Do you agree with Frederick Douglass that the time was right to press for suffrage for black men?
In 1865--as the Civil War was coming to a close--Frederick Douglass gave a speech before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Defying his opponents, he declared that African Americans and abolitionists should not content themselves with the abolition of slavery but must push forward for black voting rights. As he said:
I am for the “immediate, unconditional, and universal” enfranchisement of the black man, in every state in the Union.
I believe Douglass was right to push for black male suffrage. Without voting rights, African Americans would never have equal rights with white Americans. They might be "free," but they would be so in name only. As Douglass forcefully declared:
Without this [voting rights], his liberty is a mockery; without this, you might as well almost retain the old name of slavery for his condition; for, in fact, if he is not the slave of the individual master, he is the slave of society, and holds his liberty as a privilege, not as a right.
Having been granted their liberty, black Americans needed the right to vote to ensure they could secure their liberty in the future. If they were not able to vote, white Americans would still retain power over them. It is true that Douglass' proposal still prevented women (both black and white) from voting, but black male suffrage was an important step forward for universal voting rights in the United States.