Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Black and Abroad under the Dred Scott Decision, 1860

[This was axed from a chapter. I liked the incident, and if this were a more traditional biography, it would have stayed. In a book about Douglass and women, and in a chapter about Rosetta Douglass, it was more of a tangent, although it does involve a woman.]

Sarah Parker Remond
At a January 1860 meeting in Wakefield, Douglass crossed paths with Sarah Remond and Caroline Putnam, sisters of his former travelling companion, Charles Lenox Remond. They appeared on the same program, one of the few times that Douglass was able to share the stage with a black woman. Douglass suspected that “it must have been embarrassing to Miss Sarah,” he and her brother having been at odds for some time, but “she did not rebel.” Instead, Remond spoke “with her accustomed calmness,” and he noted that “the audience was much pleased with the two blacks from America.”[i]

Douglass and Remond both discovered that, for all the welcome in England, their disfranchised status in America followed them.  Both planned to visit France, “a long-cherished desire,” Douglass confessed. He applied for a passport and she for a visa. “True to the decision of the United States Supreme court, and true, perhaps, the petty meanness of his own nature,” Douglass reported, the American Minister George Dallas rejected their applications on the grounds that he did not have the authority to grant them permission to travel because, thanks to the 1857 Dred Scot decision, neither had American citizenship. Remond and her sister Putnam took their passports to Dallas’s office. “I informed him I was a citizen of Salem, Massachusetts,” Remond wrote, “and Massachusetts acknowledged my citizenship.” Dallas continued to refuse her a visa, and threatened to throw her out of his office if she persisted in demanding one. She did, pointing out that free blacks like herself “have been subjected all their lives to the taxation and other burdens imposed upon American citizens” simply because of their skin color, only to have their rights ignored by “the Ministers of their country, whose salaries they contribute to pay.”  Douglass did not press the issue with Dallas, refusing to “beg or remonstrate.”  Instead, he turned to the French minister who granted permission while she turned to the British government. Remond remained abroad for the rest of her life, but tragedy drew Douglass home.[ii]

[i] Amy Post to FD, Rochester, 13 Feb 1860, IAPFP, NRU; FDP, 17 Feb 1830.

[ii] FD, L&T, 252-53; “Sara Parker Remond and the Passport Issue,” Black Abolitionist Papers, ed. C. Peter Ripley (Chapel Hill, 1985), I: 469-73; Dorothy B. Porter, “Sara Parker Remond, Abolitionist and Physician,” Journal of Negro History, 20, 3 (July 1935): 287-93. Ottilie Assing allegedly planned to join Douglass in Paris. Douglass himself never referred to such an eventuality, and the evidence is inferred from letters that Rahel de Castro, Assing’s friend, wrote to Ludmilla Assing reporting on her correspondence with Ottilie. If, however, Remond and her sister also traveled in Paris at the same time, Douglass would not be so unwise as to engage in the sort of clandestine, interracial rendezvous as described by Maria Diedrich. He may have planned to visit with Remond or, much more likely, Crofts, who had rejected a visit to France in 1855 to promote Douglass in England. Assing, however, probably did intend to coordinate a trip to Europe with Douglass’s plans, and her reaction to his cancellation of his trip focuses on her own disappointment rather than its tragic reasons.

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