Condition of the Country

Frederick Douglass

Douglass’ Monthly

February 1863

Our remarks upon the present condition of the country and upon the prospects of the anti-slavery cause must be very brief in our present number, both for want of time and want of space. January has been a month of jubilee meetings, extending from Boston to Chicago, and we have been traveling and speaking, almost without intermission during the whole month, often leaving the platform, from which we addressed the people, to ride all night in order to reach another appointment. During the month we have travelled over two thousand miles and delivered many addresses, all the way from Boston to Chicago. On coming home we find our monthly in type, and only limited space left open for a word. That space we mean now to improve.

The first thing worthy of notice in the condition of the country, is the frightful growth of disloyalty in the Northern States, as exhibited in the conduct of prominent politicians in the western States, in New York, and in Pennsylvania. The mobocratic element has evinced a boldness hitherto unknown in American politics. At the polls, that a man or two should be knocked down by a drunken rowdy, is nothing uncommon and of but little consequence to any but the parties themselves; but when rowdyism is deliberately organized into a mob, and transported from the lowest kennels of society, and armed with all kinds of weapons, with a view to intimidate legally constituted deliberative bodies, as was the case in Harrisburg, Pa. and to a limited extent in Albany, New York, when one party is accused of using dollars and the other of using daggers, to influence legislation, a very sad state of demoralization must be confessed. We have now incomparably less to fear from the open traitors and rebels at the South who are fighting us upon the open field, against the Constitution and the Laws, than we have to fear from those at the North, who are seeking through political means and the Constitution and by mobs of the baser sort to hand the free States, over again, bound and fettered into the hands of the rebels and traitors, who fearing they could no longer rule, undertook to ruin the country. Nor can it be denied that alarming signs of reaction have been showing themselves all over the North, since the defeat of the Potomac army at Fredericksburg, the repulse at Vicksburg, and the recapture of Galveston. It would seem that the Potomac army is never to win a great battle over the rebels. Antietam which has been claimed as a victory was little better than a drawn battle, in which either party might claim to have had the advantage. We drove the rebels out of Maryland and we lost Harper’s Ferry with twelve thousand prisoners of war and a fabulous amount of property taken away and destroyed by the rebels. The Anglo-African well observes concerning this Potomac army–that McClellan has been removed but he has left his sting behind him. Pope might have won, but for Porter, and Burnside might have succeeded at Fredericksburg–but for Franklin. With disloyalty in the army, disaffection in the Cabinet, and a divided North against an united South, we might be hopeless for the result, but for the thought that the country has at least been placed upon ground making it deserve complete victory over all its enemies.

In the hurry and excitement of the moment, it is difficult to grasp the full significance of the change in the attitude of even the present administration. During this very administration slavery has been all commanding and all controlling political power at Washington as well as at Richmond. The saying that cotton is king was never an empty boast. It was king and ruled us as with iron. But thank Heaven, this rule is now to a considerable extent broken. Notwithstanding the deficiency of the Emancipation Proclamation which exempts Tennessee from its operation, and leaves the slaves still in the hands of the rebel masters in so called loyal districts in Louisiana it is a tremendous change in the attitude of the Government and a heavy a blow at the rebellion. It can only fail through treachery and disaffection in the army. Just here is a prime cause of uneasiness. The question is have we sufficient nerve and intelligence at the head of affairs, to weed out the army, and cleanse it of all disloyalty? The conviction and dismissal of General Porter, and the removal of Franklin and putting aside the useless lumber of a military Governor in North Carolina would imply such nerve and such intelligence.

Assuming that the Washington Government will cure its Cabinet of the Presidency, and its army of disloyalty, and call to important commands such men as Fremont and Phelps, men who are now in sympathy with the policy of the war, there is hope for the country and for the slave.

We admit that there is growing dissatisfaction with the war at the North, that there is strong cry for peace at any price, and this would be more alarming than it is, but the equal dissatisfaction is weakening the rebels at the South. The Proclamation has already made itself deeply felt. This is shown by the threats of retaliation which have fallen from Jefferson Davis, and the defense he has been compelled to make of his conscription policy by which the poor men of the South, having the least interest in slavery, have been pressed into the army to fight the battle of slavery. All slaveholders owning less than twenty slaves are there subjected to the draft. So that the small slaveholders and the non slaveholders bear the brunt of the war, while the large and rich slaveholders are allowed to stay at home and watch their contented and happy slaves. This anti-Democratic feature of the war policy of the rebels will become more and more useful as our arms shall more and more penetrate the country. If we do not very much mistake , the democratic pro-slavery compromisers of the North will yet receive a stinging rebuke from this source. These “copperheads” of the North have already received a stunning blow by the action of Missouri and by the Message of the New Governor of Delaware, both these old slave States will, we believe, be free in a few months.-Missouri free, Arkansas must speedily become so, Delaware free, and Maryland must speedily become free also.

But the most hopeful sign of the times is the growing disposition to employ the black men of the country in the effort to save it from division and ruin. A bill is before Congress authorizing the raising of one hundred and fifty thousand colored troops. Could this measure be adopted and vigorously put in operation we should regard the cause of the country comparatively safe. The hesitation of the Government to avail itself of all its friends, is a marvel of folly and imbecility.–Men who can fight the rebels with mules and horses, and behind iron sides, stone fences, stumps and trees, profess to be shocked with the idea of opposing men of color to the rebels! Could human folly and prejudice go farther than this? Opposition to this measure comes from men like Cox, Vallandigham, Wickleffe and others, men who hate the Negro more than they love their country. Happily, those who are openly opposed to the employment of colored troops against the rebels are secretly opposed to employing any troops at all against them.

As a colored man, we feel proud of the behavior of the colored men both North and South thus far. They of the North have remained silent but not indifferent spectators of the bloody drama since they were contemptuously forbidden to take up arms in defense of their country. They did not cease to love their country, though rudely dealt by, but waited, and are waiting to be honorably invited forward. They have taken a low seat, but are ready to be asked to come up higher. Let the Government say the word, and open the door, and we have confidence that the colored people of the North will furnish their full proportion of soldiers for the war.

The colored soldiers at the two points, and the only two points, where they have been organized (Port Royal and New Orleans) though held up to derision by the satanic Press of the North, have upon the whole gained upon the confidence and regard of the country and the Government.

Colored men going into the army and navy of the United States must expect annoyance. They will be severely criticised and even insulted–but let no man hold back on this account. We shall be fighting a double battle, against slavery at the South and against prejudice and proscription at the North–and the case presents the very best assurances of success. Whoever sees fifty thousand well drilled colored soldiers in the United States, will see slavery abolished and the union of these States secured from rebel violence.

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