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Inspired by History

Other African American History Offerings


Other Civil War and Reconstruction Offerings


Frederick Douglass Recruiting African American Soldiers
Click to enlarge:

Are Freemen less brave than Slaves?


The impassioned text was adapted from Frederick Douglass’ editorial in the March 1863 issue of Douglass’ Monthly magazine. Once Massachusetts’ Governor John Andrew had the federal government’s permission to raise a corps of “United States Colored Troops,” Douglass spent much of the spring recruiting, counting his owns sons,  Charles and Lewis, among those who enlisted in the 54th Regiment. In May 1863, at the request of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Douglass traveled through the Union to further its efforts. 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. 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) or the 54th Massachusetts regiment’s glorious charge at Fort Wagner (July 18), point to a publication date between mid-June and mid-July of 1863. This might have made its first appearance at a July 6 mass meeting, where Professor E. D. Bassett read the text printed here.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS. Broadside: “Men of Color, To Arms! Now or Never!” Philadelphia [ca Spring, 1863]. 1 p., 8 x 10 in. Subscribed in type by Douglass and fifty-four other African American leaders, including William Forten, Rev. William T. Catto, Rev. Stephen Smith, Rev. J. C. Gibbs, and many others.

Inventory #26162       Price: $25,000

For generations we have suffered under the horrors of slavery...but now the whole aspect of our relations to the white race is changed.... Let us Rush to Arms! Fail Now and our Race is Doomed on this the soil of our birth.... 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 homes, we must strike NOW while the Country calls.... We have seen what Valor and Heroism our brothers displayed at Port Hudson and at Milliken's Bend.... they have startled the world by the most exalted heroism. If they have proved themselves heroes, can not 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...; cannot we leave ours, and swell the hosts of the Union...?

We find only seven examples in institutional collections: Brown University, Hay Library; Historical Society of Pennsylvania (copy 1) [ms. added at top: “At a mass Meeting held on July 6, 1863.”]; Historical Society of Pennsylvania (copy 2) [With a July 10, 1863 letter and ms. recruitment list]; Library Company of Philadelphia; Library of Congress; University of Michigan, William Clements Library; University of Rochester. This text was also used in large (30 x 42 in.) and spectacularly huge (44 x 87 in!) versions.

Most recent recorded comparable price: Sotheby’s, June 19, 2015, lot 103, sold for $27,500.

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