Skip to main content

tv   Frederick Douglass Abraham Lincoln  CSPAN  May 22, 2021 10:35pm-12:01am EDT

10:35 pm
>> you can watch archival films on public affairs in their entirety on our weekly series, "reel america," saturday at 10:00 p.m. and sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern here on american history tv. >> up next on american history tv, john stauffer talks about his book, "giants: the parallel lives of frederick douglass and abraham lincoln," in this january 2009 program. he compares the two men to the recently inaugurated barack obama. the national archives hosted the event and provided the video. >> today in the midst of a very historic week with the inauguration of our new president emme we have a fitting and timely lecture -- president,
10:36 pm
we have a fitting and timely lecture. a continuously repeated refrain by many commentators was that president obama stands on the shoulders of key historical figures. who paved the way for him. two of the most important of these figures are the subjects of dr. stauffer's lecture and book, which is titled "giants: the parallel lives of frederick douglass and abraham lincoln." john stauffer received his phd from yale university in 1999 and began teaching at harvard the same year. he writes and lectures on the civil war era, antislavery movements and social protest movements. he is the author of seven books and more than 45 articles, including the blackhearts of men
10:37 pm
, radical abolitionists in the transformation of race, which won four major awards, including the frederick douglass book prize, the avery craven book award, and the lincoln prize runner up. his essays have appear in time magazine, the new york post, the journal of contemporary photography, and the harvard review. he has a. on national radio and television shows. -- he has appeared on a national radio and television shows. currently he is completing a book on civil war era mississippi. the story free state of jones will appear as a major motion picture by film maker gary ross, with whom he served as a scholarly consultant. after this lecture there will be a book signing at the archive shop. without further ado, let's welcome dr. john stauffer.
10:38 pm
[applause] john: thank you very much for the wonderful introduction and thank you for coming. can everyone hear me in the back? i would like to speak for about 45 minutes and then i will open it up a questions and criticism and comments. i want to speak for a few minutes just about how this book came into being, the background of "giants," and then i want to summarize some of the key themes i described in the book, hopefully to whet your appetite to read it if you have not. then i want to spend the last five or 10 minutes discussing the legacy of both lincoln and douglass on particularly barack obama. obama has been deeply influenced by both men. i have written about the influences in the new york times recently and huffington post and other places. i want to share with you some of my thoughts. i should share that i started
10:39 pm
writing "giants" around the time that obama launched his campaign , at a time when very few americans believed he could actually get elected. the book was published on election day, and having steve do myself in both frederick douglass and abraham lincoln -- steeped myself in both frederick douglass and abraham lincoln during the campaign, i think i have a good understanding of what i refer to as the obama phenomenon. i felt, after hearing obama launched campaign in springfield, that he had a very good chance of winning because of having steeped myself in douglass and lincoln. first, background. this book began as a chapter in a larger project that i am working on on interracial friendships in american society. my previous work has focused on some aspect of interracial
10:40 pm
friendship. why do i think they are important? i think friendship throughout history, throughout western culture, has been a central theme for philosophers, political thinkers and writers, because friendship was seen as a symbol of democracy. from plato and aristotle through the quakers, who self-consciously defined themselves as friends, to the founding fathers, through people like walt whitman, emerson, thoreau, frederick douglass. friendship was seen as a kind of test case of how well democracy was working. throughout western culture, people believed a virtuous society was one in which friendships flourished. in a new united states, which was unlike classical greece or rome, which americans were self-consciously patterning themselves, americans understood this new society was a
10:41 pm
multiracial one. so thinking about how democracy function on the ground, people began exploring the concept of interracial friendship to see how democracy was working. people from, as i said, whitman, emerson, thoreau, frederick douglass -- interracial friendship was a test case for how well democracy was doing. i published a version of that in time magazine in 2005 when lincoln was featured on the cover is a founding father. as i continued to write that chapter, and after publishing in time magazine, i realized that chapter threatened to overwhelm the rest of my book on interracial friendship because of the significance of abraham lincoln and frederick douglass. i decided just to write a separate book just on those two men. by pairing them together, i felt i could accomplish a number of
10:42 pm
goals. i think a dual biography allows a writer or scholar to move the lens, so to speak, to change perspectives to see two famous men who had been written about in and interesting ways. abraham lincoln is one of the most written about figures in american history, probably the most written about individual in american history. one of my objectives was what can i say that is new about abraham lincoln? i felt that by viewing him, seeing him framed or reflected against frederick douglass, i could offer some new interpretations. primarily i think one of the things i do with lincoln is i de-romanticize him. i think he continues to be written about in ways that suggest a mythological figure. what do i mean by that? a lot of writers see lincoln as essentially perfect,
10:43 pm
particularly during his presidency. he was in my view the greatest president, a brilliant politician, but i think too many writers see him as someone who never made a mistake, whose every action was a perfect one, so to speak. that is to create a myth, not a human. to be human is to make mistakes, to be deeply flawed. i felt by acknowledging and highlighting even some of the flaws, i come away and hopefully readers come away respecting and appreciating him even more by understanding how far he was able to grow. by pairing him with frederick douglass, i also wanted to represent and show douglass in a new, and especially by showing him in a light that sees him as an equal, as significant as abraham lincoln. most of my previous work has been on antislavery abolitionism, and i have written
10:44 pm
a lot about frederick douglass. he appear in the black hearts of men, i have edited the second autobiography. probably in the hundreds of talks i have given on frederick douglass, the first thing i ask to audiences is how many of you have read anything by frederick douglass? the answer depends, among wise, just about -- whites, just about every african-american has, but whites over the age of 35 sometimes don't even know who he is. i think douglass is crucially significant as a figure, as important as lincoln. writing a book that pairs lincoln and douglass, i felt i
10:45 pm
could show that. "giants" is a book about parallel lives that converge. frederick douglass and abraham lincoln, i argue, are the two preeminent self-made men in american history. douglass began life as a slave, he has zero formal education, and was the most famous black man in the world before the age of 40. his rise was truly extraordinary. he and his day was seen as one of the greatest writers and orators. in his day, throughout the 1850's and even into the 1860's, douglass was seen as a better orator than lincoln. most people remember lincoln as a great orator, and he was, but in his time, he paled with respect to douglass. douglass could retain greater speaking fees than just about any other individual, and the fact that he was a black man
10:46 pm
able to do that is extraordinary. most of you know that lincoln was born in a log cabin. to say it was a log cabin is to romanticize it, it was really a three sided hut with one side exposed. he was what his contemporaries referred to as poor white trash, who emerged to become the greatest president. so the two preeminent self-made men in american history, who converged in the sense that douglass met with lincoln three times at the white house. he was the first black man to meet a u.s. president on terms of near equality, to advise him. they considered each other friends. the fact they considered each other friends was significant, even the importance ascribed to friendship in that time period in the 19th century. in ways i never could have envisioned before beginning research and writing the book,
10:47 pm
they led striking, surprisingly parallel lives. many common occurrences in their rise and self making, which struck me because one, it is a white man who grows up in essentially the south, born in kentucky and grows up in indiana and illinois. both states primarily settled by southerners. and douglass a slave. most people think of a slave and a white man is totally different at that time. what are the commonalities in the parallel aspects of their upbringing? probably first and foremost is the fact that more than any other factor, they were able to rise up because they learned how to use words as weapons. they understood the importance of literacy, the importance of being able to articulate their thoughts in order to convert your audiences to their cause.
10:48 pm
-- there audiences to their cause. both of them learned to hone their skills of literacy and writing, both of them virtually memorized the same six books. long before they ever met, they both read and reread and virtually memorized the same six books. any of you have any ideas of what those books are? the bible is one, probably the most important. this is a period in which common education was not that well-known. particularly in the south, particular in what is now the midwestern states. many young boys did not have formal education. if you only have one book to read, aside from the religious significance, the bible in my view is probably the greatest work of literature in western culture. both of them quoted extensively from the bottle -- the bible. what else? shakespeare. lincoln loved shakespeare. douglass could quote shakespeare
10:49 pm
almost as comfortably as lincoln could. you all are great. what is a third? any thoughts? pardon? close. close, very good. if shakespeare was the most famous writer in america in the day, which he was -- shakespeare now is read primarily by the well educated but at the time, he was read by yeoman farmers in mississippi. all classes read shakespeare, blacks, whites, rich and poor -- everyone read shakespeare, which is a phenomenon when we think about it today. the second most famous writer at the time was lord byron. douglass in particular loved byron, but so did lincoln. byron's poetry was seen by americans as emblematic of
10:50 pm
american ideals of freedom. byron was seen as a great freedom fighter both in his poetry and his life, he died for the cause of freedom in gre ece. another is the colombian order, a collection -- orator, a collection of speeches for young boys to become oratory. this was a time when public speaking was one of the only forms of public entertainment. it was analogous to being a rockstar, movie star, radio personality today. no matter where you started in life, if you could be a great orator, there were few limits to how far you could rise and both douglass and lincoln understood that. caleb bingham wrote the introduction to the colombian orator and he told boys, how do
10:51 pm
you learn to become a great orator? here are great speeches throughout history. how do you position your tongue so you can lose your pronounced accent? both lincoln and douglass had what we would think of today as horrible accents. accents that betrayed them as being ignorant, as being stupid. part of being a democratic gentleman was to lose some of your pronounced accent. lincoln retained more of his accent or dialect when he entered the white house them douglass. but caleb bingham taught young boys how to position your tongue so you can lose your accent, how to speak with the proper cadence so you can reach a large audience. that was a book both men learned and virtually memorized. people remember lincoln going
10:52 pm
into the fields and speaking to the crops in the prairie. douglass was forbidden to read, his masters would not let him read. he shined shoes, purchased a used copy of the colombian orator and kept it hidden. it was the only thing he took with him and he became free. that was a crucial book. another was aesop's fables. most of you are still familiar with it today. the best way to describe aesop's fables is it is an oral tail -- it is oral tales of slave narratives, of slaves from classical antiquity, from ancient greece. that was a book that was a bestseller, widely read then and
10:53 pm
is still red today. -- read today. they read the same books and were familiar with the same examples of books that helps them rise up through using words as weapons. another common parallel was they both defined a fight as a major turning point in their young lives. it is ironic because at the very time in which both men were describing or characterizing themselves as intellectuals or aspiring intellectuals, a fight became an important turning point. for frederick douglass, it was a fight with the famous slave breaker named covey. douglass grew up on the eastern shore of maryland and was fortunate to be able to go to baltimore because his master had died, and that is where he learned to read and write and acquired his copy of the
10:54 pm
colombian oratory. he was sent back to the eastern shore of maryland and was literate and he gained a sense of empowerment. when he returned to the eastern shore, his new master considered him insolence because he looked him in the eye and talks back and stood up to him. so he decided that douglass needed to be disciplined, and there was a man named covey known as a slave breaker. by that, he was someone who broke the will of slaves so they would become good or proper slaves. douglass was hired out to work for covey for one year, and to do hard labor. douglass for the first six months of his tenure with covey was mercilessly whipped at least once a week. he said the welts on his back from the web's -- whip were as
10:55 pm
thick as his thumb, he was whipped before the old wounds were healed. after six months of this, douglass decided to stand up to covey. douglass was very big for his time, over six feet and very strong, very muscular. covey was about 5'7". when douglass decided to stand up to covey, he realized he was not afraid to die. that was the cost of standing up to him. he stood up to covey, and they had a two hour epic fight. douglass was disciplined throughout this fight. he could have killed kobe, in my view or seriously maimed him, that chose millie to beat covey -- chose merely to beat covey in the fight, and douglass said he defined himself thereafter as a free man in form even if he would be a slave in fact. from the moment of that fight, douglass vowed to become free.
10:56 pm
covey never divulged the fight. douglass could have easily been sent south and the mississippi or killed, or maimed. covey did not divulge the fight because he wanted to preserve his reputation as a slave rigor. this fight also highlights -- slave breaker. this fight also highlights that douglass was a privileged slave because he was born in maryland, not mississippi or alabama. if you were born in the deep south, your chances of becoming free virtually nil. the vast majority of slaves who became free were in border slaves. he also suspected that douglass was the son of a white man and a slave woman. it is suspected he is the son of his master. douglass before he ran away,
10:57 pm
attempted to run away and was captured. most slaves who attempted to run away and captured were either sent to the deep south or whipped so hard they were permanently maimed. douglass in the wake of his attempt to run away was promised his freedom at the age of 21. he was a privileged slave. lincoln, for his part, grew up and was also lucky. most people know how big lincoln was, he was 6'4". he was taller than most men by almost a foot. lincoln grew up, like douglass, in a vicious backwoods community. i think many scholars have romanticized the prairie ground of lincoln. it was a vicious backwoods community in which the defining aspect of manhood was the capacity to fight hard and drink a lot. it's one of the reasons why both
10:58 pm
douglas and -- douglass and lincoln abstain from alcohol their entire life because they understood the destruction alcohol caused in communities. lincoln had just moved to new salem, illinois at the age of 21. he described his first 21 years as a slave because technically he had to turn over all of his money to his father. he is finally free from his father, who we didn't like, because his father was not interested in education, not interested in literacy. he was a laborer, carpenter and farmer. lincoln arrives in new salem, and one of the local leaders was a man named jack armstrong. jack armstrong was essentially a thug and he and his buddies loved to lure strangers into poker games, steal their money and beat them up. jack armstrong liked to roast live pigs and hear the sound of
10:59 pm
squealing before it died. one of the most common forms of fighting in the backwoods of illinois was what people called a rough-and-tumble, a no holds barred rough-and-tumble. it was not uncommon for a man to lose a nose, part of an ear, a finger, to have testicles ripped out my and the great prize in the fight was to liberate an -- this was a brutal environment. armstrong wanted to fight douglas. lincoln said no, i don't want to do that. i will wrestle you. i will have a regulated wrestling match in which it was a less brutal form of fight. each man had to keep in arm on the other. people came from all around to bet on it. which was common in fighting. it's unclear exactly what happened in the fight.
11:00 pm
what we do know is that they called it a draw. armstrong fouled lincoln. the fight ended and they called it a draw. no one lost money. in the wake of the fight, lincoln became a leader of salem and a friend of jack armstrong. within roughly six months, lincoln was already running for the state legislature. he became the captain of his company and the black hawk war. from that point, rose up quickly. both men married up. i argue their wives were central to their self making. douglas married a free black women which was very unusual. when he returned to baltimore, it was very unusual for slaves and free blacks to interact in that way. annamarie was primarily responsible, her money was primarily responsible for allowing doug lish -- douglas to
11:01 pm
dress as a free sailor to purchase a train ticket and take a train north to new york city where he became free in 1838. without her help, his chances of becoming free would have been profoundly limited. most people, many people see mary todd as this madwoman or crazy woman. mary todd was at least as sophisticated about politics as lincoln was. mary todd grew up in kentucky, near the home of henry clay who was the hero, a statesman for lincoln. she was a friend of clay. she was an aristocrat. lincoln, in marrying mary todd, made a very wise political decision. mary todd advised lincoln in every step of his rise through politics. without their wives, the
11:02 pm
potential for them rising up would have been very slim indeed. the first time that douglas ever refers to lincoln's in 1847. douglas moved to rochester, new york. he's now a newspaperman, already the most famous black man in the country. he's virtually a household name. he became famous overnight because of his autobiography which is a bestseller, similar to obama. he writes about lincoln in the context of lincoln's term in congress. douglas refers to lincoln as part of a rogues gallery of congressman who oppose a bill to abolish slavery in washington, d.c. why does lincoln oppose this bill to abolish slavery as a congressman? because it deviates from his vision or strategy for ending
11:03 pm
slavery. lincoln hated slavery. lincoln said on numerous occasions that he hated slavery as much as any abolitionist and there's no reason to doubt that. his strategy for ending slavery was threefold. one, very gradual. very congenial so as not to uproot society. in fact, in his debates with stephen douglas in 1858, lincoln said, when do i think slavery should end? when will ultimate extinction of slavery occur? not less than 100 years. that would have placed the end of slavery at the very earliest, barring civil war, in 1958. that's a very gradual end to slavery. lincoln advocated confidence -- compensation to masters for the loss of their property which the bill and washington, d.c. did not call for. lincoln also called for, urged
11:04 pm
subsidies for colonization, colonizing blacks outside of the united states. in essence, his vision of america was a white one. douglas was outraged at lincoln's opposition to this bill to end slavery. probably before they became friends, they were quite frankly enemies. this is highlighted in lincoln's first inaugural in 1861. the closest frederick douglass ever came to losing his faith in america, repudiating the possibility of america ever living up to its ideals in the declaration, was in the immediate wake of the first inaugural. why? in the first inaugural, lincoln does two things in particular that outrage fred bears --
11:05 pm
frederick douglass. when lincoln gives his first inaugural, the seven states had already succeeded. the confederacy had already been formed. lincoln is appealing primarily to southern states, the upper south that lincoln hopes to prevent from seceding. and that address, lincoln first vows to vigorously defend the fugitive slave law. many northerners viewed it as unconstitutional because it virtually legitimated the kidnapping of free blacks. it completely ignored the due process of law. second and more onerous in that first inaugural, lincoln affirmed or embraced a new constitutional amendment that congress had just passed. a few days before lincoln gave his first inaugural, congress passed the first 13th amendment. most people remember the 13th
11:06 pm
amendment as the amendment that abolishes slavery. the first 13th amendment, which congress had just passed in an attempt to conciliate with southerners, was an undependable amendment that guaranteed slavery in slave states forever. lincoln had run on a platform of prohibiting the spread of slavery with the goal for its ultimate extinction. that was lincoln's basic platform. now accepting this amendment that guaranteed slavery in the slave states, and frederick douglass's mind lincoln was contradicting the basic platform . he says, i'm out of here. he plans a trip to haiti with the goal of emigrating there. he refers to lincoln as a slave hound and as a representative american racist. now, as a way to understand their differences at this point,
11:07 pm
the best way to summarize lincoln as a politician is to say that, as president, he saw the preservation of the union. it was based on the oath of office that he took. he hoped to defeat the can -- confederacy and preserve the union. the question of slavery was always secondary to that chieftain -- objective. frederick douglass, his fundamental identity was one of calling for an immediate end to slavery and racial equality under the law. throughout his life, those were the two things that frederick douglass champion. during the inaugural, in the wake of southern states seceding, douglas felt that the quickest way to reunite the nation was to end slavery. douglas chose not to go to haiti because the civil war broke out with the fire on fort sumner. douglas recognized that the war
11:08 pm
offered away to an slavery. douglas was very familiar with john quincy adams, who had stood up in congress and said to southerners, if we keep being belligerent, there will be a civil war. if there's a civil war, the constitution allows under its war power clause, allows the congress and presidents to end slavery constitutionally. for frederick over us -- douglas, fleet -- slavery itself represented a state of war. he believed, he called for the immediate end to slavery even before the actual war broke out. in his mind, for constitutional reasons. douglas said immediately after fort sumner, he started calling on the president, sending the newspaper to the white house saying, and slavery. that will be the quickest way to end the war. the slaves constitute the
11:09 pm
stomach of the rebellion. unless you emancipate the slaves, 4 million blacks, roughly one third of the southern states, are aiding and abetting the confederacy. they are feeding the confederates. they are building roads for them. they are building fortifications. they are building trenches for them. if you emancipate them, you will have 4 million people that will be on the union side. lincoln ultimately came to recognize the military validity of emancipating slaves as a war measure which is precisely how the emancipation proclamation was phrased. he amounted slaves as part of a war measure. this resulted in the fact that douglas and lincoln had very different objectives that converged.
11:10 pm
their friendship was more than anything else utilitarian. when they first met in 1863, in the wake of the emancipation proclamation, douglas recognizes that he needed lincoln on his side to help him achieve his objective of universal emancipation. lincoln recognized that he needed frederick douglass on his side. douglas was essentially the ambassador of african-americans. in order to achieve his goal of preserving the union. the details of their first meeting where that, in august of 1863, douglas had been recruiting black soldiers. the emancipation proclamation called for an army of black troops.
11:11 pm
frederick douglass devoted time to recruiting blacks. he virtually single-handedly recruited the famous massachusetts 54th black regiment. his two sons were his first two recruits. douglas got fed up with recruiting because of the administration's policy. he was fed up because black soldiers were being paid half of what white soldiers were and they were not being promoted for valiant duty. he decided to take his case to washington, d.c. he takes a train to d.c.. he arrives in the city on august 10 of 63, early in the morning. he goes right to the white house. there is already a long line of people waiting to see the president. lincoln once -- was known as having an open-door policy, admitting all colors. douglas duggan line. -- stood in line.
11:12 pm
he sent up his card. within two minutes, he's called up by lincoln. as he passes these whites in line, to go up to see lincoln, he hears one of them say, i see how it is. he arrives in the office. incan nose douglas because he is so famous. he says, it's good to see you. i know about you. i've read you. what can i do for you? douglas states his case to lincoln. lincoln vows that he will make every effort to pay black soldiers the same as white soldiers. he acknowledges that he's been very tardy both in emancipation and in giving equal rights to blacks. he also vows to promote black soldiers. at this first meeting, douglas and lincoln acknowledge that politically, they are very different. douglas is a radical activist. lincoln is a politician. douglas called the immediate end
11:13 pm
to slavery and immediate racial equality. lincoln's chief goal is preserving the union. at this first meeting, they defined themselves afterwards as friends. why? in part because they both have a norma's respect for each other as self-made men. one of douglass's most famous speeches was on self-made men. they recognize the accent, the dialect of each other. in my book, i try to capture what each man sounded like at various stages of his career. after that first meeting, president lincoln told the next person that he saw in the white house that he had just met with frederick douglass to get he said, i consider mr. douglas one of the most meritorious men in the united states. douglas said after meeting lincoln, he considered lincoln the king of self-made men. they bells -- both had great
11:14 pm
respect for each other as self-made men even though they disagree politically. the second meeting occurred a year later at a time in which the war was going very poorly for the north. lincoln thought he was going to lose reelection. it was august of 1864. northerners were tired of fighting. we can felt sure he was going to lose to the democratic nominee george mcclellan. mcclellan ran on a platform of negotiated settlement with the confederacy, immediate peace which would have left slavery intact. lincoln calls douglas to the white house for an urgent meeting. douglas comes to washington, meets with lincoln in the white house. lincoln tells douglas, i would like you to plan and embark upon a john brown scheme in which you will invade the south with an army of black and white, bring
11:15 pm
as many blacks as possible to union lines. worst case scenario, i lose the election to mcclellan but thousands more blacks will be in union lines and free before slavery remains permanent in the confederacy. best case scenario, these thousands more blacks that come to union lines will aid the union effort, lead to a major victory, turn the tide of war, convinced northerners that the one will -- war will soon be over and we can finish off this fight. frederick douglass was amazed at this request. douglas had been a close friend of john brown. john brown, if you remember, was the most radical white abolitionist of the day. john brown had an army of blacks and whites in 1869 -- 1859. he went south, rated, took over
11:16 pm
the federal arsenal in virginia with an eye toward disturbing the arms to slaves and inciting a massive slave interaction. douglas had opposed john brown from going to harpers ferry. it was only because he thought brown was going to lose his life, which he did. brown was captured, tried for treason, and executed for treason. harpers ferry affair was one of the last sparks that led to the civil war. frederick douglass however considered john brown one of the greatest men in the united states. that's a quote from douglas. john brown wrote his provisional constitution which would govern those areas that brown hoped to liberate from slavery in douglas's home. brown could not write a grammatically correct sentence. douglas, it's the most eloquent document brown ever wrote which
11:17 pm
suggests that douglas essentially edit it for him. he was very much in favor of brown conspiring against the united states in order to end slavery if he thought it would work. lincoln and all republicans distanced themselves dramatically from john brown when it occurred. lincoln said, i agree with brown and principal, iger -- i agree that slavery is wrong. john brown committed treason against the united states government. he justly deserved to be hung. four years later, president lincoln is calling for douglas to embark upon a john brown scheme. in essence, john brown has been mainstreamed. there was a time in which most northern soldiers sung the john brown song as they went to fight. it was an inspiration in fighting the confederacy. douglas planned this john brown scheme. a few weeks later, general sherman was victorious in
11:18 pm
atlanta and began his march to the sea. it transformed northern opinion and essentially clinched lincoln's reelection. that scheme never went into practice. the third and final meeting was during lincoln's inaugural address. douglas was invited to the address and reception. he got a front row seat. lincoln saw douglas when he gave his address. douglas went to the reception at the white house in the wake of the inaugural address. this was march of 1865. the war was virtually over. there were almost 200,000 black troops marching through the south. douglas was initially barred from entering the white house when he gets there because a policeman says, you're not allowed to enter. douglas says, there must be a mistake. he sends his card in. lincoln admits him. when lincoln sees frederick
11:19 pm
douglass, he is with a group of whites. he says, here comes my friend frederick douglass. it's good to see you. i saw you in the crowd today. there's no man in this country whose opinion i value more than yours. what did you think of my address? frederick douglass responds, mr. president, that was a sacred effort. within a month, lincoln has been assassinated. there's very good evidence that had lincoln live, douglas and he would've remained very close friends despite their political differences. what are the lessons of their friendship? one, political differences do not necessarily correlate into inter-social behavior. douglas and lincoln genuinely liked each other. they felt genuine affection for each other, even though they never agreed politically.
11:20 pm
even in 64, douglas's plan for reconstruction was much more radical than lincoln. he advocated immediate suffrage for all blacks. he advocated immediate suffrage for black men and women. immediate racial equality under the law. lincoln wanted reconstruction to occur much more gradually. they genuinely felt comfortable. in part because they shared a common background, they shared common interests. also, they understand that they were facing a common enemy. it threatens their identity and their livelihood. another crucial reason i think for their convergence relates to the very definitions of self-made men. both douglas and lincoln understood that self making reflected the idea of oneself in a state of continual evolution.
11:21 pm
meaning that no matter who they were in 1840, they were totally different than who they were in 1845, 1850, 1855, 1860. both men never changed so dramatically as they did during the four years of the civil war. this idea of self making contradicts the very notion of racism. racism depends upon a self that is permanently fixed. it depends upon oneself who is permanently superior and white to another self who is permanently inferior and nonwhite. by embracing this idea of self making, the self in continual flux, it contradicts this notion of racism which is another important reason why they were able to come together. what are the legacies of these two men? i mention that obama has been
11:22 pm
deeply influenced by both douglas and lincoln. obama has acknowledged his debt to lincoln. he hasn't so much with frederick douglass for two reasons. one, obama very much defines himself as embracing a post-racial america. frederick douglass has come down to us today as a race man. for that reason, he wants to not acknowledge it. to see douglas solely as a race man is erroneous. douglas, in his own day, was similar to obama. douglas sought to move beyond the division of race and reach a common understanding between blacks and whites. douglas's friendship with lincoln was one of numerous friendships with whites that douglas had. he was a close friend of john
11:23 pm
brown, garrett smith. he became a close friend of charles sumner, particularly at the end of the war. because douglas has come down to us as a race man, obama has distanced himself. second, particularly during the campaign and probably more significantly, obama understands that if he acknowledges his debt to frederick douglass and says he's been deeply influenced by him, opponents will quickly see is on that fact, recognize that douglas was a radical and a friend of john brown and say, associating with another terrorist. [laughter] what has obama learned from frederick douglass? as he says in his book, the audacity of hope, he says there are times and instances in which power will concede nothing without a fight. that's what i learned from frederick douglass. both obama and frederick douglass understood that words were the most potent weapons for
11:24 pm
fighting this opponent. that's one thing that he learned from douglas. another thing that he learned from douglas is, and i'm paraphrasing, true art will break down racial barriers. douglas was, as i've emphasized, one of the greatest writers and orators in her day -- in his day. frederick douglass would get up to speak before an audience of whites. most of the whites in that audience, before seeing and hearing frederick douglass, assumed that blacks were subhuman. most whites in douglas's day believe that blacks were incapable of self-government. they would listen to douglas is very rich, deep baritone voice. they would hear his eloquence. they would see his beauty. frederick douglass was nothing if not handsome.
11:25 pm
even his enemies acknowledged that. he was majestic and his wrath, as one convert set of him. they would hear him and see him perform and they would essentially shed their racism and be converted to the cause of abolitionism. there are numerous examples of that happening. one instance, douglas goes to buffalo, new york to speak on abolitionism. buffalo was a city when he arrived in which there was no abolitionist. all people wanted to do was make money. he's in buffalo for 10 days. in 10 days, by the 10th day, over half of the city comes to hear him on the green. no auditorium can even hold the audiences and he's converted them all. true art rakes down racial barriers. there's numerous examples of obama, before whites here obama, saying i could never imagine myself voting for a black man.
11:26 pm
they here obama, they see his majesty, his eloquence, his elegance. most people acknowledge obama to be immensely handsome. they see his performance. they shed their racism and vote for him. the best way to understand obama's political campaign is as an artistic performance. a very, very successful artistic performance. which is crucially important in that he has learned from frederick douglass. in many respects, frederick douglass is the most direct descendant of barack obama. both men are children of one white and one black parent. both men became famous, world-famous almost overnight on the strength of their autobiography. both men are among the great writers and orators of their day. ironically though, i think obama shares more in common with lincoln.
11:27 pm
why? first and foremost, like lincoln, obama defines himself as a politician. as a politician, he is constrained by what he can do. for him to accomplish anything, he needs to get elected. no matter what he might think privately, he cannot publicly espouse certain things that will destroy his potential for getting elected. he's acknowledged his debt to lincoln about the significance and importance of being pragmatic. about the willingness to sacrifice one's moral certainty in the greater goal of reaching for common understanding over racial divisions. both lincoln and obama have been very effective at employing their pragmatic vision. i think another similarity, something that obama has learned
11:28 pm
from lincoln that not as many people have emphasized, is that lincoln had a brilliant sense of public opinion. he understood that the relationship between a political leader in the public was really one of a dialectic, a political leader should not internalize public opinion and echo it back. a political leader should also not try to put a stranglehold on the public and force it into the direction that he wants to go. rather, understand the large, diverse views of the public. through eloquence, through language inspire them to move towards this collective or common goal. douglas and lincoln, like obama today, i think function more than anything else as inspiration. douglas and lincoln inspire us as obama has continually said that he hopes to do. inspire us to bind up national
11:29 pm
wounds, to complete the unfinished work of the nation, by fulfilling the ideals of freedom and equality of opportunity for all americans. thank you. [applause] any questions, comments, criticisms? >> how long did frederick douglass live after lincoln died? john: 18 succeed five. another 40 years. he gave numerous talks on lincoln. he considered lincoln the greatest american statesman. but he was also very honest. i think the most accurate assessment of lincoln, to this day, is when douglas gave the speech at the friedmans monument
11:30 pm
in 1866 -- 1876. commemorating lincoln's assassination. it was a speech in which the congress was all there. the supreme court was all there. resident grant was there. the statute is a statue of lincoln with the emancipation proclamation in one hand and his other hand outstretched over and -- a kneeling slave. the kneeling slave had been an icon in the movement. douglas did not like the statue. he begins his speech by saying, mr. lincoln, are -- we are his stepchildren. that shocked his audience. lincoln's chief goal was preserving the union. douglas did what he often did in
11:31 pm
speeches. he learned it from the colombian orders. it's called a reversal. you start at one place and you and in another. he said, we are lincoln's stepchildren. whites are his children. because lincoln ultimately recognized that in order to preserve the union, he needed blacks on his side. although we are his stepchildren, through his transformation, we became accepted as part of a national family. it's a stunning, moving, brilliant speech. douglas gave various versions of that for the rest of his life. douglas was immensely inspired by his friendship with lincoln. he was proud of it. he felt like he grew as an individual because of it. there is evidence -- lincoln did not say as much. there's evidence that lincoln was profoundly moved and
11:32 pm
transformed through his friendship with douglas. douglas helped push him into directions that douglas wanted to go. yes? >> i appreciated your mentioning the readings i shared. how telling they were. you mentioned six. my recollection, you mentioned the colombian order, byron, aesop's fables, shakespeare, and the bible. what was the sixth? john: the bible, shakespeare, lord byron, colombian orator -- robert burns poetry. i'm sorry. >> thank you. john: lincoln loved burns. burns is a farmer. he embraces his rich dialect. lincoln has memorized most of robin burns. >> lincoln was a poet himself. john: he was.
11:33 pm
i argue that lincoln and douglas are two of the great light -- writers in american history. yes? >> [inaudible] john: [inaudible] i would say not really. that's a great question. the reason i would say not really is, it relates to their religious differences. frederick, one of the justifications for frederick douglass in calling for an immediate end to slavery, douglass defined himself as a prophet. he believed that he knew that god believed slavery was wrong.
11:34 pm
god knew that slavery was wrong and wanted it ended immediately. douglas believed that one could dismantle sin. douglas understood that throughout human history, one of the justifications for slavery is that all humans are slaves in one form or another. because of genesis, because of adam and eve's original sin. all humans are slaves to their sin, slaves to god, slaves in life. part of being human is that you can't overcome sin and all sin was a form of bondage. douglas essentially, as an abolitionist, inverted that relationship between sin and slavery. he said, slavery is a horrible sin and humans have the capacity to dismantle sin and become free , both achieving inner freedom as well as outer freedom. lincoln, the best way to
11:35 pm
summarize his religious views, he had a calvinist sensibility. lincoln continually said that it was hubris to try to know what god wanted. the most one could do was to look for signs of what one thought god wanted. and because of that calvinist sensibility, lincoln acknowledged the innate depravity of humans. he acknowledged their capacity for evil, which is one of the reasons for his pragmatism. douglas was someone who had this vision of the perfect society and believed that it could be realized. racial equality and universal freedom. that reflected his deep, enduring faith in humanity, endowed with god. in the book, i essentially say that frederick douglass embraced
11:36 pm
the idea of sacred self sovereignty. in other words, he believed that the kingdom of god was within you and within all individuals. lincoln was much more skeptical of the potential for what i will call perfectionism. yes? >> [inaudible] john: i'm sorry. i didn't see you. >> [inaudible] john: correct. >> [inaudible] john: that's a great question. not any direct parallels. the similarities are that lincoln, like obama in the 1860
11:37 pm
political election, was a real dark horse. lincoln didn't even enter the national political scene until the beginning of his debates with stephen douglas. the real similarity is both men's capacity for being such eloquent and elegant public speakers. and even critics acknowledge that of lincoln in his day. that's true of obama. in terms of the kind of institutional, grassroots campaign that obama has successfully employed, there was some of that equivalent in illinois. because times have changed so dramatically, it's hard to draw direct parallels. you had a question? >> i was fascinated by several
11:38 pm
things. john: ok. good. [laughter] >> the one piece when douglas comes to washington to meet with lincoln. [inaudible] john: yes. yes. >> [inaudible] john: right. >> [inaudible] john: they are. [laughter] >> [inaudible] john: that's -- >> [inaudible] john: right. >> [inaudible] john: right. >> [inaudible] john: great questions. thank you. in that first meeting with lincoln, he actually, douglas
11:39 pm
goes to the white house with samuel pommel, an abolitionist senator from kansas. he was really in the background. they first go to see edwin stanton. stanton was so taken with douglas's debating skills. he promises douglas a commission as an officer, a black officer. that would allow douglas to go south and recruit blacks from the south into the union army. far more blacks in the south which meant his ability to recruit would increase to radically. -- dramatically. the postmaster general montgomery blair signs a commission, acknowledging that douglas is a union man, giving him the past to go anywhere he wants. lincoln -- douglas tells lincoln
11:40 pm
he's received a commission to be a union officer. douglas goes home and he ends his newspaper because he's already been promised this commission to be a black officer in the union army. he is immensely proud of this. the commission falls through, never happens. it's probably because edwin stanton understood the symbolism behind making a commission with douglas as a union officer and outraging and alienating conservative northerners that reflected their conservatism, the comparative conservatism. douglas never blames lincoln. lincoln knew of this failure of the commission because lincoln had to sign all the commissions. had douglas -- douglas thought briefly of going south anyway without the officer bars on his shoulders, the gold bars. he decided not to go because he
11:41 pm
felt that it would be much more dangerous and that he would be less effective at recruiting. so he continued to recruit in the north. but it was frustrating. when douglas ended his newspaper, it was the longest-running black newspaper in the 19th century. he'd been very proud at the prospect of becoming a black officer. why was douglas not captured during and after john brown's raid? the short answer is that he almost was. when the news hit that john brown had rated harpers ferry and had been captured, there was a letter from frederick douglass to john brown in his knapsack. president buchanan essentially granted all federal officers the license to capture frederick douglass wherever he was and send him for virginia for trial and almost certain death.
11:42 pm
technically, douglas was an accomplice with john brown because of his close friendship with him. douglas immediately got news of it and fled to canada. it was from canada that he wrote the newspaper article saying, acknowledging his french with brown, saying that he does not oppose conspiring against the u.s. government as long as it will work because the true ideals of the government are for freedom. he then goes to england for six months. when he returns, congress has a senate investigation for john brown's raid. they understand how politically combustible the rate is. in order to try to prevent more sectional tensions, they don't prosecute anyone. when douglas returns, he's able,
11:43 pm
no one accuses him of being a conspirator. once the civil war breaks out, increasingly, americans come to agree with frederick douglass. he said, john brown started the war. douglas says, john brown started the war that will hopefully end slavery. increasingly, northerners came to agree with that. by 1864, john brown, who had been seen as this radical fanatic, by 64 he's mainstream. majority are -- of northern soldiers are singing his song as they go off to battle. yes? >> in your estimation of the two men, at the end of the day, to what degree did the politician chased the activist notion of the ideal, and the activist
11:44 pm
elevating the politicians notion of the possible? john: great question. i would not say chasing. i would say, i think that the relationship is something of a dialectic. i think that the idealist and the politician should work together, acknowledging that they will never entirely converge. the idealist can inspire the politician and the politician can highlight for the idealist the costs of trying to realize one's vision, or the practical problems of doing so. douglas was, i would characterize douglas as a prudent revolutionary during this time. it's one of the reasons he didn't go to harpers ferry. john brown spent two days trying to convince doug was to go with him. he said, i will die, i think
11:45 pm
you're going to die. [laughter] douglas was very prudent and disciplined. while he was an idealist, he wasn't like john brown. he was not a reckless idealist. in that sense, douglas shares a lot with obama, immensely disciplined as individuals. >> you describe douglas and lincoln as friends. i'm wondering, is there a mid-19th century ideal of friendship that you are drawing on here? john: yes. that's a great question. the characteristic of friendship initially in western culture, through most of western culture, was that it was lightness. you liked the friend and you were like the friend. now there's a flaw in that basic definition for most of western culture which is, the friend had
11:46 pm
to be just like you. for aristotle, for plato, for thinkers, for quakers, a rich and a poor could not friends. for aristotle, man and woman could not be friends because they are essentially different. certainly, an ethnic other and someone else could not be friends. that started to change in the united states soon after the founding of the nation because of this awareness of this friendship as a symbol of democracy. we need to think about the notion of interracial friendship. the fact that douglas and lincoln setting aside their racial differences were like each other and their self making and background. they did come to like each other. i think that is significant. a second characteristic of friendship is a quality.
11:47 pm
douglas and lincoln shared that. the third is, at this time in the united states, two different understandings of friendship. one is spiritual friendship. the second is utilitarian friendship. utilitarian friendship is the friendship that douglas and lincoln achieved. that utilitarianism depends in part upon, i gain something from you, you gain something from me. i spell that out. lincoln realizing that douglas could help him preserve the union, lincoln could help douglas achieve his goals of ending slavery. spiritual friendship, the difference is that spiritual friendship is one in which the two individuals share a common spiritual worldview and sensibility. aristotle and plato said essentially that is spiritual friend was as though two bodies united into one soul. the term that we would use today
11:48 pm
would be soulmates. americans were very self-conscious about their use of friendship. douglas, in his letters after meeting someone, the first series of letters with someone, he will say respectfully yours. when he first uses the term your friend, that's a significant moment. the whole tone of the letter has changed. in the 20th century, french has become much more used in the service of commodification. it doesn't have the significant spiritual or political. in the 20th centuries, the most common reference is through dale carnegie's how to win friends and influence people. [laughter] friendship is used in the service of selling. there's a breakfast cereal today in the united states called good
11:49 pm
friends. it features an interracial couple on the cover. unfortunately, i think friendship has lost some of its political, spiritual, cultural significance. yes? >> [inaudible] john: right. >> [inaudible]
11:50 pm
john: right, right. >> [inaudible] john: another great question. there's not very much material from lincoln describing his relationship with frederick douglass. i rely heavily on douglas himself. i've read all of frederick douglass's letters, autobiographies. douglas, as annexed slave, understood the significance and importance of truth telling. douglas had an immediate -- amazing memory as well. he's even remembering incidents 10, 20 years earlier. he gets a few details wrong but the basic facts are right. the characterization of lincoln's attitude toward
11:51 pm
douglas comes primarily from douglas. douglas had no reason to falsify or romanticize lincoln's perception of him. so douglas is the main source for my characterization of lincoln. i want to emphasize that douglas, as i said, it wasn't until their first meeting that douglas really started to see lincoln in ways that he felt he could really interact with. had douglas wanted to meet with lincoln in the white house before the emancipation proclamation, there is no way that lincoln would have admitted him because it wasn't in his interest. douglas recognized that lincoln was politically very different, still a conservative. douglas had the capacity to feel comfortable around lincoln even though they disagreed.
11:52 pm
the point you make about lincoln's other members in the administration, both in the cabinet and in congress, is also an excellent one. i characterize lincoln as a conservative republican. the two front runners for the republican party, for the presidency in 1860 were much more progressive. both of them believed the fugitive slave law was unconstitutional. lincoln did not. lincoln thought it was constitutional. i argue that it was john brown's raid with douglas is endorsement that helped more than anything for lincoln to get elected. to see lincoln as a conservative republican who was pushed by circumstance to a place were he otherwise would not have gone is important.
11:53 pm
we can himself said, events controlled me. i think that's important to understand. who lincoln fundamentally was was not a radical. to champion universal emancipation or racial equality under the law was a radical stance. those were the two basic templates of northern abolitionists. immediate end to slavery. racial equality. it's questionable how far lincoln ever went in terms of racial equality, given his vision of reconstruction. but he was pushed by events. part of his greatness reflects that lincoln understood that. he understood that he was pushed into a certain position, that there was already a social transformation occurring in america. in 1860, very few northerners believed in racial equality or equality under the law and
11:54 pm
universal emancipation. by 1865, the vast majority of northerners embraced universal freedom and increasing numbers, large numbers understood the significance of giving black men the vote. so lincoln, in a sense, reflects the social transformation which is a result of the civil war. thank you very much. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2021] ♪
11:55 pm
>> sunday on american history tv, we visit the national gallery of art to learn about civil war colonel robert gold shaw in the 54th massachusetts volunteer infantry. one of the war's first african-american units. here's a preview. >> augustine saint gardens began to work on this memorial in 1883. initially, he was going to make it a monument just dedicated to shaw himself. however, colonel shaw's family objected to that. they thought such a depiction was to grand a way to show their young son. he was, after all, only 25 years old when he was killed at the battle of fort wagoner. they thought that that kind of
11:56 pm
depiction was better reserved for generals and not a colonel like shaw. moreover, shaw's family felt that it would be more appropriate to show him with his troops. saint gardens went back to the drawing board quite literally and came up with this conception. with the idea of putting shaw surrounded by his troops. it was truly a revolutionary idea for the time. even more revolutionary was the way that saint gardens depicted the figures. he spent an immense amount of time trying to get all the details in the monument correct. the details of their equipment, their rifles, their knapsacks, their bedrolls, their hats, all of their uniforms. he borrowed photographs of shaw
11:57 pm
in order to render shaw's face accurately. if you look at the depictions of the african-americans, you can see that he's very much individualizing them. some are older, some are younger, some have beards, some have thicker facial features, some thinner. this might suggest to you that he had also perhaps tried to find either surviving members of the 54th regiment or perhaps even photographs of members of the 54th. that was not the case. the men who posed for this monument in same garden studio were not members of the 54th. he hired african-american men who he found on the streets of new york to come into his studio and pose for him. that gave us the idea to form an exhibition which would try to
11:58 pm
bring the members of the 54th to life. we sought to find photographs of the actual men of the 54th to bring them out of the shadows as it were. our original hope was that we might find hundreds of photographs of the soldiers of the 54th. indeed, there were close to 1500 men who were members of the 54th massachusetts regiment during the two years that it existed. alas, we were only able to find and borrow 18 photographs of men of the 54th. that then forced us to think about expanding the exhibition in other, i think very exciting and meaningful ways to look at 1863 in a broader way and think about what sparked the formation
11:59 pm
of the 54th massachusetts regiment, to look at the other men and women who helped form it , and to help support it while it was an action. that's what we've shown in the other rooms. >> watch the full program sunday at 6:00 p.m. eastern.
12:00 am
>> our lectures in history, professor allison parker teaches a class about mary church terrell speight --'s fight against erecting a blackmammy statue. she organized opposition and successfully prevented this lost cause that you from being built. prof. parker: i am allison parker, welcome to this session of my graduate course. in this course we have been reading and thinking about race, gender, and social protest movements including those for women's rights and civil rights. today we will be adding visual representations, confederates last -- lost cause monuments in particular to discuss how they display

46 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on