EXHILARATED by the 1866 convention, Douglass wanted a place in the constructing of his new America. There was a world of work to do, and he was ready. As a citizen who had long championed full citizenship for his fellow black Americans, he was convinced that what they most needed was the vote. To achieve that goal the constitution he revered needed only an amendment. He was confident that he was the man in America who could best exemplify, in his person, the soundness of enfranchising his people.
This national goal pointed Douglass toward the nation's capital. But, curiously, he was a long time getting there. While at the 1866 Philadelphia convention, Douglass was invited to move to Alexandria to edit a paper that would address issues not only in Virginia but also in Washington, across the Potomac. John Curtiss Underwood, who made the proposal, was one of the most interesting figures in Reconstruction America. Born in upstate New York, Underwood had been a planter in Virginia since 1839. He was also an outspoken opponent of slavery. In 1864, he was named United States district court judge, and after the war he presided over some of the most important cases to be tried under the Civil Rights Act of 1866. He was also deeply involved in interracial Republican politics. Underwood's invitation was powerfully reinforced by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, at that time still an advocate of enfranchising the freed people, who urged Douglass to make the move.
Douglass declined, but his reason for doing so was not a shunning of position. Ever since he first spoke in Nantucket, he had been pushing himself further and further into the light. Now, in the heady days of