Douglas Essay

This essay has a total of 731 words and 4 pages.


Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey on Maryland's Eastern Shore in 1818, he was the
son of a slave woman and, her white master. Upon his escape from slavery at age 20, he
adopted the name of the hero of Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake. Douglass
immortalized his years as a slave in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an
American Slave (1845). This and two other autobiographies, My Bondage and My Freedom
(1855) and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881), mark his greatest
contributions to American culture. Written as antislavery propaganda and personal
revelation, they are regarded as the finest examples of the slave narrative tradition and
as classics of American autobiography.

Douglass's life as a reformer ranged from his abolitionist activities in the early 1840s
to his attacks on Jim Crow and lynching in the 1890s. For 16 years he edited an
influential black newspaper and achieved international fame as an orator and writer of
great persuasive power. In thousands of speeches and editorials he levied an irresistible
indictment against slavery and racism, provided an indomitable voice of hope for his
people, embraced antislavery politics, and preached his own brand of American ideals. In
the 1850s he broke with the strictly moralist brand of abolitionism led by William Lloyd
Garrison; he supported the early women's rights movement; and he gave direct assistance to
John Brown's conspiracy that led to the raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859.

Rhetorically, Douglass was a master of irony, as illustrated by his famous Fourth of July
speech in 1852: "This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn,"
he declared. Then he accused his unsuspecting audience in Rochester, New York, of mockery
for inviting him to speak and quoted Psalm 137, where the children of Israel are forced to
sit down "by the rivers of Babylon," there to "sing the Lord's song in a strange land."
For the ways that race have caused the deepest contradictions in American history, few
better sources of insight exist than Douglass's speeches. Moreover, for understanding
prejudice, there are few better starting points than his timeless definition of racism as
a "diseased imagination."

Douglass welcomed the Civil War in 1861 as a moral crusade against slavery. During the war
he labored as a propagandist of the Union cause and emancipation, a recruiter of black
troops, and, on two occasions, an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln. He viewed the
Union victory as an apocalyptic rebirth of America as a nation rooted in a rewritten
Constitution and the ideal of racial equality. Some of his hopes were dashed during
Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, but he continued to travel widely and lecture on racial
issues, national politics, and women's rights. In the 1870s Douglass moved to Washington,
D.C., where he edited a newspaper and became president of the ill-fated Freedman's Bank.
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