Frederick Douglass in Scranton – November 1867

Previously, we posted about a visit that renowned orator and African American leader Frederick Douglass made to Schuylkill County in October 1867. Through that research, we learned that Douglass returned to the Coal Region later that year. On November 25-26, 1867, Douglass spoke at Washington Hall in Scranton before massive crowds.

Like in Pottsville, he gave two separate lectures. Thanks to the efforts of a reporter from the Scranton Republican, we have insights into what Douglass said in his speech against President Andrew Johnson and how it was received by the audience.

President Andrew Johnson
President Andrew Johnson (LOC)

Douglass used the occasion to rail against President Johnson, someone Douglass viewed as a despot with a racism-fueled vendetta against the millions of freedpeople in the South and their white allies in the North. The political backdrop of this speech was one of chaos in Washington as Congress attempted to legislate Reconstruction and Johnson actively fought their efforts. This speech was given just a few months before Andrew Johnson was impeached over his violations of the Tenure of Office Act. 

Importantly, Douglass also championed the vote for African Americans and also for women, a radical proposal at this moment that received a loud ovation from the audience.

The Republican’s commentary and analysis of the speech:

Douglass’s Second Lecture

A large audience greeted Frederick Douglass at Washington Hall last evening, to hear his lecture on “Republican Government against the One Man Power.”

He held his audience in excellent humor for fully two hours and treated his subject with masterly power and eloquence. We report only a few of the salient points.

The difficulty with our government is that in theory it is Democratic, and in practice autocratic. It must be made stronger, a government of the people, and the whole people. No one must be excluded from the ballot box on account of color or sex. He was one of the those who believed that an educated woman was as capable of using the ballot as Queen Victoria was of sitting on the throne. [This touched a sympathetic chord in the audience which found expression in loud applause.]

The principal weakness of the government is the one man power, and we have got it there (pointing in the direction of the Capital). He is our king and can rule us for four years as despotically as Louis Napoleon. You elect your President, and the power leaves you for four years. Another element of the one man power is the immense patronage wielded. He was for taking away this power and intrusting it to a Council or Committee or what you will.

Another element was the eligibility to serve a second term. Still another is the veto power, which is mischievous and dangerous; a monarchical feature, anti Democratic, anti Republican, anti common sense.

Another element and source of danger is the pardoning power. Electing a Vice-President at the same time with the President is another prolific source of weakness and danger. This point was dwelt on at length as a particularly dangerous feature, and it was asserted that Presidents would live longer if VP’s were done away with. It is dangerous to have one President behind another, within striking distance.

The three noted examples of the death of Presidents in twenty years were mentioned and dilated on. The attempt on James Buchanan’s life by poison failed only because poison found its match for once (Laughter). He would not assert that A.J. [Andrew Johnson] was privy to Mr. Lincoln’s taking off, but he believed that his assassins knew then [emphasis in original] as much about Johnson as we know now. In this connection a glowing eulogy was pronounced upon Abraham Lincoln. The speaker referred to his having been invited to the White House, and to eat at his table, and said there was many a man in this town who would feel degraded to sit at the table with him.

He devoted some time to the policy of negro voting, and of course favored it. He closed by paying a high compliment to Scranton hospitality and generosity.

The lecture ultimately made $320 in proceeds for the program organizers.

Featured Image: Frederick Douglass in 1866 (New York Historical Society)

Read our previous piece about Frederick Douglass speaking in Pottsville

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