Compare and Constrast Essay on Frederick douglass

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frederick douglass

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Frederick Douglass was one of the foremost leaders 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 was asked by the American Anti-Slavery Society to engage in a
tour of lectures, and so became recognized as one of America's first great black speakers.
He won world fame when his autobiography was publicized in 1845. Two years later he bagan
publishing an antislavery paper called the North Star. Douglass served as an adviser to
President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and fought for the adoption of
constitutional amendments that guaranteed voting rights and other civil liberties for
blacks. Douglass provided a powerful voice for human rights during this period of American
history and is still revered today for his contributions against racial injustice. The
Slave Years -------------------- -------------------- --------------------
-------------------- Frederick Baily was born a slave in February 1818 on Holmes Hill
Farm, near the town of Easton on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The farm was part of an estate
owned by Aaron Anthony, who also managed the plantations of Edward Lloyd V, one of the
wealthiest men in Maryland. The main Lloyd Plantation was near the eastern side of
Chesapeake Bay, 12 miles from Holmes Hill Farm, in a home Anthony had built near the Lloyd
mansion, was where Frederick's first master lived. Frederick'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. Betsy Baily lived in a cabin a
short distance from Holmes Hill Farm. Her job was to look after Harriet's children until
they were old enough to work. Frederick's mother visited him when she could, but he had
only a hazy memory of her. He spent his childhood playing in the woods near his
grandmother's cabin. He did not think of himself as a slave during these years. Only
gradually did Frederick learn about a person his grandmother would refer to as Old Master
and when she spoke of Old Master it was with certain fear. At age 6, Frederick's
grandmother had told him that they were taking a long journey. They set out westward, with
Frederick clinging to his grandmother's skirt with fear and uncertainty They had
approached a large elegant home, the Lloyd Plantation, where several children were playing
on the grounds. Betsy Baily had pointed out 3 children which were his brother Perry, and
his sisters Sara and Eliza. His grandmother had told him to join his siblings and he did
so reluctantly. After a while one of the children yelled out to Frederick that his
grandmother was gone. Frederick fell to the ground and wept, he was about to learn the
harsh realities of the slave system. The slave children of Aaron Anthony's were fed
cornmeal mush that was placed in a trough, to which they were called. Frederick later
wrote "like so many pigs." The children made homemade spoons from oyster shells to eat
with and competed with each other for every last bite of food. The only clothing that they
were provided with was one linen shirt which hung to their knees. The children were
provided no beds or warm blankets. On cold winter nights they would huddle together in the
kitchen of the Anthony house to keep each other warm. One night Frederick was awakened by
a woman's screams. He peered through a crack in the wall of the kitchen only to see Aaron
Anthony lashing the bare back of a woman, who was his aunt, Hester Baily. Frederick was
terrified, but forced himself to watch the entire ordeal. This would not be the first
whipping he would see, occasionally he himself would be the victim. He would learn that
Aaron Anthony would brutally beat his slaves if they did not obey orders quickly enough.
Frederick's mother was rarely able to visit her children due to the distance between
Holmes Hill Farm and the Lloyd plantation. Frederick last saw his mother when he was seven
years old. He remembered his mother giving a severe scolding to the household cook who
disliked Frederick and gave him very little food. A few months after this visit, Harriet
Baily died, but Frederick did not learn of this until much later. Because Frederick had a
natural charm that many people found engaging, he was chosen to be the companion of Daniel
Lloyd, the youngest son of the plantation's owner. Frederick's chief friend and protector
was Lucretia Auld, Aaron Anthony's daughter, who was recently married to a ship's captain
named Thomas Auld. One day in 1826 Lucretia told Frederick that he was being sent to live
with her brother-in-law, Hugh Auld, who managed a ship building firm in Baltimore,
Maryland. She told him that if he scrubbed himself clean, she would give him a pair of
pants to wear to Baltimore. Frederick was elated at this chance to escape the life of a
field hand. He cleaned himself up and received his first pair of pants. Within three days
he was on his way to Baltimore. Upon Frederick's arrival at the Auld Home, his only duties
were to run errands and care for the Auld's infant 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. Sophia Auld was very
excited about Fredericks progress and told her husband what she had done. Hugh 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. A slave
that could read and write would no longer obey his master without question or thought, or
even worse could forge papers that said he was free and thus escape to a northern state
where slavery was outlawed. Hugh Auld then instructed Sophia to stop the lessons at once!
Frederick learned from Hugh Auld's outburst that if learning how to read and write was his
pathway to freedom, then gaining this knowledge was to become his goal. Frederick 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 Frederick read parts of books and newspapers when he could, but he had to
constantly be on guard against his mistress. Sophia Auld screamed whenever she caught
Frederick reading. Sophia Auld's attitude toward Frederick had changed, she no longer
regarded him as any other child, but as a piece of property. However, Frederick gradually
learned to read and write. With a little money he had earned doing errands, he bought a
copy of The Columbian Orator, a collection of speeches and essays dealing with liberty,
democracy, and courage. Frederick was greatly affected by the speeches on freedom in The
Columbian Orator, and so began reading local newspapers and began to learn about
abolitionists. Not quite 13 years old but enlightened with new ideas that both tormented
and inspired him. Frederick began to detest slavery. His dreams of emancipation were
encouraged by the example of other blacks in Baltimore, most of whom were free. But new
laws passed by southern state legislators made it increasingly difficult for owners to
free their slaves. During this time, Aaron Anthony died, and his property went to his two
sons and his daughter, Lucretia Auld. Frederick remained a part of the Anthony estate and
was sent back to the Lloyd plantation to be a part of the division of property. Frederick
was chosen by Thomas and Lucretia Auld and was sent back to Hugh and Sophia Auld in
Baltimore. Seeing his family being devided up increased his hatred of slavery, however, he
was hurt the most that his grandmother, considered too old for any work, was evicted from
her cabin and sent into the woods to die. Within a year of Frederick's return to
Baltimore, Lucretia Auld died. The two Auld brothers then got into a dispute, and Thomas
wrote to Hugh and demanded the return of his late wife's property, which included
Frederick. Frederick 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 Frederick under his wing and adopted him as his spiritual son. In March of 1833, the
15 year old Frederick was sent to live at Thomas Auld's new farm near the town of Saint
Michaels, a few miles from the Lloyd plantation. Frederick was again put to work as a
field hand and was extremely unhappy about his situation. Thomas Auld starved his slaves,
and they had to steal food from neighboring farms to survive. Frederick received many
beatings and saw worse ones given to others. He then organized a Sunday religious service
for the slaves which met in near by Saint Michaels. The services were soon stopped by a
mob led by Thomas Auld. Thomas Auld had found Frederick especially difficult to control so
he decided to have someone tame his unruly slave. In January 1834, Frederick was sent to
work for Edward Covey, a poor farmer who had gained a reputation around Saint Michaels for
being and expert "slave breaker". Frederick was not too displeased with this arrangement
because Covey fed his slaves better than Auld did. The slaves on Covey's farm worked from
dawn until after nightfall, plowing, hoeing, and picking corn. Although the men were given
plenty of food, they had very little time allotted to eat before they were sent back to
work. Covey hid in bushes and spied on the slaves as they worked, if he caught one of them
resting he would beat him with thick branches. After being on the farm for one week,
Frederick 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 Frederick to no avail and finally walked away in disgust. Frederick 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. Beaten down as
Frederick was, he found the strength to rebel when Covey began tying him to a post in
preparation for a whipping. "At that moment - from whence came the spirit I don't know - I
resolved to fight," Frederick wrote. "I seized Covey hard by the throat, and as I did so,
I rose." Covey and Frederick fought for almost two hours until Covey finally gave up
telling Frederick that his beating would have been less severe had he not resisted. "The
truth was," said Frederick, "that he had not whipped me at all." Frederick had discovered
an important truth: "Men are whipped oftenist who are whipped easiest." He was lucky,
legally, a slave could be killed for resisting his master. But Covey had a reputation to
protect and did not want it known that he could not control a 16 year old boy. After
working for Covey for a year, Frederick was sent to work for a farmer named William
Freeland, who was a relatively kind master. But by now, Frederick did not care about
having a kind master. All Frederick wanted was his freedom. He started an illegal school
for blacks in the area that secretly met at night and on Sundays, and with five other
slaves he began to plan his escape to the North. A year had passed since Frederick began
working for William Freeland and his plan of escape had been completed. His group planned
to steal a boat, row to the northern tip of Chesapeake Bay, and then flee on foot to the
free state of Pennsylvania. The escape was supposed to take place just before the Easter
holiday in 1836, but one of Frederick's associates had exposed the plot and a group of
armed white men captured the slaves and put them in jail. Frederick was in jail for about
a week. While imprisoned, he was inspected by slave traders, and he fully expected that he
would be sold to "a life of living death" in the Deep South. To his surprise, Thomas Auld
came and released him. Then Frederick's master sent him back to Hugh Auld in Baltimore.
The two brothers had finally settled their dispute. Frederick was now 18 years old, 6 feet
tall and very strong from his work in the fields. Hugh Auld decided that Frederick should
work as a caulker (a man who forced sealing matter into the seams in a boat's hull to make
it water tight) to earn his keep. He was hired out to a local shipbuilder so that he could
learn the trade. While apprenticing at the shipyard, Frederick was harassed by white
workers who did not want blacks, slaves or free, competing with them for jobs. One
afternoon, a group of white apprentices beat up Frederick and nearly took out one of his
eyes. Hugh Auld was angry when he saw what had happened and attempted to press charges
against the assailants. However, none of the shipyard's white employees would step forward
to testify about the beating. Free blacks had little hope of obtaining justice through the
southern court system, which refused to accept a black person's testimony against a white
person. Therefore, the case had to be dropped. After Frederick recovered from his
injuries, he began apprenticing at the shipyard where Hugh Auld worked. Within a year, he
was an experienced caulker and was being paid the highest wages possible for a tradesman
at his level. He was allowed to seek his own employment and collect his own pay, and at
the end of each week he gave all his earnings to Hugh Auld. Sometimes he was allowed to
keep a little money for himself. But as time passed, he became resentful of having to give
up his hard earned pay. In Frederick's spare time he met with a group of educated free
blacks and indulged in the luxury of being a student again. Some of the free blacks formed
an educational association called the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society, which
Frederick had been admitted to. This is where Frederick learned his debating skills. At
one of the society's meetings, Frederick met a free black woman named Anna Murray. Anna
was a few years older than Frederick and was a servant for a wealthy Baltimore family.
Although Anna was a plain, uneducated woman, Frederick admired her qualities of
thriftiness, industriousness and religiousness. Anna and Frederick were soon in love and
in 1838 they were engaged. Love and courtship increased Frederick's discontent with his
status. After Frederick's escape attempt, Thomas Auld had promised him that if he worked
hard he would be freed when he turned 25. But Frederick did not trust his master, and he
resolved to escape. However, escaping would be very difficult due to professional slave
catchers patrolling the boarders between slave states and free states, and free blacks
traveling by train or steamboat had to carry official papers listing their name, age,
height, skin color, and other distinguishing features. In order to escape, Frederick
needed money to pay for traveling expenses. Frederick arranged with Hugh Auld to hire out
his time, that is, Frederick would take care of his own room and board and pay his master
a set amount each week, keeping any extra money for himself. This also gave him the
opportunity to see what it was like living on his own. This arrangement had been working
out quite well until Frederick returned home late one night and failed to pay Hugh Auld on
time. Auld was furious and revoked his hiring-out privilege. Frederick was so enraged over
this that he refused to work for a week. He finally gave in to Auld's threats, but he also
made a resolution that in three weeks, on September 3, 1838, he would be on a northbound
train. Escaping was a difficult decision for Frederick. He would be leaving his friends
and his fairly comfortable life in Baltimore forever. he did not know when and if he would
see Anna Murray again. Furthermore, if he was caught during his escape, he was sure that
he would be either killed or sold to slave traders. Taking all of this into consideration,
Frederick was resolved to escape to freedom. With money that he borrowed from Anna,
Frederick bought a ticket to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He also had a friend's "sailor's
protection," a document that certified that the person named on it was a free seaman.
Dressed in a sailor's red shirt and black cravat, Frederick boarded the train. Frederick
reached northern Maryland before the conductor made it to the "Negro car" to collect
tickets and examine papers. Frederick became very tense when the conductor approached him
to look at his papers because he did not fit the description on them. But with only a
quick glance, the conductor walked on, and the relieved Frederick sank back in his seat.
On a couple of occasions, he thought that he had been recognized by other passengers from
Baltimore, but if so they did not turn him in to the authorities. Upon arriving in
Wilmington, Delaware, Frederick then boarded a steamboat to Philadelphia. Even after
stepping on Pennsylvania's free soil, he knew he was not yet safe from slave catchers. He
immediately asked directions to New York City, and that night he took another train north.
On September 4, 1838, Frederick arrived in New York City. Frederick could not find the
words to express his feelings of leaving behind his life in slavery. He later wrote, "A
new world had opened upon me." "Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be
depicted, but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil." From
Slave to Abolitionist/Editor -------------------- --------------------
-------------------- -------------------- Alone in New York, Frederick soon realized that
although he was free, he was not free of cares. Through word of mouth on the street,
Frederick learned that southern slave catchers were roaming the city looking for fugitives
in boarding houses that accepted blacks. He learned that no one, black or white, could be
trusted. After finding out this news, Frederick wandered around the city for days, afraid
to look for employment or a place to live. Finally, he told an honest-looking black sailor
about his predicament. The man took him to David Ruggles, an officer in the New York
Vigilance Committee. Ruggles and his associates were the City's link in the underground
railroad, a network of people who harbored runaway slaves and helped transport them to
safe areas in the United States and Canada. Secure for the moment in Ruggle's home,
Frederick sent for his fiancee, Anna Murray. 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 as a caulker. Upon arriving in New Bedford,
Anna and Frederick stayed in the home of the well-to-do black family of Nathan Johnson. To
go along with his new life, Frederick decided to change his name so as to make it more
difficult for slave catchers to trace him. Nathan Johnson was at the time reading The Lady
of the Lake, a novel by Scottish author Sir Walter Scott, and he suggested that Frederick
name himself after a character in the book. Frederick Baily thus became Frederick
Douglass. Once settled, Douglass was amazed to find that his neighbors in the North were
wealthier than most slave owners in Maryland. He had expected that northerners would be as
poor as the people in the South who could not afford slaves. Many free blacks lived better
than Thomas Auld or Edward Covey. On the New Bedford wharves, he saw how industry made
extensive use of labor saving mechanical devices. In loading a ship, 5 men and an ox did
what it took 20 men to do in a southern port. To Douglass's eye, men who neither held a
whip nor submitted to it worked more quietly and efficiently than those who did. Still,
New Bedford was not a paradise. Although black and white children attended the same
schools, some public lecture halls were closed to blacks. Churches welcomed black
worshipers but forced them to sit in separate sections. Worst of all, 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. He sawed wood,
shoveled coal, dug cellars, and loaded and unloaded ships. Anna Douglass worked too as a
household servant and laundress. In June 1839, Anna gave birth to their first child, a
daughter which they named Rosetta. A son, Lewis was born the following year. After living
in New Bedford for only a few months, a young man approached Douglass and asked him if he
wanted to subscribe to the Liberator, a newspaper edited by the outspoken leader of the
American Anti-Slavery Society, William Lloyd Garrison. Douglass immediately became caught
up in the Liberator's attacks on southern slaveholders. "The paper became my meat and
drink," wrote Douglass. "My soul was set all on fire." Inevitably, Douglass became
involved in the abolitionist movement, regularly attending lectures in New Bedford. The
American Anti-Slavery Society, of which he was a member, had been formed in 1833. Like
Garrison, most of the leaders in the society were white, and black abolitionists sometimes
had a difficult time making their voices heard within the movement. Nonetheless, the black
leaders kept up a constant battle to reduce racial prejudice in the North. Douglass also
became very involved with the local black community, and he served as a preacher at the
black Zion Methodist Church. One of the many issues he became involved in was the battle
against attempts by white southerners to force blacks to move to Africa. Some free blacks
had moved to Liberia, a settlement area established for them in West Africa in 1822.
Douglass, along with others in the abolitionist movement were opposed to African
colonization schemes, believing that the United States was the true home of black
Americans. In March 1839 some of Douglass's anticolonization statements were published in
the Liberator. In August 1841, at an abolitionist meeting in New Bedford, the 23 year old
Douglass saw his hero, William Lloyd Garrison, for the first time. A few days later,
Douglass spoke before the crowd attending the annual meeting of the Massachusetts branch
of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Garrison immediately recognized Douglass's potential
as a speaker, and hired him to be an agent for the society. As a traveling lecturer
accompanying other abolitionist agents on tours of the northern states, his job was to
talk about his life and to sell subscriptions to the Liberator and another newspaper, the
Anti-Slavery Standard. For most of the next 10 years, Douglass was associated with the
Garrisonian school of the antislavery movement. Garrison was a pacifist who believed that
only through moral persuasion could slavery end, he attempted through his writings to
educate slaveholders about the evils of the system they supported. He was opposed to slave
uprisings and other violent resistance, but he was firm in his belief that slavery must be
totally abolished. In the first issue of the Liberator in 1831, he had written: "On this
subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation .....Tell a man whose
house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the
hands of a ravisher.....but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the
present.....I will not retreat a single inch----AND I WILL BE HEARD." Ever controversial,
Garrison made many enemies throughout the country. He made sweeping attacks on organized
religion because the churches refused to take a stand against slavery. He also believed
that the U.S. Constitution upheld slavery, for it stated that nonfree individuals (slaves)
should be counted as three-fifths of a person in the census figures used for determining a
state's share of the national taxes and its number of seats in the House of
Representatives. Garrison said that abolitionists should refuse to vote or run for
political office because our government was so ill founded. He also called for the Union
to be dissolved, demanding that it be split between a free nation in the North and a
slavehold confederacy in the South. Garrison also supported political equality for women
and he fought to make it part of the abolitionist program. Some men were entirely against
him on this issue, while others thought that it distracted attention from the struggle
against slavery. In 1840, when he insisted that women be allowed to serve as delegates to
abolitionist conventions, much of the membership of the American Anti-Slavery Society
split off and formed a separate organization. The new group, the Foreign and American
Anti-Slavery Society, was not opposed to working with political organizations, and many of
its members supported the small, newly formed antislavery Liberty party. Although the
often abrasive Garrison splintered the antislavery movement, he was a powerful leader. His
sincerity and passionate devotion to the abolitionist inspired many people, and his views
had a strong effect on Douglass. For three months in 1851, Douglass traveled with other
abolitionists to lectures through Massachusetts. Introduced as "a piece of property" or "a
graduate from that peculiar institution, with his diploma written on his back," he
launched into stirring recollections of his years in slavery. Many of his friends in New
Bedford thought that the publicity was dangerous for him, but he was careful to omit
details that would identify him as the fugitive slave Frederick Baily. Douglass was an
immediate success on the lecture circuit. "As a speaker, he has few equals," proclaimed
the Concord, Massachusetts, Herald of Freedom, the newspaper praised his elegant use of
words, and his debating skills. "He has wit, arguments, sarcasm, pathos - all that first
rate men show in their master effort." His flashing eyes, large mass of hair, and tall
figure added to his performance. Douglass's early speeches dealt mainly with his own
experiences. With dramatic effect, he told stories about the brutal beatings given by
slaveowners to women, children, and elderly people. He described how he had felt the head
of a young girl and found it "nearly covered with festering sores." He told about masters
"breeding" their female slaves. But he also used humor, making his audiences laugh when he
told how he broke the slave breaker Edward Covey. He especially delighted in imitating
clergymen who warned slaves that they would be offending God if they disobeyed their
masters. The stories that Douglass told were just what the people wanted to hear. At the
time, a flood of proslavery propaganda had been disbursed by southern writers to combat
abolitionist literature. According to these articles, most slaves were content with their
easy life. Supposedly, slaves worked only until noon, dressed and ate better than most
poor whites, and enjoyed job security that would be envied by most northern factory
workers. Many people in the North were taken in by the slaveholders' fictions, and
abolitionists were often harassed by hostile mobs. Douglass's life story refuted the
proslavery accounts; even so, he declared, his years in bondage would be deemed blissful
by many slaves laboring in the Deep South. After a few months of speaking, Douglass began
to add comments about the racial situation in the North. He reminded the people in his
audiences that even in Massachusetts a black man could not always find work in his chosen
profession. He described how he had been thrown out of railroad cars that were exclusively
for white passengers. Even here, he said, churches segregated their congregations and
offered blacks a second place in heaven. After Douglass's first trial period as a lecturer
was over, he was asked to continue with his work, and he eagerly agreed. During 1842, he
traveled throughout Massachusetts and New York with William Lloyd Garrison and other
prominent speakers. He also visited Rhode Island, helping to defeat a measure that would
have given voting rights to poor whites while denying them to blacks. In 1843, Douglass
participated in the Hundred Conventions project, the American Anti-Slavery Society's six
month tour of meeting halls throughout the west. Although Douglass enjoyed his work
immensely, his job was not an easy one. When traveling, the lecturers had to live in poor
accommodations. Douglass was often roughly handled when he refused to sit in the "Negro"
sections of trains and steamships, and worst of all some of the meetings that were held in
western states were sometimes disrupted by proslavery mobs. In Pendleton, Indiana,
Douglass's hand was broken when he and an associate were beaten up by a gang of thugs.
Such incidents were common on the western frontier, where abolitionists were often viewed
as dangerous fanatics. Despite these incidents, Douglass was sure that he had found his
purpose in life. His abilities as a speaker grew as he continued to lecture in 1844. Many
abolitionists thought he was growing in his ability too quickly and that audiences were no
longer as sympathetic to him, they thought it was best to keep a little of the plantation
speech, it was not a good idea for him to seem too learned. They advised him to stick to
talking about his life as a slave and not about the goals of the antislavery movement. To
some degree, the fear proved to be correct. People gradually began to doubt that Douglass
was telling the truth about himself. Reporting on a lecture that he gave in 1844, the
Liberator wrote that many people in the audience refused to believe his stores: "How a
man, only six years out of bondage, and who had never gone to school could speak with such
eloquence - with such precision of language and power of thought - they were utterly at a
loss to devise." With his reputation at stake, Douglass decided to publish the story of
his life. During the winter of 1844-45, he set down on paper all the facts - the actual
names of the people and places connected with his years in slavery. When Douglass showed
the finished manuscript to abolitionist leader Wendell Phillips, his friend suggested that
he dispose of it before he was found out and shipped back to Maryland. Douglass was
adamant about having his story printed. He did not care if Thomas Auld and every southern
slave catcher learned who he was, the rest of world would hear his story too. In May 1845,
5,000 copies of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave was
published. William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips wrote introductions to the book.
Almost immediately, Douglass's autobiography became a best seller. The success brought by
Douglass's Narrative after its publication in 1845 was due in large part to its moral
force. His book is a story of the triumph of dignity, courage, and self-reliance over the
evils of the brutal, degrading slave system. It is a sermon on how slavery corrupts the
human spirit and robs both master and slave of their freedom. The book enjoyed widespread
popularity in the North, and European editions also sold very well. However, Douglass's
fame as an author threatened his freedom. Federal laws gave Thomas Auld the right to seize
his property, the fugitive slave Frederick Baily. The fear of losing his freedom prompted
Douglass to pursue a dream he had long held; in the summer of 1845 he decided to go to
England. There he would be free from slave catchers, and also have the opportunity to
speak to English audiences and try to gain support for the American antislavery movement.
By 1838 all slaves within the British Empire had been given a gradual emancipation and
were free. The vigor of the English abolition movement was still very strong. As the wife
of a traveling lecturer, Anna Douglass had probably grown used to her husband's long
absences. By August 1845, the Douglasses had 4 children: 6 year old Rosetta, 5 year old
Lewis, 3 year old Frederick and 10 month old Charles. Anna not only raised the children,
but also toiled in a shoe factory in Lynn, Massachusetts where the Douglasses had moved in
1842. Douglass sailed to England on the British steamship Cambria. He was forced to stay
in the steerage (second class) area of the ship, but he made many friends on board and was
even asked to give a lecture on slavery by the captain. Some men were so angry at his
speech that they threatened to throw him overboard. The captain had to step in and
threaten to put the men in irons if they caused any more trouble. The rest of the voyage
was peaceful. For nearly two years, Douglass traveled throughout the British Isles.
Everywhere he went, prominent people welcomed him to their homes. Everywhere he spoke,
enthusiastic crowds came to hear the fugitive slave denounce the system which he had grown
up in. He was quite happy in his new surroundings. As he wrote to William Lloyd Garrison
in January 1846, "Instead of the bright blue sky of America, I am covered with the soft
gray fog of the Emerald Isle. I breathe and lo! The chattel becomes a man. I gaze around
in vain for one who will question my equal humanity, claim me as a slave, or offer me an
insult." He was also astonished that he encountered so little racial prejudice among the
British. The main topic of Douglass's lecturers were slavery, but he also discussed a
number of other causes that had become important to him. Douglass had hated the way
slaveowners would encourage their workers to drink themselves into a stupor during
Christmas holidays. He saw alcohol as another means used to humiliate slaves. During his
stay in Ireland, he also met with Daniel O'Connell, the Irish Catholic leader who was
fighting to end British rule in his country. Douglass spoke out in favor of Irish
independence. In the summer of 1846, Douglass was joined by William Lloyd Garrison, and
they traveled around England as a powerful team of antislavery lecturers. In Scotland, the
two became involved in a campaign against the Free Church of Scotland. The church was
partly supported by contributions from American slaveholders of Scottish ancestry.
Douglass and Garrison added their voices to the cries of local antislavery activists:
"Send the money back." The church kept the money, but the dispute gained publicity for
Douglass's battle against American slavery. The World Temperance Convention that was held
in London in August 1846 was the scene of Douglass's most controversial speech. There he
attacked the American temperance movement because it failed to criticize slaveowners who
used alcohol to pacify their workers. He also felt that the temperance activists were
hostile to free blacks. The Reverend Samuel Cox, a member of the American delegation,
publicly accused him of trying to destroy the unity of the temperance movement. Douglass
responded that Cox was a bigot and, like many other clergymen, a secret supporter of
slavery. By the fall of 1846, Douglass was ready to return home. Garrison and other
friends convinced him to stay another six months, but Douglass rejected suggestions that
he settle in England. His work lay in America where his people labored in bondage.
However, recapture remained a frightening possibility for Douglass if he returned to the
United States. The problem was unexpectedly resolved when two English friends raised
enough money to buy his freedom. The required amount, $710.96, was sent to Hugh Auld, to
whom Thomas Auld had transferred the title to Douglass. On December 5, 1846, Hugh Auld
signed the papers that declared the 28 year old Douglass a free man. Douglass appreciated
the gesture of his English friends, even though as an abolitionist he did not recognize
Hugh Auld's right to own him. In the spring of 1847, Douglass sailed from England aboard
the Cambria. He had left the United States as a respected author and lecturer and was
returning with a huge international reputation. Thousands of people heard his lectures and
he aroused much goodwill for the abolitionist cause in the British Isles. His tour had
been an unqualified success. Douglass was met by friends and family upon returning home.
However, some abolitionists criticized him for letting his freedom be bought because he
was thereby acknowledging Hugh Auld's right to own him. Douglass's rebuttal was that his
freedom was the gift of friends and that he recognized Hugh Auld as his kidnapper, not his
master. Now that the ransom had been paid, he could fight the battle against slavery with
a free mind. During his travels in England, Douglass had demonstrated some independence
from the Garrison abolitionist faction, addressing a meeting sponsored by a rival
antislavery group. Upon his return to America, he decided to found and edit a new
abolitionist newspaper with the help of funds raised by his English friends. Garrison was
opposed to this because he needed Douglass as a lecturer and thought there were already
enough abolitionists papers at the time. Douglass dropped the idea for a while. In August
1847, he joined Garrison on a lecture tour throughout the North, Garrison became seriously
ill and Douglass was forced to continue the tour without him. After finishing the tour in
the fall of 1847, he again began drawing up plans for a new abolitionist paper. The goal
of his paper would be to proclaim the abolitionist cause and fight for black equality.
Rather than publish his paper in New England,, where the Liberator was based, Douglass
decided to move farther west, to Rochester, New York. The Rochester Years
-------------------- -------------------- -------------------- --------------------
Douglass bought a two story home in Rochester, New York for Anna and the children and on
December 3, 1847, Douglass began his second career, when his four page weekly newspaper,
the North Star, came off the presses. On the masthead appeared the motto, "Right is of no
sex - Truth is of no color - God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren." Once
the North Star began to circulate, Douglass's friends in the abolitionist movement rallied
to join in praising it. However, not everyone was pleased to see another antislavery paper
- especially one edited by an ex-slave. Some local citizens were unhappy that their town
was the site of a black newspaper, and the New York Herald urged the citizens of Rochester
to dump Douglass's printing press into Lake Ontario. Gradually, Rochester came to take
pride in the North Star and its bold editor. The town had a reputation for being
pro-abolitionist. Rochester's women were active in antislavery societies, and through them
Douglass kept in close contact with the leaders in the fight for women's rights, among
them Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Along with the good will
of Rochester's abolitionist and female political activists, Douglass received
encouragement from the local printer's union. The North Star received a number of glowing
reviews, but unfortunately the praises did not translate into financial success. The cost
of producing a weekly newspaper was high and subscriptions grew slowly. For a number of
years, Douglass was forced to depend on his own savings and contributions from friends to
keep the paper afloat. He was forced to return to the lecture circuit to raise money for
the paper. During the paper's first year, he was on the road for six months. In the spring
of 1848, he had to mortgage his home. In the midst of these troubles, a friend from
England arrived to help Douglass with his financial problems. Julia Griffiths had raised
enough money to help launch the paper, and now she was prepared to fight for its survival.
Griffiths put the North Star's finances in order, and Douglass was eventually able to
regain possession of his home. By 1851, he would be able to write to his friend, the
abolitionist publisher and politician Gerrit Smith, "The North Star sustains itself, and
partly sustains my large family. It has reached a living point. Hitherto, the struggle of
its life has been to live. Now it more than lives." Despite the ups and downs, Douglass's
newspaper continued publication as a weekly until 1860 and survived for three more years
as a monthly. After 1851, it would be titled Frederick Douglass' Paper. Douglass's
newspaper symbolized the potential for blacks to achieve whatever goals they set. The
paper provided a forum for black writers and highlighted the success achieved by prominent
black figures in American society. For Douglass, starting the North Star marked the end of
his dependence on Garrison and other white abolitionists. The paper allowed him to
discover the problems facing blacks around the country. Douglass had heated arguments with
many of his fellow black activists, but these debates showed that his people were
beginning to involve themselves in the center of events affecting their position in
America. By the end of the 1840's, Douglass was well on his way to becoming the most
famous and respected black leader in the country. He was in great demand as a speaker and
writer, he had proved himself to be and independent thinker and courageous spokesman for
black liberty and equality. During his years in Rochester, Douglass continued to grow in
status as the editor of the nation's best known black newspaper, in which he was free to
attack slavery with all the power of his intellect. Yet the turmoil of the 1850's would
severely test his faith in the ability of America to rid itself of the institution that
kept his people in bondage. Some of the turmoil made its way into Douglass's home. While
he roamed far beyond his original bounds, his wife, though hard-working, remained
uneducated and politically unambitious. Douglass hired a teacher for Anna in 1848, hoping
to bridge the gap between them. But his effort failed and Anna remained almost totally
illiterate. Douglass appreciated his wife's domestic skills, but he also admired the
educated, politically active women who served in the antislavery and women's rights
movements. He was grateful for all the help the women abolitionists had given blacks, and
in 1848, he showed his support for the feminist cause by attending the first women's
rights convention. The movement drew much hostile press, and the 35 women and 32 men who
went to the convention were described as "manhaters" and "hermaphrodites" (people with
both male and female sexual features). The women delegates hesitated to make the demand
for voting rights (suffrage) a part of their movement's platform, and the feminist leader
Elizabeth Cady Stanton asked Douglass to speak on the matter. With an appeal for bold
action, Douglass convinced the women that political equality was an essential step in
their liberation. The cause of women's rights continued to remain important to Douglass.
Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott among many other feminists would be his lifelong
friends. A scandal erupted in 1848 when Julia Griffiths began to serve as Douglass's
office and business manager and soon became his almost constant companion. She arranged
his lectures, dealt with the paper's finances and accompanied him to meetings. People in
Rochester gradually adjusted to the sight of the black leader and the white woman walking
arm in arm down the street. Rumors began to fly because Griffiths lived in the same house
with Douglass and his wife. Anna Douglas was uneasy about the local talk, but did not
speak much about the situation. The controversy was reported in the newspapers, and
Douglass was attacked by the Garrisonians for involving the abolitionist movement in a
scandal. In 1852, Griffiths decided to spare Douglass further embarrassment by moving out
of his home. She remained his close associate until 1855, when she returned to England.
Tensions between Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison began to mount because Douglass's
views on how to fight slavery gradually began to change and differed sharply from
Garrison's. The first principles of Garrison that Douglass began to question was the idea
that resisting slavery through violent means was wrong. In 1847, Douglass met with the
militant white abolitionist John Brown, who helped to convince Douglass that pacifist
means could not by themselves bring an end to slavery. Brown had told him that
slaveholders "had forfeited their right to live, and that slaves had the right to gain
their liberty in any way they could." At abolitionist meetings Douglass began telling his
audiences that he would be pleased to hear that the slaves in the South had revolted and
"were spreading death and destruction." Ten years later, he had completely abandoned the
idea that slavery could be ended peacefully. Douglass began widening his circle of
abolitionist friends and thus began to question Garrison's opposition to seeking
antislavery reforms through the political process. In 1848, he urged women to fight for
the vote. Garrison's view of the Constitution as a proslavery document was not accepted by
all abolitionists, as Douglass began to talk with these dissenters, he began to see the
matter in a different way. The Constitution, with its emphasis on promoting the general
welfare and securing the blessings of liberty for all, clearly seemed to be antislavery.
The North, Douglass realized, would never abolish slavery if that could only be done by
dividing the Union and dismantling the Constitution. He therefore decided that slavery
would have to be ended through political reforms. Garrit Smith, who was a leader in the
antislavery Liberty party became associated with Douglass and got him involved in
politics. In 1848, he attended a convention of the Free Soil party, which was trying to
stop the spread of slavery into areas west of the Mississippi River. The final split
between Douglass and Garrison took place in June, 1851 at the annual meeting of the
American Antislavery Society. Douglass shocked his old associates by publicly announcing
that he intended to urge the readers of the North Star to engage in politics. The
Garrisonian press launched a vicious assault against him during the following months. The
disputes between the antislavery factions did not dominate Douglass's life. He was active
in any cause that furthered the cause of his people. Douglass also tried to establish a
black vocational school, an institution that would train its students to become skilled
tradesmen. Among the people he visited in his efforts to raise funds for the school was
Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of the immensely popular antislavery novel Uncle Tom's
Cabin . Unfortunately, Douglass was unable to raise enough money to start the school.
Douglass was a proud and loving father although he was often away from home. A fifth
child, Annie, was born in 1849. Rochester's public schools would not admit black students
so Douglass enrolled his oldest child, Rosetta, into a private school. However, even there
Rosetta was segregated from white students, and Douglass finally hired a woman to teach
his children at home. Never one to let racial discrimination go unchallenged, Douglass
campaigned to end segregation in Rochester's school system, and in 1857 his efforts
succeeded. In 1850 Douglass became strongly involved in the underground railroad, the
system set up by antislavery groups to bring runaways to sanctuaries in the North and in
Canada. Douglass's home in Rochester was near the Canadian border, and during the 1850s it
became an important station on the underground railroad. Eventually, he became the
superintendent of the entire system in his area. He often found runaways sitting on the
steps of his newspaper office when he arrived for work. At times, as many as 11 fugitives
were hiding in his home. Over the years, he and Anna fed and sheltered hundreds of these
men and women. Only a few of the slaves who tried to escape from the South were
successful. Douglass fiercely attacked the fugitive slave laws and the many atrocities
that were being committed against runaway slaves. In a speech given in Rochester on
Independence Day in 1852, Douglass pointed out how differently blacks and whites viewed
the day's celebrations: What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day
that reveals to him more than all the other days of the year, the gross injustice and
cruelty to which he is the constant victim...To him your celebration is a sham...a thin
veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of
the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United
States. The sufferings of the hunted fugitive slaves reminded Douglass that freedom for
his people would not come easily. In a speech he made at a Canandaigua, New York,
convention celebrating the 20th anniversary of the emancipation of slaves in the British
West Indies, Douglass preached that blacks must unite to gain their liberty and that they
must be prepared for a hard struggle. Blacks, he said, would have to pay a heavy price to
win their freedom. "We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be,
by our lives and the lives of others." During the mid-1850s, John Brown was the leader of
one of the Free Soil bands fighting the proslavery forces in Kansas. But Brown wanted to
start a slave revolt in the South. In 1859, he decided to lead an attack on the northern
Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, seize the weapons stored in the nearby federal armory, and
hold the local citizens hostage while he rounded up slaves in the area. Gathering a small
force of white and black volunteers, Brown rented a farm near Harpers Ferry and made his
preparations for attack. From the farm, Brown wrote to Douglass, asking him to come to a
meeting in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in August. There Brown announced his plans and
urged Douglass to join in the attack. Douglass refused. He had agreed with Brown's earlier
ideas, but he knew that an attack on federal property would enrage most Americans. This
was the last time Douglass and Brown met. On October 16, 1589, Brown and his men seized
Harpers Ferry. The next night, federal troops led by Colonel Robert E. Lee marched into
the town and stormed the armory where Brown's band was stationed. Brown was captured, and
two of his sons were killed in the fighting. In less than two months, Brown was tried for
treason, found guilty, and hanged. Douglass was lecturing in Philadelphia when he received
the news about Brown's raid, and he was warned that letters had been found that implicated
him in the attack. The headlines for the newspapers' accounts of the incident featured his
name prominently. Knowing that he stood little chance of a fair trial if he were captured
and sent to Virginia, Douglass fled to Canada. While in Canada, Douglass wrote letters in
his own defense, justifying both his flight and his refusal to help Brown. One of the men
captured during the raid said that Douglass had promised to appear at Harpers Ferry with
reinforcements. Douglass denied this accusation, saying that he would never approve of
attacks on federal property. But though he could not condone the raid, he praised Brown as
a "noble old hero." In November 1859, Douglass sailed to England to begin a lecture tour,
a trip he had planned long before the incident at Harpers Ferry. The news of his near
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