Frederick Douglass and Slavery
Abolitionist Frederick Douglass was the most distinguished and
influential black leaders of the nineteenth century. Douglass focused his
writings on the harshness and brutality of slavery. He describes in many of his
books accounts of his own experiences as a slave. A reader is able to perceive a
clear image of slavery through Douglass’ words. His writings explain the effects
of slavery and the struggle to overthrow it, as well as the condition of free
blacks both before and after the Emancipation, the politics of the Civil War,
and the failed promise of Reconstruction the followed.
As a child, Douglass was taught how to read by Sophia Auid. She was
drawn to the questioning mind of Douglass. Her husband however, put a stop to
this stating the teaching of Douglass to read would, “Spoil the best nigger in
the world… forever unfitting him for the duties of a slave.”
As a slave child some experiences were hard to describe. Douglass
witnessed, as a child, what he called a “horrible exhibition.” He lived with his
Aunt in one of the master’s corridors. The master was an inhumane slave holder.
He would sometimes take great pleasure in whipping a slave. Douglass was often
times awakened by the screams of his Aunt. She would be tied and whipped on her
back. The master would whip her till he was literally covered in blood. “No
words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart
from its bloody purpose.” The louder she screamed, the harder the master seemed
to whip her. Douglass witnessed this first as a child. As he grew older, many
more of these incidents would occur. “It struck me with awful force. It was the
blood stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, though which I was
about to pass.”
An old slave master of Douglass was Captain Anthony. Captain Anthony was,
at times, a kind and gentle man. However, slavery made him treat slaves as
inferiors. “Under the whole heavens there could be no relation more unfavorable
to the development of honorable character than that sustained by the slave
holder to the slave.”
From the beginning of a slave’s childhood, masters teach their slaves
about God. Slaves were told that God made whites to be masters and blacks to be
slaves. Young children were told that slavery was for their own protection. This
did not make sense to Douglass. He desired to know how his master knew what God
thought. Such unsupported lies to Douglass would not be accepted without
question. Still, others chose not to run away from their masters.
Douglass had escaped from slavery. As Douglass grew older he started to
compel other people to seek their independence. A person could not consider
himself free as long as his brother is a slave. Douglass explained, “We are one
people – one in general complexion, one in a common degradation, one in popular
estimation.” As one rises, all must rise. As one falls, all must fall.
Douglass had an idea to help the North win the Civil War. He proposed
that the slaves be freed as a war measure and let the people join the Union Army.
He urged this policy without compromise. The Negroes would help benefit the
Union. A proclamation of freedom to the slaves would, “Smite the rebellion in
the very seat of its life, depriving it of the labor which kept the rebel army
supplied with food, clothing, and the sinews of war.” Abolition of the slaves
would immediately unite the world in favor of the government of America.
Douglass wrote an autobiography to show everyone the inhumane side of
slavery. Most people did not know of slavery’s brutality until Douglass wrote
about it. Douglass wrote about the Civil War to get more people to help save and
free the slaves. The writings of Douglass were a significant record of the
struggles of African-Americans in the nineteenth-century United States.