Frederick Douglass would have turned 200 on Feb. 8
Today would have been abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass' 200th birthday.
President Rutherford B. Hayes knew Douglass, valued and respected his opinions and consulted him at various times during his administration.
Douglass died in 1895, two years after Hayes. Douglass reached national fame in the United States during the 19th century after escaping slavery and obtaining freedom in the north. He became a loud voice within the abolitionist movement and demonstrated to a hostile audience that a black man could be articulate and educated.
He wrote an autobiography that described the brutality of slavery, becoming so well-known that he even met with President Abraham Lincoln to discuss the continued recruitment of black soldiers in the Civil War and the unequal pay afforded them.
When Hayes became president in 1877, he appointed Douglass as marshal of Washington, D.C., the highest office a black person had held up to that point. As marshal, Douglass was tasked with enforcing the law in the city.
The appointment upset some in the Republican Party, to which Hayes belonged, but Hayes believed it “would speak loudest in protest against race prejudice of any place at my disposal,” according to “Rutherford B. Hayes Warrior & President” by Ari Hoogenboom.
Douglass accepted the appointment in a March 13, 1877, letter to John Sherman, Hayes’ secretary of state.
“Not wishing to trouble the President by repeated calls or by deputations of my friends, knowing as I do the pressure of business now upon him, I have felt it might be well to say to you that the United States marshalship for the District of Columbia with which my name has been coupled will be entirely agreeable to my wishes – and I believe will be gratifying to a large class of the American people of all colors and races,” Douglass wrote.
Hayes also consulted with Douglass on his policy toward the South, which was dealing with the end of Reconstruction and deep divisions with the North.
“Mr. Douglass gave me many useful hints about the whole subject,” Hayes wrote. “My course is a firm assertion and maintenance of the rights of the colored people of the South according to the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, coupled with a readiness to recognize all Southern people, without regard to past political conduct, who will now go with me heartily and in good faith in support of these principles,” Hayes wrote in his dairy on Feb. 18, 1877, before he took office as president.
The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums is America’s first presidential library. It is located at Spiegel Grove at the corner of Hayes and Buckland avenues in Fremont, Ohio. The facility is affiliated with the Ohio History Connection.