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"NO WHITE MAN NEED APPLY WHERE THE COLORED HAVE A MAJORITY" DOUGLASS, FREDERICK. Letters from Douglass to an old friend concerning race relations, Haiti, and more. 6 letters from Douglass to Ebenezer Bassett of New Haven, CT, including an Autograph Letter Signed on Cedar Hill letterhead, a Letter Signed, and 4 others in a secretarial hand, plus 2 telegrams from Douglass to Bassett. Most letters approximately 8 x 5 inches on folding sheets, 1 to 4 pages in length; mailing folds, minor wear; each letter with original stamped and postmarked envelopes as sent to Bassett. Washington, DC, September 1890 to October 1891
The last major chapter in the career of Frederick Douglass (circa 1818-1895) was his term as the American minister and consul-general to Haiti. He was appointed in June 1889 and served through July 1891. The post, roughly equivalent to an ambassadorship, had been filled by prominent African Americans for the previous 20 years. Douglass did not speak French, had no formal diplomatic experience, and was 70 years old and in declining health. To balance these shortcomings, he brought along as his secretary his younger friend Ebenezer D. Bassett (1833-1908), a noted abolitionist in his own right who had become the first African-American diplomat when he preceded Douglass in Haiti from 1869 to 1877. These letters have descended through the Bassett family, and have never been published or consulted by scholars. They were all written during periods of Douglass's stateside visits, when Douglass spent time with his family at Cedar Hill in Washington's Anacostia neighborhood, and Bassett was with his own family in Connecticut. They remained actively engaged with politics and the news cycle during these periods, however. Both faced criticism in the press, and Douglass contemplated resigning due to his fading energy, and the frustration of acting as the face of American imperialism in a black republic. In the first of these letters, dated 30 September 1890, Douglass grouses that 'candidates for the succession are abundant and hungry for my resignation.' He is more eager to discuss national politics. John Mercer Langston (1829-1897), an African American who had also served a stint in Haiti, had ran for a Virginia congressional seat as a Republican and lost in 1888, but the results were overturned 18 months later because of widespread voter intimidation and fraud. Douglass exulted in this belated victory: 'Langston is seated, but over the ruin of the Republican Party in the 4th District of Virginia. The colored citizens of that district will, like the tadpole when he lost his tail, soon begin to wonder what next. Langston's example means that no white man need apply where the colored have a majority of the voting population. 'Negro supremacy,' you know.' Langdon became one of a small group of five post-Reconstruction African Americans in Congress, but Douglass's optimism was misplaced--none others would serve in the south from 1900 to 1972. In his 14 November letter, after the midterm elections, Douglass commented that 'the Republican Party was completely slaughtered in the late election. Still our friends here seem quite confident that the party will retrieve its misfortunes in 1892.' The other four letters were written in the last half of 1891, as Douglass pondered his resignation from public life. On 8 July, he reported on his decision-making process: 'Until this morning, I have not had the nerve to face pen and ink. There is no use in talking. I have had my day in court and my case is decided. There is no further work in me. . . . You can have no idea, dear Bassett, how entirely played out I am. A constant stream of visitors to Cedar Hill since my arrival and the broken down condition of my nerves make me almost disgusted with life.' Nonetheless he expressed concern for their fellow African-American members of the Haitian legation: 'Some of them are begging me to hold on, because they say if I resign a white man will be appointed. I am still noncommittal, though I am every day asked if I shall return to Haiti.' Seven days later, as criticism mounted in the press, he complained 'What a venomous set of reptiles there are that are hissing at us? The trouble is that in the present state of the public mind, their power is equal to their poison. If I decide to resign, I shall do it from no deference to our assailants.' Perhaps echoing the words of Sojourner Truth, he closed this letter 'Faithfully yours in substance and shadow.' By the time of his 19 September 1891 letter, Douglass was out of office, but still vitally interested in Haitian affairs: "[New consul John S.] Durham has arrived. . . . I do hope that D. will not allow himself to be made the servile tool of Mr. Reed or anybody else. The colored people will have an eye upon him. They expect him to be faithful in the discharge of his duties to the United States, but just to Haiti as well. . . . I did not quit Haiti one bit too soon for myself or for the public. I am sorry to hear you say you have no business in Haiti or elsewhere. A man of your mind and mould ought to find employment and compensation too.' He added that 'I am now in no hurry to see the President [Benjamin Harrison]. I fear he is completely in the Clyde-Gherardi interest, and that I have offended him with the rest by striking back.' Harrison had sent Admiral Bancroft Gherardi to negotiate the lease of an American naval base in Môle, Haiti behind the back of Consul Douglass, through an ineffective display of gunboat diplomacy. Douglass concludes the letter with an update on his ever-expanding autobiography: 'I am just now doing a little autobiographical writing covering the past ten years of my life. I am declining all invitations to lecture for the present and am therefore making no money, and spending what little I have.' A final 16 October letter is notable mainly for comments on his son's health: 'Frederick is very badly off, and is at the Freedmen's Hospital, where he has had a very critical surgical operation performed. He is now, I hope, in a fair way to get on his legs again.' Frederick Douglass, Jr., a Civil War veteran who was working at the pension office, died the following year at the age of 50. with--a related later to Douglass from a fellow African-American veteran of the abolition movement, Henry O. Wagoner (1816-1901), presumably forwarded to Bassett. Wagoner applauds "the wisdom of your selection in choosing Mr. Bassett for your assistant. . . . Such a confidential person could be safely trusted by you to carry on all the functions of your great office, while you could traverse the island with a view to making observations. . . . This is exactly in accordance with the view of my old-time friend, the quiet, unassuming commander, General Grant." Denver, CO, 1 August 1890. Provenance: Ebenezer Bassett to son Ulysses S.G. Bassett (1872-1942); Ulysses Bassett to his maternal cousin William De Reef Jefferson (born 1876); thence to Jefferson's niece, and by descent to the consignor. A remarkable archive from the final chapter of Douglass's public life.
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