The Magazine

Friendly Persuasion

The Lincoln-Douglass debates.

Dec 8, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 12 • By CLAUDIA ANDERSON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

In addition to these, Stauffer addresses two other significant barriers between Assing and Douglass that elude the Kendricks. One is Assing's elitism. The product of advanced artistic circles in Hamburg, she was openly contemptuous not only of the homebound Anna who stood in her way but of the poor and unschooled generally. She found it irksome that Douglass was patient and generous with needy relatives. Another was her atheism. Whereas Douglass was fervently grounded in the Bible, she disparaged religion as a disease. She herself wrote that "there was one obstacle to a loving and lasting friendship [with Douglass]--namely, the personal Christian God."

By the time Douglass's 44-year marriage ended with Anna's death, Assing had moved back to Europe. Still, when she received word of his remarriage--and to a white woman--she took her own life. Self-dramatizing to the end, she went to the Bois de Boulogne and swallowed poison.

We've come a long way from 1963, when an attentive reader of The National Experience could have learned of Frederick Douglass that even he, "once the militant leader of the Negroes, accepted office under [Rutherford B.] Hayes's administration." It turns out there is quite a lot more worth knowing about this remarkable man. If our scholars and popular historians are having a field day with Douglass and Lincoln--and Ottilie Assing into the bargain--it's only because this work of recovery is long overdue.

Claudia Anderson is managing editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.