Post-Civil War Republican presidents regularly appointed Frederick Douglass to government positions. He became Secretary of the Commission on the Annexation of Santo Domingo (the Dominican Republic) in 1871, U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia in 1877, Recorder of Deeds in the District of Columbia in 1881, and Minister and Consul General to Haiti in 1889.
The Marshal nomination made Douglass the first African-American chosen for a position requiring Senate confirmation. But this event coincided with the climax of Republican Reconstruction ennui—some blacks actually condemned Douglass’ selection as a perverse base-covering stunt that “allowed Hayes to pose as a champion of black rights while engaging in politics that bargained away their freedom.” And the D.C. Marshal position was a highly visible one, so Garfield’s nomination of Douglass to be the District’s Recorder of Deeds was really a demotion.
Mostly ignorant of the details of Douglass’ later years, I was completely surprised to find his Recorder of Deeds nomination. It’s in the same stack as Garfield’s cabinet nominations (all from March 4, 1881). The paper is folded so crisply that I had a difficult time photographing it:
Douglass resigned the recordership(?) in 1886 (can’t say for sure why). Blanche Bruce, the first African-American to serve a full term in the Senate, was one of Douglass’ successors, serving as Recorder from 1889-1895.
Here’s the Douglass portrait that hang’s in D.C.’s Recorder of Deeds building: