Frederick Douglass, 1852
From The New York Times:
Upon arriving at the White House, Douglass found “the stairway was crowded with applicants … and as I was the only dark spot among them, I expected to have to wait at least half a day.” But within two minutes he was ushered into the president’s office, where he found Lincoln seated “in a low armchair with his feet extended on the floor, surrounded by a large number of documents and several busy secretaries.” Lincoln immediately put his visitor at ease. “I know who you are, Mr. Douglass; Mr. Seward has told me all about you,” the president said. “Sit down. I am glad to see you.”
When Lincoln asked Douglass to “state what I regarded as the … most disheartening feature in our present political and military situation,” the black abolitionist responded, “It would be the tardy, hesitating, vacillating policy of the President of the United States.” As Douglass recalled the exchange, Lincoln allowed that he might seem slow, but that he could not be accused of vacillation. “I think it cannot be shown that when I have once taken a position, I have ever retreated from it.” Douglass later recalled that he regarded this “as the most significant point in what he said during our interview.”
Lincoln’s responses to what Douglass identified as his primary concerns — the inequitable pay for black soldiers, the need for retaliation against Confederate policies toward black troops and the need for policies guaranteeing promotion for meritorious service by black troops — cannot have been immediately reassuring to the abolitionist.