WE ARE HERE AND WANT THE BALLOT-BOX: AN ADDRESS DELIVERED IN PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA, ON 4 SEPTEMBER 1866
New York Herald, 5 September 1866 and New York Tribune, 5 September 1866. Other texts in Philadelphia Inquirer, 5 September 1866; Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 5 September 1866; Rochester Daily Democrat, 10 September 1866.
In an attempt to rally broad public support for the Johnson administration’s policies of southern “restoration” and states’ rights, supporters of the president held a “National Union” convention in Philadelphia in August 1866. Radical and moderate Republican opponents of those policies responded by calling their own convention in Philadelphia the following month. Although it was ofﬁcially a “Southern Loyalists’ Convention,” prominent northern Republicans attended as honorary delegates to demonstrate that anti-Johnson sentiment was national in scope. Douglass was among those selected by a Republican mass meeting to represent Rochester, New York, at the Loyalists’
gathering. He attended the convention on 3-7 September despite newspaper threats of mobbings and private efforts by such individuals as Governor Oliver P. Morton of Indiana to prevail upon him to stay away “in order to save the Republican party from detriment.” The fears of northern white Republicans, combined with the barely concealed racism of many of their border-state colleagues, led the convention virtually to ignore Douglass and the few other black delegates during its official proceedings. On the morning of 4 September, however, Douglass attended a private meeting of the New York delegation to the convention held at the Union League House and chaired by General Hiram Walbridge. Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan and Governor Richard Yates of Illinois each addressed the gathering. According to the New York Herald, “As soon as it was learned that Fred Douglass was in the room the audience of delegates grew clamorous to hear him, and . . . amid deafening applause and cheering the dusky orator stepped on the rostrum.” After Douglass’s speech Theodore Tilton and a number of other speakers offered brief remarks. A report on Douglass’s address pronounced it “the speech par excellence thus far.” Indianapolis Daily Journal, 12 July 1866: New York Tribune, 31 August, 3, 4 September 1866; New York Herald, 3 September 1866; Rochester Union and Advertiser, 1, 5 September 1866: Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 4 September 1866; New York Times, 5 September 1866; New York Independent, 13 September 1866; Chicago Open Court, 28 April 1867; The Southern Loyalists’ Convention, Tribune Tracts No. 2 (n.p. , n.d.), 4; Riddleberger, 1866: The Critical Year, 205-16; Howard K. Beale, The Critical Year: A Study of Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction (1930; New York, 1958), 184-87.
MR. PRESIDENT1Born in Ithaca, New York, Hiram Walbridge (1821-70), prominent New York City merchant and politician, migrated to Toledo, Ohio, with his parents in 1836. He attended the Ohio University at Athens, practiced law in Toledo, and served as brigadier general in the Ohio militia in the early 1840s before moving ﬁrst to Buffalo and then to New York City, where he shifted his career from law to commerce. From 1853 to 1855 he was a Democratic congressman. Although Walbridge supported compromise efforts during the secession crisis of 1860-61, he subsequently became one of the leaders of New York City‘s “War Democrats." In 1862 he unsuccessfully ran for Congress as the candidate of a coalition of Republicans and War Democrats and two years later campaigned for Lincoln's reelection. Walbridge also played an important part in organized efforts to improve trade and transportation and presided over the International Commercial Convention held in Detroit in July 1865. New York Times, 4 November 1866, 7 December 1870; Christopher Dell, Lincoln and the War Democrats: The Grand Erosion of Conservative Tradition (Rutherford, N.J., 1975), 127, 177, 303; BDAC, 1762. AND GENTLEMEN:—This, to me, is certainly an unexpected call, and I feel myself almost entirely inadequate to respond to it. I have made many speeches on different occasions and before large assemblies, in this country and in other countries, but I never appeared before any
audience under circumstances that so entirely unfit me for utterance as that upon which I appear before you to-day. I came here to this Convention for no display, for no exhibition of myself, for no attempts at oratory. It would have been enough for me, enough for those who sent me, and enough for the race to which I belong, if I could be permitted to sit in silence, to walk in silence in this grand procession, and to sit in silence in the grand presence of the Convention now assembled in this city. I should have been entirely content with this—to be a man among men. (Applause)
But since you have called upon me I may try to say something concerning what I conceive to be the great issue about to be tried at the ballot box by the American people. It is well that all sides should be heard in a great crisis like this. One man may tell a good deal of truth; one race may tell, perhaps, a large amount of truth; but it takes all men, of all classes, of all cliques and conditions in life to tell the whole truth. (Applause)
I read the address recently read and adopted by a convention in this city, not of us, not with us and for us;2From 14 to 16 August 1866 supporters of President Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction program held a convention in Philadelphia in the Wigwam, a ten-thousand-seat auditorium especially constructed for the occasion. When the call for the meeting was issued on 25 June 1866, its sponsors had intended to launch a working coalition between conservative Republicans and northern Democrats for the fall congressional elections. Except for a few prominent pro-Johnson Republicans such as James Doolittle, Orville H. Browning, Montgomery Blair, and Henry J. Raymond, most of the delegates to this “National Union Convention” were northern Democrats or former Confederates. Raymond wrote the original draft of the meetings “Declaration of Principles” and “Address to the People,” but the southerners and Democrats forced the removal of provisions favorable to the Fourteenth Amendment, the Freedmen's Bureau, and the Civil Rights Act. The “Address” instead called for the immediate readmission to Congress of representatives from the former Confederate states and for an end to congressional interference with southern domestic affairs. With few exceptions, the Republican press assailed the convention and the “Address” as a wholesale capitulation to the Democratic party on the chief issues of Reconstruction. The Proceedings of the National Union Convention; Held at Philadelphia, August 14, 1866 (n.p., n.d.), 1-2, 8-15; Albert Castel, The Presidency of Andrew Johnson (Lawrence, Kans., I979), 78, 85-86; Riddleberger, 1866: The Critical Year, 206-14. but I found many things in that address to which I could heartily assent, and to nothing in that address could I assent more heartily than the powerful argument there made against taxation without representation.3The slogan of the American Revolutionaries usually attributed to James Otis does not appear in the published “Address to the People” of the National Union Convention. Douglass is probably paraphrasing the extensive legal arguments cited in the “Address” to protest Congress's refusal to readmit representatives from any of the former Confederate states except Tennessee. Proceedings of the National Union Convention, 10-15. (Laughter and applause.) If that address had emanated from a colored convention I think I should have gone [along with] every word of it. It was only a knowledge of the motives which
inspired it and the limited construction which was to be given it that led me at all to reject it or to regard it as an unfortunate state paper.
One of the great evils of our country in times of peace, in times of war, and all the time of our history has been a disposition on the part of some men, excellent men, many of them, too, to limit eternal and universal principles. That has been the great error of the American people—to limit what in its very nature is illimitable; to circumscribe principles intended by the great Creator of the universe for the harmony of the universe, to be equally applicable to all the people of the country. For instance, that glorious document which can never be referred to too often on occasions like this—the Declaration of Independence—(applause)—to which we are all pledged, our lives, our sacred honor, all that we have on earth—sets out with the doctrine that “all men,” not a part of men, “all men”—not all white men, “all men”—not the Englishman; not all men of the Teutonic or of the Caucasian race; but “all men,” “all men are created equal.” (Applause.) That great doctrine, so long-limited, circumscribed, applied to a particular race and to a particular class, I regard this Convention as intending to make a practical fact for this whole country. (Applause)
Perhaps I am getting too broad for comprehension. (A Voice— “Not a bit.”) But I heard at the Southern Convention, a few moments ago, and I took my license to speak from the able speech there made by the late Attorney General Speed.4Appointed U.S. attorney general by Lincoln in December 1864, James Speed (1812-87) held that cabinet post until July 1866, when he submitted his resignation to Andrew Johnson. Born near Louisville, Kentucky, Speed graduated from St. Joseph's College in Bardstown, Kentucky, in 1828 and then studied law at Transylvania University. He established a legal practice in Louisville and taught law at the University of Louisville. After a term in the state legislature, Speed ran unsuccessfully as a proemancipation candidate for the state constitutional convention of 1849. After Lincoln’s election, Speed publicly battled against secession and was elected to the state senate in 1861 as a Unionist. His support for black suffrage and the Fourteenth Amendment caused Speed's break with Johnson. The presiding ofﬁcer of the Southern Loyalists' Convention, Speed bitterly assailed Johnson‘s Reconstruction policies in his welcoming address on the morning of 4 September 1866. Returning to legal and teaching careers in Kentucky, Speed remained active in that state's Republican party leadership but never again held public ofﬁce. Riddleberger, 1866: The Critical Year, 206, 214- 15; Castel, Presidency of Andrew Johnson, 26-28, 67, 80-81; Robert Sobel, Biographical Dictionary of the United States Executive Branch, 1774-1977 (Westport, Conn, 1977), 314-15; ACAB, 5: 625; NCAB, 2: 89; DAB, 17: 440. (Applause. A voice—“three cheers for him,” which were given.) He gave us to understand there that we were to find out what was the truth, what we felt to be the truth, what we knew to be the truth, and in that Convention proclaim it, and at the ballot box make it law,
crystallize it into legislation and make it the law of the land.5Douglass paraphrases the address of James Speed to the Southern Loyalists’ Convention immediately after his election as presiding ofﬁcer. Among Speed 's exhortations to the meeting was, “Speak the truth as you feel it; speak the truth as you know it; speak the truth as you feel for your country; speak the truth as you love permanent peace, as you hope to establish the institutions of this Government. so that our children and our children‘s children shall enjoy a peace that we have not known." The Southern Loyalists' Convention; Call for a Convention of Southern Unionists, to Meet at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, on Monday, the Third Day of September, 1866, Tribune Tracts No. 2 (n.p., 1866), 9-11; New York Times, 5 September 1866. We are not one inch higher in this matter at this gathering than they are at that gathering and on that platform, as I just heard it before I came here.
You will pardon me if I shall on this occasion, in coming to this platform, bring with me an individual that has been associated with me for the last twenty-five—l may say for the last fifty years—the negro. (Laughter. A voice— “Bring your friend with you”) It would not be exactly fair for me to come here and not remember him, not to bring him with me. I may say I appear here under some disadvantages; but at the same time I appear under, perhaps, greater advantages and responsibilities than most other men who have attended this Convention, or who are in attendance on this Convention. I am here as a representative, and a representative of a multifarious constituency such as, perhaps, no other man in the Convention can be said to represent. (Laughter.) ln the first place I represent the black race. There is no mistaking that by the curl of my hair and the ﬂatness of my nose. (Laughter.) In the next place I represent the white race. And there is no mistaking that, in so much as that in the State of Maine the Copperhead journals there deny the negro of all credit, of all praise for whatever talent I may exhibit and ascribe it entirely to the white race to which I belong. (Laughter.) 1 represent the black race and the white race, and the black and the white race combined. And, so far as my own experience goes to show it, from the peaceable manner in which the blood of the two races have lived together for the last fifty years in this organism— (Laughter)—I have not the slightest fear of a war of races. (Loud laughter and applause.)
Gentlemen, we have representatives here from the North and representatives from the South. I honor all these representatives—rejoice in them; but I can claim to represent here not only the black and the white, and the white and the black, but I represent the North and the South. (Laughter.) I am a citizen of the State of Maryland, and some have given me credit for