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The life struggles and success of frederick douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Revisited Frederick Douglass circa 1874 In September 1862, Abraham Lincoln gave notice that he intended to free the slaves held in states still in rebellion against the Union, a promise fulfilled by the Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863. Lincoln himself remains the subject of scrutiny and celebration as the nation marks the 150th anniversary of that major step toward the abolition of American slavery.

The book found a wide transatlantic audience and went through many printings, but like most accounts of slave life it fell from favor as memory of the Civil War receded into myth and popular historical narratives tended toward reconciliation.

The book eventually went out of print. In 1960 Harvard University Press published the first modern edition of the Narrative, edited and with an Introduction by Benjamin Quarles, a prolific and pioneering African American historian. Introduction by Benjamin Quarles, 1960 The publication in 1845 of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was a passport to prominence for a twenty-seven-year-old Negro.

Up to that year most of his life had been spent in obscurity. Here for four years he turned his hand to odd jobs, his early hardships as a free man being lessened by the thriftiness of his wife.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave Summary

In August 1841, while attending an abolitionist meeting at Nantucket, he was prevailed upon to talk about his recollections of slavery. His sentences were halting but he spoke with feeling, whereupon the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society lost no time in engaging him as a full-time lecturer.

For the following four years the young ex-slave was one of the prize speakers of the Society, often traveling the reform circuit in company with the high priests of New England abolitionism, William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips. This was all he needed; henceforth his own considerable abilities and the temper of the times would fully suffice to keep him in the limelight. His was among the most eventful of American personal histories. Favorably endowed in physique, Douglass had the initial advantage of looking like a person destined for prominence.

There was a dramatic quality in his very appearance—his imposing figure, his deep-set, flashing eyes and well-formed nose, and the mass of hair crowning his head. An exceptional platform speaker, he had a voice created for public address in premicrophone America.

In speaking he was capable of various degrees of light and shade, his powerful tones hinting at a readiness to overcome faulty acoustics. His rich baritone gave an emotional vitality to every sentence. If nature equipped Douglass for a historic role, nineteenth-century America furnished an appropriate setting. Douglass came to manhood in a reform-conscious age, from which he was not slow to take his cue.

Following the publication of his Narrative he went to the British Isles. There for two years he denounced American slavery before large and sympathetic audiences. The visits of Douglass and other ex-slaves contributed much to the anti-Confederate sentiment of the British masses during the Civil War.

  1. Wilberforce, peace man though he was, and a model of piety, availed himself of this element to strengthen his case before the British Parliament, and warned the British government of the danger of continuing slavery in the West Indies. The world in which we live is very accommodating to all sorts of people.
  2. I hold it to be no part of gratitude to allow our white friends to do all the work, while we merely hold their coats.
  3. I think so too. It has no affiliation with the University of Washington.
  4. These are not the maxims and teachings of a coldhearted world.
  5. For the following four years the young ex-slave was one of the prize speakers of the Society, often traveling the reform circuit in company with the high priests of New England abolitionism, William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips.

Returning to America in 1847 Douglass moved to Rochester, where he launched an abolitionist weekly which he published for sixteen years, a longevity most unusual in abolitionist journalism.

Douglass was a careful editor, insisting on high standards from office assistants and the contributors of weekly newsletters. In addition to speaking and writing, Douglass took part in another of the organized forms of action against slavery—the underground railroad.

Himself a runaway, he was strongly in sympathy with those who made the life struggles and success of frederick douglass dash for freedom. One of his newspaper employees related that it was no unusual thing for him, as he came to work early in the morning, to find fugitives sitting on the steps of the printing shop, waiting for Douglass.

To aid further in the destruction of slavery, Douglass in 1850 became a political abolitionist. Hitherto he had been a moral-suasionist, shunning political action.

The fitful career of this party was then almost run, most of its followers having gone over to the Free Soil group. When in 1856 the small remnant of Liberty party diehards decided to merge into the Radical Abolitionist party, Douglass was one of the signers of the call. In 1860 he was again one of the policy-makers of the Radical Abolitionists. The insignificant vote polled by that party in the national election is unrecorded, but by 1860 the abolitionists were nearer to their goal than they could discern.

The two reformers were friends from that time on. The coming of the war had a bracing effect on Douglass; to him the conflict was a crusade for freedom.

Because in his thinking the purpose of the war was the emancipation of the slaves, he was anxious that the Negro himself strike a blow. When President Lincoln called for volunteers immediately after the firing on Fort Sumter, Douglass urged colored men to form militia companies. Too old to bear arms himself, he served as a recruiting agent, traveling through the North exhorting Negroes to sign up.

His first enrollee was his son Charles; another son soon followed suit. Douglass had talked with Secretary of War Stanton and had gone away believing the commission had been promised.

  • In the front rank of these programs for human betterment stood the abolitionist cause;
  • As he viewed it, his function was to shake people out of their lethargy and goad them into action, not to discover reasons for sitting on the fence.

But it never came. After the war Douglass became a staunch supporter of the Republican party. His quadrennial delivery of the Negro vote did not go unrewarded; three G.

  1. Here for four years he turned his hand to odd jobs, his early hardships as a free man being lessened by the thriftiness of his wife. In speaking he was capable of various degrees of light and shade, his powerful tones hinting at a readiness to overcome faulty acoustics.
  2. His first master, Captain Aaron Anthony, can easily be identified, since he was the general overseer for Colonel Edward Lloyd, the fifth Edward of a distinguished Eastern Shore family, the Lloyds of Wye. Every fugitive from slavery who, like the noble William Thomas at Wilkes Barre, prefers to perish in a river made red by his own blood to submission to the hell hounds who were hunting and shooting him should be esteemed as a glorious martyr, worthy to be held in grateful memory by our people.
  3. This covers the whole ground of nations as well as individuals. In 1960 Harvard University Press published the first modern edition of the Narrative, edited and with an Introduction by Benjamin Quarles, a prolific and pioneering African American historian.
  4. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

In the seventies and eighties the colored people looked to Douglass for counsel on the correct line to take on such matters as the annexation of Santo Domingo and the Negro exodus from the South.

He had no choice but to assume such responsibilities as commending Clara Barton for opening an establishment in Washington to give employment to Negro women, explaining the causes for the mounting number of lynchings, and urging Negroes not to take too literally the Biblical injunction to refrain from laying up treasures on earth.

He gave us no new political ideas; his were borrowed from Rousseau and Jefferson. But America had no more vigilant critic, and none more loving. Until it emerged, there would always be work to do: The Narrative in 1845 was the first of these; we may note its distribution, reserving for a moment comment on its general nature and its influence.

Within a year four more editions of 2,000 copies each were brought out. An additional republication occurred in 1848 and another in 1849. In the British Isles five editions appeared, two in Ireland in 1846 and three in England in 1846 and 1847.

Four of these Irish—English printings were editions of 2,000 and one was of 5,000 copies.

By 1850 a total of some 30,000 copies of the Narrative had been published in America and the British Isles. To these may be added an 1848 French edition, paperbound, translated by S. The present text reproduces exactly that of the first edition, published in Boston in 1845.

The sales of the Narrative were boosted by good press notices. The book could count on laudatory statements from the reformist sheets, but it also got a column-and-a-half front-page review in the New York Tribune, lavish in its praise: Across the Atlantic the response was likewise encouraging.

In this work of 462 pages, well over three times the length of the Narrative, Douglass expands on his life as a freeman, and includes a fifty-eight page appendix comprising extracts from his speeches.

My Bondage was reprinted in 1856 and again in 1857, its total publication the life struggles and success of frederick douglass to 18,000 copies.

In 1860 it was translated into German by Ottilie Assing, who subsequently became a treasured friend of the Negro reformer. The final autobiagraphy, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, was published in 1881. In it Douglass had to reduce the space given to his slavery experiences in order to narrate his Civil War and postwar activities. As in My Bondage, however, he included excerpts from his speeches.

Life and Times did not sell well. Life and Times was published in England in 1882 with an introductian by the well-known John Bright.

A year later a French edition was brought out by the house of E. Plon and Company, and in 1895 at Stockholm a Swedish edition was issued. The last named had many advantages over its successors. As its title suggests, it was more storytelling in tone. It was cohesive whereas the others were not. Moreover, the Narrative was confined to slavery experiences, and lent itself very well to abolitionist propaganda.

A closer look at this slim volume may suggest the sources of its influence.

  • As he viewed it, his function was to shake people out of their lethargy and goad them into action, not to discover reasons for sitting on the fence;
  • There was an important lesson in the conduct of that noble Krooman in New York the other day, who, supposing that the American Christians were about to enslave him, betook himself to the masthead and with knife in hand said he would cut his throat before he would be made a slave;
  • Within a year four more editions of 2,000 copies each were brought out;
  • If nature equipped Douglass for a historic role, nineteenth-century America furnished an appropriate setting;
  • During the middle decades of the nineteenth century, antislavery sentiment was widespread in the Western world, but in the United States more distinctively than anywhere else the abolitionists took the role of championing civil liberties.

Slave narratives enjoyed a great popularity in the ante-bellum North. Most of the narratives were overdrawn in incident and bitterly indignant in tone, but these very excesses made for greater sales. The Narrative has a freshness and a forcefulness that come only when a document written in the first person has in fact been written by that person. A paperback HUP edition of the Narrative from 2001 Except for the length of a few sentences and paragraphs, the Douglass autobiography would come out well in any modern readability analysis.

The details are always concrete, an element of style established in the opening line. The Narrative is absorbing in its sensitive descriptions of persons and places; even an unsympathetic reader must be stirred by its vividness if he is unmoved by its passion.

  • The details are always concrete, an element of style established in the opening line;
  • This was all he needed; henceforth his own considerable abilities and the temper of the times would fully suffice to keep him in the limelight;
  • Hitherto he had been a moral-suasionist, shunning political action;
  • Plon and Company, and in 1895 at Stockholm a Swedish edition was issued.

It is not easy to make real people come to life, and the Narrative is too brief and episodic to develop any character in the round. But it presents a series of sharply etched portraits, and in slave-breaker Edward Covey we have one of the more believable prototypes of Simon Legree. Contributing to the literary effectiveness of the Narrative is its pathos.

Douglass scorned pity, but his pages are evocative of sympathy, as he meant them to be. Deeply affecting is the paragraph on his nearest of kin, creating its mood with the opening sentence: He writes as a partisan, but his indignation is always under control.

One of the most moving passages in the book is that in which he tells about the slaves who were selected to go to the home plantation to get the monthly food allowance for the slaves on their farm. Its central theme is struggle. Yet three years later this unschooled person had penned his autobiography.

Such an achievement furnished an object lesson; it hinted at the infinite potentialities of man in whatever station of life, suggesting powers to be elicited.

The Narrative stamped Douglass as the foremost Negro in American reform. With the publication of this autobiographical work he became the first colored man who could command an audience that extended beyond local boundaries or racial ties.

From the day his volume saw print Douglass became a folk hero, a figure in whom Negroes had pride. His writings took on a scriptural significance as his accomplishments came to be shared imaginatively by his fellows.

The point is worth stressing. Never given to blinking unpleasant facts, Douglass did not hesitate to mention the frailties of the Negroes, as in the case of the quarrels between the slaves of Colonel Lloyd and those of Jacob Jepson over the importance of their respective masters.

For Douglass addressed his appeal less to Negroes than to whites—it was the latter he sought to influence. He did not propose to speak to Negroes exclusively; he wanted all America, if not all the world, for his sounding board.