Reflections on Baltimore and Reconstruction, 1861-1870
Maryland State Archivist, Retired
Maryland got a head start on “Reconstruction.” On April 19, 1861 the Baltimore mob assaulted the 6th Massachusetts Volunteers on their way to defend Washington and within a short time the city would be occupied by Union troops for the duration of a bloody Civil War in which there were at least 750,000 casualties. The best contemporary account of the confrontation and its consequences is by the Mayor, George William Brown, who with many of his city council, and his chief of Police, George Proctor Kane, were placed under military arrest and sent to prison first at Fort McHenry and the Fort Warren in Boston Harbor, without ever having the benefit of a court hearing or a trial. Some would argue that because this suspension of Habeas Corpus (a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court, especially to secure the person's release unless lawful grounds are shown for their detention) was first implemented by executive order of the President without Congressional approval, was an abuse of power. Even the Chief Justice of the United States ruled that the actions of the military were unconstitutional until Congress was persuaded to pass a law upholding the President’s action. By that time Mayor Brown and Marshall Kane were confined and an effective campaign of suppressing Southern support in the City was well underway. Those who expressed Union Sympathies were permitted to take economic and political control of the City, raising the hopes and expectations of the Black population of over 27,000 in the fourth largest city in America with a total population of 212, 418. Fortunately for Baltimore and the Nation, this minority had struggled for years to establish its right to economic success and educational freedom through its private schools (mostly church based) and becoming the essential provider of laundry, barbering, caulking, catering and carting services, as well as the labor that extracted the city’s waste (the night soilers), and cared for the children of the wealthy. Most of the majority would have preferred that it remain that way without any further advancement, but the Black community did not see it that way and voiced its cry for publicly funded education and expansion of their civil rights. When it became clear by the fall of 1863 that the Union could not win the war against the South without the military assistance of the Black population, the door to constitutional reform opened. In Maryland a new State Constitution abolished slavery and provided the framework for public funding of Black education, while Congress under the leadership of Thadeus Stevens and Charles Sumner passed the trio of Amendments to the Constition that offered a legal and moral platform for the advancement of Civil Rights for all Americans.
As Professor Eric Foner has pointed out recently, Baltimore was a crucial intellectual center of the effort to advocate the full implementation of the intent of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. It would be a long and tortuous struggle which many believe is not over.
Historians have debated the causes of the Civil War at great length, but if Slavery was not the sole reason for the conflict, addressing the questions of the rights and the place of the black population in the life of the Republic was certainly the consequence. From March of 1865 until its dissolution in 1872 the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands (Freemen’s Bureau), attempted with varying degrees of success to reconstruct the intellectual and political life of the residents of the former slave states, including those border states like Maryland that had been controlled by the military and where, after 1863, significant numbers of Black men were inducted into the United States Colored Troops. While its work in the rebelling states is well known, the contributions to the reconstruction of Baltimore are less well documented. In the city material supplies were provided to at least one orphanage for the support of orphans of Black soldiers, and the establishment of the Freedman’s bank.
In Maryland nearly 8000 men joined 6 regiments of United States Colored Troops. Those that survived the war and returned home, became an important component of the political pressure for educational and economic reconstruction as well as providing, with their pensions, the first Federally funded social security for their families.
Unidentified soldier and family, discovered in Cecil County, MD. Photo from the Library of Congress.
To better understand the nature and extent of reconstruction policies in Maryland, Dennis Halpin provides an accurate and insightful narrative. As one favorable review explained:
In the heat of the debates over Reconstruction and prior to the adoption of the 14th Amendment which he felt was not strong enough, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, one of the principal advocates of reconstruction, deposited an 1860 pamphlet in the library of his alma mater, Harvard College. It was the printed version of a speech by Delegate Curtis M. Jacobs (d. 1884) from Worcester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, in which Jacobs argued that all the free blacks in Maryland (nearly 84,000 of whom nearly 28,000 lived in Baltimore City) should be rounded up and sent off to Africa, thus removing the greatest threat to his revered institution of slavery. While Jacob’s proposed legislation was defeated in part by the lobbying in Annapolis by Free Blacks, the substance of his racist assumptions about the inferiority of the Black Population and the need to keep it in its place subservient to the servile needs of the rest of the population is telling and indicative of the pervasive opposition to the effective implementation of the 14th and 15th Amendment that would continue to confront the Black population well into the 20th century.
In the 1880s, as the Halpin and Foner books make clear, the Black Community under the leadership of Reverend Harvey Johnson realized that a major path to success in the cause of Civil Rights would be the creation of a Black legal community that would carry the fight to the Courts. In the face of returning Southern and slavery sympathizers to power in Maryland (in 1877 Marshall Kane, who had worked in Richmond for the Confederacy after being paroled from Fort Warren, was elected Mayor of Baltimore City and the State General Assembly refused to ratify the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution in 1867 and 1870 respectively).
May of 2020 will be the 150th anniversary of the largest celebration in the country of the passage of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution granting Black men the right to vote. On that occasion and also in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment that extended that right to women, Baltimore is planning a joint celebration.
courtesy of the Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/resource/
The Baltimore Parade was the largest parade in support of Civil Rights in the United States until the 1960s. Its story is ably documented in a web site created in 1996 by David Troy, then a student at Johns Hopkins University. It follows the reporting of the Parade detailing the route and the participants, and provides an analysis of the speech of the principal speaker, Frederick Douglass, which appeared as two slightly different accounts in the Sun and the American.
David Troy based his analysis in part on a document packet for the use of teachers which was published on the Maryland State Archives website in 1996 and revised in 1998.
Initially Frederick Douglass was to give his remarks from a stand built in front of the Battle Monument on Calvert Street, but when he started to mount the steps the stand collapsed. He brushed himself off, commented that it must have been built by a Democrat, and moved to the Balcony of the Gilmore house. A stereo view has survived of the large crowd (numbering as much 20,000 people) intently watching the speeches from the Balcony.
Douglass’s speech was apparently given without notes. The Reporter for the Sun which generally supported the Democrats and their return to power, provided this account of Douglass’s remarks:
As reported in the Baltimore Sun.
REMARKS OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
Frederick Douglass was introduced by Dr. Brown as the champion of liberty the first of American Orators and a son of Maryland. He is a resident of New York but he ought to be with them and work with them and they intended to have him back with them.
Mr. Douglass said he had often appeared before the American people as a slave and sometimes as a fugitive slave, but always as an advocate for the slave. To him this day was the day of all days. He was permitted to appear before them in the more dignified, the more elevated character of an American citizen. Thirty five years ago it was his lot to be a slave in Talbot county working side by side with slaves on a plantation. He remembered that he always looked forward with yearning to the time when Maryland should not contain a slave. Uneducated as he was he knew enough of logic of events, of the sense right and wrong that the day would come when not a chain should clank nor fetter gall, nor whip crack over a slave. The change is amazing, when he remembers how slavery was interwoven with everything civil, political social and ecclesiastical in this State. He remembers that he and his fellow slaves desired to talk about emancipation, but were prevented by the presence of the overseer. They invented a vocabulary of their own so that they would not be understood as saying anything but the most harmless things. They were talking of liberty, in fact they were the original abolitionists. The old aunty would ask a slave, "Sonny do you see anything of the pig's foot coming?" That was the way we talked about emancipation To-day we have but two of three chief things. The first thing the negro got was the cartridge box, next was the ballot-box. Some of our friends who now advocate it hardly saw it three years ago, but at last they were convinced. The next box, without which the cartridge-box and ballot-box is insufficient, is the jury box. We are in a country which, while the negro hating element sits in the jury box the negro is not protected. We want the jury box for ourselves and our white follow-citizens, for no one is hurt by justice. He then explained the purport of the fifteenth amendment, and said that here- after the black man will have no excuse, as formerly, for ignorance, or poverty or destitution. The fifteenth amendment has deprived them of all the apologies and excuses which formerly existed. We must stand up and be responsible to our fellow-citizens as independent men. We are to instruct ourselves as to men and measures and take nobody or thing on trust. Mr. Douglass asked them if they remembered which party emancipated them? [There were responses of "The republican party," and several persons responded "The democratic," which occasioned some amusement.] Mr. Douglass continued. The democratic party is the old party that for forty years stood between themselves and liberty.
He pleaded guilty to the charge of running away from Maryland but it was not from Maryland he ran away. He loved Maryland, its waters, its fertile fields in Talbot county its fishing grounds and everything in it except slavery. It was slavery he ran away from He felt a little mean about it to go away with out bidding them good bye. The truth was he was afraid aid to bid them good bye for fear they would not let him go. He had some religious scruples also. He used to pray that God would release him from slavery but God did not begin to hear his prayers until he began to run.
Forty years ago he saw Austin Woolfolk on horseback, with about forty negroes he was going to ship to the South. That made him hate slavery. When he went North he resolved that any power he possessed should be devoted to the abolition of slavery and the enfranchisement of his race, and he has endeavored to perform faith fully his pledge, and whatever that remains to him of life shall go in the same direction. They were not indebted to Maryland for their liberty, but to the United States. Will you be as good masters to yourselves as your old masters were? Will you get up as early in the morning? Will you work as hard for yourselves as you did for your masters? Will you dream as well and be as sober and as temperate?
Some people say the negroes will die out. He replies to them that if two hundred and fifty years of slavery could not kill them, liberty can not. It is argued against us that we are incapable of educating our minds. We have got the cartridge box and the ballot box but the knowledge box is wanting. Are you going to educate your sons and daughters? We want our children to do better than we do and have done. The Baltimore that he knew fifty years ago was a two-story Baltimore, now it is a five story Baltimore. We want our children to add a story to their height every generation.
Mr. Douglass said he was no orator or great champion of liberty as announced. It was only because it was unusual to hear a black man talk that they called him so. No one knew better than he that it was not so. But he did not "let on." He don't mind telling them so now. The orators that are to come after us in this country will do great things. We have now a future and everything is possible - now we have a future. You will never, any of you, be an independent voter in your life, until you get some money in your pocket. A colored man was once advised to "vote where he could get his potatoes." Colored men like other men are apt to be grateful and men will court you on the score of interest.
The Baltimore American, which generally supported the Republican Party reported Douglass’s remarks slightly differently:
As reported in the Baltimore American.
SPEECH OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS
Mr. Creswell's speech, which was repeatedly cheered, was followed by music from the band. Frederick Douglass Esq, was then introduced by Dr. Brown, who spoke of him as a son of Maryland who should now be working among us, and he believed he soon would be.
Mr. Douglass said that during the last thirty years he had often appeared before the people as a slave, sometimes as a fugitive slave, but always in behalf of the slave. But to-day he was permitted to appear before them as an American citizen. How grea t the change. Thirty five years ago he was working as a slave in Talbot county, and looked forward even then that there would some time come a day when not a fetter should clank or a whip crack over the backs of his fellow men. That day has come at last. When we remember how slavery was interlinked with all our institutions, it is amazing that today we witness this demonstration. When toiling on the plantation we slaves desired to talk of emancipation, but there stood the overseer and a word would ensure a flogging. To talk about emancipation without being discovered we invented a vocabulary, and when the over seer thought we were talking of the most simple thing we were really speaking of emancipation, but in a way that was Greek to them. [Laughter and a pplause.] The negro has now got the three belongings of American freedom. First the cartridge box, for when he got the eagle on his button and the musket on his shoulder he was free. Next came the ballot box, some of its most earnest advocates now hardly saw it three years ago, but we'll forgive them now. Next we want the jury box. [Applause.] While the negro-hating element sits in the jury box the colored man's welfare is insecure and we demand that he be represented in the halls of justice. Nobody will be injured by justice. The Fifteenth Amendment means that hereafter the black man is to have no excuse for ignorance, poverty or destitution. Our excuse for such in the past is swept away from us by the Fifteenth Amendment. We are to stand up and be resp onsible for our own existence, we must be independent men and citizens - we are to know our friends and equally to know our enemies and take none in trust. When a friend performs a good act or an enemy a malicious act towards us are we not to remember the m? [Cries of "Yes!"] I love my friends and remember my enemies. I remember that party that for forty years has been endeavoring to enslave us and crush us and I want you to remember that party at the ballot box. [Applause.] What party is that? [Cries of " Democratic!"] Do you remember the party that, when the Democrats endeavored to overthrow the Government, stepped between the Government and its blows? Then let us give three cheers for the Republican party! [Enthusiastic Cheers.] I see you are all right h ere, and I am not afraid to have election day come around. [Applause.] I loved everything of Maryland except slavery -- it was that I ran away from thirty two years ago. I felt a little mean however, and only did not stop to tell them goodbye because I wa s afraid they would not let me go. I found that God never began to hear my prayers for liberty until I began to run. Then you ought to have seen the dust rise behind me in answer to prayer. [Applause.]
Forty years ago I sat on Kennard's wharf, at the foot of Philpot street and I saw men and women chained and put on ship to go to New Orleans. I then resolved that whatever power I had should be devoted to the freeing of my race. For thirty years in the midst of all opposition, I have endeavored to fulfil my pledge. I am here today to pledge myself that whatever remains to me of life shall go in the same direction. Possibly I ought to be in Maryland, but the time has come when the black man owes nothing to States. You are not indebted to Maryland for the fra nchise. The old ideas of State sovereignty have been abolished by the war. We have now a common country and a common legislature - there are no States but the United States. All that any man can ask of another is that he do his best for the whole country. Will you be as good masters to yourselves as your masters were to you? [Cries of better!] Will you work as hard for yourselves as you did for your masters? [Cries of yes!] Will you be as sober and temperate now as you were before? [Renewed cries of yes!] I believe you but some affect not to. They believe that you will die out like the Indian, that you cannot exist in competition with the white men. Well if two centuries and a half of slavery, the whip, prisons, and the abolition of the marriage relation could not kill you then liberty will not. [Applause.] Educate your sons and daughters, send them to school and show that besides the cartridge box, the ballot box, and the jury box, you have also the knowledge box. Build on for those who come after you. I am no orator. The orators who are to come up in the hereafter from the colored race will throw me and Langston far into the background. We have a future, everything is possible to us. Get education and get money in your pocket, and save it, for without it you will never be an independent voter.
Douglass’s exhortation to “get education and get money in your pocket” was in fact the clarion call of Reconstruction in Maryland in the face of mounting opposition and two devastating economic downturns in the 1870s and 1890s that imperiled the ability of all but the richest Americans to get money in their pockets. From the earliest years of the 19th Century to the Civil War, the Free Black Community had been arming itself through its private schools and the opportunities it was permitted to exploit for a day of Reconstruction. Some of its leaders left in despair to seek their fortunes and intellectual freedom in California (Darius Stokes) and Canada (the parents of Harvey Johnson’s wife). Others like Douglass, who escaped as a slave from Baltimore in 1838, fought the good fight by raising monetary support from Ireland, Scotland, and England. Douglass returned freed with what he had raised abroad to found the leading black newspaper in Rochester New York.
Hiram Revels (1827-1901) https://lccn.loc.gov/
Reverend Hiram Revels left his Baltimore congregation ultimately to become the first Black member of Congress under Reconstruction, but while in Baltimore he and his brother led African American Churches and participated in the Recruitment of Black soldiers. As one biography put it: with regard to Revel’s appearance in the Senate:
Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first African American to serve in the U.S. Congress. With his moderate political orientation and oratorical skills honed from years as a preacher, Revels filled a vacant seat in the United States Senate in 1870. Just before the Senate agreed to admit a black man to its ranks on February 25,  Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts sized up the importance of the moment: “All men are created equal, says the great Declaration,” Sumner roared, “and now a great act attests this verity. Today we make the Declaration a reality…. The Declaration was only half established by Independence. The greatest duty remained behind. In assuring the equal rights of all we complete the work.”
Those who stayed behind in Baltimore to nurture and lead the community despite the rising tide of constriction and suppression that seemed to be the hallmark of the decade before the arrival of the Federal Troops to Baltimore, are not as well known as Darius Stokes and Hiram Revels, and their stories deserve to be told. Almost totally overlooked is the role of women in sustaining and advancing the cause of the Black Community before, during and after the Civil War. For example the life of artists and laundresses such as Charity Goviens stands as a symbol of the talent and hard work of Black Women, generally laundresses, seamstresses, and teachers.
Another example is Samuel Ward Chase, one of the premier teachers and advocates for public support of Black education on an equal footing with white schools In 1864 Reverend Chase would meet with Lincoln to present him with a bible for which the funds had been raised among the Baltimore Black community (over 600 individual donors) and two years before he would speak eloquently at the Israel Baptist Church in Washington D. C. His remarks as reported in the press are well worth repeating as both the voice of the Black Community of Reconstruction Baltimore, and as a plea for washing away the sins of racism that pervaded American Society and still haunt America today:
 see Patrick Whang, "A Model Branch: The Freedman's Bank in Baltimore", an as yet unpublished paper , but available from the auithor. Patrick Whang is a Doctoral Student in Historical Studies at University of Cape Town, South Africa.
 L. Allison Wilmer, J. H. Jarrett and Geo. W. F. Vernon, History and Roster of Maryland Volunteers, War of 1861-5, Volume 2. (Baltimore: Guggenheimer, Weil, & Co., 1899). L20937-2, http://aomol.msa.maryland.gov/
 to date, no one has examined the extent to which Civil War Soldier and Widows pensions helped support the Black Community in Maryland, and particularly Baltimore where many of the aging population of Black veterans came to reside. By 1890 there were 483 USCT veterans living in Baltimore. See: https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/
 Jacobs’ speech is available on line at https://msa.maryland.gov/
 Ratification by Maryland of the 14th Amendment took place finally on April 4, 1959 (after rejection – March 23, 1867), while the 15th Amendment granting Black men the right to vote was not ratified until May 7, 1973 (After rejection: February 4/26, 1870).