A Friendly Word to Maryland:
An Address Delivered in Baltimore, Maryland, on 17 November 1864 [excerpts]

by Frederick Douglass. Excerpted by Denise Henderson.


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.... I have a few things to say both to the white and colored citizens of the State, and I crave the indulgence of both classes, and the attention of both classes, for I have at heart the welfare and happiness of both classes.

You, my white fellow-citizens, under the guidance of an enlightened conscience, and a wise patriotism, have by your suffrages, and without dictation or coercion, made the State of Maryland a free State. You have, as a loyal State, in accordance with all the requirements of your constitution, in the exercise of your rights as the citizens of the State, as well as of the United States, to manage your own State affairs, without any interference by the Federal Government, through any one of its departments of power, have decreed in the most solemn and august manner possible, that slavery shall at once, and forever, cease, and have thus placed Maryland, in all her activities, life and destiny, in peace and in war, with the free States of the Union.

You are no longer a border slave State, vexed between two extremes, enduring all the evils of slavery, without sharing one of its supposed advantages, but a central Free State, destined, in my opinion, to become morally, and politically, as you are geographically, the keystone State of the Union. In the very sense of honor which bowed the State so long to the fortunes of the slave States, I behold the germ of your greatness. Having slavery among you, you felt bound to stand by every section identified with you in that respect. It was a sense of honor, and honorable to your honor, but it was also a misdirected sense of honor. But what a foundation is here to build upon. To a man without a conscience it is idle to talk of an educated conscience. Where there is a high sense of honor, there is ample foundation for every virtue and for every height of greatness.

I speak only the words of truth and soberness, when I say, that if I were called upon to designate the particular part of this country, indicated by nature, by climate, by its lofty mountains, and its rich valleys, by its rivers, inlets and bays, by all its relations geographically, and morally, to be the cradle of the highest type of manhood on this continent, I should point to Maryland. You are free alike from the enervating and protracted heat of the South, and from the protracted and paralyzing cold of the North, while your central position, makes you broader in your tolerance and freer from sectional prejudices, than other and more outlying States. In fact, Maryland is in every way, suited to be intensely American, extending her sympathy and affections, to all extremes and ends of the Republic.

Having lived to see slavery abolished in Maryland, I expect now to live to see the day, when the former slaveholders of this State, will rejoice as heartily as we do, that this system has been swept from the State. For though the slave suffered by slavery, the master suffered also. If the chain was on the slave's ankle, it was also on his master's neck. I have often said when speaking on this subject at the North, that of the two, I preferred the condition of the slave, to that of the slaveholder. There is sound philosophy in the lines of Cowper:

``I would not have a slave, &c.''

The very idea of holding property in man is revolting. Property in man; the first time I heard that word, said Daniel O'Connell, it sounded as if some one were stamping upon the grave of my mother....

Thomas Jefferson, looking upon slavery, said he trembled for his country, when he reflected that God was just, and that his justice could not sleep forever. In getting rid of slavery, you have placed the State of Maryland in harmony with the views and wishes, of the noblest of the national fathers, and what is far more important, in harmony with the eternal laws of the moral universe.

So much, my white fellow-citizens, you have done and well done, there is however one other thing needed, to make your good work complete and perfect. Liberty is logical, as well as slavery; the one demands the restoration of all rights, as sternly as the other demands the destruction of all rights. In a state of slavery, any degree of liberty to the slave is dangerous to the master, but in a state of freedom, every invidious abridgement or limitation of liberty is dangerous and hurtful to the welfare of society.

I stand here, therefore, to advocate, as the soundest policy, for free Maryland, the doctrine and practice of absolute civil and political equality. I would sweep away all those laws by which any class of your people, innocent of crime, have been deprived of the right to testify in certain cases, in your courts of law, I would put away entirely the old man with his deeds, and assume the logical ultimate of a free constitution. Don't put this new wine of liberty, into the old bottles of slavery. Don't mend this new garment with old cloth. Don't keep any part of slavery above ground, now that the monster is dead. Let the shadow and the substance go down together, and let them sleep forever, in a common grave. You don't need the smoke, when the candle has gone out.

While slavery existed in the State, there was a plausible argument against allowing colored men to testify against white men in courts of law, but now that the State is free, these arguments can have no force whatever. There is no longer any special motive for falsehood on the part of black men any more than white, and each has an equal motive for promoting the ends of justice. Since both must fall or flourish by the same law, both should stand equal before the law, receiving alike its rewards and its penalties.....

My white fellow-citizens: Let me defend you from your friends. You belong to the best branch of the Indo-caucasian race: you belong to the Anglo-Saxon branch of the great human family. The world is rocked by your power, and filled with your achievements. To the civilization of the nineteenth century, your race is the main spring. Your language is the language of history, science and song, and you are now, and in all the likelihoods of the case will always be the all controlling race in this State, and on this continent. Knowledge is power, and you have knowledge: Wealth has influence, and you have wealth: Courage and skill, command respect, and you have courage and skill: Majorities rule, under our form of government, and you are the majority. Whatever may be the case in respect to colored people, it may safely affirmed that white men are fully able to take care of themselves. The Americans go to any part of the known world and compete with any race under heaven. Marylanders have gone to Russia, with her composite races, and confusion of tongues, and have come home loaded with gold and live in affluence. [fn1]

But you will ask, what of all this? I will tell you: There are a class of writers and speakers among you, who seem to distrust your ability to cope with the colored people, without special protection. They seem to be haunted with the idea, that to invest the colored race with equal rights, is dangerous to the rights of white men: and it is this absurd notion, this mischievous heresy, this slander upon the ability of the white race which I would here and now expose and repel. I would defend you from yourselves.

I deny that the black man's degradation, is essential to the white man's elevation. I deny that, that the black man should be tied, lest he outstrip you in the race of improvement. I deny the existence of any such necessity, and affirm that those who allege the existence of any such, pay a sorry compliment to the white race.

The old doctrine that the slavery of the black, is essential to the freedom of the white race, can maintain itself only in the presence of slavery, where interest and prejudice are the controlling powers, but it stands condemned equally by reason and experience. The statesmanship of to-day condemns and repudiates it as a shallow pretext for oppression.... The rule is in this country of abundant land, the more mouths you have, the more bread you can put into your mouth, and the more money you can put into your pocket, the more I can put into mine. As with political economy, so with civil and political rights.

The more men you make free, the more freedom is strengthened, and the more men you give an interest in the welfare and safety of the State, the greater is the security of the State.

I shall not stop here to argue these general propositions. They rest in the fundamental principles of republican government. If republican government has any foundation in reason, if its claims are good against the claims of monarchial and despotic government, these propositions are also founded in reason, and are good against all objections.

Do you ask me to state frankly, just what you, my white fellow-citizens, ought to do for the colored citizens of the State? I will tell you, without compromise, qualification or concealment. You ought just so soon as it is possible, to get such a measure through the legal form, blot out the law restricting the elective franchise to white men, and allow colored men to vote, and to hold any office and trust to which the people may be pleased to elect them.

I know that there are objections to this measure, of a very formidable character, and some of my friends have kindly advised me not to present this subject yet, for fear of prejudicing other more obvious claims.

But I know of no better time than this for pressing any claim founded in sound policy, and in justice. The public mind is now everywhere grappling with fundamental principles. We are looking for the solid rock, upon which to rest the foundation of the State. I believe that the white citizens, are no exception to the general rule. They are brave enough to hear, and earnest enough to consider the highest claims of justice. Four years of war arising out of old political and moral errors, must induce them to inquire diligently for the true path to permanent peace and prosperity.

The grand mistake of the past has been the treatment of colored men as exceptions. Principles of law and justice, readily applied to other men, have been held to be inapplicable to them. Liberty held to be the natural condition for other men, has been denied to the blacks, or considered a doubtful experiment. The elective franchise, enjoyed by all other classes, native and naturalized, has been withheld from men of color. So also with the right to hold office, and sit on juries.

The time has arrived when this principle of exclusion should be abandoned by he State of Maryland, especially in respect to the elective franchise. If the negro knows enough to pay taxes, he knows enough to vote; if the negro can form an opinion respecting the claims of rival candidates and parties, and knows good from evil, as all your laws concerning his conduct imply, he knows enough to vote. If he knows an honest man from a thief, he knows enough to vote. If he knows enough to commit crime and to be hanged or imprisoned, he knows enough to vote. If he knows enough to fight for his country when assailed by invasion from abroad, or rebellion at home, he knows enough to vote. Talk not of his ignorance, degradation and servility, he is a man, and if he knows as much when sober, as an Irishman knows when drunk, he knows enough to vote on long established American usage.

If voting is a natural right, you violate a natural right in withholding this right from a people born among you. If it is only a conventional right, you do us a convention wrong in withholding it.

I now desire to make some remarks to my colored friends. By he adoption of the new constitution [of Maryland], your condition is radically changed. You are in one sense free. But you must not think that freedom means absence from work. Bear that in mind. I would impress it upon your minds, that if you would be prosperous, you must be industrious. I would advise those living in the lower counties of Maryland to stick to their agricultural pursuits. I believe $150 in the country is better than $400 in the city. There they can live more economically, and there are not so many temptations to lead them astray. If the colored people of Maryland flock to this city, crowding alleys and by-streets, woe betide them! Sad indeed will be their fate. [fn2] They must stick to the country, and work. They must be saving of their funds, and endeavor to buy land. They must continually strive to become landholders. Nor is this sufficient. They must build up schools and educate their children. Hitherto you were wont to pride yourselves on your muscle. He who could shoulder the heaviest burden was the greatest man in the neighborhood. But you need something else now. You must have mind. You must make yourselves capable of thinking as well as digging. If we wish to enjoy the same privileges as the white man, we must labor to become his equal. We must educate ourselves. Let us resolve to point the finger of scorn at every colored man who refuses to send his children to school. You will find that the more intelligent and refined you become, the more your white brethren will respect yo. I hold that all men are equal naturally, but not practically. We need not strive to conceal that we are inferior to the whites practically. They have their Clays, Websters and Calhouns. We have not. They can build ships, while we can scarcely build a canoe, and it will be lopsided. In fact, in all the arts and sciences they are immeasurably our superiors. Now if we will be studious and faithful to our interests, it will not always be so. The black man is just as capable of being great as the white. All he needs is an effort--a persistent, untiring effort. You have now the opportunity, and I trust you will improve it.


Footnotes:

  1. Douglass alludes to Thomas DeKay Winans (1820-78), the son of Ross Winans, a pioneer in the American railroad industry. Born in Vernon, New Jersey, the younger Winans went to work in his father's train manufacturing shop after a few years of formal education. He made a fortune in the 1840s and 1850s from constructing and managing the earliest railroad system in Russia. Returning to Baltimore, he built a large mansion that he named ``Alexandroffsky'' to commemorate the source of his wealth. He devoted most of his remaining years to mechanical experiments that produced many successful inventions.
  2. This was said in light of the fact that there was no national policy to assimilate former slaves who were leaving the plantations in large numbers and heading for the cities--DMH


Source: The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews, Volume 4: 1864-1880, John W. Blassingame and John R. McKivigan, Editors, Yale University Press New Haven and London, 1991


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