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Vocabulary in Reconstruction

Vocabulary Examples in Reconstruction:

Text of Douglass's Essay

8

"disfranchise..."   (Text of Douglass's Essay)

To “disfranchise” is to “disenfranchise,” which means to deprive someone of the right to vote. The disenfranchisement of African Americans by Southerners was one of the most significant challenges to the advancement of civil rights in the wake of the war.

"might be to admit an apostasy..."   (Text of Douglass's Essay)

An “apostasy” is an abandonment of faith. In this case, Douglass is suggesting that those who wish to see the advancement of civil rights might experience despair in the wake of President Johnson’s brash, retrogressive actions.

"a convicted usurper..."   (Text of Douglass's Essay)

Douglass refers to President Johnson as a “convicted usurper” because of Johnson’s actions immediately after the end of the Civil War. A “usurper” is someone who seizes power or authority without appropriate cause. While Johnson was Lincoln’s vice president, Douglass calls him a usurper because of Johnson’s immediate actions after Lincoln’s assassination, which he performed without consulting Congress. Douglass likely states that Johnson is “convicted” of these crimes because Congress took measures into their own hands to protect the freed African Americans by passing legislation and overriding Johnson’s veto for the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

"impartial suffrage..."   (Text of Douglass's Essay)

The noun “suffrage” has had varied meanings over time, but from the 18th century on, it has referred to exercising one’s right to vote. For Douglass, “impartial suffrage” is akin to full enfranchisement of all American citizens. Douglass was not only an advocate for African-American suffrage, he also was a vocal proponent of women’s suffrage in the 19th century, supporting the efforts of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and other women’s rights activists.

"bondman..."   (Text of Douglass's Essay)

The word “bond” literally refers to a restraint, or something which binds. So, a “bondman” refers to someone kept in bondage, such as a serf or a slave, but it also has historically referred to peasants or those in service to a superior. Douglass contrasts the bondman with the tyrant to appeal to a broad audience by claiming that regardless of status, rebellion can happen when reason fails.

"elective franchise..."   (Text of Douglass's Essay)

The noun “franchise” means “freedom,” or access to privileges and rights granted by a governing body. When Douglass expresses a desire to “give to every loyal citizen the elective franchise,” he means the power to vote, as full enfranchisement—having the same rights as whites—was not yet a reality for African Americans during Reconstruction.

"despotic..."   (Text of Douglass's Essay)

Douglass uses the adjective “despotic” in several locations in this text. The word itself refers to the nature of a despot, or a tyrant that possesses absolute power. His use of this word helps to clarify that while he favors a strong federal government, he is against a government that abuses its power and oppresses its citizenry.

"solicitude..."   (Text of Douglass's Essay)

Douglass’s use of “solicitude” here is notable due to varying definitions of the word. In one sense, it refers to a state of unease, disquietude, anxiety, care, or concern. In another, it is similar to “solicitation” and means something similar to “petition.” Douglass’s choice of diction here appears to take both into account: Congress had been subject to unease and concern as well as the petitions of citizens to deal with Reconstruction following the Civil War.

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