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Black abolitionist leader and former slave Frederick Douglass believed that African Americans could achieve freedom and full citizenship only by participating in the war. Because Lincoln’s first concern was preserving the Union, he did not publicly support the recruitment of black soldiers until after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Following the proclamation Douglass recruited two regiments of black soldiers—in which two of his own sons served. Among the first black men to be invited to the White House, Douglass met with Lincoln to address issues concerning unequal pay and treatment of African American soldiers and other matters.

Recruiting Colored Troops

In 1863, Frederick Douglass began recruiting black soldiers across the North, participating in a larger effort that by the end of the war, brought nearly 200,000 African American men into the Union forces. This letter addressed to Douglass in Rochester, New York, gives him his travel orders: Sir, I am instructed by the Secretary of War to direct you to proceed to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and on your arrival there to report in person to Brigr General L. Thomas, Adjutant General, U. S. Army, to assist in recruiting colored troops.

C. W. Foster, U.S. War Department, to Frederick Douglass, August 13, 1863. Manuscript letter. Frederick Douglass Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (180.00.01) Digital ID # al0180p1, al0180p2

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Douglass Eulogizes Abraham Lincoln

Frederick Douglass's first meeting with Lincoln in August 1863 was to protest discrimination against black soldiers serving in the Union Army. The second, which Lincoln initiated, concerned the Presidents 1864 re-election campaign. As a result of the meeting, Douglass reversed course and endorsed Lincoln. In later years, Douglass described Lincoln as preeminently the white mans President; however, in this early eulogy in which he describes him as the black mans President, he seems to have held a different view.

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