I was in Europe this year, and kept running into “Frederick Douglass spoke here” plaques. I didn’t see any in Ireland, though there are plenty of Daniel O’Connell commemorations. Turns out the two men had a very complicated relationship through the 1840s. Salon documents it and the Irish/American/Negro complications that came out of the troubles Ireland faced at that time.
Frederick Douglass’ four-month Irish sojourn – he traveled to Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Belfast in 1845, part of a two-year stay in the United Kingdom – has long fascinated historians and others who care about human rights. Douglass crossed paths with the great Irish “Liberator,” Daniel O’Connell, a champion of his own people and also an abolitionist, who the younger leader praised as a mentor and an inspiration throughout most of his life. He flourished in Ireland, where he was seen as a man, not “chattel.” Mixing with intellectual elites, he – and they – realized that the auto-didact and former slave could more than hold his own. A statue of Douglass stands proudly in Cork’s University College today.
“I can truly say,” he wrote to his abolitionist ally (and sometimes antagonist) William Lloyd Garrison, “I have spent some of the happiest moments of my life since landing in this country, I seem to have undergone a transformation, I live a new life.”
Yet comparatively little is known about what Douglass thought and felt about the most pressing Irish issues of that time – the fight to repeal the Act of Union with Great Britain, which had stripped the native Irish Catholic majority of many rights, and the gathering storm of the catastrophic potato famine. In the years around his visit, famine or its attendant diseases killed at least a million Irish and sent two million more fleeing the country. The potato blight was only a rumor and a worry when Douglass visited Ireland in 1845, but it was a crisis by the time he left England in 1847 to return to the U.S. How could such a towering human rights figure remain silent on the catastrophe, as it seemed he had?
via Frederick Douglass’ Irish sojourn: A bracing look at his encounters with poverty and prejudice across the Atlantic – Salon.com.
I wasn’t much of a fan of Lincoln, but thoroughly enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones in it. His portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens stole the (dull) show, but this article suggests Stevens’ influence in the Amendment talks was nowhere near as great as the film would have us believe.
For the sake of simplicity, the film also makes Thaddeus Stevens the central radical figure organizing the amendment’s passage, even more so than the measure’s sponsor, Ashley. This is not how many historians characterize Stevens’s role. He was an important figure, but probably not the central one in securing passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Stevens had only four index entries in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (2005), a nearly 800-page book from which the screenplay was adapted. Stevens plays a somewhat larger role in Michael Vorenberg’s more compact Final Freedom (2001) with seven index entries but even there he is clearly superseded by other figures such as Ashley and Senator Lyman Trumbull (R, IL), who is not even mentioned in the film. The latest and most comprehensive study of wartime abolition policies –James Oakes’s Freedom National (2012)– contains a mere six index entries for Stevens.
By contrast, Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) has about 45 speaking parts in the Spielberg film, apparently second only to Abraham Lincoln(Scene 17). He looms large as a counter-weight to the president –Lincoln’s near opposite in both style and policy. Their confrontation in the White House kitchen is one of the movie’s most pivotal scenes and also arguably one of its most historically implausible. Besides the unlikely setting, scriptwriter Tony Kushner seems to be investing many older –and quite hostile– ideas about Stevens into this conversation which contrasts Lincoln’s calculated, pragmatic approach to Stevens’s rigid, ideological worldview. He actually has Stevens / Jones saying at one point, in defense of his sweeping plans for revolutionizing the South, ”Ah, shit on the people and what they want and what they are ready for! I don’t give a goddamn about the people and what they want! This is the face of someone who has fought long and hard for the good of the people without caring much for any of ‘em.”
via Blog Divided » Post Topic » How the “Lincoln” Movie Reconstructed Thaddeus Stevens.
Someone posted scans of this pretty antislavery primer from 1846. I hadn’t realized “brother” was in use that long ago.
Photo Album – Imgur.
In the rush to get my podcast finished, I forgot all about The Abolitionists – a new American Experience 3-parter which begins tonight. I doubt this will be as lovable as Ken Burns’ work, or even as accessible as Death and the Civil War – as this review reminds us, the Abolitionists were a prickly lot. That said, there’s no denying the effect they had on society. As one of my favourite quotes goes, “a crank is a small instrument that makes great revolutions.”
This is an in-your-face set-up with the Abolitionists themselves coming across as harsh, strident and even anxious to carry their feelings into acts of rioting and violence not formerly hooked to the abolition wagon.
via ‘The Abolitionists’ begins January 8 on PBS: Frederick Douglass to John Brown | Washington Times Communities.
I’ve been reading more about John Brown’s Raid, and came across this first-hand account. The author, Osborne Perry Anderson, was the only surviving African-American who took part in the raid. Google has provided scans of the original book in its entirety (isn’t the Internet great?) I’ll add it to The Library.