Perpetual reminders of the past humiliation of the blacks are not calculated to hasten the disappearance of race prejudice.
New York Times, April 15, 1876
Half a continent away, on April 14, 1876, eleven years to the day of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the great bronze statue of the president stood shrouded under the national flag until the appointed time. The Marine Band played “Hail Columbia” and several dignitaries spoke about the meaning of the day. The crowd, estimated at twenty-five thousand, the “colored population . . . out in full force,” assembled on the lawn in Lincoln Park and awaited with great anticipation to finally see the great object. Finally, the moment arrived when President Grant stepped to the front and grasped the rope that was attached to the flag pull, and the Star-Spangled Banner glided down; amid the deafening cheers of the multitude, the playing of music, and the booming of cannons, the beautiful monument stood unveiled. The great bronze casting of colossal size towering twelve feet high, and resting upon a pedestal ten feet high, represented Abraham Lincoln standing erect, with the Proclamation of Emancipation in his left hand, while the right arm was paternalistically outstretched, palm opened heavenly as if bestowing grace over the kneeling figure of a slave from whose limbs the shackles have just fallen. Upon the base of the monument is the word “Emancipation.”
The effort to bring this moment to pass began eleven years earlier. In 1865, upon hearing “the lamented, honored and loved Lincoln had been so foully assassinated,” as banker James E. Yeatman, founder of the Mercantile Library and director of the Western Sanitary Commission, both based in St. Louis, Missouri, said on the day of commemoration, Charlotte Scott, a freedwoman of Virginia, who, after emancipation had stayed with the family of her master, went in great distress to her mistress and said, “The colored people have lost their best friend on earth! Mr. Lincoln was our best friend, and I will give five dollars of my wages towards erecting a monument to his memory.” “Being her first earnings in freedom,” this sum was also the first contribution to a fund “contributed solely by emancipated citizens of the United States, declared free by his proclamation.” It would be a memorial that would stand the test of time.
Once news spread about the donation and purpose, colored soldiers under the command of General J. W. Davidson, headquartered at Natchez, Mississippi, amassed the sum of $12,150. The fund eventually grew to $16,242 under the management of the Western Sanitary Commission. The commission, under the leadership of abolitionist and Unitarian minister William Greenleaf Eliot, was a private agency founded in 1861 that operated in the west during the war to deal with sick and wounded soldiers, setting up hospitals and caring for the families and orphans of soldiers, Union refugees, and the freedmen. “In short,” as Yeatman said, “all the humanities growing out of the war came under their charge.” The commission first came to be entrusted with managing the funds when Scott’s employer and former master, William P. Rucker, handed the sum over to General T. C. H. Smith, then in command of the military post of St. Louis, who, in turn, handed it over to Reverend Eliot. It was Eliot who ultimately selected the design.
Thomas Ball, the noted Boston sculptor and painter living in Florence, Italy, had been so moved at the news of Lincoln’s death that he felt inspired—“an inward demand”—to sculpt a statue, even though he had not been commissioned to do so. “His aim was to present one single idea, representing the great work for the accomplishment of which Abraham Lincoln lived and died. . . . Mr. Ball also determined not to part with it, except under such circumstances as to insure its just appreciation, not merely as a work of art but as a labor of love—a tribute to American patriotism.” For four years, it stood in his studio in Europe, but when he heard that it could serve as a memorial to freedom dedicated by the emancipated slaves themselves, he sought to show it to the commission. “The price to be paid would be altogether a secondary consideration.” In 1869 Reverend Eliot visited the Florence studio to see for himself and was so pleased he recommended the statue to the commission when he returned to St. Louis. Upon seeing photographs, “they at once decided to accept the design, and an order was given for its immediate execution in bronze, in accordance with the suggestions made by Mr. Ball.” Yeatman said, “I trust yet that the gratitude of the freed people will prompt them to execute this grand design.”
In the original, the kneeling slave was represented as perfectly passive, “receiving the boon of freedom from the hand of the great liberator,” Yeatman said. “But the artist justly changed this, to bring the presentation nearer to the historical fact, by making the emancipated slave an agent in his own deliverance.” Ball decided that the slave should be represented as exerting his own strength “with strained muscles in breaking the chain which had bound him. A far greater degree of dignity and vigor, as well as of historical accuracy, is thus imparted.” Instead of the idealized vision of a slave, he sought “the figure of a living man.” Ball based “the face and manly bearing of the negro” off the likeness of “the last slave ever taken up in Missouri under the fugitive slave law . . . who was rescued from his captors. . . . The ideal [design] is thus converted into the literal truth of history without losing anything of its artistic conception or effect.” An exact copy of the statue sculpted in pure white Italian marble for the Western Sanitary Commission was later placed, as “Freedom’s Memorial,” in a public building in St. Louis. For his bronze statue standing in Lincoln Park, Ball received $17,000. The government appropriated $3,000 for the foundation and pedestal upon which the bronze statue stood, and allowed it to pass freely through the customhouse.
Although most in the assembled crowd were impressed, a number, as they studied the fixed benevolence of the giant figure, were filled with sullen disquiet, for the message to them was unmistakably about how both races, black and white, were to forever regard each other. As the New York Times opined, unmindful of the dual meaning of the statue to two parallel worlds sharing the same sphere without ever intersecting, “It is an enduring monument to President Lincoln, and of the gratitude of the colored race.” The monument was created to stand the test of time, initiated and paid for by African Americans, and ultimately designed and approved by white men. To the white patrons, it seemed only appropriate, a dramatic illustration of the advent of freedom and opportunity. But to black people, it was a monument to white paternalism and black subservience forever cast in bronze. The desire of black people had been commemorated in a design chosen by whites in perpetual tribute to themselves. Historian Kirk Savage was more blunt: “Frozen forever in this unfortunate juxtaposition, the monument is not really about emancipation but about its opposite—domination.” The permanent image of the black man, unshackled yet forever bowed, freed yet forever unequal, noted but never really seen, was just as his “children” had presumed it should be; but it was an image their “father” may not have shared.
Eleven years earlier, by midday on a warm April 4, 1865, upon first setting foot on the landing at Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the defeated Old Confederacy, President Lincoln was immediately surrounded by black laborers who exclaimed, “Bress de Lord! . . . Dere is the great Messiah! . . . Glory Hallelujah.” Then, first, as Doris Kearns Goodwin reports, a handful of the freedmen followed by several others fell on their knees. But in viewing the spread of the gesture as more blacks assembled around him, the president would have none of it, as he said with emotion welling up in his voice, “Don’t kneel to me. That is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy.” However, to the devotees of the unfurled statue, eleven years later, these facts were not grand enough. Only the more majestic pose of the bronzed form and its outstretched and benevolent left arm that they came to honor would serve as a more fitting tribute as well as serve as a constant reminder of their commitment to protecting his “stepchildren.” It was a sentiment that would appear to evaporate within the coming months.
During the presidential election of 1876, sensing a possible defeat to Democrat Samuel Tilden of New York, Republicans worked to inspire their voters to stick with the party, now that Grant was not on the ticket, by reviving the old theme of the bloody shirt. Noted orator and politician Robert G. Ingersoll characterized the campaign when he famously declared, “Every man that shot Union soldiers was a Democrat. The man that assassinated Abraham Lincoln was a Democrat. . . . Soldiers, every scar you have got in your heroic bodies was given you by a Democrat.” In response, the Democrats, supported by a considerable number of Liberal Republicans who were determined to see the end of graft and corruption of “carpetbag” and Negro rule, raised the battle cry “Tilden and Reform.” To reassure its Republican readers that they would not betray the spirit of the Great Emancipator, the Mankato Union printed a front-page speech by a South Carolina black man who explained why he intended to vote for the Democrat. “The Radicals have been ruling this government for ten years, and their motto has been ‘Lie, cheat, and steal,’ and today there is no money in the country.” When votes were tallied in the Electoral College, Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio, was behind. Twenty disputed votes, mainly from Southern states, could put him over the top; but the stakes were high. In February representatives from both camps met to hash it out in Washington at the Wormley House, the exclusive hotel owned and operated by a black man named James Wormley.
In the end, Hayes edged out Democrat Samuel Tilden by one electoral vote. But his victory came at a price. In return for a Democratic endorsement of the controversial vote, Hayes agreed to withdraw the remaining federal troops from the South. With this order, president-elect Rutherford B. Hayes effectively signaled the end of Reconstruction, as well as the federal government’s intent to protect the equal rights and the lives of black people in the South. Even Frederick Douglass, whom Hayes later appointed to the office of marshal of the District of Columbia, largely acquiesced to the president’s policies that essentially resulted in the abandonment of the African American. As John Hope Franklin has written, “On the points most important to the white South the North was willing to yield; and on the points most important to the North [in the way of expanded investments] the white South was willing to yield. In a sense, then, both sides were pleased with the outcome of reconstruction. In another sense, however, both sides suffered an ignoble defeat.”
None of the four Minnesotans examined in this volume had financial investments in the South; and none had attended the unveiling ceremony, for each of them had more important things to do at home, having long before moved far beyond any further commitment they felt for the welfare of the Negro. For each, that work had been done.
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By 1870 Brevet Major Thomas Montgomery, retired, had established a thriving real estate office in St. Peter, Minnesota, where he lived until 1890 with his wife, Sarah Purnell, and their growing family that would number to seven children, surviving his mother, Margaret, who died in 1887, and his younger brother Alexander, who died in 1892, both residents of Cleveland Township. There is still no record of what happened to Elizabeth Estell. While a resident and real estate agent of St. Peter, Montgomery served for several years as justice of the peace and organized the A. K. Skaro Post, Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union’s armed forces who served during the Civil War, of which he was a charter member and long-term commander.
But it was with his work within the Masonry that he most distinguished himself, beginning in 1873 as one of the founding members of the St. Peter Chapter No. 22, Royal Arch Mason Lodge, and the St. Peter Division No. 2, Sons of Temperance, in 1876. He rose through the ranks within the Masonic community, gaining recognition as an authority on Masonic jurisprudence in the world and being the author of several books on Masonic rituals and jurisprudence that came to be viewed as authoritative.
Eventually he attained high rank in the councils of Masonry, elected in 1889 to the rank of grand secretary of Minnesota Grand Lodge, a position that required him to move his family to St. Paul in 1890. In that position, he also served as the secretary of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, grand recorder of the Grand Council, Royal and Selected Masons, and grand recorder of the Grand Commandery, Knights Templar. He was a member of the Order of Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite bodies of St. Paul, and also the Osman Temple, Order of the Mystic Shrine. He held these ranks until his death in June 1907.
Despite his long service as a leading member of Minnesota Masonry, it remains uncertain whether Montgomery knew of the effort of the Pioneer Lodge of the Masonic Order to be recognized by the Minnesota Grand Lodge. Since 1866, a year before he was decommissioned from military service with the Sixty-Seventh Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry and two months before the official incorporation of Pilgrim Baptist Society, five black men in St. Paul founded the Pioneer Lodge under the aegis of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge. On June 3, 1867, fifty black men held a meeting at Pilgrim Baptist Church “to take preliminary steps for the organization of a colored Lodge for Good Templars.” As late as 1877, however, the all-white Minnesota Grand Lodge continuously challenged the legality of the existence of the Pioneer Lodge. Denied membership in the Minnesota Grand Lodge, the Pioneer Lodge gained affiliation with the Grand Lodge of Missouri, and after 1882, the African Grand Lodge of Iowa.
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In 1871 Sarah Stearns and the Minnesota suffragists began the new phase of agitation by circulating petitions around the state to be sent to Congress, asking for a declaratory act to protect the women of the nation in the exercise of “the citizen’s right to vote” under the new guarantees of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. During that year the National Woman Suffrage Association appointed Dr. Addie Ballou its vice president for Minnesota. In 1872 a suffrage club was founded in Kasson. The three organizers, who included Mrs. Almira W. Anthony (married to a cousin of Susan B. Anthony), vowed to each other that while they lived in that city there should always be an active suffrage club “until the ballot for women should be obtained.” At a temperance convention in 1874, a women’s suffrage resolution was defended by Mrs. Julia Ballard Nelson, Mrs. Harriet A. Hobart, and Mrs. Asa Hutchinson. The next year would showcase one of Stearns’s highest achievements—getting women the right to vote in school board elections.
Earlier that year, in Minor v. Hoppensett, the United States Supreme Court declared that women had always been citizens but the right to vote constituted an essential privilege of citizenship. The power to award suffrage rights belonged to the states, and the only restraint placed on the power had been that states could not use race to deny the vote. But all sorts of groups lacked the vote. If women were to gain that right, it would have to come from the states. The Constitution, wrote Chief Justice Morrison Waite, stood silent on the issue. The school governance vote, in November 1875, was the last successful effort for the remainder of the century.
In 1872 Sarah and Ozora Stearns moved their family to Duluth after he had served a year in the United States Senate, ending in 1871. In Duluth, he was elected judge of the District Court, Eleventh District, and served from 1874 to 1891. His judicial career, as well as a term as a regent of the University of Minnesota, did not appear to be affected by his wife’s work. The couple’s finances allowed Sarah to continue her political advocacy, philanthropy, and volunteer work in Duluth while she reared four children.
She was the founding member of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association in 1881, its president from 1881 to 1883, and vice president in 1889. Also in 1889, she was president of the Ladies Equal Suffrage League in Duluth when she hosted visiting lecturer Susan B. Anthony on November 9. She wrote the chapter on Minnesota in History of Woman Suffrage, volume three, and served as vice president for Minnesota on the National Woman Suffrage Association board, a member of the Duluth School Board, and organizer and first president of the Duluth Home Society, which served destitute women and children. Together Sarah and Ozora Stearns helped found the Duluth Unitarian Church. As early as 1876, she received a U.S. patent for a carpet cleaner.
In 1891 the judge suffered a stroke, forcing him to retire from the bench, and in 1895 they moved to Los Angeles, California. One year later, he died. Sarah survived her husband by eight years, during which time, in 1900, she chaired the Los Angeles Woman Suffrage League. However, her energy and commitment to women’s suffrage did not sustain her long enough to see ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. She died suddenly in her Los Angeles home on January 25, 1904.
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In 1877, at the end of his tenure in the state Senate, Morton S. Wilkinson and his wife, Sally, moved to Wells, in Faribault County, where they would live in the home of their daughter, Ella Brewster, and her husband. The large stone house in Mankato where they lived during his years in the U.S. Senate, “one of the finest houses in the city,” was now too large, empty, and quiet to roam within because melancholy threatened to meet him around every shadowy corner. It was here that his son, Morton Junior, had died, and where his wife’s ill health began. In Wells, Ella could watch over her. In 1879 Wilkinson was elected Faribault County attorney, but served for one term, possibly choosing not to run for reelection after Sally took a fall that severely fractured her hip. This accident exacerbated her decline and confined her to bed. Finally, in 1888, Sally passed away and was buried at Glenwood Cemetery, in Mankato, next to their son’s grave, leaving Wilkinson to face his own mortality, which spread throughout his aching bones, and the darker thoughts ticking away like the clock on the mantel above the living room fire.
The ex-senator was getting to know his daughter, who had grown into womanhood while he was mostly away in Washington or on some campaign. Yet, living in Wells meant he was away from the city that had been his political base for nearly a quarter century, and he still harbored that powerful impulse that had defined his life. The fact that he now needed the care or at least the watchful eye of someone meant that his time and energy were inexorably passing. So, too, was his brand of politics. The cheers of crowds, even the jeers of hostile editors, began lingering in his mind like cobwebs that formed in an abandoned dwelling. He had more to give. Yet even his allies were being passed by the younger generation.
The politics were different while things somehow stayed the same. Though farmers enjoyed a bumper crop after the grasshopper plague at last ended, many remained destitute. Grantism had finally gone away but monopolies, railroads, and eastern banks still had the upper hand. Ramsey, his nemesis, was now Rutherford Hayes’s secretary of war. On the occasional trip that the senator took to St. Paul to visit old friends, the few African Americans he noted either swept the floors, toted luggage, or trimmed his thinning hair at his hotel, just like before. In his travels around the state he couldn’t recall seeing one black farmer. Their fate was the consequence of having thrown their lot in with the Republican Party.
Within the hearth and home of the loving family of his daughter, at seventy-one years, Wilkinson did not know where he belonged. There was so much yet to do, but doors were now politely closing to the Old Man. He frequently visited Mankato “for business and pleasure and was always welcomed heartily by the old settlers,” but they were beginning to die away. In 1890, four years after his tenure as county attorney ended, he was nominated to represent the Second District in Congress by the Democratic Party. Though he ran, he withdrew prior to the election because of his health. In the few years to follow he learned to content himself by attending the local county courtrooms.
It was in 1892 that he first discovered his heart was beginning to fail to perform properly, and he reportedly mentioned to George Brewster, the brother of his son-in-law, John, “This old heart of mine has been pumping away for seventy-four years and is nearly done.”
In late January 1894 he took a coach ride to the nearby city of Blue Earth to attend the district court presided over by Judge M. J. Severance. The distance was twenty-five miles and the day was very cold. The court had just taken a recess when Wilkinson made his way down the stairway to rest on a chair in the hallway of the first floor. No one who passed him felt any cause for concern, for they assumed that he was waiting for someone. When Judge Severance came down to speak to Wilkinson but received no answer, he called an attorney named Quinn, who secured medical assistance. Immediately, Wilkinson was taken to his hotel room and sent home to Wells the next day. A short time later he was “prostrated by another attack,” which the physicians called neuralgia of the heart. For two days he suffered intense pain, but when this was relieved, he sank into unconsciousness, a state in which he ultimately remained. Morton Smith Wilkinson, seventy-four years old, died in his daughter’s home at 2 a.m., on February 4, 1894. Four months later, on June 28, Ella died from surgical complications.
Shortly before he fell ill, in 1892 Wilkinson had received a parcel in the mail. It was a novel written by an “Edmund Boisgilbert, M.D.,” sent to him from “an old friend.” There is no record of whether he liked or even read it, or who the old friend may have been.
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By the 1890s the very successful stock-in-trade of the devout Daniel David Merrill was in book selling and printing, an enterprise he had built for thirty years. In 1860 Merrill used capital from his investments in real estate to open a little bookstore in a building fourteen feet wide on Third Street in downtown St. Paul, and there his business grew to such a size that eventually a new building was needed. In 1877 he once again was able to leverage his holdings to construct a larger building on Third Street, just below Cedar. In 1879, the business of White, Stone and Company merged with Merrill’s company that he partnered with John Randall to form the St. Paul Book and Stationery Company, which later moved to lower Third Street. Every Christmas season advertisements for holiday purchases could be seen not only in the St. Paul newspapers, but also in the Mankato, Rochester, Winona, and Duluth papers. In some quarters a book or trinket from D. D. Merrill and Company held as much social currency as being seen among people of recognized enlightenment.
Soon the business had to move into even larger quarters on First and St. Peter. The firm name was then changed to D. D. Merrill Company, which now included a publishing house. His holdings by then extended to a printing company in New York City.
And through his mounting success, his commitment to the Baptist faith only deepened, for over forty years he remained a leader of the congregation of First Baptist Church of St. Paul. He was a deacon for many years, served for two years as president of the congregation, and remained prominent in church work in the city and state. He started eighteen churches and missions within the city in the name of the Baptist faith, and served as treasurer of the Minnesota Baptist State convention for over twenty-one years. Indeed, he was one of the most prominent businessmen and church leaders in the city and “was well-known in every reform which was instituted for the benefit of the city.” He was a man of considerable influence, and with it, he could do what ordinary men could not do.
The topics of the books Merrill published were wide ranging and included science and art; among the latter was the work of painter Carl Gutherz, who was noted for his grand landscapes of the Northwest and, in particular, a daringly sensual portrait of a semiclad Indian maiden in a suggestive repose. With his status secured, as it had long been since his days as secretary and treasurer of the United States Christian Commission, which raised thousands of dollars for food, clothing, and hospital stores and in which capacity he served for four years without pay, he was indeed a man beyond reproach, which made his last venture rather curious. In 1892, he published a strange little book that began,
I have made up my mind to tell the whole dreadful story, let the consequences be what they may. I know there are those, among my friends, who will consider it a species of degradation for me to make public the facts that will appear on these pages; while there are others who will urge that the world will never believe so improbable a story as that which I am about to tell. But it seems to me that I have been chosen, by some extra-mundane, superhuman intelligence, out of the multitude of mankind, and subjected to a terrible and unparalleled experience, in order that a great lesson may be taught to the world; and that it is a duty, therefore, which I owe to the world, and which I should not shrink from or avoid, to make known all the facts of that experience, at whatever cost of shame or agony to myself. Blessed is the man who can feel that God has singled him out from among his fellows, and that the divine hand has shaped his destiny; and yet such men usually bear on their hearts and minds a burden of life-long woe. Those whom God so honors he agonizes.
Thus began a novel that first appeared in 1891. The main character was a brilliant young Southern physician infatuated with an intelligent woman who encouraged him to enter politics to serve mankind but who persuaded him to keep secret his views on racial equality because they were too radical. As the story goes, when the good doctor considered entering political life, his soul and mind were transfigured into the body of the coarsest, most brutal and evil black man in his community. In turn, the black man took possession of the doctor’s body and status. The story of the steady success of evil in the person of the doctor’s body, and the failures of brilliance, honesty, and courage in the form of the doctor’s soul and mind, were locked in the body of the black man. Only through religion was the transformed doctor able to find salvation, but the white community apprehensively saw him as a threat to public safety. His worse foe was his own body, protected by status although motivated by evil. The transformation was finally reversed when the black man slew his own form and the doctor’s soul and mind were freed to reclaim possession of his own body.
Doctor Huguet, authored by Edmund Boisgilbert, M.D., was as a fantasy a startling book that attempted to depict a strong sympathy for the Southern intellectuals and the impoverished black people who were trying to maintain some semblance of freedom in the face of brutal oppression. Ignatius Donnelly, who wrote under the pseudonym “Edmund Boisgilbert, M.D.,” was seeking to strike hard at the opaque discipline of the Southern mind in dealing with race and its inability to apply standards—good or evil, moral or immoral, legal or illegal, and the willingness of a group of intelligent Southerners to compromise their principles to gain political power. The book was doomed. As biographer Martin Ridge observes, “Written forty years too late to fit into the radical antislavery literature and published at a time when the Negroes’ struggle for legal and personal status was practically at a standstill, Doctor Huguet was not destined for popularity. The book trod too heavily on the manners and mores of too large a segment of the population.”
A few readers appreciated the work. “Doctor Huguet is a wonderful tale, so well told that the reader is absorbed to the end, his interest never flags. Then a spirited humanitarian and truly (sic) Christian breathes through it. I could not feel but that the author is involved with the essence of Christianity.” The letter was signed “Father Egan, Sea Isle City, New Jersey.” From another man: “I feel that I should like to write and thank you for your wise utterances and for the tendency to do good which I am sure is a very marked feature of the book” (Lewis Llewellyn, pastor, First Baptist Church of Hastings).
Donnelly’s Chicago publisher, F. J. Schulte and Company, printed a small number of copies and then relinquished the rights to the book because of poor sales. In August 1892, two months after Homer Adolph Plessy was arrested for sitting in a Louisiana railroad car reserved for whites, D. D. Merrill became the only publisher who agreed to reprint Donnelly’s book. The provocative nature of the novel, considering Merrill’s reputation of staid rectitude, seemed unlike any book with which he would be associated. It most certainly was not likely to realize a profit or satisfy the tastes of the proper, middle-class customers he tended to attract. And yet he decided to risk a financial loss. Doctor Huguet spoke to Merrill, for he had served on the St. Paul Board of Education, presiding over a school district in which black schoolchildren were subjected to abysmal conditions. His association with the Pilgrims exposed him to the desperate straits of black parents who were denied opportunities to learn a trade and treated with no respect in most corners of the community he inhabited, or even the right to dignity that was denied Robert Hickman every Sunday, when Merrill’s disengaged father-in-law took his place as pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church. In other words, Merrill, like Huguet, had witnessed racism and had done very little to confront it. In publishing the thoughts and deeds of Doctor Huguet, Merrill, a righteous man, may have found his own road to redemption:
This terrible race-prejudice, I said to myself, has continued to exist because there are no great scholars, thinkers and speakers, of the negro race, to challenge and overcome it. White men could not have been suppressed in that fashion. I will lead the way! That may have been the purpose for which this ghastly transformation has been inflicted upon me. And I swelled with pride in anticipation of my triumphs, close at hand.
Apparently in the three years since the novel’s publication, what inspiration Merrill may have derived from the fictional Huguet’s “anticipation [of his own] triumphs” had waned. As the summer of 1895 approached, two black men, in separate incidences, were chased through the neighborhood streets of St. Paul by mobs intent on lynching them. In that each was accused of raping white women—an allegation that Southern mobs customarily addressed with a rope—the murderous work of the vigilantes received the approval two major newspapers of the city that called the attempted lynching of Houston Osborne, the second man, “thrilling and remarkable” and “a burst of righteous wrath.” There is no record that Merrill or any of his brethren protested the prospect of lynch law or those who had cheered the men who carried the rope.
One year later, in late April 1896, Daniel David Merrill contracted a slight cold that rapidly and fatally developed into pleuropneumonia. On Wednesday evening, May 21, days after Plessy v. Ferguson was decided, thus establishing the constitutional doctrine of “separate but equal,” Merrill died in his St. Paul home, leaving his wife, three sons (two of whom ran the publishing business in New York; the third was an architect), and one daughter, unmarried and at home at the time of his death. “The prominent citizen since was no more.”