Andrew had permission from the federal government to raise a corps of “United States Colored Troops,” Douglass implored able-bodied black men to enlist. He spent much of the spring recruiting for the 54th Regiment; counting his own sons Charles and Lewis among the enlisted.

In May 1863, the Bureau of Colored Troops was established, and at the request of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Douglass traveled through the Union to further its efforts. Douglass’ rousing plea was reprinted in newspapers and broadsides across the North, and adapted to serve the needs of local recruiters.

In Pennsylvania, the effort took on a new urgency in June 1863, as the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia left its encampments and started to move north. Recruitment broadsides of all sorts and sizes were soon posted throughout Philadelphia. This broadside, of course, is the largest and most striking of all.

References to the 1863 siege of Port Hudson (which began on May 21), the battle of Milliken’s Bend (June 7), and the absence of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3) and the 54th Massachusetts regiment’s glorious charge at Fort Wagner (July 18), point to a publication date between mid-June and early to mid-July of 1863.

The huge poster might have made its first appearance at a July 6 mass meeting, where Professor E. D. Bassett read the text printed here. Recruitment efforts in Philadelphia reached a peak at that time, with pro-enlistment editorials, circulars, and posters flooding the city, and Douglass and his colleagues speaking at the National Hall to “deafening applause.”[1]

Approximately 186,000 Black soldiers (including 94,000 former slaves) served in the Union Army during the war; some 38,000 died in the service.

Condition
De-acidified by Graphic Conservation in Chicago, ca. 2000. Laid down on Japanese paper, framed with UF3 Plexiglas. 

Provenance
De-accessioned by Mercantile Library of Philadelphia, ca 1960.

(Note: in 1989, any remaining collections of the Mercantile Library were absorbed by the Free Library of Philadelphia. See also http://www.archive.org/details/catalogue00philgoog)

Census[2]
Chicago Public Library, via Newman, from Sotheby’s, June 20, 1979 (Sang sale), lot 628., On wooden rollers; backed with linen, defects.

Library Company of Philadelphia. Ex-John A. McAllister.

Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and Culture, acquired ca Oct. 2011.

Also Ex-Mercantile Library Company of Philadelphia, ca 1960s.

Private Hands: the example offered here, ex-Mercantile Library of Philadelphia.  

Note: there is also a 30 x 42 in. broadside with much of the same text, and an 8 x 10 in. handbill based on the same speech.

Complete Transcript

MEN OF COLOR

 To Arms! To Arms!

NOW OR NEVER

This is our golden moment! The Government of the United States calls for every Able-bodied Colored Man to enter the Army for the

THREE YEARS’ SERVICE!

AND JOIN IN FIGHTING THE

BATTLES OF LIBERTY AND THE UNION

A new era is open to us. For generations we have suffered under the horrors of slavery, outrage and wrong; our manhood has been denied, our citizenship blotted out, our souls seared and burned, our spirits cowed and crushed, and the hopes of the future of our race involved in doubt and darkness. But now our relations to the white race are changed. Now, therefore, is our most precious moment. Let us rush to arms!

FAIL NOW, & OUR RACE IS DOOMED

On this the soil of our birth. We must now awake, arise, or be forever fallen. If we value liberty, if we wish to be free in this land, if we love our country, if we love our families, our children, our home, we must strike now while the country calls; we must rise up in the dignity of our manhood, and show by our own right arms that we are worthy to be freemen. Our enemies have made the country believe that we are craven cowards, without soul, without manhood, without the spirit of soldiers. Shall we die with this stigma resting upon our graves? Shall we leave this inheritance of Shame to our Children? No! a thousand times NO! We WILL Rise! The alternative is upon us. Let us rather die freemen than live to be slaves. What is life without liberty? We say that we have manhood; now is the time to prove it. A nation or a people that cannot fight may be pitied, but cannot be respected. If we would be regarded men, if we would forever

SILENCE THE TONGUE OF CALUMNY

Of Prejudice and Hate, let us Rise Now and Fly to Arms! We have seen what

VALOR AND HEROSIM

OUR BROTHERS DISPLAYED AT

PORT HUDSON AND MILLIKEN’S BEND,

Though they are just from the galling, poisoning grasp of Slavery, they have startled the World by the most exalted heroism. If they have proved themselves heroes, cannot WE PROVE OURSELVES MEN?

ARE FREEMEN LESS BRAVE THAN SLAVES

More than a Million White Men have left Comfortable Homes and joined the Armies of the Union to save their Country. Cannot we leave ours, and swell the Hosts of the Union, to save our liberties, vindicate our manhood, and deserve well of our Country. MEN OF COLOR! the Englishman, the Irishman, the Frenchman, the German, the American, have been called to assert their claim to freedom and a manly character, by appeal to the sword. The day that has seen an enslaved race in arms has, in all history, seen their last trial. We now see that

OUR LAST OPPORTUNITY HAS COME

If we are not lower in the scale of humanity than Englishmen, Irishmen, White Americans, and other Races, we can show it now.

MEN OF COLOR, BROTHERS AND FATHERS!

WE APPEAL TO YOU!

By all your concern for yourselves and your liberties, by all your regard for God and humanity, by all your desire for Citizenship and Equality before the law, by all your love for the Country, to stop at no subterfuge, listen to nothing that shall deter you from rallying for the Army. Come Forward, and at once Enroll your Names for the Three Years' Service.

STRIKE NOW!

And you are henceforth and forever FREEMEN!

[Signatures are printed in vertical columns, though we transcribe here horizontally to fit] 

- E.D. Bassett, Wm. Whipper, D.D. Turner, Jas. McCrumell, A.S. Cassey, A.M. Green, J.W. Page, L.R. Seymour,

- Rev. J. Underdue, John W. Price, Augustus Dorsey, William D. Forten, Rev. Stephen Smith, N.W. Depee, Dr. J. H. Wilson, J.W. Cassey,

- Frederick Douglass, P.J. Armstrong, J.W. Simpson, Rev. J. B. Trusty, S. Morgan Smith, William E. Gipson, Rev. J. Boulden, Rev. J. Asher,

- Rev. J.C. Gibbs, Daniel George, Robert M. Adger, Heary M. Cropper, Rev. J.B. Reeve, Rev. J.A. Williams, Rev. A.L. Stanford, Thomas J. Bowers,

- Elijah J. Davis, John P. Burr, Robert Jones, O. V. Catto, Thos. J. Dorsey, I.D. Cliff,

Jacob C. White, Morris Hall,

- James Needham, Rev. Elisha Weaver, Ebenezer Black, Rev. William T. Catto, James R. Gordon, Samuel Stewart, David B. Bowser, Henry Minton,

- Daniel Colley, J.C. White, Jr., Rev. J.P. Campbell, Rev. W.J. Alston, J.P. Johnson, Franklin Turner, Jesse E. Glasgow.

[[double line]]

U.S. Steam-Power Book and Job Printing Establishment Ledger Buildings, Third and Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia. 

Selected Sources

Addresses of the Hon. W.D. Kelley, Miss Anna E. Dickinson, and Mr. Frederick Douglass, at a Mass Meeting Held at National Hall, Philadelphia, July 6, 1863, for the Promotion of Colored Enlistments, (Philadelphia, 1863) http://www.archive.org/details/addressesofhonwd00kell

Biddle, Daniel R. and Murray Dubin. Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for

Equality in Civil War America (Temple University Press, 2010), pp. 290-92

Blight, David. letter: this appeared in Spring of 1863, reprinting a Douglass editorial.

Gallman, J. Matthew. Mastering Wartime: A Social History of Philadelphia During the Civil War (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000)

Halpern, Rick and Enrico Dal Lago. Slavery and Emancipation (Wiley-Blackwell, 2002)

Library of Congress. “African-American Odyssey,” American Memory. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/aaohtml/exhibit/aointro.html

U.S. Army. “African Americans in the U.S. Army,” http://www.army.mil/africanamericans/index.html



[1] Gallman, 48.

[2] From July 2019 check of WorldCat, OCLC FirstSearch, ABPC, GLC, AAS, Rosenbach Library, and Huntington Library, AmericanaExchange, LiveAuctioneers, ArtFact, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Swann, Barneby’s, Rare Book Hub.


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