How did the early years of Frederick Douglass’ life affect the beliefs of the man he would become? Frederick Douglass’s adulthood was one of triumph and prestige. Still, he by no means gained virtue without struggle and conflict. There were much opposition and hostility against him. To fully understand all his thoughts and beliefs first one must look at his childhood.
Frederick Augustus Bailey was born in February of 1818 to a black field hand named Harriet. He grew up on the banks of the Tuckahoe Creek deep within the woods of Maryland. Separated from his mother at an early age, he was raised by his grandparents Betsy and Isaac Bailey. Isaac and Betsy are not thought to be related. Isaac was a free man and a sawyer, while Betsy was an owned slave, but she kept her own rules.
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Her owner trusted her to watch over and raise the children of the slaves until they were old enough to begin their labor. She was allowed to keep her own cabin, and to farm food for the children and herself. It was not an easy job. While all of the mothers were busy working in the fields of their master, Aaron Anthony, she was busy watching over their infants.
Betsy Bailey was quite a woman. She was a master fisher and spent most of her days in the river or in the field of farming. She was very intelligent and physically able-bodied. Most historians credit Frederick’s intelligence to his extraordinary grandmother. Douglass later recalled not seeing his mother very often, just on the few times she would come to visit later in his life.
At the age of six, Frederick’s carefree days of running and playing in the fields and came to an abrupt end. He was taken away from his grandmother to begin the toil and sweat of the field workers. Here he joined his older brother and sisters, Perry, Sarah, and Eliza in the fields of Edward Lloyd. The slave head in charge of Frederick was the cruel cook, Aunt Katy.
Although perhaps he deserved some of her wraths, is a very mischievous child, she was undoubtedly a little out of line. She took up a need to abuse him, mentally and sometimes physically. This may have sprouted from resentment against his mother. One of Katy’s favorite acts of punishment was starvation. On one occasion when Frederick’s mother had come to visit, she had committed a terrible deed bye interfering in Katy’s eyes.
Later in life, Douglass talked very fondly of his mother. He remembers her as “having a natural genius, though unprotected and uncultivated.” Douglass was also very proud of her literacy. He never knew her in his older years, however, because she died when he was only seven or eight.
Katy also resented Lucretia Auld, a resident of the house who had taken a liking to him, who gave him food when she wouldn’t. These were to her just more reasons to be hard on Frederick. After being caught up around master Lloyd’s house, Wye House, he was forbidden not to venture near there ever again.
Young Douglass loved to watch the people, especially Lloyd. He was a wealthy former Governor of Maryland and a senator and also an ideal example of an exploiter of the very profitable slave system. It is quite feasible that the reason he was so interested in Lloyd was because of Frederick’s lack of a father.
In fact, many historians believe that Lloyd may very well have been the father of this young mulatto. Douglass later knew that his father must have been white which was the only way to explain the light shade of his skin.
After exploring the property on many occasions he began to spend time in the garden because he loved spending time with the fragrant smells and vibrant colors. Eventually, he met with Lloyd’s young son Daniel. They became friends and Daniel began to smuggle Frederick in the house through the garden. In slavery, it was very common, before puberty, for a slave child to play with the master’s children.
By the time he was eight, it was time for Douglass to pack up and move again. This time he was sent to Baltimore to live with Hugh Auld. Auld was the brother of Aaron Anthony’s son-in-law, Thomas Auld. Hugh was the owner of a plantation and with him lived his wife Sophia and their son Thomas. Frederick and Thomas were about the same age and Douglass became his playmate as well as his guardian.
Like he did earlier with Lucretia and Daniel at the Wye House, Frederick felt a sense of family. He became very close with Sophia and she began to treat him like he was a half brother to little Tommy. Throughout his childhood, Douglass was always very alert to acts of kindness by whites and experiences like this and those back at the Lloyd Plantation fueled his disdain for slavery. They made him aware of human oneness and the inhumanity of slavery.
In urban Baltimore, a slave’s life was very different from that of a field hand. Here Douglass enjoyed various privileges and opportunities that were denied to plantation slaves. This new setting provided a rich environment that helped to develop his natural intellectual abilities and allowed him to be exposed to different and interesting people. City slaves were sometimes hired out to merchants and maybe the wages they earned would be used to buy their freedom if the master allowed them to it.
Soon he became interested in learning to read after hearing Mistress Sophia reading the Bible aloud. She readily agreed to teach young Frederick to read. This was a very bold move by Sophia because it was very dangerous to teach a slave anything. Especially so soon after the slave codes had been passed. Sophia taught him the alphabet and the basics of reading. She made an untimely mistake, however. Mrs. Auld decided to share the news of Frederick’s progress with Master Hugh.
He ordered her to cease these lessons at once. “…Learning will spoil the best nigger in the world. If he learns to read the Bible it will unfit him to be a slave. He should know nothing but the will of his master, and learn to obey it…If you teach him how to read, he’ll want to know how to write, and this accomplished, he’ll run away with himself.” 1 Recalling later Douglass named this speech as the first anti-slavery lecture he’d ever heard.
After this Sophia became even more opposed to Frederick’s learning to read than Master Auld himself. Douglass later had this to say of her, “Nature made us friends, but slavery made us enemies.”2 This taught Frederick a very valuable lesson. If reading and writing were dangerous, if it was against the master’s will that he knows more than he should, then education would be an essential means for Douglass to find a path from slavery to freedom. He was determined to prove Auld right.
Having that basic knowledge of the written language and his appetite wetted, Frederick set out to teach himself to read. This is one of the most amazing aspects of Frederick Douglass, that someone, especially a young slave, could teach himself to read. He learned to write by watching carpenters initial timber to designate where it was to be used. He copied script of spelling books and the Bible, and challenged his playmates to spelling matches.
His resentment for slavery grew with the knowledge he gained from reading more and more. Douglass also began to realize that there were alternatives to the physical deprivations, injustices, and dehumanizing effects of slavery. No longer bound to his master’s world, he began to gain his own opinions on issues and became much more independent.
Near age thirteen Frederick read a dialogue between a runaway slave and his master out of The Columbian Orator, which also contained many powerful speeches that criticized slavery. In the dialogue he read, the slave argues against the owner’s claims to enslave him and convinces him to set him free forever. It made Frederick want to learn to write well even more so he could write to his master, Lloyd.
Auld had been right when he said it would be Douglass unfit to be a slave because he now found that he was feeling the anguish of having a free mind trapped in a slave’s body. Later he said of this, “I almost envy my fellow slaves in their stupid indifference…I wished myself a beast, a bird, anything rather than a slave.”3 Although he was in bondage now, however, he was intent on winning his freedom. Douglass had the desire, the arguments to justify his freedom, and a movement to give him hope.
At this same tender age of thirteen, Frederick was converted to Christianity by a white Methodist minister named Reverend Hanson, and Charles Johnson, a black lay preacher. He experienced a spiritual re-birth and later wrote, ” I finally found my burden lightened, and my heart relieved. I loved all mankind, slaveholders not excepted, though I abhorred slavery altogether.”
He wanted everyone to be converted. Charles Lawson became his spiritual mentor. Douglass helped Lawson to write the word, due to Lawson’s limited reading ability, while he helped Frederick with his spirit. They became close friends and spent a lot of time together in spite of Master Hugh’s contention against their relationship. Lawson encouraged him to spread the Gospel, insisting that it was God’s will. Dawson’s advice fueled his ambition and expanded his vision of his personal identity.
When Irish dockworkers suggested that he run North to freedom he saw this it was not only up to God but also to himself to gain freedom. His perception of God helps those who help themselves guided him through his entire life. He started at least two black Sabbath schools. Things were going great until their second session was broken up by an angry mob of white religious leaders. Master Thomas Auld was among them.
Soon Douglass was accused of emulating Nat Turner and cautioned him that if he did not change he too would be killed. Despite the warning, several years later he taught another school which he thoroughly enjoyed. He believed education was the key to their emancipation. At sixteen his repeated insolence caused Frederick to be hired out to Edward Covey, known collectively as “the Negro Breaker.”
This marked the first time Douglass worked as a field hand and the change from being an urban domestic slave was very hard for him. It was also the first time he was regularly whipped, the sores were kept open all the time by his coarse clothing. After a few long months of being worked to exhaustion and gruesome physical assaults, Douglass was broken.
“My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye, died out.”5 Even after this he still clung to thoughts of freedom and that is what kept him going. More and more Douglass realized the inhumanity of the religion of Christian slaveholders.
Once after a brutal flogging by Covey, Douglass struggled back to his master, Thomas Auld. He complained to him about Covey’s mistreatment of him but was only answered with Auld’s contention that he probably deserved it. Frederick anticipated a beating when he returned and Sandy, a well-respected wizard-like character, proposed that he take a magic root. Returning on the Sabbath kept him clean for a day but Monday Covey made up for it.
Douglass stood firm, determined to win the battle. It was a long and hard-fought victory for Frederick. The tyrant had been defeated. Douglass later recalled this moment as the turning point in his life as a slave. It inspired him with the idea to become a free man. He knew he could not resist forever, and the only course left in his mind was his escape to freedom in the North.
Anon’s thoughts of escape attempts entered his mind. Frederick was sure not to exclude his family and friend, and also his pupils. These included Henry and John Harris, Sandy Jenkins, Charles Robertson, and Henry Bailey. Although Douglass was the youngest, he had some knowledge of the geography of the surrounding area and was very persuasive, so he became the leader of the pack.
They were to escape in a stolen canoe and paddle to the head of Chesapeake Bay, then follow the North Star to freedom. Sandy withdrew from the plan following a nightmare about Frederick in the claws of a giant bird. On the day of the planned escape, as it happened, they were betrayed and jailed. Thomas Auld sent him to work with his brother Hugh and learn about trade and the caulking business. He made a promise to Frederick at this time, if he behaved, he would be free by 25.
Shortly, Douglass was transformed into a skillful caulker. He began to make friends at secret meetings he attended for free blacks, like the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society. Here he met the love of his life, Anna Murray. They planned to marry as soon ad Frederick could escape. The time for his freedom was now. September 3rd, 1838, dressed as a sailor and carrying the papers of a retired black merchant sailor, he took a train from Baltimore to the Susquehanna River, crossed the ferry to Wilmington, Delaware, and never looked back.
From there he traveled to Philadelphia by steamboat and caught another train to New York City. Eleven days later he and Anna were married by J.W.C. Peterson. They decided to settle in New Bedford, Massachusetts, to avoid the slave catchers who ran so rampant in New York. He would have been most happy as a ship caulker, but due to opposition by whites was forced to become a common laborer. The quality of life here was a big improvement from the South but racial prejudice was still far and wide.
Frederick Bailey wanted to assume a name that was better suited to his new persona. He chose the hero of Sir Walter Scott’s book, The Lady of the Lake because he reminded him of himself. He was a character who can be described as, “a brave and transcended character in search of a lost patrimony.”6 Frederick was fascinated and sensed it was destiny. He took the name.
While in New Bedford, Douglass became entranced by the work of William Lloyd Garrison. In particular, his magazine, The Liberator. Garrison became his teacher, hero, and idol. It gave Frederick a clear understanding of the principles of the Anti-Slavery Movement. He began to attend anti-slavery meetings in New Bedford. This enlightenment of Negroes, which he had never seen before inspired him and filled him with pride, although he did not show his talent of speaking just yet, he just sat and listened approvingly.
At a Christian Church on March 12th, 1839, Douglass signed a resolution condemning slavery and African colonization and praised Garrison “as deserving of our support and confidence.” This event was noted in the columns of the Liberator. After hearing Garrison speak at Liberty Hall, Douglass determined that it was not fanciness or eloquence that made him a great speaker, but his effectiveness sprung from the inner fire inside him. Over the next two years, Douglass listened to Garrison more and more and agreed continuously. He felt Garrison was speaking “the spontaneous feeling of my own heart.”
During this exciting time, Frederick and Anna’s first two children were born. Rosetta, in June of 1839, and Lewis in 1840. Frederick supported the family by working at a brass foundry while Anna worked over washtubs and did house cleaning. By June 30, 1841, Douglass had become a leader of the group that met at Liberty Hall. He served as chairman of a meeting to censor the Maryland Colonization Society for threatening to remove free blacks from the state by force. His life of diligent work for the government and for his people was just beginning.
In the winter of 1844, he began writing an account of his slave experiences to put down people’s thoughts of him never being a slave. These speculations were only due to the integrity and intelligence he had shown recently. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave came out in May of 1845. The introduction was written by William Lloyd Garrison himself.
This book found much success and by 1848 more than 11, 000 copies had been published. This success led to his second work, My Bondage, and My Freedom, in 1855. These were regarded as unparalleled abolitionist propaganda. His beliefs and character began to come out in the things he spoke of and accomplished.
Of abolitionists, Douglass had this to say, “Whites became abolitionists out of choice, blacks became abolitionists out of necessity.”7 His abolition combined the subjective and objective dimensions of description and analysis. He knew how much this abolition movement meant to Southern slaves, and that it increased their hope for liberty. Douglass also maintained that they wouldn’t revolt knowing that this action was already going on.
White and black abolitionists both agreed on two things, that slaves needed to have their freedom, and after that, their level in society must be elevated. The American Anti-Slavery Society adopted these two goals in their original Declaration of Sentiments in December 1833. Even though white abolitionists were much, much different than the vast majority of Whites, they were hard as committed to achieving racial equality than the black abolitionists. Douglass tested this commitment by observing how Northerners treated their black neighbor.
“Those who only cared about abolition in the South and were not interested in the elevation of the blacks were known to him as sham abolitionists.”8 He knew that full slavery wasn’t just the end of slavery but the end of racism. He agreed with many free blacks that a good way to combat this was to have a population of “industrious, enterprising, thrifty, and intelligent” free blacks.
In one speech Douglass could condemn the United States for slavery, that it’s existence in the past and present bind it to exist in the future, but in the same speech he could lift up listeners’ spirits. He would tell them of “the forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery.”9 This referred to his belief in a moral universe ruled by God. Douglass drew a lot of hope from the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the obvious tendencies of the age like growing civilization, progress, and internationalism.
Douglass was committed to making whites aware of the injustice blacks endured through his lectures and writings. His oratorical abilities made him one of the most popular anti-slavery speakers ever. “He was described by his contemporaries as graceful, distinguished, imposing, strong, manly, confident and modest. He charmed the audiences with his style”10
In 1847 Frederick and the family moved to Rochester, where he began his independent career as an abolitionist editor. His thousands of editorials in The North Star reflect his interest in the tensions between hope and despair among his people who were struggling for their freedom and their own survival. He would try to dig deep into listeners’ and the reader’s own conscience like a sermon of deliverance. He never stopped believing that the universe we live in is a moral one.
He compared the struggle between slavery and freedom to similar conflicts that occur in nature. “Like the great forces of the physical world, fire, steam, and lightning, they had slumbered in the bosom of nature since the world began.”11 During the 1850s Douglass moved beyond Garrison’s philosophy of nonresistance and said it was a slave’s moral right to overthrown their oppressors.
Douglass accomplished many feats worth noting. In the 1860s he was the “station master and conductor” of the Underground Railroad in Rochester. He helped raise two regiments of black soldiers during the Civil War, the 54th and 55th Massachusetts. After the war, he fought for the enactment of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution.
He became U. S. marshal for the District of Columbia in 1877 and recorder of deeds in Washington D. C. in 1881. He was also the U. S. minister to Haiti from 1889 to 1891. Frederick Douglass stood at the center of the crisis black intellectuals faced at the end of the Civil War and thereafter. He was the most influential of all the black leaders throughout the mid 19th century.
Frederick Douglass was one of the most prominent figures of the abolitionist movement, which fought to end slavery within the United States in the decades prior to the Civil War. A brilliant speaker, Douglass engaged in a tour of lectures and became recognized as one of America’s first great black speakers. David W. Blight, an associate professor of history and black studies at Amherst College, offers an edited version of Frederick Douglass an autobiography that was first published in 1845.
Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Tuckahoe, near the town of Easton in Talbot County. Douglas’s mother, Harriet Baily, worked the cornfields surrounding Holmes Hill. He knew little of his father except that the man was white. As a child, he had heard rumors that the master, Aaron Anthony, had sired him. Because Harriet Baily was required to work long hours in the fields, Frederick had been sent to live with his grandmother, Betsey Baily.
At age 6, Douglass was taken to his master Captain Anthony on the Lloyd Plantation, where he was given little clothing or anything else. He and the other slave children were fed cornmeal mush that was placed in a trough, to which they were called. Frederick later wrote, “like so many pigs” (p. 54). Douglass was later chosen live Hugh Auld, the brother of his master’s son-in-law, who managed a shipbuilding firm in Baltimore, Maryland.
Upon Frederick’s arrival at the Auld Home, his only duties were to run errands and care for the Auld’s young son, Tommy. Frederick enjoyed the work and grew to love the child. Sophia Auld was a religious woman and frequently read aloud from the Bible. Frederick asked his mistress to teach him to read and she readily consented. He soon learned the alphabet and a few simple words. Auld became furious at this because it was unlawful to teach a slave to read. Hugh Auld believed that if a slave knew how to read and write that it would make him unfit for a slave.
Douglass learned from his master’s outburst that if learning how to read and write was his pathway to freedom, then gaining this knowledge was to become his goal. He gained command of the alphabet on his own and made friends with poor white children he met on errands and used them as teachers. He paid for his reading lessons with pieces of bread. At home, Douglass read parts of books and newspapers when he could, but he had to constantly be on guard against his mistress.
During this time, Captain Anthony died, and his Daughter Lucretia Auld died placing Douglass in the hands of Thomas Auld. He was sorry to leave Baltimore because he had recently become a teacher to a group of other young blacks. In addition, a black preacher named Charles Lawson had taken him under his wing and adopted him as his spiritual son. The now fifteen-year-old Douglass was sent to live at Thomas Auld’s new farm near the town of Saint Michaels, a few miles from the Lloyd plantation.
Douglass was again put to work by his new master and was extremely unhappy about his situation. Thomas Auld starved his slaves, and they had to steal food from neighboring farms to survive. He received many beatings and saw worse ones given to others. He then organized a Sunday religious service for the slaves, which met in nearby Saint Michaels. The services were soon stopped by a mob led by Thomas Auld. Thomas Auld had found Douglass especially difficult to control and decided to have someone break him.
In January 1833, he was sent to work for Edward Covey, a poor farmer who had gained a reputation around Saint Michaels for being a “nigger- breaker”(p.71). The slaves on Covey’s farm worked from dawn until after nightfall. Although the men were given plenty of food, they had very little time allotted to eat before they were sent back to work.
After being on the farm for one week, Douglass was given a serious beating for letting an oxen team run wild. During the months to follow, he was continually whipped until he began to feel that he was “broken”. On one hot August afternoon, his strength failed him and he collapsed in the field. Covey kicked and beat him and finally walked away in disgust. Douglass mustered the strength to get up and walk to the Auld farm, where he pleaded with his master to let him stay.
Auld had little sympathy for him and sent him back to Covey. When he returned to the farm Covey began tying him to a post in preparation for a whipping, Douglass said, “At that moment – from whence came the spirit I don’t know – I resolved to fight” (p.78). Covey and Frederick fought for almost two hours until Covey finally gave up.
After working for Covey for a year, Douglass was sent to work for a farmer named William Freeland, who was a relatively kind master. But by now, all he wanted was his freedom. His first escape attempt failed and Douglass was imprisoned. To his surprise, Thomas Auld came and released him. He was then sent again to Hugh Auld in Baltimore and was hired out to a local shipbuilder so that he could learn the trade. Within a year, he was an experienced caulker and was being paid wages, which he, in turn, gave to Hugh Auld.
In September 1838, Douglass made his mind up to try to escape again. It was a tough decision for him to make because he would be leaving his fianc?e, Anna Murray, and did not know when and if he would see her again. Despite his worries, Douglass managed to pull off a successful escape disguised as a sailor. In New York, He met David Ruggles, who was associated with the Underground Railroad. Frederick sent for his fiance, and the two were married on September 15, 1838.
Ruggles told Frederick that in the port of New Bedford, Massachusetts, he would be safe from slave catchers and he could find work in his trade as a caulker. Although amazed at the wealth and industry of New Bedford it was not a paradise. White shipyard employees would not allow skilled black tradesmen, such as Douglass, to work beside them. Unable to find work as a caulker, Douglass had to work as a common laborer.
Frederick Douglass was one of the most influential men of the anti-slavery movement, as well as being a supporter of women’s rights. As a great orator, he often used his first-hand experience as a slave to help build support for the abolitionist movement. Blight includes a selection of those speeches in this work along with other primary sources that help explain the climate of the time such as a review of the original work published by the New York Tribune in 1845. This work was a wonderful first hands account of American slavery and would be useful to any student of American history.
“Sincerely and earnestly hoping that this little book may do something toward throwing light on the American slave system, and hastening the glad day of deliverance to the millions of my brethren in bonds relying upon the power of truth, love, and justice, for success in my efforts and solemnly pledging myself anew to the sacred cause, I subscribe myself.”
With these words, Frederick Douglass ended one of the greatest pieces of propaganda of the 19th century. Douglass wrote his autobiography as an abolitionist tool to shape his northern audience’s view of southern slaveholders. Through personal anecdotes, Douglass drew an accurate picture of the life of a slave. At the same time, these events were chosen for how they would affect the northern audience’s opinion of southern slaveholders.
By using the written word, Douglass and fellow abolitionists targeted educated northern whites because they were the only group who could change the status quo. Illiterate northern whites and free northern blacks could not vote while white southerners would not vote because they did not want change. Therefore, Douglass used his life story as a tool to promote abolition among literate northern whites.
Frederick Douglass used family relationships, starting with his birth to tug at the heartstrings of his targeted audience. He never knew the true identity of his father, but it was “whispered” that it was his master. Douglass mentioned this to show how the “slaveholder in (many) cases, sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father.”
This was so commonplace that it was “by law established that the children of women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mother.” This meant that these bastard children were to be slaves despite their paternal heritage because their mother was a slave. The effect was to shock and offend the morals of the conservative northern whites. People involved in adulteress and interracial relationships were scorned by northern society. By portraying these southerners as immoral and adulteress, Douglass wanted his audience to have an unfavorable opinion of southern slaveholders.
Keeping with the theme of family values, Douglass touched on the topic of the basic family unit. Their master separated Douglass and his mother when he was an infant, for what reason “(Douglass) does not know.” No reason was ever given to Douglass because this was the accepted way of life on plantations. Douglass wanted his northern white readers to be horrified that slave families were regularly torn apart for no apparent reason. This would upset Northerners because the family was the basis for their close-knit communities.
Multiple generations and extended families lived together or within close proximity to each other. It would be unimaginable to the readers that a society existed that took children away from their mothers without a reason. Anyone who was part of such a society would be thought of as a heartless monster. Douglass wanted the northern whites to lash out against these heartless monsters and abolish slavery, thereby ending the callous practices associated with slavery.
Another example of how Douglass used family values as propaganda against southern slaveholders was in the treatment of his grandmother. When Douglass’s master decided that his grandmother was too old and no longer useful, “they took her to the woods, built her a little hut, and then made her welcome to the privilege of supporting herself in perfect loneliness; thus virtually turning her out to die.”
This showed the lack of decency or gratitude on the part of slaveholders toward slaves that had faithfully, their entire lives, served their masters. The mistreatment of elders in this manner would enrage the readers, especially those with close-knit families because the aged were to be taken care of and respected until death.
The usefulness of older people went beyond physical attributes because they had a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. The fact that slave masters could show so little regard and respect for Douglass’s grandmother would be loathsome and despicable, and Douglass hoped this would help influence the northern whites against the institution of slavery.
Furthermore, Douglass wanted to show the hypocrisy in the behavior of these masters. They considered their slaves to be less than human, yet they still desired and slept with their female slaves. This would prove to northern whites the invalidity of southern claims that “horses and men, cattle and women, and pigs and children all (held) the same rank in the scale of being.” If slaves were true of less rank than animals, why would a slaveholder want to sleep with one? Surely he would not sleep with one of his farm animals. Northern whites would be appalled at the thought of desiring or sleeping with anything they considered to be on a lower level of existence than animals. Therefore, Douglass’s northern audience would be revolted by southern slave owners.
As mentioned earlier, slaves were considered to be on the same level of existence as animals. Douglass focused on this aspect of slave treatment by their masters to show how slaves were not considered to be human beings. Slaveholders considered the entire race of enslaved people to have less worth than any white person. One way the slaves were treated as animals was how they were fed. Their food was “put into a large wooden tray or trough and the children were then called like so many pigs to devour the mush; some with naked hands, and none with spoons.”
Slave owners described slave children as pigs because like pigs, the children were dirty, smelly, and they would push each other out of the way to get as much food as possible. The children were dirty and smelly because they were not cared for adequately by their masters, and they pushed each other out of the way to get to the food because they were never fed enough food. What the slaves were fed was “coarse corn meal boiled called mush” which is similar to what farm animals were fed.
The difference between the farm animals and the slaves was that the animals were taken care of better and always given enough to eat. Douglass repeatedly mentions how often he “(felt) the gnawing pains of hunger.” His masters had more than an adequate supply of food but would rather it “lay moldering” than give it to the slaves.
Not only is this more evidence as to the cruel and selfish nature of slaveholders, but it shows how animals were treated better than slaves. To know that animals were treated better than certain human beings in the south would hit a nerve with Douglass’s targeted audience. Imaging themselves to be treated so worthlessly by another human being, literate northern whites would feel divided from southern slave owners.
To force his audience to feel further alienated, Douglass elaborates on the treatment of slaves as animals in his description of the slaves’ sleeping conditions. Masters did not give the slaves a bed to sleep on, only a “coarse blanket.” So at the end of the day, slaves “old and young, male and female, married and single (would) drop-down side by side, on one common bed- the cold damp floor.” Douglass was aware that some of his northern readers could relate to the slave’s situation because they too had once endured similar circumstances of poor living conditions or even homelessness.
But, northern society made it possible for a person to overcome such hardships while the slave masters denied their slaves a better existence. The institution of slavery held each successive generation in poverty, which is an affront to the dream that many northerners held of prosperity in the New World. Douglass hoped that the Northerners would sympathize with the slaves’ oppression while becoming enraged with the slaveholders who held them there.
Douglass also wanted his northern audience to be enraged by how slaveholders punished slaves. A northerner with any sense of justice would be furious that it was not considered wrong to whip a slave “till (they were) literally covered with blood” nor was it considered a crime to kill a slave. Masters and overseers justified severely whipping their slaves because “it (was) the duty of a master to whip a slave, to remind him of his master’s authority.”
Slaves were whipped for the “smallest offenses to prevent the commission of larger ones.” If a slave became “unmanageable”. He was killed to avert other slaves from “copying the example.” Douglass detailed these horrific examples of punishment to infuriate the northern white reader that a person was punished in advance of any wrongdoing, was whipped almost to the brink of death and was murdered without it being “treated as a crime by the courts or community.”
Treatment of one person by another in these ways was not tolerated in the north. This “fiendish barbarity” would appall the northern reader and would lead them to share Douglass’s opinion that southern slaveholders were truly the “most wicked of men.”
To further demonstrate the wickedness of southern slave masters, Douglass wanted his readers to know how religion was used as a “mere covering for the most horrid crimes a dark shelter under which the darkest, foulest, grossest and most infernal deeds of slaveholders (found) the strongest protection.”Masters would beat their slaves and then defend their actions with quotes from the bible such as “He that knoweth his master’s will and doeth it not shall be beaten with many stripes.”
Northerners with any religious background would know that this quote and others like it did not translate into a justification for inflicting physical harm on a slave when they did not obey their master. Douglass wanted to show his readers how slave owners misused the teachings of the bible to strengthen their own power and how they basically saw themselves as God to their slaves.
The reader would know the later was blasphemy, one of the seven deadly sins. As a result, the readers would detest their southern brethren because religious slaveholders “were the worst meanest and basest, the cruelest and cowardly of all others.”
Combining all the ways that Douglass sought to affect his northern audience’s opinion of southern slaveholders, he hoped to give his readers a glimpse into the true character of southern slaveholders and the institution of slavery itself. Douglass realized that racism was also prevalent in the north and so his intent was not trying to achieve equal rights but basic human rights.
Douglass hoped to gain compassion for those still held in slavery by relating experiences such as being separated from his mother when he was an infant and not knowing whom his father was, how slaves were treated as if they had less value than an animal, and the fact that slaves were brutally beaten and sometimes killed without it being considered a crime.
Douglass also hoped to tarnish his northern white readers’ view of southern slaveholders and their practices by illustrating how they had adulterous and interracial affairs with their salves whom they considered to be less than human, how they abhorrently and unjustly mistreated and punished their slaves, and how they used religion as a crutch for legitimizing their actions.
“Slavery was a most painful situation; and, to understand it, one must experience it, or imagine himself in similar circumstances then, and not till then, will he fully appreciate the hardships of, and know how to sympathize with, the toil-worn and whipped-scarred slave.” (64)
These are Douglass’s own words that are meant as a plea for his readers to imagine themselves in his situation to better understand the hardships he and other slaves endured. Through the use of propaganda disguised as The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, this man sought to alter the relationship between two groups of people.
Family values, basic human rights, and religion were topics used to persuade the northern white audience toward the cause of abolition. Douglass hoped that his readers would in some way share his “hate (for) the corrupt, slaveholding, woman-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of (the southern slaveholders)”. Slavery does not exist in today’s society so obviously, Douglass’s effort was able to help advance the cause of abolition.
Frederick Douglass was one of the most important black leaders of the Antislavery Movement. He was born in 1817 in Talbot County, MD. He was the son of Harriet Bailey and an unknown white man. His mother was a slave so therefore he was born a slave. He lived with his grandparents until the age of eight, so he never knew his mother well. When he turned eight, he was sent to “Aunt Kathy,” a woman who took care of slave children on the plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd.
When he was nine, he was sent to Baltimore where he lived with Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Auld. He started to study reading with Mrs. Auld but Mr. Auld forbid it. However, he still managed to learn anyway. To cause him to comply with slavery more easily, Mr. Auld sent to him to Edward Covey, a man who specialized in breaking down the spirits of rebellious slaves, or a “slave breaker.” While there, he was beaten daily for the slightest offense against the strict rules.
One day he finally fought back in a fight that lasted two hours and forced Covey to stop trying to “break” him. He was returned to Auld, where he was sent to a shipyard to learn the caulker’s trade. But that didn’t stop his education, he not only learned caulking but he also learned to write by tracing the letters on the ship front. Using seaman’s papers given to him by a free black he escaped by sea. He tried to get work as a caulker but racial discrimination forced him to become a common laborer.
To avoid being taken back, he changed his last name to Douglass. He soon became a large part of the antislavery movement when he came in association with The Liberator, which belonged to William Lloyd Garrison, and he also joined the black Garrisonians of New Bedford. He attended the Massachusetts Anti- Slavery Society in Nantucket, in 1841. When they asked him to speak, he spoke of his experiences as a slave. His speech made a deep impression, and the society hired him as a full-time speaking agent.
He spoke at many conventions and spoke against slavery and the rights of free blacks. Sometimes white mobs broke up his conventions but he continued as a lecturer. He soon became on of the leading black abolitionists and one of the most famous lecturers of that time period. As his speeches grew became more cultivated, people began to doubt that he was ever a slave. So he wrote an autobiography entitled Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1845.
In this book, he described every detail of his life as a slave. He then later wrote two more autobiographies entitled My Bondage and My Freedom in 1855 and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in 1882. Since his books were so greatly detailed, he was in danger of being recaptured. So he went away. He toured Britain for two years. While there he spoke against slavery and his speeches had as much impact on audiences as they did in the United States.
He returned to the United States after his British friends acquired his freedom. Since blacks were considered inferior then, Douglass decided to start a newspaper of his own that was run entirely by blacks. Garrison complained saying that Douglass’ talents as a speaker would be wasted. Yet in spite of Garrison’s objections, Douglass moved to Rochester, N.Y., and started the weekly The North Star which was later changed to Frederick Douglass’ Paper. He continued to publish it from December 1847 to May 1863. In the paper, he advocated the rights of free blacks and slaves.
Douglass also supported may causes such as women’s rights. Since Douglass was a Garrisonian he didn’t believe in politics since it supported the constitution which Garrisonians thought supported slavery. When he moved to Rochester, he met “political abolitionists”. They supported the constitution saying that it forbid slavery. The called for electing abolitionists into public office.
Garrison felt that the north should separate its self from the south. However, Douglass was convinced that this would leave the slaves to their masters. Garrison then accused him as an “apostate” and the two parted. Douglass worked closely with the small Liberty Party which called for the total elimination of slavery, from 1848 to the 1850s. However, on occasion, he supported the Free Soil and Republican parties, which only called to prevent the spread of slavery.
Douglass soon came to decline Garrison’s philosophy on slavery. Douglass’ house in Rochester was a station in the “Underground Railroad,” a group of people who helped runaway slaves escape to Canada. He approved of John Brown’s advocacy of armed forces to help slaves escape. But he opposed Brown’s plan to attack the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Va., in 1859. Yet when they captured Brown in the assault, Douglass was accused as an accomplice.
He had to flee to Canada to avoid being arrested and tried for treason. Douglass later returned in 1860 when the confusion had diminished. During the Civil War said that the true cause of the war was slavery and that blacks should into the Union army. His own sons were of the first volunteers for the all-black regiment formed in Massachusetts.
In 1865 there were 300,000 blacks in the Union army. In 1865-1877, he campaigned for black vote and full civil rights for the freedmen. He was a leading Republican advocate and held several federal posts. Douglass was minister to Haiti from 1889 to 1891. He died on February 29, 1895. He was honored as the nation’s greatest black leader.
Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist who altered America’s views of slavery through his writings and actions. Frederick’s life as a slave had the greatest impact on his writings. Through his experience as a slave, he developed emotion and experience for him to become a successful abolitionist writer.
He experienced harsh treatment and his hate for slavery and desire to be free caused him to write a Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. In his Narrative, he wrote the story of his miserable life as a slave and his fight to be free. His motivation behind the character (himself) was to make it through another day so that maybe one day he might be free.
The power that they have over their slaves has a damaging effect on their moral health because they are careless. Douglass describes adultery and rape as typical behavior patterns of slaveholders that damage their families. Sophia Auld is Douglass’s main illustration of the corruption of slave owners. The power of slaveholding changes Sophia from a nice woman to a demon. She went from a kind, caring, and loving person into a typical mean slave master.
She was no longer able to teach Douglass how to read because her husband disapproved it. Slaveholders gain and keep power over blacks from their birth onward by keeping them ignorant of basic facts about themselves. For example, slaves didn’t know their birth date or who their parents were. They didn’t want slaves to have a natural sense of identity. Slave children were not allowed to learn to read or write because this would lead slaves to question their rights.
Douglass uses family relationships, starting with his own birth, to gain the compassion of his target audience. He never knew the identity of his father, but it was “whispered” (Douglass, Narrative, 43) that it was his master. Douglass shocked his Northern white readers when he informed them that slaveholders regularly split slave families for no reason. This upset Northerners because their family units were the foundation of their communities.
Example #6 – The Legitimization of Slavery and Frederick Douglass
Slavery’s roots extend back more than two thousand years. With such a lengthy past, many arguments have arisen regarding the definition of slavery. Frederick Douglass, being a former slave in the American south, offered one definition of the term “slave” while giving a lecture. He stated, “The slave is a human being, divested of all rights – reduced to the level of a brute… In law, a slave has no wife, no children, no country, and no home…” (“The Nature of Slavery”).
One may question how the treatment of a person, in such a manner, could be condoned. In order to successfully convince society that it is acceptable to enslave an innocent group of people, they needed to justify its legitimacy. Their excuses, however, are immaterial when raised to oppress a strong abolitionist leader. In his book, Inhuman Bondage, David Brion Davis examines the methods of bestialization, dehumanization, and racism as steps toward the legitimization of slavery.
As Frederick Douglass rose to prominence in the abolitionist movement, he discounted each of the rationalizations. His actions, rebelling against his “master,” starting a family, and becoming a leader, contradict the justification of slavery. Upon examining the steps taken by the American people to legitimize the enslavement of African Americans, it becomes apparent that Frederick Douglass conflicts with their explanations (Davis).
A first step in the legitimization of slavery is the bestialization of the individuals to be enslaved. The society aligns the domestication of wild animals with the “domestication” of African American slaves. David Brion Davis examines this topic via quotations from Aristotle, as he discusses the value of a tame animal. This leads to the discussion of African Americans. He says, “these people are slaves by nature, and it is better for them to be subject to this kind of control” (Davis 33-34).
Aristotle literally discusses these people in terms of agricultural labor animals. He goes on to assert the difference between the body of a slave and of a free man. Aristotle says, “Nature must therefore have intended to make the bodies of free men and of slaves different also; slaves’ bodies strong for the services they have to do…” (Davis 33-34). Aristotle’s words express racism toward people of African descent. He groups together cattle, oxen, horses, and slaves, saying all should be treated as wild animals. They must be tamed and utilized, by the white man for their physical abilities.
As a slave, Douglass was categorized among the livestock. He writes, “I now saw, in my situation, several points of similarity with that of the oxen. They were property, so was I; they were to be broken, so was I” (Douglass 212). At times he may have felt himself to be reduced to the property of another man, but he utilizes the fire of his emotions. He rebels against his “owner” and refuses the position he is given. He says, “I remembered my pledge to stand up in my own defense… I was resolved to fight” (Douglass 242).
He is not broken as he uses his fury to defend himself; he says, “The fighting madness had come upon me, and I found my strong fingers firmly attached to the throat of my cowardly tormentor” (Douglass 242). While initially he rejects his life as a slave and fights back against his oppressors, he meets many setbacks along the way. His ultimate rise from his life as an animal is accomplished through his education. By learning to read, write, and speak, he breaks away from his bestialization and fights the system of slavery.
The dehumanization of African Americans also aided in the legitimization of slavery. Indeed, slaves were “deprived of precisely those traits and faculties that are prerequisites for human dignity, respect, and honor” (Davis 29). Many slaves were given little clothing and no hygienic facilities; this robbed them of their pride. Even the most basic human relationship, of mother to child, was taken from them.
Douglass has torn away from his mother after birth so that she could return to work; he was left with his grandmother to be raised alongside his biological siblings. At the beginning of the book, there are often mentions of his relations being beaten. As the story progresses, however, there are no longer any allusions to his family. He is sent to different plantations alone, with no social attachments or home.
Davis asserts, “This absence of a past and a future, of a place in history and society from which to grow in small increments, made each slave totally vulnerable. This may be the very essence of dehumanization” (Davis 37). Douglass had no past, no history, no permanent group to connect with, and no home. He, however, overcame this. While he was living in Baltimore, he met a woman; after he escaped, he was reunited with her.
He says, “my intended wife, Anna, came on from Baltimore and, in the presence of Mrs. Mitchell and Mr. Ruggles, we were married by Rev. James W. C. Pennington” (Douglass 341). With nothing to hold onto, he created his own past, present, and future. Douglass and Anna later had two children. He rejected the dehumanization that held him down, as he became the leader of his family. Thus, he took back his “human dignity, respect, and honor” (Douglass).
Racism, of course, was another facet of the legitimization of slavery. Through a strongly racist ideology, slaves were believed to be part of a lower class of human. On an academic level, prominent figures publicly announced their negative opinions of African Americans. Philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, “The Negroes of Africa have received from nature no intelligence that rises above the foolish” (Kant). Through this quote, one can deduce that society thought slaves to be mentally insufficient, and unable to rise above this.
This is ironic, considering that Douglass recounts Mr. Auld’s fear of the slaves becoming educated. As he scolds his wife for teaching Douglass how to read, he expresses the fear of the slaves learning enough to realize that they can rebel. It is evident that they were concerned about the power of the slaves, and the extent of their abilities. Indeed, Kant’s contemporary, David Hume, held similar racist beliefs.
He stated, “I am apt to suspect the Negroes, and in general all other species of men, to be naturally inferior to the whites” (Hume). The belief that African Americans were physically and psychologically inferior to whites was a generally accepted belief. As Frederick Douglass attempted to obtain employment after escaping slavery, for example, he was denied work as a calker due to the color of his skin. The white men threatened to leave if he worked beside him.
Yet Douglass did not let this mentality stand. Although he worked as a laborer, making fractions of the white men’s wages, he did not settle. He joined the abolitionist movement and wrote in the papers against slavery. After joining up with Mr. Garrison, Douglass spent a great deal of time speaking out against slavery. By doing so, he proved to the world that he was equal to any man who heard him.
Utilizing his skills as an orator, he worked to break down the racism that held him back; in this Douglass worked to undo the legitimization of slavery. As a public figure and a leader, he stands on display to de-rationalize slavery (Douglass 304-359).
John Locke, in his work Two Treatises of Government, argues that, theoretically, slavery cannot exist. Locke says, “This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power is so necessary to… a man’ preservation, that he cannot part with it but by what forfeits his preservation and life together” (Locke). No man can be a slave, for each man has to power over himself. In giving up control of one’s own life, they are forfeiting their own lives, which as part of survival cannot be done.
Douglass proved this in his own actions. As stated in the aforementioned speech, he said, “In law, a slave has no wife, no children, no country, and no home” (“The Nature of Slavery”). He had control over his own life; therefore, he escaped and lived his life according to his own wishes. Overall, Douglass may have agreed with Locke. Locke asserts that one cannot be a slave unless one consents to enslavement. Douglass states that one cannot be a slave if they have a family. Therefore, Douglass chose not to be a slave. His liberation from slavery, in a technical manner, was through his family. If slaves have no family, then he was not a slave.
Frederick Douglass’s life is a testament against the legitimization of slavery. He stands as evidence against every reason that a man claimed for slavery. They claimed that African Americans were animals. Yet even as Douglass was defending himself from his “master,” he was polite to him. Even while holding the man’s neck, he answered, “Yes, sir” (Douglass 243).
The society claimed that they were less than human. Few aspects are more human than fighting for what one believes in. Douglass more than proved his competence and equality to any man. As one looks at the rationalizations attached to slavery, it is clear that Frederick Douglass contests every word.
Example #7 – Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Essay
In the history of America as a nation, there lies the dark truth about slavery that has left scars in those that suffered its effects. To the then perpetrators of slavery, the whites, it has left a shameful mark that America will ever live to regret.
This essay focuses on a narrative by Frederick Douglass who was formerly a slave. The narrative shows the negativity of slavery and its consequential effects, and champions for its abolishment. The book, ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass’ is both an indictment of slavery and a call to action for its abolition (Lecture Notes 1).
Douglass writes the narrative out of experience in slavery. He states that slavery is the worst thing that ever happened to America and has its effects even in this present age. His narration is with a deep sigh of regret as to why he had to pass through that especially when he was very young.
The death and separation from his mother at a very tender age sadden him very much. He is believed to have had a white father, a fact that acts as proof of some negative things that the slaves had to experience. This in itself explains that the slaves, especially the women suffered rape from the slaveholders who took them in by force (Douglass, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” 1).
Douglass had to witness the whipping of his aunt, a thing that he looks back with great pity. The slaves were brutally treated, being beaten day in day out with no good reason. They had to do donkeys’ work with an accompaniment of strokes.
The description given by Douglass to the torturous treatment of the slaves clearly shows his hatred and condemnation of slavery together with those who practiced it. A description of how the slaves operated especially when they interacted with their masters is also given. They had a lot of inferiority complex due to the ill-treatment they received from the white people.
They, therefore, walked in a lot of fear to the brutal masters. They literally feared the whites since they had no say before them (Murrin 98). For instance, the slaves were seen to be liars even if they told the truth. This worsened the situation of the slaves since they felt segregated. The fear, therefore, acted as a tool that protected the slaves from brutality and even death (Douglass “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” 1).
Douglass critically outlines the several events of extreme brutality to the slaves. They were being treated as beasts yet they were human beings just like the whites. This is very inhuman since every human being has a right which they should freely enjoy. Everybody should have the right to learn freely but this opportunity is denied to the slaves. The slaveholders argued that the slaves should not at all know how to read or write.
They ought not to even know how to read the Bible which is God’s Word. It is so ironic since God intends that all should read and know his Word but the slaves are denied that chance. They give the reason that their knowledge from reading or writing will disqualify them as slaves. Slavery is therefore portrayed by Douglass as a crime and its perpetrators ought to face justice. For instance, Douglass narrates his story when he moved to Baltimore.
He was happy with this because he knew that it was an end to the life of slavery. It marked a new beginning in his life but on the contrary, his efforts to learn even the simple alphabets are watered down by a White man who believed that the slaves would lose their positions by reading, and especially the Bible.
The slaves were also treated among the property that a slaveholder owned alongside things like livestock. This is a thing that makes Douglass once more completely hate slavery. This is because when his master died, Douglass together with the other slaves was left and they were all to be divided between the late master’s son and daughter as assets left for inheritance. Douglass’ hatred towards this kind of treatment reveals that the act is bad and not fit for human beings.
The slaves were also denied food on some occasions by their masters. Douglass reveals this when he narrates showing his happiness when he was lent out to another white man since he was sure of being fed. It implies that he received no food from his initial master despite the fact that he worked so hard throughout (Douglass, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” 1).
At the new master’s home, his expectations are thwarted. He works under tough conditions and does heavy tasks with little appreciation. As if that is not enough, he receives whips almost every day just because he is a slave. The suffering he undergoes day in day out makes him even collapse in the fields while working. This makes him reach the point of no return.
He, therefore, chooses to heat back by engaging his master in a fight. All this that transpires is a clear indication that Douglass completely hated slavery and was a campaigner for its abolition. After such a long time of perseverance, the heating back at his master shows that he seeks revenge against the perpetrators of slavery. It shows that he is willing and very ready to do anything to abolish and totally terminate the reign of this inhuman practice.
This is further supported by the efforts of Douglass together with other friends to escape from the plantation where they were all slaves. Unfortunately, they are seized and for this reason, Douglass is jailed.
This is a sign of self-sacrifice in order to see to it that slavery has been totally abolished. He risks his life to the point of even going to jail (Douglass, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” 1).
Douglass’ efforts to resist slavery simply showed that the abolition of this dehumanizing character is possible. This is evidenced by the response of the slave master who was torturing Douglass until he fought back. The slave master stopped whipping Douglass after the fight. Slavery can end if there will be people who are bold enough to resist it. This is the message that is seemingly being passed across.
Douglass was proving the fact that the slave masters will give in to pressure against slavery if the activists against slavery do not give up in their struggle for freedom. This is further supported by Douglass’ final success to freedom. He at last managed to escape from the slave rule with the help of some of his friends. With a combined effort, it is very possible to terminate slave rule or such as types of torture in any given society (Murrin 103).
Douglass brings out his arguments in the narrative very clearly proving that slave practice is a crime that should be abolished. He bases his argument on the platforms of both religion and morality. In his speech dubbed the ‘The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro’, Douglass says it is acknowledged that the slave is a being who can be trusted with responsibility, he is moral and intellectual.
This proves the moral grounds that Douglass takes a stand on to argue out his facts. He says that the manhood of one who is a slave is agreed upon meaning that it is a global agreement that slaves are human beings like any other despite the race (Douglass, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” 1).
On religious grounds, Douglass brings out his arguments using the story of the Bible where the children of Israel had been taken into exile by the Babylonians. The Israelites lament when they remember their home city Zion and refuse to sing a song in this foreign land contrary to what those who had taken them captive expected.
This marks their grief about their captivity. Douglass thus compares this with the situation that faced them as slaves in the land that was not their own too, as he tries to explain to his audience what encompassed them as slaves. He sides with God and other slaves are wounded to condemn the slavery perpetrators, something that is both sinful and shameful. This clearly points out the religious ground that Douglass bases some of his arguments (Douglass, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” 1).
Example #8 – An Analysis of the View of Frederick Douglass on Independence
Frederick Douglass accuses the portrayal of the independent, just, free, and individualistic American identity as “inhuman mockery”, falsely advertising that not all people that reside in America possessed the same liberties and freedom that every American was supposed to have.
Douglass refutes the common belief that when you first step foot on American soil, no matter where you come form symbolizes a new beginning on the path to a better life. In Letters from an American Farmer, the author Michel Guillaume Jean De Crevecoeur emphasizes the fact that America is a huge melting pot and that no matter where you hail from, once you set foot in this country you will you are an American and you receive every liberty that comes along with that title.
“The laws, the indulgent laws, protect them as they arrive, stamping on them the symbol of adoption…those lands confer on them the title of freemen, and to that title, every benefit is affixed which men can possibly require.” (Crevecoeur 3). According to Crevecoeur, every man is given the right of being a freeman, and that title includes every liberty a man could every want and need. Frederick Douglass strongly disagrees with this statement, as shown in his “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech that he delivered to a group of abolitionists for Independence Day in 1852.
Douglass starts the speech positively, his tone very calm and humbled, and talking about the fact that since America was such a young nation he had high hopes that abolition of slavery would be achieved in the future. Then about halfway through the speech (our abridged copy), Douglass takes a much more aggressive, straightforward position about how he feels about slavery in the U.S and about how a slave’s first steps are on American soil as opposed to someone of European descent.
“The Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice. I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.” (Douglass 5). Douglass puts emphasis on all of his pronouns regarding the slaves and the white man to show how all of the freedoms and liberties that are supposed to come along with being American are only given to a certain category of the population.
He also calls it an abomination that you would bring people to this great land of “liberty” in chains and then expect them to agree that American is indeed the land of the free, which is so openly advertised as being the basis of the American Identity.
Another big part of the American Identity is being able to work hard for economic success. Throughout his paper Crevecoeur is constantly reiterating the fact that being an American is about having the ability to work hard in order to gain monetary rewards and work your way up the social ladder. “They receive ample rewards for their labors; these accumulated rewards procure them lands;” (Crevecoeur 3). All citizens earned fair wages for their work and their newfound rewards would give them the ability to prove their wealth.
Douglass proved this claim as false using slavery as a perfect example as to why it wasn’t true. “What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men,” (Douglass 6).
Douglass uses the American liberty of being able to earn money for your hard work to again show how he feels about the advertised independence for all in America. He argues that the slaves not being able to earn wages for their work shows how the whites completely disregarded them as men and just added on to the fact that independence was selective.
In conclusion, Frederick Douglass believes that American Independence and American Identity is selective. Slaves were also people of America and they were denied all of the basic liberties and freedoms that the White population possessed. He believed that American Independence would be a sham until everyone living in this country had the same basic rights.
Example #10 – interesting ideas
Douglass’ Narrative begins with the few facts he knows about his birth and parentage; his father is a slave owner and his mother is a slave named Harriet Bailey. Throughout the next several chapters, Douglass describes the conditions in which he and other slaves live. As a slave of Captain Anthony and Colonel Lloyd, Douglass survives on meager rations and is often cold.
He witnesses brutal beatings and the murder of a slave, which goes unnoticed by the law or the community at large. Douglass argues against the notion that slaves who sing are content; instead, he likens singing to crying—a way to relieve sorrow. Douglass also draws attention to the false system of values created by slavery, in which allegiance to the slave master is far stronger than allegiance to other slaves.
Douglass lives for a time with William Freeland, a kind master, and Douglass finds a family among the other slaves there. Douglass becomes a Sunday school teacher to other slaves, a position he enjoys. Although this situation is better than any he has experienced, it is still a far cry from freedom, so Douglass attempts to escape by canoeing up the Chesapeake Bay.
He is caught and eventually finds himself working again for Hugh Auld in Baltimore. First, he runs errands for shipyard workers, but after some of the workers heckle and strike Douglass, he fights back and is nearly beaten to death.
I have to write a 7-page essay about an aspect of history. So I chose to write about “Living conditions of slaves according to Frederick Douglass”
The professor checked my first page (introduction) and said I needed a thesis statement that stood out, that had an argument. So he said I can try finding a writer who treated slavery as a light subject and didn’t think it was as harsh as Douglass describes in his narrative. I need a thesis statement that describes MY shows my opinion that someone else can go against. My opinion is simple: that I think Frederick Douglass did a very good job in describing the brutality of slave living conditions…what more can I say?? How can I make it an argument?
The thing about a thesis statement is that while it is an opinion, it has to be more than just a value judgment. You can say something like “I think Frederick Douglass did a good job” or whatever and just tell us why all day, but that isn’t a thesis. A thesis is something that needs to be argued.
For instance, if you want to argue that Frederick Douglass’s depiction was better BECAUSE it was more realistic (this could be your argument, in addition to your opinion), you need to first figure out what conditions for slaves were like, historically, and then compare Douglass’s account with a historical one.
You could also compare Douglass’s work to that of someone who had a totally different perspective… such as a white slave owner (pretty obvious example, but you get the point). To make your argument better, you would need to show where exactly the opposing opinion of slavery either leaves out or misrepresents elements of slavery that are crucial to Douglass’s interpretation, which is how you would argue that Douglass’s work is a BETTER representation (i.e. if it was more historically accurate).
You could also add some stuff about WHY there are different interpretations… namely the social factors, human factors, and economic interests of those who were involved. You might want to include what Douglass’s intentions were when he wrote… whichever of his works you are talking about. I.e. was he advocating abolition? Was he trying to move people emotionally?
Talk about how his intentions influenced his writing, and also may have influenced how accurate his depictions were. I.e. someone who is seriously advocating social change often has an invested interest in reporting facts accurately.
How could Frederick Douglass possibly relate to politics today? I am guessing the prompt means “political issues of the time” and for that, you need to discuss the politics of the time prior to the civil war. Of course, the whole issue of slave states versus free states was a huge political issue that eventually erupted into the civil war.
OTOH, you could say that “people are treated unjustly, and Frederick Douglass provides a useful model for looking at injustice today” and then you could talk about the role of “justice” in society as it relates to politics. But that is going too far off-topic, I think
This prompt is FAR too general. There are thesis length responses that might be made for each one of the three questions in the prompt. Your thesis only answers the second question. I think it is unreasonable to answer all three questions (which are very very different) in a single essay with a single thesis statement. I would use your thesis and mention the other two issues in supporting paragraphs in a way that links back to your original thesis. And I would add this in your first paragraph.
Frederick Douglass’s narrative questions the ethical view on slavery by explaining how the immorality impacts not only slaves but slaveholders as well. This view that slavery is immoral for all involved has profound implications for justice, as society strives to correct immoral, oppressive systems through consensus, politics, and the consent of the governed.
Consensus-is formed by education, and by all parties beginning to understand the issue and how they are affected by it Frederick Douglass was able to bridge the gap of understanding and gain consensus because of his background, his story shows blah, etc
politics-correction of moral issues occurs through legislation, such as the civil rights act, etc Frederick was aware of the unethical fashion but did not have the means to correct at that time, etc.