Frederick Douglass was the unofficial leader of the colored people before and during the Civil War. His anti-slavery newspaper, the North Star that merged with the Liberty Party Paper of abolitionist Gerrit Smith and became Frederick Douglass’ Paper advocated the rights of his people. Part of the newspaper’s motto was “Truth is of no Color”. North Star was named in reference to the star runaway slaves followed to find their way to freedom in the North and eventually into Canada.
Douglass was a huge advocate of enlisting black men into the U.S. Army. He met several times, encouraging President Lincoln to accept colored men as soldiers. Lincoln was slow in accepting Douglass’ suggestion. Douglass contended that the “Civil War was not a mere strife for territory and dominion, but a contest of civilization against barbarism.” He also said “a war undertaken and brazenly carried for the perpetual enslavement of colored men, calls logically and loudly for colored men to help suppress it.” Douglass contended that “once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, there is now power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”
He was a former slave himself. He became a recruiter for the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, enlisting over one hundred soldiers into that famous regiment. His older son, Lewis, was a Sergeant Major in the 54th Massachusetts. Lewis Douglass fought at Fort Wagner.
Two months after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, Douglass proclaimed his own message called “Men of Color to Arms!” in his newspaper. His passionate message was to urge his readers to enlist with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Here’s what he said – “We can get at the throat of treason and slavery through the State of Massachusetts. She was first in the War of Independence; first to break the chains of her slaves; first to make the black man equal before the law; first to admit colored children to her common schools, and she was first to answer with her blood the alarm cry of the nation, when its capital was menaced by rebels. You know her patriotic governor, and you know Charles Summer. I need not add more. Massachusetts now welcomes you to arms as soldiers. She has but a small colored population from which to recruit. She has full leave of the general government to send one regiment to the war, and she has undertaken to do it. Go quickly and help fill up the first colored regiment from the North. I am authorized to assure you that you will receive the same wages, the same rations, the same equipment, the same protection, the same treatment, and the same bounty, secured to the white soldiers. You will be led by able and skillful officers, men who will take special pride in your efficiency and success.”
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