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Scripto | Transcribe Page
Address of Hon. Fred. Douglass, delivered before the National Convention of Colored Men, at Louisville, Ky., September 24, 1883
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Some blame may attach at this point. But those who reproach us thus, should remember that it is hard for labor, however fortunately and favorably surrounded, to cope with the tremendous power of capital in any contest for higher wages or improved condition. A strike for higher wages is seldom successful and is often injurious to the strikers: the losses sustained are seldom compensated by the concessions gained. A case in point is the recent strike of the Telegraph operators; a more intelligent class can no where be found. It was a contest of brains against money, and the want of money compelled intelligence to surrender to wealth.
An empty sack is not easily made to stand upright. The man who has it in his power to say to a man you must work the land for me, for such wages as I choose to give, has a power of slavery over him as real, if not as complete, as he who compels toil under the lash. All that a man hath will he give for his life.
In contemplating the little progress made by the colored people in the acquisition of property in the South, and their present wretched condition, the circumstances of their emancipation should not be forgotten. Measurement in their case should not begin from the height yet to be attained by them, but from the depths whence they have come.
It should be remembered by our severe judges that freedom came to us not from the sober dictates of wisdom, or from any normal condition of things, not as a matter of choice on the part of the landowners of the South, nor from moral considerations on the part of the North. It was born of battle and of blood. It came across fields of smoke and fire, strewn with wounded, bleeding and dying men. Not from the Heaven of Peace amid the morning stars, but from the hell of war--out of the tempest and whirlwind of warlike passions, mingled with deadly hate and a spirit of revenge, it came, not so much as a boon to us as a blast to the enemy. Those against whom the measure was directed were the landowners, and they were not angels, but men, and being men, it was expected they would resent the blow. They did resent it, and a part of that resentment unhappily fell upon us.
At first the land-owners drove us out of our old quarters and told us they did not want us in their fields, that they meant to import German, Irish, and Chinese laborers. But as the passsons of the war gradually subsided we were taken back to our old places; but plainly enough this change of front was not from choice but necessity. Feeling themselves somehow or other entitled to our labor without the payment of wages, it was not strange that they should make the hardest bargains for our labor and get it for as little as possible. For them the contest was easy; their tremendous power and our weakness easily gave them the victory.
Against the voice of Stevens, Sumner and Wade, and other far-seeing statesmen, the Government by whom we were emancipated left us completely in the power of our former owners. They turned us loose to the open sky and left us not a foot of ground from which to get a crust of bread.
It did not do as well by us as Russia did by her serfs or Pharaoh did by the Hebrews. With freedom Russia gave land and Egypt loaned jewels.
It may have been best to leave us thus to make terms with those whose wrath it had kindled against us. It does not seem right that we should have been so left, but it fully explains our present poverty and wretchedness.
The marvel is not that we are poor in such circumstances, but rather that we were not exterminated. In view of the circumstances, our extermination was confidently predicted. The facts that we still live and have increased in higher ratio than the native white people of the South
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