The President and The Freedom Fighter

Abraham Lincoln has long been my favorite president. I love his humble frontier upbringing. His self-taught erudition. His humility and humor. Above all, I love his evolution from apologist to abolitionist.

A big factor influencing that elevation was Lincoln’s relationship with former slave and fervent abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Before reading Brian Kilmeade’s The President and the Freedom Fighter, I was mostly ignorant of Lincoln’s relationship with Douglass, and I was underinformed about Douglass and his life’s work. The book gave me a broader understanding and a deeper respect for both Douglass and Lincoln.

Lincoln, like many anti-slavery whites of his day, grew up with the belief that blacks were inferior to whites. Given the environment he lived in this should not be surprising (and is no reason to cancel or disparage him — more on that later). Through much of his life Lincoln had little opportunity to interact with blacks, and when he did they were almost without exception uneducated slaves who were bred by their masters to be illiterate and subservient, which perpetuated the appearance and perception of intellectual inferiority.

Until he met Frederick Douglass.

The two men had some things in common. Douglass, like Lincoln, was from an impoverished background, with a powerful, self-educated intellect. Of much greater import, in their separate efforts to oppose slavery both were on the right side of history. Yet Douglass was impatient with and often publicly critical of Lincoln’s apparently plodding approach to the problem of slavery. Well into the Civil War the two men finally had the opportunity to meet in person.

On August 10, 1863, Frederick Douglass took a place in line. The White House reception room was crowded with people waiting…. Douglass handed his calling card to an assistant, and as “the only dark spot” among a roomful of White visitors, he readied himself to wait for hours or even days…. Barely two minutes had elapsed since he’d submitted his card, but one of the president’s aides invited Douglass and Senator Pomeroy to follow him….

Moments from meeting the president, Douglass did not know what to expect. For years, he had been writing and speaking publicly about Lincoln’s politics and positions, and more often than not, his remarks were highly critical. His personal feelings about the man fluctuated between hopeful and impatient, exhilarated and angry. Lincoln wielded immense power and at last had done right with the Emancipation Proclamation, yet at other times he fell far short of Douglass’s expectations….

Lincoln rose laboriously from [his] chair. On reaching his full height he extended his hand in a cordial welcome…. Seizing the moment, Douglass launched into an explanation of his reason for calling. But Lincoln stopped him. “Mr. Douglass,” said the president kindly. “I know you; I have read about you, and Mr. Seward has told me about you. Sit down. I am glad to see you.”

The President and the Freedom Fighter, from pages 179-182

In the conversation that ensued Douglass thanked Lincoln for some of the good things he had done for Blacks, but expressed displeasure with the slow progress being made toward freedom and equality.

Lincoln … clearly took Douglass seriously, wanting his guest to understand his larger approach to such a matter. “I have been charged with being tardy,” he acknowledged. “But, Mr. Douglass, I do not think that charge can be sustained.” He was firm. “I think it can be shown that when I take a position, I think no man can say I retreat from it.”

Douglass … found himself captivated by the manner in which Lincoln listened patiently to his every word, then responded in measured and thoughtful ways…. Their exchange was truly a conversation; they did not speak at cross-purposes as Lincoln looked to find common ground. If the justifications the president offered for actions or inaction did not always wholly satisfy Douglass—and they did not—the Black man nonetheless recognized that he was in the presence of a “humane spirit.”…

When Douglass departed, Lincoln was left with a sense that his guest deserved his reputation as a tough-minded, articulate, and passionate man who could hold his own in a discussion with any man…. “Douglass,” he said in farewell, “never come to Washington without calling upon me.”…

Douglass’s meeting with Lincoln left him deeply impressed by “the gravity of his character,” and for the first time, he felt that he could take Lincoln at his word…. He believed the president would “stand firm,” [and] he felt confident “slavery would not survive the war.”… He accepted both that Lincoln’s thinking was evolving and that the pragmatic president might be right in thinking that if he moved too quickly with regard to the rights of African Americans, the move toward equality could blow up in their faces….

“I tell you I felt big there,” [Douglass] told a Philadelphia audience a few months later. Lincoln received him, a man once enslaved, “precisely as one gentleman would be received by another.” The president shook his hand, offered him a seat, listened to his concerns, and responded with directness and honesty. The reassurance stayed with him, and his respect for Lincoln grew.

The President and the Freedom Fighter, from pages 183-185

The respect was mutual. Lincoln said of Douglass that he is “one of the most meritorious men in America.”

God raises up people at the right times, in the right places, to perform great works for mankind. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were two such men. Each played a vital role in the abolition of slavery from the United States of America.

It is preposterous and pathetic that there are people in our time who are critical of Abraham Lincoln and who seek to “cancel” him, and remove his name from schools and other institutions. Such people are arrogant inane ignoramuses. These intellectual ants promote critical race theory (“CRT”, more accurately known as “completely racist theory”), and celebrate the dismal tyrannical legacies of leftist murderers such as Mao, Che Guevara, Castro and Lenin: men who paid lip service to the notions of equality to achieve power, and, propped up by useful idiots, they then used their illegitimately attained power to live lavishly while “grinding the faces of the poor” (Isaiah 3:15). Lincoln, by contrast, overcame the prejudices of his time, and wore out his life and was ultimately martyred for the role he played in abolishing slavery and advancing the cause of Blacks.

For those who so foolishly and ignorantly seek to cancel Lincoln, I conclude with the words of Frederick Douglass, the former slave and prominent leader of Blacks before, during and after the Civil War, a man whose esteem and opinion are of infinitely greater value than that of anyone living today:

The best man, truest patriot, and wisest statesman of his time and country… [Mr Lincoln’s] name should never be spoken but with reverence, gratitude and affection.

Frederick Douglass

Quotations taken from The President and the Freedom Fighter: Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Their Battle to Save America’s Soul, by Brian Kilmeade. Published by Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 1st printing.

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