The Radical and the Republican by James Oakes is possibly the most enthralling book I have ever read. I bought it on Amazon for three or four bucks. You all know the stories, but I want to retell one episode in the story as it was remembered by Douglass.
Lincoln had invited Douglas to the White House in 1864. The two men met at great length privately, and the country sent up a hue and a cry that a black man had come into the White House. A year or so later they met at the Soldiers Home, some eight miles from the White House, where Lincoln escaped from the immediate pressure of Washington. They met a third time at the ball celebrating Lincoln’s second inauguration. That’s the story I want to tell you. I must confess I cried throughout my reading.
“Douglas sensed immediately the greatness of Lincoln’s second inaugural address. On that day he wanted to congratulate Lincoln personally. He decided to break all precedent by going to the inaugural reception at the White House, though no African-American had ever dared such a thing. That evening he joined the procession heading to the executive mansion, only to be stopped at the door by the guards claiming they had been instructed ‘to admit no persons of color.’
“No such order could’ve emanated from President Lincoln,” Douglass believed. Douglass then noticed someone he knew and asked him to convey a message, “Be so kind as to say to Mr. Lincoln, Frederick Douglass is detained by guards at the door.” Within moments Douglas entered the East room. Lincoln, visible above all his guests, quickly spotted Douglass moving toward him. “Here comes my friend Douglas,” he explained to the crowded room. Lincoln shook Douglas by the hand. “I am glad to see you,” he said. “I saw you in the crowd today, listening to my inaugural address; how did you like it?”
“Mr. Lincoln,” Douglas replied. “I must not detain you with my poor opinion.”
“No-no,” Lincoln said. “There is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours. I want to know what you think of it.”
“Mr. Lincoln,” Douglas answered, “That was a sacred effort.”
“I’m glad you liked it!”
That sacred effort produced the greatest political speech in all of history.