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Frederick Douglass arrived at the White House on a hot day in August 1863 without an appointment. Douglass wanted an immediate meeting with President Abraham Lincoln. He was not sure he would get in. There was a throng in front of the White House waiting to see Lincoln.
“They were white; and as I was the only dark spot among them,” Douglass said later. “I expected to have to wait at least half a day.” Douglass said.
Douglass sent his card up the line. It took only two minutes for a White House messenger to come out of the White House and summon in “Mr. Douglass!”
After Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, which included a provision calling for black men to enlist in the U.S. Army, Douglass fervently began recruiting for the Union.
“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,” Douglass wrote, “there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”
Lincoln extended at least three more invitations to Douglass, including to the president’s second inauguration. He listened on March 4, 1865, as Lincoln called slavery “an offense” against God & described “this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came.”
After the swearing-in ceremony, Douglass walked to the White House. Douglass recalled the “grand procession of citizens from all parts of the country,” making their way there.
“I had for some time looked upon myself as a man, but now in this multitude of the élite of the land, I felt myself a man among men,” Douglass wrote in “The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.”
Lincoln took his hand and said, according to Douglass, “I am glad to see you. I saw you in the crowd today, listening to my inaugural address. How did you like it?”
“I said, ‘Mr. Lincoln, I must not detain you with my poor opinion, when there are thousands waiting to shake hands with you.’”
“No, no,” he said, “you must stop a little, Douglass; there is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours. I want to know what you think of it?”
Douglass replied, “Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort.”
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