Frederick Douglass letter to Ellis P. Passmore of Rising Sun, published in Cecil Whig (November 3, 1888)

In the weeks leading up the 1888 Presidential Election speculations and intrigue abound throughout the country. During nearly every Congressional and Presidential Election it was reported, prompted by ambitious political operatives and newspaper editors, that Frederick Douglass either questioned the Republican Party’s commitments to Civil Rights or its slate of local and national candidates. Whenever the position of Dr. Douglass was misreported or fabricated he addressed it directly and forthrightly.

Cecil Whig Building in Elkton, Maryland, around 1905. Courtesy of Cecil County History & Prof. Mike Dixon.

Inaugurated in March 1885 as the first Democratic President since James Buchanan (1857 – 1861), New Yorker Grover Cleveland faced a challenge from former United States Senator Benjamin Harrison of Indiana. Douglass was an active campaigner for Harrison.

When a fictitious interview with Douglass, claiming to express his concern for Harrison’s electoral map to victory, appeared in “Democratic papers,” Douglass responded in public and in private.

In the wake of this false account Douglass sent a private letter to Ellis P. Passmore, likely integral to the December 1885 visit Douglass made to Rising Sun in Cecil County. The letter was published in the Cecil Whig to reaffirm the unwavering support and confidence of Douglass in the Harrison ticket in New York and Indiana.

Harrison would win both states and 220 total electoral votes on his way to defeating Cleveland in 1888, although losing the popular vote. Cleveland would defeat Harrison in a rematch in 1892.

Cecil Whig, “Another Lie Nailed.” 3 November, 1888. (Eklton, MD)
Frederick Douglass to Ellis P. Passmore. Rising Sun, Maryland (Cecil County)

Another Lie Nailed.

The Democratic papers very recently published an alleged interview with Fred Douglass in which he was reported as being very much discouraged by the Republican prospects in New York and Indiana. The published interview bore all the ear-marks of its fraudulent ori[g]in and which Mr. Douglass took the first opportunity to denounce. Our Cecil County voters will be interested in reading the following letter from him addressed to Mr. Ellis P. Passmore, a prominent Republican of Rising Sun in this county :


October 29, 1888.

Dear Friend : – There is not one word of truth in the story of my discouragement. I have never expressed a doubt of the election of Benjamin Harrison. The story of the contrary is pure invention designed to bolster up the waning confidence of the Democracy.

You have perhaps already seen my public denial.

Truly yours,