Frederick Douglass delivered a Lincoln reality check at Emancipation Memorial unveiling
On April 14, 1876
Then Douglass, a tall man with a nearly white crown of hair, launched into a 32-minute rapid-fire discourse on the conflicted legacy of Lincoln,
who issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863,
as the country moved into the third year of the Civil War.
Lincoln’s proclamation had declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
As great as the proclamation was, Douglass explained, Lincoln had issued the document of freedom reluctantly.
Lincoln’s motivation was to save the union.According to the Library of Congress,in response to a challenge in the New York Tribune by the journalist Horace Greeley
that he take a clear stance on abolition,
Lincoln had provided a response stating,
“If I could save the union without freeing any slave, I would do it;
and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it;
and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”
In his speech at the 1876 statue unveiling, Douglass exposed Lincoln’s legacy.
“Truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory,” Douglass said,
“Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model.
In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man.”
Douglass, who had met Lincoln on several occasions at the White House,
said that Lincoln was not a president for black people and that Lincoln’s motivation above all was to save the union,
even if it meant keeping black people in bondage.
“He was preeminently the white man’s president, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men,”Douglass said, according tothe speechstored at the Library of Congress.
“He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people
to promote the welfare of the white people of this country.”