FREDERICK DOUGLASS, By Charles W. Chestnutt. The Beacon Biographies. Edited by M. A. De Wolfe Howe. 75 cents. Boston: Small, Maynard & Co. For sale by all booksellers.
SALMON P. CHASE was one of the foremost statesmen of his day and generation. He was one of the earliest of abolitionists, although not as radical as those of the Garrisonian class. With Seward and Sumner he helped form the great triumvirate of Senatorial orators who opposed the Kansas-Nebraska bill, and Stephen A. Douglas declared that he was the leader. As a manager of the nation's finances at their most critical period, and as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court few have attained equal prominence. In 1856, in the preliminary canvass which preceded the Republican National Convention, he was one of the most prominent candidates, although his name was withdrawn before the assembling of that Convention. In 1860, if the Convention which nominated Lincoln for the Presidency had been polled on the question of qualifications, rather than on that of availability, the choice would have been narrowed down to Seward and Chase. As it was, the latter's supporters were third in number on that ballot, he standing next to Lincoln, Chase was one of the brainiest men the nation has ever seen, and had he been less imperious, less opinionated and outspoken he would probably have attained his chief ambition-the Chief Magistrate of the Nation.
Professor Hart's biography is, in a certain sence, a political history of the Rebellion period, and of the years immediately preceding and succeeding it, and, in a lesser degree, a financial history as well. It is not altogether eulogistic, although he is, perhaps, more lenient than the general public in estimating the motives of the man when, in 1864, while still in Lincoln's Cabinet, he plotted against his chief in the vain effort to supplant him as the leader of the Republican forces in the Presidential campaign of that year. Salmon P. Chase was one of a family of ten children. He was born in New Hampshire in 1808, and was of Puritan ancestry. Left fatherless at nine, at the age of thirteen he was sent to Ohio, to Bishop Chase, his father's brother. Under the latter's guidance he prepared for college, graduated at Dartmouth, in his native State, studied law in Washington in the office of William Wirt and began the practice of law in Cincinnati. The young man seems to have has but slight knowledge of the law when he first began to practice, in 1830, but he gained by experience and continued to study, and, having collected and published a collection of the "adopted laws" of Ohio in three volumes, by 1834 he was regarded as a leading attorney and was in a position to impart legal truths to law students. During the next few years many men afterwards famous studied in his office. Among them may be mentioned United States Senators Pugh and Stanley Matthews, Edward L. Pierce of Massachusetts, Congressmen Groesbeck and George Hoadley and Jacob D. Cox, both subsequently Governors of Ohio. Chase was one of the earliest anti-slavery advocates, although his earlier radicalism had become so modified by 1849 that he was elected to the united States Senate as a good-enough Democrat, although that party soon repudiated him, so that, in 1854, his former law student, George E. Pugh, a better Democrat, was elected to his seat. The Republicans immediately (1855) elected him Governor of Ohio, and at the expiration of his term he was re-elected. His able career in the Senate and his election as Governor of the third State of the Union, a State previously inclined to the Democratic column, made him a strong Presidential possibility in 1860, and his large following was recognized by Lincoln, when he selected his Cabinet, by his appointment as Secretary of the Treasury, next after the Secretaryship of State, the most honorable position in the Cabinet, and during the rebellion the one of greatest responsibility. In summing up the man, Prof. Hart says: "Chase could never have been a father of his country; he was rather one of those elder brethren who freely suggest, criticize and complain, and who, by the rectitude of their own lives and by their upholding of high standards, influence the children as they grow up. No man of his time had a stronger conception of the moral issues involved in the Civil War; none showed greater courage and resolution; none came nearer to doing the thing for which he existed. The underlying idea of his public life was to bring the law up to the moral standards of the country and to make both moral standards and law apply to black men as well as to white men. He had ambitions which sometimes dimmed his understanding and led him into injustice, but his life was sincerely given to the service of his country. Lincoln was a keen knower of men and nobody had better opportunities to observe Chase's deficiencies, and Lincoln said to him: 'Chase is about one and a half times bigger than any other man that I ever knew.' "
The little volume of Frederick Douglass is one of the most recent of the Beacon Biographies, whose aim is to furnish brief, readable and authentic accounts of the lives of those Americans whose personalities have impressed themselves most deeply on the character and history of their country. Frederick Douglass can appropriately take his place among such historical personages. His career was a most romantic one. Born a slave, he learned to read and write while in bondage, escaped from slavery, and carved his own name on the temple of Fame. His fame as an orator has long been secure. His position as the champion of an oppressed race, and at the same time an example of its possibilities, was, in his own generation, as picturesque as it was unique, and his life may serve for all times as an incentive to aspiring souls who would fight the battles and win the love of mankind. Frederick Douglass was born in 1817 in the State of Maryland. His mother was a comely black woman, tall, erect and well-proportioned, with regular features. She could read, although a slave, and was quite intelligent. His father was a white man, whose identity has never been established, as his mother died when young, while his white father, as Douglass's biographer puts it, "never claimed the honor which might have given him a place in history." When 10 years of age, at his request, his mistress taught the boy to read, and he afterwards learned to write by stealth. When 21 years of age he disguised himself as a sailor, borrowed a sailor's "protection" papers, and escaped to New York on a boat from Baltimore. From the latter place he drifted to New Bedford, where he assumed the name of "Douglass," and obtained employment. In 1841, while attending an anti-slavery convention, he was invited to address the audience, and proved his power as an orator. After that he soon became famous as a speaker and as an anti-slavery leader. For years before the war he was regarded as the most prominent colored man in the country, a position he had held in public estimation at the time of his death, which occurred in 1895. Douglass's first wife, Miss Ann Murray-a free colored woman whom he met in Baltimore before his escape from slavery, died in 1882, and in 1884 he married Miss Helen Pitts, a white woman of culture and refinement. A Bronze statue of this remarkable man was unveiled at Rochester last June with impressive ceremonies, Gov. Roosevelt delivered an address.
In his story of Douglass's early career upon the platform, Mr. Chesnutt says that, in 1841, he "also lectured in Rhode Island against the proposed Dorr Constitution, which sought to limit the right of suffrage to white male citizens only, thus disfranchising colored men, who had theretofore voted. With Foster and Pillsbury and Parker and Monroe and Abby Kelly he labored to defeat the Dorr Constitution and at the same promote the abolition gospel. The proposed Constitution was defeated, and colored men who could meet the Rhode Island property qualification were left in possession of the right to vote." Both the Dorr, or People's Constitution, and this Landholders' Constitution, which was rejected by the people in March 1842, restricted the franchise to "white male citizens.["] It is also true that Douglass and other anti-slavery lights, before mentioned, canvassed the State in the anti-slavery cause in December, 1841, just before the submission of the Dorr Constitution, but their opposition to the latter had no effect whatever upon its fate. That famous document was actually adopted on Dec. 27, 28, and 29 of that year by a vote of 13,944 to 52. But only 4960 of those who voted upon the question were legal voters. The remainder of the legal voters, comprising, perhaps three-quarters of the whole number, abstained from voting, but, having all authority in their hands, they prevented the Dorr Constitution from being put into force. The disfranchisement feature was of course wrong, and was absolutely indefensible from a logical standpoint, but it did not contribute in the least to the ultimate fate of the Dorr movement.
Rev. of Frederick Douglass." Two Americans." In: "Books of the Week," The Providence Sunday Journal, 24 Dec. 1899: 15.