FREDERICK DOUGLASS all but snatched the Emancipation Proclamation from Abraham Lincoln's hands to make of its flat rhetoric a sharpened call for freedom and equality. Douglass had never regarded the ending of slavery as enough, either for himself or for his people; it had to be the beginning of an embrace of the black individual's fullness as a person, a beginning that would point straight toward an end, within quick reach. For Douglass, each gain in the struggle, and the Emancipation Proclamation decidedly was one of the greatest, simply meant that America must move on to the next gain—right away. No one, including President Lincoln, would be allowed to rest on his laurels.
Now Douglass and his people had their Fourth of July. In February 1863, he told a Cooper Union audience that henceforth January I would be black America's independence day. And as he spoke, no one could miss the fact that a great war was in progress. There was martial energy in the air. The opportunity for black American males to achieve the fullness of being, said the white orators and patriotic essayists, lay in their becoming warriors. For his part, Douglass was eager to send black men off to war, not only to bring victory, but also to ensure the nation's respect for, its indebtedness to, black men who had taken up arms for what was now their country. But he displayed no eagerness to lug a rifle across a muddy or bloody field himself.
Douglass was, after all, only forty-four when his fellow abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson led the First South Carolina Volunteers on the regiment's first raid on the mainland, from its sea-island base. Despite the still-troublesome old injury to his right hand, a result of his