The Capitol community will pause for a few moments this week to honor Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist and former D.C. resident whose statued likeness will be placed in the Capitol on Wednesday.
The statue’s dedication in Emancipation Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center has been a long time coming and has been celebrated on both sides of the aisle, from the office of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., to that of Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who will host Douglass family descendents for an event surrounding the dedication.
And for D.C.’s Republican Party, it’s an opportunity to remind people that Douglass was a Republican active in District politics.
“He is the original urban Republican,” said D.C. GOP Chairman Ron Phillips.
Boehner’s office sent out a release Monday about the statue’s dedication, inviting people to watch it live on Wednesday at speaker.gov/frederickdouglass. Boehner’s release does not mention Douglass’s party affiliation, largely sticking to broader praise for his involvement in the abolitionist movement, human rights and women’s suffrage, as well as his relationship with President Abraham Lincoln.
D.C. Republicans see Douglass as a natural ambassador, particularly to the Democrat-dominated District of Columbia.
“Frederick Douglass was a Republican his entire life,” Phillips said.
A fact sheet from the D.C. GOP compiled by Nelson F. Rimensnyder, who ran for D.C. shadow senator on the GOP line last year, losing to shadow Sen. Michael D. Brown, cites several highlights from Douglass’ political life.
Included among them is his run for District delegate, Norton’s current position, in March 1871. The Republican Committee of the District of Columbia selected Gen. Norton P. Chipman over Douglass for the GOP nomination. Douglass campaigned for Chipman, and Chipman went on to win the general, according to Rimensnyder.
Other political highlights the local GOP is looking to focus on include Douglass becoming the first black man to be confirmed by the Senate, for his position as a U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia in 1877. He was also confirmed by the Senate in 1881 to become the D.C. recorder of deeds.
The local party, unlike its national counterpart, has pushed hard for congressional voting rights for the District of Columbia. A set of D.C. GOP talking points notes that in the 1876 D.C. Republican Party platform, Douglass wrote, “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” making a direct connection between Douglass’ position and a very tangible slice of D.C. life: the District’s license plates with the “Taxation Without Representation” tagline.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.